Tag Archives: culture

Museo Piana delle Orme

My continuing quest to visit Italy’s nuttiest museums brought me to this place a few weeks ago and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. But first, some backstory. The Upstairs Vegetarian has a friend (who is now my friend too!) named Stephanie Malia Hom who is a professor of Italian, anthropologist, Italophile and many other things too. Her latest book is The Beautiful Country: Tourism & the Impossible State of Destination Italy. Doesn’t that sound interesting? Can’t wait to read it. Anyway, a few years ago Stephanie was visiting from the US and we all had dinner. She started talking about this museum she had gone to in Latina, which is 43 kilometers from Rome. As Stephanie described it, the museum seemed like the most interesting and eclectic place and the UV and I decided we must go there IMMEDIATELY. That was like three years ago and we never did go. The subject came up from time to time but we could never quite remember what the place was called or where it was. Fortunately, Stephanie came back to town and was happy to go again.

First you need to know a little bit about Latina. Mussolini founded the city in 1932, calling it Littoria. That name comes from the fasces lictoriae, a bunch of wooden sticks and usually an ax (fasces means bundle in Latin) that symbolized a magistrate’s power in Ye Olde Roman Days. Mussolini, a great hearkener back to the days of Empire, liked the image so much that he named his political party after it. Other people liked it too and tons of things feature the image of the fasces, including the Great Seal of Harvard University and the seal of the US Tax Court. I will make no further comment than to say “Isn’t that interesting.”

Renamed Latina after the war, the city’s catchy motto is Latina, Olim Palus (Latina, once a swamp). That’s because Latina was located smack dab in the middle of the Pontine Marshes, swampland since Roman times (today the area is known as the Agro Pontina). Fascist ideology was all about the noble farmer and Mussolini orchestrated a huge land reclamation project (the bonifica integrale, 1922-1935) to free up more agricultural land and combat malaria, by the way, destroying a whole load of wetland ecosystems in the process. The marshes were drained, homesteads were built and land parceled out, mosquitoes were killed and health services were established. About 2000 (Fascist, mostly from the North) families received a farmhouse, some land, a plow, tools and a couple of cows.  That all sounds pretty good, but this being Mussolini, it was all done a bit brutally.

The project employed 124 000 men at its peak. Workers lived in overcrowded  camps surrounded by barbed wire. Wages were terrible, hours were long, the food was bad, sanitation was poor and there was no healthcare. Many of the workers were infected with the malaria they were trying to eliminate.

Welcome to Il Museo Piana delle Orme. That's me on the left trying to look as short as everyone else.

Welcome to Il Museo Piana delle Orme. That’s me on the left trying to look the same height as everyone else.

Which brings us (finally!) to Museo Piana delle Orme (Museum Plain of Footprints), which totally lived up to its rep of being nutso. First of all, the place is absolutely enormous (50 000 square meters). There is a lot of outdoor space but most of the park is occupied by 13 airplane hanger-sized pavilions devoted to different aspects of early to mid-20th Century Italian history. The museum was established in 1996 by Mariano De Pasquale (1938-2006), a grower and seller of roses. Apparently he somehow acquired the wreck of an old US Army jeep in the 1960s and caught the hoarding bug. He collected everything he could find about the lives of local farmers, the reclamation of the Pontine Marshes and the battles of World War II. Mariano may have had a bit of ADD. The museum grew out of his collection. (Can’t you just hear his wife? “Mariano, you have got to find somewhere to put this stuff! If I see one more tank parked in our backyard…”).

The pavilions are filled with life-sized dioramas. There are explanatory signs in Italian, English and German (the English is remarkably lucid for an Italian museum) as well as (fairly squawky, difficult to understand) audio displays. There are buttons to push in the war pavilions and explosions ensue.

Many photos follow (Lots of these were shot by the UV, duly credited, as hers were much better than mine).

An F-104 jet greets you on arrival.


