Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Farewell to Arms, and Hemingway's Thoughts on Rome

Shall we stay up tonight and read, dear?

Yes, let's do that.

We'll do it then.  It's a wonderful idea.  We'll have a great time.

Yes, we will.

What will you read dear?

I'll read A Farewell to Arms.  It's by Ernest Hemingway.

I've heard it's good.

I've heard it's good, too.

When was it published?

I don't know. What will you read, dear?

I'll read over your shoulder, dear.  You're so wonderful.

No, it's you that's wonderful.  You're so dear.  Come and read with me. 

Gary Cooper, Helen Hayes, and Adolph Menjou in the
1932 version
 A Farewell to Arms was published in 1929.  It' a semi-autobiographical account of Ernest Hemingway's experiences as an ambulance driver in the Italian army in World War I.   We had read Mark Thompson's history of the conflict, The White War, and we couldn't resist Hemingway's story, which includes a combat injury and the retreat from Caporetto.  As the made-up lines above suggest, it's also a sentimental (if ultimately disturbing) love story.  In the book the Hemingway character speaks Italian, abeit with an accent. 

The story has been filmed twice.  The 1932 version starred Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes; the 1957 treatment featured Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones.  Although Hudson more closely resembled the young Hemingway, it's the Cooper version we want to see.  Unfortunately, Deborah Kerr, the ideal Catherine Barkley, is in neither.

The Italian retreat from Caporetto
Events in the book take place entirely in northern Italy and Switzerland, a long way from Rome and a bit of reach even for the long arms of Rome the Second Time.  Yet Hemingway does offer some thoughts on the Eternal City, in the form of a conversation between Tenente Henry (Hemingway), the Major, and Rinaldi.  The Major and Rinaldi are Italian, and Rinaldi is Henry's best friend.  Henry is recuperating from a leg injury. 

The ruminations on Rome begin after several glasses of brandy.  The "I" is Henry:

We will get Corsica and all the Adriatic coast line, Rinaldi said.  Italy will return to the splendors of Rome, said the major.  I don't like Rome, I said.  It is hot and full of fleas.  You don't like Rome?  Yes, I love Rome.  Rome is the mother of nations.   I will never forget Romulus suckling the Tiber. What?  Nothing.  Let's all go to Rome.  Let's go to Rome to-night and never come back.  Rome is a beautiful city, said the major.  The mother and father  of nations, I said.  Roma is feminine, said Rinaldi.  It cannot be the father.  Who is the father, then, the Holy Ghost?  Don't blaspheme.  I wasn't blaspheming.  I was asking for information.  You are drunk, baby.  Who made me drunk?  I made you drunk, said the major.  I made you drunk because I love you and because America is in the war.  Up to the hilt, I said.  You go away in the morning, baby, Riunaldi said.  To Rome, I said.  No, to Milan.  To Milan, said to major, to the Crystal Palace, to the Cova, to Campari's, to Buffi's to the galleria.  :You lucky boy.

I'm sure Mr. Hemingway is a fine writer, dear, but he seems a trifle confused about Rome, don't you think?

Yes he does.

Let's go to Rome!  It would be splendid.  I don't believe it's full of fleas.  We could leave tomorrow.

That's a wonderful idea, dear.  You're so sweet.  We'll have breakfast in bed, and take the first train.  .


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Italy and the Great War

The Italian theater in the Great War.  Trieste is at far right, the Carso
just above it.  The black lines at right depict the Austrian offensive
known by the name of the town, Caporetto.  The offensive ended
with the Italian army pushed back to the River Piave, the red line
at center, just northeast of Venice. 

Rome the Second Time is the first guidebook to take up seriously the historic events leading to and including World War II: the 1922 March on Rome, which installed Mussolini and the Fascists; Hitler’s 1938 visit, which produced the fateful alliance of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany; the fighting in the city following the Italian withdrawal from the war and the German occupation in 1943; the deportation of Rome’s Jews to concentration camps; and the bombing in via Rasella and the vicious Nazi retaliation for it at the Fosse Ardeatine in 1944. We included these events—and existing sites that reveal them--because they continue to shape perceptions of what it means to be Italian.

