Ciao Bella!

#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.

My 5 Tips to Surviving a Sweltering Summer in Rome

It's 8am, the sun is shining hot and the barometer is reading 30 C/86 F.  Welcome to Rome in the summer where mid-morning feels like high noon in the desert and walking on those beautiful sampietrini (black basalt cobblestones) feels like traipsing across hot coals.  By mid-June, the Eternal City literally becomes the Infernal City, a Dantean hot spot of high temperatures and lots of bodies get a glimpse of every historic and cultural site in the city.  Romans have known since antiquity that there are only two options to survive in the summer- either close the shutters, turning your home into a dark cave, and stay inside from 11am to 3pm, or else, pack your backs and relocate to the beach [or mountains] from as late as July 1st through September 1st.  But that's not going to cut it, you've got places to go and churches, archaeological sites, museums and restaurants to visit.  Here are my five tips to beating the Roman heat.

1.  Rise and Shine

I'm up every morning by about 6.30 am, an unnatural and ungodly hour to rise but I do so because summer sun comes in high and strong (we don't do caves), and we like to take advantage of the city in the early morning.   At 7.30am, Rome is still somewhat empty of tourists so I get a front row spot at the Trevi Fountain, and snap an empty shots of the entire Piazza Navona.  Just before it's 8.30am opening, I'll swing over to the Pantheon so I can have that look up at the Oculus all by myself.  But those are just the basics.  If you want to spend time in must-see sites like the Roman Forum, Colosseum and St. Peter's Museum and Dome that require tickets, set your alarms and plan to arrive at the site by no later than 15 minutes before doors open (8am or 8.30 depending on the site).  Each site require visitors to queue for entry in outdoor spaces-  piazzas and areas that offer absolutely no shade and whose lines can be hours-long waits, and by midday, sites like the Forum and Colosseum become Petri dishes under intense sun.

 

Top of the Dome, St. Peter's, 8.15 am, June. Look closely at the piazza- no one is waiting in line... yet.

2.  Give Yourself a Break.

Romans are absolutely right. By midday, you need to give yourself a break and ricaricare, recharge or better yet replenish all those electrolytes you lost just by walking down the street.  To the Roman, this means a long lunch,  a few hours indoors, or preferably both.  I know, I know, you are here to see the sites, not sit around or stay inside, so here's my pro-tip: plan to visit Rome's not-to-miss museums during the midday break.  Here are my favorite air-conditioned art spots: for Baroque artGalleria Borghese (reservation required) and Palazzo Barberini (park yourself on the velvet divan in the Grand Salon and look up),  for ancient Palazzo Massimo and The Capitoline Museums,  for modern and contemporary: La Galleria Nazionale.  N.B.  This does not include churches as clergy and staff take a lunch break too.

Pantheon.

3.  Go Underground.

I'm lucky, I live with Darius, uber-archaeologist who thinks that the best kind of date means a trek a few meters below ground level to ancient Rome.  Sexy times include investigating Roman insulae, Republican temples, imperial cisterns, Christian catacombs, pagan necropoli and even a 2500-year-old public sewage drain all for the love of antiquity.  Over the years, I've realized that there is nothing better than a trip down under- plus a great pair of shoes.   There is an underground site open every day of the week, so you can jump into a cooler climate for a few hours every day.  My latest line-up: Domus Aurea - Nero's Golden Palace with its kickass VR, old faithful San Clemente is always a crowd pleasure with its multilevels, the somewhat overlooked Citta dell'Acqua and any catacomb- lately I love Santa Domitilla.  Pro Tip for the church goer- ask any priest at any centro storico church if there is something below the pulpit, and you'll find a fewRepublican-era buildings or an imperial temple.

You gotta go under-  the layers of Santa Domitilla.

4. Night Vision.

One of the most important lessons to learn in Rome is that just as the city was not built in a day, nor do you have to see it all in a day.  That's why night visits were created.  Rome has an incredible cityscape of ancient monuments, Renaissance palazzi and Baroque domes, gorgeous as much in an inky navy blue evening, as in daylight.  Over the past few years, cultural sites have finally caught and opened theirs doors to unforgettable evenings.  Why walk with the masses to the Sistine Chapel when you can have the Vatican Museums to yourself- and have an aperitivo in the Cortile della PIgna? How about a walk around the Colosseum and its underground chambers? Personally, I'm all about the flashback experiences at the Fori Imperiali where animated projections are set to melodramatic musical scores as you walk through history , and the evening visit to Castel Sant'Angelo never ever gets old.
 