There was a pavilion devoted to toys and models (planes and boats, not the human variety).thumb_IMG_1125_1024

Two pavilions are devoted to the bonifica.

The high rate of malaria in the region was one of the reasons for draining the swamp (a task that by the way had challenged government leaders since Roman times). Malaria means 'bad air' in Italian.

The high rate of malaria in the region was one of the reasons for draining the swamp (a task that had challenged government leaders since Roman times). Malaria means ‘bad air’ in Italian. Credit UV.

The bonifica took place in three stages. First, workers drained the swamp; next, homesteads were constructed and land parceled out; the third stage, took measures against the mosquitos.

The bonifica took place in three stages. First, workers drained the swamp; next, homesteads were constructed and land parceled out; during the third stage, the government took measures against the mosquitoes. Credit UV.

Draining the swamp.

Draining the swamp.

There’s an entire pavilion filled with farm equipment. We scooted through that one — sorry, no photos. If you ever wondered whether it is possible to see too many tractors, I can assure you that a little goes a very long way.

The next pavilion is devoted to country life in the years after the bonifica.


I guess it was common for farm ladies in the 1930s to walk around with turkeys on their heads. Who knew?

I guess it was common for farm ladies in the 1930s to walk around with turkeys on their heads. Who knew?


Kickin' back at the local bar. Ah, country life.

Kickin’ back at the local bar. Ah, country life.

Then we moved on to the war years. Deportation and internment in concentration camps.

Credit UV.

Credit UV.


The names of all of the Italians sent to concentration camps are pasted on the wall.

The names of all of the Italians sent to concentration camps are pasted on the wall.

A pavilion full of tanks and the like followed (see above comment on tractors).

Two pavilions on Italy’s entry into the war, the Battle of El Alamein and the Allied landings at Messina and Salerno. thumb_IMG_1164_1024The Allied landing at Anzio rates a pavilion of its own as does the battle for Montecassino.thumb_IMG_1170_1024


Apparently Mariano actually gathered actual rubble from the ruins of the abbey at Montecassino to use in this exhibit. Credit UV. 

war war2

Finally, there is a pavilion devoted to the peacetime use of war paraphernalia, i.e. helmets attached to sticks can be used to dredge cesspools.

There were also some peacocks, ostriches and chickens hanging around (well, they were fenced in) between the various pavilions — I guess to keep the kiddies entertained.

Hello there!

Hello there!

In addition to the usual postcards and guidebook, the museum shop sells loads of uniforms and bayonets.

All your gas mask needs can be met right here!

All your gas mask and helmet (and cesspool deredging) needs can be met right here!

I didn’t go into the bar/restaurant because I was in charge of the dogs but by all accounts it was clean and served various hot dishes.

Remember this: Il Museo Piana delle Orme. A must see if you’re are in the ‘hood.

Ovo Pinto

Easter greetings, my peeps (get it?)!wpid-20120223__120226-peeps

One thing I love about Italy is the weird and wonderful museums. I’m not talking about the typical ones that everyone comes here to see like the Capitoline Museum, Villa Borghese, Palazzo Barberini, etc. etc. forever. No, I’m talking about museums that are a bit off the beaten track and decidedly lacking in Caravaggios. I’ve written about some of them in Rome, like my beloved Museo delle Cere (featuring what appear to be department store manikins and only one female figure — Sleeping Beauty — whose chest moves when she breathes); the Criminology Museum (known to its chums as MUCRI and highly recommended); and Il Piccolo Museo del Purgatorio (the Little Museum of Purgatory, also highly recommended). Today, fittingly as it’s Easter, we’re going to talk about Ovo Pinto — the Museum of the Painted Egg.

Before we go on, let me just point out that I am not saying that Italy is unique in having offbeat museums. I am sure they are everywhere (she said, harking back to Graceland — been twice, it’s awesome — and that big ball of twine in Kansas). It’s just that there is soooo much art here and the Italians are so serious about it. Kinda makes the offbeat feel a bit more unusual than it normally would.

