After a fun day of exploring Rome’s hipster Trastevere district, we were getting hungry. So, as good flaneurs do, we started asking shopkeepers where to go to lunch with the locals. Following the suggestion to check out the restaurants along Via G.A. Bertani, we eventually ending up at triangular Piazza San Cosimato.
To our surprise, the piazza was animated with a pop-up farmers’ market and a few permanent food vendors. We quickly spotted a butcher making some great looking fresh sandwiches. We stood in line to get one. When our turn arrived, we non-Italian speakers pointed and said “two.” A few minutes of charades later, we found out we needed to go to the bakery on the street behind the butcher to purchase the buns and then return to the butcher who would make us our sandwiches.
Buns in hand, we were back at the butcher’s in a flash. While he was making our sandwiches, I realized I really wanted a beer, so in another round of charades, I asked if he had one. At first he pointed back to the bakery/grocery store, but then he nodded, smiled, grabbed a beer out of the fridge (I expect it was his personal beer fridge) and handed it to me.
After paying up, we went to find a place to sit and enjoy our big fat, paper-wrapped sandwiches. The only obvious spot was the benches along the inside perimeter of the tiny playground at the tip of the piazza.
It turned out to be the perfect spot, with dappled sunlight and a front row seat for the Cirque du Soleil-like performance by young children and their parents. As we ate, we were treated to a series of children hopping from one orange stationary, stool-like structure to another, spaced just far enough apart to make the jump difficult for younger children. It was too much fun to watch as dads helped their kids and older siblings helped the younger ones. We even had a couple of amazing performances by the dad – interesting to note that none of the moms gave it a try. It was amazing to watch how long the families jumped back and forth on this simple, low-tech playground equipment.
The playground was also a great people-watching place. Locals of all ages and backgrounds came and went – it was a cast of characters. I was even befriended by a little guy with a soccer ball who wanted somebody to kick it back and forth, which we did for few minutes until his Mom said they had to leave (or at least I think that is what she said as she smiled and said “thank you.”) As we left, I discovered what must be one of the largest blackboards in the world. Somebody had cleverly turned the concrete retaining wall along the edge of the piazza into a huge blackboard, probably close to 100 feet long. I wish I had brought my sidewalk chalk.
This was definitely a far cry from the $250,000+ mass-produced, mega colourful playgrounds being constructed in parks in communities throughout Calgary. This playground was integrated into the community’s everyday pursuits with shops and restaurants surrounding it on all sides. Yes, there was a fence around the park, but there were no Playground Zone signs and no isolating the playground in a park far away from pedestrian, bike, motorcycle and car traffic. Rather, it was an integrated part of the everyday activities of a community that embraced outdoor urban living. It truly was a community meeting / hangout place.
We love urban surprises and the Piazza San Cosimato ranks high as one of the best surprise of our 7 days in Rome.