5.  Grattachecca.

In the summer time, it snows in Rome. And by that I mean grattachecca, the onomatopoeic solution to surviving the Roman heat, and everyone's favorite treat.  Not to be confused with granita, Italian ice found at the local gelateria, grattachecca is a cup full of hand-shaved ice flavored with fruit syrups and preserved cherries or fresh lemon juice and pieces of coconut.  Ingested quickly, it is a ferocious brain freeze.  Savored over an afternoon walk, it is a hand-held cooling system that can change your attitude as quick as it changes your body temperature.  Where can you find one? Walk along the Lungotevere - the street-side sidewalk that borders the Tiber river - from the Ara Pacis to Isola Tiberina and you'll bump into a green chiosk lined with bottles of syrup and manned by two grattacheccari- one person for shaving the ice and the other for flavoring it. FYI- Grattachecca is usually a cash-only operation, so remember to bring spare change.  For more- here's my map of grattachecca spots in Rome

Darius is faithful to tamarindo and orange with cherries. I am a lemoncocco kind of girl.

4 Places for an Unforgettable Breakfast in Rome

We all know Italians love to do everything to the fullest, especially when it comes to food. Around Rome especially, lunches and dinners are fanciful feasts of antipasti, primi, secondi and dolci, tragically leaving la colazione (breakfast) as gastronomically penurious in comparison.

Caffe e cornetto — espresso coffee and a small Italian croissant — quickly ingested at the local bar is the typical morning routine, but lately languorous sit-downs with sweet and savory menus have been slowly making their way into the Roman colazione scene — almost rivaling the Full English.

Here are our favorite spots for breakfast in Rome.

All’Oro
When chef Riccardo di Giacinto decided to open his own boutique hotel The H’All Tailor Suite earlier this year, one of the first things on his mind was creating a space for his restaurant, All’Oro. And the second? Creating a world-class breakfast menu curated for international travelers and Rome residents, of course.

All’Oro’s à la carte menu celebrates the best of Italy alongside dishes from the U.S. and U.K. The abundant offerings include housemade jams and pastries such as croissants, maritozzi (a Roman bread bun filled with light cream), bombe (deep-fried dough with cream), Italian cheese, sliced-on-the-spot prosciutto and a customizable listing of dishes such as scrambled or poached eggs alongside bacon, toasts, pancakes, French toast and a selection of di Giacinto’s favorite champagnes.

Served in the downstairs dining room or outdoor garden, The H’All’s breakfast is luxurious and relaxed, ideal for a leisurely morning.

Le Panier
For those looking to stay in, you’ll want to click around the website for Le Panier, a gourmet breakfast delivery service that knocks on your front door exactly when you want with your well-curated morning meal.

In the kitchen is Tommaso De Sanctis, a classically trained chef who creates clever (and mouthwatering) dishes like pancos (a savory pancake soft taco) and wellness-focused menus like the Hangover.

De Sanctis and partner Giovanna de Giglio source organic produce, eggs and dairy for all dishes; make juices in house; and work with local artisanal producers for their jams, yogurts, porridge, granola, breads and pastries.

Il Giardino Ristorante
If you want breakfast with a view in Rome, there’s but one proper address for doing so: Il Giardino Ristorante at the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Hotel Eden.

Following a nearly two-year renovation of the property, the open-air establishment rebooted its look and gave adored chef Fabio Ciervo full reign to make over every single menu, from the breakfast sides to dinner entrées.

Ciervo chose to focus his new concept on wellness, and you can thank a master’s degree in nutrition and a love for organic, Italian produce for the delectable detour. The breakfast buffet, for example, is a cornucopia of treats, from housemade breads and pastries to eggs, yogurts, jams and a bevy of vegan options.

Those looking to juice need to look no further than chef Ciervo, who continues to squeeze as much deliciousness as possible into his liquid treats.

