SATURDAY IN ROME

When I lived in Rome, my husband and I did much of our weekly shopping on Saturdays. During the week Glenn bought our vegetables at a stand set up on the sidewalk near our apartment where an old woman sat on a stool trimming artichokes while her husband helped shoppers select the freshest tomatoes. Our usual weekly shopping was done at a local supermarket where the eggs and milk were un-refrigerated, and there were dozens of kinds of pasta lined up on the shelves.

Once a month we trekked to the covered market in Testaccio, a working-class area full of traditional Roman restaurants because it was located near the slaughterhouse where organ meats (the quinto quarto or 5th quarter) had been inexpensive in the past. The abbatoir is now an arts center but still maintains the disconcerting statue of a bull meeting his end looming over the main gate. The surrounding neighborhood is named for Monte Testaccio, a 100 foot-high terraced hill made of broken amphorae that originally contained oil, wheat and other commodities imported to ancient Rome. The newest additions to the pile are dated to AD 140.
Wandering past merchants calling me to look, taste or smell their seasonal fruit and vegetables was a welcome part of the Testaccio experience. The open-sided market covering an entire city block was much more appealing than looking at food neatly arranged in the cavernous and deoderized supermarket with deadening fluorescent lights and dearth of human interaction. In summer the market aroma of mixed seafood announced its availablity a block away, but the sweetness of ripe grapes and figs compelled a much closer sniff. In winter, both merchants and shoppers were bundled up but the noise level remained as intense discussions about quality and price  for seasonal treats went on unabated.

I tried to stick to my shopping list but frequently bought more than we needed, unable to resist the seasonal giant green grapes, figs bursting with flavor, fresh porcini mushrooms, artichokes, or agretti 

Then there was the cheese: fresh mozzarella was swimming in milky liquid ready for a Caprese salad for lunch, or small rounds of semi-staginato pecorino, caciocavallo and giant wheels of parmigiano.

Next came meat or fish. Our shopping bags were soon stuffed.

The bustling atmosphere took my mind back into history, to visualize an ancient Roman housewife being harangued by vendors as she tasted a grape, tested a melon for ripeness, and bargained for bread and rough red wine. Or maybe a house slave belonging to a rich matron was looking for stinky fermented fish sauce called garum, roasted parrot, salted jellyfish, oysters, ostrich, or tiny songbirds to be eaten in one crunchy bite. Perhaps dormice served with honey was on the menu for the banquet that ancient Saturday evening. Maybe some shopkeepers shouted out Emperor So-and-So always served his mice with the vendor’s acacia honey. (Today’s shoppers often see stalls with a picture of Padre Pio, a favorite Roman saint, as a recommendation.)

But whoever the shoppers were in ancient times, they didn’t come home with chocolate, squash, tomatoes, or coffee. Can you imagine Italian food without these delights? The consummation of the marriage of Pasta and Tomatoes was surely the most inspired culinary hookup ever.
After my own food shopping (minus garum and songbirds) was finished, I couldn’t resist heading to the shoe stalls along one side of the market. The stalls were a goldmine because they sold the previous year’s shoe styles for bargain prices. I thought that shoes were a peculiar inclusion in a food market until I recognized that they were a staple as important as pasta and vegetables since the dawn of Italian history. One memorable fresco in a museum in southern Italy depicts Venus wearing a pearl necklace, red shoes and nothing else. It was probably painted around the fifth century BC but it was easy to visualize a more modern Roman mistress in the same attire. Studying the variety of sandals on Roman statues could take a lifetime. Romans could buy shoes during the Second World War when Italian troops were fighting in snow without boots. Even a recent pope was concerned with shoe styles, favoring red ones like ancient emperors.

