Act V: The Invisible Villa, Sheer Ecstasy, Purple Reigns, Finding An Old Friend, Revenge Of The Poo, Down Goes Frazier, Shutting It Down For The Day, Pass The Pringles & Panettone Please, The Magic Elixir, My Favorite Sculpture, Outside The Walls & Under The Church
Orvieto was out, and a nasty, hacking cough was in. I sucked down some cough drops so people munching their breakfast did not fear getting a case of Swine Flu.
It was rumored that at his lavish dinner parties, he would order his guests to throw silver and gold plates into the Tiber River. However, he wasn’t a complete spendthrift. Chigi had put nets underwater so he was assured of never losing his dinnerware.
Finding the villa turned out to be harder than finding his plates. We kept walking by where we thought the villa should be, but there was no sign. However, a friendly local pointed us in the right direction and through the open gate we went to the villa (photo above from website). The price tag to view the four rooms (only three on this day) was 5€. It was a nice 30-minute diversion, the rooms were very colorful (one room was painted by Raphael and his crew) and soon we were on our way to our next destination.
We hopped in a taxi to go see Tom Hanks. Well, we had just seen Angels and Demons (not as bad as everybody said it was, by the way), and we were on our way to Santa Maria della Vittoria and another Bernini masterpiece (man, did this guy ever get to sleep?), the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Although “churched-out” yesterday, we still had some of the biggies left to see before departing Rome, so there would be no losing my religion today.
The statue of the angel that stabs Teresa’s heart with a golden shaft is quite something to behold, although I liked it more than Tracy. Across the street was the Santa Susanna Church, which is sometimes used for papal visits.
I was beginning to cough even more by now, so we left before the nuns told me to be quiet. We strolled down a lovely street with orange trees on our way to the Barberini metro station and ducked into a Pharmacia. We bought some cough syrup that I was sure would be useless, and tucked it into our daypack.
As we got close to the Metro station, I said to Tracy, “Isn’t this near where we had that great meal on our last night in 2001?”
“Yes,” she answered. “I think it is off of a nearby alley.”
Sure enough, we hadn’t killed as many brain cells as we had thought in the past eight years, because within five minutes we were standing at the entrance of Colline Emiliane, where in 2001 Kim, Mary, Tracy and I celebrated our last night in Italy with one of our favorite meals. As we stood outside the restaurant, a very nice man came out from a little produce stall to tell us that Colline Emiliane was closed today, but would reopen Tuesday and Wednesday for lunch and dinner before taking off for the holiday. We decided that we would return on Tuesday to see if the restaurant was as good as we had remembered.
At that moment, the skies opened up so we ducked into a nearby store that had lots of goodies. They must have known our M.O., because they offered us samples of a limoncello cream and meloncello cream liquor. That was better than any cough syrup I thought, and also encouraged us to dip into our wallets for a small buying spree.
We bought a couple of mini panettones, a bottle of olive oil, and, of course, a couple of small bottles of the aforementioned potent potables. These were all supposed to be presents for friends upon our arrival back home. Are you taking odds yet whether they ever saw their gifts?
Soon we were back on the Via del Corso and something struck Tracy (a thought, not an Italian). “Have you noticed,” she said, “that nearly every clothing store has a preponderance of purple in their windows?”
While I pondered the use of preponderance, Tracy pointed at the myriad of colored scarves, sweaters and ties in many windows, and lo and behold, they all seemed to contain the color purple. Yes, I know I could have said to Tracy, “This is such an Oprah Winfrey moment,” but that would have been…oh wait, that’s exactly what I said. For the rest of the trip, I couldn’t help notice all the purple worn in Rome.
As we walked down one of the narrow corridors off the Via del Corso, Tracy got sucked in by a street vendor; a very nice lady who was selling watercolors. Obviously, the limoncello/meloncello combo was still in effect, and we bought a small painting of The Spanish Steps (they look a lot better in watercolor, with flowers blooming near the steps and without carcinogens flying into the air).
