Gli Stranieri

A Foreigner in Rome

Month: May, 2012

A Tiramisù Pilgrimage [Pompi]

I’ve been hankering after tiramisù for ages, before realising (should’ve guessed, really) there is a place famous for the dessert. Tiramisù means ‘pick me up’, coming from the need for men to boost their sexual performance in Venetian brothels. I seem to remember that putanesca sauce has a similar history, for women in brothels: anyone sensing a recurring theme here?

Pompi has been making tiramisù since 1960 and they’re bloody good. It’s on Via Albalonga for those who know (or want to know), nearest metro is Re di Roma.

You can tell from the fancy sign [The King of Tiramisù] that it takes its tiramisù seriously. An individual portion (pretty big) costs 3.50 and comes in: classic, strawberry, forest fruits, pistachio, banana & nutella or hazelnut. I think that’s all of them. This is a bad place for indecision, I ended up buying two.

On the left is banana & nutella, classic tiramisù on the right. I should’ve waited until after I’d photographed them to start eating, but couldn’t. I’m sorry. Banana & nutella was a bit of let down to be honest, like a failed banoffee pie. I should have been happy with the original, but that’s one of the many perils we gluttons face. Maybe I’ll go back to get pistachio…



Tarantism is a phenomenon that was particularly prevalent in the south of Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries. Supposedly bitten by a venomous spider (a tarantula), women would enter a manic state that was only curable by dancing continuously. With no evidence of spider bites, speculation about the practice is rife. Whether or not it was born of venom, or societal issues, it is fascinating. It begot the Tarantella dance and style of music which, if you listen to, still maintains the percussive feel of a purging exorcism.

Women dressing up as brides of St. Paul (and rolling around on the floor of the church to rid themselves of their dancing demons), sounds a lot like a Brighton Halloween party. But, though Tarantism seems a tad outdated, my housemate has relatives that can recall seeing these women (Tarantulees): not as distant a practice as you might think.

As much as I’d like to claim expertise, I just watched a documentary about it. You should watch it too:

[N.B the video explores Tarantism from a musical healing perspective – not necessarily my bag – but the footage is excellent]

Off to the Lake – Bracciano

Lying traffic lights, insane people and a penchant for corruption can make Rome a bit of a headache. After two months of city stress, I was more than a little happy to find solace in the beauty of Bracciano. Mountainous backdrops, winding streets in the hills, castles and lakes, just an hour’s train journey from the centre of Rome.

The first noticeable thing is the Castle [Castello Orsini-Odescalchi], a fifteen-century, military-renaissance beast. Also the place where Katie Holmes made a pretty bad decision and married Tom Cruise (I suspect a few days in the dungeon were behind this).

The shops are in-keeping with the medieval vibe of the town, in both attitude and produce. In one, very rustic, delicatessen (still with the odd bit of tinsel knocking around – in April), the owner told me that being a vegetarian was a swear word, my two female companions were beautiful, and that it was stupid Italian women considered foreigners attractive. I don’t get the feeling I was very popular. Charming as he was, his rolls were quite nice.

Anyway, all was well when I got a good look at the lake. Apologies for photo quality, it was misty and I am rubbish at taking photographs.

Another life lesson was learned, after listening to directions from strangers that led us in completely the wrong direction. But I did see my first olive trees and I found swan lake.

Bellissimo. Except for the Eastern European dance music playing in the background of the above photo; not quite the Tchaikovsky I had envisioned.