Ciao Bella!

Mastering Italy's Trains with Masterpass by Mastercard

Yes, that's me on the beach with my phone, and if you read through, you'll get why. . .

There are few, if any, forms of transport that I like more than trains. I love thesci-fi vibe of a maglev and the needle nose of a bullet train. Italy’s stuffy regionali (regional trians) make me just as excited Switzerland’s vintage Bernina Express carriages.  Along with trainspotting, I love the experience - from packing my bag (yes, I am an origami artist of efficiency, practicality and portability), and walking around the train station to interpreting seat etiquette and meditation to the ever-changing landscape.  For me, a rail adventure is more than just a journey to a destination and I’m lucky to live in Italy, where regional, intercity, and high speed rails crisscross to the most beautiful towns in the world.

What I’ve never enjoyed, however, has been the purchase of a train ticket. Back in the day, I used to walk into a ticket center, queueing for what seemed liked hours and often arguing about supplements (supplemental charges). When the macchinette (ticket machines) arrived at Termini, I was both ecstatic and frustrated over its simplistic tech thanks to its arbitrary credit card and change service.  The internet upgraded everything, but it also meant an increase of email in my inbox about purchasing tickets “Um, Erica, is Trenitalia’s payment down? What am I doing wrong?”

Here’s a clue: you are doing nothing wrong. Sometimes the Trenitalia payment system is finicky,  sometimes it just doesn’t work.  It’s almost like the payment system deliberately wants to derail its clients, allowing potential trips fall by the wayside.  I know, I know, it’s gotten better, and even though I have my own hack, I thought I should test another payment option: Masterpass.  Over the years buying tickets on Trenitalia, I’ve had my eye on Masterpass but always managed to lose patience in the system before I tried it.  It was about time I gave Masterpass chance.

In basic terms,  Masterpass is a free subscription, secure digital wallet.  Once signed up, payment data (i.e credit cards including Mastercard, Visa and American) and shipping information are entered, plus the necessary encryptions, and you’re logged in, ready to use it as a one-stop click-n-go payment method. I decided to test it out for next trip to Napoli.  Trains selected and voilà, Masterpass clicked.  No additional data entry, no worries. So far its the easiest option on the site.  Dare I say this is the light at the end of the tunnel for Trenitalia purchases. .  .


Disclaimer:  Mastercard Italia invited me to test out Masterpass and asked me to share my thoughts.  For a first time user, I found it easy and secure, aka the verified love child of Apple Pay, PayPal and others.  Would this be something my mom be comfortable using? Most likely not, but it is a reliable next gen payment system and I‘ll be checking out more of its in store/one click functionality.

Massimo Bottura Is On a Mission to Feed the Body and the Soul

Massimo Bottura. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

The most amazing experience you can have in a restaurant is an emotional one, according to superchef Massimo Bottura, explaining a central idea behind Food for Soul, his global socio-culinary project. Fathom contributing editor Erica Firpo learns all about it.

Food. You need it. I need it. We all need it. Preferably in a calm moment, at a clean table. A meal is the world's common denominator, a full-body experience that nourishes body, heart, mind, and community — and that's exactly what superchef Massimo Bottura and his wife and partner Lara Gilmore thought when founding Food for Soul, a non-profit with community kitchens in Milan, Rio, and London.

Food for Soul is the umbrella for the ongoing sustainability project that began with Refettorio Ambrosiano, the now-permanent community kitchen that Bottura launched as a pop-up during Expo Milan 2015. The idea was simple but profound: Take surplus food that would otherwise have been considered waste (leftovers, stale bread, overripe produce) donated by restaurants and markets; use creative and sustainable cooking techniques to prepare it in clever, unexpected, and, above all, delicious ways; and invite celebrity and chef friends to participate and collaborate — and, in the end, feed people in need who are in some way disadvantaged, bringing dignity and a sense of welcome to the table. The success of Refettorio Ambrosiano inspired Bottura to launch Reffettorio Gastromotiva in Rio during the 2016 Olympics and Refettorio Felix in London during London Food Month in June 2017. Each refettorio (Italian for "refectory" or "dining hall") is targeted to its community and what it needs, which can be as simple as a good meal or as intrinsic as a safe place where people can relax and feel human. Menus change daily, depending on the surplus food available. The celebrity chefs not only brought attention to the project but also helped the community center staff cooks learn to create inspiring menus from that surplus food. The refetterios are not open to the general public, but people can volunteer to help with the project.

