This is the CONDENSED version of the chapter.
This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.
I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues.
Episode 48—It’s Good to be the King
It’s raining outside again—not pouring like it was when were at Ara Pacis, but not drizzling like it was when we got here. We’ve got a good little amount of water now.
The walk down the steps is surprisingly easier than the walk up. It’s usually the other way around for me, but Christian holds my hand and we just stroll through the rain with the other Romans and tourists. The steps are made such that the water flows down and disappears into a grate on the front of each step. So, I get a very pleasant surprise when I get to the bottom of the stairs.
I don’t want to be sopping wet with dirty rainwater, but I can’t help jumping into one small puddle like a 12-year-old before we continue our walk.
We cross the street, bend a corner, and tucked away at the end of one of these little alleys is a quaint little eclectic restaurant with a café outside and rose red walls inside. Red walls! I look over at my husband. “Red walls?” I say with a knowing smile.
“Bonus!” he says, wagging his eyebrows.
We all walk in a sit down at three tables pushed together. I’m contemplating what gastronomical wonders I’ll be experiencing for lunch today when Ben stands and breaks my chain of thought.
“I’m going to eat outside, sir,” he says to Jason and heads to the door before Jason can stop him. What? It’s raining out there!
“Ben,” Jason calls out to Ben’s back.
“Let him go,” Christian says, just as he’s clearing the door. “He’s trying to prove some goddamn point and I don’t know what that point is. Chuck’s not here. The object of his ire has left the building and he’s still pissy. Fine, let him be pissy. He did right to go outside and not spoil our lunch, but since he’s being an ass, if he gets sick, he still has to work.” Jason sighs and rolls his eyes.
“So, what’s good to eat here?” he asks.
“Everything,” Christian replies, “and we’re going Dutch, gentleman. So, you might want to tell him to bring his ass back in here and order some food unless he plans on having air sandwiches and aqua cocktails for lunch.”
Jason stands to go outside while Christian heads for the cashier to order. Al and I sit there at the table just looking at each other.
“I am normally alone,” he says. “I do not normally have coworkers… partners. I am new at that. Do they always behave this way?”
“Never!” I emphasize. “In the entire time I’ve known my husband, I’ve only seen one person behave this way and he was fired the same day.”
“It is hard to concentrate,” he says, “to do my job. He behaves… unreliably… untrustworthy. Is he competent to do the job? I am not asking you, signora. It is just something that I think when I am ever in a multi-person assignment, which is not often. I must protect his back. Will he protect mine?”
I get what he’s saying. You can’t be sloppy or emotional in his line of work. Depending on the situation, it could cost your life. You have to be sharp, and right now, Ben is behaving like a college girl who just broke up with her boyfriend.
“I don’t want to seem like I’m talking behind anyone’s back,” I say, “but for the most part, we’re family here… or like family, and I mean really like family.” If anything, Ben’s the odd man out. “You know families don’t always get along, but in the end, they won’t let anything happen to each other.”
“I will take your word for it, signora… and I will still watch my back.” He raises his gaze and stands.
“Signore,” he says and leaves the table. He’s good. He wouldn’t leave the table while I was here alone. He waited for Christian to return.
“What was that about?” Christian asks. “He’s got to watch his back?”
“This whole thing with Chuck and Ben, and Ben’s behavior,” I confess. “It’s very unprofessional, and he’s on a team with these guys. So, he’s worried about how professional they are.”
“And he told you all that,” Christian says. It’s a statement, not a question. I twist my lips and cock my head at him.
“I wouldn’t worry about his professionalism if I were you,” I retort. “When the two of you split in different directions, he asked me if they normally behave this way. He’s usually a one-man band and doesn’t often work with partners, but when he does, he wants to know that they’re precise and they’re going to have his back. You can go ahead and confront him if you want, but I can guarantee you’ll need another Italian guard by the morning because he’s not the one behaving like two schoolyard boys playing ‘King of the Hill.’”
You didn’t listen to me when I tried to warn you about bringing this up to Chuck in the first place. You might want to listen now.
“I’m giving away one of my secrets,” he says, “but you know your eyes say everything that your mouth doesn’t, right?”
“Is that so?” I say. “And what are they saying now?”
“That you don’t believe me,” he says, “and that I should have kept my mouth shut.”
“And now you’re thinking that I’m right…”
“Okay cut that shit out it’s creepy,” I say all in one breath. “How am I supposed to be all mysterious if you know what I’m thinking?”
“I don’t always know, but sometimes, you’re pretty easy,” he chuckles.
“It’s not raining anymore,” Jason says when he comes back to the table. “I’m going to order my food.” Ben walks past the table just as Jason arrives and heads towards the cashier. Christian just nods at Jason, who follows Ben shortly thereafter.
“Jesus,” I say. “Something’s got to give. I’m not spending the next five weeks like this.”
Lunch is amazing. The restaurant Christian took us to is called Edoardo II. It has a beautiful outdoor patio that I would have loved to eat on had it not been raining—and the pouty college boy wasn’t sitting out m,cv there.
The food is outstanding—antipasti and bruschetta; ravioli, Paccheri, and spaghetti with various savory sauces; sea bass, meatballs with sauce, sliced pork and potatoes, chicken romano… there is so much food! Even the salads are delectable, and conversation flows just as freely as it did yesterday.
In the interest of full disclosure, Al makes it clear how he feels about the bickering between the security staff and his concerns about them being sharp on the job. Jason thanks him for openly voicing his concerns and promises to talk to his staff. I don’t look at Christian. I don’t want him to read my eyes.
“So, what did you think of the museum?” Christian asks in the middle of the meal.
