Rome, briefly revisited

Rome, Italy We are spending two weeks in Italy, and arrived yesterday to a welcome of pouring rain in Rome. While it served to take the dust off the ancient monuments, it also served to dampen us completely as we walked to our hotel. As in New York, taxis have a way of disappearing in inclement weather, so we were lucky to be staying near the train station.

After regrouping and having a lovely late lunch around the corner, we headed for a nice long night’s sleep, which gave us the energy for the two main events we had planned for today.

The Palazzo Colonna has been the seat of the Colonna family for 32 generations, and is still occupied by one of them today. It is nothing if not showy, and reflects the wealth that having on ancestor be the hero of the 1571 Battle of Lepanto (in which the Turks were completely repelled), and having several Cardinals plus a Pope in the family can do for your image.

Their coat of arms containing their namesake, a column, is everywhere, along with many column motifs. Every Colonna made his mark, but there is still a Renaissance presence with lots of Baroque. No wall surface was undecorated! The Colonna pope, Martin V (1368 to 1431), returned the papacy to Rome from Avignon, and presided as pope from this very building, as Rome was in ruins at that time.

The gardens are extensive and lovely, and the dome of St. Peter’s can be seen from the highest level, along with the Victor Emmanuel monument.

The second floor is pure Baroque and is perhaps a teeny bit excessive. Just a teeny bit. Catch the Colonna couple rising from their graves to ascend into heaven. Hope they made it.

We left the palace to walk into a demonstration — well-surrounded by police — of loud protestors making their voices heard during today’s election of the lower house of Parliament. Guess they were debating just how right wing the government will be.

After lunch, we revisited a special place that needed to be seen again. We toured the Domus Aurea, the “Golden House” built by Nero in 68 CE. It was to be his crowning glory, but it compounded his unpopularity and led to his “suicide.”

Actually, we only saw a small part of it, as the original compound was extremely large. The Coliseum sits on the land that was Nero’s ornamental lake.

The parts that weren’t repurposed were covered over by thermal baths and forgotten. It was only in the fifteen hundreds that someone accidentally fell through the roof of the Domus and discovered an incredible wonder. For several hundred years, the curious came down a rope to see amazing and novel frescoes, including artists like Michelangelo. Eventually the debris was cleared out to the ground level. While the paintings have greatly faded, it is still possible to see and imagine the grandeur of this creation.

Our favorite part is the virtual reality show that recreates the marbles and frescoes of one of the main rooms. You can share the view that Michelangelo saw after he climbed down the rope. Makes your heart stop.

And then it was time to go back to our hotel. We waited for the appropriate bus, at a most dramatic bus stop. Can’t beat Rome for combining the ancient with the quotidien.

Don’s Food Corner (Back by popular demand)

There used to be a saying: “You can’t get a bad meal in Italy.” We know that that is no longer true. But, happily, the first two meals we’ve had in Rome might revive that claim.

At our first meal, which as you can see we jumped into before we remembered to take photos, Jo had carbonara which was as rich and as delicate as anyone would hope. It was served on rigatoni, with the proper al dente texture that we always assume is underdone except when in Italy. I had pasta arrabiata — rigatoni with the spicy tomato sauce that somehow doesn’t taste right except in Italy. This was accompanied by a mixed salad with all kinds of things, including corn.

Today we had lunch at a restaurant we return to with every trip. We keep expecting that the quality at this restaurant will fall down because it is right across the street from the mid-way entrance to the Roman Forum. With a clientele of almost entirely tourists, we can’t believe that it maintains such high quality of food and service (and at a reasonable price) when so many restaurants in Rome and elsewhere catering to tourists have given up long ago on any type of standards.

But here they pride themselves on pasta made on site fresh daily. Jo tried another take on carbonara and again it was very fine, served on mezza maniche. I tried something I had never encountered before, namely a “white beef ragu,” meaning no tomatoes in evidence. Instead, it was ground beef in a variation of pesto. It was served on a pasta shape called tunnarilli, a type of very thick spaghetti. This was extremely tasty; I’ll have to remember to look up a recipe for it when we get back home.

That meal was accompanied by a Caprese salad, with beautifully ripe tomatoes and soft mozzarella. Perhaps not as good as we had when we visited Capri, but closer than anything we’ve had in New York.

In short, it’s a good start. And the weather was clear today. Sunny, but not hot.

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