Inside The Ghetto

In the tiny bakery known as Boccione within one of the oldest Jewish ghettos in Europe, we queued up for a slice of Jewish pizza. The woman at the till, her hair tucked carefully into a plastic cap, doled out a rectangular piece of dense cake which tasted more like a biscuit as the moreish taste of raisins, almonds and dried fruits came together in a a perfect ménage à trois of sorts. Then the beauty of butter. Eternity is encapsulated often within the briefest of moments.

A few metres from us was the atmospheric restaurant, Nonna Betta, which declares that Anthony Bourdain could deign to eat only within its august interiors in Rome. It is charming inside Nonna Betta. White walls, old-world wrought iron brackets for its equally old-world lamps and extensive murals splashed across the walls that portray what life would have been like in the ghetto before the 1800s. We did not lunch at Nonna Betta yet I could not resist a peep. Instead we meandered through the Jewish quarter, nibbling on rich fruit cake, taking in the quiet alleys where Jews have lived for 2,000 years, history etched into the stones of the buildings with their peeling plasters, facades chipped away by the inexorable passage of time.

Shutters, ribbed and fastened against e’en the honeyed beauty of the sun on the December winter afternoon that we drifted through narrow passages beneath balustrades of marble, our minds lingering upon the kind of stories that those passages must nurse, forgotten tales of people taking flight from persecution. Then there were enclaves that must have been thronged by the poverty-stricken multitudes. The Carmel Temple that you see in the lead photo must have been the repository of dark thoughts festering within repressed souls who in the 16th century had been commanded by the pope to attend ‘compulsory preaches’. How did the adult Jews combat such decrees you think? They plugged their ears with wax, yessir, because who wants to be told what faith to follow. If some dared to fall asleep, they were kicked by watchful papal guards to wake up. Pieces of history that crept up along the walk through The Ghetto.

A piece from a 17th century poem by a certain Giuseppe Berneri captures the misery of life in The Ghetto and it goes like this:

The Ghetto is a place located next to the Tiber
On one side, and to the Fish-market on the other;
It is a rather miserable enclosure of streets,
As it is shady, and also saddening.
It has four large gates, and a small one;
During daytime it is open, to let people out,
But from the evening until morning has broken
It is kept locked by a porter guard.

This marks the end of my series on Rome that was punctuated by that on Florence and my mind is quite ready to exit Italy (do I hear hurrahs at this point?) and enter India where I am currently staying at my parents’ for another week before I fly back home to Adi (Though I cannot promise you that I shall not bring forth photos from Rome and Florence all over again for I have such fond memories tucked into every nook and cranny there).

The walk from the Colosseum to The Ghetto
The poplars of Rome
Avenues of stone pines 

Sights on Aventine Hill
Temple of Diana

Into the Ghetto

Portico d’Ottavia, a portico built by Emperor Augustus in 23BC
The Roman fish market was housed within the portico from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century.
Cobbled streets within the quarter
A Maremma strolls through the Ghetto
Pasticceria Boccione
Jewish pizza on the left
Dilapidated columns and remains of the past inside The Ghetto

Ambling Around Rome

I have been neck deep in eating, hence the absence. Hedonism in the new year. Indo Chinese and biryanis and street food and what not. All of that would be fodder for another post. I am in Calcutta at my childhood home which means that I am persevering to achieve Zen. A tall order given the frequent squabbling with my mother who remains the most headstrong woman I have ever known. But because I am home alone — something I ached for as a child when my parents refused to leave me to my devices as it would involve my racking up the phone bill to palpitating figures — I thought about reconnecting with my beloved bloggers. After all, I have left my passion for waffling on the phone behind. The passage of time. If this were a 13-year-old me, I would have shrivelled a person who uttered such ludicrous thoughts with deep-dyed contempt and scowls.