“It seems like there was a lot of ‘look at me, look at what I did’ and ‘look how much better I am than the other guy,’” I point out. “Was there even enough focus on the Empire with all that cock-strutting? Maybe that’s why there’s so much dick in the art.”
“And there you go with that fixation on penises again,” he says, shaking his head.
“I’m going to be fixated on penises the entire time I’m here. They’re everywhere. The woman’s snatch is covered everywhere I go, but even the woman with the dick had her dick out,” I point out as I take a bite of my food.
“Baby!” Christian exclaims, his voice dripping with mirth. I raise my gaze and people are staring at me throughout the restaurant. I quickly swallow my food.
“I’m talking about the art,” I say loudly. “If you didn’t see it, don’t blame me. It even greeted you on the stairs before you even got to the square!” What the fuck are you people gawking at? Dick is abound all over the damn city and you’re looking at me funny for pointing it out?
There’s a mixed reaction of laughter and people quickly averting their gazes. I turn back to my lunch and continue my conversation.
“There’s no way they can be sensitive walking through here with all this nudity,” I say to Christian.
“Apparently, some of them are,” he replies, still suppressing his laughter.
“Well, they need to get over it,” I reply. “Even the little boy taking the thorn out of his foot had his twigs and berries swinging freely.”
And Jason sprays some of his soda.
“You really have to stop,” Christian says, no longer suppressing his laughing. I look over at Jason whose body is shaking with laughter as he covers his mouth with a napkin.
“Okay, okay,” I say with a chuckle.
Rome is magical and comforting and a bit mysterious when it’s wet. It doesn’t seem like any other place I’ve been after a rain. It’s serene, but it’s almost like the ghosts of the past all join us in our stroll down the streets or our gazing at the city or our long moments of contemplation about a ruin or a structure or even a statue or a new building and they whisper secrets in our ears about days gone by. It’s not creepy like visiting a dark, dank crypt. It’s like the grounds have been disturbed and the spirits are stretching their legs and telling us stories of old.
We’ve come back the way that we came and around the Altar of the Fatherland to the site that Christian promised me that we would see before we left Rome—Trajan’s Column and Forum. I’m really excited to see this because I did research on this one and I know what I’m looking at. The ruins girl is happy again!
I believe Christian may already know this story, but he obliges me anyway and allows me to share my knowledge since I’m so happy to be here and even happier to tell my tale.
Trajan actually came from Spain and was one of Nerva’s top generals, who eventually adopted him. The Praetorian Guard suggested Trajan become emperor in favor of the military. And so it goes that Trajan was the first non-Roman emperor in the empire. He was a man of the people—a military man who also got along with the senate. Although he built a pretty large forum in his own honor like other emperors, Trajan’s Forum included public space and buildings, and was funded by his own spoils of war.
At the opening of the forum is Trajan’s Column, a vertical spiral comic book depicting and celebrating his conquering of Dacia and is the location of Trajan’s tomb. Right next to the Trajan Column are the columns that remain of the Basilica Ulpia, the main building of Trajan’s Forum. The brilliant colors that covered these columns as well as Trajan’s Column have faded over the centuries. The basilica columns all came from different areas and would have been a rainbow of colors, and the pictures of Trajan’s Column would have been in full color, making it look like a comic strip.
You can see these things from street level for free, but we’re going in through the museum so that I can see the inside of the Trajan markets. Trajan was one of the few exceptions to the commonly known notorious emperors, and one of the things that he built during his reign was the first shopping mall ever built. It’s constructed out of several little niches called tabernae and each one of those tabernae was a store—furriers, oils, pottery, you name it.
Trajan wanted to build a huge forum for himself, but the forums of Caesar, Augustus, Nerva, etc., were already built. There was no room for Trajan. So, he tore down a large part of Quirinal Hill behind the existing forums, built his huge forum, and built the Trajan Markets in a concave shape nestled inside of the hill behind it to help stabilize the remainder of the hill. Trajan’s Column is exactly the height—125 feet—of the hill that he had destroyed to build his forum.
There’s a lot of walking and stair-climbing in the Trajan Market, but it’s totally worth it. The architecture is amazing and you get to see the whole concrete/brick/mortar construction up close. It’s one of the reasons the Markets remain standing today—that, and the fact that they were still in use for so many years. As we’re walking down the cobblestone street inside the market, a piece of trivia comes to mind.
“Here’s a fun fact,” I say as we’re walking down an actual ancient Roman street inside the Markets of Trajan. “Romans loved ketchup.”
“Ketchup?” Christian says, skeptically.
“Yes, ketchup, but it wasn’t the ketchup that we know now. It wasn’t made from tomatoes; it was made from fermented fish oil, but they called it ‘ketchup.’ It was more like soy sauce.” I look back at Al who flattens his lips and nods.
Ben still looks like the out of place tin soldier with a stoically sour expression. I totally forgot he was here. That’s a good plan.
“Anyway, tomatoes replaced the fish oil when they discovered the New World. Just a little fun fact for you.”
“Hmm,” he says, “they probably should’ve kept the fish oil. It’s better for you than this processed shit we’re eating and it probably tastes better, too.”
“The ancient Romans would most likely agree with you, signore,” Al chimes in.
“What made you think of that now?” Christian asks.
“Because one of these shops most likely sold nothing but ketchup… Oooo, look!” I quickly make my way over to an open taberna with a glass covering over the bottom half of the opening. It’s full of tall clay jars covered or partially wrapped in some kind of plastic or something. Some of them are sitting on what looks like stacked rubber rings and some of them are broken. They look quite aged—like the color is partially faded on parts of them.
“That was most likely a pottery shop, signora,” Al says.
