Roman Holiday

We arrive in Rome on Halloween, la festa di zucca. Our Roman reentry is smooth despite a brief frightening blackout on the subway. Three short stops from Termini, we emerge blinking in the bright sun of the Piazza di Spagna — unchanged, full of tourists, window shoppers and fashionistas. Our suitcases click-clack across the black cobbles down a narrow alley to our B&B, My Secret Condotti. We think a B&B with the word “secret” in its name has to be wonderful.  It is.

69064788The rooms are bright, sleek and modern — as blessedly unfussy as any we have had in Rome. Breakfast of fresh orange juice, cappuccino and cornetti is served at nearby Café Marziali. The concierge is funny and kind, remarking that my Italian is good.  It isn’t.  But this B&B is good, a perfect Roman pied-a-terre. Well done me.

Our American Friend meets us just in time for passeggiata, the traditional evening stroll. We stop for a glass of wine and aperitivo, relaxing into the rhythm of the city. We admire the edgy fashions displayed in endless shop windows, and crowds clustered up and down the Spanish Steps. A stop at the Pantheon assures us, yes, we are really here. Once the sun sets, the Bernini fountains in Piazza Navona are as stunning as always, and the street performers are still unabashedly in-your-face. Yes, we have arrived.

fashion-neighborhood-1A walk to the Vatican the next morning puts us squarely in the middle of a road race surrounded by thousands of Italian citizens in spandex. The race feels infinite, anarchic, incomprehensible, and a little claustrophobic — a perfect start to our Roman odyssey.middle-of-road-race-vaticanmadonna-and-iphoneWe cross the Tiber and walk the lively river bank to Trastevere where we have coffee in an outdoor café and admire the graffiti.

exhibit-a-iphoneWe examine the ongoing restoration of Portico d’Ottavia in the Jewish ghetto neighborhood. We wander the ancient and surprisingly crowded alleyways, grateful to see the street signs still in Italian and Hebrew. The historic ghetto continues to grow in popularity, which is about to affect us directly, peccato!  But that’s life.

<< Our American Friend – busted by the Blessed Virgin in Trastevere.neighborhood-1We can’t wait to share a meal at Sora Margherita with Our American Friend. We wait for hours in the pleasant sunshine of the Piazza Cinque Scuole, only to learn that our highly coveted table for three has ruthlessly, cruelly been handed to another family. I briefly lose my temper, which is tricky in another language. Porca miseria!

We manage to recover our good humor over a lovely meal at nearby Trattoria Giggetto — a fine choice although not quite the “insider” experience we imagined. But as our smiling, courtly server brings plate after plate of carciofi Giudia and fiore di zuccha, we are reminded that the world is indeed a wonderful place. The convivial and relaxed dining experience almost makes up for our savage betrayal at Sora Margherita. Almost.

tartarugha-fountainA stroll to beloved Fontana Tartarughe in Piazza Mateotti restores us completely as the dearest, sweetest, happiest fountain in Rome. We meander “home” through favorite piazzas, Campo de Fiori, Farnese and Navona. We push through mad crowds throwing coins over their shoulder into the Trevi Fountain as we work our way back to Spagna. We walk so much this day that we resort to cabs the next — an unprecedented indulgence.more-than-meets-the-eye-romaen-route-to-museo-romaThe next morning we head to the MAXXI Museum of 21st Century Art, above, in the Flaminio neighborhood. Designed by Zaha Hadid, broad swooshes of concrete and glass express the museum’s mission to celebrate innovation and creativity. The permanent collection is magically open and free to all.

Surrounding antiquities and gritty parks add contrast. “It works,” says Our American Friend. With the possible exception of the bumped-up bollards in the exterior courtyard, where we all trip and stumble — watch your step.

img_0224canova-antonio-paolina-borghese-as-venus-victrix-detail-1804-08-white-marble-galleria-borghese-rome-1366009275_bA walk to the Borghese Garden & Galleria is a must, especially on an art-soaked holiday such as this. Lady Paolina and the expansive Borghese collection is always a treat, and the family-friendly park is a perfect place to relax under a canopy of green, in a beautifully landscaped English-style garden. Like Central Park in NYC, I have always felt that the Parco Borghese is Rome’s backyard.

