Rome Travel Guide

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Language Encounters of the the 3rd Kind: Calzoni & una Moglie Ubriaca

Italians are believed to be more tolerant than the French (but then that isn't saying much) in dealing with tourists eager to put newfound language skills to work.  Intrepid traveler and guest blogger Allen Beroza, a retired attorney from Buffalo, New York, put the theory to the test in a pair of encounters, the first in Florence, the second at a Rome restaurant not far from the Spanish Steps. 

Piazza Sant Croce, from in front of the building housing
the Scuola Toscana language school
While attending language school in Florence I discovered a pizzeria located right on the Piazza del Duomo featuring calzone that looked absolutely delectable.  Unable to stop and partake on my first visit, I came back a couple of afternoons later.  Alas, the calzone were all sold out!  Something in me wouldn't let it go.

"Che peccato!" ("What a shame!) I moaned loudly.

Yup, said ye old proprietor, a touch gruffly I thought, they were all gone.

"Sono stato qui due giorni fa" I continued ("I was here two days ago")...

No response in particular...

w I really decided to gild ye old lily, so I said, only partly in jest, "E da due giorni penso dei suoi calzoni" ("And for two days I've been thinking about your calzones...")

Calzone goes
into basement oven
Still nothing.

"Sogno dei suoi calzoni!" ("I've been dreaming about your calzones!")

Oh well, it was just not to be  After all, what could he do?  I actually didn't think there was anything.  My daughter and I trudged away.

A triumphant Beroza, with calzone
When lightning struck, Italian style.  Customers came out of the shop, shouting for us to return.  Ye old prop had decided to make me up a custom calzone.  Though he was the only one tending the pizzeria he left the shop semi-full of customers and took me downstairs, where it turned out he had a full kitchen replete with stacked pizza ovens.  He asked me what I wanted in my calzone, kneaded the dough, loaded it up, popped it in an oven and told me it'd be a few minutes. 

Back upstairs none of his customers who'd been waiting seemed fazed by any of this.

As for me, gotta confess I got a thrill from the exchange, not so much from the calzone.

Via Sistina, looking up toward the top of the Spanish Steps
A little less than a week later I was part of a group of five people looking for a restaurant in Rome on a Saturday night.  We found a likely looking spot on via Sistina called "La Botte" and we went in.

Now this was my first night in Rome, and I was in just a fine frame of mind.  I must tell you that I had been told that Italians have a marvelously colorful way of saying "I want to have my cake and eat it, too."  They say "I want to have a full cask AND a drunken wife!"

And guess what?  "La botte" means "cask" in Italian.

OK, then, as two young waiters and a busboy escorted us to our table I had to try it.  I shouted out "Voglio avere una botte piena..." ("I want to have a full cask...") then paused for a beat before continuing--loudly and in unison with our dining room crew!---"e una moglie ubriaca!"  We instantly became favored customers, swarmed with attention and recommendations throughout our meal, which concluded with grappa on the house all around. 

Allen Beroza

Monday, October 25, 2010

Meet You at the Hospital for Coffee

Americans have plenty of cozy coffee shops, but few are in hospitals, where visitors usually find themselves in bleak cafeterias or pushing buttons on a machine.  So it was with some surprise that we stumbled upon your basic Roman cafe, complete with patio and trimmed bushes, in the courtyard of Ospedale (hospital) San Giovanni, steps from the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano.  We had wandered into the nearly hidden complex one morning, wondering what was inside.  And we stayed to have our standard morning repast: due Americani, uno di cui macchiato (two American coffees [made with espresso, but long, and in a big cup], one of them with milk), and due cornetti (two pastries).  When we returned days later, just to see if we'd been dreaming, the charming, dark-skinned barista remembered our order--but then, what else would you expect?  You're in Italy.    Bill

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Genzano: Bread, Flowers and War