A pottery shop? From ancient Rome? With pottery still in it? Is it real? I don’t care, I’m thrilled! I take about 10 pictures of the same little taberna. It’s already exciting that we’re walking down real ancient Roman streets, and now we stumble on what probably was a genuine ancient Roman pottery shop still containing genuine ancient Roman pottery! Maybe…
I get caught up in wandering around the ancient streets and climbing higher up into the markets because it looks like a village, complete with birds strolling around and cats lounging on the cobblestone. I’ll admit that I got a little lost until I found the back entrance to the museum that got us here. We stroll through the refurbished museum inside the extremely well-preserved marketplace, showcasing relics mostly from the Basilica Ulpia. The life-sized marble sculptures that once stood near the ceiling of the basilica gives you an idea of the scale of the building as recreations of the structure make them look pretty small from far away.
Trajan wasn’t a paranoid ruler like many of the younger and older emperors before him. He was middle-aged, experienced, and intelligent, unlike the younger emperors who most often took power in their early twenties. Murder was a commonplace thing in the high ranks of the Roman Empire—especially among family members—to facilitate the change of power. Not so with Trajan, who brazenly invited his only rival to dinner at his palace.
Trajan didn’t harm him at all, but he did show his true power. He had dinner with him, they hung out, and he let him go. Trajan openly showed his rival that, yes, I can bring you into my home, feed you, turn my back on you while you sit at my table, and still not worry about you. The rival got the message. This was not a man he wanted to fuck with.
As it were, Trajan ruled during one of the most peaceful and thriving periods of the empire. Upon his passing, Hadrian—his trusted general—became his adopted heir and the next emperor of Rome. Hadrian was experienced and level-headed, just like Trajan, and turned out to be a very good choice for emperor. Hadrian ruled as judiciously as Trajan did, continuing on the period of thriving and peace and the time of the five good Emperors of Rome.
I had no idea that we had spent so much time in the Trajan Forum, but I’m glad that we haven’t missed our tour of the Domus Aurea. It’s going to be our last stop for the day before we go back to the hotel to clean up for dinner.
Jason heads back the way we came to get the car while the rest of us take the one-kilometer stroll over to Domus Aurea, which is about a quarter mile north of the Colosseum. I didn’t do any research on this one, so I leave all the explaining to our tour guide.
“After the Great Fire of Rome which swept through and destroyed a large part of the city, Nero set out to rebuild. However, he commandeered a large part of the best land for himself—reportedly 200 to 300 square meters, spanning across parts of the slopes of four of the Rome’s famous seven hills to build a huge palatial complex for himself,” the young female guide tells us.
“The palace was a statement of largess and over-indulgence with marble-covered pavilions and marble floors, walls covered in stuccoes and frescoes, and various rooms laminated in gold leaf, which lends itself to its name Domus Aurea, meaning ‘Golden House.’ The enormous complex came complete with nature parks, gardens, fountains, a man-made lake, huge atria in the structures as well as numerous sculptures, statues, and porticos all made of the finest and most luxurious precious materials from all over around the empire. It was a huge party palace used mostly for entertaining because there’s no evidence that it had any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms.”
Wow, talk about MTV Cribs. All this was basically an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house with no functional rooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.
“Although the entire complex eventually became known as the Nero’s Domus Aurea,” she continues, “this building we are about to enter is the actual Domus Aurea building.”
She turns around and ushers us into the gate.
“As you probably know, Nero’s complex spread from here all the way over to Palatine Hill. Just southwest of here is the Colosseum, and that was the location of his man-made lake. His structure even occupied part of the Roman Forum. This exedra that we are entering is part of a later construction by Trajan when he was burying Nero’s palace…”
Burying the palace?
“I’m sorry, did you say burying the palace?” one of the members of our tour asks the same question I was just thinking.
“Yes, ma’am,” she says as we enter the building and head down a very tall hallway. “You would think that Nero would have tried to keep a low profile, seeing as to how he was very unpopular, but this was not the case. Not only did some of the populous believe that he set the fire on purpose, but he also taxed the upper class for funding to public and private works. His list of malfeasances—real and imagined—are far too many to name, but one source sited him as one of the most hated leaders of all time. In the end, there was a rebellion and Nero escaped Rome before they could kill him. It was of no avail, however, because he was sentenced to die anyway, and opted to take his own life instead.
“Once he was gone, nobody wanted to be associated with Nero. In fact, the senate issued a ‘Damnatio memoriae,’ a Latin phrase that translates into ‘to condemn his memory.’ They wanted to do everything they could to erase Nero from history and the peoples’ memory. So, subsequent emperors went about the business of actually burying his party palace under new structures of Rome.
“Most of the Domus Aurea building was buried under Trajan’s bath complex. The Palatine section is buried under Domitian’s palace. Nero’s artificial lake was filled in by Vespasian to create the Flavian Amphitheater, which is now called the Colosseum. It gained this name as Nero’s ginormous bronze ‘Colossus’ of himself portrayed as the Sun King was moved from its original location in the vestibule of his palace to its new home next to the Amphitheater to make way for a temple to Venus and Rome.
“Portions of the magnificent Golden House have now been excavated, and we are able to see 30 rooms of the once 300-room palace.”
So, basically, this was an ancient-Roman-pimped-out party house because it didn’t have any bedrooms, living quarters, kitchens, or bathrooms—just a big ass hall of opulence for banquets and parties.
Once we traveled down the long hallways to get to the center of the structure, it’s hard to discern which parts were built by Trajan and which were built by Nero. There were walls built where it was once Nero’s courtyard. The walls had to be built to support the dirt or the dirt would have collapse when Trajan built his baths.