Caffe Canova Tadolini
Here’s a tip for those whose only breakfast needs are a super-sized caffeine fix: though the true Italian cappuccino comes in only one size (the standard coffee cup), Caffe Canova Tadolini, a posh café in the Piazza di Spagna neighborhood, serves its pours in oversized cups — perfect for those needing an extra boost before heading out in the morning to explore the city.

In between sips, you’ll notice a dash of culture found in the building housing the eatery, which was once the home and atelier to artists Antonio Canova and the Tadolini brothers. Their work can be admired in the café’s museum.

- This article was originally published in Forbes Travel on May 31, 2017.

Pipero and the art of Carbonara

Carbonara.

If there is one plate that I would go to the ends of the earth for, it is carbonara- my kind of comfort food and Rome's emblematic dish of pasta, egg, grated pecorino (and/or parmesan) cheese, and guanciale.  I will go out of my way, leaps and bounds for just a plate so over the years, I've made it my business to eat carbonara in every Roman restaurant I step foot in,  an ongoing culinary quest for that very best until a fateful Saturday, September 21, 2013, when I sat down at Pipero and ate the last forkful of Luciano Monsilio's carbonara.   The only word to describe his carbonara is perfection - aesthetically beautiful- a sunflower-colored knot of pasta in a serving that was neither too much nor too little with the idealItalian umami thanks to Luciano's preternatural culinary skills for combining grated pecorino and parmesan cheese, pepper-spiced beaten egg yolk, and pan-cooked guanciale in just the perfect amounts, and Alessandro Pipero, owner of his epynymous restaurantknew it.   Heck, he even made a film about it.  

As I walked out of Pipero, I vowed I would never eat carbonara again, unless Luciano was putting a plate of it in front of me or, and there always is an "or", it was vetted as hands-down amazing by a series of carbonara sycophants including Luca Sessa, Katie Parla, my favorite taxi driver Emanuele and my aunt Graziella.   It was easy to hold back from my carbonara fix- Pipero was getting a lot of press after receiving a much-deserved Michelin star in November of 2012, which meant it was harder to just pop by, and personally I wasn't keen on its location at the Hotel Rex, andthough it is/was somewhat easy to find other great carbonara, my heart belonged to Pipero.   Fast forward to March 2017 when, while casually strolling down Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, the thoroughfare linking St. Peter's to Piazza Venezia, I noticed that the old and vacant bank across from Chiesa Nuova had curtains.  I took a closer look.  Pipero had moved in.

IMG_2963 (1).jpg

Real estate is tough negotiation for a Rome restaurant, and even tougher for a Michelin-starred joint.  Choices are either hotel spaces, which is usually a compromise of interior design and multipurpose like a breakfast buffet, or a private space, sacrificing light for independence.   The new Pipero is neither.  Taking over a former bank in the Piazza Navona/Campo de' Fiori neighborhood, Pipero has location.   And thanks to the architectural demands of said bank, Pipero has light- a luminous space of high ceilings, and full-length windows on two sides of the corner restaurant.  A chic interior, the lounge/restaurant is simply accented with Poltrona Frau chairs, Flos lamps, original parquet floors and absolutely no clocks on the table, a detail Alessandro loved in Pipero's original incarnation but thankfully shelved in 2017.  The ground level area has seven tables, with an open mezzanine hosting three tables, while the subterranean is hometo Pipero's wine cellar - a cozy, private dining cave lined with labels hand-picked by Alessandro, who also happens to be a sommelier. 

Let's get serious. Style was the first thing on my mind.  Before sitting down at Pipero's table, my most important concern was the food and whether or not Pipero would uphold or even surpass this crazy idolization I created over the years.  Was it still perfect? On a Tuesday afternoon, I found out by treating myself to a six-course tasting menu.  [Note: I asked to include the carbonara, as Alessandro and Luciano had removed it from the menu, making it available to guests by request.] The restaurant was quiet - just me, a couple, and Achille Sardiello, Alessandro's Numero Uno and maitre d', a man whose dedication to Pipero - owner, restaurant and dishes - is all about poise and professionalism.  Achille charmingly commands the floor.  The mythical carbonara appeared after an incredible duck tartar "panino" of crispy, slim bread with homemade mustard, and a rigatoni with broccoli, sausage and pecorino that playfully innovates tradition and changed my entire life view on broccoli.   It would be an understatement to say I was sated when the carbonara arrived, but I needed to make sure Pipero was still Pipero.  Every bite that afternoon was just as perfect as the first, second and third times I had eaten Luciano's magical carbonara.  Mission accomplished,but to follow was a lambcut which blew my mind with its delicious combination of cottura perfetta (perfectly cooked), anchovies and a raspberry cream.  I could've stopped there, gone home and written a love sonnet to Pipero, but why not make sure? One month later, I organized a private dinner for 30 for the very same six-course tasting menu.  Of course, Alessandro, Luciano and Achille did not disappoint- perfect service, perfect ambience, perfect dishes -- and yep, that carbonara was perfect.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 250