 Following long-standing tradition of being shoe-proud, I often left the market with a pair or two.   But like looking over the vegetables before buying, I learned that it is best to curb my enthusiasm. I found a splendid pair of bright blue leather and black patent high heels and snapped them up after trying on the right one. I paid while the vendor placed the mate in the box and handed it over. When we returned home I tried them on only to find that one had a black sole and square toe and the other a light-colored sole and round toe. Maybe someone scrounged them from the garbage can after they landed there that afternoon. Caveat Emptor, “Buyer beware” as the ancient Romans said.
Alas, we no longer live in Rome but never miss the markets when we return on holiday. And, the old fragrant market has been replaced by a sanitary enclosed version. But it still has shoes.
All photos except Monte Testaccio by the author
Photo of Monte Testaccio is from Wikipedia Commons

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STRANGERS ON A TRAIN

The Rome airport was in chaos because of a fire. Our one-hour flight to Catania in Sicily, where Glenn and I were to begin a two-week tour, was cancelled and we were unable to rebook by computer or in person. Our only alternative was to take the train, a ten-hour journey.

After fruitless efforts to book on-line, we headed to the crowded and pickpocket-ridden Stazione Termini to get tickets from an agent who could advise on schedules. But when we saw the number 578 on the slip from the take-a-number machine, there was nothing to do but confront the row of hostile vending machines known to eat victim’s credit cards and refuse to produce tickets. Many were “guasto,” the ubiquitous word for “broken” or “out of service.” I found one that appeared to work and gingerly stuck my credit card in the slot. A whirring noise and two tickets for Catania and my card miraculously appeared.  

The next day we dragged our luggage to the station to find our carriage. It had an old-fashioned arrangement for second-class trains: three seats facing one way and three the other in a compartment with a sliding door opening onto a corridor.
 
It didn’t take long to find out who our companions for the ride would be when a huge African man dressed in a blue tunic and trousers looked through the door and then down at his ticket. He entered, hauling a folding trolley and two bulging plastic garbage bags and heaved them up on the luggage rack above the seats before sitting knee to knee opposite Glenn. Then a young man with an Adidas sports bag plopped down. My opposite number entered: another young man but with a dog in his arms. The animal was about the size of a small terrier and bald except for tufts of hair on the top of her head, end of tail and around the ankles. The bald part was pink with black polka dots. The young man was beaming with pride but his pet hid her wistful face in the man’s jacket. I wondered if it was from embarrassment at her appearance.

 As the train glided out of Rome, past the ruined Temple of  Minerva Medica and crumbling aqueducts, the compartment door slid open and our last companion arrived: a man with receding hairline, a grey ponytail, flowered shirt, and gold bracelets and necklace.

When you are stuck together with other travelers for ten hours on a train with no restaurant or bar car the only thing to do is talk. Everyone introduced themselves. The man with bundles was a Senegalese street vendor who spoke Italian and French as he talked about his family left behind as he sold knock-off handbags on the streets and beaches. The dog man told us about his timid Chinese Crested dog; the man sitting next to Glenn was a lawyer from Catania, also stuck on the train because of the airport fire and subsequent cancellations. One of his conversational offerings was his name, Gaio. Although the female equivalent, Gaia, Earth goddess, is common, the masculine equivalent is nearly unknown. (I thought his mama must have known how good-looking he would be because he did indeed look like a god.) The man with the ponytail was originally from Uruguay now living in Parma and on his way south to visit his Italian mother. He entertained us with stories of his recent heart surgery after we admired his scar. We volunteered some about our past years living in Rome before asking why there was no bridge to Sicily. The two Italians responded with shrugs and mumblings about corruption.

And so the time passed in conversation conducted in three languages as the train chugged through economically depressed southern Italy, a land where much of “what might have been” is evident with every crumbling and empty factory, fallow field, and one-story house with the rusting re-bar for a never-built second story protruding vainly into the sky. So much beauty in the landscape, so difficult to earn a living. 
Eventually the Senegalese gathered up his goods and got off. Instead of making the expected remarks about street vendors, who are widely seen as a nuisance, the other three began to discuss the tragedy of economic conditions in Africa that forced men to emigrate to support their families with menial work in a foreign country.
The train finally reached the Straits of Messina where it was loaded section by section into the bowels of a ferry.

