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A Secret New Hotel in the Center of Everything Great in Rome

The Adelaide Salotto at Hotel Vilòn. All photos courtesy of Hotel Vilòn.

A charming new hotel in the center of Rome embodies everything that contributing editor Erica Firpo loves about her home town — beauty, discretion, charm, and aesthetics. This article originally appeared in Fathom, October 2018.

ROME – One of my favorite things to do is muse about where I would have an affair in Rome. After a few years of testing out the possibilities — from an off-the-beaten-path bedroom nook to a corner suite in a posh hotel — I've realized I have some basic requirements. 

Whereas some people just need a room key, I need just a little bit more. First, location: The address must be in the absolute hub of the city center, but at the same time extremely unassuming, with no doorman, flags, or fanfare, so I can slip in and out of the crowd unnoticed. Second, luxurious: I need to feel the affair is worth it, not from its price tag but by its top quality, from sheets and showers to artwork and design. Third, view: I want a terrace where I can take in the city, but absolutely no way can it face anything public.

Easy, right?

Not at all, which is why I love Rome.

The Eternal City is the chaotic culmination of history, culture, and personalities that become an infernal nightmare when trying to hide an affair. True Romans have lived and breathed for at least sette generazioni(seven generations), so six degrees of separation takes on a logarithmic new dimension where everyone knows everyone else and nothing goes unnoticed.

Or so I thought until I stepped off via del Corso, aka the main thoroughfare for the all-ages scene, and onto via dell'Arancio, a nondescript side street with a row of doors. The doors were a side entrances to private apartments within Palazzo Borghese, a vast urban villa estate whose famous residents include papal families and Paulina Borghese, Napoleon Bonaparte's sister.

What makes the Borghese stand out among Rome's incredible palazzi are the gardens — an arcadia in the city with a courtyard with statues of ancient gods, 96 granite columns, a nympheum, and a beautiful garden with three allegorical fountains. Getting access to the gardens is all but impossible. You are lucky if you can take a peek during the few days the gardens are open to the public. 

Or you can book yourself into a garden-facing room at Hotel Vilòn, a rip-the-plastic-off new hotel in the very center of the Eternal City, part of the latest lineup of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. One of the discreet doors on via dell'Arancio, the former Borghese family property became a School for Maidens in 1841 and was until recently home to  Daughters of the Cross, an order of French nuns, who I presume weren't using the rooms for the affairs I was fantasizing about.

Just when I wasn't looking for a the perfect secret, I found it.

Rates

Rates start from €462.

Checking In

Location
In the very center of Rome's historic center, just off of via del Corso, conveniently on a side street away from the crowds and the noise, but close enough to walk straight into the thick of it.

Hotel Style
Sultry, from the minute you walk across the harlequin-tiled marble entrance floor. Rich hues, lavish marbles and woods, and lots of well-chosen contemporary and photography. The rooms chill down with neutral hues, mahogany floorboards, and accents of dark blues and violets. The vibe is intimate and private, and overall style is that very chic Italian best friend you've always dreamed of.

Just when I wasn't looking for a the perfect secret, I found it.

This Place Is Perfect For
Me. And anyone who likes a little sexy oasis in the city center.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone who is looking for a full-service hotel, as there is no spa or gym. But honestly, you're in Rome. Just walk out the front door.

What's on Site
The gorgeous lounge bar and restaurant Adelaide, and the hidden open-air atrium lounge.

Food + Drink
If I could, I would park myself in Vilòn's Adelaide salotto every single afternoon. The lounge feels like a fabulous film still, and no wonder: Set designer Paolo Bonfini created the ambience with rich colors, patterns, and prints, playing off that gorgeous octane blue. Photographer Massimo Listri hand-selected all the artwork and included his monumental photos from the Uffizi museum, and architect Giampiero Panepinto added the whimsical design pieces. Oh, wait, did I mention the cocktails are incredible? Vilòn's barman/mixologist curates the menu with classics, forgotten classics, and Adelaide's own drinks. The Adelaide salotto flows into the Adelaide restaurant, a stately salon that serves a tasty buffet of treats all day long, as well as lunch and dinner with Roman cuisine inspired dishes. Everything is served on beautifully mismatched Richard Ginori porcelain.

