Dinner at Ristorante da Pancrazio was splendidly chaotic, as group dinners for 25 or so people can usually be. We were led downstairs to a dining room with crud-encrusted arched stone ceilings that seemed to be easily within our reach if we chose to stand on the tables. Which, although we were college students, we decided not to do. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that our lead professor was dining with us.

Our well-heeled former tour host Jeffrey arrived for dinner as well, although fashionably late due to pressing business in his many offices. Jeffrey, if I hadn't explained, is a faculty lecturer of Cornell University, but he rarely if ever sets foot on the Cornell campus in the U.S., choosing instead to live and conduct his business in Rome whenever possible. It may be more accurate to say that he is paid by Cornell to live in Italy.

When it comes to "careers," I've always been of the mind that, rather than find a career and trudge through it, one should think of something they like to do and then find a way of getting paid to do it. Jeffrey has accomplished this quite well. And with class, too -- when asked where in Rome there were good places for swimming, Jeffrey explained that he doesn't swim in Rome since he only swims where the swimming is beautiful. Yes, Roman ruins are lovely to look at and take pictures of, but the Tiber River even at its best is not beautiful, and Jeffrey usually escapes to Capri or evirons south for his swimming adventures.

As our well-heeled former host Jeffrey arrived at about 9 PM, several groups of people were seen nearby leaving the restaurant, their dinner apparently finished.

"Must be Americans," Jeffrey said, incredulous. Dinner is truly a late-evening experience to Romans, with a capital Late.

dinner is served

The waitstaff was kept wonderfully occupied, since although the menu had been chosen beforehand there was still the matter of serving it to two dozen people simultaneously. Cheap table wine abounded, and although it grated on the well-heeled Jeffrey's sensibilities, he gladly took a glass and helped us as we toasted to Roma.

As one course led to the next and student stomachs became fuller, we learned of a special post-dinner treat, one more little tour -- but this one was much closer to us than the other more well-known sights.
Teatro di Pompey
The Ristorante da Pancrazio, as well as the neighboring Palazzo Pio which houses the UW program, are built on the foundations of the Theater of Pompey, named for one of the early rulers of Rome. The first stone theater in Rome (built c. 55 BC), it is the location where, according to history, Caesar was assassinated. And now, wonder of wonders, I go to school there, although none of the remains can be seen from ground level and only with the help of a model in the restaurant can one tell what could be formed from the remaining brick foundations.

The last of the dinner plates having been taken away, we removed ourselves to a lower level of the restaurant where grimy stone arches connect cold, darkened rooms.
The Underground Tour!
These are some of the remaining foundations of the Teatro di Pompey, and in the darkness with 24 college students freshly arrived in town, the energy was unmistakeably adrenalized. Pitch-black stairwells led up to rat's-eye-views of street-level gutters and scenes of the city from below that we still didn't recognize from above. Rooms filled with nothing but four dusty walls alternated with the restaurant's stash of empty wine bottles and tubs of cooking oil. Heaping new upon old, that's what Rome is all about.

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