After a half hour in the dark, we emerged in the city of Messina with a small sense of bonding with our fellow travelers, who we would never meet again, and a large appreciation for the empathy of Italians who recognize the struggles of so many desperate migrants washing up on Italy’s southern shores.

All photos from Wikipedia Commons   

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ROMAN ROSES

One of the pleasures of a sunny Roman day in May is taking a leisurely stroll through the Communal Rose Garden which is open during that month when the blooms from over 1100 plants are exuberantly flourishing.

The ancient Romans were rose fanciers and supposedly the current site was originally home to a temple dedicated to Flora, the goddess of flowers.

Wealthy banquet hosts showered their guests with petals as a finale to the meal. (And in the spirit of excess attributed to several emperors both Nero and Heliogabalus (204-222) were reputed to have suffocated guests by dumping piles of petals from a false ceiling. Anyone who has seen the kitschy overwrought painting by Alma-Tadema done in 1888 won’t forget the story.) Fortunately that sort of thing is out of fashion and the flowers are available for all to enjoy without fear.

The garden overlooks the Circus Maximus and the Palatine Hill. I suspect few other such gardens have a more spectacular setting. The layout is divided into two, the lower half is set aside for the annual competition called the Premio Roma; the upper is a compendium of ancient varieties such as Gallica, Alba, and Damascena, and modern plants with intriguing names like Princess Margaret, Dark Lady, Diana, and Pinocchio. Hybrids, miniature, rambling – all are there for you to breath in their intoxicating scent.

The center walkway and curving pathways recall the shape of a menorah. I thought this a curious choice until I learned the history of the area after the temple to Flora vanished in the dust of time: Originally, Roman Jews were assigned a space for their graves on the opposite side of the Tiber, but when Pope Urban VIII built new fortifications to protect Trastevere the Jews were “allowed” to buy land on the northern slope of the Aventino in 1645. The area was called Ortaccio degli Ebrei and an old photo shows a lovely and peaceful site.

My 1904 Baedeker makes a brief mention recommends the site as a place to get a pretty view of the Palatine (the Circus Maximus was only a faint outline at that time).

By 1930 the deceased had been relocated to the main Roman cemetery, Verano, and the site was designed in its current form. Other than the layout and a couple of plaques a visitor would never know the history although the tall and dark cypresses on one site still evoke the traditional Italian cemetery.

Photos copyright by author except for fresco and painting in public domain and old cemetery from www.romeartlover.it.
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THE COLORS OF ROME

Rome is a city of pastel colors, mellowed by the ages.



The original brilliant white marble of the ancient Roman ruins is mostly weathered now.


Except for the monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II that shocks the eye with its dead white mass. So out of character with the rest of the city. It’s often know as the wedding cake or typewriter.

Ancient wood has weathered to gray and the original brick is exposed.

The bronze doors of the Roman Curia (Senate) in the Forum have turned to verdigris green as have statues and the original doors now at the Basilica San Giovanni.

The old Roman brick retains warmth from millennia of sun.

The stucco facades of burnt sienna and terra rossa radiate warmth.

My favorite color is red. The Roman designer, Valentino, has his own flaming red signature color. The luscious color signifies the allure of fashion and temptation. And of course, we can’t forget Ferrari Red. Pompeiian Red – that rich color so beloved by the ancient Romans to express the richness of life. It was made of cinnabar which contained mercury; now it is made from iron oxide. Infrequently seen on buildings, the ancient Romans loved it on frescoes.

The sky is a brilliant blue and the umbrella pines are a deep and dark green.

Vegetables are always bright and tasty.

Some of the small colors flaunt their colors too.

Medieval floors of marble and glass glitter in the shifting light.

And above all, the vivid Italian flag of red, white and green flutters.