As always, art makes us hungry. We enjoy an unexpected, delicious surprise of ravioli pillows with butter & sage in one of the Borghese’s outdoor cafes. We’re talking picnic table ambiance, here, with fare delivered by a gum-cracking nitwit in pigtails — a delightful reminder that when in Rome, you must expect the unexpected.

ceiling_council_of_the_gods_in_galleria_borghese_romevia-marguttaVia Margutta in Rome is a vine-covered lane of galleries and art studios — quiet, sophisticated, dreamy. Uh-oh. In a tiny gallery, a proprietor is raging at Our American Friend, roaring, “The painting is 300€, decide now! If you come tomorrow, the price is 1,200€.” Louder: “1,200!” He narrows his eyes at me, “Does the American capisce?” Eyes wide, our friend scuttles sideways like a crab out the open door.start-of-long-nightThings seems to be heading downhill rather quickly. Desperate to impress our beloved friend, we commence what is to be a wonderful night of drinking. We begin with several Negronis, very strong, mostly gin, which begin to put the world back on its axis. Outstanding. We follow with a convivio wine-soaked dinner at Edy’s around the corner. Here, details begin to get a little hazy, but I remember a robust and satisfying pranzo; I think one of us has the trippa Romana. The evening ends with more drinks and some very loud 1980s music at a small deserted bar where we recover our collective sense of humor over several Sambuca con mosca.

We say arrivederci to the eternal city and make sure Our American Friend is delivered to Fiumicino airport with a pounding hangover. Mission accomplished. Next stop, Tuscany!

painterly-shop-window-rome

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Staycation Part II – Up the Munjoy

Hill - The Right Idea 2My neighborhood of Munjoy Hill is a wondrous place where endless ocean meets blue sky.

Hill floraWe have fussy formal gardens in brand new pots.

Hill overgrown and effusiveMessy gardens in antique containers, overgrown and effusive.

Hill food gardenAnd, oops! a few accidental gardens – there’s a squash!

Hill RosemontWe have twee neighborhood markets with dewy, angelic produce.

Maine produce RosemontThese pink onions are organic, cherubic, and locally grown in Freedom, Maine.

LolitaWe have truly fab restaurants like Lolita with tables saved for locals even in tourist season.

Lunch at Blue SpoonMe, I simply adore the Blue Spoon as I have repeated a billion times in these pages. Yum.

Hill GazeboA quaint and sturdy bandstand in Fort Allan Park is perfect for summer concerts, oompah.

Hilly HydrangeaHistoric Fort Allen is surrounded by shaggy gardens and benches with grand ocean views.

Hill BenchesGazing at Casco Bay islands is cheaper than a therapist. Try the 25¢ viewers to go deep.

Hill sculptureAnd don’t miss Munjoy Hill’s public and private art.  It’s everywhere and it’s free.

Hill architecture OLDThe Hill is also a great place to appreciate classic architectural styles from long ago.

Hill LoftsLots of modern architecture, too – the future of urbanism in our little corner of the planet.

Hill wreckWe also have plenty of architecture that’s sitting around, waiting to happen.

Hill informationMunjoy Hill is well-informed.

Hill AdviceWell-instructed.

DSCN1513And sometimes a little confusing. Yet somehow, it all works.

Handsome Hill PalsA hometown staycation is my kind of ecotourism: it’s sustainable, boasts a high walkability index, and includes some of my favorite people, like these cool cats Richard and Jamie.

A sunny summer staycation is a beautiful thing.

Angela Adams started hereNEXT UP: Staycation Part III – Ogunquit by the Sea

Posted in Art and Culture, East Coast Travel, Food and Wine, Lobster, Maine, Maine Travel, New England Travel, Staycation, Sustainable Travel, Travel | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Summer Staycation, Part One

20121213-dylan-moderntimes-thumb-624x420-1355454022“People are crazy and times are strange
  I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
 I used to care, but things have changed”

Summer usually finds me on the road visiting inns and bistros. This year I decide to change things up with a month-long staycation at home in Portland, Maine. I kick things off with a Bob Dylan concert at Thompson’s Point, where something magical happens.

Thompson's PointMAVIS STAPLESThe primed crowd of fifty- and sixty-somethings is buzzing under a wide summer sky. Tiny iridescent rainbows jazz the sunset. In full voice and sexy as hell, Mavis Staples opens for Dylan, belting out Respect Yourself and I’ll Take You There. She delights us all with a cougar-style description of Dylan’s sexy strut. “Watch out, ladies,” she says, “he’s still got it!”

Mavis is right. He still has that full-on swagger.

dylan Okay, Dylan’s legendary voice has seen a lot of road. He doesn’t play guitar, offering instead a few precious licks of piano and harmonica on gently reinterpreted classics like Tangled Up in Blue, which makes some of us cry. His beloved craggy rasp goes all croony in what I’d call attempts at romantic ballads — imagine a ragged, wrecked Sinatra. He doesn’t really ruin anything until his atonal rendition of Autumn Leaves — ouch. In spite of this, or maybe even because, we share a rich and rambling evening under a dreamy sky.