"It is not a pop-up but a spark — a way to make visible the invisible," Gilmore told me. More specifically, Refettorio Felix brings "light and attention to a center that has been working for 25 years and make it better, with better cooking, better dining facilities, and our know-how about hospitality."

Refettorio Felix under construction. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

Refettorio Felix done and ready to be open. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

Refettorio Felix done and ready to be open. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

In fact, every Bottura project begins with a spark, an incendiary hankering for a taste — whether for an actual flavor or for a sense of nostalgia — that ignites a way of being, an all-encompassing combination of honed excellence, spontaneous creativity, and practicality, both in the kitchen and tableside. He infuses everything he does with a subtle Italianità, an Italian spirit instinctively inherited from generations of nonne who fervently adhere to two commandments: No food is wasted and everyone gets fed. And he relies on armies of artigiani, farmers, producers, makers, cooks, and artists who painstakingly practice perfection with every stitch. Food for Soul embodies 21st century, universal Italianità — inclusion, nutrition, and waste-not practices.

In the way that Bottura pushes the boundaries in food, Food for Soul intends to do so with a cultural focus aimed at enhancing the proverbial wheel, not re-inventing it. Doing more than serving food, it educates and puts into practice food efficiency with simple, tasty recipes, using surplus food and overripe produce that would otherwise have been discarded, while fostering a loving, welcoming atmosphere.

As in Rio, London is a team effort. Food for Soul partnered with The Felix Project, a local surplus food collection and delivery service, and St. Cuthbert's Centre, a drop-in home whose kitchen and dining area were refurbished by Studioisle with donations from Vitra, Artemide, Larusi, Lasco, and Angelo Po. Food provider giants Tesco, Whole Foods, Sainsbury, and Mash joined in to bring in food. And as in Rio and Milan, Refettorio Felix opened its doors with a stellar line-up of visiting chefs, including Brett Graham, Daniel Boulud, Jason Atherton, Michel Roux Jr., Sat Bains, and Giorgio Locatelli, who worked with the Centre's full-time chefs and volunteers, cooking with salvaged ingredients.

Massimo Bottura. Photo by Simon Owen / Red Photographic.

I sat down with Lara and Massimo to talk about Food for Soul, Refettorio Felix, and the social importance of food efficiency.

Food for Soul sounds less like a kitchen and more like a philosophy.

Massimo: Our project is a cultural project, not a charity project. We are trying to fight what people think is waste. We try to make visible the invisible. We find ways to show the world that an overripe banana, an overripe tomato, a bruised zucchini, and two-day-old bread are totally fine ingredients. The brown banana is much better than the green supermarket banana. Mexicans and Brazilians wait until the bananas are ripe to eat them. This is about culture and vision.

Being more efficient with food is very easy. You have to dedicate a little bit more time, maybe a half an hour every few days. You have to buy seasonally, the right amount — not too much, not too little — and cook for two or three days. Enjoy fresh foods, enjoy cooking, enjoy spending time in the kitchen, enjoy spending time in your home. You eat better, you save money, and you help the planet.

Lara: Guest chefs were invited from a list of friends and family. We wanted to share an idea, communicate a message, and help teach others how to work with salvaged ingredients to make healthy meals.

That sounds Italian.

Massimo: It is very Italian. Totally Italian. It is how my grandmother was raised; it's our approach to food. But you have to rebuild this kind of relationship with the butcher, the fruit seller, with everyone. When I travel, I eat where my friends are cooking for me, where they treat me like one of the family, because I know they want me there with them, to share with them. The last time I was with Daniel (Boulud), he asked me "what can I cook?" and once served me a classic duck caneton and another time fried chicken. It's about creating this kind of family experience that reminds you of your youth with simple food that touches your heart.

If you think about it, if you close your eyes into that kind of reflection, you arrive at your childhood and you start reminiscing about when your mom cooked, or even made a simple sandwich. I remember a time Lara cooked vegetables for our son Charlie. At the end of the meal, he got a piece of paper and wrote, "1+ to Mommy." It wasn't the perfect vegetable, but it was cooked by Lara. That is why the most amazing experience you can have in a restaurant is an emotional one.