The poet and warmonger Gabriele D'Annunzio, 1918
When we wrote the book we knew much less about Italy’s role in the Great War, now known as World War I, partly because that war took place nearly a century ago, but also because the war didn’t pass through Rome; fighting was restricted to northern and northeastern Italy, to the Trentino, Veneto, Friuli, and a section of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire that included the Carso Plateau (close to Trieste), the Bainsizza Plateau, and the hills and mountains on both sides the River Isonzo. Italy was fighting with the Allies (France, Great Britain, Russia, and later the US) and against Austria-Hungary and Germany, but it was in the war only because it hoped to acquire territory, especially the coastal city of Trieste (where there were many Italians) but also the seaboard of the Eastern Adriatic (where the people were mostly Slavic). Italy was the aggressor, led to war by patriotic demagogues—the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio and Mussolini among them—who called it “the fourth war for independence.” It was nothing of the sort.

We know something about this conflict now because we’ve just finished Mark Thompson’s remarkable book, The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front, 1915-1919 (New York: Basic Books, 2008); the title best reflects the fighting that took place to the north and east of Lake Garda in the Dolomite Mountains, actually a minor theater.

Oddly, Italy got just about everything it wanted, territorially, from the war. But the methods by which it was fought, the rhythm of the conflict, and Italian demands at the end of the war, made it seem to many like a humiliating defeat, and that perception fueled the rise of Fascism.

The methods? Under its arrogant, thoughtless and stubborn commander, General Luigi Cadorna, the hardly-trained, badly-equipped Italian infantrymen were sent up one steep mountainside after another, into the machine guns of the Austrian army, waiting in trenches behind barbed wire that the Italians had great difficulty cutting or blowing up. The result, concludes Thompson, was a bloodbath even worse than that on the storied Western Front. In the Italian theater—and nowhere else in the entire war—the carnage was so extreme that more than once Austrian defenders, horrified at the slaughter, implored the oncoming Italians to stop and save themselves: “Italians! Go back! We don’t want to massacre you!” By war’s end, some 900,000 Italians had been killed or wounded.

An Italian trench on the Carso plateau, 1917
When soldiers questioned their orders, Cadorna met threats to military discipline, even minor ones, with his own version of military justice, urging his officers to employ the Roman practice of decimation, in which 1 in 10 members of a unit were killed at random, by names drawn out of a hat. No other army did this.

The remains of an Austrian trench on
Monte Sei Busi

 The war went badly for Italy, horrific assault after horrific assault along the Isonzo—eleven by October 1917—but minimal gains in territory. A deadly stalemate. Then things changed. Exploiting a weakness in the Italian defenses and a distracted and inept Cadorna, an Austro-German force poured through a gap in the mountains at the small town of Caporetto (the Italian novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda was serving nearby) and from there out onto the plains of Friuli, the Italian army in a nightmarish retreat—many soldiers throwing away their guns and heading home--that would not end until the River Piave, 70 kilometers to the west and only 25 kilometers from Venice (see map at the top of this post). “No single defeat in battle,” writes Thompson, “had placed Italy in such peril since Hannibal destroyed the Roman legions at Cannae, more than two thousand years before.” The Fascists would spin this defeat their own way, insisting on the integrity and honor of the army while indicting the liberal government in Rome for tolerating defeatists (not unlike the approach the right would take in the 1970s to the Vietnam war). Nonetheless, to this day the word “Caporetto” is a metaphor for scandal, corruption, and defeat; Italian red tape, notes Thompson, might be referred to as an “administrative Caporetto.”  Similarly, the phrase "another Vietnam" means another humiliating defeat, or another quagmire. 

Italian soldier taken prisoner after
the battle of Caporetto
The rest of the story, briefly told: The Austro-German force failed to exploit its advantage, and the Italian line at the Piave held. French and British troops moved in to assist the hapless Italians and the United States declared war on Austria-Hungary. A new Italian commander, General Armando Diaz, restored order, discipline and morale to the Italian ranks. On the other side, the Germans removed their divisions to the Western Front and the remaining Austrian armies began to suffer shortages of food and military supplies.

