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.
The 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.
A 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.We cross the Tiber and walk the lively river bank to Trastevere where we have coffee in an outdoor café and admire the graffiti.
We 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.We 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.
A 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.The 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.
A 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.
Via 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.Things 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!