Emotional elements open your heart and make you feel like a kid again. We do the same thing in London, Rio, and Milan. Even without all the "right" ingredients, we find the right combination and try to evolve tradition into something amazing. Much lighter, less expensive, and you stimulate your creativity. You eat better, even with an egg and a rind of parmesan, because it is you.

Food for Soul's mission is to fight food waste and encourage social inclusion. Has the current political climate impacted the direction of the project?

Lara: In Rio during the Olympics, the government was closing soup kitchens to keep the poor out of the city center. So we opened a soup kitchen to shed light on the problem and also provide a potential solution. In London, we think that it is very important and essential to break walls when walls are being built. Inclusion is part of the Food for Soul mission. And yes, with the political climate in USA, it is a perfect time to begin working there.

Massimo: At the moment, everyone is building walls to separate themselves from others. They believe they are much safer that way. I think we are breaking walls and including people. This project is inclusive. It's about the chefs, the community — the word is share. We are sharing ideas, sharing decisions, sharing dreams, sharing the future.

The project is heading to the United States. How can people get involved?

Lara: We received a Rockefeller Foundation grant specifically to expand Food for Soul into the United States with the goal of opening Refettorio projects in the next two years. We are in the planning stages, finding the right partners, for the Bronx and scoping out other potential cities like Baltimore, Detroit, Denver, New Orleans, Oakland, and Seattle.

Massimo: You have a sense of responsibility once you achieve everything in life to give back. We should do it, everybody should. If you want to do it, you can. If you don't, don't. We need more people involved. We don't need another soup kitchen, but we need people and places to build a better community. We need more places that break walls and help rebuild dignity.

London was the right moment, and now that we have done that, we want to do the unexpected in the United States. In my dream, Detroit, New Orleans, even the Bronx. It could be very interesting in Los Angeles. At a university. A campus could be incredible because the volunteers would be students. If we did in Rio, we can do it everywhere.

This article first appeared in Fathom in July 2017.

Peroni, Italy and me, an interview

When Peroni asked me to share my favorite spots in Rome and Italy, along with a few photos, of course I said yes.  What happened next was an interview feature on PeroniItaly.

As part our Grazie series we’re taking a closer look at the most exciting artists, designers, chefs and creatives inspired by Italian style. If you’re looking for an expert on the best places to explore, relax and eat in Italy, you can’t do better than Erica Firpo. A travel journalist with a difference, Erica uses beautiful images (often shared on her popular Instagram page) as much as she uses inspiring words to share her experiences at some of Italy’s most gorgeous locations and unique hidden gems. We caught up with Erica to talk about her love of museums, her favourite spots in Rome and the ingredients for the ultimate Italian summer.

 

Hi Erica. Can you tell us a little about you and what you do?

I’d love to: I am a bit of a mosaic- a travel journalist and digital storyteller, creating stories through photos, video and words across platforms including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, I create and contribute to campaigns, and teach and consult on digital storytelling.  I share the broad facets of my work on ericafirpo.com, and I've recently launched ciaobella.co, an Italy lifestyle/travel website.

How did you become a travel journalist?

Thanks to a little nudge from my former editor Christopher Winner, I went from writing art reviews and critique to travel writing – starting out as a columnist covering Pet Travel for Winner’s monthly The American, and leading to contributing writer, editor and author roles for publications including Fodor’s, Insight Guides, The Telegraph, the Guardian, Luxe City Rome and more.

 

You take beautiful photographs to share your travel experiences. How important do you think it is to tell stories through images as well as words?

Thank you! I love taking photos and I love telling stories in as many ways as possible. For me, images are extremely important to my story-telling process.  Through them, I can draw the viewer into the space, giving a sense of atmosphere, a timely glimpse or a behind-the-scenes idea, and offer more insight into the story. The ultimate goal is that the viewer has the chance to experience and interpret the scene as they want.

You were previously BBC Travel’s Voice of Rome. Can you tell us about your favourite places in Rome?

Ah, there are so many favorite places! I am crazy for carbonara, but only go to two places: Pipero and Trattoria Da Danilo. I also have a very sweet to tooth so I have a line-up of spots. In the mornings I get my latte macchiato and a pastry from Caffe Roscioli (they make pastries daily and always feature some near-extinct Roman recipes), and I go to Caffe Ciampini for hot chocolate in the winter, spritz in the afternoons and wild cherry gelato whenever it is available. I’ll go to the ends of the earth – in this case, the city – for good pizza and love Sforno near Cinencittà. Closer to home I’ll get my favorite napoletana at Pizzeria ai Marmi in Trastevere.