All photos by the author except for the fresco painting which is from the website Ancient Rome and the photo of the sidewalk cafe, courtesy Krista Bjorn.



  
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MACHINES AND GODS IN ROME



One of the twenty museums managed by the city of Rome, is the Centrale Montemartini. It’s also one of the most creative. I don’t know who thought up using the city’s first public electricity plant, built in 1912, to display works from the “basement” of the Capitoline Museum, but whoever it was a stroke of genius.
While other old buildings along the Via Ostiense were torn down, this one was saved because of its architectural significance. Built in Art Nouveau style, the white building was named after an Italian economist of the period. The area along the busy thoroughfare that was once the direct route to Ostia and the sea is rather scruffy but improving. The museum is set back behind office buildings in a courtyard where the lovely lamp standards and the little water hydrant with the ever-present SPQR (the Senate and the People of Rome) welcome the visitor.
Beyond the exhibit of the industrial past, a tribute to industrial archeology, the museum opens out into two floors of treasures from the time when Rome ruled the world. And what treasures they are:
mosaics:
grave monuments, 
gods and gilded youth, 
the remainders of a colossal statue of the goddess of fortune, 
and a row of Roman portrait sculpture from the Republican era.
The most striking displays are those placed in juxtaposition with gigantic black boilers, massive turbines and diesel engines.
I have to admit, my favorite of all the sculptures, is one of a not-so-humble shoemaker (just like Rome, Italian shoes are eternal). This fleshy guy, who must have been proud of his appearance, had the tools of his trade sculpted above his portrait. If he was worried about his place in history, he can find comfort from all the visitors who contemplate his memorial (although I suspect a few might snicker).



Each era has its wonders, and the museum is a good place to contemplate how one led to another.
For more information you can go to www.centralemontemartini.org

All photos, copyright by Judith Works.  
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ROMAN REMAINS

When in Rome it is always fascinating to follow the lives of ancient Romans. We read and see so much of corporate grandeur that it is easy to forget that individual Romans were real people with families. Families who had a preference for staying together in life as well as in death. When the inevitable happened the remains were often kept in mausoleums so the living could gather in memory of the deceased.

The best preserved of these memorials is the Vatican Scavi underneath St. Peters, where the wealthy went to their eternal rest. But if you want to wander in the sun among the middle class and common people’s tombs, a visit to the Necropoli di Porto is a place to spend some time. That is, if you can find it and get reservations. The Necropolis is located between the airport at Fiumicino and the mouth of the Tiber River on Isola Sacra and is not well signed. The famous ruins of Ostia Antica are a few miles away. (The whole ancient port area is now part of an enormous archaeological project called the Portus Project. The website is www.portusproject.org if you are interested in knowing more.)

The necropolis, a true city of the dead, is across a canal begun by Emperor Trajan for a direct connection between the meandering Tiber and the sea. After the fall of the Empire the area was gradually abandoned as it silted up and became a malarial swamp. It was reclaimed in 1920 and much of the land was turned into market gardens.

We began our tour at the ruins of the Basilica of Sant’Ippolito, constructed in the 4th Century over an earlier complex of baths, only uncovered in the 1970s. The church continued as a place of worship through the 13th Century. The Romanesque bell tower was converted to a watch tower by Pope Gregory XIII in 1585. The church houses some of the artifacts discovered at the site.

It is a short walk from the church to the necropolis where the remains of  merchants, artisans and ship owners from Trajan’s port were to enjoy their sleep. The area is now protected by a chain-link fence and an on-site custodian but no actual remains are left, all lost long ago to the depredations of animals, antiquities hunters and archaeologists. Because the cemetery is so obscure not only are there no actual dead occupants, there were only a few other live ones wandering around when we visited.

The chamber tombs are rectangular, similar to little houses with door, thresholds, windows and terraces with couches for funeral feasts. Many face a cobbled road known as the Via Severiana that ran down the coast, now much farther away than in ancient times.

