Rome Travel Guide

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Sunday, December 27, 2020

New Year's Eve in Italy in the time of Covid - Even in lockdown, some traditions remain

It will be New Year's dinner for 2
in 2020.

RST welcomes guest writer Mary Jane Cryan, who, originally from the US (she even went to college at D’Youville in Buffalo), has lived in Italy for more than 50 years. Mary Jane is THE expert on all things Etruria, the fascinating area just north of Rome that includes the lively city of Viterbo and of Vetralla, where she lives. See her terrific website here: Besides contributing to virtually every important guidebook to Italy and the region, lecturing on cruise ships, and speaking widely, Mary Jane is a prolific writer and publisher. Her own books in the past few years have focused on Etruria; her bibliography is on her website.

We have featured her fine work in two prior posts: one on Etruria, here:

and another on a Borromini monastery (turned luxury hotel) in Rome here:

Mary Jane brings her particular insight to this very unusual “Vigilia di Capodanno” – New Year’s Eve – and New Year's Day.:

2020 will be remembered for decades to come as the year to forget. The latest, rather strict, rules for the holiday weeks here in Italy are being enforced from December 21, 2020 to January 6, 2021.

The table set for a festive crowd in a prior year
and hopefully a year to come.
 This means travel between   individual regions and autonomous provinces is prohibited, except to return to one's primary legal residence. For this entire period, travel to second homes in other regions is prohibited, making Italians even more creative since this is the time when families generally gather together.

There was a rush on trains to get to family homes before the shut down. On 25 and 26 December and New Year’s, January 1st, leaving one's municipality was and is totally prohibited, except for work, health, or other urgent reasons.

Italians are coping with the restrictions by using their creativity: restaurants offer take-away menus which include bottles of spumante with orders. Country house accommodations (agriturismi) and hotels are serving dinner to guests in their own rooms or apartments rather than in the main dining rooms.   

Until this year, New Year’s was celebrated by young people gathering in major piazzas throughout the peninsula, mega concerts were held in Rome, and there was all night dancing in night clubs. I remember fondly one New Year’s evening spent at a concert in Bologna’s magnificent Opera House which ended with a rousing “Radetzky’s March” and bottles of spumante being shared with members of the audience and the orchestra.

What has been - and what could be - a rousing opera at a full opera house.

And a concert in a crowded
Those who stay home play bingo and other board games while waiting for the countdown to the New Year. Multi-course dinners, spumante and panettone are followed with the traditional dish of lentils, for good luck, at midnight. This year the number of guests around the dining table is drastically reduced due to restrictions on travel between towns and regions.

Surely traditions like fireworks, wearing red underwear and throwing old things out for the New Year’s will still happen throughout Italy, and, even though separated by rules and distances, families will be united in spirit and by modern technology to welcome in 2021.


                                                                        Mary Jane Cryan


Sausages by the fireplace - for 2.

Friday, December 18, 2020

A Contemporary Nativity Scene at St. Peter's: Visiting Piazza San Pietro before Christmas

RST is delighted to offer another guest post by our Rome friend Larry Litman, who wrote eloquently in March about being in Rome under one of the first lockdowns. Since we can't be in Rome, we asked Larry for a holiday offering. Here he visits Piazza San Pietro before Christmas and discovers an unusual presepe or crèche (as we called them in our family) as well as a gorgeous display of another 100 presepi.

Larry lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, before moving to Rome in 2007.  In the early 1970s he studied at Loyola University of Chicago's Rome Center, now the John Felice Rome Center on Monte Mario. "That was when I fell in love with the city of Rome," Larry writes, "and then had the dream of making Rome my home."

Larry is a retired teacher librarian at AmBrit International School and is active at St. Paul's Within the Walls (the Episcopal Church on via Nazionale).  He also volunteers at the Non-Catholic Cemetery. He has two adult children and two grandchildren living in New York City.

Visiting Piazza San Pietro before Christmas

A Christmas tradition for many Romans (and tourists) is to visit St. Peter’s Square and view the tree and presepe (crèche). Each year a tree is donated to the Pope from a different country and the crèche each year is by different artists.

When I visited the square on December 15th, there weren’t even two dozen people there. It felt strange to be in a space that is normally teeming with tourists and pilgrims. I also went into St. Peter’s Basilica. There was no line to go through the security screening, and once inside it was also practically empty.

The presepe figures this year have brought a lot of criticism. The life size ceramic figures are from Castelli in the Abruzzo region and were created by students and teachers of the “F.A. Grue” Art Institute. The Nativity scene featured several life-sized ceramic statues in a contemporary art style that “has its roots in the traditional working of Castelli’s ceramics,” said a statement from the Vatican. “The cylindrical ceramic statues surrounding Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus included a bagpiper, a shepherdess holding a jug and even an astronaut, meant to reference the history of ancient art and scientific achievements in the world.” (Source: Catholic News Service-CNS)

A special feature for 2020 is a display of 100 presepi in the Bernini Colonnade. The scenes come from around the world and reflect many different style of recreating the Christmas Story with figurines.

Larry Litman

Below are 7 of the 100 presepi  - traditional, and not so traditional; you can pick your favorite. Photos by Larry Litman.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Castel San Pietro: of War Monuments and Movie Sites

In thinking about places we miss - and that are often missed period - my mind landed on Castel San Pietro, a small town above Palestrina. I planned to write that Palestrina (dating back farther than the 8th century BC) is one of the more important cities within 25 miles of Rome, but Wikipedia gives it short shrift. 

It gives even shorter shrift to Castel San Pietro, calling it "now occupied by a few poor houses and a ruined medieval castle of the Colonna family."  Whoa! Don't think the locals would like that description.  In fact, they worked hard to make Castel San Pietro a much-used movie site, especially in the 1950s, because of its picturesque setting. One can see Rome from its heights. Gina Lollobrigida starred in the 1953 "Bread, Love and Dreams" (Pane, Amore e Fantasia), filmed in the town. There are a dozen or so placards around  explaining the film sites in both Italian and English, though we've never seen a tourist of any nationality - or anyone speaking English.

We've always liked hiking up - and it's waaay up - to the "Rocca" or castle ruins (see photo at top) that form part of this small town above Palestrina. It's sort of (if you count going up and over the hill town when you don't have to) on our way to a hike we like that takes one down to ancient aqueducts - and Horace's tree - if we could ever find the latter.

What we found the last time we were wandering the town, looking for a coffee bar, were two war monuments, neither of which we'd seen in our previous walking around.

One monument was to the Italian combatants and Holocaust victims from the area who died in World War II, with this statue combining the two types of "caduti" - "fallen." Photo left.

The other monument, photo below, is accompanied by an inscription that reads, "In this place, on 6 July 1944, three young boys, playing with a war ordinance left over from the war, were made innocent victims. This monument is a testament to that incident, and stands against every war, past and present, against the shame of landmines and in honor of civilian victims. 8 December 2004." The Germans had left the area by early June, 1944

The two monuments together are a chilling testament to the horrors of war. And they make our casual escapade through the town, and down into the aqueducts, an after-thought. 

More later on the hike, which we do almost every year when we're in Rome, and Palestrina, home to the great 16th-century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, whose statue stands in a central town square, and to the fictional site where the pact with the devil was made in Thomas Mann's "Doctor Faustus." Mann spent some time in Palestrina in the late 1890s.