(+39) 06 68138022

Above:  Tuna tartar with green apple and mustard.  Here: Rigatoni with broccoli, pecorino and sausage

Spending Three Perfect Days in Bangkok

This article originally appeared on May 10, 2017 in Forbes Travel.

Bangkok often overwhelms travelers with its traffic, concrete and heat. Not to mention that Thailand’s capital city has 14 million people flocking to its urban center, nearly double the population of New York City.

The secret to navigating Bangkok is to do a little preparation. Follow our three-day itinerary to discover the city in a whole new and calming way.

Day One
After more than 20 straight hours of flying, there are three things you must do once you’ve checked into the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel: First, reserve a massage for that very afternoon in the hotel’s Four-Star spa. Our suggestion is the 90-minute Siam 2482, an indulgent muscle and circulation stimulation completely necessary before running around the city.

Second, be sure to book your space at Morning Wellness for Day 3 (more to come on that). Lastly, head to the pool, a palm-tree-lined sundeck with hints of Bangkok’s unforgettable skyline, where you’re going to soak in some relaxation before your full cultural immersion begins.

You have a date with Smiling Albino. Founded by Canadian-born Thai television celebrity Daniel Fraser in 1999 to showcase and share Thai cultural heritage, Smiling Albino is one of Southeast Asia’s leading luxury and adventure tour companies.

According to Fraser, the best way to understand Bangkok is through its street food scene, and Smiling Albino has planned a six-hour walking tour from Soi Pipat, a road lined with vendors, to Yaowarat, the city’s Chinatown. (Take advantage of this now, as the government announced it will wipe out all street food vendors by the end of 2017.)

You’ll sample yam (a bag filled with spicy Thai salad that’s charmingly nicknamed Plastic Wife), knomjeen (a rice noodle dish with brown curry), the trendy rot-duan (your choice of dried bamboo worms, crickets or grasshoppers), Thai iced tea and more.

The tasting tour will have you scurrying around on foot and by tuk tuk (those Instagram-worthy three-wheel taxi carts) before your journey ends for the evening on a city rooftop watching the glow of Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.

Day Two
You’ve seen the city by night, so now it’s time for Bangkok in Technicolor with a full day of back-to-back excursions. Walk around Ko Rattanakosin, the historic Phra Nakhon district and Bangkok’s ancient city where cylindrical temple stupas dot the landscape. Both Anantara and Smiling Albino can organize dynamic day tours.

Ko Rattanakosin is the city’s culture center of Thai Buddhism, an area concentrated with historic wats (“temples”). Wear lightweight long pants and sandals for visiting sacred sites such as Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s oldest temples and home to the 150-foot-long Reclining Buddha; Wat Phra Kaew, the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand and site of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha; and Wat Mahatat, headquarters of Thailand’s largest monastic order, university and meditation center.

In the afternoon, you’ll be floating down the River of Kings with the Klong Guru to explore the western neighborhoods via a network of klongs (“canals”). Traveling by long-tail boat (a long and multicolored canopied canoe-like hull), you’ll peek into life in “Venice of the East,” with floating markets, houses, temples, restaurants and even a traditional puppet show.

Make your way back to the Pathum Wan district for a unique take on traditional Thai cuisine. Take a tip from Fraser and try Issaya Siamese Club, a century-old Thai villa; Namsaah Bottling Trust, a former soda-bottling factory and bank; or Nahm, the poolside restaurant of COMO Metropolitan Bangkok. These three restaurants are pushing the boundaries of local dining with a progressive take on traditional and village recipes.

Enjoy a nightcap 83 stories above the city on the rooftop observation deck of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Thailand’s tallest building.

