Jeffrey Carson: December in Rome
12, February 2009 § 3 Comments
Part 3 of 3
On Saturday Jane, Liz, and I (John was out with his son) took bus #23 along the lungotevere and crossed the Tiber, a pretty ride. We exited near the Castel Sant’ Angelo and crossed the bridge. A short walk found us at San Salvatore in Lauro, a Baroque church we had not visited before. The crypt has been fixed up as an exhibition space. The exhibition was “Visions of the Grand Tour from the Hermitage 1640-1880”. A few people waited with us for the 10:00 opening, and the ticket lady got easily confused. The paintings were not the greatest, but there were many good pieces by Hubert Robert, Magnasco, and others of that kidney; there was even a Claude. The subject matter, views of Rome, was in itself a pleasure, and we easily passed an hour-and-a-half. “Minor painters” doesn’t mean “bad painters”, and there was much to please the eye.
The day was pretty and we walked back through old streets new to us, and met John and Gabriel.
In the afternoon we returned to Bellini – again, first floor, coffee, second floor – and easily spent several more hours admiring his genius. Technical master that he is, it is finally his humanity, wisdom, clarity, luminosity, and generosity of spirit that hold one. It was hard to leave, to bid farewell to some masterpieces probably forever. But many we are sure to see again.
Back at the hotel we bade goodbye to Adrian, and then went to dinner at Al Pompiere, one of our regular restaurants and once the ghetto’s firehouse, half a block from the hotel. I had fried artichokes (a ghetto specialty), grilled sweetbreads, and puntarella (a crispy green) with an anchovy dressing.
On Sunday morning we went to pick up our machine from San Eustachio. Then bought materials to make it breakproof and handleable.
Then we set off for the Palazzo del Quirinale, which is open only on Sunday mornings, and which contains a fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, part of which is in the Vatican and very beautiful. We have never managed to get there in time. A heels-clicking officer informed us politely that the palace was closed a month for the holidays: curses, foiled again.
But it was a beautiful day, so we went for a long walk. When we reached the Pantheon we went in. Usually when we are there in September it is so crowded as to be unbearable. Now there were no more than a dozen people inside, and we renewed our long acquaintance with one of the world’s most noble, soaring, and amazing (it leaves you amazed) interior spaces. We nodded to Raphael in his tomb.
After the requisite coffee, we went to the Museo Barracco, which has reopened after years of restoration. We were the only ones there. It contains a private collection of antique sculpture (Assyrian, Egyptian, Cypriot, Phoenician, Etruscan, Greek and Roman) which Giovanni Barracco, a rich Calabrese nobleman, donated in 1904. The elegant building is by Antonio da Sangallo from 1516. Naturally, it was the Greek pieces that most interested us. Liz took plenty of digital snapshots as an aid to memory. On our way back we stopped into Sant’ Andrea delle Valle, whose dome is so important to the skyline of Rome. In every church we visited we delighted in the presepio (crèche), for which the Italians have a genius. The only positively ugly one we saw, with big, inflated, plastic, squat figures, was in the Pantheon.
For fifteen years our favorite place to eat has been Casa Bleve. Anacleto and his wife Tina Bleve have now retired, and their sons run the fancy place, and two nephews the old wine shop in the Ghetto. In September we ate at the former, so this time we ate at the latter. We drank several bottles of fine wine accompanied by plates of cold cuts, cheeses, smoked fish, and salads. We all felt very happy. Maybe just one more grappa….
Afterwards we took a long walk to sober up, had our last coffee at San Eustachio, and went back to the hotel to pack. John and Liz did a great job on making our new bundles portable. For dinner we walked to Trastevere and had a porchetta panino from a street stand. The streets, as they had been every evening, were animate with strollers.
On Monday we took a van to the airport. Our flight from Athens to Paros had been cancelled a week before, and we stayed at a hotel near the airport. The wind was howling as we walked twenty minutes to a taverna, but the local moschato wine was welcoming.
On Tuesday we flew to Paros. Owing to wind, we weren’t sure that the plane would leave, but when the former mayor – now a politico in Athens – showed up, we knew it would, and the flight was smooth. We were properly greeted by dog and cats. And our cyclamen plant was putting out new flowers.