Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Roma Rinasce

The poster reads "Rome Reborn," and it's everywhere in the city, intended to celebrate the first year of Gianni Alemanno's mayoralty. But the poster says more than that. As today's La Repubblica implies, Alemanno's pose--that upraised jaw, the Roman salute (albeit with the left hand)--are suggestive of another right-wing politician, of considerably more fame and infamy. And the flag covering Alemanno's hand is that of the Fiamma Tricolore, not the Italian flag, but that of the Tricolor Flame, a neo-fascist political party that recognizes its debt to the ideas of Benito Mussolini and his Black Shirts.

We would add that Alemanno's position, with the Forum at his back, is another link to Fascism, for it was Mussolini who spearheaded the "sventramento" (demolition, clearance) of precisely that area, in order to associate his regime with the power and glory of imperial Rome.

The poster's pitch is hardly subtle, and we can only assume that there are plenty of Romans who respond with enthusiasm to it--probably the least educated of the electorate, and elements of the Italian working class, exasperated by liberalism's failures and weaknesses and venting their frustrations by abandoning the left. The American working class rejected the Democratic Party in 1968 (electing Richard Nixon), and the "Reagan Democrats" followed suit.

We hope the election of Alemanno doesn't prove to be a signal of the beginning of decades of right-wing dominance.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The winds of Rome

High winds struck Rome during last evening's rush hour... apparently the illegal parking gods were partly responsible, as an illegally parked car was crushed by a falling tree right under our terrace.

We're not sure what gods decided to rip apart our patio umbrella, which was nicely folded up at the time.

And an Easter postscript... guilty pleasures... buying an Easter colombo (lit. "dove": sweet bread with candied fruit inside and topped with sugar crystals, in the shape of a dove) at 60% discount after Easter and stuffing ourselves with it for the next 10 days.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Liberation Day in Rome - postscript

Liberation Day update... we spent a couple hours yesterday in one of Rome's "reddest" neighborhoods, Garbatella, built in the Fascist years - architecture we find fascinating.

We were aiming for something billed as Liberation Fest at a social club, but it was too much not us for us to try it... garage bands at full volume (we should've known band names like Red Alert, 5 Boots, Godzilla e Lei (and you), and 3 Kids with Mustaches) were not going to be aimed at us, mostly young men hanging about outside (photo at left). An alternative across the street was 3 socialists, in the courtyard of their party center, droning on to a crowd of about 50 (when they say they're going to say "due parole" (2 words, literally), look out! - be prepared for 30-60 minutes).

But we were buoyed by seeing a group of 20- and 30-somethings taking a walk with their children and babies in strollers while singing "Bella Ciao." ("goodbye, beautiful" - the partisans' song -- the link will take you to a lovely version of the song).

We came across a mini street fair... for sale, anything from Che hats to bio-friendly products to solicitations for Palestine to porchetta (spiced roast pork sandwiches... you can bet we opted for that) and beer....
We read today Berlusconi has done an about-face on April 25, but he wants to call it Liberty Day, not Liberation Day... gag - the appropriation I mentioned in yesterday's blog.

Bella ciao, Dianne

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Liberation Day in Rome

April 25 – today is Liberation Day, the day Italy celebrates its liberation from the Nazis. On this date in 1945, Milan and the other large cities of the north were considered liberated by (most agree) the partisans, as southern Italy already had been by the Allies.

But it might better be called Contestation Day. Over the years, the date has been reserved for leftist celebrations. But the right increasingly wants to contest the leftists’ view of Italy’s liberation, and specifically to contest the positive participation of partisans, communists, and whether these two groups overlap. Each year we watch the Italian politicians take strange - and often uncomfortable (even for them) - positions as the date nears. With the right wing in firm control of the nation (Prime Minister Berlusconi) and even cities as historically left as Rome (Mayor Alemanno), the issues dominate the media: who “controls” April 25 or takes center stage; did the partisans really liberate Italy, are there good and bad partisans, were the partisans all communists?

A few years ago we read about the possibility that Berlusconi wouldn’t even publicly acknowledge April 25; then – hot news! - he bussed a former partisan on the cheek. This year the headline-grabbing topic was where Berlusconi would present himself on April 25, and whether he and the right-wing parties would appropriate the holiday. One proposed setting for Berlusconi today was Onna—the small town near L’Aquila that was completely destroyed by the recent earthquake and, more to the point of April 25, was the scene of Nazi execution of 17 civilians in 1944.