Because Italy was keeping a lot of Austrian troops away from the all-important Western Front, the Allies were willing to support most of Italy’s war aims. In June 1918, a desperate, failed Austrian army attack at the Piave ended in disaster and retreat, and the Italian army, now bolstered by French and British forces, went on the offensive. By November 4, when the Armistice went into effect, the Austrians were again at the Isonzo, this time in full flight—a “Caporetto in reverse,” as Diaz wrote to his wife. An Italian destroyer had staked the Italian claim to Trieste. “Just when we learned to fight,” went a joke going around the infantry, “the war is over!”

In the negotiations over territory that followed, the Italians overreached, demanding territory to the east, lands occupied by 750,000 Slovenes and Croats; the Dalmatian Islands; and Fiume on the Adriatic, the only port that would have provided the new state of Yugoslavia essential access to the sea and merchant shipping. When Italy did not get all that it wanted—Fiume became a free state, and most of the Dalmatians went to Yugoslavia—right-wing zealots cast the result as a great humiliation and defeat, perpetrated by a soft liberal state. D’Annunzio’s spoke of a “mutilated victory,” and Mussolini’s followers promised revenge for the Great Betrayal. The stage was set for the March on Rome. 


The Fascists made myth of Italy's role in the Great War, constructing more than 40 major monuments
to the dead.  One of the them, the cemetery at Redipuglia, holds the bodies of more than 100,000 Italian
soldiers.  It is constructed as a set of terraces, replicating the army's efforts to scale Friuli's mountains.
Thompson writes that the Redipuglia cemetery and smaller, regimental ones, "became the showpiece of Fascist commemorative architectonics." 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Another cinema bites the dust in Rome and a survey and a rant on Angels and Demons for good measure

We're sorry to report another theater in Rome showing original language films, usually English, has closed.  The Metropolitan, a multiplex 2 steps from Piazza del Popolo, fell victim apparently to rising real estate prices in the heart of the Centro. 

The line in the picture is for Angels and Demons opening day in Rome.  Yup, we were in the line.  In an earlier post we described this very un-Roman line outside the Metropolitan.

For those, like us, who enjoy original language films in Rome, a group is trying to get another locale started.  They're currently taking a survey of interest.  We urge you to take the survey (you get to name your favorite actors and directors too).  Here's the link:

And, while I'm ranting myself about Rome and movies, I can't resist directing you to an all-time rant by my favorite movie critic, the BBC's Mark Kermode.  His famous rant on Angels and Demons is on youtube,  where he calls it "the stupidest movie" ever made.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

RST Top 40. #11: Monte Mario - "wild" within the city

Views from Lo Zodiaco at the top of Monte Mario
 Monte Mario is Rome’s own “mountain.” At 450 feet, it may not seem like much, but it has nice wooded paths and great views at the top. For both its green space within the city and its sweeping views, we put it in Rome the Second Time’s Top 40 countdown at #11.

The paths are broad and well-maintained
Monte Mario is a great reclamation story for Rome, since its 150 hectares (370 acres) have been taken from private property. There are some nice explanatory boards and, while they’re in Italian, even without the language one can make out some of the history (foundries operated here 2000 years ago) and flora and fauna.

As you near the top, you have nice views of St. Peter’s and behind you the Fascist-era observatory (you can’t go in).

Then the best views, from the restaurant/bar Lo Zodiaco, where you can sit outside with a coffee or beer, look through the telescopes at the Tiber and monuments, and feed the animals (see photo at right).

A map of the Monte Mario "park."  One of our techniques
is to take a photo of a map and then check it on our camera
as we proceed on our trek.

There are more walks around here - urban and green - and more history and buildings, all described in Itinerary 9 of Rome the Second Time.  

Buon trekking!


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Of pigs and pork in the hills outside Rome: when gourmet cooking meets us

Looking for porchetta in Ariccia

Found it!  Dianne watches her sandwich being made
We have to admit a craving for porchetta - that's the roast pork that is sold at road side stands, and also in shops around southern Italy.  But the classic porchetta is from a small town, Ariccia, in the hills outside Rome, the Colli Albani.

We heard from our friend, B, in the States, that even Gourmet Magazine had found its way to Ariccia.   Glad you finally made it, we say.

the view towards the Agra Pontina
Looking back at Ariccia from its bridge
Ariccia sits perched on the side of the hills with sweeping views of the plains that lead to the Mediterranean (the Agro Pontino - or Pontine Marshes, now densely inhabited after the Mussolini government's reclamation efforts).  It's a fun town to visit, with its tiny shops, many of them selling just porchetta. 

