We spent the evenings just she and I - and a cadre of her colleagues. The group events were more fun than I'd expected. For one thing, they took my mind off the killjoy who didn't think a 13-year-old boy would like a vegetable peeler as a souvenir from Italy. For another, I got to sample a lot more food.

Everybody shared. In a festive blur, plates were passed from hand to hand. Toothsome swordfish in tomatoes. Delicious steak in two sauces. Rich yet impossibly light fettuccine Alfredo (at a restaurant that claims to have invented the dish). Grilled radicchio. Prosciutto. Buffalo-milk mozzarella. Gelato. Tiramisu. You name it.

The sharing reflected the festive spirit of the table. When work was discussed at all, it was usually fascinating stuff, enlivened by animated debate. When, on occasion, the work talk became too insidery and, well, boring, it was easy to locate others at the table who would also rather talk about something else, like, say, vegetable peelers.

One night, we went with Jessica's boss, his wife (unlike me, she had business there), and a co-worker to a free Paul McCartney concert outside the Coliseum. I don't like McCartney. But the show, which attracted a human sea of over half a million people, was one of the best concerts I've ever seen. A priceless memory is the sight of Jessica's boss, a muckety-muck in the government and a man who likes to dress well, sliding like a little boy on his fancy-trousered butt through a hole in the fence and down a small dirt hill to a clearing on a bluff overlooking the throng. It renewed my faith in the possibility that government officials are human.

On our last night in Rome, we attended a sunset reception at a 600-year-old farmhouse on sprawling grounds. Jessica and I begged off early and went to dinner by ourselves. We found a little out-of-the-way place that made stunningly good pizza. Afterward, we had astonishing gelato, then popped our heads into a CD store to see if we could find any Italian rock for Sam in the unlikely event he didn't like the vegetable peeler. It was a lovely, romantic evening.

But I couldn't help hoping that some of the gang might be in the hotel bar when we got back.