When it comes to exploring, I’ll take on the entire city any day of the week – and preferably underground. Lucky for me my husband, Darius Arya, is an archaeologist who prefers subterraneans more than anything else. If I’m relaxing outdoors, it’s Villa Borghese, a vast green park in the city centre, where I can take a little boat ride, bicycle, roller skate, or just chill out on the grass. It also happens to be home to a few great museums like Galleria Borghese (Carvaggio and Bernini!) and Museo Pietro Canonica (a wacky little spot), and nearby Etruscan museum Villa Giulia and La Galleria Nazionale - my favorite place in all of Rome to relax, with its incredible modern and contemporary collection.

 

What makes the perfect Italian summer escape?

The perfect Italian summer escape is anywhere by the water, with an ombrellone (big beach umbrella) and a beach-side restaurant with frittura di paranza (fried fish) and spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) on the menu. And it’s even better if there is a little bit of history and art.  My favorite summer getaway is always Sicily – in particular Ortigia, a small attached island in the south built on the ancient Font of Arethusa, with temples, duomo and a Caravaggio. Closer to home, I love Sperlonga, where there is an incredible seaside archaeological museum. I also love Terracina, the seaside town and ancient hilltop where the via Appia Antica passes, and of course the somewhat secret Argentario beaches in Tuscany.

You also encourage people to visit lesser-known museums and galleries through your #EmptyMuseo project. What inspired you to start this and why do you think museums are so important?

Museums, archaeological sites and cultural spaces have always been my home away from home. When I need a getaway, I can just walk out of the door because Rome has art everywhere, with every era and every genre represented. And so does the rest of Italy. Unfortunately, many incredible museums and sites don't get much visibility, as more popular museums (like Uffizi and Musei Vaticani) are bucket list must-sees. I want to change that, or at least make a little dent, by bringing Italy's museums to small screens. For me, any opportunity to bring people inside an Italian museum, gallery or cultural site is an opportunity to inspire dialogue that spreads outside of the museum and inspires visitors to come back inside. You can learn more about my Empties here.

 

What do think makes Italy, and the Italian way of life, so special?

Thanks to an enviable location in the Mediterranean, microclimates and microcultures, the inventiveness of ancient Rome and centuries of patrons, Italy has the best of everything. We have food, culture, cars, sports and nature, but most of all Italy has personality, or better yet, distinct, charming and utterly humorous personalities. Each town and neighborhood is unique unto itself, and Italians take a lot of pride in where they come from- be it Rome, Modena, Nicolosi, or Napoli. This combination of factors is what makes Italy so special.

On the hunt for OneMoreDish in Rome

Finding the very best dish in Rome is a Sisyphean task. Seriously.  Roman food is well represented, and rightfully so - old school, new style, street food, Michelin - all over the city, and lately, there is always something new popping up so searching for "the best" is an endless journey.  A great restaurant in Rome is an always-changing sum of mood, weather, ambition, expectations, patience, hankering, quality, location, ambience and a few more inexplicables that are relevant often only in that particular moment.  With that in mind, I don't look for the Best, I'm looking for an experience and a surprise, like the perfect plate of puntarelle, a surprise sanguinella (blood orange) gelato or a satisfying sandwich, exactly why I jumped to the task when Alexandra Romanoff of OneMoreDish asked me to create a food itinerary for day trip to Rome.

Full Disclosure:  Alexandra is an old friend.  We've been eating together since she lived in Rome a few years back where I quickly understood her vibe on food- a dedication to experiencing as much as possible.  She's a flyweight with the voracity of a T-Rex, and the more I hang out with her, the more I come to think of her a gastronomic John Anderton/Minority Report, envisioning dishes, snacks, restaurants, and that one more dish days before the table is set.  And Alexandra is OneMoreDish, a fabulous and intrepid food-centric Instagram profile that has been featured in ExtraCrispy, TastingTable, MeatPacking District,  Cosmopolitan, Buzzfeed, Maxim, amnewyork, Refinery29 and more.  For her upcoming visit, I lined up favorite food groups - pizza, pasta, panini and gelato for a day out in Rome.