Summer SunsetShake it up baby, twist and shout
You KNOW what it’s all about

When Dylan sings “shake it up baby,” I’m reminded of last summer’s non-staycation in Paris, France, as Paul McCartney thundered through a near-perfect set to the delight of a vast, multi-generational audience. Like Macca, Bob Dylan could perform his greatest hits if he felt like it. But Mavis’s Bob doesn’t pander. Mavis’s Bob is not a pleaser. Mavis’s Bob has nothing to prove.

So rock on Mavis, and rock on, Bob.  Thanks for an unforgettable evening under an ever-changing Maine sky on a grassy Portland promontory. And Bob — don’t look back. •

dylan-DLB-fixedNEXT UP: Staycation Part II – Munjoy Hill

 

 


 

 

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My Little Town

1234382Westport is a quiet hunk of Connecticut shoreline originally populated by the native Pequot tribe. Nestled between the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound, this pretty tidal treasure is a mere 47 miles of commuter rail from New York City, one of several sleepy suburban communities immortalized by mid-century masters Updike and Cheever.

The town became a creative hub in the early 20th century, attracting artists, musicians and writers. Then came the ad-men, and later, an alarming influx of CEOs and high-level executives. The small New England community with rural, agricultural roots now wears an unmistakable gloss of wealth and privilege.

Williams SonomaDSCN1246In the ’60s, Westport’s leafy Main Street housed Klein’s department store, Achorn’s Drug, a mom-and-pop hardware, and the Remarkable Book Shop (it really was remarkable). Penny candy and tobacco could be found side-by-side at Bill’s Smoke Shop. Bill’s is now a Williams-Sonoma — which pretty much tells the whole story. But if you know where to look, you can still catch a glimpse of Westport’s precious, poky past.

REMARKABLE

Edge of the parking lot IIGreat Bones, Grand Viewssnowy-egret

Westport has a tidal marsh with ducks and a graceful, stand-offish snowy egret. The little riverside park offers a quiet spot to read, reflect, sip coffee and examine the graffiti carved by decades of high school sweethearts.

Graffiti 2

Development Happens

The former Westport YMCA is being converted into loft apartments and commercial spaces. I am sure they will be expensive and tasteful, whatever that will mean in this little corner of post-modern New England.

Development at the Yice_stormIn the Movies

Ang Lee’s film The Ice Storm exposed our cozy little burg in Technicolor Blue, although I never heard the sound of a key dropping into a bowl, anywhere, in my whole sheltered life.

The area was also lampooned by Ira Levin in his thriller, The Stepford Wives, which satirizes the the fawning, submissive and beautiful wives in fictional Stepford, Connecticut. Ira nailed it.

Fab Friendssuzanne2

We enjoy a spectacular homage to country life with friends Rozie and Suzie of grilled lamb chops, asparagus, and gorgeous berries. The evening of laughter, jokes and stories neutralizes our fear, “You can’t go home again.” Yes oh yes you can. And if you’re very lucky, you will find wonderful friends like Rozie and Suzie when you get there.

Compo Beach

Shoreline

Sherwood Island is a wonderful stretch of beach, but Compo is the family favorite. We still have a beach-locker, but no one wants to open it. Too many happy memories—we don’t want to let them out.

Earthplace has acres of walking trails, a wildlife center, live animals and an aquarium. Don’t miss Cocktails & Clams, a delicious evening of Copps Island Oysters straight off the boat, plus cocktails and live music for a cause.

Or rent a sunfish at Longshore Sailing School. I remember sunny summer days taming a wet, flapping sail with Susan.

Paul NewmanSummer Stock

Westport Country Playhouse is one of the country’s oldest summer theaters. Since the 1930s, the venerable summer stage has mounted comedies, dramas and musicals from June through September. Longtime supporters Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman combined forces for a wildly acclaimed production of Our Town that continued to Broadway. The two longtime residents of Westport agreed with us: “We just like it here.”

th-1Sip & Savor

Don’t miss Oscar’s signature pastrami on rye with Russian dressing — our oddball version of Proust’s Madeleines. If it’s Sunday morning, walk to SoNo Baking and grab a croissant and coffee. Or meander a few miles up the Post Road for a beer at Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford.

It’s Connecticut. Childhood is calling. Stop and smell the dogwood. Life is good. •

LibraryLive by the SoundWestport riffraff in 1965Five Westport knuckleheads – 1965

 

 

Posted in Art and Culture, East Coast Travel, Food and Wine, New England Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, Retro-Travel, Theater, Travel | 5 Comments

Caccia di Blu!

terracotta rooftops Italy’s terra-cotta landscape is rustic, golden, timeless. But tell me, do you sometimes miss the color blue?  Let’s go “caccia di blu!”