Number of Rooms
18 guest rooms and suites. Room categories range, from smallest to largest, are: Double, Charming, Charming with Terrace, and Charming Deluxe. The three suites are Vilòn, Melangolo (named for via dell' Arancio's medieval nickname), and Borghese.

In-Room Amenities
My favorite amenity by far are the plush bath robes — by far, the most comfortable of any Rome hotel — and the octane blue slippers which general manager Giorgia Tozzi spent months sourcing. And I should mention that the all-white marble bathrooms are divine. Ladies, keep an eye out for the Saugella Detergente Intima next to the bidet, it is preferred intimate cleanser of signore italiane. Keeping up with 21st-century tech, rooms have large Sony televisions teched-out with Apple TV, WiFi with great connectivity, and the lighting system is the ultra-innovative Domot by MicroDevice. My pet peeve in any hotel is the outlet situation, and at Vilòn, they were on point, no need to move any furniture. The mini bar stocked with free drinks like Italian specialties Gazosa, Chinotto, and Aranciata, as well as international favorites and snacks, including my very favorite dark-chocolate covered toasted hazelnuts.

Drawbacks
Parking. Then again, if you're in Rome, you don't need a car.

Standout Detail
The garden-facing terraces. Yes, the signature suites are fabulous, but book me a Vilòn Charming room looking onto the Borghese Palace's private garden, and I'm happy.

Checking Out

What to Do Nearby
This neighborhood, Campo Marzio, is by far my favorite in Rome. Absolutely everything that encapsulates the Eternal City is here. Ancient monuments like Mausoleum of Augustus and Ara Pacis, a 1st-century temple in an ultra-mod Richard Meier-designed glass box. Also: fabulous piazzas for great coffee, ice cream, and people-watching at Caffe CiampiniLa Matricianella is my pick for a picture-perfect lunch. As for shopping, via del Corso is the teen beat gauntlet, and nearby Piazza di Spagna and Via del Babuino are for big spenders, but I prefer the side streets around Largo Goldoni including via della Frezza and via del Fontanella Borghese.

Or Go Explore the Rest of the Country
Rome is the perfect city to kick off or end any Italian vacation. She's got personality for days, so if you're in need of a respite, consider Rome the pre-party, and hop the train to any coastal town for a bit of R&R or to Milan for a fashion binge. For day trips and overnighters, Italy is at your disposal from Rome’s Termini train station. Naples for a pizza? Why not? Florence for a quick stop at Palazzo Strozzi? Sure! Add to the list a myriad small towns, and Italy is yours. If you are more interested in off-the-beaten paths like Sperlonga, Bomarzo and Cività di Bagnoregio and train connections are tight, your best bet is hiring a car. Or if you've spent all of your time traveling the peninsula, afterparty in the Eternal City. Nothing like a plate of carbonara to calm you down.

Good to Know
Rome is a contradiction. It's a crazy and chaotic city that needs at least a few hours of relax — like a long lunch in a pretty piazza — every day. High tourist season kicks off a few weeks before Easter and lasts through July. Romans vacate the city once the heats sets in (and after the July sales kick off around July 5), but the city is stifling hot. By August, the temperatures cool down and the city is empty of all residents. My favorite time for a visit is late October-November and early February.

Getting Around
Rome is a city for walking, but, for the more intrepid urban explorer, the ATAC public transport system of buses, trams, and metro is well connected. Rule of thumb: Buy your tickets in advance at the tabacchaio (small tobacco item stores) and date-stamp them as soon as you enter the metro or board the bus.

Perfect Fit: Cool Blue Jeans Found in Amsterdam {Shopping}

Amsterdam's denim appreciation fair, Denim Days. Photo courtesy of Denim Days.

Who knew that Amsterdam was a hub for denim aficionados? Erica Firpo, Fathom's Rome-based contributing editor, shopped hard (and happily) for the blues.  Fathom May 2018.

AMSTERDAM — I am going to be honest. In all these years in Europe, including the requisite study abroad months of debauchery, I never experienced Amsterdam. Nope, I never met up with all my college friends for a long and deliberately forgotten weekend, and sorry, Professor Minott, I never bought a ticket just to see my coveted Dutch Masters. For some reason, I am missing the genes that drive one to The Netherland’s naughtiest city which almost everyone whose adolescence pre-dates Weeds and legal dispensaries has.

Maybe I don’t have the genes. But I did get the jeans.

Design vibes at Hotel Pulitzer. Photo courtesy of Pulitzer Hotel.

