I want to share this experience because I think it should serve as a warning to anyone who’s tempted to be off their guard here in Rome. The whole thing has left me feeling more than a little shaken and disappointed. Please take what I’m about to tell you very seriously indeed and if you recognise similar situations DON’T DO what I did – just walk away instead. This could happen to ANY of you.
I was walking along Viale Marconi, just down from Piazzale dalla Radio and round the corner from our apartment. I came up to the Feltrinelli bookshop, outside which I saw a guy I’ve seen a few times before, in pretty much the same spot. His name is Mamadou and he comes from Senegal. We’ve always spoken in a comedy mix of French and Italian, although he’s been here for a few years and speaks the language excellently (much better than me). I’ve also seen him up on Via Nazionale, outside the IBS bookshop next to Repubblica, and he always remembers and greets me. He makes a living (more or less) from selling books, mostly about Africa, and over the last six months I’ve bought a few of them, some poetry and kid’s stuff which is actually quite good. I’d last seen him a few weeks ago so he knows I have a child now, so we chatted about sleepless nights (he’s told me before he has three sons and a daughter back home) and he was showing me a brand-new book of children’s stories. I demurred, saying we’d got lots of new books at home, forse la prochaine foi, etc. He pressured me a bit but it all seemed very good-natured. We said goodbye and I walked on.
Now, this is the important part. The conversation with Mamadou was OVER. I’d very clearly said NO to buying his books. I carried on up the street a couple of hundred yards to Castroni. Now, they sort of know me as I’m often in there buying Calabrian chillis and the like. I stepped through the door and went up to the shelf where the Middle Eastern products are displayed. There was a new kind of hummus I hadn’t seen before in an attractively-presented tin can. The packaging is green and the company (Lebanese) is called AL-RABIH. The name of the product is spelt (bizarrely) HUMMOS.
Whatever you do, do NOT buy that huomus. It is absolutely shit. You have to add about six tablespoons of decent olive oil to make it even remotely palatable. The consistency is like dust. And it’s massive! It’s like the fucking humus tardis in there! I’s going to take me about six weeks to get through the stuff (I hate wasting food) and I don’t even like it. In any case my wife refuses to countenance the buying of any more hommus until it’s finished :-(.
Please pass this on to your friends and colleagues. People keep saying that Rome is a ‘safe place’ for expats. They have NO IDEA of the dangers that lie out there.