Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Jazz Scene: Rome's New Bistros

Apericena jazz Sundays at Mithos
The many bistros in Rome now featuring jazz have opened up the Rome jazz scene for aficionados, like us.  We tried 6 new ones this spring, some of which have music into the summer.   Most of these we found on the easy-to-navigate and spruced-up Web site

One of our most pleasant surprises is our favorite restaurant, Mithos, La Taverna dell’Allegria, that is hosting jazz most Sundays beginning at 6:30 p.m.  Calling it “Apericena” [before supper], the 10 Euro cover gets you a drink, an ample buffet, and on the night we were there, an excellent jazz trio.  Re the buffet – don’t expect Mithos’s regular menu on these Sunday evenings.  They serve only the buffet, which is quite nice; with good reason we were advised to rush over to the freshly fried fish when they came out of the kitchen.  The jazz evenings, as well as the many Vinoforum and other special events, are well publicized on Mithos’s Facebook page.  They also have an improved Web site at

Our second try was in what seemed to us an unlikely place – out on via dei Colli Portuensi, well south of Trastevere.  The bistro there is named for, and run by, the well-known wine shop in the center of Rome, Enoteca al Parlamento.  This locale is quite small, seating capacity inside about 20.  In fact, we sat outside--not our choice--listening in through open doors.  This “Aperijazz” is first rate, and, obviously, we recommend a reservation.  Bistrot is active on Facebook.
From the outside looking in.

At Vineria Litro.  Girlfriend at best table; the norm.
Prettiest bathroom.

We also heard an outstanding jazz guitarist at a relatively new bistro – open all day – on the Gianicolo, not too far from the American Academy in Rome and the American University of Rome.  Vineria Litro features “Un Litro di Jazz” on specified evenings, including through July.  The Web site,, seems not as up to date as its Facebook site – look for LITRO, not Vineria Litro.  And they might have the prettiest bathrooms in Rome – with windows over the washbasin looking out onto the Aurelian Wall (dear to RST’s hearts this year).

View from the bar at Oratorio Bistrot
Looking down into Anima Mundi
Two other venues that don’t seem to have such regular music offerings, but certainly have them, are the Oratorio Bistrot and Anima Mundi.  Oratorio Bistrot is, as you might guess, in an ex-oratorio, connected to the San Bernardo church a block from Piazza della Repubblica.  You’re in an ex-oratorio of a church built on the base of one of the bath halls of the baths of Diocletian.  Sweet!  On Facebook: and at  Anima Mundi Lounge Bar is behind Bocca della Verita’.  It’s a very nice bar; the music was not as professional, I’d say, as the others.  But a nice locale, via del Velabro 1-2,  and in the heart of Rome.  No Web site and the Facebook site seems poorly maintained.  A fair amount of information on TripAdvisor.

A sixth sort-of bistro is Cafe' Meeting Place on Piazza Bologna, where we heard a good jazz trio one night.  We were completely shocked that the coffee bar we featured in our first Rome guidebook, Rome the Second Time, had a total makeover to a cafe' - and with music.  We'll write more about this transformation in a separate post.

Max Ionata, on sax, with his organ trio, at Grottapinta Lovnge
We also tried one new music venue – Grottapinta Lovnge [sic], a rathskeller-like place just off Campo de’ Fiori, at via Grotta Pinta 12.  No Web site; Facebook site not maintained.  Try Twitter.  Or, again, look for them on  We were drawn to this venue because the Max Ionata Organ Trio was playing.  We had heard them at TramJazz (that might become a regular for us!) and wanted to hear them again.  Ionata has an excellent Facebook page.  Grottapinta Lovnge is a good music venue, but like most of them in Rome, don’t expect the music to begin until an hour or two after the listed time.

Opening act at Live Music Club, San Lorenzo

We tried a few new clubs, including l'Asino que Vola [flying donkey] in Appio Latino [not the club by the same name in Trastevere], and Le Mura Live Music Club in San Lorenzo at via di Porta Labicana, 24.  Both are serious music venues, though standing became the norm when the main act appeared at Live Music Club - not something we appreciate.  We also made a foray into a "cultural association"  off Piazza Navona - FEBO, where we heard some young, fledgling jazz musicians.  Fun for what it was. Vicolo delle vacche, 26a.  On Facebook at

Young musicians at FEBO.  The clarinetist was quite good,
though not a well-developed stage presence.
The regular clubs seem steady – Alexanderplatz, 28 Di Vino Jazz, Charity Café, Gregory’s (now called Gregory’s Jazz Club), Cotton Club – only one of which we made it to this Spring. And we want to send a shout-out to TramJazz as well - we love this venue, which might be considered in the smaller bistro variety.  The auditorium venues also re active, though perhaps not as active as in the past – e.g., Parco della Musica (where we saw Diane Schur this Spring with an Italian big band) and Casa dell Jazz.   But it seems to us the expanded action may be in these smaller, bistro venues – which is fine by us.