Backstory: It’s late November and my friend Sarah decides it’s about time I see the Night’s Watch in person. She also needs to top up her CBD oil supply. We decide to go Dutch, splitting the trip down the middle, including our king-sized bed at Hotel Pulitzer, the most stylish labyrinth I’ve ever seen.

The canal-side Pulitzer is like a very cool Escher painting, a composite of 25 townhouses restored to show off their glorious 17th and 18th century architecture. (And yes, the original family was related to the prize-giving family). You get the vibe as soon as you walk in: the Pulitzer is saucy. Dark indigos and an open lobby area stretch to a garden and more canal houses, with gorgeous design furniture and clever contemporary art inspired by Dutch masterpieces. Ground level, there’s the gorgeous, Scandi-chic restaurant Janz and very sexy Pulitzer bar. The Extraordinary suites are hot, in particular, the music collector’s suite which has a wall of wacky 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s record covers, but we climb our way through a wooden stairwell to a canal-facing suite on the top level of one of the original townhouses. Cyclists pass below, it’s raining, and I could leave it at that — but we have plans.

Da Straatjes shopfronts. Photo by Erica Firpo

It’s good to have plans in Amsterdam, and even better to forget about them, which we learn as soon as we start walking around the city. Amsterdam is like an organized Venice, neighborhoods around canals and canals around neighborhoods. The Da Straatjes (the 9 streets) easily becomes our neighborhood, and we only leave it for the Rijksmuseum and Boerejongens. The 9s is a busy area, packed with strident bicyclists, unaware tourists, school children, and residents. Design shops, vintage shops, and food shops are tucked away on cobblestoned streets. Sarah and I decide we’re coming back to upgrade our lives (and I do just a month later). We want cool, Dutch designs in our homes from the amazing furniture to the Cool Club playing cards. We want to be styled by any of Amsterdam’s designers, from Dutch streetwear to Netherlands minimalism. We want cat socks and personalized perfume. But more than anything, I want to be decked out in denim.

Amsterdam is one-third of the denim city triumvirate, along with Tokyo and Los Angeles. Beautifully curated denim boutiques are everywhere. So many labels are born and headquartered here; the city hosts Amsterdam Denim Days, a jeans-centric fair, and Amsterdam is home to the world’s first Jean School. Jean-lovers, bookmark this Denim map by Amsterdam Denim for where to find the best of the best in Amsterdam.

Scandi-style means denim-on-denim. Photo courtesy of Denim Days.

Aside from the jeans, my other favorite finds in Amsterdam:

Athenaeum Boekhanel, not in the 9s, but that doesn’t matter. This is could be the best magazine shop in Europe. Hundreds of publications from standard newsstand fare to those gorgeously-produced and hard-to-find ‘zines.

Mendo, the ultimate art/coffee table book shop with every single beautiful art book you have ever coveted: Taschen SUMOs, Phaidon food books, limited editions, everything. Apparently, you can order the entire library of books in one click on their website, no questions asked. I can’t even fathom that possibility.

Coffee-table books to bring Amsterdam vibes home. Photo courtesy of Mendo.

Cowboys2catwalk for Acne Studios, Comme des Garçons, Lemaire. Yes, it’s high-end fashion but it’s all about the selection.

Frozen Fountain, an Amsterdam-townhouse stripped down and filled with design furniture, knickknacks, games. All are incredibly stylish.

Lekker, eye candy for cyclists. Retro-inspired luxury two wheelers and plenty of accessories.

Rain Couture, because it rains a lot in Amsterdam. No surprise that the inventive Dutch have made good-looking, well-priced rain coats for all seasons, of course.

Bar Centraal (not even remotely near the 9s). My friend Sarah is a natural wine fanatic, and she should be because she’s a sommelier who organizes wine adventures (among other things) in Georgia and Rome. Bar Centraal was the only place we could not miss — a tiny local bistro bar, the menu is modern Dutch tapas with lots of great natural wines.

For a better versed Amsterdam, the peripatetic Frankie Thompson narrows down her home base in a series of city-centric articles on her site As the Bird Flies.

Baglioni Hotel Carlton Milan Stands Out in the City That Never Stands Still

Montenapoleone Terrace Suite. All photos by Diego de Pol / Courtesy of Baglioni Hotel Carlton.