Blue espresso cupsWe serve our espresso in blue, with a splash of modern stripes.

Pietro in blue close-upOur alpaca-blend “Maggie” shawl warms WWII hero Vassano Pietro of Argegno.

Blue water pipesNew blue water pipes are ready for service and make a striking waterfront graphic, too.

Blue scarf from Sr. FrancoThis two-hue-blue scarf is courtesy of our friend Signore Franco – grazie Franco!

Blue direction signsIn Italy, blue tells you what to do, where you are, and which way to go.

Blue instuctional signageBlue is serious, it is the color of INFORMAZIONE. Pay attention!

Blue leading nowhereSometimes the instructional blue gets lost and leads nowhere.

Blue parking signBut mostly it is telling you something you need to know.

Blue Halo ANNABlue is the color of St. Anna’s robe, and sometimes her eyes.

Blue halo LukeAnother lovely blue halo! Note the turquoise flourish on his wrist.

Lavazza IITaste Lavazza Blue, one of Italy’s finest coffees. If you’re bored, count the spoons.

PANDAA sturdy Fiat Panda comes in 50 shades of blue – we have rented them all.

Spot of blueSometimes an unexpected patch of blue just sneaks up on you.

Blue sky over lakeAnd if you’re lucky, blue is the color of the endless Italian sky each day. Ciao!

 

 

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La Primavera 2016

PansiesTile roofs. Terraced, unfussy gardens. Wisteria in bloom everywhere, along with pansies, peonies, tulips and iris. The sun is hot. Lake views are blinding. Weekend-warrior cyclists in black spandex speed past in a blur. Tiny fishing boats sputter by with the day’s catch. I vow never to take this view for granted.Turquoise chairs

We are repeat renters because we do not like surprises. Our apartment is a sunny rectangle with sleek kitchen along one wall and floor-to-ceiling windows on the other. A small dining table, turquoise dining chairs and boxy leather sofa take up most of the space – a molto modern mash-up.

A battered coffee-table book on the bellezza of Italy is the largest object in the room. And of course, an outsize television that happily pulls in several British channels on a rainy afternoon.

111 steps into townTanti Auguri

The lid of my favorite sauté pan is broken. We descend the 111 steps to the tiny hardware store in the village. I show the proprietor which piece is missing. He calls his pimply assistant, Paulo, to discuss the problemo.

They grow passionate. They shout and wave their arms. I back out of the shop and decide to use a few bits of wire and a wine cork. Problem solved. I wonder how long their discussion will go on. I wonder if they will notice that I am gone.

Spacious is a Frame of Mind

Terrace cocktailsOur terrazza panoramica provides a sunny spot for cocktails or breakfast on a sturdy wraparound deck with rattan chairs and a clever drying rack. Stunning lake views razzle-dazzle the apartment and make it seem spacious and grand. On rainy days, it’s cozy and quiet; the fog adds a pearly glow.

Although it’s warm, a small, steady stream of smoke curls from my Breakfastneighbor’s chimney, the one with the miserable dog who yelps and barks all day. The dog is alone from sunrise to sunset, and although he lives in the most beautiful place in the world, he still gets lonely, povero cucciolo.

The Italians are still wearing their quilted winter coats. It’s sad that no one is out for the evening passagiata, a special time to see and be seen – one of my favorite customs.

Stranieri In Paradise

Rain and Fog.

Window view new friend LauraAs clouds thicken and wet fog rolls in, we make a new friend. Laura Barelli is working with her brother Giuseppe and husband Giorgio, renovating their ancestral home across the stream. We wave and jump up and down when we see each other from our balconies. Their first cozy apartment is on Airbnb – if you rent it, we will wave to you, too! Check out its stunning lakeview at left.

Rain or shine, there is no place I’d rather be. •

Next up: A Caccia di Blu!Pink tuplip 1

 

 

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Florence Interlude

DSCN0013DSCN0004We zip into Florence to meet dear friends at Hotel Bernini. It is posh, next to the river. Our mood lifts and spirits brighten. Our friends help us see a jolly way forward: buying shoes! which always helps. We shop and eat our way out of la nebbia, our workday fog. We enjoy all 4,000,000 bricks of the Duomo, the largest masonry dome on earth. We bask in the lovely golden light that is Florence.

Florence_duomo

Florence 1We treat ourselves to a  convivial lunch of several yummy courses in a courtyard. Of course we share all of our dishes – even those we don’t really want to share. That is friendship.

Our Florence interlude is a delight. We do not rush home. Rushing is impossible anyway, due to relentless snarls of traffic. We resolve to travel to this glorious city by train from now on. We also agree that this visit has been a joy.

(Forgotten post – one year old.)  •

Nightttime Florence sculptures

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