We all associate painting eggs with Easter but apparently the pursuit has been around a lot longer than Christianity. Decorated ostrich eggs have been found in Africa dating back 60 000 years! The ancient Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Hindus believed that world hatched out of an enormous egg and saw the egg as a symbol of new life. Also death. Also kingship. It’s confusing. But some of them put decorated ostrich eggs in graves 5 000 years ago.

It appears that Christianity may have pinched yet another pagan custom. The early Christians of Mesopotamia  dyed chicken eggs red to symbolize the blood of Jesus. And so on down the centuries. That’s enough history for today!

Now, on to the Egg Museum. It’s basically two rooms in a tiny building in a tiny medieval town in Umbria, Civitella del Lago-Baschi. The whole thing started with an egg painting competition between schools, back in the 1980s. Twenty-five years later there were about a million painted eggs in someone’s basement (I’m guessing) so someone got the bright idea to put the best ones in a museum.

And it was a bright idea. Pinto Ovo is adorable and charming. The contest continues. In recent years it has been opened up to adults as well as the kiddies. and it’s international now — eggs come in from all over the world (that must be a bit nerve-wracking for the sender!). You can see entries from Bali and Brazil below. Any kind of egg can be used but it has to be real. No cheatin’ with plastic eggs. The contest takes place around Easter and each year has a different theme (for the adults, I think the kids can do what they want). This year it was the plays of Pirandello. I thought about entering but 1). I’m no artist and 2) I’d have to read the plays of Pirandello.

I took tons of photos, many of which follow. Some of these are pretty amazing.


I love this one. It’s called ‘Free at last.”

thumb_IMG_1031_1024 thumb_IMG_1044_1024 thumb_IMG_1061_1024 thumb_IMG_1052_1024 thumb_IMG_1053_1024 thumb_IMG_1034_1024 thumb_IMG_1055_1024 thumb_IMG_1032_1024 thumb_IMG_1043_1024 thumb_IMG_1049_1024 thumb_IMG_1057_1024 thumb_IMG_1036_1024 thumb_IMG_1059_1024 thumb_IMG_1050_1024 thumb_IMG_1029_1024 thumb_IMG_1051_1024

Ovo Pinto, Piazza Mazzini 9, Civitella del Lago – Braschi, Tel: 3408995074.

The bandwagon

Italians take a very long time to jump on the bandwagon of any fad sweeping other nations. But when they do jump — and they always do — they jump hard and all at once. It’s like there’s a memo that goes out:

Dear Italians

Take all of your savings and open an electronic gambling and bingo parlor. Do it now. It doesn’t matter if there are two or three on the same block. The demand is there. We promise.


The Bandwagon Gods

And then a few months later:

Dear Italians

Sorry about the electronic gambling and bingo parlor thing. We really thought that would take off. No matter. Now we want you to put all of those empty storefronts to good use by opening up electric cigarette stores. Do it now. This is going to be great.


The Bandwagon Gods

For years there were only a handful of Irish pubs in all of Rome. And then, overnight, there were hundreds. Rome recently discovered sushi about 30 years after the rest of the (non-Japanese) world and BAM! Now there’s a sushi bar on every street corner and you can even buy it in the supermarket (which also didn’t really exist a decade ago. Today there are four supermarkets less than five minutes from my house).

So what makes Italians such late (but enthusiastic) adapters? (BTW, this doesn’t really seem to apply to fashion). No idea, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it has to do with the economy, which has forced many people — especially young people — out of their comfort zone of caution and has made them willing to take more risks than their parents ever did. Youth unemployment is nearly 44% here so when a bandwagon shows up, everyone jumps on without thinking about the dangers of opening up an electric cigarette store when everyone else is doing the same thing at the same time. That’s how the youth do. It’s a theory. Even if I’m wrong, it’s probably about the economy. It’s always about the economy.