Genzano is one of several delightful hill towns along the via Appia, on the western edge of the Alban Hills (Colli Albani).  On one side of the town, though not visible from its main streets, is the volcanic Lago di Nemi; on the other side, the strikingly flat Valle Ariccia.  We've long identified Genzano as the source--perhaps not today, but some time ago--of Pane Genzano, a bread with a crusty exterior and reasonably soft (morbido) interior that is for us the best of the unsatisfactory breads available in Rome's bakeries.  Based on Pino Levi Cavaglioni's memoir, Guerriglia nei Castelli Romani (Guerilla in the Alban Hills) [1971], we also know that the Genzano area was a hotbed of anti-German, partisan activity in 1943 and in early 1944, before the German army was forced out of its defensive fortifications on the Caesar line, which ran across the southern spine of the Colli Albani, only a few kilometers to the southeast of Genzano.  The partisans' standard action was to throw three or four-pointed nails on the two-lane roads, wait for German jeeps and trucks to blow their tires and stop, then shoot as many Germans as they could. 


Dianne, looking across Lago di Nemi, toward Monte Cavo
Early this summer we scootered up to Genzano, parked the Malaguti in a small triangle of land off the via Appia, asked directions from the accomodating and--as it happened--precise proprietress of a nearby retaurant, and headed up the hill to the lip of the volcano, where we found the trail that circles Lago di Nemi.  Although we managed to lose the trail when it entered a series of new logging roads on the lake's northeast corner, we eventually found our way through a wash of suburban-like housing down (down, down, down) to the town of Nemi.



From there we continued the circuit, passing by huge caves that had been hollowed out of the soft, volcanic rock.  Back in town, we had our usual beer under an umbrella in the piazza, then watched with fascination as the city's young people initiated the annual Genzano flower festival by decorating a long, sloping street with colorful petals (see our post on the Genzano kids from this past June).

What we didn't know when as we walked around the lake, or sat contentedly in the shade with our Moretti,
was how much the people of Genzano had suffered during the war--as much from American bombing as from the German military occupation (though the former would not have occurred without the latter).  And we didn't know what those Lake Nemi caves were for.  We found an explanation in James Holland's remarkable book, Italy's Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2008):

The Caesar Line, 1944
"In the small town of Genzano in the Alban Hills...the population had soon found themselves within range of the American guns and so gradually people had begun moving to the banks of the nearby Lake Nemi.  The Alban Hills were volcanic and the townspeople discovered that once the top layer of rock at the lake's edge was dug away there were softer layers of solidified lava beneath that could be quite easily excavated into caves--caves in which more and more people began to live a troglodyte existence.  One cave was destroyed when a large Allied bomb scored a direct hit.  Once the front passed and they were able to dig out the rubble, the townspeople discovered more than thirty bodies, many of whom had been trapped alive when rubble had blocked the entrance.


Nemi caves, carved out of the lava
 By the time the front line had finally passed, many of the people of Genzano had been living in those caves for almost six months.  'To live in little caverns dug by us,' says Leonardo Bocale, one of the Genzano cave-dwellers, 'without any facilities for hygiene, without a life, without knowing what our future could be, tossed like animals...we were abandoned: culturally, materially, spiritually." 

Bill

Monday, October 18, 2010

Granita Bar, San Paolo

We loved the look of this stand-alone granita bar in San Paolo, just around the corner from the San Paolo Metro, on via Ostiense.  Freshly painted in those warm, AS Roma colors.  Although the bar specializes in granita (also called Sicilian granita), a dessert/drink that combines water, sugar, and flavorings, Dianne wanted fresh-squeezed orange juice (spremuta), so we went in.  Sheltered Bill had never seen the machine that produced the OJ: no peeling and no cutting necessary--just pop the whole orange in the top and out comes the juice.  Spectacular. 2 Euro ($2.65) for a big glass (enough to share, says Dianne).    Bill

Thursday, October 14, 2010

RST Top 40, #15: The View from the Hotel Raphael's Rooftop Bar




Sitting on a rooftop bar is one of our favorite ways to be in Rome – above the noise and detritus of the city, often with a fascinating angle on the city’s architecture and history.