MILAN – Without a doubt, Milan is Italy’s It city, a fabulous melting pot of fashion, design, tech, finance, and art. The latest addition to its pantheon of awesomeness is the hotel scene. Whether beautiful boutiques or curated chains, Milan’s hotel vibe is evolving, much like the city itself.  

But the fact is Milan has always had amazing hotels. It is an old-school city with old-school institutions that have not only withstood the perils of time and trend, but also set the bar for all of the new entries.  
 
My monthly Milan visits from Rome are often a quick 24 hours of business and pleasure, which means my hotel has to be centrally located, preferably quiet, and near a park. My latest trip brought me to the Baglioni Hotel Carlton, which is the perfect address for a Gemini like me. It sits hidden in the busy historic center within walking or biking distance of everything from business to art and window shopping. The interiors are a celebration of its original 1960s rococo decor and its 21st-century incarnation as homage to the best of contemporary Italian design. The ultimate urban manse, Hotel Carlton is stylish and subtle, chic and private, the kind of place for a great weekend affair.

Terrace Suite.

Junior Suite.

Checking In

Location
The hotel is in San Babilia, on the border of Centro Storico and Palestro. A ten-minute walk from Milan’s Duomo, the hotel is located in the fashion district of the historic center. Eye candy and haute couture await at every step.

Hotel Style
A quiet and elegant mansion styled exactly as you would expect from Milan: Art Deco lines with antique furniture, brocade silks, Venetian chandeliers, and bathrooms with resplendent marble.

This Place Is Perfect For
An entourage, couples, families, business travelers, and solo travelers looking for white-glove service, elegance, and a discreet position that is also centrally located.

But Not So Perfect For
Anyone trying to get papped. The Carlton is discreet, not showy.

What’s on Site
Spiga 8 Spa, with an entrance on via Spiga for external guests. Gym. Three meeting rooms (one large, two small) for business guests. Private indoor garage.

Food + Drink
Milan institution Il Baretto al Baglioni is the historic on-site restaurant, an intimate anachronism to yesteryear Milan where the table you’re given is as important as the meal you’re eating. The menu is light Milanese and Mediterranean dishes including local favorites cotoletta alla Milanese (veal cutlet) and, of course, risotto.

The lounge are Caffè Baglioni hosts breakfast, a multi-cultural buffet that will appease anyone with intolerances and is included in the room price, and lunch, where menu items include special dietary options (must maintain the line for those Milan fashions…). The space doubles as afternoon/evening lounge for aperitif hour. In warm months, Baglioni’s garden is a great hang out.

The dining room at Il Baretto al Baglioni

A Caffè Baglioni dining room overlooking the gardens.

Number of Rooms
87 rooms and suites.

In-Room Amenities
All the Ortigia products you could dream of, from hair and beauty care to wondrous bath salts and creams. Sumptuous bathrobes and the spongiest, most comfortable hotel slippers I have ever tried. Fresh fruit, a bottle of prosecco, Nespresso machine, and the standard set up of mini-bar snacks, including artisanal dried fruits and salted nuts. WiFi is free and fast.

Drawbacks
I can’t think of a single one.

Standout Detail
Lino the concierge. His father was one of the first concierges on staff when the hotel opened in 1962. Lino grew up at the hotel. He knows everything.

Checking Out

Neighborhood
Centro Storico/Fashion Quadrangle

What to Do Nearby
The hotel has a back door onto via Spiga, the pedestrian shopping road lined with luxury labels, part of the network of fabulous fashion streets in the Montenapoleone area. Across from the hotel is Fornasetti, the flagship store and multi-floor museum dedicated to avant-garde artist and design Piero Fornasetti. Farther along the road is Villa Necchi Campiglio, the home you may have seen in the Tilda Swinton movie I Am Love — it's Milan’s glorious answer to Falling Water and a monument to upper class living. For a breath of fresh air, Milan's Giardini Pubblici and GAM-Gallera Arte Moderna are a five-minute walk, while ten minutes in the opposite direction will take you directly to the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Good to Know
Guests have access to a side door leading on via Spiga, which is great for quiet entrances in the late evening.

Plan Your Trip

How to Get There
The hotel is a 10-minute cab ride from Milano Centrale train station or an hour from Milano-Malpensa (MXP) airport.

Getting Around
Public transport options abound: bicycle, taxis, trams, bus, and metros. But (almost) everything you will want to do in Milan is just a walk from the hotel.