The reason I bring all this up is that I noticed something recently that surprised me. I used to work at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations — better known as FAO (pronounced FOW). FAO’s headquarters is in Rome, right across the street from the Circus Maximus. And, since I know you are longing for your Mussolini fact of the day, I’ll add that the HQ building was optimistically constructed by Il Duce to house his Ministry of the Colonies (in 1937 it was renamed the Ministry of Italian Africa). After WWII, the Italian government leased it to FAO for 1 lira per year. FAO employs nearly 3 700 staff, a little over half of whom are based in Rome. The international staff hail from all over the world plus there are interns and consultants and people constantly coming in for meetings. You get the picture: big melting pot.

Despite the existence of thousands of international mouths to feed, Viale Aventino (where FAO is located) has always been wanting in the restaurant department. The restaurants range from good (Taverna Cestia, a classic Trattoria Romana. I used to live next door and I ate here every Sunday night for years.) to Meh (Da Rino) to bad (La Viletta dal 1940). And, with the exception of a halfway decent Asian place (Court Delicati), there was nothing non-Italian to be had for love nor money (a condition that was mostly true for all of Rome until relatively recently). Not anymore.

Sorry this is so boring. It's August and al of the restaurants were closed!

Sorry this is such a boring photo. It’s vacation time and all of the restaurants were closed when I was nosing around. The restaurant is good though.

Over the past couple of years, in rapid succession, Viale Aventino has seen the opening of a greek diner, a French eatery, a burger joint, a Japanese place, a Mexican restaurant (which quickly closed and is set to reopen soon as something else. I’m hoping Thai), a couple of high-end sandwich joints, a cute Italian bistro with a tasting menu, a fancy gelateria (celery ice cream, anyone?) and probably some other stuff that I’m forgetting about. I’ve tried the gelateria (two thumbs up), the Greek (very good) and the Japanese (excellent sushi and I am still dreaming about the spicy eggplant). I’ll let you know about the rest in due course. Sorry I have no photos of food. Here’s a dog instead. IMG_0725

I think I have written about this before but while I’m in the neighborhood… On 10 September 1943, two days after Italy surrendered to the Allies, partisans and Italian soldiers tried to stop the Germans from entering the city at Porta San Paolo, just down the street from FAO. There were 570 casualties. You can still see bullet marks on the facades of some of the buildings (including the place where I used to live). There’s a nice little park dedicated to the Italians who died that day. I used to take my dog there for walks and always parked my car just outside the entrance. Once I came home from a business trip to find that a homeless man had taken up residence in my Volvo. He had broken the window to get in. There was a bag of bread rolls and his clothes were neatly folded on the back seat. Fortunately he was not at home when I stopped by. I never parked there again.

Porta San Paolo, where Italian soldiers and citizens fought to keep the Germans out of Rome.

Porta San Paolo, where Italian soldiers and citizens fought to keep the Germans out of Rome.



Carnevale, which started this week, is celebrated in many traditional Catholic countries in Europe and the Americas. Here, it consists of days of parades, parties and costumes and culminates in Martedi Grasso, which you will know as Mardi Gras. Carnevale is the last big blowout before the Lenten crackdown. I read somewhere on the Interwebs that the word carnevale comes from the Latin, carnem vale (farewell, meat!) since it’s a traditional thing to give up eating meat during Lent. I also read that it’s derived from carnem levam, which means ‘take away the meat.’ Whatever; suffice it to say that this time of year is hard on carnivores. The Upstairs Vegetarian doesn’t eat meat so she gives up chocolate.

Like some other Christian festivals, carnevale has pagan roots. The festival got shoehorned into the Catholic calendar after many failed attempts by the Church to eradicate it. The Catholic Church’s ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude gave us All Souls Day, which had its origins in an ancient festival of the dead, and is the reason we celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Back in ancient Roman times, December 25th or thereabouts was the last day of Saturnalia, which celebrated Saturn — the god of agriculture and the harvest — with parades, merry-making and gift giving. After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 C.E., the Church figured it would be easier to get the multiple-god-worshipping pagans to buy into the new religion if they were able to hang onto their familiar rituals.