Day Three
Rise and shine for a 6 a.m. sunrise wellness session starting with a Buddhist blessing. The Tak Bart Buddhist ritual takes place in Anantara Siam Bangkok’s lobby, a gorgeous gilded space. Every day, at 6:20 a.m., hotel staff and guests present Buddhist monks alms, returned with the monk’s blessing, completing a traditional and peaceful way to start the day.

From the hotel, it’s a short walk to Lumphini Park for a 45-minute Light Energy Session combining yoga and meditation, followed by a picnic brunch — a smorgasbord of quinoa and mixed fruit salad, poached salmon, sandwiches and juices.

Head back to the Bangkok hotel for a 60-minute Chakra Crystal Balancing Therapy to wrap up the wellness session.

After you’ve found your center, you’re ready to explore the city’s industrial history with a visit to the Jim Thompson House. Thompson, a retired army officer and alleged CIA operative, settled in Bangkok in the late 1940s and built up a silk empire, until his mysterious 1967 disappearance.

His home, a beautiful assemblage of sections from century-old Thai villas, is now a museum showcasing Thompson’s art collection of historical Buddhist statues and traditional Thai paintings.

Onsite is a Jim Thompson store selling beautiful silk clothing, accessories and housewares. The surrounding neighborhood is also home to local Bangkok silk weavers and dyers, whose studios and laboratories can be visited.

Chakras balanced and perfectly coordinated with a Jim Thompson silk scarf, head back to the Anantara Siam Bangkok for your last pad Thai at Spice Market, the hotel’s signature restaurant.

Destination: Modena

Years ago, all it took was a simple a few tortellini in brodo to catapult me into the Cult of Culinaria that is Emilia Romagna, Italy's northeastern region and the country's bread basket.  After my first taste, I fell hard into fully warranted idolatry of Emilia Romagna and its regional dishes. I became more than convert, more than one of the fervent masses, I had a calling to which I became a self-proclaimed gastronomic preacher on mission to bring the masses to the Temple of Taste.  Conversion is simple enough when your pantheon of gods includes Parmigiano, Prosciutto and Balsamico, and continual repetition of the words tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagne, cappelletti is your daily prayer.  But I quickly found out that for all those years I've been waxing poetic on Emilia Romagna,  Darius, partner in life and travel, has only been to the region for archaeological day trips to Ravenna and Bologna.  It was time for a drive.

Roma-Modena is an easy trip.  By rail, it's approximately three hours - two hours and change on a high speed train, switching to a 25-minute regional train at Bologna Centrale.  By car is a different journey, a somewhat scenic four hours and more sprawl up the A1 autostrada, and we choose a morning drive to avoid Modena's notorious nebbia, a thick fog that practically hides the city from view. 

There is nothing remarkable about Modena upon first arriving at the edge of town, after passing through flat plains of farms and factories.  Just another one of Italy's city-towns - modern streets feeding to medieval center,  a bit of old and and a bit of new.    A former Roman outpost, a fortified medieval town, a contemporary city,  Modena is the font of the world's best balsamic vinegar and the driving force behind Italy's luxury automotive industry- both of which require generational artistry. Like many Italian towns, there are mom-and-pop shops, large chains, art galleries, churches, cute scooters, hand-crafted bicycles and well-dressed residents but it the rhythm and pace that sets Modena apart from the rest -  an easy cadence where every thing, old and new, flows together harmoniously like an old Beatles song and fits together like a Ravensburger jigsaw puzzle. 

Where to go and What to do:  I started a list and I realized that aside from eating, my other suggestion is simply being.  Modena is a living, breathing city, far from the open-air museum of Rome and Florence.  It is meant to be lived, and by all means walked.  A pastiche of history from pre-antiquity to tomorrow is on every path.  Walk on the Via Aemilia, the ancient Roman road that runs from Rimini to Piacenza and bisects Modena at its very center-  the Modena Cathedral, and then really take a look at the bas relief on the church's structural walls- especially a gothic arch entrance near the bell tower where the months are medievally depicted as the wine making process.   Walk some more:  Modena is one of the nook-and-cranny cities with beautiful shops and hidden curiosities like the small lingerie/karoake bar.   Grab a map (physical or virtual) and make your own walking tour.   Bike: as just one city in the pianura padana (regional plains), Modena is flat, which means it is choc-a-bloc with cyclists and places to cycle to and from whether following those monumental walls, slowly pedaling around the historic center or circumnavigating the entire city as a whole.  Finally, drive - the charming team at I Love Maranello will bring a Ferrari to your front door for a test drive around the area, or else, stay in the passenger seat and enjoy a little Enzo double feature at Modena's Museo Ferrari, and Maranello's Ferrari Museum and FactoryFor those looking for the kind of culture you can bottle up, I suggest booking a tour of the acetaia, the family-run balsamic vinegar makers where you'll learn the decades long process and find out how balsamic vinegar can make or break family relationships.

