Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Places I Like In Rome

This is a smattering of my favorite places in Rome, which you can easily find in guidebook:

the Pantheon. It's insanely crowded (often to the point of misery), but I never quite tire of the way light comes through the oculus, and the enormous, perfection of the interior, particularly when it's raining. I was delighted when, on a miserable, chilly day with pouring rain, the kids saw the rain coming through the oculus and just stared in silent amazement. It is the most amazing, incredible, lovely space. Is it best early in the morning when there are fewest people there? Absolutely. But even with the dense crowds, it is extraordinary. I love staring at the enormous monolithic granite columns in the portico; I am never less than amazed that the ancient Romans brought them from Egypt.

piazza della Minerva. Conveniently right behind the Pantheon (which you can see the back of in the photo), Bernini's elephant is a pleasure and delight (Curly took to calling it her piazza). Our very last night, the doors of the church, S. Maria sopra Minerva, were open, and we stepped inside to hear the tail end of a choir concert. It was surpassingly, astoundingly lovely. A gift. S. Maria in Trastevere. The exterior mosaics are beautiful (I was deeply gratified when my boy gasped upon seeing them for the first time), but my favorite feature of the church are the Cosmati floors. I love Cosmati floors. There are other churches in Rome with fine Cosmati floors (the mosaic-like use of pieces of marble, making it look as if OCD quilters went nuts with marble on a floor), S. Maria Maggiore, S. Maria in Cosmedin and S. Maria in Aracoeli, to name a few, but the Cosmati floor here is my favorite.

Piazza Mattei. I love the Fontana delle Tartarughe. It isn't a major fountain, but it may well be my favorite fountain in the city. And, because our apartment was in a building directly on the piazza, we got to see it every single day.
San'Ignazio. Again, quite near the Pantheon, but the cool baroque-o-rama quaddratura ceiling and the false dome? Fun and kids (and grown-ups) love it. Pozzo also did a hallway in the building attached to Il Gesu, but the time we tried to go to see it, the doorkeeper said we couldn't go in. Bummer.
The Aventine. The orange grove, Santa Sabina, the keyhole. The Circo Massimo at the foot on one side, Testaccio at the foot on another, the quiet.

Church art and architecture, generally. From the serene simplicity of places like S. Giorgio in Velabro or S. Sabina to the encrusted grandeur of S. Peter's or S. Maria Maggiore, I love peeking in and seeing the many periods of architecture and history that Rome's churches have. Disappointingly, one of my very favorite churches, S. Ivo, appears only to be open Sundays now, with no guard nearby to coax into letting one in. The sculpture of Saint Cecilia in S. Cecilia is disturbing and beautiful.

The Trevi. It, like the Pantheon, is usually unpleasantly overcrowded, but the crowds, touts, pickpockets and overall hassle still cannot take away from the fact that is a totally over the top, beautiful fountain. And a deeply enjoyable answer to minimalism. Pare it down? No, no, no. Add more, more, more!

The Bernini-Velazquez portrait showdown (of Innocent X) in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Right next to one another, the work of two greats of the period taking on the same subject. My boy preferred the battle pictures in the galleries, and Curly liked the hall of mirrors best, but it's a wonderful, fascinating museum.
The Capitoline Museums. The renovation and additions have allowed for so much more of the collection to be displayed, although it is a shame you can no longer simply amble freely into the courtyard to look at the gigantic disco hand of Constantine, boogeying its way through the ages (and, uh, I might have made my children pose in front of it with their own disco hands). However, we were lucky enough to be there during culture week, when the Capitoline and numerous other sites were free, which left me feeling guiltless about giving the kids the speedy tour of the stuff I thought would interest them. They liked the disco hand. And the enormous foot. Borromini's perspective gallery in the Palazzo Spada. You have to pay admission now, since it's officially attached to the museum in the palazzo, and you're not allowed to walk down it to see the trick of the eye. Still, it's fantastic.