Friday, July 18, 2014

The 6-legged dog: the story of Eni's famous logo

Eni's 6-legged dog, on a gas pump at a station on Rome's tangenziale, 2014

If you've motored around Italy for any length of time, you're familiar with one of the nation's most well-known logos: the 6-legged dog--part dog and dragon, actually--that breathes fire.  It's the logo for Eni--Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi--the enormous Italian oil and gas company, founded in February 1953 and headquartered in Rome.

A bit of romance while filling up
The story of the logo is well known, but too good not to tell again.  In 1952, with Eni's founding just around the corner, the company's CEO-to-be, Enrico Mattei, was convinced that the country needed to be sold on the idea that the oil fields of the Po Valley were sufficient to fuel Italy's industrial boom.  To find the right symbol for that effort, he offered 10 million lire as the prize in a competition to design logos for two products: the gasoline known as Supercortemaggiore, after the best known of the oilfields; and Agipgas, the company's gasoline outlets. The jury was composed of some of the most creative artistic minds of the generation: Gio Ponti, Mario Sironi, Mino Maccari and Antonio Baldini.  

The winner of the Supercortemaggiore contest, chosen from over 4,000 entries, was the 6-legged dog, the vision of sculptor, artist, and designer Luigi Broggoni.  Within months it was widely disseminated, appearing in magazines and newspapers, on billboards, and on the company's gas stations.  

An Agip station at Cortemaggiore, mid-1950s
Indeed, it quickly came to stand for a new type of gas station, high modernist in design and offering restaurant services as well as "powerful Italian petrol."  

Ettore Scola--soon to be directing some of Italy's best known films but then writing copy in Agipgas' advertising department--invented the slogan "il cane a sei zampe fedele amico dell'uomo a quattro ruote": the six-legged dog, loyal friend of four-wheeled man.  Eni has suggested that the 6 legs represent the sum of the automobile's 4 wheels and the driver's 2 legs.  

The dog inside the square, 1972

Broggoni's design has been modified at least twice and probably several times.  In 1972, the Unimark agency, working on turning the logo into a trademark, put the dog into a yellow square with rounded corners, a solution that required shortening the dog somewhat.  In a 1998 or later treatment, the dog came out of the box.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Walking the (Aurelian) Wall (III): the Tame and the Wild Sides

A handsome portion of the wall, near the Pyramid, with a tropical look
This section of the Aurelian Wall, running from Porta San Paolo and the Pyramid to the Tevere (and Porta Portese), has two faces: one quite touristy and civilized, the other rather odd and possibly even a bit dangerous.  It is noted by some as one of the longer, intact stretches of this third century wall, once encircling all of Rome.  But the stretch has its limitations, as RST discovered. [Update: a Google map that includes this itinerary.]

To the left of the Pyramid, a short section
 of the wall, extending toward - but not to -
Porta San Paolo; here you also can see
where the wall  has been removed for traffic.

The tame, or civilized phase begins at the Pyramid (here, a part of the wall - another "existing structure" used to build the wall quickly in 271-75 AD).  Because this area is well known for armed resistance to Nazi occupation of Rome in 1943, the wall here is a resource for memories of that moment.

Remembering the dead

The pillar (photo right) remembers 471 people who died defending the city.  Just beyond, between the Pyramid and the wall proper, volunteers who care for the hundreds of cats that live in a special facility here, were closing up for the day.

And beyond that, the wall itself is impressive (see photo at the top of this post), even if the grounds on the outside of the wall are unkempt and full of evidence that a lot of drinking is done here: not only bottles but dozens of bottle caps embedded in a stump.  Though we're on the outside here, the inside of the wall is accessible in this area through two cemeteries: the well-known Non-Catholic Cemetery, which contains lots of important bodies, including that of the Italian intellectual Antonio Gramsci, and the haunting (British) Commonwealth Cemetery just across via N. Zabaglia, just ahead (both, again, inside the wall).

Mailbox for wall "address"

Now things get a bit funky.  As we continued beyond the small turnabout/piazza, following the outside of the wall, we passed a man relaxing in the weeds, then came upon a locked gate to which was attached a mail box, as if someone had once (or still did) live inside. 