The (acknowledged by most) diplomatic President (a largely figurehead position) of the country is former communist Napolitano, who manages to bring the meaning of the day back in focus. Don’t try to divide the partisans or minimize their role, he says.

A poster put up by Italy’s now small Communist Party announces: “without the Left, without Communists, there’s no liberation” (see photo).

The intensity of feeling that surrounds April 25 reveals how central the events of World War II remain for Italians, left and right. In contrast, Americans generally agree on the meaning of that conflict, yet remain bitterly divided over the war in Vietnam and, indeed, over the meaning and interpretation of the political, social, and cultural upheaval known as the “sixties.”

Rome the Second Time is the only guidebook we know of that discusses the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943-44. One of the itineraries takes the Rome visitor to the site of several resistance actions, including Porta San Paolo, where the initial resistance was staged and today’s Rome Liberation Day activities unfold; via Rasella, where a German column was bombed by the partisans; and the SS torture chambers of via Tasso. Our book also takes you to the Fosse Ardeatine on the outskirts of Rome, where 335 men were executed and their bodies covered up in these Ardeatine caves, now a deeply moving memorial to the senseless murder of civilians.


Friday, April 24, 2009

NIMBY, Italian version

We were surprised to learn in this morning's La Repubblica that the American anagram NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is in use in Italy, where NIMBY refers to efforts by local groups to keep refuse facilities, electrical centers, and other, similarly unattractive, projects out of their communities and neighborhoods. Indeed, the strength of such efforts has the government considering an "anti-NIMBY" law.

The use of NIMBY is a curious one, because Italians, being mostly apartment dwellers, don't really have back yards. What they do have, especially in big cities such as Rome, is interior courtyards--know as "cortili"--for their apartment houses. Hence the Italian translation for "not in my back yard" is "non nel mio cortile"--not in my courtyard.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

New Mystery Photo to win a free book

see photo below and at right... a well-known landmark, but perhaps an unusual view....

ok... so the last photo was too hard for you non-shoppers... and, no, it wasn't Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas....tho' Caesar himself may have trod on this ground... it was Galleria Sordi, a restored 19th century shopping arcade in the Centro, with a Feltrinelli's bookstore - with entertainment at times - inside.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cy Twombly and us in Rome

We've never been fans of Twombly and had decided to write off the exhibit here at the national modern art gallery - Galleria nazionale d'arte moderna e contemporanea Italia (likes to call itself Gnam). But we were enticed, or shamed, as the case may be, by Shara Wasserman's class at Temple University in Rome, who described to us a large retrospective of an American artist living most of his career in or near Rome, and a well-mounted, well-explained, i.e. well-curated exhibit.

So taking advantage of a rainy Sunday & free admission (it's European culture week - go for it!), we ventured forth. Still can't say Twombly's on our favorites list, but the "focus and intensity" (yes, concepts from the intro to Rome the Second Time) made us spend a lot of interpretive time in the large exhibit, and I feel like we'll be able to appreciate isolated Twomblys we see elsewhere (e.g. the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)). Dianne
Even so (Bill adds), Twombly's place in the art pantheon remains problematic. While his goals as an artist--to dispense with anything resembling "readable" representational form, to sluff off every vestige of his formal artistic training, to find a way to revert to his early, primitive self (ala Jung and Pollock)--seem plausible ones, the results are so personal, so outside of and beyond the ordinary viewer, that one is left without content, essentially without the ability to interpret or understand. I'm reminded of Roger Williams, the 17th-century Puritan, whose obsession with religious purity led him to worship in total isolation. I've no objection to obsession--it's at the heart of much great art and literature--but it's not clear why I should care about Twombly's art when he seems to made such an effort to make it incomprehensible to me.
The curators of this exhibit offer lots of good help; for example, we are told that one series that's a bit different from the others is about the death of friend's wife. Fine, and complementi to the curators. But if such commentary is essential to an understanding of the work, then the work itself--really one canvass of scribbling after another--isn't designed to be accessible to me. Let him stew in his own juice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Exciting Day at Home

Discovered that the bushy but somewhat pale 5-foot potted tree in the living room, which we had diligently watered and fretted over (what will the landlord think if it dies on our watch), was plastic.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

On the Sidewalks of Rome

The news of the day: the Mayor of Venice announced that Florence and Rome were DIRTIER than his city, and that he'd proved it by traveling to his competitors and taking pictures of all the filthiness there. Rome's Mayor, right-winger Gianni Alemanno, said he thought it pretty strange that his Venice counterpart was engaged in such bizarre intercity espionage and wondered if maybe they didn't have enough to do it Venice. Right on both counts. But our view is that the Venice Mayor's pics--the one in La Repubblica was of a few crates in Piazza Navona after some market closed--big deal!) did not come close to capturing Rome's "sporcizia" (filthiness), as much as we love the place.