Although many of the rooms that have been excavated remain remarkably intact, Trajan stripped much of the Domus Aurea of its precious materials before he buried and used them in his own construction. To me, that kind of defeats the purpose. We want to erase the whole idea and memory of Nero… bu-u-u-t I’m going to rip all of his expensive shit out and use it in my building.
We did see the multiple rooms that lined the courtyard that obviously have different color schemes based on what was left of the wall coverings. Even the servant’s hallways were covered with lavish paintings.
“The palace was built strictly for entertainment, and there’s no evidence that any of the rooms had doors. However, the structure was designed to take advantage of the natural sunlight at different times of the day. With the sunlight beaming in at different angles and hitting all the jewels, ivory, gold, and marble, the house sparkled, further lending to its name.”
We move further into the palace, and I’m surprised to see a mosaic floor still perfectly intact. The guide tells us that Trajan couldn’t be bothered to remove the tiles because it may have taken too long, so he just left it. To be several centuries old, the floor is in pristine condition.
When we get to the center of the structure, there’s an octagonal room with an oculus in the ceiling.
“This was strictly a party and entertaining hall,” the guide says. “When people entered, they would be sprayed with perfume and rose petals from the opening. It afforded sunlight during the day and a beautiful view of the starry sky at night. The walls here would have been decorated in marble and there was a waterfall in the wall over there that would drain through the floor.”
Once we’ve traipsed through the rooms that were once frequented by Nero and his guests, we get an added attraction to the tour—a projected movie on the wall of what the outside and some of the rooms would have looked like when Nero lived here as well as a 3D virtual reality experience through VR glasses to see what the rooms and the grounds looked like.
This is amazing to me as I watch various 3D reconstructions and recreation of this indescribable palace and estate. It’s exquisite. It’s beyond measure and value, and Nero built this whole thing in four years. It’s incredible that they wanted to erase this man from history so badly that they literally just threw dirt over all his shit.
Strip the gold, strip the marble, strip the bronze, strip the ivory, whatever you can’t strip—bury it! They didn’t even repurpose the space. They were just like, “Smackety—bury him!” Where do you even find that much dirt?
Maybe they repurposed it when Trajan demolished that 125-foot hill.
He had a lake built on his property—a fucking lake! They built a sophisticated irrigation system and drained the lake and built the Colosseum over it. Then they kept the irrigation system in place so the Colosseum wouldn’t flood.
They moved his colossus to the Colosseum and built the Temple of Venus and Rome where the structure that held his huge atrium was.
What they didn’t tear down, they threw dirt over it. Palatine Hill was taller because they just threw dirt over Nero’s shit. Domitian built arches to serve as a foundation to extend Palatine Hill so that he could continue to build over Nero’s shit.
Rulers just said, “Just throw some dirt over that. I ain’t using that,” and for fifty years, they just went about the business of burying his palace and planting shit on top of it. After the fire of 104, Trajan was like, “Yeah, I don’t need that,” threw rubble over his crap and built a whole ass elaborate bath complex over it.
Do you get the idea that they wanted to separate themselves from Nero??
When we leave the Domus Aurea, it’s just about time for la Passeggiata, but we need to go home and change. My hair is all frizzy from the humidity and my skin feels pretty damn clammy, and Christian just admitted that his shoes are wet inside. If he catches a cold and ruins our vacation, I’m going to kill him.
We get back to the hotel and after I shower, I realize that the only thing I’m going to be able to do with this mass of hair that’s not going to take an hour and a half is either vamp ponytail or messy chignon. Vamp ponytail will require gel and flat ironing. Messy chignon will only require hair combs, mousse, and maybe a couple of bobby pins… a curl here and there if I feel so inclined.
Messy chignon it is.
Once I’ve finished blow-drying my hair, I notice how quiet the suite is… except for one sound.
I hear moaning.
WTF, Christian, we’re in Rome! I’ll put my legs in the air for you anytime you want. Are you serious?
I don my robe and go in search of my husband. I won’t stop his shenanigans, but he’s going to get a good scolding when I catch him in the act. I hear the shower in the other bathroom and I head in that direction. When I get there, my husband has just finished his shower and he’s humming. I just bet you are! All loose as a noodle, now, aren’t you? I fold my arms and stand there in the door. He nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees me.
“Fuck! Anastasia, what the fuck! You scared the shit out of me, what the hell?” he says, perturbed.
“You tell me,” I reply affronted. “I was two rooms over also in the shower. If you needed a fuck, all you had to do was join me!”
“Well, I could always use a fuck, but what are you talking about?” he says, suggestively. Oh, no, Mr. Grey, no sloppy seconds for me today.
“You don’t think I heard you?” I confront.
“Heard me what?” he asks bemused.
And then I hear the moaning again. This time, my husband hears it, too. He raises his brow in a quizzical way and quickly grabs a towel.
“Seriously,” he says as he wraps the towel around his body. Seriously, what? What the hell is that?
He walks out of the bathroom and out of the main suite and he goes searching. I know he’s looking for the source of the moaning, and I immediately remember that Chuck is in our suite. When he locates the sound and heads in that direction, I grip his arm.
“Chuck,” I say.
“I know who the fuck it is,” he says, his voice low, and he heads towards the sound. Why is he angry? I scamper behind him to the door of the room and catch his hand just as he’s reaching for the handle.
“Don’t just barge in on the man!” I whisper.
“Why the fuck not?” he whispers, harshly. “My security staff is all in an uproar and he had to take the day off and move up here because he and Lawrence are at odds over Keri, and now he’s gettin’ some ass?”
Shit! That’s right! What the fuck, Chuck?
