Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 900 posts

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wedding Photo Shoot

Wedding photo shoot, complete with reflector, prone photographer, and married couple.  What's the location?

Monday, December 22, 2014

JMW Turner's Rome paintings - new light, new film, new prices

Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino
JMW Turner, the 19th-century artist experiencing a kind of renaissance of public opinion, in some ways is simply one among the hundreds of artists influenced by Rome.  And he's one who doesnt easily come to mind when we think of Rome influences.  With Turner, we think of seascapes.  I first saw - to my surprise - a few of his Rome works in the magnificent collection in London at the Tate Britain (not the Tate Modern).  Turner's views of Rome illuminate (and I use that word purposefully because of Turner's amazing representation of light) the city in a blend of realism and idealism that quickens the heart of any Romaphile.

Mike Leigh's new biopic, Mr.Turner, focuses on the last 25 years of the painters life, but does not include the Rome years.  Yet the film brings to life this often underrated - especially in Rome - painter.  One of the Rome paintings is seen quickly in the film at some point -  as I recall, the Forum Romanum for Mr. Soane's Museum (see below); and the movie helps us understand the eccentric Turner's love of light and ability with color.

Turner's Rome paintings also are in the news for their recent sales.  The Getty LA bought Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino (at top) in 2010 for $45 million, a record for a Turner at that time.  The British government placed an embargo on the painting, hoping a British museum would raise the money to buy it so it would not leave the country.  None did, and so the Getty now owns this acknowledged masterpiece. Modern Rome, a view over the forum, exhibits Turners exceptional ability to capture the real and the idealized views with an extraordinary mastery of color.  The Getty describes the work as follows:

"Ten years after his final journey to Rome, Turner envisioned the Eternal City through a veil of memory. Baroque churches and ancient monuments in and around the Roman Forum seem to dissolve in iridescent light shed by a moon rising at left and a sun setting behind the Capitoline Hill at right. Amidst these splendors, the city's inhabitants carry on with their daily activities. The picture's nacreous palette and shimmering light effects exemplify Turner at his most accomplished.

When first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1839 with its pendant, Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus, the painting was accompanied by a modified quotation from Lord Byron's masterpiece, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1818): "The moon is up, and yet it is not night / The sun as yet divides the day with her." Like the poem, Turner's painting evokes the enduring sublimity of Rome, which had been for artists throughout history less a place in the real world than one in the imagination.

The painting is in a remarkable state of preservation and remains untouched since it left Turner's hands."

Given that last statement, we're not sure why it's not yet on display at the Getty. [UPDATE:  The Getty is hosting what looks like a magnificent Turner exhibit Feb. 24-May 24, 2015 - and it looks like this painting will be in the exhibit.  It's one of 3 paintings on the Web site announcing the exhibit.]

Just this December 3, another Turner Rome painting - Rome, From Mount Aventine, painted in 1835 (at left), sold for $47.5 million, setting yet another record (the estimated value going into the Sotheby's auction was 15-20 million pounds; it sold for 30.3 million pounds).  It was the first time the painting had been sold in more than 130 years. 

Turner was an inveterate sketcher (also shown in Leigh's film), and no doubt used his many sketches to paint Modern Rome 10 years, and Rome, From Mount Aventine, 7 years (respectively) after he left the city.  Those sketchbooks also are the property of the Tate, and can be viewed online as well

Vision of Medea - one of the 3 works exhibited in Rome in 1928
and on display at the Tate Britain when I saw it.
In 1828, Turner's second trip to Italy (the first was in 1819 and also included Rome), he stayed primarily in Rome and 3 of his works were on public display.  His biographer says a high number of visitors (estimated 1,000) saw these works, and "were mostly mystified by what they saw," so new and unusual was his painting style.

Turner was born in 1775 to working class parents (his father was a wigmaker, and then, when those went out of style, astutely turned to being a barber).  The painter's early work under architects perhaps explains some of his life-long attraction to architectural forms, which served him well in Rome. 

