Rome. We came, we saw, we explored the Gelaterias.
Extraordinary city. The place simply oozes history, culture, calories and sophistication. Every time time I come here, I fantasize about moving to the city permanently -at any moment in its history! I’ve been to Rome half a dozen times, so my experiences at the sites, restaurants, hotels, markets or accommodations are in no discernible order. Rome is one of those places with a strength of personality to always be the author of your memories.
First stop, we were staying in a fab airbnb on the Plazza Navona, a short walk from the Contarelli Chapel in the San Luigi dei Francesi, where where we stood in awe before the Matthew paintings by tenebrist genius, Caravaggio. This particular trip was to be themed around him and Ice Cream and we tasted dozens of both.
The Contarelli has the Calling and the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew, whilst the Inspiration of Saint Matthew is a reworking of the saint with an angel that was rejected as Caravaggio had made the holy man look like like an illiterate, unwashed, ruffian, whose hand had to be guided across the paper by the despairing angel. This became a common theme during Caravaggio’s all-too-brief life, where, despite his brilliance and recognition, his works were often -in todays terminology- cancelled. His Death of the Virgin was rejected by the Carmeiltes as he had apparently used a well-known prostitute as his model for the Mother of Christ.
The Calling of Matthew
Get to the magnificent Farnese Palace, which is presently the French Embassy in Rome, though more importantly has the Carracci ‘Loves of the Gods’ series. Really worth a trip.
Back to the Plazza Navona for cocktails and nibbles at prices four times higher than if you sat one street behind and ordered the same products. Just how it is. Exorbitant rents beside any touristic spot, higher municipality taxes that are hopefully spent on maintaining the area, more customer traffic and therefore more wear-and-tear of chairs, napkins, glasses. We waste so much money on things over the course of a lifetime, so by that logic, a few over-priced Aperol Spritzers as you enjoy the spectatcular Bernini fountain really doesn’t qualify.
Other than the sublime architecture of the Plazza, you can watch the theatre of Roman life taking place all around you. The Italians seem to be, like the French and the Spanish, effortlessly stylish. Personally, I’m exhausted by the Anglo-Saxon ‘Urban Comfy’ look that is a natural outgrowth -literally- of the whole Veneration of Convenience Movement that has blighted our societies these last couple of decades. I mean, you don’t need to descend to the Stygian depths of narcissism and vacuity practiced by, say, Victoria Beckham, to appreciate a well ironed shirt, pants and a pair of loafers. We seem to be obsessed with ‘presentation’ in so many areas of modern existence, such as what vintage of mobile phone we have, the angle of our gravity-defying jelled hair styles and the meaning of our esoteric, far-Eastern religious symbol tattoos, yet don’t apply it to how we dress ourselves. Anyway, men in blazers, neckties and items made from natural fibers outnumber football shirts, hideous footwear in bright colors and polyester blends that shouldn’t be worn -at all- near flames. The women wear beautiful, feminine dresses and frocks with tasteful jewelry and well-coiffured hair styles. Is this simply doing what’s appropriate? I mean, does God really appreciate the legions of tourists turning up for selfies in front of imagery of say, His son’s crucifixion, dressed in sports apparel ¿ If we can agree that we might be deferential towards something that was here before us, and will likely be still here after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, then we might concede that a bit of respect for the old stuff is ‘appropriate’? This probably violates the modern worship of the Self, but it could also be true?
Regarding food in Rome, the only question is how many pairs of elasticated trousers did you pack. It’s a carb and dairy fest and you really aren’t ‘doing’ Rome if you’re not devouring pizzas, fresh pasta, gesticulating madly during your Aperol-soaked conversations and scoffing vast quantities of postprandial gelatos. I loved discovering those tiny local restaurants in side streets, where the venerable stone walls are clad in some plant that hangs languorously from the roof, with uncomfortable wooden chairs that disturb your dinner as they rock precariously on the cobbled stones. Where the chefs grandmother is always an inspiration for the menu who adds some time-forgotten twist to every dish, one that makes the modern day number-crunching restaurant accountant wince, not to mention your cardiologist.
Back to Caravaggio. We’ve climbed the Spanish Steps, where it seems as though the entire Roman student body is camped out and continued our walk to the Gallery Borghese, built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, an early patron of Bernini and collector of Caravaggio, a fact which demonstrates an inspired use of church funds. Stunning, stunning, amazing. Give yourself a whole day for this place and the gardens and make sure you get to the upper levels to see Melissa by Dosso Dossi and Bassano’s Last Supper, which kind of resembles one of our lunch parties, where the attendees seem to be collapsing at the table. Caravaggio is well represented with St. Jerome Writing, Sick Bacchus, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, St. John the Baptist and the creepy young Christ with a Serpent.
After the Borghese drop down the hillside to the Piazza del Popolo to the Church Santa Maria del Popolo to see the Conversion of Saint Paul and the Crucifixion of Saint Peter. There is also an excellent Carracci, the Assumption of the Virgin.
After so much walking, you deserve a two-thousand calorie per serving of ‘suppli’ which is deep-fried risotto balls that have been soaked in tomato sauce and filled with mozzarella. Oink-oink.
We had pizzas one day at Casa Manco, in the atmospheric Testaccio Market and ate an awesome Funghi-topped number. We make fun of the Italians, their macro-economic incontinence, their propensity for emotional outbursts and chaotic politics, but they just seem to do all the actual quality life stuff better. Louise loves to tell this really funny anecdote of when she was in Italy years ago with an previous boyfriend, who was exasperated by the constant wolf whistling, and generally Clintonesque interest towards Louise. Later in the day as they were walking in a side street, the boyfriend saw an old man, well into his eighties, calling his attention. The boyfriend wondered what it could possibly be, but the old man merely wanted him to move out the way so he could enjoy a better view of Louise. At this point, even the ex-boyfriend had to laugh.
Off to Saint Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. At a moment in history when Europeans are held in bad odor due to our crimes of continuous warring, fratricide, religious persecution, and colonialism, it is refreshing to be in a place that proudly demonstrates the genius of Western civilization. Spend all day here and don’t be part of the Gerasene mob rushing to the Sistine Chapel without appreciating all the other works, rooms, galleries of the Vatican museum.
Walk the streets, enjoy everything about the city, not just the famous sites. Every street -well at least in the center- will reward you with some remarkable view and the Italians have an contagious passion for an aesthetically well-lived life.