Carnevale is also linked to Saturnalia as well as to Bacchanalia, the celebration of Bacchus, the good of wine. Both are probably based on older, Greek festivals because the Romans stole everything from the Greeks. Bacchanalia was a cult thing, was pretty much prohibited by the Roman Senate and was originally restricted to women. The word has come to be synonymous with drunken revelry and, in fact, that is pretty much what Bacchanalia were all about back then. The big things about Saturnalia were role reversal and behavioural license, even for the slaves who got to dress up in bling and be waited on by their masters.

Venice, which throws Italy’s most famous pre-Lent festival, totally ran with the behavioural license aspect of Saturnalia when it started to celebrate carnevale in the 12th Century. The Venice carnevale is super famous for its masks and, supposedly, the tradition of mask-wearing started so that people could hide their identities when reveling and also to make it impossible to tell the nobility from common people, although I would have thought that the clothes would be a tip off.

Venetian mask designed to protect the merrymaker's identity from the cops, irate husbands, bosses, etc. © gnuckx

Venetian mask designed to protect the merrymaker’s identity from the cops, irate husbands, bosses, etc. © gnuckx

In today’s Rome, carnevale is mostly about little kids parading around in costume and throwing confetti at each other. There’s also a lot of eating of frappe that goes on; this is basically deep fried dough with icing sugar sprinkled on top. Not my thing. Yesterday there was a big parade in my old neighbourhood and I went over to check it out. Have a look.

Let's go to the parade!

Let’s go to the parade!

These guys led the parade. I don't know how they do that. I'd break every bone in my fool body.

These guys led the parade. I don’t know how they do that. I’d break every bone in my fool body.

Even Spidey sometimes needs help getting dressed.

Even Spidey sometimes needs help getting dressed. His hat is the head of a bunny rabbit, which is a little bit confusing.

Princeton shout out!

Princeton shout out!

A very small princess
A very small princess

Confetti time!

Confetti time!

More confetti time!

More confetti time!

Snow White checks out the competition.

Snow White checks out the competition.

There were marching bands too.

There were marching bands too.

And Pippi!

And Pippi!

See you next year!


Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception so it seems as good a time as any to talk about the Madonnelle. But first, a bit about today. December 8 celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary, which apparently happened the normal way but was free from original sin. It shouldn’t be confused — as it often is — with the Virgin Birth, which refers to the nativity of Jesus. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception was first celebrated in the 5th Century in Syria. It is celebrated in Catholic countries and countries where Mary is the principal patroness, like Brazil, Korea, Spain, the Philippines, Italy obviously and (a surprise to me) the USA.

So, the Madonnelle. These are religious shrines that hang on the walls of old buildings (mostly on  street corners) all over Rome. The Madonnelle (which means ‘little Madonnas’ because most of the shrines feature Mary) that are still around today mainly date from the 17th to the 19th Centuries. Only a few of the really old ones (medieval to Renaissance eras) have survived. The images are done in mosaic, carved or painted and usually involve a very fancy frame. Since the shrines usually featured a lantern of some kind, they also served the practical purpose of shedding some light on the poorly lit Roman streets. Local inhabitants — rich and poor — installed and worshiped at the shrines, which must have been inconvenient and even dangerous since they’d basically have to do their worshipping in the middle of the street.

Danger or no, street shrines have a long and noble history, dating back to ye olde Roman times when little statues of guardian spirits, known as ‘lares’ were placed at the crossroads to protect passers-by. When Augustus came along, he replaced all the lares with statues of himself. Egomaniac. After Constantine converted Rome to Christianity, the pagan shrines were all converted to Madonnelle.