As noted above, another great Rome painting is Forum Romanum for Mr. Soane's Museum.  Soane was an architect - so the architectural themes play out again here.  (And if you haven't been to the Soane Museum in London, put it on your Top Ten list!)  This painting, however, ended up as part of Turner's bequest to the government; so it apparently never went to Soane's museum; why, I don't know. 
Perhaps the most famous Rome painting is Rome, from the Vatican. Raffaelle, Accompanied by La Fornarina, Preparing his Pictures for the Decoration of the Loggia, exhibited 1820 (above).  Raphael was one of Turner's influences and 1820 marked the 300th year of Raphael's death. 

So why the Turner Exhibit at the Tate - including one on view now of "Late Turner"?  Turner bequeathed the government all the paintings, sketches, and sketchbooks in his possession at his death, with a plan to establish a fund for needy artists.  The fund never materialized, but more than a century later, the Turner Society raised enough money for the exhibition space for this vast collection at the Tate.   Many of the works are on permanent display there.

Turner is sometimes called the painter of light, and these Rome paintings exhibit that quality.  He supposedly said on his deathbed (and as replicated in Mike Leighs film), "The Sun is God," attributing a kind of metaphysical power to light. 


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Snoopy comes to Montecelio

We found this bar in the small town of Montecelio, above the city of Guidonia, about an hour northeast of Rome's center.  It has the sophisticated look of a franchise, but the chances are that the folks who own the rights to Snoopy's image are not aware of this establishment and have not granted permission for its use.  I had my own experience with Italian disregard for international property rights some years ago, when an historical essay of mine was translated and reprinted in an Italian collection, entirely without the knowledge and permission of the author or the copyright holder--the Journal of American History.   I was pleased to see it reprinted in Italian, but surprised that no one asked beforehand, or told me about it on publication.  I found out years later.   Bill

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Grocery Store Surprises: a Rome SMA

Different kind of cart
Rome grocery stores--the chains that is--are not all that different from American stores. They're smaller yes, but they have a similar mix of departments and items.  Unlike some state-side stores, where legislation prohibits the sale of alcohol, Rome/Italian stores all stock wine--and better quality than that carried by the California stores we know.  Another difference is how metal shopping carts are regulated. In the US, you just grab one and go.  In Italy--at the big stores in Rome, at least--it takes 50 ore more centessimi (Euro cents) to free the cart from the lineup; you get it back when you return the cart.  Most stores also provide smaller, plastic carts with handles and wheels for which no deposit is required (guess which ones we use)..

Underdressed shopper

Despite the similarities, as a tourist one can still be surprised at what one finds inside one of those Rome supermarkets.  On our last visit to the city, we were regular customers at a SMA, tucked in behind the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.

The first surprise was a scantily clad cut-out in one of the aisles. It's safe to say you'll see nothing quite this provocative in the US, where prudishness--or one might say decorum--prevails.

Culture at Checkout

The second surprise was of another sort altogether. Across from the checkout lanes was a series of murals, illustrating the store's neighborhood setting, but nostalgically so, in a era before the automobile.

One of the murals (above right) featured a piazza and courtyard on the backside of San Giovanni in Laterano--a place seen by thousands of Romans from their automobiles every day, but one seldom visited and relatively obscure.

Another mural was more of a mystery.  The scene depicted somewhat resembles the intersection of via Druso and viale delle Terme di Caracalla, perhaps a mile from the store.  The curious "booth" at the center looks like one at that intersection, and the ruins in the background may be the baths.  No matter, we loved the dash of "culture" at the checkout counter!   Bill

Terme di Caracalla?  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Marcello and Sophia's Wild Ride in the South of Rome OR, an RST itinerary for the Jet Set