Book It

Rates from $415. Click here for reservations.

Did You See the Dramatic Hands Trying to Save Venice from Drowning?

This article first appeared in Fathom, February 2018.

The hands that shot out of the sea and were seen around the world. Photo courtesy of Halcyon Gallery.

Venice is a floating city of a million unforgettable moments. And in 2017, the most unforgettable was Support, a Venice Biennale sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn depicting a pair of colossal hands rising out of the Grand Canal, seeming to hold up the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel. If you happened to be in Venice this year, you know what I’m talking about. (If you're desperate to see it before it goes, the show closes on February 28. Hop the 1 or 2 vaporetto water bus from Santa Lucia train station and get off at the Ca d’Oro stop.)

The stark white hands look like a submerged Atlas reaching out to support (or grasp) the closest palazzo. Quinn created Support as a site-specific piece that was both a figurative and a physical support to Venice. The idea was (and still is) to open the doors to a discussion on climate change, global warming, and cultural heritage. Did it work? Yes, and then some. Magical, absurd, funny, poignant: No matter what your mood, the hands drew you in and brought out emotion.

The first time I saw Support, I laughed. A good, happy, hearty laugh. It was a clear, sunny day, and Venice was giving me everything — and I felt like those hands were giving me the world. I came back in the late afternoon and watched the sun set on the canal in a rainbow fire while those white hands practically prayed in gratitude to the raw siena color of the palazzo. 

Another time, I saw the sculpture on a raining morning on the way to Piazza San Marco. I was elbowed into an uncomfortable corner of the vaporetto with what felt like every tourist Venice has ever seen. The hands seemed to desperately claw at Ca’ Sagredo’s walls. The last time I saw it was at twilight, when those fathomless colors of Venice were fading and the hands seemed to be gently cradling the side of the palazzo, protecting it, holding it, cherishing it. Magical. Powerful. Venice.

Find It

Support will be on display until February 28, 2018. It is best visible from the 1 or 2 line of the vaporetto water bus at the Ca d'Oro stop. 

Learn more: Lorenzo Quinn's website.

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.

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)

When in Rome, Don't Cheer at the Wrong Soccer Game

This article original appeared in FATHOM on March 30, 2017. The First Soccer Game is a rite of passage for every Italian parent and child. Erica Firpo schools her daughter in the sacred sport.

ROME – There comes a time in every (Roman) child's life when a parent must have The Talk. A long and meaningful conversation about one's place in the world, and how that world's epicenter is the Stadio Olimpico, Rome's field of dreams.

In a soft voice, the conversation begins with color, a poignant preamble about the beauty of orange and red, with a casual mention of a slight disdain for boring baby blue. Heads nod in agreement as The Talk turns into A Dramatic Narrative — the rags-to-riches story of a young boy with a golden foot, and how that foot has traversed field after field and adversary after adversary to win the scudetti badges bestowed to series victors as well as hearts across the world. There is a reverent pause in homage to that young boy, who is now the captain of his hometown team, that incredible team known simply as AS Roma — city champions, underdogs, fighters.

Promises are made to always believe — through rain and shine, good and bad — that Roma is the best team in the world, a team that will always love you and never leave you. And to never, ever, ever root for their blue cross-town rivals, Lazio*. When the Roma scarf is gently wrapped around the child's neck, the rite of passage has been completed.

"Mamma, quando andiamo allo stadio?"

Shit. My seven-year-old has asked me the one question I had hoped and prayed never to hear. Mommy, when are we going to the stadium?

To be clear, I love calcio, the sport Americas call soccer. I love watching the World Cup and always get a front row seat in Campo de' Fiori during the Euros. I marched through the streets of Rome to celebrate the 2006 World Cup win. My beloved and worn-out Italia jersey is 15 years old, and I still wear it for every game the Italian national team — the Azurri — plays. And I have no stadium fears. In fact, I put in a lot of quality time in the tribuna (the best seats in the house at any stadium) during the 2005-2006 season, albeit begrudgingly, because my then-boyfriend was a historic (and histrionic) Laziale (Lazio fan).

These grandmas know the score.

I have pretty good idea of how (and when) to take a child to a game. I didn't want to hear that question because I love Juventus, the Turin team from the north.