This morning as always, in walking around our neighborhood, we felt like kids playing hopscotch as we dodged pile after pile of DOG SHIT. It's everywhere, the product of thousands of little dogs of the kind that would not seem awkwardly large in the average small Italian apartment (I saw a regular-size dog today and it was HUGE). And until today, we have never, ever, seen a dog owner PICK IT UP. Yes, until today, when we saw TWO dog owners, consecutively, pick it up. We were speechless.

The proverbial lesson that proves the rule. Romans care little about public space. Private
space--their own apartments, and the hallways--are cleaned to within an inch of their lives. We wake up every morning at 8 a.m. to the sounds of the woman above us, moving furniture to get at that lonely dust ball in the corner.

Meanwhile, the sidewalks are a mess. Nothing that a broom and pooper scooper couldn't handle, mind you, but no one (except for the two public spirited citizens we observed today) is wielding those tools. American traditions that might help here--a block club, a neighborhood association, a municipal government committed to the cleanliness of the public sphere, a civic minded individual with a strong back--seem not to exist in Rome. So there it lies or lays. Watch your step - on the sidewalks of Rome.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rome's sights & sounds

Rome is so full of sights, sounds, & smells, one hardly knows where to start... or stop. So here we offer you some favorites of the last couple days.

From our local market (Piazza San Giovanni di Dio - one of Rome's better ones): a clip of the crowd one morning, part of one aisle

+ a clip of artichoke trimming... yay! it's artichoke season & for a little extra, you can buy them trimmed, & finally a pic of meat coming into the market.

Easter Sunday mass at the church across the street, built in the 1960s, creation of a new parish in Moneverde, to serve Rome's sprawling population (Madonna de la Salette).

Next - the Romans go to the mountains on the Monday after Easter, Pasquetta (little Easter), a warmly celebrated holiday... 1 soccer ball & 10 bags of groceries while the 2 of us spent 3 hours precariously hiking (no trail) above an old quarry to get to their parking lot... we went to the top (Monte Morra, about 4,000'); the Romans, happy as clams, wouldn't think of it.

Tuesday we scootered out to via Appia Antica to drop off a copy of Rome the Second Time for Eugenio Sgaravatti, an artist who invites all of Rome to his Spring party (p. 182)... in the process, lost my cellphone & went into panic mode... incredibly, it was found and returned to me within the hour - what are those odds? - by Fredrika, in the photo here with her tiny daughter Frida (as in Kahlo, Fredrika told us) and Jonathan.

And we close this post with a not-to-be-missed video of Luca (age 9) and Irene (6), our dear friends Massimo & Chiara's gorgeous children, in their outfits bought last week during their Easter holiday in Spain. Dianne

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Purple Rain - in Rome

After our morning coffee, we crossed the Circ. Gianicolense, temporarily abandoning our proletarian neighborhood for the upscale allure of via Eduardo Jenner (he dicovered the smallpox inoculation), which curves downhill from Piazza San Giovanni di Dio in a splendid spectacle of consumer delights--the best collection of shops I've seen since our year in Marconi, four years ago. My plan is to keep the woman off this street.

As different as via Jenner is from our humble digs around Piazza Madonna della Salette, the two sides of the Gianicolense are dressing the ladies, and other objects, in this spring's favorite color. It's purple (or violet, or lavender) and it colors everything: skirts in the market, towels, underwear, the boxes for Hoover vacuum bags.

