Gli Stranieri

A Foreigner in Rome

Category: Play

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…

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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.

The Isle of Wight [L’Isola di Wight]

Coming from an island that is not always known in the UK results in many cases of: ‘do you need a passport to get there?’, ‘do I need to change currency?’ or even, ‘do you have roads/schools/houses?’. Then there’s the ‘I’ve heard of the Isle of Wight’ brigade, who proceed to state facts ad infinitum about the Isle of Man instead, ‘it’s the place with its own government, and the cats… the cats without tails’. For clarity’s sake, the Isle of Wight is part of England (and its government) and therefore does not need a passport – or a trip to the bureau de change – to visit. Our cats also have tails.

Regularly hearing such oversights, much to an Islander’s chagrin, I was therefore surprised to find that  a lot of Italians have actually heard of it, ‘There’s a song!, There’s a song!’. I was wondering for quite a while how Derek Sandy’s iconic song about the Island reached Italy, but I was (pleasantly) surprised when I started to have this song sung to me; accompanied by enthusiastic swaying.

 

Thanks to this Italian hit from the early 70s, the Isle of Wight is still celebrating a subdued sense of fame on the continent, forty years on.

As translating the lyrics word-for-word is beyond my current level of Italian, I’ll do my best to give an overview:

  • Man comes to the Isle of Wight, because it’s for young people, with blue eyes, who sing ‘hippie hippie’.
  • Man goes to the market to buy a long coat and gold lamé.
  • He spots a woman, surely a mirage, in white.
  • They go somewhere (to the Isle of Wight festival?) on a Thursday, without a suitcase.
  • They are surrounded by a shower of butterflies, share their youth and become unstoppable.

It should be no surprise it’s such a hit, with a story-line like that. Gone are the days when a chance encounter at a gold lamé market stall would lead to an unstoppable romance, powered by a shower of butterflies. That is except for during the Bestival, of course. The most Isle of Wight time of the year, where gold lamé and butterfly showers are not the exception, but the rule.

The Cemetery of Strangers [Cimiteri Acatollico]

When in Rome… Do as the Senegalese Do.

Though not Roman in the ancient sense, there is a thriving Senegalese community in Rome. And they know how to spend their Fridays.

It started with some ceebu jën (cheb-o-djin) a one-pot stew of rice and fish, which we ate in the typical fashion – from one big platter, with just a spoon. I am not sure I am a convert to the spoon method (there was one anonymous vegetable that defied my best efforts to spoon-slice it) but there is something weirdly nice about sharing the same plate. The meal itself seemed to be entirely comprised of ingredients that I recognised, but could not quite identify; so it proved both delicious and stubbornly enigmatic.

Eventually, after a long period of post-dinner relaxation (a requirement the Italians and the Senegalese seem to have in common) we went into San Lorenzo. It is cheap, cheerful and somewhere between a down-trodden Paris and a cobbled Berlin. On entry to a club there, I was greeted by a victim of Rome’s pressures: he had his own headphones in, drank sherry from a schooner clumsily due to his thick leather gloves, and had no sense of spacial awareness. He informed me that the club was his house, and that we had met the night before. Neither were true, of course. Why is that the insane abroad can always speak English? He was politely (then non-politely) asked to leave not long after, and I was free from his awkward goggle-eyed conversation.

A semi-traditional band was playing who mixed their Senegalese vocals and instruments with a not-so traditional bass guitar and drum kit. The music and the atmosphere were great, but it proved too funky for one woman, who proceeded to flail non-stop for three hours; fanning herself questioningly, as if it was the temperature of the club and not the heat from her bizarre dislocated movements that was making her sweat.

Fair play to her though, I definitely had not had enough to drink for the amount of audience participation going on, and she was dancing hard enough for everybody.

I didn’t take a camera out with me, so here’s a video of some guy going for it on the kora (traditional Senegalese lute):

Doing it the Appian Way

The Keyhole View of Rome [Il Buco di Roma]

When I was thinking about the things I meant to do in my first trip to Rome, and did not have time for, I recalled this little tourist gem.

Nestled at the top of Aventine Hill is the Piazza of the Knights of Malta, an area that houses a lesser-known third sovereign state of Rome (the second being the Vatican). The Knights of Malta are a celibate, powder-blue-uniform-wearing order; one of the last remaining groups of knights left from before the crusades.

Adding to the curious nature of this setting is one of Rome’s real (free) treasures: if you look through the keyhole of the gates of the Knights of Malta HQ, the view lines up perfectly with a garden path that points directly to the dome of St Peter’s in Vatican city. My hosts assured me that the view was most beautiful at night, which I reckon it is, but it prevented me taking a good photo. Here is a view in the daytime, that I’ve robbed of this site.

Il Buco di Roma

 

A warning: this is a bit of a walk, and even though I went to the site at midnight there was still a bit of a queue (in February). Not an attraction for the non-leisurely tourist.

 

Roman Carnival [Carnevale Romano]

Whoops, forgot to post about this. It was the carnevale romano on Saturday, and I am pretty confused by the whole thing. Despite the huge amounts of confetti and odd person dressed as the pope or a gladiator, it was much more civilised than I was expecting. Instead of raucous drinking and vomiting (I’m starting to miss Britain), it seems more an excuse to dress one’s children in ridiculous fancy dress. And these are no half-arsed fancy dress attempts; highlights included a very realistic (terrifying) clown baby, a dinosaur in a pram and a miniature princess Leia – complete with R2D2 clutch bag.

Whilst its religious beginnings are definitely well and truly out of sight, there is something rather nostalgic about Rome’s carnival. People are content just to wander around, soaking up the atmosphere – either dressed in costume, or parading a bewildered-looking child about – simply enjoying being in a crowd and having a bit of a dance.

Although, in a reassuringly carefree manner, they did suddenly decide that a dense crowd [see below] was the perfect place to release a procession of agitated horses.

Belen’s Butterfly [La Farfalla di Belen]

This is really the talk of the town. So purely for cultural reasons, here is the debut of the butterfly that has sent the Italian nation aflutter: