Postcard from Rome

The memories of it all fit in a small ball

By Sam Allis
Globe Staff / November 28, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

My wife, Barbara, and I recently spent 10 days in Rome. We never left the city. We had planned to take a couple of day trips, maybe Orvieto or Castel Gandolfo, but we ran out of time. A friend asked me what we did that kept us so busy. I scratched my head and replied, “Not much.’’

I had seen a great deal of Rome during the years I lived there, and Barbara has picked up a lot during our subsequent visits, so we never dreamed of joining the tourist circus. Trevi Fountain? Give me Fontana delle Tartarughe, the Fountain of the Turtles.

We built our days around eating and walking, and mandatory afternoon naps. We caught the odd Caravaggio in a church we had missed. There were papers to read after breakfast and time to idle at Doney, the storied cafe on the Via Veneto that harks back to the days when starlets and playboys cavorted there.

I would get up early and walk old Rome before it got crazy: the maze of medieval streets and alleys, often dripping in ivy, between the Piazza Navona and the Tiber; the sublime Giardino degli Aranci, the Orange Garden, on the Aventine.

I avoided all of what I call the churches of wretched excess — Rome’s four great papal basilicas: St. Peter’s; Santa Maria Maggiore, where Pope John Paul II named Cardinal Bernard Law archpriest; St. John Lateran, home church of the pope in his capacity as the bishop or Rome; and St. Paul Outside the Walls. Every time I walk into the opulence of St. Peter’s I ask myself, what would Jesus think?

Eat early and often in Rome. When doing so, it’s always fascinating to watch how couples handle each other’s food when they eat out. Some lovingly offer bites to the other. This falls under the rubric “if you’re happy, I’m happy.’’

But there’s also the surprise surgical strike for osso buco from one plate to the other that triggers marital strife: “I can’t believe you did that! It’s not funny anymore!’’

Wouldn’t it be great if we could taste each other’s food without risking mayhem? There is a way. We found it at a sophisticated, nosebleed-priced restaurant across the Tiber, above the Janiculum, called Antico Arco. (Piazzale Aurelio 7; www.anticoarco .it; 011-39-06-581-5274.)

When our main dishes arrived, each came with a small tasting bowl holding a morsel of what the other was having. We first stared at the bowls, then at each other, and back at the bowls again. Neither of us, nor anyone we know, had ever heard of this. It is an idea whose time had come.

Sam Allis can be reached at