Street-cleaning/garbage truck facility restricts access to wall

At this point the wall continues as part of an Ama (trash-collecting, street cleaning) facility.  We decided we would not have been welcome inside.  So we tracked back, hoping to follow the wall from the inside, past the front of the Commonwealth Cemetery, then a bit downhill onto the road that curves (clockwise) around Monte Testaccio, with its cool collection of late-night bars.

The Aurelian wall is somewhere ahead.  To the right,
the wall of the ex-Mattatoio

Following the curving road, in a couple of minutes we ended up at the long, straight road that fronts the ex-Mattatoio (literally, Killing Center, what we call a slaughterhouse, once a stockyard).  Heading left, toward the Aurelian wall (not yet visible), graffiti covering a portion of the ex-Mattatoio, then right--there's just a glimpse of the wall here--along a row of houses occupied, we think, by new and poor immigrants, Romanians and others, perhaps Roma (Rom, "gypsies").

A glimpse of the wall, between the wall of the ex-Mattatoio (left) and housing (right)

NO TAV graffiti, inside the ex-Mattatoio
Dianne would go no further.  Bill took the first right, then a quick left, quickly observing a row of about ten home-made shacks and a big barking black dog (which was fortunately chained).  Bill, too, retreated--from danger and likely embarrassment--and our not-so-intrepid couple retraced their steps to one of several open entrances to the yards, heading to and beyond a heavily graffitied tower at the center of the complex (of the graffiti on the walls to the left, note the nice train with
the NO TAV sign: in northern Italy, especially, there's strong opposition to a proposed new high-speed train (Treno Alta Velocita) through the French and Italian Alps.

The wall ends--or appears to end.  Photo taken from train.
Despite the sign, we are still in Testaccio, not yet across
the Tevere in Trastevere.
At the far end of the large open area of the ex-Mattatoio there's another road, inside the complex, leading left.  Not useful, we decided, in locating the wall.  So we left the complex, ahead and just to the right, through an exit onto the Lungotevere Testaccio that wasn't open a year ago.  Walking left, the road ends abruptly after about 200 meters, at a railroad bridge over the Tevere.  We still can't see the wall, and-- from a train several days later--we saw why: the wall, too, ends abruptly before it reaches the river.

Along the Tevere.  If not part of the wall, what is it?

We're thinking that the wall planners didn't see any necessity for a wall along the river--a sort of natural barrier--but there is an existing wall-like section, including a tower, along the road that runs above the river here, and some - but not all - maps show the wall was indeed here.

Tent housing, along the bank of the Tevere

But (we're trying to think this through) if the Aurelian wall had been built along the expanse of river from the railroad bridge (to the south) to Ponte Sublicio/Porta Portese (to the north), then surely there would be visible remnants of the wall.  And there are none--except, possibly, that tower and related remains--or none to be seen from the road, anyway. Another theory - that the remnants of the wall became part of the now-high river embankments.  But, back to our trek: below the road, near a path that runs along the river bank, people are living amid weeds in tents and huts.  Not for tourists, not even us.

A favorite bar, at corner of via Galvani and via
N. Zabaglia.  Time for an aperitivo.  

Today's search for the wall at an end, we turned back into the ex-Mattatoio,  past the old stockyards and the giant Bambu' installation that is part of MACRO Testaccio, along the bars and clubs built into Monte Testaccio, to the next corner and one of our favorite bars.  We were lucky.  It was 6:05 p.m., and five minutes earlier happy hour had begun: an aperitivo and plenty to eat, a photo show of historic Testaccio, and all for Euro 4 per person.  What a city!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Reading Rome's Walls: the Tragedy of Vincenzo Paparelli

Except for the occasional bit of wall writing--we found "Paparelli Vive!" on a wall in the neighborhood to the south of via Gallia in San Giovanni--the name Vincenzo Paparelli is now all but forgotten, his tragic story all but unknown.

At 33, Paparelli was a dedicated fan of the Lazio soccer team, and on the last Sunday in October, he took his seat with other Lazio "tifosi" on the Curva Nord--the North Curve--at Stadio Olimpico
for the annual "derby," the inner-city competition with arch-rival AS Roma.  He was enjoying the game, and eating a panino, when a flare launched by a Roma fan from the Curva Sud--the South Curve at the opposite end of the stadium--hit him in the eye.  He was DOA at Santo Spirito Hospital.  He left behind a wife and two children.