Sophia - photo explanation below
Arizona State University historian friends of ours asked us to lay out an auto itinerary for them… outside Rome, à la the second time.  We asked what they liked – small towns (we’re okay at that), beaches (hmmm, we’re not so good at that). 
We came up with an itinerary mainly to the south of Rome that includes the Castelli Romani, Norma/Norba, the Mussolini-created town of Latina (near the beaches), Anzio (more beaches + WWII), Ostia (more beaches), and Ostia Antica.   The itinerary is a full and interesting one, developed mostly by Bill.  We’ve included Bill's original itinerary at the end of this post; for those RSTers who want to go farther afield.
Brian and Cathy amended the trip somewhat, as we hoped they would.  They went off in a convertible with an unusual June rainstorm looming and added more religious sites – the latter makes sense since Catherine – of the Loren car scarf - is a specialist in Catholic church history.
Brian dutifully wrote us a report of their trip – which we found interesting and funny and fun.  And he included photos.  We asked him if we could use his text and photos as a guest blog post.  In a weak moment, he said “yes” – and so it follows (again, with Bill’s original itinerary and a map at the end):

               I will send in a moment a link to a set of photographs that will bore you [included rather than linked here, and photos of Italy never bore us], but they do demonstrate a high level of compliance to your commands. Obedience paid nice dividends, thank you very much.  Our getaway into the Castelli Romani was smooth, and the temperature dropped 10 degrees—on the road trip the front brought in rain, but not all the time, hence Marcello and Sophia (pictured) looked really sharp with the ragtop down, RayBans on. 

Norma - and to the left, Norba
        I freaked out over Norma, its precarious position alone quite stimulating save when drunk.  
I provide photographic evidence of the scholastic role the Mussolini family played there, but the best part were the chistes [Brian, being Arizonan, prefers Spanish to Italian; apparently this means “jokes”] between the old men and the old ladies in the piazza. The old ladies won. 

Meanwhile, Cathy danced in the street, flipping her Loren car scarf at the pious inhabitants of the tortured dank alleyways. 

We dropped down onto the malarial plane [the Agro Pontino] and found it a place not unlike Phoenix…agriculture being king as it once was in that American desert city.  And, like that city, there are some pretty conservative views there, as a photo of a sign on the gate to a “pilgrim’s way” suggests.  

Near Latina, we found an inexpensive luxury beach hotel, and you will see the proof of that. 

Someone with an engineering sense had laid out these weird, for Italy, straight roads called migliara [ok, Brian – that refers to “miles”].  Once we found these we were set.  Primarily to head back to the hills and examine monasteries that my perfect spouse insists on visiting.  I think she prays in them, god forbid. Indeed, it was claimed we stood in the very cell in which Thomas of Aquinas died, joining in that moment the natural law with the divine one. 
I attach a shot of me standing around while Loren recited the rosary, and of the cool Solomon’s riddle that the Cistercian monks had placed in the chapter room of their truly beautiful abbey. 

I failed in my search for porchetta.  Sophia kept insisting I could get it in the next town, waving her scarf “adelante,” until we ended up in another monastery town, Sermoneta, in a torrential rain.  The waiter, hearing the word as I pronounced it and seeing as I pointed to the trattoria sign that said they had it, motioned us to sit down at a soaking table under a suspect umbrella, napkins drenched, water dripping on our heads, and Italians in doorways barely suppressing their laughter at these Yanks, too slow to come in out of the rain.  I did prevail upon the man to seat us inside.  He presented us with bending plates of excellent cheeses and first-rate olives and scrumptious red peppers, the display heavy with delicious meats, all of the porcine variety but well cured and lacking a trace of porchetta. [Hey, Brian – note we said porchetta in Ariccia – in the Castelli Romani.  Local means local in Italy.]

We surmised that, desperate for customers, he had decided that the Americans were going to get a “big pig feast” all right, just not the one we indicated.  It was grand, as was the cool castle at the top of the town where we listened, with some comprehension, to the tale of the Castiglione, dukes of the town and of the pestilential plain, one of whom, at the battle of Lepanto, met a fetching Aragonesa and married her, bringing Spanish ducados into the ducato.

As we returned we visited Anzio, a sad thing really, all those young, slender boys with smiles on their faces and guns in their hands. Going along the road to Ostia Antica, with its mosaics and its Roman playwright’s coffin carved in honor of the muse, we encountered what Bill once did, a sign for a bar named Tom and Jerry, a reminder of my purpose in life, which is, it appears, to give a TnJ party every year.