Outside some of the buildings are amphorae used to pour libations into the tomb.

The occupation of the deceased was often memorialized by a sculptured plaque showing activities such as those of a grain merchant or ship owner. One tomb has a mosaic of an African elephant, probably a strange sight to a member of the family visiting Africa.

Another tomb has a mosaic of the lighthouse and two ships, no doubt a welcome sight after a perilous sea voyage.

But the poorer could not afford such fancy memorials. They are buried in the ground under what looks like dog houses or little old-fashioned traveling trunks. Others only have simple tiles forming a peaked roof. 

It’s hard to imagine what the lives of these humble souls lives could have been like – sailors stranded far from home, dock workers or laborers, all long forgotten except for the occasional wanderer, like us, who briefly wonders who they were.

If you want to visit you can check out www.archeoroma.beniculturali.it. I would suggest actually calling them.

  
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A DAY WITH EMPEROR HADRIAN

Rome is so filled with treasures that it is often hard to know where to start. Sometimes it is easier to concentrate on one artist like Caravaggio or architect such as Bernini (who is almost impossible to avoid anyway). The last time we were in the city we decided to give one day to a Roman emperor, Hadrian, who ruled from AD 117 until his death in AD 138.

One of the few emperors who still gets good press as an administrator, he was a great traveler and builder, particularly in Rome. We began with one of the greatest architectural triumphs of all time, the Pantheon. Despite the inscription over the portico saying that it was built by Agrippa, Hadrian oversaw its reconstruction after it was twice nearly totally destroyed by fire.

The concrete dome at 142 feet across is larger than the dome at St. Peters and still the largest ever built of that material. The only light comes from the oculus, a hole in the center of the dome 30 feet in diameter. We stood to one side watching the sunlight slowly make its way across the floor, illuminating clumps of visitors. What would Agrippa, who originally built the temple to commemorate his victory over Antony and Cleopatra, think of all the tourists now enjoying the sight with no interest in the gods he worshipped?

When it was time to move on, we turned in the direction of the Vatican, crossing the beautiful Ponte Sant’Angelo, lined with ten Bernini-designed statues.

The bridge was originally built in the second century AD by Hadrian as an impressive approach to his family mausoleum, now Castle Sant’Angelo. On this sunny day it was lined with fake artists selling prints as originals, and real artists industriously sketching or painting. I think Hadrian would be pleased with the admiration.                                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

The tomb retains its basic round shape despite the centuries of rebuilding. Originally it was surrounded by cypress trees and topped by a bronze 4-horse chariot, driven by Hadrian personifying the sun. The statue was replaced in Christian times by an angel in thanks for relief from a plague. The interior has Renaissance-era canons and cannonballs but is now devoted to art exhibitions rather than defense.



We had lunch on the terrace overlooking St. Peter’s and Rome; instead of thinking about Cleopatra and her lovers we thought about the passageway that leads from the Vatican to the Castle used by Pope Clement VII to escape marauders in 1527. The pope probably ate better food but our view unforgettable, as only Rome can offer.

  
 It was time to leave the heat and crowds for the countryside. Villa Adriana, Hadrian’s country retreat, near the little town of Tivoli in the hills east of Rome was the largest estate in the Roman Empire. Now it is a fascinating collection of ruins comprising the remains of at least thirty residences, baths, theaters, libraries, and stadiums. The park-like setting with olive, cypress and umbrella pine trees is the perfect place to wander on a summer afternoon.