Where We Ate:   Even though every where you eat in Modena is amazing, it pays to have friends that live there, and if I didn’t, I’d pay for a Modenese to be my friend just for the day because once you know one Modenese, you’re guaranteed the best tortellini in the city- and it will never be the same place.  NB:  we did not dine at Italy's Numero Uno Osteria Francescana (been there, loved it).  If you can get a reservation, go.

We found the t-spot (t for tortellini, I'm funny) at L'Incontro, a pizzeria in nearby Maranello recommend by our dear Silvana who insists that owner Erica makes the best tortellini in town.  I know what you are thinking- a pizzeria?  True tortellini lovers will know that it's not about where you eat the tortellini but the only the tortellini you eat and Erica did not disappoint: her tortellini in brodo was off the charts- soothing and delicious.  Bonus points for location- the non-description pizzeria is via Dino Ferrari, across the street from the Ferrari high school and down the street from the factory so when you’re sitting window at a L’Incontro table, expect to spot a Dino or California cruising by.

Silvana also made sure we vacuum-packed up a few kili of parmesan cheese from Belli Formaggi & Salumi, a family-owned delicatessen in Maranello.   One of my favorite kinds of investigative research into a new culture is via the local deli, and Belli did not disappoint.  Silvana and I chatted up signore, while discussing digesting techniques.  Signor Belli had me taste what I think were deep-fried porchetta rinds- my latest addiction, and I purchased two small bottles of his family's 35-year-old balsamic vinegar- asking price 55 euro.

Back in Modena, our daytime focus was Mercato Albinellilocated smack in the center of the city - in other words, the perfect snack point whilst checking out the town.  The ace up my sleeve is my friend Lara, author, art collector, and long time Modena resident whose husband just so happens to be Bottura.  Lara told us to get there early and beeline for frittelle di bacalà, Modena’s version of deep-fried codfish seasoned with oregano and garlic.  We ate that and more- the historic market has everything, including an incredible fried chicken. Tip:  go to the ATM in advance.

I was insistent on having dinner at Franceschetta 58, Osteria Francescana's little cousin and chef Massimo Bottura's pet project.  And I am glad we did.  Franceschetta 58 is the opposite of the Italian restaurant stereotype.  In a former mechanic shop, Franceschetta is a cool slip of a spot - a long room with black tables, putty colored walls, ceiling to floor windows, and a bit of mismatched dishes on the walls. Everyone in the room is either a Bottura friend or a fan, so the vibe was energetic and fun.  The kitchen ishelmed by Bernardo, a Roman-born, Francescana-trained chef, who cooks up monthly changes dishes with Bottura inspirations.  The best way I can describe the menu is experimental Italian tapas where tradition and taste duke it out in your mouth.  We went à la carte and tried everything on the menu including the creamed cod, the low-cooked egg with black truffle, anEmilia burger (Bottura's signature hamburger and song to his homeland), and those tradition-turning piadine with what may have been a bit of kimchi.


On our way out of Modena, as per Lara, we stopped at Generi Alimentari Da Panino, a small stand-up sandwich joint around the corner from Osteria Francescana.  Da Panino is the edible baby of Francescana’s sommelier Beppe Palmieri.  For seven euro you can anyone of seven hand-crafted sandwiches created by Palmieri and chef Cristian Lo Russo. We had the saltimbocca alla modenese with chicken, prosciutto cotto and a parmesan salsa, and a beef tartare, plus we took a bacala, boiled potato and herb sandwich for the road.   Bonus points for the cute paper placemats and the artisanal carbonated drinks from Galvani.