PS… threw in your picture again, as a sign of thanks for being so kind to us.  We offer sincere congratulations for finishing the f*!@#g wall.  [You may surmise that Brian accompanied us on one of our “wall walks” of Rome.  That section was posted on the blog in early November.  From his comment, you may – or may not – want to replicate that section of the wall, esp. in blistering Rome heat.]

The itinerary as offered by us:

Hi Brian and Cathy,
   "Small towns, a beach" isn't much to go on.  But with those guidelines, here's something you might like: 
1.  First day.  Drive into the Alban Hills (Colli Albani/Castelli Romani) on highway 7, catching towns of Castel Gandolfo (Pope's summer residence, town just OK, not so fascinating; view spectacular), Albano (great cistern there, better town), Genzano (famous for Pane (bread) Genzano); Ariccia (home of porchetta, and a Bernini church, castle, etc., one of our favorite towns).  There are two lakes up there, Albano and Nemi (smaller), though if you choose to explore them you likely won't be able to reach your "destination" (Norma), archeological sites, etc.  Then through Velletri (site of 5th army breakthrough; mostly rebuilt after the war) and onto an area on the fringe of the Monte Lepini that's pretty cool.  Latter includes Ninfa  (an amazing park-like area, sometimes open to the public - on the flats before Norma/Norba) and, on the bluff, Norma (where's there's a hotel - and it's decent).  Norma is paired with "Norba" - an ancient Roman site, mostly buried now and the land used for grazing - but Norba/Norma is spectacular area for views and distinctive tiny town.
2.  Day 2   Drive southwest off the bluff and (back) onto the flat plain of the Agro Pontino, once famous for mosquitos, then for eradicating them, to the town of Latina, one of several in this area constructed by the Mussolini regime.  Nifty Fascist-era modernism. Don't miss the "M" building.  From there, over to Nettuno/Anzio, where the allies landed and where I assume you can find a beach.  Good (if idiosyncratic; run by an individual) World War II museum and, of course, cemeteries.  OR from Latina you can head to the coast and go SOUTH, cruising along a spectacular beach /Lido, spending some time in another of the Fascist cities, Sabaudia, and finding your way (not far) to Monte Circeo, which you can hike--it's not hard and there's a great view from the top up the coast.  There are hotels in Circeo and wine (labeled Circeo) is made there.  If you stop short of Circeo, there's another very small fascist town, Pontinia, which has one (good) hotel.  Note that the hotels often have the best dinners.  It's sometimes not easy to find good dinner eating (lunch, yes - including full meal lunches) in small towns.
3.  Day 3  (assuming you don't head south on Day 2).  
From Anzio you can either shoot straight north to Aprilia, then left to Pomezia (both Mussolini towns) or putter along the coast going northwest til you find a good beach.  Lido di Ostia is a great large beach town and has some wonderful modernist architecture.  From there, head toward Rome to Ostia Antica, the 2000 year old port city, the remains of which are quite something.  Then to Rome.  OR if you're into the Etruscan scene, continue NW to Cerveteri for some quality time with tombs.  Another good beach town, instead of the more crowded Ostia, is Fregene.  You can get access to public beaches in all these places (though many beaches are private), and there's a good public one in Fregene.  Then to Rome.  You can also do Ostia and Ostia Antica by train from Rome.  Fregene no.  
   Nota bene:  though we've seen everything mentioned above, we have never done this as a three day itinerary, and we don't know your habits, whether you're into 3-hour lunches, etc.  Some of the roads are very curvy and slow, others straight and fast.  Traffic and curvy mountain roads will slow you down, maybe significantly.  So it's hard to know if this sequence will work for you. 
   You'll need a Lazio map to get a sense of distances and to plan in detail.
Hope this helps!
Bill (and Dianne)