Back to our rambles in Rome because I have a truckload of photos to unload upon hapless you, the day we drove into the city from the airport we met a cab driver who lives in a small village near Rome. This large and drawling Italian, born in Rome with an invigorating love for the city, rattled out figures. For example, the dimensions of the Circus Maximus, the former stadium of ancient Rome that now looks like a serene and long vat of green and which 2,700 years ago could hold a 40,000-strong crowd to gawp at chariot races. Our mobile cache of facts was amusing and charming. It was a long conversation about the state of the world, his teenage daughter who has grown out of clinging to her dad for everything, her quest for learning Arabic, his experiences in Afghanistan when he served in the army, their move to the suburbs of Rome, his nonna who makes the best bruschetta for early evening snacks,… but the tip that we picked up was — climb the Altare della Patria that stands at the cobbled crossroads of the Piazza Venezia.

For if you take the combination of stairs and elevator to the top of the boxy monument in white marble built for Victor Emmanuel II (the first king of a unified Italy), you get a breathtaking view of the city. We stood on top of the monument for a long time beneath stellar blue skies and a caressing winter sun, watching people photograph sizeable (could be the pizza and pasta diet) preening Italian gulls with the Colosseum as a dramatic backdrop, photographed them ourselves, and then later retraced our steps to the Roman Forum where I remember jostling with crowds in the summer of 2016.

The road to the largest amphitheatre ever built in this world of ours is in Rome, as you well know. Yes, the Colosseum, and that thoroughfare is flanked by historic columns and arches, basilicas and ruins of former government buildings that must have held sway over ancient Rome. We walked below the many stone pines with their umbrella tops, past tall poplars standing like spare soldiers, sauntered past temples to various goddesses, peered at worn doorways above which murals faded away as if they could not be bothered to defy the ravages of time.

Via del Teatro di Marcello
Via del Teatro di Marcello
Campidoglio
Cordonata, the flight of steps to Campidoglio, Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of ancient Rome. In the backdrop of the piazza designed by Michaelangelo is Palazzo Senatorio.
Statue of Castor at Cordonata
Stone pines on Via dei Fori Imperiali

Monument of Victor Emmanuel II
Elevator to Terrace of the Quadrighe, atop the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II.
Inside the Monument of Victor Emmanuel II

A survey of the Roman Fora and Colosseum
Quadriga (chariot) at Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II
Stone-pine hedged roads of Rome
Via del Teatro di Marcello
Rooftops of Rome

Teatro di Marcello. Theatre of Marcellus.
The oldest surviving theatre from the 11B.C. It is dedicated to Marcus Claudius Marcellus, a young lad, and most importantly, nephew of Emperor Augustus. The boy died five years before it was finished – at the age of 19.
The crowds have melted away from the Colosseum 

Roman Forum
Basilicas of Rome
Soap bubble magicians
Trevi Fountain

A vine-clad palazzo

Waiting for the owner to emerge from the coffeeshop on a frigid and dull day
Inside one of the many palazzi in Rome
The festive spirit of the city

Night Streets of Rome

It was the morning of Christmas eve when I wrote this but life right now is caught in a tornado of socialising in Delhi where the days are pleasant and the sun is ripe with mellow beauty. The skies are blue and I am getting a few sunrises into my kitty as I head out for early morning runs with the cool wind in my hair. Here I feel the need for four stomachs as I did in Rome (as I always do) for my mother-in-law has been rustling up feasts every day for meals at home, you see. Time at hand is a bit tight so I thought I would share some clips of the night lights of Rome. The Christmas spirit there is all over the city and quietly cemented by the elegance of its ancient Corinthian columns, the cupolas and domes and clock towers.

We drank plenty of wine, munched on bruschetta, pizza, cacio e pepe and aglio e olio pastas, walked arm-in-arm down the streets so softly lit, the old buildings casting half shadows, the occasional pair of lovers around the corner caught in a passionate embrace, men zipping down the cobbled streets of the alleys on Vespas with alarming speed and recklessness, the Carabinieri posted everywhere with their rifles and enough male beauty to make you go ooh. We sat with a fashion designer friend of mine and her half-Italian prince, drank into the night with stories of faraway places and times, and it felt heady, all those stories with sips of prosecco.

An Italian artist from Florence possibly got Rome in a heartbeat when he noted sometime in the 14th century that it is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning. Because that is what it does for us, produce the yearning to walk its cobbled streets for a long, long time till you want to walk it no more. But how can that even be?