Franceschetta's low-cooked egg

Where We Slept: Stella21, an artists’ loft located within the medieval fortication walls of Modena, and conveniently located just two doors down and across the from Osteria Francescana, Italy’s restaurant Numero Uno. In fact, if you hang out on the street late nights, you may just catch a glimpse of Massimo & Co.  Why I loved the apartment? Aside from location, the attic apartment is a Fabergè egg for art and design lovers.  The apartment is lined with art books, and decorated with art piece furniture like my favorite Eames lounge and ottoman, as well as original paintings and prints, all carefully culled by owner Francesca, a restoration artist.  Her open-plan kitchen is mod Italian with a Nespresso and a mini-cabinet of curiosity stocked with artisanal balsamic vinegar.  The bedroom has an Italianized shikibuton, a comfortable futon/floating bed, and full bathroom. I could have stayed inside at Stella21 all day and night.  My favorite hideaway is the apartment’s tower annex (excellent spot to hide children or annoying friends) and its view of the rooftops… and fog … of Modena.

 

A Fashionable Packing List for the Venice Biennale

This article originally appeared in Fathom on April 28, 2017.

Highlights from the most recent Biennale. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Every other spring, the contemporary art world flocks to Italy to celebrate art, dance, architecture, cinema, and theater at the Venice Biennale. Fathom contributing editor and Biennale regular Erica Firpo gives us a peek at what she's packing in her suitcase.

VENICE – Flashback to the 1999 Venice Biennale, a time where I spent many months covered in red powder. Anne Hamilton, an artist representing at the U.S. Pavilion, made a crimson snowfall cascade down the walls for her installation Myein, and it was my job, as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection assistant, to make sure the powder and everything else flowed smoothly. There was nothing glamorous about the long hours, often spent alone, in a bone-chillingly cold pavilion, occasionally greeting guests and explaining the installation — but the full immersion into contemporary art was unforgettable, and every 24 months, I return to the Biennale for that very same pleasure, though now as a journalist covering the art.

Over the decades, the press preview for the exhibition has evolved from a quiet industry event for artists, gallerists, and journalists to 72 solid hours of art and hobnobbing with the Pantheon of Glitterati — art, fashion, literature, and film folk from all over. As soon as I arrive in Venice, I have to be ready for nonstop exhibitions, openings, and cocktail parties. Style, efficiency, and fun are my goals — and the same can be said for anyone visiting the Biennale. My suitcase is a balanced mix of form and function, organized Matryoshka-style. Here's a peek inside.

Mophie Juice Pack Air

The Biennale is more than an all-day affair — I'm out the door by 8 a.m., photographing Venice street scenes, perusing every pavilion in the Venetian Arsenal and gardens, visiting collateral events, and partying late into the evening. The Biennale doesn't just kill my feet, it quickly and painfully kills my phone, a.k.a. my life source. Because there is nothing worse than trying to find a free outlet in Venice, I always bring an extra battery pack, and lately it's been a pretty rose gold case that snaps right onto my phone. If I'm feeling extra gamey, I bring two. ($100)

Insta360 Nano Video Camera

The Biennale is not just freeze frame art, it's panoramic performance. For the rare times I broadcast on Facebook Live, I love giving the full 360-degree experience so viewers can choose what they want to see. ($199)

Kasia Dietz Nice Clutch

My handbag has to be stylish and easy to carry. I love Kasia Dietz totes for her choice of vintage fabrics, which are perfect for the exhibition's artsy vibe. I also make sure to have one of her clutches, for a quick switch to evening glam. (€70)

 

Opening Ceremony Silk-Satin Bomber Jacket

Venice is tricky. Misty mornings burn into hot days, while evenings are chilly and humid. The only solution is a satin bomber jacket and the reversible nature of this one makes it easy to do a quick outfit change. ($525)

 

Moleskin Ruled Reporter Notebook

The first time I ever purchased this notebook was in Venice, and I have carried one in my handbag ever since. The hard cover makes me feel like Lois Lane scooping the art world. ($13)

 

Hydaway Water Bottle

I don't like feeling the weight of a water bottle in my purse, but I don't want to be dehydrated either. My solution: a lightweight, collapsible water bottle introduced to me by my friend Livia's 90-year-old nonna. ($20)

