As we prepare to leave Rome and head home, I have pulled together a few final observations about things we have seen while in this most fascinating of countries. I’ll begin with the serious, and then move on to – shall we say – less serious thoughts that have popped into my head before returning to a final note of thanksgiving. As always, these Observations From… posts are quick and quirky. You’ve been warned!
The Non-Catholic Cemetery is a treasure – Several people told us to make sure we visited the “Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome” (also known as the Protestant Cemetery), and we are so glad we did. On the day we visited Ostia Antica, we walked across the street from the train station upon our return and spent a good hour roaming through this beautiful space.
Here is a bit of the background, from the cemetery’s website:
The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome (to give it its full name) is also widely known as the Protestant Cemetery although it contains the graves of many Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians. It is one of the oldest burial grounds in continuous use in Europe, having started to be used around 1716 (and thus celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2016)….
The Cemetery population is both exceptionally diverse and exceptionally rich in writers, painters, sculptors, historians, archaeologists, diplomats, scientists, architects and poets, many of international eminence….
This is a beautiful urban space, located next to the Pyramid of Cestius (dated between 18 and 12 B.C.) and adjacent to a section of Rome’s ancient Aurelian wall. Cypress trees hover over the site, while the graves themselves are often small garden spaces. The famous are buried here – John Keats and Percy Shelley, most notably – and it is something of a pilgrimage site for artists and writers.
Story was the best-known American sculptor in Rome for a 40-year period, and this evocative piece was his last. He designed it for the tomb of his wife, who died early in 1895, and he followed her in death later that year. The lightness of this work, the unspeakable grief that is evident on every part of the angel’s body, and the sadness found in features such as the flowers which have dropped from her hand make this an incredible personal statement as well as a moving work of art.
This is a treasure not to be missed in a city full of treasures.
Beauty – When my colleague Tom Mayes was at the American Academy in Rome last year, he worked on a series of essays about why old places matter. They are all worth a read, but I’ve been struck by one in particular while on my sabbatical – Tom’s essay on beauty. He begins with a simple declarative statement.
“Old places are beautiful.”
But as Tom quickly notes, beauty is not a simple topic. Read the entire essay for his thoughtful take on the subject, but this one sentence captures key elements for me:
As I read and talk to people about beauty, a few words and phrases capture the experiences I’ve had—and that I believe other people also have—at beautiful old places: delight, exhilarating surprise, speechlessness, the language of timeless reality, echo of an ideal, sudden unexpected harmony of the body, mind and world.
Throughout our six weeks, I experienced many of these same feelings and emotions and was reminded again and again of the beauty of this old and historic city.
We have eaten well in Rome – Very well. Perhaps too well. (I’ll know about that last point when I step on the scale at home.)
In a city full of good restaurants, we found a few, which I’ll pass along to you in case you are coming to the city.
We found the best pizza at Antico Forno Roscioli, “one of Rome’s best bakeries and among the city’s most historic institutions” according to food blogger Katie Parla. Candice got the recommendation to eat pizza there from Chris, the chef at the American Academy, and we weren’t disappointed.
I wrote earlier about our Easter Day feast at Antico Arco. What I haven’t mentioned is that we’ve returned four times since then, and each meal has been wonderful. They also have a wonderful wine list. Highly recommended.
Candice and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary at Dittirambo, and it was a great place to experience Rome’s passion for food. We also recommend Al Moro, if you want the old-style traditional Italian cooking complete with the atmosphere and waiters to make the experience complete!
We went out in style our last weekend here, taking two more of Katie Parla’s recommendations (get her app “Katie Parla’s Rome” and put it on your iPhone if you are coming to the city). Saturday night we went to Roscioli and we recommend the fried anchovies, among other items on the menu. Then our last dinner (for this trip) will be tonight at Cesare al Casaletto, described as the “best trattoria in Rome!”
Bonus recommendation: If you are in Murano and find yourself hungry, go to Trattoria Busa alla Torre. Outstanding!
And finally, if it isn’t the best caffè shop in Rome, Sant’ Eustacio il Caffè is certainly the most historic and best known. All four of us made it there, at different times, to sample this Rome tradition.
The greatest American import – Every time I walk past a McDonalds or Burger King in Rome, I cringe, and I’ve just heard that Italy now has its first Starbucks – which is really like bringing coals to New Castle. These folks invented all the stuff Starbucks tries to pass off as coffee.
However, there is one American import that surprised me – and it wasn’t always an embarrassment. There is American music everywhere in Italy. The Italian guy playing electric guitar on the bridge over the Tiber is as likely to be playing Chuck Berry riffs as anything else. We were eating in a small neighborhood restaurant in Venice to the sounds of Ray Charles and obscure Motown artists. 95% of the cab drivers listened to American rock and roll. One told us it was how he learned to speak English!
I would have liked to have heard more local music, but “‘C’est la vie’, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.”
Grazie – The wonderfulness of this portion of my sabbatical would not have been possible without the help and support of some very nice people. First and foremost, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (which has a sabbatical policy) and my boss, Stephanie Meeks. Stephanie came to me about a year ago and suggested I think about taking a sabbatical. That set the wheels moving toward an Affiliated Fellowship at The American Academy in Rome. The academy’s wonderful staff could not have been more welcoming and helpful. In addition, this time off would not have been possible without the support of my team at the National Trust. They all said, “We’ll take care of things and will ask WWDJBD? if anything actually comes up.” I have had the freedom to focus on other things away from the day-to-day of work thanks to Barb, Tom, Susan, Katherine, Jim, Tricia and Kelly. Several friends and colleagues who have been to the academy in the past – especially Tom, Rod, Eduardo, and Tabitha – gave invaluable advice for getting around the city and country. Others who we know also came through with great suggestions, and we did as many as we could in six short weeks. Finally, Candice and I so appreciate Andrew’s willingness to hold down the fort at home while we were away. It was very comforting knowing that he was taking care of all the mundane chores.
We’ve had a wonderful six weeks. Thanks for reading. Ciao!
More to come…