8 hours, 8 spots

Since Alexandra's flight arrived four hours late and she only had eyes for eating as much as possible, I focused on efficiency.  Conveniently for us, my backyard at Campo de' Fiori is the perfect place to start any food quest, a central HQ to walk to all corners of Aurelian's Rome.  And walk we did, our journey took us to stand-up and sit-down spots in Campo, Trevi, Trastevere and Testaccio, and back,  each no more than a 30-minute light strut from my home base.  Grouped by food genre (so you can pick and choose whatever your fancy), here's where, why and what we ate:

PIZZA

Stop No. 4 La Renella Our fourth stop of the day turned out to be a serendipitous blast from the past.  Long ago, when I lived in the neighborhood, I ate a slice of pizza al taglio from Renella everyday, vowing it was the best.  And then I moved out and moved on to other forni and panifici, forgetting about my beloved Renella.  Thanks to Alexandra insisting we short cut through Trastevere's Piazza Trilussa, I found myself walking up via del Moro and enveloped in that mesmerizing freshly baked pizza aroma.  My recall kicked in and Renella became our surprise stop: a slice of pizza rossa (light tomato sauce) with roasted peppers, a smattering of parsley and flakes of fior di latte cheese, which we took to go, enjoying it as we crossed Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Location:  Trastevere

Stop No. 3 Baffetto 2  For our third stop, following gelato and a bowl of pasta, we knew we wanted something light, easy and near - pizza romana at Baffetto 2.  With so much talk about "the best pizza" in Rome and flour this and that, I've lost track and stick with old faithful Baffetto 2, a no-frills neighborhood pizzeria. We've known the pizzaiolo for a few years and he knows so we like our pizzas extra thin and crispy, so we are never disappointed.  And it constantly stands up to the Bellardini Test, a centuries-old method of assessing dough quality and consistency by holding out a slice out horizontal to see how well and long its holds out [tried and true pefected by Ettore Bellardini of Antiqua Tours ]. Our choice for the quest was an extra crispy pizza bianca (white pizza- cheese with no tomato sauce) and fiori di zucca, zucchini followers with no anchovies (Alexandra's preference, not mine).

Location:  Campo de' Fiori.

Pizza al taglio, by the slice, at La Renella in Trastevere. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/OneMoreDish

Pizza romana, at Baffetto 2 in Campo de' Fiori. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/OneMoreDish

PASTA

Stop No. 2 Roscioli Everybody loves Roscioli.  Over the years, it has become the Name in the Rome food scene and one of those not-to-miss salumeria.  Its popularity means you have to book in advance, and in the summer time, that usually means a week or more ahead of time, or fall in line with the pedestrian-traffic-stopping queue on via dei Giubbonari.   And with good reason: the pastas are to die for.  Since it was our second stop of the day (and we had to book a seat at Roscioli's nextdoor caffe), we decided to order light, choosing caciopepe instead of its award-winning carbonara.  For those who have not yet tasted caciopepe, it is the ideal comfort food of pepper, cheese and pasta and Roscioli does it to perfection-  freshly cracked black and red pepper, piquant pecorino and fresh pasta.

Location:  Campo de' Fiori

Stop No. 7Pipero You knew this was going to be on the list, and I deliberately put this further down in the line up following our walk home from Testaccio. Alexandra needed to eat carbonara and, at this point, the only person who I will swear by for my favorite dish is Chef Luciano Monosilio of Pipero. Luciano is a rockstar and magician.  His carbonara is perfectly balanced with pecorino and parmigiano cheese, egg yellows, and guanciale smoked and grilled separately. And Pipero the restaurant is like no other- gorgeous, high ceiling space with Flos lamps and design chairs. What I love best are the tables spaced just enough apart from each other that you can't accidentally eavesdrop, and I feel like the carbonara is all mine.

Location:  Campo de' Fiori/Chiesa Nuova

Stop No 8 Al Moro Okay, I lied.  I also love spaghetti al moro, a piquant twist on carbonara that makes me think of yesteryear dinners with my great aunts, and Jonathan Gold, the LA Times food critic who once dined at Al Moro for 10 days in a row.  I deliberately listed Al Moro as our last stop, leaving our one more dish up to chance and assuming it would be the zabaglione with melted dark chocolate.  I was wrong.  Happenstance would place a dish of ovoli, those seasonal, crimson-lined mushrooms that Julius Caesar loved, served thinly sliced with shards of grovière, on our table.