 

Tom Smarte Panama Fedora

Most of my time is spent outdoors, walking from one exhibition to the next. I love a good hat with a little charm to protect my face and lift up my outfit. ($449)

 

La Roche-Posay SPF 50 Sunscreen

My London BFF introduced me to the French sunscreen. It's light, non-greasy, and the best way to protect my skin from the Venetian sun, which never seems as potent as it really is. ($34)

 

MSGM Jumpsuit

I love Italian brand MSGM and would wear anything they put in front of me. The fun, striped number would work well for artsy selfies at cocktail parties. ($700)

 

Tod's Tattoo-Inspired Sneakers

If there is one lesson it has taken me a while to learn, it's that style should take second place when it comes to shoes for an event like the Biennale. Comfort is everything when you're standing on your feet all day. Thank god these sneakers are chic. ($845)

 

Herban Essentials Peppermint Towelettes

You definitely need antibacterial hand wipes. Added plus: These smell amazing. ($7)

Olloclip Core Lens Set

I use this set of lenses to up my Instagram story game and love playing around with the fisheye and wide angles. ($100)

Celebrate Spring In Rome Like A Local

This article originally appeared in Forbes Travel on April 21, 2017.

There is nothing quite like springtime in Rome. Once the days begin to warm up, all life moves outdoors. By mid-April, the Eternal City shines with festivals and events honoring Rome’s traditions, both old and new.

From the historic center to the Olympic Stadium, piazzas, cultural centers and more host interactive exhibitions and performances that represent multifaceted Roman culture. With so much culinary and cultural merriment, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.

Late April
Warm-weather festivities kick off with Natale di Roma, the three-day celebration of the city’s 2,770th birthday from April 21 to 23. Experience Rome like never before as the Circus Maximum becomes a playground once again for emperors and legionnaires in a series of re-enactments, including epic battles, gladiator fights and lessons in Roman culture through cuisine and craft.

On April 23, the historic center steps back in time as Piazza Venezia becomes center stage for Gruppo Storico Romanos triumphant march down Via dei Fori Imperiali, where more than 2,000 re-enactors from the Roman Empire will meet for a grand display of regal pageantry.

Take a break from that action with a journey to the secluded Roseto Comunale, the city’s rose garden, which opens its doors for its annual rose show on April 21. The free garden party, which stays in bloom until June 18, brings together more than 1,000 variations of roses from around the world.

For something a little more modern, head to Testaccio’s Città dell’Altra Economia on April 22 and 23 for ReVision’s World Wide Wall, a combination free exhibition, marketplace and hangout where more than 100 street artists will showcase their finest pieces.

Still, the most delicious way to welcome warm weather may be with a spoon in your hand. The Festival del Gelato, a three-day tasting celebration bringing together Italy’s best gelato makers, takes over the Pincian Hill from April 29 through May 1.

May
The month starts off electric as Villa Medici presents the Yoko Ono and Claire Tabouret show “One Day I Broke the Mirror,” a multi-sensorial contemporary art exhibition that invades the palaces and gardens of the historic Renaissance villa from May 5 to July 2.

From May 10 through 21, Rome serves up the Internazionali BNL d’Italia tennis tournament. The Italian Open (as it’s more commonly referred) is where you’ll find Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Venus Williams battling it out inside the Olympic Stadium courts while the surrounding grounds come alive with pop-up restaurants, tennis clinics and exhibition games.

Tickets can be purchased at entry, but because the venues are relatively small, it’s best to score good seats in advance.

Looking for a great brew to go with those backhands? Head to Testaccio. From May 18 to 21, Città dell’Altra Economica will host craft pours and street food at the Spring Beer Festival. Expect more than 40 Italian and international breweries to be represented.

Get back in the saddle from May 25 to 28 at Piazza di Siena, Rome’s annual equestrian exhibition in Villa Borghese. The four-day event is highlighted by an international show-jumping competition and ends with the mounted Carabinieri display, a regal parade of Italy’s mounted military police.

End the month on a high note at Rome’s three-day electronic music festival, Spring Attitude. The undulating MAXXI Museum will host the annual avant-garde experience, where acts like Nathan Fake and Princess Nokia will perform, from May 27 to 29.