Sure enough, we can hear his female companion cry out in ecstasy. We look at each other and a few moments later, Chuck joins her, not-so-quietly announcing his arrival at the promised land. I shake my head in disgust and roll my eyes. I was rooting for you, you unfaithful fuck!
We’re both standing, stunned and appalled as we listen to this asshole breathing through the aftermath and telling this tramp how good it was. Christian angrily reaches for the handle again when we both hear something that makes him stop mid-grab.
“I miss you so much…”
Now, we’re confused. You’re fucking her, how can you miss her?
“I miss you, too, Choonks.”
Choonks… that’s Keri! How the fuck did she get here? And so fast? Christian and I are looking at each other with the same questions on our faces as we shamelessly listen to Choonks and his intimate exchange with his Island Girl. The more we listen, the more we realize… she’s not in that room.
We come to the same conclusion at the same moment and simultaneously cover our mouths to stifle our laughter. Christian gently pushes my shoulder to guide me out of the hallway, and we quietly scamper back the way we came.
When we get back to our bedroom, we burst out into fits of silent giggles and laughter. We almost burst in on Chuck sexting with his girlfriend on Facetime. Hopefully, he’ll sleep well tonight.
After we’ve had our laugh, I head to the closet with instructions to dress classy as we’re having dinner at the Waldorf tonight. Tonight would be a good night for my simple green wrap-around dress—stylish, but sexy, and my green serpentine pointed toe stiletto heels. Soft make-up—just tinted moisturizer, mascara, and lip gloss—and a pair of, no doubt, outrageously expensive emerald earrings that Christian bought for me one day… just because.
My husband is a simple man when it comes to clothes—classic, expensive, but everything is generally black, blue, or gray. It doesn’t matter, though, because he makes everything he wears look good. Case and point, the black suit with white shirt and textured tie that he’s wearing right now that simply looks like he’s going to the office… and makes me want to jump his fucking bones right now.
“You’re going to be the death of me, Mrs. Grey,” he says.
“Look who’s talking,” I retort, trying not to drool.
“Jesus, he’s suffering so bad,” Christian says, recalling Chuck’s predicament, no doubt. “I almost want to fly her out here… but it wouldn’t be conducive and I know that.”
“He’ll be okay,” I say, finishing my chignon. “He’s a grown man… and he has Facetime.” I giggle and Christian laughs.
We employ only Jason for the night, which is fine by me since Ben still had a bug up his butt all day even without Chuck being present. I’m glad we’re taking the car, because wearing one of the few pairs of stilettos that I brought on this trip, I would really prefer not to be walking. I would if I have to, but I prefer not to.
The sun is low in the sky, but still in the sky. The temperature outside is a balmy 79 degrees, and the smell of the rain from earlier still hangs in the air. I almost wish we could walk, but… stilettos. I take a deep breath of the clean, rain-drenched air before we get into the car to go to the Waldorf.
Once inside, I’m again wishing we had walked. Although the car is very comfortable, I’d like the fresh air, and if I open the window, my hair will look like I’ve been attacked by wolves.
“Jason, it’s a beautiful evening,” Christian says. “Open the roof.”
The roof? Open the roof?
Jason pushes a button and a panel slides back revealing a fully panoramic moonroof. Now, how did I not know that was there? Jason then turns a knob and the front panel of the glass slowly slides back while the back panel tilts up to open just slightly. A perfect breeze of rain-cleansed Roman air blows evenly through the car and out the back window, giving me that fresh air that I wanted without destroying my hair.
“Okay?” Christian asks.
“Perfect,” I say, taking a deep breath and letting it out. “How did you know?”
“Because you did that before you got in the car,” he says. I smile and snuggle into the arm of my perfect husband. He always knows how to make me happy.
We arrive at the circular drive of the Waldorf and I immediately know… it’s nothing like Vegas. Don’t get me wrong, Vegas wasn’t shabby, but Rome is like… wow!
Jason opens the door for Christian, who walks around and opens the door for me. I step out and enter the beautiful hotel, decorated in jewel tones and opulence.
Once again, not Vegas.
We make our way to the rooftop to La Pergola, a restaurant just as opulent as the hotel. Although many of the women are dressed somewhere between conservative and elegant, I still feel underdressed.
“Why are you covering yourself?” Christian asks, and I’m just noticing that I’ve clasped my hands in front of me.
“I didn’t know that I was,” I say, honestly. It must be my reaction to my plain green dress. Christian puts his hand in the small of my back and kisses me softly just behind my earlobe.
“You look stunning,” he says, before moving his lips away.
“You have to say that,” I say, unable to hide my blush. He leans in again and places a discreet open-mouthed kiss in the same spot… and I’ve got chills.
“You. Look. Stunning.”
Fuck, is it hot in here?
“You have a reservation?” the hostess says with a big smile.
“Yes,” my husband says, pulling me closer to him. “Grey, party of two.”
The hostess smiles again, retrieves two menus, and leads us to a table next to the floor to ceiling terrace doors with a gorgeous view.
“Oh, Christian!” I breathe. “This is beautiful.”
He smiles and pulls my chair out for me as the hostess sets the menus on our table.
“I’m going to tell you, I’m very hungry,” I say. “We missed aperitivo, and I’ve become accustomed to it now.”
“Okay, do you see anything on the menu that you like?” he asks. I open the menu. I should’ve know that he was setting me up… The menu is 11 pages. I didn’t know there was going to be a test!
“Yikes!” I exclaim quietly. Luckily, it’s in English. “Christian, what do I order?”
“Look around a bit,” he teases. I shake my head and try to decipher what I want from the menu. Where’s Sophie when you need her?
“Signore, signora, I am your server, Simón. We will start you with light antipasti while you peruse the menu,” the server says when he comes to the table. Christian nods and thanks him.