We didn't eat out a great deal in Rome. We had an apartment; and in the evening, with tired kids who had marched all day (and go to bed early), it was simpler, and much more relaxing, to cook than go out.

I did make Roman staples: bucatini all'amatriciana, spaghetti alla carbonara, costolette a scottadito, puntarelle with an anchovy dressing. But I don't have a great deal to say about restaurants and dining out in Rome. SupplĂ­. Seriously, little balls of fried rice and cheese? Available pretty much everywhere? Sure, my pants are tight, but I am very happy just thinking about them. The bakery at the end of Campo dei Fiori that has La Carbonara. Great pizza bianca and pizza rossa, rosette (rolls with sections that come off like petals) and decent crostate.

Trattoria S. Teodoro. via dei Fienili, 49-51. I first went to this place a little more than 16 years ago, when it was a very simple trattoria. We went there for lunch one day. It is much, much swishier nowadays, but ohmy their food is fantastic, even if the bill will be anxiety-inducing. For the carbonara (which the kids got, and after a short discussion in Italian, the server and I agreed that a serving between them would be enough for both, which would never, ever happen in an American restaurant), they used all of the traditional ingredients, but they preserved some yolks under salt, as if it was mojama (or some other salt preserved... stuff. I'm not really sure of the mojama curing process), and then diced it finely and sprinkled it over the finished pasta, so that it looked almost like golden caviar. They had amazing baby fried squid which the kids were very reluctant to allow me to have more than a bite of. They are in a neighborhood, the Velabro, that I love. They've also taken ownership of the bar next door (where the baristas are women, which seems to still be relatively unusual). The former butcher's a couple doors up from them is now a pleasant-looking osteria.

Angelo Feroci. via della Maddalena, 15. A couple of blocks away from the Pantheon, this is a high end butcher shop and a prepared foods take-away joint. They'll truss your veal roast (as they did for our easter veal roasts) with rosemary. They'll chat with you about the best choice for the evening. They'll give your Roma soccer jersey-wearing boy free gigantic samples of their salumi and commiserate about the fact that Totti is injured. They will discuss with you the best ways to reheat their heat-and-eat stuff (like the fried salt cod. Oh, so, so happy-making. I have never seen my skinny boy eat so much so fast). They will charge you quite prettily for all of this but their quality is terrific, and sometimes, you want to eat well, but in, and have walked all day so don't want to cook much... they let you do it as easily as possible.

Confetteria Moriondo e Gariglio, via Pie di Marmo 17. A lovely chocolate shop, mentioned in many a guidebook. My kids particularly like the solid chocolate turtles.

The potato pizza at Volpetti, via Marmorata, 47. I think their version is the best in town. They are, of course, famous for all sorts of salumi and cheeses and the like, but that potato pizza is something else. We are busily trying to recreate it at home.

Artichokes in the Jewish ghetto. Almost all of the restaurants (and the paninoteca, for take-out) there do them, and they're fantastic.

Gelato. I’ve already discussed that pretty extensively.


Poggi, my favorite art shop... maybe anywhere (there are two other major contenders here, one being Cornellison's in London, which is incredible). via Pie di Marmo, 38/41. I bought a new silverpoint at Poggi on this trip, which means I will have to make some silverpoint paper. That they have stuff like silverpoint is one of the reasons I love them. I could look at their pigments and varnishes and resins all day. I love the layered way the place smells, of paper, varnish, oil, resin and powders. They also sell simpler things like sketchbooks and pencils, so if you are inspired to, say, note the patterns of Cosmati floors in a sketch, they've got the goods you'll need. Their shop across the lane also sells tubes for carrying sketches, prints and the like, which is good if you go to...

The Print Market at Piazza Fontanella Borghese. I gave the kids each 10 Euros and told them to go to town at this market. It was interesting to see what they picked out as a souvenir of their trip (and also interesting to watch the stall-holders knock the prices down for children spending their own money). I enjoy browsing this market immensely, but as I am not a print expert, I tend to stick to the cheap stuff. The stall holders are pretty nice whether you're spending alot or a little.