Ariccia is full of porchetta and pig references.  We rather like this anthropomorphic pig holding a piece of his own species (photo right).

You can get a sandwich to go - the best way to eat your porchetta.  You may not be used to the large piece of salty skin they throw in the sandwich.  And you can hit a bone now and then (Bill lost a piece of tooth to one years ago)- so caveat emptor.

Buon porchetta!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding Mr. Fix-it for scooter accessories in Rome

Despite all the complaints of what doesn't work in Italy, we're always impressed by the ingenuity of sole proprietors and small businesses.  Here's an example:

The key to our "box" (bauletto) - the carrier on the back of our scooter - broke off in the lock.  The first reaction of some businesses we contacted was that we'd have to replace the whole box.  That's a minimum of a $100, an amount we don't part with easily. 

So we took ourselves to Porta Portese - the dense line-up of corrugated sheds that passes for a two-wheeler (all kinds - bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, and some kids' trikes) market place.  Porta Portese (also the scene of Rome's largest flea market on Sundays - when these "regular" shops are closed) is where we bought our helmets, got the box originally, bought a cover for our scooter, etc. 

A merchant figured out we needed to replace the lock (not the whole box), sold us one, and told us to just do it.  We pled incompetence and so the merchant took us down the way to another shop where this repairman replaced the lock.  Bill is looking on so he can do it in the future.
The whole transaction - lock and a small payment to the repairman - was about $20.  We are satisfied customers.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rome the Second Time Top 40. #12: The Fosse Ardeatine

Cells at the former SS prison on via Tasso
The grounds of the Fosse Ardeatine (Ardeatine Caves) include the caves [photo below] where, in March 1944, the German SS executed 335 Italian men--Jews, partisans, and others--in retaliation for a deadly partisan attack on the occupying German forces in via Rasella, and the haunting cemetery/memorial housing the bodies of all those killed there.  The Fosse Ardeatine are located a few miles south of the Centro on via Ardeatine, but can be easily reached by Bus 218, which has a stop in the city at the corner of Piazza San Giovanni and the wide via Amba Aradam.

Itinerary 6 ("Attack and Reprisal--a Story of Partisans and Nazis") in Rome the Second Time covers the via Rasella bombing and the SS prison on via Tasso, which now is home to the Historical Museum of the Liberation, where some of those killed at the Fosse Ardeatine had been incarcerated.   

The tombs of those killed at the Fosse Ardeatine
A good (Jewish) friend who read Rome the Second Time enjoyed and praised the book but was critical of the space devoted to Italian Fascism and the 1943/44 German occupation of Rome, which produced the Fosse Ardeatine tragedy and the deportation of many of the city's Jews to concentration camps.  We think the material is not only appropriate but vital.  More than half a century later, these issues and events--Mussolini and Fascism, the ugly Italian campaign, the role of the partisans, the inhumanity of the Germans, the occupation of the city after the withdrawal of Italy from the war, the deportation of Italian Jews--continue to resonate with and to divide Italians, shaping their social relationships, politics, foreign policies, and art and architecture, well into the 21st century.  You can't tell the players without a scorecard, and you can't fully understand contemporary Italy without knowing something about what happened between 1922, when Mussolini marched on Rome, and 1945, when sanity returned to the Eternal City.


A poster from the late 1930s, now in the Historical Museum of the Liberation, announcing the expulsion of foreign-born Jews from Italy and the exclusion of native-born Jews from banks, insurance companies and other occupations, as well as from the public schools.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ducati Caffe': a classy spot for a break in Rome's center

Glitzy and commercial is not usually our thing, but we have a spot in our hearts for Ducati Caffe' just off Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome's center. 

There's something about that motorcycle on the wall, the red and black high-tech decor, AND the occasional live music that appeals to us.  The food looks good (tho' we haven't tried it). 

Ducati Caffe' is open all day, beginning with breakfast (Italian style) at 8 a.m.  The website is mostly in Italian, but enough is in English that you can figure out what's happening and if you want to try it. 

Ducati Caffe' is a classy spot to take a well-deserved break from Rome's hectic streets.