Location:  Trevi

Caciopepe from Roscioli Salumeria by Campo de' Fiori. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/OneMoreDish.

Carbonara at Pipero by Campo de' Fiori. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/Onemoredish.

Ovuli from Al Moro by Trevi.

PANINI

Stop No. 6 Volpetti One of the reasons I love that Alexandra is because we share an obsession for customizing the day's sandwich, so I knew that one of our stops would have to be an alimentari/ salumeria (delicatessen).  Every Roman and New Yorker has at least one favorite alimentari in her rolodex, and in Rome, it's usually sottocasa, located just below the house or within close walking distance.  During the time that Alessandra lived in Rome,  her sandwich was Volpetti, a historic salumeria which ranks pretty high on my list though it's a slight hike out of my comfort zone since I'm within a five minute walk to both Ruggeri and Roscioli.   I figured a Volpetti sandwich designed by Alexandra was worth the walk to Testaccio.  Her creation: prosciutto crudo, mozzarella and artichokes picked in olive oil with a dash of balsamic vinegar on pizza bread.

Location: Testaccio

Panino from Volpetti in Testaccio.

GELATO

Stop No. 1 Corona,   Alexandra's plane was so late it was past lunch time by the time she arrived at my house, but even with the delay we still had to wait before getting our seat at Roscioli, so our first stop was Corona, my quiet local gelateria that never fails me.  With each season and with each of the owner's whims, there are new and unique flavors, along with the old staples like stracciatella and cioccolato al latte.  Our choice was a triple scoop of lamponi banane (raspberry banana), cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate) and sesamo (sesame), a bizarre and extraordinarily satisfying combination.  For those looking for flavors, Corona is a simple gelateria with limited flavors, each perfect.

Location:  Largo Argentina

Stop No. 5 Fatamorgana is one of those gelateria that has about a billion artisanal flavors, which means for my out-of-focus eyes, I have a hard time and just opt for any variation of dark chocolate.  Last time, I had the wasabi cioccolato, this time, I was following a pizza and pasta binge with Alexandra so we kept to plain chocolate.   In my opinion, Fatamorgana is the place to come if you want to taste variety and unique flavors (hello, peanut!), but the chocolates are too creamy for me.

Location:  Trastevere

Three scoops at Corona in Largo Argentina.

A cone from Fatamorgana in Trastevere. Photo by Alexandra Romanoff/Onemoredish.

 

- by Erica Firpo.  Want to know more about who I am and what I do?  Check out my website ericafirpo.com.  And then click over to Twitter and Instagram  for your Rome and Italy fix. . .

Cannes, from red to black and white

Cannes.  Simply saying the word conjures up the color red, a gorgeous and vibrant crimson sparkling with glitterati and paparazzi.  I'm talking about the red carpet at the Festival de Cannes, the nearly two-week long film festival where celebrities strike poses and poseurs try their best to become celebrities.  Walking the red carpet at Cannes is more than an experience, it is one of the Bucket List Bests, falling in rank with The Met Gala, the Oscars and the Venice Film Festival, where everyone is looking at everyone else, or better yet - what they are wearing.

Flattered by the invitation from San Pellegrino, I quickly thought "I've got this".  Remember, in my past life living in Los Angeles, I talked the talk and walked the walk on few red carpets including from limited release films like Evelyn to blockbusters like Die Another Day.  And in most of my walks, I took a nonchalant glam attitude since I had a bit of experience beingfront and slightly off-center as guest and personal assistant to an A+ actor.  Of course, I thought I knew it all for my walk down Promenade de la Croisette.  

The Festival de Cannes is nothing like Hollywood.  It's a busy French beach town when not festival season [vaguely reminiscent of Atlantic City], and when the Festival is on, well, it's an all day/ all night scene.  My hotel JW Marriott was beach-front la Croisette, in other words, prime real estate for celebrity sightings.  Upon arriving, I bumped into director Paolo Sorrentino and later Roman Polanski in the elevators.  One night, I popped a few bottles of Franciacorta with Italian super chefs Gualtiero Marchesi, Carlo Cracco, Davide Oldani and Andrea Berton, and the next day, I literally felt into Robert Pattison when heading out of the hotel to lunch at Nespresso's sur la plage pop-up.  Illustrator and beauty blogger Stephanie Rousseau brought me into the Chanel Suite at the historic Hotel Barrière for a little touch up, where we chatted with Ekaterina Samsonov, having no clue that we were about to see her on the big screen later that evening. 