I was feeling kind of run down, but the thought of lasagna at Cul de Sac brought me back to life. It was quiet on this Monday afternoon, and my lasagna was terrific. Tracy’s onion soup and Insalata Mista with “fabulous olio dressing” was also a hit. We had some Rossi de Montefalco Lungarotti to go with the meal.
I wasn’t really still hungry, but then I saw something on the menu that looked vaguely familiar. “Excuse me,” I said to the waiter. “What is Sambayon?”
“Oh, that is Zabaione. It’s a…” That’s all he had to say. Be still my heart. Soon, I was enjoying my third incarnation of Zabaoine, this time in ice cream form. As I sat there savoring every bite of this delectable dessert, I was unaware that within minutes I would be in danger.
Over the Tiber we walked, ostensibly to head back to the hotel and drop off the groceries that we had purchased before heading back out. It looked like it had rained pretty heavily in Trastevere, although at the moment it was just a fine mist. As we walked on the Viale Trastevere, we came upon a tourist kiosk that was selling Roma Passes. Since we had three more days and the Borghese was on our agenda for the following day, I went in to pick up two as Tracy waited on the sidewalk.
Picking up my pace, I was nearly back by her side when the world suddenly went upside down. Faster than you can say “Old man Maitai,” I took a swift and rather violent tumble on the very slick (and as it turned out), incredibly hard pavement.
Most normal people in this situation might utter simple words like, “Ow” or even “Dammit.” As we all know by now, normal does not define me. Sprawled out like a chalk outline on the streets of Trastevere, I started yelling, “Down Goes Frazier! Down Goes Frazier.” Tracy, not being a sports fan, had no idea what I meant, but she did have a comment for me.
“Tom, you’re full of crap,” she said. Now, she is not the first person to ever verbalize that thought in my presence, but I will admit she is the first one to use it in the literal sense, because in an almost surreal Alfred Hitchcock meets Mel Brooks moment, I had slipped in a massive drop zone of bird poo.
Quickly (or as quickly as a 57-year old klutz can), I stood up. The left side of my body looked suspiciously like the car I had photographed along the Tiber the previous day. I was, for lack of a better term, a poo depository.
Tracy used an entire pack of Handy Wipes to make me presentable enough to show my face in the hotel lobby. Of course, the caked-on bird poo sticking to my pants and overcoat were a dead giveaway that something was just not quite right.
By the time I had gimped back to the hotel, it was about 4 o’clock. I was feeling tired, my left wrist was banged up and now my swine flu cough was accompanied by bird flu poo. We decided to take it easy for the remainder of the afternoon, but I was concerned that I was getting really sick, because the cough seemed to becoming persistently worse. That would not have been good thing, because we had three full days left.
After talking it over, at about 6 p.m. we decided to remain inside on this rainy evening and get a lot of rest to see if I could defeat whatever bug was trying to ruin our trip.
Although exhausted, we were by this time now also hungry. This impromptu dinner didn’t turn out to be our best meal in Rome, but it did give me more nourishment than my two lamb chop dinners combined. First, Tracy peered inside the mini bar to see what they had to eat. “Looks like a can of Pringles is all they have,” Tracy said.
“Perfect,” I answered. “Let’s eat those, and then we can open the panettones for dessert.” The orange/chocoloate and pear/chocolate panettones made for a nice combination with a small glass of meloncello. Zagat does not have a rating for this meal, however.
So as we laid in bed and watched Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu get executed for the sixth time this week on CNN (it was the 20th anniversary of the overthrow of the Communists), I decided I would try some of the cough syrup I had bought earlier in the day. Since cough syrups are usually useless, I at least hoped it would make me sleep peacefully for some of the night.
“Do you think that was a smart idea to take medicine after drinking melon liqueur?” Tracy asked.
Knowing we had trip insurance, which I believe provides free transportation for the body to be flown back to the United States, I told Tracy not to worry.
By 8 p.m., I was dead to the world (not really dead or you wouldn’t be reading this). Tracy followed suit soon after. In the middle of the night, I woke up and only had a semblance of the cough I’d had earlier. I took a small sip of the “magic elixir” and laid back down hoping that we could be back on a full schedule the next day, because we had reservations at one of our favorite museums in the morning.