We've been observing Rome color trends for some time; a few years ago the stores were full of browns and yellows (and in May, no less). But we've never seen anything like this purple mania. What does it mean? She thinks the new color scheme is sensual and even playful, though not in a "pink," little girl way; he thinks it's dark and brooding--think of the femme fatale of 1940s film noit-- reflecting "la crisi." Other views welcome.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Finding one's own coffee bar in Rome

The hunt for one's morning coffee bar.... yes, that's our prime goal each year when we return to Rome in a new neighborhood. We're in Monteverde (Nuovo) this year, in a rather working class area (i.e., per me - too much litter on the streets, even for Rome).

Our goal is to find a bar where a) we love the coffee, b) they have a variety of cornetti ("croissant" - but the French would die... more like small NYC pastries) at the various times of day we emerge, c) we can sit without paying table prices, and d) the people are nice and interesting. We rejected "Pink Bar," which charged us extra for cafe' americano - after all, it's just an espresso with hot water.

We've narrowed the hunt to 3, all of which have good coffee:

1) the bright bar with yellow awnings and guys in black shirts with their names on the sleeves right next to the big open market at Piazza San Giovanni di Dio - they seem nice, but "under new management" (nuova gestione) always makes us nervous + it's the prime coffee bar for the market - so very busy with comings and goings, esp. take-out espressos by the dozens. A plus, it's the closest.

2) the bar down the street a piece; seems a tad above the working class clientele - clean, again bright and modern, mid-sized, a couple tables inside and out, but too sterile? uneven response to us - sometimes nice, sometimes cold.

3) what we've taken to calling "Fellini Bar" is really "Old Moon Bar" (photo left), but Fellini to us because the clientele runs the gamut and they sell everything - from tea sets to whipped cream (we saw Mama make it while a customer waited) to their own, supposedly, pastries, to hardback comic books... well, I've only scratched the surface--it's a bit dark and crowded with merchandise and people, and it likes to think it's a cocktail bar in the evening. Likely we can't sit for free (signs saying Euro 2 for a coffee at a table), but today they were open on the holiday - Pasquetta - and gave us some free colombo (the sweet Italian Easter cake shaped like a dove - a colombo)... so maybe we're making an impression... what kind, I can only guess.

Stay tuned for the final results. We need to decide soon, or no one will think we're loyal - and loyalty is big here.

Oh, and an addition to our sidebar on "How to order coffee" in our book - be sure you say hello and goodbye... A "buon giorno" is required as you walk in the door, and an "arrivederci" as you leave (our friend Jerry pointed out we missed that in the book - for the next edition).

Singer Songwriters in Rome

Nightlife... well, evening life, anyway (we don't do the 3 a.m. stuff these days), in Rome is still going strong. On returning this year, we were happy to find Charity Cafe', Alexanderplatz, Parco della Musica, Casa del Jazz - all doing their jazz thing.

The tradition of the singer-songwriter (il cantautore - male; la cantautrice - female) is still strong in Italy. We saw/heard "Cavalierequilibrista" with Valerio Vigliar the singer/songwriter, at Alexanderplatz Saturday night. We went to hear the guitarist in the group. Marco Bonini, who still knocks our socks off... the singing and songwriting (in English and Italian, including a Tom Waits song) was excellent.

Sunday night we saw/heard Canadian singer/songwriter Farrell Spence at Ombre Rosse in Trastevere (photo left) - great voice, lyrics, lovely accompanying Neapolitan guitarist (not to mention an excellent free appetizer bar to accompany skimpy drinks - worth it).

Keep it up, Roma!

Dianne - a PS - we tried yet another San Lorenzo club that thinks it can do jazz in that quarter... (with the name, holy cow - Blow Club)... San Lorenzo clubs should do what they do well.... their "jazz" is a couple of guys playing to and for and with their friends.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

L'Aquila earthquake: buildings made of Sand from the Sea

Only days after the deadly L'Aquila earthquake, investigators are focusing on three structures: the emergency section of the hospital San Salvatore, rendered unusable after the first shock; the Prefecture of Police, totally destroyed; and a building housing students, where many died.

All were relatively new buildings, constructed since 1960, and--in the latest turn of the invesigation--all are now suspected of having been built with "sabbia di mare"--sea sand, long understood to produce weakened concrete.

