Thursday, November 5, 2015

Roman Holiday; Eataly



So as I was saying, our annual European trip usually ends in Rome. All roads lead to Rome.The eternal city; the immortal city; the city of cities; Roma Eterna.

For my wife Anita and me, this has become a tradition (See her article, Falling in Love with the Eternal City). And because we have spent so much time there over the years, we never rush about, cramming a dozen sites and museums into a three-day visit. Instead, we go for a leisurely nine or ten days. We eat out, but we also picnic a lot. We may go back to the Capitoline Museum (the best antiquity museum anywhere), but we don’t have to re-enter the Colosseum every year, bumping into another three million tourists. We do stroll around the Forum every year.

We always take in an evening outdoor concert. Virtuoso live performances of Vivaldi, Chopin, Mozart, Puccini, Beethoven, Liszt and others, inside the Teatro Marcello, which is an amphitheater as well preserved and as magnificent as the famous Colosseum built by Emperor Vespasian, just slightly smaller. One year, we saw Verdi’s Aida in the Baths of Caracalla, including live camels parading across the stage.

Another thing we never forget to do is to take a cooking class, usually with an expert chef such as Fabio Bongeanni or Federico Alessandre. The class (a dozen people or so) meets with the chef at nine a.m. somewhere near the Campo di Fiori. There, he guides us through the greatest farmers market and butcher shops in the world, while he buys the day’s ingredients: depending on what’s on the program for that day, he buys melanzane (eggplant) and various other vegetables, prosciutto, cutlets or other meats, specially selected wines, etc. Then, we follow him to his fourth-floor abode on the Tiber Island, in the middle of Rome. We spend the next few hours making ravioli, bucatini, fusilli, gnocchi, and other pastas, shaping them, stuffing them and preparing them from start to finish - all under his direction. We also prepare things like stuffed zucchini blossoms and the rest of our lunch. Then, we have our best meal of the year. 

In Italy, you EAT. That’s why you also go to a place called Eataly. It’s a bit out of the way. We go there by subway, which is no problem. Many Americans are apprehensive about taking the subway (pickpockets and all that), but it’s never been a problem for us. Just be alert and you’ll be fine. Eataly is a four-story building full of the most fantastic foods. It’s sort of a Whole Foods that specializes in Italian products, and it has twenty eight restaurants. It’s amazing. They have already branched out to New York and Chicago, and soon they’ll come to California. Yes, in Italy, you eat. Fortunately, you also walk a lot.

This year, we even took a group bus to Naples and Pompeii for the day. We had spent separate vacations there before, but we wanted to just briefly revisit the archaeological sites. Well worth it. The ad said that the trip included lunch, and I expected a cellophane-wrapped sandwich with a grey-green roast beef sandwich and a stick of celery, but you know what? We got treated to a gourmet meal in a choice restaurant near the gate of Pompeii. And we were picked up and dropped off at our hotel.

So you get the idea.

But are we rich, you might ask, to do this every year? Nope. Our hotel is the quaint little Paba, on Via Cavour. It’s $135 a night, including breakfast. It’s run by a wonderful grandmotherly woman named Alberta. I joke with her and call her Manitoba. And every morning, she brings our breakfast to our room!

With hotels, it’s location, location, location: From the Paba, we can SEE the Forum AND the Colosseum. How can you pay for that?

As I said, we picnic a lot. Not only because it saves money, but because it is soooooo romantic. We have our favorite spot: It’s a piece of a two-thousand-year old ancient Roman marble bench. It sits underneath a cypress tree, right between the Victor Emmanuel building - you know that huge, ostentatious, palatial structure built by Mussolini for the glory of Rome (they derisively call it the “wedding cake” but we really like it), and Trajan’s market place. That is where we sit, at the foot of Trajan’s enormous and perfectly preserved column, and facing a vast site that features dozens of columns, mosaics and other structures left from what was the central marketplace for Rome’s two million people two thousand years ago.

We usually go there for our picnic at eight or eight thirty at night. Floodlights light up the sites and the buildings but we sit halfway in the shadow of the cypress trees. We unpack our prosciutto, our pecorino, our olives and our foccacia, and we make ourselves sandwiches to die for. The only occasional passersby are a couple of young Italian lovers or some English tourists. Meanwhile, a busker in the distance plays his guitar or his saxophone. The moon is high and bright. It doesn’t get any better.

© Tom Kando 2015

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