I know you're thinking what I was thinking.  What was I wearing? Thanks to San Pellegrino, I had not one but two struts down those famous red threads- Friday's intimate evening screening of The Great Italian, a one-hour long docu-film about Chef Marchesi, and then Saturday's closing screening for You Were Never Really Here directed by Lynne Ramsay, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Samsonov, later winner of Best Screenplay and Best Actor.  I was nervous and had no idea, so I put myself in the hands and eye stylist Simona Scaloni of Nice To Dress You who picked out not one but two Le Petite Robe by Chiara Boni, a duo of fabulous, formfitting and distinct dresses- fun and frilly one-shoulder peach number, and elegant black column.  Perfect.

Even with Friday's screening as practice, a professional make up session and a gorgeous dress, I was not ready for Saturday's red carpet walk.  Cannes streets were flooded with thousands of incredibly-dressed people who wanted to know who we were just as much as we did too.  As we headed to the entry area, we were bombarded with faux paparazzi offering to take photos (at a price) and crazily-dressed Cannes fans asking for a ticket or two.  Stephanie, I and fashion writer Sophie Fontanel entered the cordoned-off red carpet just as there was a surge - thousands of clicks and strobing flashing, and that's when I realized that I had absolutely no idea what was about to happen.  Escorts nudged us forward as photographers stopped us and people pulled at us to see who were were. The entire walk probably took under three minutes but time stood still for at least two of them, especially that last minute when Joaquin Phoenix made his appearance and the carpet stopped.  We flowed upstream to our balcony seats, and shortly upon Phoenix entered the theatre, driving the audience wild. The lights dimmed, a hush took over the hall and we knew the show was about to begin. But then again, it had already started. . .

Would I go back to the Festival de Cannes? Yes. But I'd wear more color, more flair, and bigger hair.  If you're looking to top off your bucket list, a red carpet walk should be penciled in. Here's a black-and-white glimpse at a weekend in the red . . .

IMG_0090.JPG

#Girlisthenewtime, a women-only Empty event at La Galleria Nazionale for Museum Week

Girls, girls, girls....  What happens when a gang of girls hang out at in an empty art gallery?  That's the question we threw out for Museum Week 2017 at La Galleria Nazionale, in a collaboration instameet #GirlisTheNewTime with myself and GirlsInMuseums.  We brought together approximately 16 women whose single prerequisite was passion for the arts and giving them full reign of the museum including Conversation Piece (the latest exhibition) and behind-the-scenes of Body to Body, a capsule show focusing on 15 female artists' perspective on feminism.  

What is the purpose of the Empty, you may ask? For me, any opportunity to bring people inside an Italian museum, gallery or cultural site is an opportunity to inspire dialog that spreads outside of the museum and inspires visitors to come back inside.  Italy has an incredible wealth of cultural sites, but many get an unwarranted wallflower as more popular museums (hey, Uffizi and Musei Vaticani) are bucket list must sees.  I am to change that, or at least make a little dent by bringing Italy's museums to your small screens.

As a participant, I tend to take a roll of art voyeur and I've noticed in my photos that art work takes center stage and the viewer is simply a supporting role.  It makes sense, I love art. (And, Yes, I will lurk for what seems like hours by a favorite painting or sculpture, waiting to catch the right moment).  For #GirlIsTheNewTime, I set out to be, well, decisive and take individual (or small group portraits) of each participant where I would capture the vibe of each woman, and let art work - whether partially in frame or out - be a cultural background.  I wanted to force dialog between myself and each participant, a technique I've honed over the years of being extremely shy.

A week dedicated to women and museums is not enough.  Nor are Emptys, but I do think continuing the dialog on the importance of women in the arts is fundamental, and even more so, the dialog about the female communication.  Do I think that the dialog that women have with art is any different from that of a man? I couldn't tell you, I am so XX, but I do think the dialog among women is complicated.

Scroll down, catch up on all the scenes from #GirlIsTheNewTime in Instagram and in my VSCO journal.  Thank you to all the participants who patiently allowed me to push them around the galleries in search of a great vibe.