It wasn’t long before the Madonnelle started performing miracles, mostly of the bleeding, weeping and healing variety. Interestingly, the miracles tended to coincide with periods when the Church was trying to strengthen or legitimize its power, e.g. the Great Schism, the reformation. The most famous miracle happened in July 1796  when, over a period of three weeks, a whole load of Madonnelle at different spots in Rome began to move their eyes around. This was at the time that the French Army was menacing the Papal State. There was a religious enquiry but it was abandoned when Napoleon occupied Rome two years later.

There used to be thousands of these things hanging around but now it’s down to about 500, according to the last ‘census,’ which was done in 2004. I’ve been taking pictures of them for the past few years. I probably have about 100 by now. Here are a few of them. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



Random Indonesia

I’m in Indonesia for a few weeks of work and I’d like to share some observations with you. As always, I will do my utmost best to avoid alienating an entire country by making outrageous generalizations.

Indonesian cats have really weird tails. Unlike most cats I’ve known, Indonesian cats have short stubby tails. Not stubs such as the tails exhibited on the hindquarters of felines hailing from the Isle of Man (Hi Ellen!). But stubby as if someone chopped off their tails in a fit of pique. In fact, that’s what I thought when I saw my first Indonesian cat. “Now why would someone do that?” I wondered. But they’re all that way. And it looks most odd.

I got many funny looks as I chased after Indonesian cats, attempting to get a photo of their tails. They are swift moving little buggers! This is the best I could do. Stubby tail encircled for your educational pleasure.

Indonesians who live along the Kapuas River in Central Kalimantan are agile and fearless. I spent several days visiting a number of villages and hamlets along the Kapuas River. Travel is by boat only; there are no roads to speak of. During the rainy season, the river can rise by as much as a metre. For that reason, all of the houses are on stilts and to get to the main road (such as it is) from the dock you need to scoot up a little plank suspended over the muddiest dankest looking river water you have ever seen in your life. Probably filled with millions of gigantic alligators like this one. Inevitably the plank is made from rotting wood that shatters under big clomping Western feet, plus there is nothing to hold onto unless you count the many Indonesian passers-by whose hands I clutched as I climbed and descended plank after plank after plank. I am clumsy at the best of times and, laden down as I was with computers, cameras, digital recorders and all sorts of other valuables, I broke out in a sweat each time we hit a new town and faced a new plank (also, it was 1000 degrees). But, amazingly I managed to keep to my feet, much to the disappointment of the hordes of children who ran to the docks in every town to laugh at my efforts to climb to street level. How did they know? Was someone phoning ahead in a place with no discernible phone signal? “Quick, run to the dock. A big tall white woman is trying to climb an 8 inch-wide walkway made of toothpicks held together by Kleenex® and suspended 30 feet in the air over a vat of snapping alligators. She’ll never make it, the clumsy fool. Mwaahaha.”

So scary.

Indonesians have very strong calf muscles. Squat toilets are not exactly unique to Indonesia. You can find them all over, including in many public restrooms in France and Italy. Usually there are on-site alternatives or you just mosey on to the next bar to find a ‘normal’ toilet (albeit, usually without a proper seat, but whatever). It’s the same way here, at least until you get out of the city at which point the squat is your only option. Decorum forbids me from dwelling overlong on this cultural marker. Suffice it to say that you are strongly advised to bring along a flashlight if you are spending the night in an Indonesian village (and it would be good if you could make friends with one of those stubby-tailed cats and convince him to reconnoiter for you before you enter the possibly rat and lizard infested loo). You won’t find toilet paper. After you have squatted and done your business, you are expected to wash yourself off with water scooped from the nearby bak mandi (bath). That’s why Indonesian bathrooms are always sopping wet. The washing off is traditionally done with the left hand and so anyone who tends to favor their left hand, i.e. a left-handed person, e.g. me, is thought to be unclean. Story of my life.

Squat toilet/bak mandi. ©Claud334

The use of the bak mandi is not restricted to the post-squat rinse. To take a bath, you douse yourself with water from the tub, lather up, rinse and repeat. The water is (usually) clean and (always) cool and a bak mandi can be refreshing, albeit extremely messy. I was, however, constipated for three days. Last thing: people who have only ever known the squat toilet are understandably confused when they see the other kind. So they may need some gentle instruction, as can be seen on this sign found in a bathroom at the local airport.