Friday, November 28, 2014

Progress on the Gianicolo: Before, and After

Progress in Rome?  About as unlikely as Hannibal turning back at the Alps or Attila the Hun tossing candy to toddlers.  But once in a while it's there--shockingly there.  Humanity redeemed. 
We found an example on the Gianicolo, a place we know well.  While taking notes and photos for a stairwalk (it appears as a chapter in Modern Rome: 4 Great Walks for the Curious Traveler), we noted with disapointment a long line of posters, perhaps 20 in a row, that were not only ugly for what they were--rusty, abused, abandoned, but for those walking on via Giacomo Medici they managed to ruin the approach to one of the city's loveliest fountains and to block the view from the front of Aqua Paolo into the basin below.  That's the corner of Acqua Paola, center.
Before (2013)
When we returned to the spot the following spring, the posters were GONE.  The city government had promised to remove certain poster lines and, lo and behold, THEY DID IT.  We were incredulous, but also pleased.  Progress in Rome.    Bill
After (2014)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Galleria Doria Pamphilj - the Third Time

Courtyard - hard to believe this is off via del Corso
Galleria Doria Pamphilj (or Pamphili) is a stupendous gallery of  paintings and sculpture in the heart of Rome.  For many years it has been on the path of those seeking to see all Caravaggios in Rome and perhaps a few others, in a seen-better-days enormous palazzo sitting on Piazza Venezia.

Bagno di Diana
I always loved the gallery, where I first went in 1993 with Nancy DeConcillis and her intrepid group of international women "stuck" in Rome while their husbands worked (that was me!).  I had been back once about 10 years ago, but returned this year and found the Galleria and the Palazzo totally transformed.  Hard to believe John Cheever lived in an apartment here (and didn't like it, as I recall). I tried to go in through the entrance on the nondescript Piazza del Collegio Romano, which is more a parking lot than a piazza, but even the entrance had changed to the more accessible via del Corso.

You now enter through a lush courtyard and are taken immediately to a previously inaccessible, exquisite "bath" - "bagno di Diana" - built by Prince Filippo Andrea V for his British bride, Mary Talbot.

A family room (!)  Space for foosball--or soccer.

The next set of rooms are the "family" rooms.  These are the main objects of  restoration in the last decades.  Prince Jonathan Doria Pamphilj (the British-raised adopted son - he lucked out!) is your audio-guide voice for the family rooms, and he does a wonderful job of conveying the wealth and restoration while not seeming arrogant - no mean feat for a prince.  The audio guide is free with your ticket.

You must pay an additional Euro 4 for permission to photograph (in the middle of the upstairs galleries at a small bookshop, not when and where you buy your ticket).  Worth it, I think.


Most of the sculptures are in this odd room; turns out the sculptures were from the
Pamphilj gardens and moved inside for protection (from the proletariat after
unification?), but the roof of this room collapsed, damaging most of them.
This room now also has the 3 Caravaggios, seen here.

Family chapel
The art galleries themselves are, of course, what one comes for. With more than 500 paintings, among them works  by Caravaggio (3), Guido Reni, Annibale Carraci, Titian, and Raphael, and sculptures, including ones by Bernini.  The audio guide for the paintings is also excellent, allowing you to tune in when you want to and providing just the right amount of information.

Via del Corso, 305 (first block after Piazza Venezia), open 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. every day except Christmas, New Year's, and Easter.  In other words, it's often open when other galleries are not. At 11 Euros not cheap, but you get your money's worth.  There's now a nice cafe in the palazzo as well.

There is more information on the Web site:  There are concerts held here at times too.

Worth a visit the second time, or even a third, or fourth or more.


Fra Lippo Lippi's Annunciation

Donna Olimpia Aldobrandini - a sole heiress,
she combined the fortunes of the Doria, Pamphilj
and Aldobrandini, and bought a whole lot of art
in the 1600s.

Monday, November 17, 2014

John Fante: an American writer in Rome, in the 1950s

Italian-American writer John Fante [1909, near Chieti - 1983] was in Rome in the summer of 1957, and again in 1960, on the latter occasion for a stint as a screenwriter with Italian film mogul Dino de Laurentiis.