Act VI: Cough Cured, Tiber Treasure, Hold The Bacon, Turned Into A Tree, Lunch With The Family, Outside The Walls, Under The Church and Reconciling With Panna Cotta At Armando
I have no idea what the hell they put in the Brochenolo Tosse, but on this morning I am a believer. Miracoli, the cough was 100% gone and, outside of a slightly sore wrist thanks to the slippery poo, I was back in action.
The rain was coming down pretty hard, so we took a taxi to the Ara Pacis (Altar of Peace, unless you were an animal that got sacrificed here). Consecrated in 9BC, the altar is now housed in a new, temperature-controlled building. T he entry fee is 6.50€ and another 3.50€ for the audio guide, which we thought pretty useless. Actually, you can see the altar from the outside, so personally I would save that 10€ apiece to purchase a bottle of wine later in the day at Cul de Sac.
We were only in there about 25 minutes, because next on our agenda was one of our favorite museums in the world, the Galleria Borghese. We had 11 a.m. reservations and with our new Roma Passes (purchased only seconds before the “Fall Of The Maitai Empire”), the entry fee was free. The 5€ audio guides here are very much worth the purchase price.
The last time we had been here we entered into the gorgeous Main Entry Hall, but because of the rain, we were led up the stairs to the paintings that, frankly, we were not interested in seeing again.
Tracy and I were looking forward to seeing and hearing about that spectacular main entry hall again, so we hurried back down the stairs, through some rooms and came upon the main entry hall that was (gasp) cluttered up by a bunch of paintings. In the hall was an exhibition of paintings by Caravaggio and perhaps the worst artist in history, Francis Bacon. We were here for the sculptures.
At this moment we experienced a “Bad Art” flashback. It reminded me of the time in 2006 that we were forced to endure the huge “Sperm Exhibit” (see above) at the Paris Pantheon (I have no idea what the hell that was, except that it reminded me of a Woody Allen movie). We were also transported back to the completely tacky 2005 Valentino dress exhibit that turned the Medici Palace in Florence into Macy’s Women’s Department. Hey, I’m all for art exhibits, but don’t clutter up the places I want to see, dammit!
The Caravaggio paintings were fine to look at (although I would have much rather seen the lovely entry hall uncluttered), but when I gazed at the first Bacon painting I thought I was having a stroke. As it turned out, it was just the figures he painted that looked like they were having a stroke. This guy’s paintings make some of Picasso’s pieces almost palatable. So instead of our beautiful, remarkable main hall, I was instead staring at faces of what people must appear to folks who smoke crystal meth. Since returning home I have read all the reviews of the exhibit, and how Bacon was a tortured soul after his lover killed himself. My headline would have read, “Bacon Lays An Egg.”
Oh well, we were able to enjoy the commentary and could sort of envision what this magnificent entry hall looked like from our last visit in 2005. Then it was on to many of the sculptures that we had been dying to revisit.
Pauline Bonaparte by Canova and a David by Bernini are both spectacular, but then it was time for our favorite, Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, which has been mentioned many times on this board. This is another of those sculptures that we spent a lot of time looking at from all angles as Daphne is transformed into a tree. My assumption is that Apollo never really got to the root of the problem.
We spent a little over an hour with the statues and then back out in the rain, through the Borghese Forest to a long walkway that heads to the Metro Station at the Spanish Steps. After yesterday’s Pringles and panettone dinner, we were famished, so we headed back to the Barberini station and the Colline Emiliane. Eight years later, and the family-run place does not disappoint.
It opened at 12:45 and we were there at 12:46. It’s lucky we were, because with no reservations we got a table. We sat at a table near the front, and the place filled up quickly with people with reservations. Any who didn’t was put on the waiting list.
Of course, we had our Prosecco to start. Tracy had an insalata mista with carrots, tomatoes and watercress, while my salami platter was devoured (the salami, not the platter) quickly. I had a “wow” dish, a delicious tortellini with pumpkin and ricotta. Tracy’s mushroom risotto was also very good. We washed this down with a 22€ bottle of 2007 Casale del Giglio Petit Verdot Lazio. I doubt you would be surprised if I told you I had a wonderful zabaione for dessert. Total cost for lunch was 76€.
