It’s drizzling and cool. Two weathered men hover over a makeshift roaster on a side street in Rome. They’re smoking and talking, punctuating their conversation with sweeping arm gestures.
They don’t notice that I’m standing in front of them, slightly bent at the waist, sniffing the chestnuts.
A couple of things are wrong with this scene. For one, it’s not chestnut season in Italy. It’s early May.
Two, no one else is buying the chestnuts, although the streets are packed on this unusually cool, wet morning.
Except me. I’ve never seen chestnuts roasting before.
So of course I buy them. Two Euros for a paper cone filled to the brim.
They’re warm in my hand. I crack one open, eager to taste a freshly roasted chestnut. Did I mention I was in Rome? IN ROME! Standing near the Piazza Navona, holding a bag of Italian chestnuts roasted before my very eyes by old men who look like quintessential street chestnut roasters — I’m euphoric.
I pop the chestnut into my mouth, close my eyes and chew.
My heart sinks. The chestnut is mealy, dry and over roasted. Disappointed, I try another one. Ick. And another. The same.
Nearby is a park. A homeless man sits on a bench near a fountain. He looks at me and I hold out the paper cone filled with out-of-season, over-roasted chestnuts.
He takes them, bows his head and mumbles “grazie, grazie.”
For a brief moment, I feel bad handing him these less than perfect chestnuts, but I figure he’s hungry, so it’s better than throwing them away.
I walk away but after a few yards I turn and look back.
He’s feeding the chestnuts to the birds.