Acting with the speed Italians sometimes demonstrate when confronted with moral issues, L'Aquila's procuratore (state's attorney) has appointed two experts in the the "science of construction" from the city's university. Assisted by local police and the Carabinieri, they have begun to sequester building materials from the three sites. The state's attorney has said that he won't wait for the results of a larger investigation; if the buildings are found to have been built with sand from the sea, and if responsibility for doing so can be ascertained, arrests will follow.
from Dianne: Photo of modern earthquake supports in centuries-old building in Rome (graphic museum w/ Sonia Delaunay exhibit, btw - right behind Trevi Fountain)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sometimes you get what you need: Good Friday in Rome

After a 3-fer + 1 (3 events that didn't happen + 1 bonus - see below), we ended up at Santa Maria Maggiore for the Good Friday evening service and then at the Coliseum for Pope Benedict's service for the stations of the cross.... the crowd was beautiful (including the delightful Irish couple next to us), vistas inspiring (Palatine Hill; Arch of Constantine on left, Coliseum on right) ... but we have to say the Pope was not... he arrived in motorcade, his car surrounded by motorcycles... no carrying of the cross here...more of a procedural service than the true inspiration of the
Way of the Cross. Still, we offer video....that's him in the bright spot on the hill with the red canopy.
The 3-fer? The first CD release event at a bookstore we just didn't get to, because we walked to and in Villa Sciarra - a lovely park on the hill above Trastevere... worth the effort... and we didn't get back in time. #2, another singer event at a bookstore - postponed because of the national mourning for the earthquake victims in the Abruzzo (photo left). But, the bonus was a spray can street artist with fascinating techniques.
#3 - new show on Iran at the National Oriental Art Museum - the paper just had the times wrong (2nd time in 2 days). Typical Roman day, I must say.

Bill's take on Good Friday services: It's all written out! Every word of it. Copies distributed, the devout reading along. Not the most inspiring format. Maybe the Church would benefit from some spontaneity: a sermon from mere notes, random projected YouTube videos, questions from the multitude.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter in a Roman Market

Tonight the Pope will personally carry a cross (hopefully of balsam) up the Palatino, as he participates in a stations-of-the-cross ceremony. I prefer the commercial side of the Italian Easter: all those huge, colorful eggs hanging from the ceiling of every store and bar. Here's an example, from just down the street. Bill

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Italy earthquake update - contributions

To contribute to victims of the earthquake through the National American Italian Foundation/Abruzzo Fund (all information in English) :
(Thanks, Kristin)

Costly Free Vernissage

An amazing vernissage, to say the least. A 40-foot table, filled with goodies: bruschette (with pesto, and normale), finger sandwiches, quiche, two kinds of cheese, a red pepper and olive thing, mozzarella, sausage, biscotti, and a magnificently rich cannelloni cake. Waiters in white coats clearing and replacing the dishes. Nearby, two tables with vino rosso (good) and vino bianco (not up to local standards) and colorful non-alcoholic drinks. Everything except the CocaCola from the Roman countryside. We had three glasses of wine and "dinner." And it was all free.

Actually, there was a price to be paid--just not in Euros. The vernissage was the final act in the official opening of an exhibit of photos by Marco Scataglini, of the Campagna Romana (the Roman countryside). The opening was scheduled for 17:00 (5 p.m.) at the Societa' Geographica Italiana (Italian Geographic Society) at the Villa Celimontana [gorgeous park with views, lots of cats], a ten-minute walk up the hill from the Coliseum. And 5:00 is when we arrived--a mistake. We took our time perusing the photos--all sepia-toned black and white, designed to look as if they'd been taken 100 years ago, all without people and without the trash, traffic, industry, and housing developments that now blanket the Campagna--and around the impressive villa. Speeches started at 5:45 and there were six of them, the last by Scataglini, who concluded the program with a 10-minute program of 130 color photos. At 7 we took our grumbling stomachs downstairs for a blissfully brief ribbon-cutting. And on to the vernissage!

Don't miss the next opening at the Societa' - just come late, as did most of the Italians.

Sorry, no personal pics; woman forgot the camera.

Dianne (aka woman) adds: We also returned to Charity Cafe' ( in Monti... music and ambience great, as usual. Question: have the tourists found it? Heads of grey and blonde, not looking Italian, tapping feet to music? Dianne said to the server: "Un bicchiere di Muller Thurgau ["a glass of..." a type of wine on the menu]" Response (in English): "I don't speak English."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Earthquake and L'Aquila

Heartbreaking what happened in L'Aquila this morning... it's a wonderful medieval city, capital of one of Italy's most interesting and untouched provinces, the Abruzzo, and a great city in itself, a classic old market city. We stayed there a couple years ago the night before we climbed Corno Grande in the Gran Sasso - the 10,000' mountain that's Italy's highest outside the Alps. L'Aquila is virtually at the base of the Gran Sasso. And last year we hiked on the other side of the Gran Sasso from L'Aquila (Monti della Laga) - L'Aquila is the heart of this grand, wild region.

