Rome Travel Guide

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Monday, May 17, 2010

On the Town: La Notte dei Musei

Rome's weather has been miserable of late, and last night was no exception: steady rain. Still we couldn't resist engaging the second annual "La Notte dei Musei" (Night of the Museums), when many of the city's museums are open from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m., and free. With the scooter not in the cards, we opted for a zone with several attractions and headed out with our orange umbrella at 5:30, arriving in Rome's north end at 6:20 after a ride on Metro's blue line and a tram across town on viale Regina Margherita.

Our first stop was not on the "Notte dei Musei" tour, but we couldn't resist an exhibition at The British School at Rome on "colonie," literally "colonies" but here referring to facilities built in the 1920s and 1930s to improve the health and fitness of Italy's youth, a cause that would continue under Mussolini and his cohort. Many of these institutions were designed by the nation's best architects, usually in some version of art deco rationalism, and most are now in a state of advanced decay. On display are gorgeous color photographs of the colonie (left), an intriguing collection of postcards, and some other materials, all intelligently interpreted: even a mention of the 19th-century surveillance device, the panopticon.

We had an hour before the big Belle Arti museum (technically, the Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna - The National Modern Art Gallery) opened at 8, and we spent it in the museum's weird cafe, serviced by a staff of 7, most of whom seemed to be doing nothing, including a rather cool and unhelpful overseer who perhaps resents not having a career as an impresario. Still, a pleasant hour with three glasses of sauvignon and free munchies of the sort often provided with a drink: mini-bruschette, a small bowl of peanuts with a tiny spoon, and potato chips.

Inside, the crowds still small (an estimated 200,000 people took advantage of the Notte), we wandered through several rooms of an exhibit we had wanted to catch before it closed, on 1970s feminism. Cindy Sherman of Buffalo fame was a featured artist, and others followed suit, each of them engaged in some effort to capture the problem of female identity: dressing up in this costume or that, distorting the face against a pane of glass, marking the body with pens and whatever. Necessary in the '70s, today not so inspiring, even irritating, to Bill at least.

We spill outside, arguing as we cross Piazza Thorwaldsen to the Romanian Academy, a favorite place for us. There we are, pulling up our knees in the tight rows, to watch a 5-piece group (2 Germans, a Hungarian, one Romanian, and drummer from somewhere in South America - The Nicolas Simion group, called Transylvanian Grooves) present a program of Romanian jazz. Innovative, technically proficient, altogether superb music, which brought the crowd of about 220 to a frenzy when the beat and sound, driven by the electrified violin and a physical bassist, approached the "folk" (think of our son and daughter-in-law's wedding reception in Romania - says Dianne).

It's 9:45 and we're back to Belle Arti, using the side-door, cafe entrance to avoid the long lines up the stairs in front. Family diplomacy means avoiding the feminist exhibit. We opt for Fausto Pirandello's (son of Luigi, the dramatist), whose rough, orangy paintings of thick proletarians, farm workers, and their animals were warmly received by Italian (and Fascist) juries of the 1920s and 1930s, and in large part by us.

We're off down the hill in the dark park (please take my wallet), where there's an exhibit of some kind on New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Except there isn't, because Bill misread the newspaper item, which actually said the museum was on viale Fiorello LaGuardia. So there's nothing happening here, except a band taking down its equipment. We're off again in the gushy wetness of the park's sidewalks, past a huge, tiered statue to Goethe and the Case del Cinema, down via Veneto
(several of those new Rome cows at the top of the street), which tonight is compelling in its damp relative emptiness. Even the glass boxes look warm and inviting, one with a guy playing the piano and singing Italian songs. Dianne briefly wishes she were very, very, wealthy. We fantasize about getting dressed up on night and blowing a hundred Euro (all tolled) at a few of these places (it wouldn't take long).

A 15-minute walk through Piazza Barberini brings us to our next venue, this one chosen at the last minute: Palazzo delle Esposionzi. There's a line 6-across and hundreds of yards long, mostly young people who must have come for music. We try our around-the-side Belle Arti maneuvre, but they're too smart for that. As we retreat, Bill's eyes meet someone he "knows": hizzonor the Mayor, none other than Gianni Alemanno, in the flesh. The Mayor returns the glance with that "yes it's me" nod. Dianne sees none of this and struggles to believe it. But it makes sense that the ex-thug would be touring the evening's venues, perhaps trying to figure out if he can eliminate the event next year without political damage.

It's after 11:00, but we're hungry, and we wander through Monti on the way to the Cavour Metro. We stop in one restaurant where the kitchen is closed; as a young woman explains in garbled English, they've just thrown out the pasta water. The next one, "Al 19 Trattoria" (via Boschetto, 19), apparently still had their pasta water, so we settled in with 2 other tables - a handsome man in a track suit reading the newspaper and a hand-holding couple. Dianne ordered well and we split two tasty dishes that were new to us: some kind of pasta with beans and mussles and carrots and garlic, and a superb, sole-like fish dish (Cernia: grouper) with radicchio and pine nuts. Bill's even less a foodie than Dianne, but he coould appreciate the quality. The conto for the two dishes, two glasses of wine, and a bottle of water: E39.

To the Metro and home in 15 minutes. A few pages of Cheever's The Wapshot Scandal. Asleep at about 2.


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