Although his work was never broadly popular in the United States, at the time of his Rome trip he had written several novels that had been greeted with some measure of critical approval, including Wait Until Spring, Bandini [1938] and Ask the Dust [1938], as well as a well-received book of short stories, Dago Red [1940].  H.L. Mencken, the mercurial editor of the influential journal American Mercury, was a mentor, friend, and life-long correspondent, as was Carey McWilliams, author of Factories in the Field and Ill Fares the Land,
whose elegant, poetic prose and commitment to America's rural underclass was a feature of his widely admired books,

Fante lived most of his life in or around Los Angeles, and Hollywood was an ever-present temptation, especially for a writer whose novels didn't sell very well.  Yet he had always considered the screenplay inferior to the novel--and the short story--and despite dabbling for brief periods in screenwriting over the years, he had for the most part resisted the allure of the silver screen.  His reluctance diminished somewhat as he aged, and in the 1950s and 1960s he authored a number of screenplays, including Walk on the Wild Side [1962], from the Nelson Algren novel.  That one was actually made into a film.  His favorite novelists were Steinbeck, Hemingway, James T. Farrell and, among Italian writers, Ignazio Silone. 

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1957, the film Full of Life made Fante a valued Hollywood commodity, and its success was influential in getting him film work abroad, first in Naples and Rome in 1957, then in Paris, and finally in Rome in 1960.  His 1957 project was a script for a Columbia Pictures comedy, The Roses, set in Naples and to star Jack Lemmon.  On that trip, he reached Rome on July 27 and made his way to via Veneto's Hotel Excelsior, once the headquarters of the German occupation during the war.  That evening he wrote to his wife, Joyce: "I don't know what to say about Rome that might give a strong impression.  I have already seen it too much in films. I do like its free-bouncing atmosphere, the fact that now, at 2 in the morning the streets are filled with people walking slowly God knows where, and little Fiats whizzing along crazily at frightening speeds,  No headlights are allowed at night, just those dim little parking lights--no horns either, and I even doubt that there are special traffic laws.  You just do the best you can, in a car or walking." 
At home in Los Angeles

Via Veneto, he continued, "is jammed with tables and chairs, people sitting, talking, drinking.  There is a heavy inroad of tourists that somehow spoils the original vitality."  Fante had recently visited Copenhagen, and he comments in this letter about that city's cleanliness.  "I think if a loose piece of paper fell  into the street the mayor would lose his job....The Romans are not so clean, but they seem considerably more sophisticated.  Nobody really cares about anything in Rome--I gathered this right away." 

In August 1957, in another letter to Joyce, this one from Naples, he wrote that he had been informed that "I have quite a literary reputation in Italy, especially in Rome, that Wait Until Spring  has gone into a new edition there, and that people like Ask the Dust best of my books."  He had been interviewed by one of the Rome dailies.  These Rome contacts paid off.  Within a few years later he was at work in Rome on a De Laurentiis project: a script about Navarra, King of Naples. 

Fante, left, with Charles Bukowski, an admirer
He was staying on the Residence Palace Hotel, at via Archimede 69.  "Honey," he wrote to Joyce,   "everything is madness.  I hate this hotel and will be out soon.  I am rested now, but trip was beastly.  Imagine traveling in one plane with 130 Italians.  They scared hell out of me from the moment of departure in New York.  My God, how they wailed, wept, flung arms around friends and relatives down to see them off.  I got the awful feeling we were all doomed." 

Fante had dinner with the film's director, a man named Coletti.  "He is a pleasant, not profound man," wrote Fante.  "He drives one of the biggest cars in Rome--a white 1956 Olds 88 convertible.  Lots of streets are too small for it.  We went to the Coliseum at midnight in the moonlight and looked down upon it, and Coletti muttered a lot of clichés about all that blood, and the poor martyrs, etc.  It is a frightful hole."

"This is a lousy hotel," he went on.  "Nice, clean, etc, but full of fat Catholic broads all fired up about touring the Vatican.  Strictly American, but, naturally the management won't serve American coffee, though 95 percent of the guests are from the states."

"Maybe I'm not wildly enthusiastic about Rome but I do like it.  There is something here--people call it 'the color of Rome'--a gold-on-red tint implanted in buildings that gives it an almost suffocatingly beautiful aspect.  This, coupled with the constant presence of green in trees, shrubs, vines evokes some lovely sights, specially in a background of Roman ruins.  Certainly it is more beautiful than Paris--and now that I've said it, I'll say no more." 