Earthquakes are Italy's most prevalent natural disaster. They have leveled cities and towns on the peninsula and its islands for centuries. A show at the Vittoriano in Rome last year demonstrated just how prevalent and devastating they have been here. It wasn't until the 1908 one that Italy came to grips with not having a government social service network that could deal with disasters. See which has some interesting stats on Italian earthquakes, but the links don't work. If anyone has better links, please comment.

We'd love to drive to L'Aquila instantly to help out but are sure the city is coping with more people without shelter than it can handle. Let's hope the relief efforts are efficient and significant. L'Aquila deserves it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rome connections... Katie Parla

A shout out to Katie Parla....
We connected yesterday with a fabulous young American who has made Rome her home for the past 6 years. Katie Parla (fortunately named) shares some of our sensibilities about getting off the beaten track. Take a look at her website - - for lots of great tips (on food for sure), accurate information about Rome, and also tours of Rome and other parts of Italy.

We connected especially with her information on Kosher Rome (it fits, IMHO, with our chapter in Rome the Second Time on the Nazis in Rome - we have a sidebar on Jews in Rome. There's so much about Jewish Rome that is unknown to the tourist who stays only on the beaten path). More on Katie and connectivity in the future, we're certain.

Here's Katie climbing out of a bone crypt in Palermo... now who wouldn't want to try that?

Playground for Wall Street, housing for Main Street

A long walk yesterday up through Villa Doria Pamphili, a huge public park that used to be the private reserve of the Pamphili family. Their wealth is still on display, though now in a splendid state of decay. A perfect place to vent one's anger at the wealthy in these post-crash days. Hundreds of trees in the park have recently been trimmed Roman style--thoroughly, but expertly-- with piles of wood deposited at the base of each trunk for later pickup.

Some of Rome's talented graffiti artists have been working the villa's interior walls:

On the way back to our apartment we came upon a stunning example of the fascist-era public housing program: a Casa Popolare from 1932. This set of massive buildings, with rounded balconies, massive curving stairways, and commodious courtyards, still hints at a time when public authorities sought to combine low-cost housing with striking modernist touches (while moving the inhabitants out of the central city into what was then the suburbs). This is the kind of architecture that we feature in Rome the Second Time (see Itineraries 7 and 10).


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rome gallery-hopping better than ever

All I can say is Wow (or Mamma Mia)! It's as good as we remember. Last night we did the gallery-hopping/vernissage we recommend in Chapter 6 of Rome the Second Time. We lucked into the unfortunately-named "Freaky Friday" (yup, in English): private galleries open 'til midnight around the city. We hit about a dozen of them - some planned [we focused on areas where we could walk to 3 or 4 galleries at a time, e.g. near Chiesa Nuova] and some merely encountered on our way.

Gagosian's ( was jammed beyond even our expectations - crowds of several hundred (see photo at left) threatening a half dozen of Anselm Kiefer's sculptures, each completely inadequately protected by a large man. Even the usually nonplussed garbage truck drivers were amazed by the crowds blocking the street. A scene, to be sure: fur coats, "suits," brown-is-the-new-black, the works...

At the other end, and perhaps our favorite of the night, an evocative "recreation" of Nikola Tesla's Room 3327 in the New Yorker Hotel, where the Serbian-American scientist (1856-1943), considered the patron saint of electricity, lived ascetically. The artist, a graduate in electronic music from a famous Rome conservatory, set up machines emitting sounds, some generated by visitors to Motelsalieri (information at The "gallery," though on a much smaller scale than Gagosian's, was crowded too, this time with 30-somethings (all in black)... We drank in the wine (see photo at right) and the scene from the street - where leaning agaist double-parked cars is the thing to do.

Other evening highlights included a show on the theme of nude paintings (complete with organza (only)-clad woman reading love poems) at Galleria Marino ( near the Spanish Steps, a chat with young Swiss artist Kaspar Bucher, whose sculptures remind us of Jeff Koons's, at Studio Trisorio ( near Piazza Navona; and large photographs (admittedly priced even beyond our fantasy range) at stylish - and friendly - Romberg Art ( click on the British flag) on Piazza dei Ricci, near Chiesa Nuova.