Hadrian began building in AD 118, the year after he became emperor and, amazingly, it was completed in ten years. The architectural styles are a glorious collection of travel souvenirs of his thirty years of travels throughout the empire.
I noticed the modern address of the complex is Largo Marguerite Yourcenar 1, an odd address until I remembered Marguerite Yourcenar is the author of the unforgettable Memoirs of Hadrian, a fictional autobiography “written” by Hadrian dedicated to his grandson, Marcus Aurelius. In further memory of her genius, the small museum at the site was hosting an exhibition dedicated to her life and work. It was appropriately titled “Imagined Antiquity.”
One aspect of Hadrian’s life has caught the attention of a number of authors: his passion for all things Greek, including the youth named Antinous. Within days of the discovery of his body in the murky floodwaters of the Nile where he and Hadrian had been hunting, the emperor founded a cult to immortalize him. The city, Antinopolis, built where the body was discovered, is now just a footnote in detailed guides to Egypt, but many museums including the Vatican have portraits of him as a god or otherwise idealized. His fleshy body, full lips and lush locks are instantly recognizable. Hadrian’s obsession is the subject of another fascinating book, Royston Lambert’s, Beloved and God.

The Canopus, an area with a reflecting pool bordered by statues, is thought to be the emperor’s memorial to Antinous, and to me is the more evocative area of the complex. I could visualize Hadrian in deep mourning walking beside the waters to put the cares of running the empire aside to dream of what might have been. We should all be so loved!

Photos by Judith Works except for the two statues and the painting which are from Wikipedia Commons.
Painting of the Pantheon is by Giovanni Paolo Panini, 1691-1765

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DEATHLY QUIET IN ROME

THE ENGLISH CEMETERY IN ROME

 

Are you looking for someplace quiet, someplace restful, someplace away from the noise of Rome? The so-called English Cemetery is an excellent location for contemplation. Not only are the monuments interesting but the landscaping is a delight. Spring brings wisteria, daisies, iris and violets; summer is for lavender, plumbago, verbena and geraniums; fall comes with ripening pomegranates, lemons and oranges. Winter color includes the citrus, camellias and small pink wild cyclamens mixed with the larger and brighter cultivated varieties.  Presiding over all are the cypresses, so typical of Italian cemeteries, and umbrella pines. And of course, cats who live in a refuge at the base of the adjoining Pyramid of Cestius.

 

The real name of the resting place of so many is The Non-Catholic Cemetery, and although it does contain the dust of many 18th Century Englishmen who fell while taking their Grand Tour, there are tomb inscriptions in fifteen languages representing about every known non-Catholic religion and the non-religion of Antonio Gramsci, the founder of Italian Communism. The oldest tomb is that of an Oxford graduate who was buried in 1738. Among other interesting bones are those of Goethe’s only son, designer Irene Galatzine who (unfortunately) gave women palazzo pants, and Richard Henry Dana, Jr. who wrote Two Years Before the Mast. Henry James decided that Daisy Miller should be “buried” here.

 

The 400 tombs are in narrow strip of land abutting the ancient pyramid, the Aurelian Wall, and the busy Via Ostiense – the road to St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and the coast. A metro stop, Piramide, is only a few blocks away from the cemetery’s entrance on Via Caio Cestio (named for the pyramid’s builder). Some are simple flat stones and others have carefully carved sculptures.


 

 

The most famous memorials are to Keats and Shelly.

Keats, died at age 25 of tuberculosis in a villa near the Spanish Steps (now a museum).  His  last request was to be placed under a tombstone bearing no name or date, only the words, “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” But the stone, which under a relief of a lyre with broken strings, also includes the epitaph:

“This Grave / contains all that was Mortal / of a / Young English Poet / Who / on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart / at the Malicious Power of his Enemies / Desired / these Words to be / engraven on his Tomb Stone: / Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821″

 

The tomb is in an open grassy area filled with daisies in the spring. It is easy to find because often worshippers drape themselves over the headstone in an attempt to absorb the poet’s gift.

Shelley drowned in 1822 in a mysterious sailing accident near the lovely town of Lerici on the Italian coast south of Genoa. He was cremated on the beach where his body washed ashore, the ashes interred in the crowded main area of the cemetery next to the ancient Aurelian Wall. The inscription reads Cor Cordium (“Heart of Hearts”), and in reference to his death at sea, a few lines of “Ariel’s Song” from Shakespeare‘s The Tempest: “Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange.”