On that note of wistfulness, I wish you all a wonderful Christmas with plenty of mulled wine and Christmas cake and roasts, and I also raise a glass of wine, a deep ruby, to you from my end.

Christmas tree on Spanish Steps
Us
Spanish Steps
Piazza di Spagna
Festive shop windows

Blessed Virgin Mary stands atop the Column of the Immaculate Conception

Carousel on Piazza Navona

Piazza di Trevi
Trevi Fountain

Rubino, the Maremma sheepdog
Pepperoni pizza
Bruschetta
Chocolate cake

Man plays with fire on Piazza Navona
Operatic singer at the Temple of Hadrian
Corinthian columns of The Temple of Hadrian
Off the Ponte Sant’Angelo
Castel Sant’Angelo

The Rome Diaries

We are back in Rome. Soporific Rome with her unbearable beauty that squeezes my heart with barely contained pleasure, ancient temples and theaters lurking around every corner. It is 4.30 in the morning and I am wide awake because I am just so and Adi is patting me to go back to sleep but I feel like pouring my heart out for it is brimming. From arriving in a boutique hotel in the old quarters of the city where Pope Julius II had wanted his architect Donato Bramante, the Renaissance master, to design the Palazzo dei Tribunali, the city’s justice system. It was an incomplete mission. The stone seats of the unfinished courthouse remain as a quiet reminder of the gap between aspiration and attainment. Every master must have a few tucked into his kitty of achievements.

We walked around in the evening after an afternoon spent drinking Champagne with tuna and cream cheese canapes. The hotel surprised us, throwing in a couple of flaky pastries, their hearts filled with apple and cinnamon, some profiteroles and chocolates, because it was in lieu of the six years we have been married. Eight years made up of frustrating, quiet, joyous, unsettling and delirious moments. For life is such a wonderful concoction of the drama and the dull. One cannot exist without the other and really it would be tedious with only the highs to ride. There are nudges of mortality from time to time with close relatives shedding their mortal lives behind, reminding us that ‘time’s winged chariot’ is ‘hurrying near’, undeniable and as tangible as this plush hotel bed I find myself in.

The neighbourhood around us is networked by medieval alleys aged by the stories of the giubbonari (jacket-makers) who worked in one, the calderari (coppersmiths) in another narrow cobbled one, the baullari (trunk-makers), the cappellari (hat-makers) and so on. You get the drift. The many workers who served the wealthy who lived in the palazzi in the area. At the end of our street lived Raphael once. I doubt the streets have changed much, the faded pastel houses and shuttered windows silent witnesses to the life stories of generations unfolding within.

At an intimate osteria we stopped for a spot of dinner. Fine, rich Merlot fished off the high shelves of the establishment by its owner with a bottle grabber and presented with a flourish to go with the carciofi alla romana which is stewed artichoke beloved of the ancient Romans, grilled seafood, creamy pasta and succulent chicken cooked in sweet Port, his craggy face wreathed with smiles as we thanked him for giving us a table meant for four. He had turned away customers even though we were about to finish up and he said, “No hurry, okay? Food is to be enjoyed. You walked in, I liked you both and I wanted you to relax.” A small place filled up with his relatives, their large families divided between the old and young tables.

Simple flavours married together with a dexterous touch. Italian food in an osteria tucked into the quiet alleys of Rome with its unassuming charm and modest menu, a beaming owner keeping an eye on his diners, dropping by to chat in bits,…then pressing our noses to windows of antique shops, armed with giant cones of gelato and swinging by that great Baroque masterpiece of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi at Piazza Navona, fingers freezing and nose tingling with the sudden icy winds that swept through the empty square. A few locals walked through the cobbled square. The crowds of summer have melted away. Vine-clad walls of townhouses towered above us in the alleys, festooned by canopies of fairy lights, as we passed in the shadows of the chiesas and returned to our hotel room to fall into bed with jasmine tea and exhaustion.

Carciofi alla Romana (stewed artichokes as the old Romans liked it)
Grilled seafood
Cacio e pepe

At Piazza Navona
Piazza Navona
Bernini’s fontana