The death was the first Italian soccer fatality due to violence.  In 2001, his memory was honored with a plaque placed under the Curva Nord.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hiking the Prenestini: from San Gregorio da Sassola to Spina Santa

Dianne hard at work.  The convent is at right center.  In the distance, the Colli Albani (right half, yielding to
Rome's basin) and the Monti Lepini (the slight rise, left of center).  Part of the town is visible center left.
We're about 1/3 of the way up at this point. Note the hillside above Dianne is being intensively cultivated.  
Our second hike of the season.  Somehow, Dianne found a place we hadn't been: a ridge in the Monti Prenestini, with a trail head near the small town of San Gregorio da Sassola.  The town is pretty much straight east of Rome, out via Prenestina (i.e., in ancient times, led to the now-called town of Palestrina), then on some other roads best negotiated with an iPad or iPhone, about half of it on curvy country roads tailor-made for our Malaguti (and entertaining too, we think, even in a car).

We pulled into the main square at half past 9--1:20 from Rome--had a 2nd coffee at the only bar (a male hangout, as it happened) in the piazza, while admiring the astonishing castle that towered

Hi-tech entrance to the medieval section
above and marked the entrance to the medieval city, though with an electronic info board.  We had with us little information--the starting point, near the convent on the hill above the town; and a CAI map (see below the post) marking the trail with a red line.

Concerned about a possibly torturous road up to the convent, we decided to walk--down the road a few hundred yards, then up the hill near the convent (about 100 meters vertical, about 1/2 mile). Here, and from this point on, the trail is marked in red and white--very frequently and, with rare exceptions, clearly. See the map below.  The first mark is on the pole opposite the restaurant, and it refers to the asphalt path on the left (not the one on the right). We had feared--and the asphalt at first confirmed our fears--that the "trail" might turn out to be nothing but a road or, at best a mulattiera--a dirt road once used for hauling stuff with, yes, mules.

Up the fenceline
But not far ahead, at the gate, the trail turns into the woods--and it remains in the countryside, except for a few brief asphalt stretches.  For a while it follows a fence line, then moves up the side of the ridge, traverses a small, rocky hillside before emerging into a more open landscape, above. There are a few (and unavoidable) very narrow and very muddy sections where even straddling the mud was only partially successful--so wear good boots and carry at least one pole.

High country
Splendid views of the town, the monastery, Rome's basin (note Calatrava's sail-like, never-used swimming pool in Tor Vergata) and, as we climbed higher--eventually about 680 meters or 2000 feet above San Gregorio da Sassola--panoramic views of some 7 mountain ranges, including the snow-covered Gran Sasso. Our goal was to reach the nob-like Spina Santa, where our CAI trail 516 meets 500, and we almost made it, choosing to defer the conquest and do it the Italian way: have lunch and forget the peak--otherwise known as hike-to-eat.  So we had our sausage, cheese and bread within a few hundred yards of Spina Santa.

Those guys followed us
It's horse country up there, and we saw four or five bunches of 5-7, each with one or two foals. Unaccustomed to contact with humans they don't know--and we did not see another person on the trail or tending to the herds--these high country (at 3000 feet and above) horses are usually skittish, and that was our experience on this hike, too.  So it freaked us out a bit when several horses started following us across an open grass bowl, as if we had apples and sugar lumps.  There are cows, too, on most Italian hikes, though we saw only two: one on a road we were crossing, and another--just a carcass--near the apex of our journey.

Well maintained older buildings
The descent was swift and gorgeous, with spectacular views to the east and, to the north, of handsome Monte Gennaro and the Monti Lucretili, every peak familiar.  Reaching the restaurant on our return, we decided to take another road down to the town: the one just above the restaurant.  It curls clockwise and takes you through the newer section of the town--past the town park, an esedra-shaped apartment complex, past some very old but nicely maintained residences, and into the piazza--about 4:30 from the start.

 As is our habit, we shared a large bottle of beer at a table outside the bar (embedded in rock, Disney-like but real), admired the castle and the range behind it once again, and toasted to our fine day in the mountains. Good pick, Dianne! Then on the scooter, and home.
Town bar, carved from the rock,

Horses scamper away
The darker red line at top tracks the trail, ending (for us) at far right.  We started at the (red) center of San Gregorio da
Sassola and took the road (not clearly marked here), up to the convent.  We returned by the thin red
line that comes into the town at its northern end.    "AV" means the "alta via" - or crest road (literally "high way")
 of the Prenestini.