Romanista

  1. Romanist (student of ancient Rome)
  2. Member of the Roma football club

I blame school and her older sister for creating this die-hard Romanista. In first grade, she started collecting figurini, the Panini Serie A album with adhesive players card stickers. By second grade when she only wanted Roma players, the collectibles weren't enough. She wanted to see a real game.

As any good mother would do, I sucked it up and got tickets to the Stadio for a Mother's Day game — the ultimate symbol of maternal sacrifice. With deliberate reason: In my opinion, every true fan should have at least one chance to see their favorite player on the home pitch. In her case, it was Mr. Golden Foot himself, Francesco Totti, who, at almost 40 years old, was not guaranteed to return for the 2016-2017 season**.

Yes, I had been warned about taking a seven-year-old to the stadium. It's dangerous! The fans are crazy! Yes, I was aware that we were two females alone, and only one of us old enough to legally drive a car. It's a den of testosterone! The fans are crazy!

A superfan in the making.

So I made sure we did it right. A few days before the game, we headed to the official AS Roma store in our neighborhood to pick out a tuta (an official team outfit of shirt and pants), in spite of having been told there was nothing for women. We also bought a sciarpa, a silky, long neck scarf emblazoned with SPQR and AS ROMA in big letters, to accent my conveniently Roma red blouse. We looked the part and easily blended in with the seas of orange and red as we walked around the stadium grounds.

Once in the stadium, all we had to do was find our seats — a breeze, as ticket holders are only allowed access to their assigned seating section. I made sure to purchase seats in the mid-field Tribuna Monte Mario section, the one for dedicated Roma fans, and not the crazy Romanisti seats. The vibe in the tribuna is considered calm (okay, it is for a football match), making it the best place to sit with children. On our left was a father-and-son combo (one of the many; there were not so many daughters), also on a first-time-at-the-stadium, rite-of-passage game. On our right were a pair of nonne, experienced Romanista grandmothers who led all the cheers in our section. Knowing that the snack bar lines would be crazy long (and who wants to wait for bad snacks when the ball is in play?), we brought our own panini and purchased a cold drink of the stadium vendors. Effortless.

The experience was amazing. Roma dominated the game. Totti waved to us. De Rossi was as fine as he always is (the players are the best part of the game). My seven-year-old told me I was the best mamma in the history of all mothers. And I actually teared up while singing hard to Venditti's Roma Roma Roma.

When we returned home, I promised her more games for 2016-2017, and she told me it was okay if we went to the next Roma-Juve game. Together we set up a small altar to AS Roma, Totti, and his wife Ilary in a corner of her bedroom. That night, she made a wish that Er Bambino, the Golden Foot, would last just one more season so that we could have another Best Day Ever.

*That other team in Rome.

**If there is any reason to go to a Roma game, it is Francesco Totti. The Roma captain is still playing his heart out. If you're in Rome this season, make time to catch him in a game, because while it's unclear when he will retire, it's expected to be May.

Who You Calling Champagne? Tasting Notes on Italy’s Best Bubbly

This article originally appeared in Fathom on March 30, 2017 .

Ca' del Bosco. Photos by Erica Firpo.

The next time wine is on your vacation agenda, consider Franciacorta, the Italian bubbly you should already be drinking. If a visit to premier winery Ca' del Bosco isn't an option today, ordering a few bottles to see what the fuss is about certainly is. Fathom's Erica Firpo gets the scoop from the globetrotting vintner in charge.

FRANCIACORTA, Italy – For years, I've been swigging, I mean, singing the praises of Franciacorta, the best of Italy's bubbly lineup, which includes Prosecco, Lambrusco, metodo classico, and Asti spumante. I like them all, but not all the time. Prosecco is fine for an office party, but just thinking about it gives me a weird hangover. Lambrusco is quirky, a red sparkling wine that should be the ideal hipster drink. As for spumante, it reminds me of Cheryl Tiegs and 1970s. Franciacorta, which falls into the metodo classico category, is, quite simply, divine.

Let's pause for a quick wine lesson: Metodo classico is a fermentation tradition that closely adheres to the traditions and technique of mèthode champagneoise, the champagne method of in bottle-aging and second fermentation. Great Franciacorta wines have tight and subtle bubbles, with an aromatic, feathery taste on par with top champagnes, leading some to call it Italian champagne. But by law, nationality, and taste, it is absolutely not champagne. Franciacorta is made under the Lombardy sun, a tiny, 7000-acre territory in the Brescia province, where horseback riding rivals grape growing for things to do. And if champagne is considered imperial nectar, I'd say Franciacorta is Dionysis' very own laughter, corked up in a bottom-heavy bottle. And here's the key: You can drink it with anything.