The rooftop bar of the Hotel Raphael stands in here in our Rome the Second Time Top 40 for all good rooftop bars – like Il Goccetto stands in for all authentic wine bars at # 36 in our RST Top 40. In other words, it’s not the only one, but it’s the type of Top 40 experience we value.





St. Peter's in the background

Hotel Raphael’s many attributes start with its gorgeous exterior – especially when the bougainvillea are spilling down the whole building’s front--continues with its small but intriguing lobby that includes original artwork – one of our favorites being a WWII painting with a German soldier in view, and of course the rooftop itself. Hotel Raphael’s rooftop is large enough and has close-in views of lovely buildings like the church of Santa Maria della Pace, housing Bramante’s famous cloister, and the back of Borromini’s Sant’Angese in Agonia that faces Piazza Navona. And it has views that stretch across the flat lands of the city of Rome, the Campo Marzio, across the Tiber to the dome of St. Peter’s.

picture Romans throwing coins at corrupt politician Craxi here



The hotel has a good scandal in its history too, from the times in the 1990s when Socialist politician Bettino Craxi stayed there. He was so on the take that Roman citizens stood outside the hotel and when he came out threw coins at him, yelling “do you want these too!”  Craxi lived out his life in exile in Tunisia.


Hotel Raphael’s rooftop bar comes in at #15 in RST’s Top 40. But, as we said, there are other rooftops to try, including Hotel Gladiatori (looking down on the Coliseum), Hotel Forty-Seven (looking over the Tiber), Grand Hotel de la Minerve (on top of the Pantheon), Radisson Blu ( a trifle Euro chic for us, but expansive in size and view), Albergo Mediterraneo (looking over… well, not much, but still fun – the last two are close to the train station), Hotel Bernini Bristol (looking over Piazza Barberini, but in the second rank for us, because you have to eat dinner to get a table with that view). All these are in Rome the Second Time’s final chapter or in blogposts here.

Getting to a rooftop bar sometimes takes a little guts. Many aren’t advertised; you just find the elevator and go up. And the drinks often are pricey (Euro 15 per glass at Gladiatori tops our list to date). But, enjoy the ride, and the view – which you’re paying for.

Dianne

Monday, October 11, 2010

Favorite Toilets Series: Trajan's Market

William Klein photo
One of the best ways to create excitement is to have a "series"--here, our Favorite Toilets Series--even if you don't have one.  But if we don't have a series, we do have a starter entry.  It's located in Trajan's Market, on the back (southeast) side, and to get  access you'll have to pay the regular fee for admission to the market.  So no matter how much you fancy toilets, we recommend you hold off seeing this one until you've got a reason to be there--say, an exhibition (we were there for the William Klein photo show--left), or just to see a really old market. 




The entrance to the men's toilet is in the photo at right; the men's facility is left, and the women's (if I recall) is right.  Watch the first step after you enter; it's a doozy, and you can easily end up admiring the restroom from floor level.  








Once inside you'll know why we like these toilets: for the magnificent contrast between the ancient structure and high modern Italian design, between the rough brick surfaces of a once-functioning market and the gleaming, stainless steel fixtures of a bathroom for tourists. 







Mosaic tile walls, nifty fluorescent look.  You just want to spend some time in here.
 
Apparently the architect decided that tourists don't use or need a toilet seat, but in Italy that's not exactly man bites dog. 

Bill

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rome's Stand-Alone Bars





We've been intrigued by the phenomenon of the older, small, stand-alone, non-prefab bar. Dianne noticed the first one, on via Ostiense, built in 1936 (top photo), and we came across a second (bottom photo), in front of the ex-mattatoio (the old slaughterhouse that is now the MACRO-Future art gallery). Dianne's theory is that the via Ostiense bar was built, perhaps by the government, when via Ostiense was reconstructed to accomodate growing numbers of automobiles. The other may to have been built at about the same time, probably for the slaughterhouse workers, or, given the gothic styling, it may be much older. We know there are others around. Let us know if you find one.


Bill and Dianne