Spoiler alert. Today’s post is about one of my favorite parts of my trip to Rome. I’ve been trying my best to hold off on sharing it until the very end, but I simply cannot.
When my brother and his wife first moved to Rome, amidst the stammers and awkward pauses in their language classes*, Joel managed to convey to his teacher that he has a brother back home who has Down syndrome. She told him about La Locanda dei Girasoli.
*Their teachers do not speak a lick of English!
As soon as he told me about it, I knew two things:
- I would be going there when I visited.
- Providence placed Joel and Mallory near this restaurant.
Out of all the places in Rome, they chose to live in an apartment a mere two metro stops away from La Locanda.
Welcome to the Inn of Sunflowers
La Locanda dei Girasoli is a restaurant, but not just any restaurant. It is a restaurant with a mission of “promoting the employment of people with Down syndrome, ennobling and giving dignity to the individual through an individual path, training and work placement”.
Their pizza game is strong
I didn’t need any more information to know this was a place I needed to go. They could have served me cold cereal and I would have eaten it with the biggest smile on my face.
But here is the even better part. Their food is on par with the quality of restaurants all over Rome.
Translation: We ate very well.
Possibly the best tiramisu I ate in Rome
We went at the start of my last week in Rome. The three of us prepared ourselves for the possibility that going there would rattle us emotionally. After all, they had been living in Rome for seven months with only video calls as their connection to our brother, Jonathan.
Though modern technology of texting, video chatting, picture sharing, etc. is absolutely wonderful, one thing it can never capture is the longing to reach out and hug someone whom you cherish.
Video chatting with Jon while in Rome
Once at our table, we were greeted by Ettore who was clearly the ‘boss’ of the three gentlemen who were working that night. Joel caught onto this and told him in Italian that he was the capo. Ettore thought that meant Joel wanted to speak with the actual boss and quickly said he would go get him. When he realized Joel was saying that he, Ettore, was the boss, he beamed with the biggest smile and then shook his hands in refusal.
Joel, Gabriel, Ettore, Mal
Joel, Me, Eduardo, Mal, Gabriel
We then met Eduardo and Gabriel, who worked hard at bringing us our drinks and food. We were unable to sit still due to all the joy this place brought us and continuously attempted to make conversation with them. After only a few minutes of speaking to Gabriel in Italian, we realized he also spoke English.
That’s right. English.
Gabriel and me
Come on. Of all the off the beaten path, away from the center of Rome, places we visited, what are the odds that here we would find a precious young man with Down syndrome who also spoke our language?
As we continued to chat with Gabriel, we learned he not only spoke English and Italian, but also Spanish and German. And in that moment, the possibilities within our own world, for our own beloved brother, grew.
Instead of making us long for home, this place became home to us.
Eduardo serving us the espresso he made
Jonathan has several celebrities he hopes to one day meet. But instead of saying, “Gaga, I want to meet Queen Latifah,” he says, “Gaga, when Queen Latifah meet me?” Jonathan is loved by so many he interacts with, it seems only logical to him that a celebrity he loves should want to meet him.
At this place, these men are the celebrities. And more than anything, we wanted to meet them.
It is why we returned two nights later, eager to once again meet the celebrities who are making this special little spot in Rome shine.
In this house we are real
Sometimes we are wrong
We give second chances
We have fun
We are vital
We are a family
Joel, Gabriel, Eduardo, and Emanuele on our return visit
Me and the celebrities
La Locanda dei Girasoli
Via dei Sulpici, 117 H 00174 Roma
+39 06 761 0194