Wanna join us? For more info, here's where and how I started in 2014 and how it has spread from La Galleria Nazionale to Milan's La Triennale and GAM, back to Rome and the Vatican. Email me at erica@ericafirpo.com

Rome’s Stylish New Lineup Of Tailored Suites

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it seems as if almost overnight, the city has blossomed with luxury private suites located in historic palazzi and renovated townhouses that all celebrate the art of elegance with made-to-measure experiences and artisan design.

From midcentury to modern, here is our runway of Rome’s top tailored suites:

Villa Spalletti Trivelli
The grande dame of Rome’s luxury suites, Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Villa Spalletti Trivelli may have been one of the first to take residence in the Eternal City. A private villa in the middle of the urban sprawl, Villa Spalletti enjoys its own garden, subterranean spa and annex apartments along with 11 first-floor suites.

Whereas the trend in high-end suites has been an homage to modern and contemporary Italian design, Villa Spalletti celebrates centuries past with rich fabrics, Titian-hued walls and artworks that are officially listed as Italy’s cultural heritage sites.

Portrait Rome — Lungaro Collection
Sitting on the most coveted corner on Rome’s via dei Condotti, a street lined with every luxury shop imaginable (including Prada, Bulgari, Cartier, Hermès and Céline), the discreet palazzo is the Ferragamo family’s pied-à-terre luxury hotel, Portrait Rome. The 14-room, Five-Star property is a celebration of the Ferragamo lifestyle and Italian artistry, from its custom furniture to vinyl record selection.

A 24-hour lifestyle and guest assistant team is a six-person group made up of multilingual twenty-somethings who curate Portrait’s 20-plus interactive menus, available on iPads for all guests. But the standout here is the rooftop terrace, which puts Rome literally at your feet.

GKK Roma
In the eye of the storm at the center of Rome, the seven-room GKK Roma is an enclave of chic. Around the corner from the monumental Piazza Augusto Imperatore, the two-level townhouse is a step into the 21st century. A superbly decorated lounge and reception area sets the vibe with a balance of contemporary furniture, luxury fabrics and black-and-white artistic prints.

Rooms follow suit with the same stylish aesthetic, though each focuses on a unique theme. The Private Movie Suite, for example, features a 65-inch 3-D screen television with a Dolby surround audio system, a wide selection of movies and its own casting couch, while the Grand Suite Spa takes up a spacious corner with a sitting room, bedroom and marble-lined Jacuzzi spa room.

The H’All
When chef Riccardo di Giacinto and Ramona Anello decided to relocate All’Oro, their critically acclaimed restaurant, they realized they wanted an all-encompassing luxury culinary experience. The duo upgraded a turn-of-the-century villa into The H’All, where wake-up calls include gourmet breakfasts and nightcaps feature fabulous tasting menus.

The 14 rooms and suites are minimalist luxe with white walls, parquet floors, platform beds and gorgeous lamps, while contemporary art pieces (a monthly rotated collection provided by a local gallery) add a pinch of spice to the hallways and rooms.

Palazzo Scanderbeg
For the white-glove treatment, try Palazzo Scanderbeg. The 16th-century palazzo has the privilege of being a stone’s throw from the Trevi Fountain, yet hidden from chaos on a quiet side street.

The historic townhouse feels like a home, a luxury abode with security detail, 24-hour reception and a Renaissance-inspired entrance room bedecked by Italy’s best interior designers. Poltrona Frau chaises, Capellini divan sofas, modern Persian carpets and contemporary artwork adorn each of the 11 luminous and large rooms. The best detail can be found in the Master Suites: full-time butler service.

Fendi Private Suites
Unveiled in 2016, Fendi Private Suites is one of the most fashionable addresses in the city. The seven luxury suites are on third and fourth levels of Fendi’s flagship, a palazzo in the center of Rome.

It’s full fashion immersion from the get-go: framed Fendi design and fur samples mix with museum-worthy art, and the right-off-the-runway concierge team will tell you “everything is possible,” from in-house personal training sessions and makeup artists to private dinners and exclusive tour experiences.

Accommodations are on the smaller side, except for the suites, and are essentially showrooms of Fendi Casa interiors set to rich, neutral colors; crisp lines; hardwood floors; and Karl Lagerfeld’s black-and-white photos of Rome’s iconic fountains.

This article was first published in Forbes Travel, June 2017.