Sunday, January 26, 2014

DEATHLY QUIET IN ROME


THE ENGLISH CEMETERY IN ROME

 

Are you looking for someplace quiet, someplace restful, someplace away from the noise of Rome? The so-called English Cemetery is an excellent location for contemplation. Not only are the monuments interesting but the landscaping is a delight. Spring brings wisteria, daisies, iris and violets; summer is for lavender, plumbago, verbena and geraniums; fall comes with ripening pomegranates, lemons and oranges. Winter color includes the citrus, camellias and small pink wild cyclamens mixed with the larger and brighter cultivated varieties.  Presiding over all are the cypresses, so typical of Italian cemeteries, and umbrella pines. And of course, cats who live in a refuge at the base of the adjoining Pyramid of Cestius.

 


The real name of the resting place of so many is The Non-Catholic Cemetery, and although it does contain the dust of many 18th Century Englishmen who fell while taking their Grand Tour, there are tomb inscriptions in fifteen languages representing about every known non-Catholic religion and the non-religion of Antonio Gramsci, the founder of Italian Communism. The oldest tomb is that of an Oxford graduate who was buried in 1738. Among other interesting bones are those of Goethe’s only son, designer Irene Galatzine who (unfortunately) gave women palazzo pants, and Richard Henry Dana, Jr. who wrote Two Years Before the Mast. Henry James decided that Daisy Miller should be “buried” here.

 

The 400 tombs are in narrow strip of land abutting the ancient pyramid, the Aurelian Wall, and the busy Via Ostiense – the road to St. Paul’s Outside the Walls and the coast. A metro stop, Piramide, is only a few blocks away from the cemetery’s entrance on Via Caio Cestio (named for the pyramid’s builder). Some are simple flat stones and others have carefully carved sculptures.


 

 

The most famous memorials are to Keats and Shelly.

Keats, died at age 25 of tuberculosis in a villa near the Spanish Steps (now a museum).  His  last request was to be placed under a tombstone bearing no name or date, only the words, "Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water." But the stone, which under a relief of a lyre with broken strings, also includes the epitaph:


"This Grave / contains all that was Mortal / of a / Young English Poet / Who / on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart / at the Malicious Power of his Enemies / Desired / these Words to be / engraven on his Tomb Stone: / Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water. 24 February 1821"

 


The tomb is in an open grassy area filled with daisies in the spring. It is easy to find because often worshippers drape themselves over the headstone in an attempt to absorb the poet’s gift.

Shelley drowned in 1822 in a mysterious sailing accident near the lovely town of Lerici on the Italian coast south of Genoa. He was cremated on the beach where his body washed ashore, the ashes interred in the crowded main area of the cemetery next to the ancient Aurelian Wall. The inscription reads Cor Cordium ("Heart of Hearts"), and in reference to his death at sea, a few lines of "Ariel's Song" from Shakespeare's The Tempest: "Nothing of him that doth fade / But doth suffer a sea-change / Into something rich and strange."

 


These two tombs are of historical interest but there are many others interesting for their sculpture.

Who can resist that of Devereux Plantagenet Cockburn who was put to rest in 1850? For that matter, who can resist his name? He lounges without a care, languidly holding a book with his faithful dog  beside him.
 

 

And then there is the Angel of Grief. If you’re into drooping angels, this will be your finest experience. It was sculpted by William Wetmore Story for his wife in 1894. He was the most prominent of the many American sculptors in Rome, where he lived for 40 years.

 


But if you harbor romantic dreams of being buried in such interesting company, there is a catch: you have to die in Rome to be eligible to rest in such crowded company.

 


For more info see www.cemeteryrome.it.

All photos by author.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

CIAO/CHOW TIME - THREE RESTAURANTS IN ROME


 

 

It would take several lifetimes to sample all the dining options in Rome. Here are three we found during our last very short visit. So many more to try! 

 

Ditirambo, Piazza della Cancelleria 74. This small, informal restaurant is very close to Campo di Fiori in the heart of tourist Rome. www.ristoranteditirambo.it  Recommend reservations. 39.06.687.1626. Moderate prices. Open every day. Monday dinner only. 
 

 

We ate there at lunch time, and despite its location Italians rather than tourists joined us in savoring creative Italian cooking. Our friend, who is vegetarian, dined on a tasting of their appetizers of  eggplant pudding with Moliterno ewe’s cheese and pesto sauce; deep fried zucchini with tomato and smoked buffalo mozzarella and parmesan cheese; and eggplant rolls in Calabrian style (tomatoes and spinach); among other delicacies like Scamorza grilled cheese with truffles and goat cheese with mushrooms. 
 

