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I once met a man who had never heard of Rome.  I was instantly shocked that there could exist a fully-grown, walking, talking, perfectly pleasant man who had never in his life, not one time, ever heard of Rome.  Oh, I realize that there are tons of people out there who have probably never heard of Ocrakoke.  Or Huahine.  Or Maroon Bells, Ambergris, Chenonceau, Cinque Terre, The Lot, Achill Island, or Skagway.

But Rome?

Here’s how it happened:

One Saturday morning, shortly after returning from an Italian vacation, my husband and I slipped away for the day to Amish Country (which we like to do on occasion for a little country air and a lot of thanks that we don’t live like that).

Well, anyway, there we were, ambling around Amish country playing our favorite game:  Find the Smallest Road.  And there, on the corner of a fairly small one at that, was a denim-clad, middle-aged, jolly elf- type Amish potato farmer selling a small assortment of vegetables out of his stand.  Right there in the middle of nowhere with not another car in sight.  It was kind of like running a beauty salon in the middle of the Mojave.

So I purchased a little of this and a little of that and when I went to pay him, I found I still had a few lire in my wallet from the Italian trip.  In a friendly sort of way, I asked him if he accepted lire. 

‘What’s lire?” he asked.

‘Well, it’s Italian money,’ I said.

‘Where’d you get Italian money?’.  Italy.  ‘You went to Italy?’.  Yes.  ‘Are you Italian?’.  No.  ‘Well why would you go to Italy?’.  Because it’s beautiful and there are lots of castles and gardens and history and good food and I got to touch the Coliseum.  ‘What’s the Coliseum?’  You know, it’s that arena where gladiators fought in the ancient days of Rome.

‘Rome?  Where’s Rome?’.

And so I spent a good half hour telling him about this magnificent arena and how it took seven years to build and it was so big it could seat 50,000 people and how it was completed in the year 79.   (He was amazed at the year 79.  He had never thought back that far).  I told him about the gladiators and how they would fight lions and giraffes and other men until the bloody end.  I even told him about the toga look.  He was shocked by it all. 

Then I remembered that I had my Top Ten Vacation Pictures in my purse.  So I showed him pictures of the Coliseum, and I can easily say that I have never seen a person inhale a photograph quite like this Amish farmer, who up until 30 minutes ago, had never heard of Rome.  Boy was he going to have something to chat about at the dinner table tonight!

Here’s a guy, I thought, whose life is so simple, he doesn’t bother with reading or writing, or any outside stimulation for that matter.  He farms, he eats, he sleeps, he’s happy.  For one fleeting moment, and only one, I envied his private peace.

As we were leaving with our goods, I said, “Being a potato farmer all your life, you must know a great recipe for these potatoes.” 

With a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘I sure do, madam.  Well, see, you boil ‘em up and then you add butter.  And if you like, some salt.’ 

I just didn’t have the heart to tell him about Gorgonzola.


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