 

These two tombs are of historical interest but there are many others interesting for their sculpture.

Who can resist that of Devereux Plantagenet Cockburn who was put to rest in 1850? For that matter, who can resist his name? He lounges without a care, languidly holding a book with his faithful dog  beside him.
 

 

And then there is the Angel of Grief. If you’re into drooping angels, this will be your finest experience. It was sculpted by William Wetmore Story for his wife in 1894. He was the most prominent of the many American sculptors in Rome, where he lived for 40 years.

 

But if you harbor romantic dreams of being buried in such interesting company, there is a catch: you have to die in Rome to be eligible to rest in such crowded company.

 

For more info see www.cemeteryrome.it.

All photos by author.
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CIAO/CHOW TIME – THREE RESTAURANTS IN ROME

 

 

It would take several lifetimes to sample all the dining options in Rome. Here are three we found during our last very short visit. So many more to try! 

 

Ditirambo, Piazza della Cancelleria 74. This small, informal restaurant is very close to Campo di Fiori in the heart of tourist Rome. www.ristoranteditirambo.it  Recommend reservations. 39.06.687.1626. Moderate prices. Open every day. Monday dinner only. 
 

 

We ate there at lunch time, and despite its location Italians rather than tourists joined us in savoring creative Italian cooking. Our friend, who is vegetarian, dined on a tasting of their appetizers of  eggplant pudding with Moliterno ewe’s cheese and pesto sauce; deep fried zucchini with tomato and smoked buffalo mozzarella and parmesan cheese; and eggplant rolls in Calabrian style (tomatoes and spinach); among other delicacies like Scamorza grilled cheese with truffles and goat cheese with mushrooms. 
 

 

I toyed with the idea of crispy potatoes with cheese fondue and slivers of black truffles but ended up with home-made tagliolini with artichokes, pork cheek and pecorino Montanaro. Rich!! My husband had something more sensible: the tagliolini with shrimp and asparagus.
 

 

We all chose a salad of thinly sliced fennel decorated with pomegranate seeds, as a perfect foil to the rich pasta and appetizers.
 

 

Our wine was a Negroamaro, a rich and warming red from Agricole Vallone in Puglia.  

Thus fortified for cold weather, we strolled to Campo di Fiori for shopping – there is a large section of spices, some prepackaged for your pasta sauce, and given the holiday season, jars of treats like sauces made with truffles – and photographing vegetables which I can never resist in Italy.
 

 

Ristorante Pierluigi, Piazza de Ricci, 144, is located, as they put it, 878 steps from Piazza Navona. (It’s actually close to Via Giula and the Tiber.) Catering to the rich and famous like John Kerry, Frank Bruni, Colin Firth and Lebron James, Pierluigi is high-end and expensive. Dinner time brought out patrons cutting a bella figura, women in designer dresses and serious jewelry and men in well-cut suits or clerical garb. The restaurant, which specializes in fish, has been around since 1938.  

Their website is www.pierluigi.it/e and their enjoyable Facebook page is www.facebook.com/pierluigiristorantefilled with photos of the famous and infamous who dine there (Dennis Rodman!). Judging from the crowds filling the rooms, reservations are mandatory. Tel: 39.06.686.8717. Closed Monday. For summer there is an outdoor dining area on the piazza.
 
Like most Italian fish restaurants we were greeted with their fish display.

 

The bar near the entrance has inviting space to enjoy their famous cocktails. The main dining room at ground level is plainly decorated. The room in the lower level sharing space with part of the wine cellar looked especially attractive for an intimate meal.