“So, this is the only three-star Michelin in Rome,” Christian tells me. “The executive chef is Heinz Beck. He’s been here for 20 years, executive chef for 10. The chef sommelier is Marco Rietano. I don’t know how long he’s been here, but he’s a three-star Michelin sommelier as well.” I nod.
“I feel like I should know what that means, but I don’t,” I confess. “I’ve heard of five-star restaurants and hotels, but you say three-star Michelin like it’s better.”
“It is,” he says. “In laymen’s terms, the 5-star rating system is for civilians. A hotel or restaurant can be rated 5-star because somebody liked it and gave it a review on Google based on quality, comfort, ambience, luxury, etc. The 3-star Michelin rating system is food and wine only. It’s a world-wide guide distributed by the French company Michelin for over 100 years. One-star means the dining is okay, worthy of mention. Two-star means the dining is good, worthy of a detour if you’re in the neighborhood. Three-star means excellent, worth a journey to eat there.”
“Are we talking about Michelin the tire company?” I ask. He nods.
“I don’t know if the tires came first or the food came first, but yes. Chefs, sommeliers, and restaurants strive for a 3-star Michelin rating. As this is the only restaurant in Rome to have that rating, as you can see it’s not something that’s very easily achievable.”
“Hmm,” I say. “In that case, I’m clearly out of my league, here. I need you to do this.”
“I was hoping you would say that,” he says. “I suggest the 10-course meal.”
Ten courses! Yikes, I said I was hungry. That’ll do it.
“And if you’re still hungry when it’s done, we’ll go somewhere for pizza.” He winks at me and I laugh demurely. He’s cute.
“You expect we’ll still be hungry after ten courses?” I ask incredulously.
“Well, they’re chef’s portions,” he informs me. “They’re usually pretty satisfying, but if not, we’ve got a backup plan.” He winks at me.
Simón comes over to the table and Christian informs him that we’ll be having the 10-course meal with whatever wine pairing the sommelier recommends.
“My wife is famished, so we’ll have a full range of antipasti while we await the other courses. And please send the sommelier over when he’s available,” he requests. “Each time I come I’m looking for a particular vintage. I’ll be eternally grateful if he has it this year.”
“Yes, signore,” Simón says, and leaves the table.
“Why did you have me toiling over that menu when you already had an idea what we would be eating?” I accuse.
“I wanted you to see if there was something on there that you wanted,” he replies. I shake my head.
“At this point, I don’t need to know where the pig was raised, how it was killed, who its family was, or how it’s prepared. If it’s dead and tasty, I’ll eat it,” I reply, causing my husband to laugh and shake his head.
“You read all that in the menu?” he asks.
“For one dish!” I point out. “No wonder the thing is 11 pages long!”
“Signore,” I hear from behind me, and a friendly-looking gentleman joins our table. “I am Marco Rietano. You wish to see me?”
“Yes, Marco, thank you for coming over. I’m Christian and this is my wife, Anastasia.” Marco smiles at me and does a bow and a nod, and I return his smile.
“Each time I come, I ask about a vintage that I know you were trying to get and I’m just wondering if you acquired it yet. Do you yet have the Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1985?” Christian asks.
“Sì, signore,” Marco replies, “we were able to acquire some bottles last year.” Christian’s eyes light up.
“You do?” he confirms. “Excellent! We will definitely be having that.”
“Very well. Will you have it now and the recommendations with the main courses?” Marco asks.
“I can guarantee you that if you keep the 1985 flowing, we won’t need anything else,” Christian assures him. He nods once and smiles.
“Sì, signore,” he says, and leaves the table. The moment he leaves, the first round of antipasti arrives—small finger foods, one for each of us.
“Now I know why you asked for a full round of antipasti,” I say. “I’ll starve waiting for the main course.”
“No, you won’t. I promise,” he assures me.
Our first round of antipasti is fried polenta with baby carrot and raspberry vinegar; pickled onions macerated in linseed oil on black cabbage; and puffed bread chips with grilled chanterelles in herbal oil. Except for the carrots, they’re single bites of food, but they’re really good.
“Mmm,” I say after eating the pickled onion followed by a bite of the baby carrot, “that’s a real taste sensation.”
“I told you, give it a chance,” my husband replies.
Not a moment after we’ve finished the first round of antipasti, Simón is coming to the table with a plate stacked with… something, and Marco is right behind him with a bottle of wine. Simón sets the plate on the table and clears the empty dishes.
“Beet, turmeric, sumac, and poppy seed chips,” he says with a bow and steps away from the table. Marco takes his place, presenting the bottle to Christian. My husband nods and Marco proceeds to uncork the bottle, then pour a tasting of the luscious red into one of the incredibly large wine glasses on the table. My husband takes a sip, then nods, and Marco pours not much more than a tasting into his glass, then into mine. What, are they rationing the shit?
“Taste it, but only sip it… trust me,” he says. There’s nothing more than a sip or two in this glass. I don’t argue. I take the glass by the stem and take a small sip, allowing the wine to coat my tongue.
It’s like a long, warm hug from an old, familiar friend.
“Liquid silk?” I ask, turning a disbelieving eye to my husband. He chuckles.
“No, but close,” he says. “This is a Super Tuscan grape, and 1985 was an exceptional year. This vintage is very hard to find.”
“Christian, how could you do this to me?” I say. “I’ll never be able to enjoy my Cabernet again after this.” I take another sip of the elixir, trying not to chug it, not that I could. It’s a smooth, but robust and hearty flavor. You must sip it, but after each sip, there goes that hug again.
“It is good, yes?” Marco says.