By the middle of August he had settled into a room at via Rusticucci 14, only meters from the Vatican.  "Life in Rome so far has been a journey through the stomach," he wrote.  God, how we eat.  No denying I've gained weight...."  He and his son Nick, who had joined him, were enjoying the city's eateries.  "In this area of the Vatican there are dozens and dozens of small trattoria, or little cafes where the food is exquisite.  We plan to try them all out."
About a month later, he was critical of the fare:  "It is very hard to eat correctly here.  They will sneak oil into your food, and they can't understand how anyone can do without it and try to prove you wrong."  And "you have no idea of how often I find my coffee sweetened to the waiter's taste.  They just do it their way.  You have to stand guard over your soup like a cop, lest a waiter charge you and submerge the soup in cheese."

Fante found it hard to sleep.  "The place is terribly noisy everywhere and one must get used to it.  As for all that I have seen, I have not quite reacted to anything.  I get the odd feeling of walking through post-cards--a one dimensional contact with the past.  None of it moves me with any force.  But the sky is always exquisite, dazzling white clouds rolling past.  The nights are warm and eerily unreal, almost too perfect.  I would say this is a more beautiful city than Paris, but somehow it is not charged with the electricity of Paris.  It is useless to try and see everything.  I am told it is the job of the lifetime and I believe it." 

He was unimpressed by the Vatican.  "The ridiculous thing about the experience is that one walks away not particularly astonished.  It has been over-sold.  Whole armies of priests and nuns find it enormously delightful, but just plain culpable Christians failed to respond in kind."

Fante was never at a loss for words, and his letters home contain still more about Rome and Italy.  Here's a final excerpt:  "Incidentally, if you never hear more from me on this subject, blame the Italians.  They are simply not reliable.  They make dates, promises, avowals, and you never hear from them again.  It has happened to me often in my short stay here." 


[These excerpts are from John Fante, Selected Letters, 1931-1981, ed. Seamus Cooney [Harper Collins, 1991.]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The "Doctors" of San Giovanni in Laterano: a Neighborhood Treat

This year we lived in the area generally known as San Giovanni, after the basilica at its northern end, San Giovanni in Laterano.  Our apartment was on via Olbia, and the commercial center of our particular neighborhood--and in Rome all neighborhoods are "particular"--was via Gallia.

The neighborhood has many virtues, including quick access to some of Rome's biggest attractions--the Coliseum is just a mile away. And one of them involves the basilica, though we seldom go inside.

The building is rightly famous for the 12 statues of the doctors of the church--teachers, intellectuals, popes and saints--those involved in religious and moral instruction--that, along with Christ and the two Saint Johns, grace the top of the facade.

Because the building is so large--with the statues adding additional height--and because the basilica is located on a bluff overlooking the community to its south, the "doctors" become one of the neighborhood's now-and-then pleasures, poking up here and there, sometimes surprisingly, sometimes comfortingly, reminders of the area's storied past.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Wall Walk IV: Porta Portese to the Gianicolo, or Brian's Lament

Our friend Brian was in town, and we somehow convinced him to accompany us as we pursued our
Porta Portese.  A good place to get run over.  
goal of walking the length of the Aurelian wall--in this case, a segment that begins at Porta Portese and ends on the Gianicolo at Piazza Garibaldi  In retrospect, it's not the most inviting portion of the wall - at least the first part; there seemed to be more trash and ugliness around than usual, though the former is endemic to Rome. [Update - here's a Google map that includes the itinerary.]

We gathered at Porta Portese, on the inside of the wall, and walked through.  On your left, on any day but Sunday, when the market takes over, is the beginning of a quarter mile of shack-like shops, all dedicated to 2-wheeled vehicles: bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles.

A Barberini Pope.  Below, the date--looks
like 1644; Pope Urban VIII's (a Barberini)
papacy was from 1623-44

You can explore these if you like, but the wall goes right--we're on the outside now--bumping along viale delle Mura Portuensi, past a substantial pile of detritus and a handsome, if worn, papal symbol--nicely dated, too--to Piazza Bernardino da Feltre.