When we left at 1:45 the place was packed with a number of people waiting. I would highly recommend this place as a lunch or dinner spot (make reservations).
Hopping on the metro, our goal for the afternoon was to visit a couple of places that we somehow missed on our previous trips. First up was Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls). It is a couple of blocks walk from the San Paolo Basilica metro stop, and it is quite an imposing church (the second largest in Rome after St. Peter’s).
From the alabaster windows and mosaics to the gorgeous ceiling, St. Paul’s was everything I had thought it would be.
We were then back on the metro headed to the Colosseo stop. We walked a few blocks to San Clemente. First, we went into the upper church constructed in the 12th century, but San Clemente is two churches in one, and the best part still awaited us.
We paid our 5€ at the church bookshop and headed down another eight centuries into Rome’s past and the ruins of the old church from the 4th century. We had visited the ruins of Nero’s Palace on our last trip, and we found this to be much more interesting. There are frescoes that tell the story of St. Clement and a shrine to the god Mithras, who supposedly was born in a cave and hung around with some all-male cult eating meals on stone couches. I wonder if they ever had a Pringles and panettone dinner.
San Clemente was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
Outside, the rain was coming down hard, so we grabbed a taxi (big error). Traffic was horrendous and as we sat and sat the meter went up and up. We finally had him dump us off wherever he could near the Tiber. We walked across the bridge and soon we were back at the booth where I had bought the Roma Passes the previous day. To say that I walked a leisurely (and careful pace) would be an understatement. Today, the poo was no match for Maitai, but I did feel that some birds were looking down at me laughing their beaks off.
To make up for last night’s fiasco of a meal, we had already had a wonderful lunch, and we were looking forward to dinner, because we had 8:30 reservations at Armando da Pantheon, who I guess is the cousin of Antonio al Pantheon where we had lunch a few days previously.
It had been only about two hours since we had come back from our day’s adventures, but exiting the hotel, we noticed something different. It actually felt warm outside. In a Paris Hilton minute we were back in the hotel jettisoning some clothing and shortly thereafter we set off for the Pantheon area.
Armando da Pantheon was packed throughout the evening, and sad-faced, would-be guests without reservations were turned away in droves that evening, so reservations for this popular dining place are a must.
The restaurant is good, but once again the meal was a little uneven, but I can’t complain because I received the best of the dishes. Tracy started with the Brushetta alla Romaine (a tad overpriced at 4€ for one piece of toast). Tracy then had her own “lamb-chop” moment when she ordered duck with prunes as her main course. The duck consisted of two legs only, and the duck must have been a Super Model, because there was not a lot of meat. (Photo below courtesy of italianrestaurantsandrecipes.com)
I, on the other, could not complain about my Gnocchi with blue cheese followed by beef with green peppercorns. But the “wow” dish came at dessert, and I am happy to inform you that I rekindled my affair with a former lover, Panna Cotta. The Armando da Pantheon’s Caramel Panna Cotta with Pistachios made me realize how much I had missed my former partner. I now had two mistresses, Zabaione and Panna Cotta. It was like being the star of Big Love, only with desserts as my wives.
The weather was downright balmy (well, the 50s felt balmy after so many nights of freezing our butts off). We walked through the flea market to get some night fountain pictures, and people everywhere seemed to have an extra bounce in their step.
…or it was the knowledge that within three days it would be Christmas Day or maybe, just maybe, they knew we would be leaving in three days, and the Roman civilization, as we know it, could get back to a sense of normalcy.
In any event, we needed to get our sleep, because first up on the agenda for Wednesday would be exploring the treasures at the Musei Vaticani. We would also be crisscrossing Rome as our time in the Eternal City was winding down to a precious two days.
Next: Act VII – Let’s Get A Tan, Where Is Everybody, Yes We’re With The Television Crew, On Top Of The World, The Scene Of The Crime, Seeing Rome In A Different Light, What Dinner Reservations and Finally A Great Dinner