Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Roman night out

The Saturday night we climbed the Janiculum hill was one of the most memorable during our Italian fortnight so I hope you don’t mind my returning to it one more time. There were the views of course, the best in town if you ask me (more of those here), and the lovely avenue and park that are even more charming thanks to their being never crowded (more on them here). There was also a bit of a happening taking place at the Piazzale Giuseppe Garibaldi the night we were there. 

A dozen or so VW camper vans were parked on the square with anticipation in the air. At sunset, they started the engines and drove away in a queue hooting their melodic horns. He had recently read about Volkswagen’s decision to close down the last minibus factory in Brazil this December. We were thinking the rally might be somehow related to the discontinuation of the legendary van, the longest-running model in automotive history. I had to shoot a short video of them leaving the square.

On our way up, we had decided to dine somewhere at the foot of the hill in Trastevere  upon our return. A place at the far end of Via di San Cosimato attracted us somehow despite its total contradiction to the two criteria by which I generally start choosing, that is eliminating, restaurants: the indoor lighting was very bright (too unromantic) and the outdoor chairs were of plastic (too uncomfortable). However, the locals-to-tourists ratio of the clientele was just right: one young Russian couple on the terrace and several local groups indoors. The old gentleman sitting by the side door observing the passers-by – a former owner or waiter perhaps – added such a cozy and inviting feel we were instantly convinced.

The dinner we had at Capo de Fero was one of the most delicious and the service certainly the best during our two weeks in Italy. A generous plate of mouth-watering antipasti misti to share for starters, saltimbocca alla romana as the main course – definitely more tasty than the ones I’ve prepared (I’ve never had Marsala wine and I just realized I haven’t recently remembered to use any other kind of white wine instead either) –  with some insalata mista on the side, and finally a piece of tarta di cioccolato and tarta della nonna with a tiny cup of caffè to flush the last sweet crumbs down with.

This was a perfect night to prove that my basic benchmarks for choosing a restaurant are trivial if not even ridiculous but you’ve got to start combing out somewhere I suppose. A truly appealing place will stand out in any case no matter how prepared you were to reject it. Next time we might want to try the democratic rigatoni pasta Capo de Fero so visibly advertises on their sunshade.

When we arrived at the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere – ‘our piazza’ as we had an apartment just around the corner on our first stay in Rome – I noticed the door to the basilica was open. I couldn’t help stepping in and joining the last few minutes of the evening mass. It seemed a number of fellow travellers had done the same: the church was full of people many on their feet silently moving at the back.

For someone with a Lutheran background it is always a pleasure to witness how free and easy the Italians take their faith. As soon as the last verses of the mass have vanished in the air, everyone begins to talk and a noise like at the noisiest of cocktail parties will burst out. That could never happen with us. Compared with the almost oppressing silent solemnity in our churches, I find it delightful and uplifting to see that faith can be a joyful, natural thing you don’t have to impose on anyone, a good habit, a tradition to foster if you like. In our part of the world, faith is taken so seriously only serious believers go to church these days, which equals practically no one but the few leaning more or less towards the narrow-minded side I’m afraid.

After mass, a similar kind of noise was humming at the piazza where several hundred people were spending their Saturday night out, enjoying the warm evening, the street performers and each other’s company under the dark Roman sky. Despite all that, ‘seniors’ as we are, we were soon ready to stroll back to the other side of  the Tevere, the Tiber, and our neighbourhood the Ghetto.

Just a final look at Piazza Mattei to check how Taddeo Landini ’s boys from the 1580s were doing with the turtles that were added to the fountain in the 1650s presumably by the baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini. No thefts to report since 1981. Surveillance cameras have replaced street patrolling since then and copies have replaced the remaining original turtles.

Our apartment, again booked directly from the owner through homelidays.com, was one building away from the piazza and one floor up through a narrow spiral staircase with an entrance of our own from street level. That must have been the servants’ way in once.

Not a bad night, not a bad setting, don’t you think?


  1. Feels az if we'd been there with you. The van parade is really a lucky coincidence and the video next to professional.

    1. You will one day, I hope. My point-and-shoot camera does have rather good video qualities.