Looking back from across viale di Trastevere
There, looking right, one can observe the inside of the wall.  Here the wall disappears as it crosses the busy viale di Trastevere, but it's easy to find on the other side next to an unassuming structure of ca. 1970 vintage.  The photo here was shot on the other side of the viale, looking back.

Your climb begins here, along viale Aurelia Saffi, the outside of the wall on your right, hugging Villa Sciarra.  If you've tried the stairways walk in our latest guidebook, Modern Rome, you're in familiar territory. There are some ragged sections of the wall here, but some handsome and powerful ones, too.  Having gone around the corner of the Villa, enter the park at the first entrance on your right--narrow but suggestive.  The Villa is large and fascinating, with lovely paths and intriguing structures.  Much of the best stuff is to your right, near the portion of the wall you've already seen from the outside.

Detritus in Villa Sciarra.  Someone had a party.

But, in pursuit of new wall, we're going left, into a scruffier section.  If you poke around, you'll find a short staircase down inside the wall--and your familiar pile of Roman trash.

"Are these people crazy?"

Following the wall takes one into what appears to be a maintenance area--cars and vans, overgrown bushes, and so on.  Brian is wondering what he's doing here.  Further on, there's a reward: a handsome fountain, vintage and author unknown - though there are rumors of a Bernini satyr fountain in the villa, perhaps this is it.

Reward for hard work

Porta San Pancrazio, from Bar Gianicolo
Exit the park at your first opportunity and follow the outside of the wall as it enters an open space known as Largo Minutilli, with its complement of handsome pines--and an SPQR plaque from 1649. Ahead, the wall bends right--via Carini is on your left, and the automobile traffic from it can be intimidating--with Porta San Pancrazio just ahead, and, just before you get there, one of our favorite places to snack and drink: Bar Gianicolo.  The porta is a handsome one, featuring the shield of Pope Pius XI, who rebuilt it after it was damaged in the 1849 battles between Garibaldi and his followers, who were holding out inside the wall, and the French armies, defending the papacy, attacking from the outside.  The French won, delaying the creation of a unified Italy.

Views, finally; these from in front of Acqua Paola,
looking across the Spanish Academy to much of Rome

The combat up here was intense and bloody--we've written about it in a chapter of Rome the Second Time--and the battle can be followed in considerable detail in a fine new museum inside the porta.  Instead, we took our companion Brian down via Masina--to the right of the porta--past the McKim, Mead and White building housing the American Academy [1913], then sharply left to the Acqua Paola Fountain, which hovers dramatically above the city (and came in at #19 in our RST Top 40).

Evidence of water tank

Brian asked to be carried the rest of the way, but we refused.  Returning to the porta we took a hard left through the opening--picking up the wall again, now inside,  On the left, a building, possibly designed by Michelango, that once housed - and may still - a "serbatoio"--a water tank.  The inscription is of interest: Gianicolo Storage Tank, 1941--and, nearly erased, XIX E.F. [year 19 of the Fascist Era]. Further on, on the right, a curious statue to Ciceruacchio ("Chubby"), a working-class martyr to the Garibaldini cause.  The statue is curious in part because it is out of place here.  It was recently moved to this spot.   A hundred meters of London plane trees track the Aurelian wall here (you're on top, and inside).

Bruno, kissed

Then the statue to Giuseppe Garibaldi (bear in mind we are now in what can only be called a Garibaldi Theme Park) and, just beyond, a humbler piece of work honoring Bruno Garibaldi, rather charmingly decorated on this day with a kiss.  We are crossing perhaps our favorite spot in Rome, the top of the Gianicolo.  We are not alone in this preference, of course.

Our destination, the end of our wall walk for today,  is just ahead, down the hill towards Prati. Fittingly, it's another Garibaldi, and this one is a woman: hard-riding, gun-toting Anita Garibaldi, wife and companion to Giuseppe. The Annie Oakley of the Risorgimento.  We're not making this up.    Bill