We were with a party of ten and chose a fixed menu: a starter of tartar of eggplant, bufala ricotta-stuffed squash flower, and a carciofo alla giudia(meaning deep-fried artichoke.) Next came a bowl of orecchiette pasta with broccoli sauce and another with three flawless ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach. The orecchiette were somewhat heavy, but the ravioli were marvelous and light. The main course was a generous serving of fresh grilled thinly cut tuna with balsamic vinegar served with rughetta and tomatoes. No doubt it was cut from the tuna on display near the restaurant’s entrance.

 

Fortunately, the dessert was light: paper thin slices of pineapple with an orange sauce. A chardonnay from Pietra Pinto winery in northern Lazio went well with the menu.

 

Three hours later we rolled out into the cold night, our stomachs full of great food and our hearts full with friendship.   

 

Ristorante Agustarello a Testaccio, Via Giovanni Branca 98, is modest as befits its location – not far from the old slaughterhouse, now the MACRO contemporary art museum (complete with the hooks used for hanging the carcasses and the statue of a man wrestling a bull over the entrance). Moderate prices. No website but reservations advisable by calling 39.06.57.46585. Closed Sunday.
 

The menu, like many in this area is called cucina povera, cooking for the poor using the quinto quarto,the fifth quarter of the meat – everything that the rich didn’t eat, from the head to the tail. Ironically, these types of offal are not inexpensive.

The restaurant decor is two shades of green, which doesn’t cast a favorable light on the excellent food (and stopped me from taking photos). I have to admit we stayed away from the more exotic offerings like coratella (lamb heart, lung and liver with artichokes), animelle (roasted sweetbreads), or pajata (milk fed lamb intestines). The tail, coda alla vaccinara, was on the menu, but not testarelle (whole roasted lamb’s head). After too much food over the week I happily reverted to plain cavatelli pasta with chicory. Our non-vegetarian guest had roast lamb with potatoes and my husband ordered his favorite: abbacchio allo scottodita,lamb chops so hot you can burn your fingers eating them. We all enjoyed the wonderful coarse Roman bread and my favorite, carciofi alla Romana, Roman-style artichokes meaning those simmered in water with wine, olive oil and herbs. Instead of wine we enjoyed glasses of Menabrea birra, from Italy’s oldest brewery (not really that old: 1846).

 

This meal brought to a close this stay’s Roman dining experience. We returned to our gorgeous room in our favorite hotel, the San Anselmo, www.hotelsananselmo.com, to pack and set the alarm for an early departure (and to begin a diet).


All photos copyright by author except 3 interior views of Pierluigi, which are from their site.

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CHRISTMAS IN ROME

The Christmas season in Rome begins on December 1. We had the pleasure of participating in the start of the festivities in Piazza Navona and  the neighborhoods. The first event on our list was the annual United National Women’s Guild bazaar with shopping opportunities from the world over to fund projects in developing countries.

 

We paused at this shop on the way to Piazza Navona to inspect their treats:


Next stop was wonderful Piazza Navona where the traditional Christmas market was being set up.

 

One of the most important traditions is that of a Nativity Scene, first popularized by St. Francis in the 1200s. Many stands feature enormous selections of figures to make your own: the Holy Family, peasants and now some Nelson Mandelas, food, animals and cork-bark shelters for angels to hover over.

  
And of course there are loads of stalls filled with toys.

 

And a carrousel:

And, the most important, the wizened old grannies called befane who fly through the air astride
broomsticks. La Befana is the witch who brings Christmas treats to children if they are good and coal if they have been bad. She arrives on the night of January 5th to ensure gifts are ready on Epiphany morning in remembrance of the Gifts of the Magi. But no real worries – the “coal” is really black candy, so bambini are never very worried.

In case you want to know more here’s a delightful clip: 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=meR3gMhtfPE

 

 

When it was time for a snack we stopped by the chestnut vendor:


Finally, ready for a return to our hotel we paused at the Pasticceria Barberini on the Via Marmorata for a coffee and a look in their window:  

A perfect start to the season which we would soon be celebrating in our home in the Pacific Northwest. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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