On the vernissage front, we're happy to report lots of wine (none at Gagosian's, of course), but not a lot of food....

If you're here in Rome, all of these shows continue for some time. Information most easily available in Roma C'e' and in ArtGuide - online at (you don't need English to read addresses, dates, and times - just don't count on them being open when they say).

And, even for Rome the 50th time, we find walking in the Center among all these galleries, monuments, history, people - to be thoroughly intoxicating and fulfilling - who needs wine and food?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rome at 4 a.m.

For the second time in three years, our flight to Italy turned around over the Atlantic. On a new plane but three hours late, we arrived at Leonard da Vinci (Fiumicino) on what our friend Massimo described later that day as the first day of Rome's spring. We're living in Monteverde Nuovo--essentially a hill behind (west of) the touristy, riverside section of Transtevere--on via G. Ghislieri, a short block from Piazza San Giovanni di Dio, which is centered around a huge, permanent outdoor market--the kind made of corrugated iron and tin and with about 100 sellers of meats, fruits and vegetables, bread, clothes, and housewares--and surrounded by dozens of small stores.

This dense, middle-class neighborhood rivals Piazza Bologna and Marconi (the latter not far to the southwest) for the vitality of its commercial life. Although most tourists would find it a bit removed, it is well connected to Rome's center by a tram that runs down the center of Monteverde's main drag, the curvy Circonvallazione Gianicolense. You can hop the tram at Piazza San Giovanni di Dio (not da Dio, which is literally "from God" or, colloquially, "really great," as in "a parking place da Dio") and be across the river in Piazza di Torre Argentina in about 25 minutes.

Anyway, we were so psyched by the neighborhood and the apartment we rented--which has four balconies/terracies, two of them spacious--and so badly jet-lagged that we couldn't sleep. Even sex didn't help. Tried without success to get online. At 4:30 a.m., in the cool of the night, we gave up and took the Malaguti for a spin around a nearly empty city: down the Gianicolense, across the Tevere, through Piazza Venezia (where we asked a cop if we could go up via del Corso, parts of which are pedestrian only during the day (yes--surprise!), and over to the Trevi Fountain (photo at right) where it was just us and four guys in a cop car.

Up via Veneto (video below), then down and up to the top of the Spanish steps (no one), across the hill to Piazza del Popolo (not a single person in the square), down via del Corso and on around the Coliseum, right at Circo Massimo and back up viale Trastevere and the Gianicolense to "home." Still dark at 6:00. Got La Repubblica at a newstand directly below our apartment's terrace (we told the owner we were "proprio sopra" [just above] his shop), had coffee and cornetti at one bar, just coffee at another (where the door was open to 45 degree air), both places decked out with huge chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in foil and hanging from the ceiling, then headed back to warm up, relax, read the paper, and plan the day.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Red Carpet Club limbo

Dianne and I are headed for Rome--we arrive tomorrow--but today we're in limbo, at the United Red Carpet Club at Dulles Airport, with a six-hour layover. My father-in-law gave us a lifetime membership to the club decades ago, and the people at the desk now react to the 1978 piece of plastic as if were an historical artifact.

The club is nice enough. It has multi-colored carpet of the sort that's guaranteed not to show dirt even if never vacuumed, and there's plenty of free food and drink. We're in hour 3 and I've already had a plum, fresh strawberries dipped in sugar, a pack of short-bread cookies, one cheese bars packed in plastic, and 3 machine-made cappuccinos. I've also read 4 newspapers.

But the time is not exactly flying, and it's tempting to think that we're suspended here in airport netherland, neither home nor in Rome, where we want to be.

But there is another way to think about life in the Red Carpet Club, and it comes by way of Alain de Botton, author of The Art of Travel, which informed our philosophy of travel in Rome the Second Time. For de Botton, one's trip/vacation begins the minute one leaves the house. The taxi to the airport is part of the "experience," part of the "fun," part of what's interesting, and so, I suppose, is airport check-in and watching folks in the security line and, yes, 6 hours at the Red Carpet Club. The Red Carpet Club is not actually in de Botton's book, and now I know why.