Even amid the historic beauty of Rome, a Black man can run into ugliness.
I’ve discovered that fact in international cities other than Rome, because as a Black man who travels, I know, sadly, that racism will follow me wherever I set my luggage down.
In the past, I’ve recounted instances of where my Blackness got me treatment of the second-class variety. What happened to me in Rome was of a recent vintage.
Earlier this month — on my birthday, in fact — I headed to a restaurant near my hotel, smack in the middle of the city. Matricianelli, five minutes away on foot, was a spot a clerk at my hotel raved about.
I arrived there around 8:45 on this hot, steamy night. A male host greeted me, and I told him I would like to dine there. He asked me if I had a reservation.
“No,” I said.
He stared at his seating chart, and in halting English, he then told me, “I cannot seat you until 10.”
I weighed for a moment whether I should hang around for 75 minutes. I was starved. I glanced around and noticed a handful of empty tables. It was a busy evening, so I’m guessing some diners with reservations hadn’t arrived. I told him I didn’t want to wait that long. Again, I was hungry.
As I stepped back slowly from the reservation desk, two Americans — and no doubt they were Americans — came up to the desk after I’d moved out of their way. One of them said, “I hope we can get lucky tonight.”
He and his companion laughed.
“Can we get a table for two?” he continued
The host glanced at his seating chart, and without a moment’s hesitation, he grabbed menus and took the men to an empty table.
Now, I could consider what the host did a couple of ways:
- First, seating two people at a table for two made more sense than to seat one person there.
- Second, he didn’t care if I ate there or not.
I saw this as a what-the-hell moment.
No, he didn’t, I thought.
He could have at least waited till I’d moved farther from where he stood to give the two Americans a reply. He also could have asked them to wait three or four minutes. To seat them straightaway, though … I can’t describe how an anger welled in me.
In my travels abroad, I’ve learned to silence my inner-Negro. I can find no good in making a big to-do in a country where, as Italy is, Black men are as a rare as black rhinos in South Africa.
With me still in front of him, the host should have pretended the circumstances were different. He could have seen me as a customer rather than as an invisible man who had made a chose to dine at his restaurant.
So I shrugged and walked toward the nearby plaza. My anger in tow, I had options, regardless of the recommendation I got about Matricianelli. I would love to have sampled a plate of its risotto or homemade spaghetti.
But … no way was I eating there. Its host might not have wanted me to anyway, but I figured someplace else would. For options are plentiful whenever I visit international cities.