 

I toyed with the idea of crispy potatoes with cheese fondue and slivers of black truffles but ended up with home-made tagliolini with artichokes, pork cheek and pecorino Montanaro. Rich!! My husband had something more sensible: the tagliolini with shrimp and asparagus.
 

 

We all chose a salad of thinly sliced fennel decorated with pomegranate seeds, as a perfect foil to the rich pasta and appetizers.
 

 

Our wine was a Negroamaro, a rich and warming red from Agricole Vallone in Puglia.  

Thus fortified for cold weather, we strolled to Campo di Fiori for shopping – there is a large section of spices, some prepackaged for your pasta sauce, and given the holiday season, jars of treats like sauces made with truffles – and photographing vegetables which I can never resist in Italy.
 

 

Ristorante Pierluigi, Piazza de Ricci, 144, is located, as they put it, 878 steps from Piazza Navona. (It’s actually close to Via Giula and the Tiber.) Catering to the rich and famous like John Kerry, Frank Bruni, Colin Firth and Lebron James, Pierluigi is high-end and expensive. Dinner time brought out patrons cutting a bella figura, women in designer dresses and serious jewelry and men in well-cut suits or clerical garb. The restaurant, which specializes in fish, has been around since 1938.  

Their website is www.pierluigi.it/e and their enjoyable Facebook page is www.facebook.com/pierluigiristorante filled with photos of the famous and infamous who dine there (Dennis Rodman!). Judging from the crowds filling the rooms, reservations are mandatory. Tel: 39.06.686.8717. Closed Monday. For summer there is an outdoor dining area on the piazza.
 
Like most Italian fish restaurants we were greeted with their fish display.

 


The bar near the entrance has inviting space to enjoy their famous cocktails. The main dining room at ground level is plainly decorated. The room in the lower level sharing space with part of the wine cellar looked especially attractive for an intimate meal.



We were with a party of ten and chose a fixed menu: a starter of tartar of eggplant, bufala ricotta-stuffed squash flower, and a carciofo alla giudia (meaning deep-fried artichoke.) Next came a bowl of orecchiette pasta with broccoli sauce and another with three flawless ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach. The orecchiette were somewhat heavy, but the ravioli were marvelous and light. The main course was a generous serving of fresh grilled thinly cut tuna with balsamic vinegar served with rughetta and tomatoes. No doubt it was cut from the tuna on display near the restaurant’s entrance.

 


Fortunately, the dessert was light: paper thin slices of pineapple with an orange sauce. A chardonnay from Pietra Pinto winery in northern Lazio went well with the menu.


 
Three hours later we rolled out into the cold night, our stomachs full of great food and our hearts full with friendship.   

 

Ristorante Agustarello a Testaccio, Via Giovanni Branca 98, is modest as befits its location – not far from the old slaughterhouse, now the MACRO contemporary art museum (complete with the hooks used for hanging the carcasses and the statue of a man wrestling a bull over the entrance). Moderate prices. No website but reservations advisable by calling 39.06.57.46585. Closed Sunday.
 


The menu, like many in this area is called cucina povera, cooking for the poor using the quinto quarto, the fifth quarter of the meat – everything that the rich didn’t eat, from the head to the tail. Ironically, these types of offal are not inexpensive.

The restaurant decor is two shades of green, which doesn’t cast a favorable light on the excellent food (and stopped me from taking photos). I have to admit we stayed away from the more exotic offerings like coratella (lamb heart, lung and liver with artichokes), animelle (roasted sweetbreads), or pajata (milk fed lamb intestines). The tail, coda alla vaccinara, was on the menu, but not testarelle (whole roasted lamb’s head). After too much food over the week I happily reverted to plain cavatelli pasta with chicory. Our non-vegetarian guest had roast lamb with potatoes and my husband ordered his favorite: abbacchio allo scottodita, lamb chops so hot you can burn your fingers eating them. We all enjoyed the wonderful coarse Roman bread and my favorite, carciofi alla Romana, Roman-style artichokes meaning those simmered in water with wine, olive oil and herbs. Instead of wine we enjoyed glasses of Menabrea birra, from Italy’s oldest brewery (not really that old: 1846).
 
This meal brought to a close this stay’s Roman dining experience. We returned to our gorgeous room in our favorite hotel, the San Anselmo, www.hotelsananselmo.com, to pack and set the alarm for an early departure (and to begin a diet).



All photos copyright by author except 3 interior views of Pierluigi, which are from their site.