“It is very good,” I reply, replacing the glass so that I don’t drink it all at once. Marco nods and another server appears with a wine bucket on a tall stand. Marco puts the wine in the bucket with a small towel, nods, and walks away. He’s a sommelier, so I know I don’t need to ask if there’s ice in the bucket. Chilling would totally ruin the flavor of this wine.
“So from the content of your conversation, there’s no likelihood that you’re going to be able to get some bottles of this illegally delicious nectar to go home with us, is there?” I take one of the chips from the plate and crunch into it as quietly as I can.
“Not very likely,” he admits. “It took at least four years for a three-star Michelin sommelier to get his hands on some. It’s going to be damn near impossible for me to get a hold of any.”
I frown, on my face and in my soul. I guess this is one of those experiences I’ll just have to enjoy for the time that I have it. I won’t be a brat although the Bitch is stomping around like Rumpelstiltskin.
And these chips aren’t bad at all.
Before we finish the chips, another beautifully plated antipasti comes out, this one a bit more substantial than the other.
“This is watermelon carpaccio marinated in an infusion of birch, cardamom, ginger, lemongrass and jasmine with seafood,” Simón says as his colleague clears the table again. “Enjoy.” He nods and leave.
I never would have thought to prepare watermelon this way. It’s thinly sliced, a mix of the sweet and savory with the hint of the citrus and floral spices. It almost tastes like meat, and I’m very happy that Christian got a plate of his own. I gobble the entire plate along with a couple more sips of “hug.”
Now, I’m not feeling so ravenous, and I can enjoy what they bring to us.
“Marinated crustaceans with peppers and Tropea onion jam,” Simón announces as he presents the next course. “More wine?”
“Please,” I say with a nod. Simón pours another small amount of wine in the glass which—as I have discovered—turns out to be enough while I admire the creation before me. It’s arranged in this unusual bowl with a wide, flat brim. There’s some kind of pastry or flaky bread decorated with sprigs of flowers and vegetables on top of the prawns arranged in a way so that they almost appear to be in their natural habitat inside the bowl. The entire thing looks like a tropical island sitting on top of a coral reef. It’s actually… fun.
And it’s delicious.
The flavors complement each other so well. There’s nothing overwhelming, and it’s not under-seasoned either. There’s just enough of everything to make you appreciate the dish. I now truly understand why chef’s dishes are so small. They’re not meant to be gobbled. They’re meant to be appreciated.
… Along with a few sips of a warm hug.
And the courses keep coming… Scallops, artichokes, and summer truffles…
… And a warm hug.
Mediterranean roasted eggplant with pomegranates and tahini…
… And a couple more warm hugs.
Warm hug, warm hug, warm hug…
After all the taste sensations and warm hugs, we finally get our pasta dish—Fagottelli “La Pergola.” It’s apparently the house specialty. It’s like ravioli, and there’s only six of them on the plate. Hmm… okay, chef’s servings.
I soon discover why there are only six ravioli on the plate.
“Where’s my fork?” I ask. “Why did I get a spoon with my pasta?”
“Okay, this is what you’re going to do,” Christian explains. “Don’t try to cut it. Take an entire piece of pasta on the spoon and put the entire thing in your mouth.” I do as I’m told.
It explodes when you bite into it—deliciousness all over your oral cavity. I have to take a moment to savor.
“Oh, my God, this is delicious. What’s in this?” I ask once I’ve finally consumed the creation.
“It’s the chef’s special liquefied carbonara pepper sauce inside a pillow of hand-made ravioli. The outside sauce is green onions in pecorino cheese.” I raise my gaze to him.
“How many times have you been here?” I ask.
“A few,” he confirms with a wink, taking a spoon of his pillow of ravioli.
“With a woman?” I ask. Why the fuck did I ask that question? He raises a surprised gaze to me as he chews his food. Oh, well, it’s out of my mouth now. I can’t take it back. What the hell is in this wine?
“Do you really want to know the answer to that?” he challenges. That response already gave me my answer. He’s a billionaire, extremely handsome, and he’s only been yours for the last three years. Why wouldn’t he have traveled with a woman?
“No,” I say, looking down into my bowl and spooning another ravioli, “no, I don’t.” Christian catches my hand before I’m able to lift my spoon from the bowl, causing me to look up at him.
“No, Anastasia,” he says, his voice sober, “I’ve never taken another woman out of the country. I’ve done a lot of things alone that are normally reserved for couples because I felt like I shouldn’t be deprived of these things simply because there wasn’t a woman on my arm. I’m going to have several firsts with you on this trip… and this is one of them.”
I gaze at him for a moment and I feel a smile slowly creep across my face. I try to keep it coy, but I can’t. What he just said pleases me so much that I feel my cheeks about to burst!
Yeah, I bet it’s the wine.
“Now, enjoy your Fagottelli,” Christian says, chuckling softly. And that’s exactly what I do, and it is delightful—the best pasta I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.
Our meat course is lamb cerebellum with fava bean puree, peas, fried artichokes, and chicory marinated in culatello sauce with chili and mint. That course is paired with a varied selection of cheese from the trolley, and several sips of the warm hug. I’m forlorn to see Simón pour the last of the bottle into Christian’s glass, and elated to see Marco close behind him uncorking a second bottle to pour for me.
“Magnifico!” I exclaim, I almost leap from the table and dance with glee. Marco chuckles and places the bottle in the bucket before leaving.
Dolci is baked apricots with yogurt ice cream and iced sphere of red fruit on tea cream with crystallized raspberries. The red fruit turns out to be pomegranate, and there’s chocolate involved. It’s pretty, and it turns out to be one of the most decadent things I’ve ever tasted.