Handles, via dei Pettinari, 53, almost at the Ponte Sisto. It's what it sounds like, a shop full of handles. But, the coolest handles and knobs ever. I remember thinking this place was amazing years ago, when I didn't have any sort of home that I could put a handle or knob in. Just the enormous diversity was impressive. And, when you get down to it, it's a place you can find something that is both unique and portable.

Mondello Ottica. via del Pellegrino, 98. A screw popped out of my glasses. In Italy, of course, you don't pop into the nearest 5 and dime (which I found out after trying to pop into the nearest five and dime), supermarket or pharmacy for a little screw replacement kit. You go to the ottica, who will usually make such repairs for free. The folks at Mondello Ottica fixed the screw, looked at the extremely dilapidated condition of my glasses, frowned, and straightened them out. For free, without realizing that I had begun browsing and realized that I have been meaning to get new glasses for several years, and that their frames rocked. Then, once they saw that I was eyeing frames, they helped me pick out a pair (including telling me when something looked awful, even if it was expensive). And when they heard it had been many, many years since I last had my eyes checked, after clucking a bit, they ran me carefully through tests, without charge... and gave me a discount on the glasses. I love the glasses (there was a pair I liked a little better, but wasn't soooo much better as to justify nearly $200 more), and really liked the people there. They were terrific; they're good at what they do, and they take a great deal of pride in their work.

Corrado Sacchi, via della Palombella, 39-40. My mom bought my sister and I each a pair of earrings here, a shop I have long enjoyed window shopping. The current proprietor's father started the business in the 40s, and they've been in their current location since the 80s. Whether you buy or look, they make for more interesting window shopping (I think) than the baubles at Bulgari.

Brunelli, vicolo del Quartiere, 7. This is a bulk religious goods stuff shop, a five and dime of Catholic wares. And a rather surreal store. You know those Hello Kitty moving postcards? In one, Hello Kitty will, say, be laying clothes out, and if you angle the picture a little, then suddenly she'll be all dolled up? Yeah, those. So... imagine (with my children being the ones who find these), living Jesus, in agony, bleeding on the cross. Tilt the picture and... Dead Jesus! Tilt: Alive, in agony! Angle the picture and he's dead! Ack. There's part of me that wishes I bought one, but... mostly, no. Those pictures were a deeply disconcerting combination of cheesy and creepy. Also available: bishop socks, priestly clothing accessories, rosaries in bulk, medallions and medals of various saints, again, in bulk. All sorts of stuff with the pope's or the Madonna's picture on it (bracelets, key chains, charms) And... popeners. Yes, popeners (pope bottle openers. it's a blurry picture, sorry. Again, my camera and super-close-ups? Not so much.). Because the pope wants you to have a beer, and he blesses it. Sorry, karma. Please don't get me for saying that.

I love window shopping, generally, in Rome, from the antiques on via dei Coronari to the clothes on via del Governo Vecchio, and more expensively, in the area near the Spanish Steps. The shops along via Giulia, via dei Capellari, via di Montserrato are all fascinating to bump along, peering in windows and sometimes stopping in to browse.


homebody at heart said...

I love so many of the same places except the places I haven't gotten to yet and a few of my favs... The peacefulness of San Clemente, how it makes me feel connected with the early Christians, the Capitoline and Palatine Museums, just sitting in the Piazza Navona on a sunny afternoon...and reading the epigraphs in the National Museum at the Baths of Diocletion. At times like that, I know that I am Roman and that they were us.

Meg said...

It's a great city to wander through, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

I just love Rome and this post has made me long to go back.

Meg said...

kitchen goddess- it's a tough city to resist. Almost as soon as we got home, I began checking our frequent flier accounts and making calculations about when we might be able to afford to go back again.