The other panels also provide helpful toilet advice. e.g. do not throw your syringes, coffee cups or soda bottles in the bowl; do not use the squirty thing facing forward.

Indonesians have asbestos tongues. Do you see the devil’s red mixture in the picture below? That is called sambal and it is a major Indonesian condiment, served at every meal.

Sambal: the devil’s condiment

Sambal is also popular by the way in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, the Philippines and, for historical reasons, the Netherlands. Here is a typical recipe: Take 1 million of the hottest fresh chili peppers you can find. Mix with garlic, shallots and shrimp paste. Eat. (If you have a normal tongue) Die.

According to the Internet, Indonesia boasts as many as 300 varieties of sambals, ranging from the mild (which I have yet to encounter) to the very hot (been there!). Different varieties employ different types of chilis and may also feature add-ins, such as tamarind, peanuts, lemongrass, durian and the wonderfully named green stinky bean (Parkia speciosa).

A fine time was had by all

My brother and sister-in-law came for a visit last week after dropping my niece Louisa off in Siena where she will be studying for the next four months. Over lunch before she left, we had a fine time regaling her with precautionary Amanda Knox stories. In Rome, we spent a significant amount of time eating sightseeing. Here are some highlights.

Guanciale (bacon made from pig jowls) with balsamic vinegar and sage from l’Asino d’Oro

Caramelized onions from l’Asino d’Oro

Hadrian’s Villa just prior to the major deluge that had us sheltering under a tree for a good half hour

More Hadrian’s Villa

One of the 500 fountains, pools and cascades at the Villa d’Este in Tivoli

The Organ Fountain

The centerpiece of the Villa d”Este’s gardens is the Water Organ, which was completed in 1611. The Fountain has recently been restored and plays a few minutes of classical music every hour or so. Don’t ask me how it works; it’s something to do with hydraulics. This is what the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who visited Villa d’Este, had to say about the matter: “The music of the Organ Fountain is true music, naturally created…made by water which falls with great violence into a cave, rounded and vaulted, and agitates the air, which is forced to exit through the pipes of an organ. Other water, passing through a wheel, strikes in a certain order the keyboard of the organ. The organ also imitates the sound of trumpets, the sound of cannon, and the sound of muskets, made by the sudden fall of water.” For those of you missing your WW2 fix, Villa d’Este was bombed by the Allies in 1944 and badly damaged.

Pizza from the Pizzarium

My relatives were not very daring when it came to testing Gabriele Bonci’s famous pizza, choosing plain red sauce and mozzarella with basil toppings. I had bacon and pumpkin puree on mine and it was fantastic. In fairness, we had eaten a big lunch and none of us were particularly hungry. But we were nearby enjoying the Vatican Museum and you cannot enjoy the Vatican Museum without stopping off at the Pizzarium now can you? The crust was so light I actually felt less full when I finished!

Warm liver spread and mascarpone from Costanza

I just realized that I’ve never devoted a full blog post to Hostaria Costanza, a favorite from way back. Will have to remedy that soon.

Picnicking on the Via Appia Antica

Deep in thought

Carbonara with black truffles and…

Cacio e pepe with crispy zucchini flowers from Antico Arco

The two pastas you see above were unbelievably tasty. And I don’t even like pasta that much! I adore Antico Arco, even if they insist on playing Eric Clapton really loud during dinner. They’ve been doing that for years so I’m used to it by now.

Entertaining relatives in Rome is a tough business. But somebody’s got to do it!

l’Asino d’Oro, Via del Boschetto 73. Phone: 06 48913832
Pizzarium, Via della Meloria 43. Phone: 06 39745416
Hostaria Costanza, Piazza del Paradiso 63. Phone: 06 686 1717
Antico Arco, Piazzale Aurelio 7. Phone: 06 581 5274