When in Rome By Joe Brancatelli
Ignore It All, Focus on Lunch
Rome is capital of the nation with the eighth-largest economy. It's the center of the second-largest religion. It was the heart of one of the world's great empires. And it's the living repository of many of the planet's artistic and architectural treasures.
But when in Rome, do as the Romans do: Ignore it all and focus on what's for lunch.
For a kid who grew up in an Italian-American enclave in Brooklyn, I was a latecomer to Rome. Even after I started flying around the world as a business traveler, I avoided it. Nothing I hadn't seen before, I figured.
I was wrong, of course. But once I finally arrived 25 years ago, it only took about 12 hours to realize that Rome was special. It's hard not to be seduced when your hotel room backs up to the Pantheon and your first meal is in a restaurant at the foot of the Spanish Steps where the locals offer to share their dishes to ensure that you're having a good time.
I've been to Rome dozens of time since and lived there for months at a stretch. Each time I go, I love it more. For all the hard times in recent decades and all of the eroding effects of tourism's heavy footprints, Rome really is eternal. With just a few small concessions to the passing decades, you can still grab a table facing the Pantheon, order Champagne or coffee and make believe you're Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn and Eddie Albert in Roman Holiday. You can still rent a Vespa and ride around town, too.
What follows is not a traditional guide to your Roman holiday. It's an anti-guidebook. These 16 pieces are, literally, my notes to lifelong friends who were coming to join me in Rome for the first time. I wanted them to understand Rome as I was experiencing it. Share with them some of my beliefs about the rhythms of the city. Tip them to a few of the quirks of a place I hoped they would cherish as much as me.
That was a decade ago, but I've reorganized, updated and rethought these pieces constantly as the years passed. Dozens more friends--and friends of friends--have been E-mailed copies. I'm publishing these for the first time because I think you can still glean something fresh and new here. Maybe you won't want to read all 16, but I promise you that every piece will tell you something that the guidebooks won't. And I'm confident that you'll enjoy Rome more after ingesting some or all of what's here.
NO. 1: THE FLOSSY ANCHORWOMAN REPORT
Rome is Italy's media capital and Romans prefer their TV news delivered by brainy, good-looking women.
NO. 2: SALT IN THE WOUNDS, ER, FOOD
Salt and water are omnipresent in Rome's diet. There's too much salt in the food--so avoid sparkling water.
NO. 3: WORDS TO THE WISE
The "Italian" language is difficult to master. But here are useful words and phrases Romans use all the time.
NO. 4: WHY ROME WASN'T BUILT IN A DAY
Rome has almost everything--except modern architecture. It's a mania. If it's newly built, Romans hate it.
NO. 5: PIZZA! RED, WHITE, ROUND AND SQUARE
Everywhere in Italy has great pizza, of course. But Rome has different shapes--even different colors--of it.
NO. 6: MAKE YOUR OWN KIND OF MUSIC
Opera in Rome? Its venues can't compete with the houses in Milan or Venice. But we'll always have Tosca.
NO. 7: FARE LA SPESA
I have a theory about Romans: If they can't wear it, drive it, f*ck it, eat it or drink it, they don't care about it.
NO. 8: IF IT'S TUESDAY, IT MUST BE PASTA E CECI
Rome still moves on canonical daily food specials. For decades, each day brings a very specific dish.
NO. 9: COFFEE CULTURE
When it comes to coffee and Rome's omnipresent coffee bars, you absolutely must do what the Romans do.
NO. 10: COFFEE CULTURE AMONG THE ANGLOS
Italy's coffee culture is under threat by a most insidious enemy: A Starbucks-driven Anglo culture of coffee.
NO. 11: (MILLIONS OF) BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Starlings have an honored place in Rome's amazing daily ballet. Romans are being shat on for the privilege.
NO. 12: CULTURE VULTURE
Rome has a huge percentage of the world's most important art and antiquities. And caring for it all is dicey.
NO. 13: ON THE STREET WHERE YOU (MAY) LIVE
Every street in Rome's centro storico, no matter how small, has been the scene of something important.
NO. 14: MOZZARELLA AND THE MAFIA
A cheese you think you know is called something else in Rome. The mafia has different names, too.
NO. 15: WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE ROMAN POLITICS
No matter what else you need to know about Rome, you need to remember it is the political capital of Italy.
NO. 16: NO MATTER THE FACTS, LA DOLCE VITA
Rome is a mess physically. Local politics are toxic. But the city bumps along in search of the good life.
This column is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com and BizTraveLife.com are Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission. Otherwise, it's La Vendetta!