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Photo: Zoe Vincenti
Alas, we don't get to see it; Angelo's friend has the flu. But we go to the Vatican anyway. As we enter the massive structure, he correctly reads the family mood. "I don't want to take you through the whole museum—that would take five hours," he says. "So we do the shortcut." This is my kind of tour, especially because of the information Angelo shares, such as how Raphael two-timed his noble girlfriend with the woman he really loved, a baker's daughter, and how the guy in one of the murals is a dead ringer for Sylvester Stallone in his early days.

Angelo has been in the guide business for 28 years, after first working as a hairdresser. "The women drove me nuts," he says. "They came in with photographs of Farrah Fawcett, with the frosted hair, saying, 'That is what I want to look like.' And I said, 'I'm a man, not a god.'"

He was living in Boston then, having moved there to learn English. That is where he met his American wife, with whom he has two sons, Simone, 29, and Marco, 27. They work with their father in the business, often providing a wry corrective chorus to his sometimes excessive exuberance. Once, they recall, Angelo was showing around two American women in their 50s. Told they didn't have husbands, Angelo promised to find them nice Italian boyfriends, only to learn they were already happily paired up—with each other.

After a spaghetti dinner at Antica Pesa near the Gianicolo ("Sophia Loren's favorite restaurant," Angelo says), we fall into bed exhausted, but wake up ready for another day of serendipitous encounters. First we are joined by Max Parini, one of Angelo's guides, a champion explicator of historical context. Leaving the car in what is clearly not a parking space—"We are Italians! We will park in the middle of the street!" Angelo says—we visit the Sancta Sanctorum, a chapel once used by popes. The door is locked. Not surprisingly, Angelo knows the guy with the key. We go in, leaving the other tourists to gape wistfully through a grated window. There is some confusion about the provenance of a sacred piece of wood on the wall. The guide says it came from the bench where the disciples sat at the Last Supper, but as we leave, Angelo whispers to me, "Last time, he said it came from the table." We accept that it is historic and leave it at that.

Then we head to Giolitti, whose 40-plus gelatos—from hazelnut to papaya—are reputed to be favorite treats of the Italian parliament when the task of legislating becomes too arduous. Angelo knows one of the owners, Nazzareno Giolitti, a lion of a man exuding Italian machismo, who hands Alice and me aprons and leads us through the main steps of gelato-making—mushing the fruit, stirring in cream, sugar, and milk, and then tossing the whole mixture into giant churning machines. He calls ice cream "the most important, most complete food in the world," and he is not kidding. The secret, he says, is passion. Also simple, fresh ingredients in the perfect proportion. "It's like women," he says, clearly a connoisseur. "If a woman puts on too much makeup, she ruins everything. Better to be natural."

What is there left to do? We are too tired to see anything else and expect we might never eat again, either. As we say goodbye to Angelo, he reminds us that we have promised to come back with the rest of the family. He will take us to Positano, on the coast, and we will swim and eat seafood and see nothing we don't want to see. "We'll keep in touch," he says. "Leave it to me. I'll tell you where to go."

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