I’m thoroughly satisfied as I sit back and enjoy the after-dinner espresso and more of the warm hug. The meal was exquisite and well worth the wait and I’m so satisfied, I could just purr.
To my surprise, Heinz Beck comes from the kitchen and begins to make rounds of the dining room, greeting each guest. Talk about your special touches! He smiles as he makes his way to our table.
“We have met before,” he says, when he greets my husband.
“We have,” Christian says, proffering his hand. “Christian Grey.”
“Heinz Beck,” he says, accepting my husband’s shake. “I am not so good with names, but I do not forget a face.”
Christian introduces me and tells Heinz that this was my first visit. He asks how I enjoyed the meal and I can’t tell him enough how divine everything tasted, the flavors all bursting in your mouth, at one point doing the chef’s kiss on my fingers, which pleases Heinz tremendously. He asks about our vacation and how many of the sites we’ve seen. He holds an actual conversation with us for about a minute and a half before he thanks us for dining and tells us to enjoy the rest of our vacation. Then, he moves on to greet the diners at the next table.
So, this is what dining in a 3-star Michelin restaurant is like.
As we’re leaving, probably some 20 or 30 minutes later, Marco greets us at the door. He’s standing there like he had no other purpose but to stand at that door and he’s holding a beautiful wooden case.
“Grazie,” he says. “You come again?”
“We definitely come again,” Christian says, enthusiastically. Marco smiles and hands him the case.
“Grazie, Signore, for you and the signora.” He takes my hand and kisses it chastely. “Grazie, signora,” he says with a bow.
“Thank you, Marco,” I say with a warm smile. “It was delightful.”
We walk out of the restaurant silently, like we just did a bank heist and we’re trying to quietly make a getaway. Christian carries the case like it’s handcuffed to his wrist. With his hand in the small of my back, he’s kind of rushing me along a bit.
We both know what’s in that case.
When Jason brings the car around, Christian opens the door for me and I hurriedly climb inside. Once he’s inside and we’re on our way, we’re behaving like we just got a Christmas present… because we did!
“Tell me that’s not what I think it is,” I say, unable to contain my glee. Christian unhooks the brass clasp on the case and opens it…
… showing me one of two bottles of warm hugs.
My husband instructs Jason to take us to the Trevi Fountain so that we can have a little stroll before we go back to the hotel. There are still a lot of people out here, but we’re able to stroll a bit without too much trouble and find a seat on a bench on the lower level right across from the fountain. It’s a little chillier over here by the fountain, and I foolishly didn’t bring a wrap, so Christian drapes his jacket over my shoulders… again. I kind of think my mind convinces me to leave home without an overcoat on purpose, but I probably shouldn’t have done it tonight since I was worried earlier about him catching cold from his wet shoes.
“Are you okay?” I ask when he gives me his jacket.
“I’m fine,” he says. “The temperature’s perfect for me and my arms aren’t bare.” I lean on his shoulder and we hold hands as we watch the Trevi Fountain at night. It’s an entirely different view from what we saw during the day. Even with all the people mulling around, it’s beautiful. And it’s water… I could sit here all night.
“It’s hard to believe you came here alone at all,” I say. “Rome is… magical. Historical and mysterious and romantic… it almost seems like a waste not to enjoy it with someone else.” He’s silent for a few moments.
“I never, ever wanted to be here with anybody else,” he says. “This place is too special to me to share it with some meaningless submissive. It meant too much… means too much to just… cheapen the experience that way.”
“Be honest,” I say, “did you ever want to bring Elena here? I know what she meant to you at one point.” He sighs.
“She came once,” he admits, “but she came with the family. We never had any time alone, which is probably… no, definitely as good thing. This is my special place. Had I made any lasting memories here with her, she would have taken this away from me, too, especially after I finally accepted what she really was.” I sigh.
“She hasn’t taken anything away from you, Christian,” I say, tracing his palm gently. “She’s a part of your past, and you can’t avoid it. She didn’t steal your innocence because, as much as I hate to say it, your innocence was tainted before she got to you. But for you to connect so spiritually to a place this remarkable, that says a lot about you.” I look up at him.
“There may have been emotions that you were unable to express or identify, but someone who’s heartless—like you want to believe you were—never would have been able the have the experiences that you’ve had here in Rome. The epiphanies and the appreciation, the introspection… that takes a deeper soul, a depth that was always there. You just didn’t know it, because the people that love you couldn’t get through to you, and the person that you loved was worthless.
“But in those moments when you were free, when you were on your own in the streets of Trastevere or wandering the Jewish Ghetto, that’s when the real Christian came out—the young boy who was always reaching for love, peace, and enlightenment. And you found that here, even when it was scary or painful. I’ve always known you were a good man with a kind heart. I’ve never doubted it, but now, I’m completely sure of it.”
I gently stroke his hair just over his ear and gaze into his beautiful gray eyes, sparkling from the water reflection off his irises.
“Thank you so much for sharing this with me,” I say, just above a whisper before I press my lips to his.
A/N: There are some very remarkable reconstructions of the Domus Aurea on my Pinterest page in the Domus Aurea album. If you want an idea of what the Golden House may have looked like before it was buried, I suggest you go take a peek!
NEW PINTEREST ALBUMS WILL BE ADDED EACH CHAPTER FOR THE ITALY VACATION. I SUGGEST YOU DON’T MISS THEM AS THEY WILL GREATLY ENHANCE THE EXPERIENCE!
This chapters albums include the Edoardo II Restaurant, Trajan’s Forum, La Pergola in the Waldorf, and the Domus Aurea. There are lots of pictures in these albums to give you the full effect of the ruins and the history.
Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/
Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/
The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.
If you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, or you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu intitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE.
You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.