A region of wine and horses. Photos by Erica Firpo.

A while back, I headed to Erbusco, the epicenter of Franciacorta, for a long weekend of full sparkling wine immersion and horseback riding. Somewhere along the trail, I met Maurizio Zanella, president of Franciacorta Consortium and founder of Ca' del Bosco. Zanella is what Italians would call a personaggio, a personality so distinct that all you have to do is say his last name to make your point.

For the past 46 years, Zanella has been quietly pushing Franciacorta and its region into DOCG greatness, building up his labels and at the same, transforming his winery into an open-air art gallery and a 21st-century gastro-roundtable. His 400-acre organic fiefdom is undeniably beautiful: vineyards, state-of-the-art winery, and atmospheric cellar set into the rolling, green hills of the Brescia region. Amid the green landscape are site-specific art installations: monumental sculptures in bronze, marble and recyclable plastic by such international artists as Arnaldo Pomodoro, Zheng Lu, and Cracking Art Group. In the past few years, Zanella commissioned eleven photographers and artists, like Helmut Newton, Mimmo Jodice, and William Klein, to capture the vineyard in film. These life-sized black and whites are showcased throughout the winery.

But food — and by proxy, restaurants — are Zanella's passion, just after his children and maybe right before his winery. When he is not onsite at Ca' del Bosco, he's out and about, exploring Bergamo, Milano, Ibiza, Miami, and more. Zanella's life is an overbooked agenda of world travel, combining business meetings and tasting with restaurant openings and food-cations.

And he's not alone. Most of the time, he travels with a culinary gang — chefs, restaurant owners, foodies, gallerists, and even soccer players — hitting the best restaurants and local joints everywhere they go. Eventually, they all end up back at Ca' del Bosco and Zanella's inner sanctum, a cozy, dark lounge filled with bottles, lots of bottles, and more art.

Which is where I find myself, staring at chef's aprons signed by his friends — Italian superstars Massimo Bottura, Enrico Cerea, and Carlo Cracco, among them — asking Zanella about favorite meals. He's coy, but he does give me a meal-of-a-lifetime tasting menu, table-hopping among Italy's Michelin star chefs, whose dishes he would — of course — serve with his wines.

"Eroi di Luce" by Igor Mitoraj.

Owner Maurizio Zanella.

ZANELLA'S PERFECT ITALIAN MEAL

Tortelli Che Cammino Sul Brodo, served with Cuvée Annamaria Clementi Osteria Francesca, Modena Massimo Bottura's autobiographical and (by now) notorious take on the pasta pride of the Emilia Romagna region: six seemingly simple and traditional tortellini in broth, which Zanella pairs with Cuvée Annamaria Clementi, a Franciacorta dedicated to Tanella' mother.

Tortelli di zucca, served with PinèroDal Pescatore, Mantova The nearly century-old restaurant makes the best pumpkin tortellini in Italy. Full stop.

Fagotelli alla carbonara, served with Vintage Collection Dosage ZeroLa Pergola, Rome Heinz Beck's innovation — his carbonara is off the hook! — lures Zanella up to Beck' hilltop restaurant time and time again.

Spaghetti alla chitarra ai frutti di mare, served with Cuvée PrestigeEnoteca Pinchiorri, Florence It just doesn't get better chef Annie Fèolde's guitar-string spaghetti. To say nothing for Pinchiorri's legendary wine cantina.

Cotoletta alla Milanese, served with Maurizio ZanellaDa Vittorio, Bergamo A proper Italian secondo: an exquisite veal cutlet.

As for my favorite dish to eat with that golden nectar, it's oysters. And then pizza. And Zanella agrees. Franciacorta goes with everything.

The view onto Lago Iseo from Rivalago Hotel.

Lago Iseo.

PLAN YOUR TRIP

Visit the Vineyard Ca' del Bosco opens their doors to everyone, including dogs. The vibe is very laid-back and extraordinarily friendly, but I'd make the most of it by perusing the wine tours on Visit the Cellar and reserving. I'm partial to the Pieces of Art tour.

How to Get There Yes, you can take a train, but you're going to want to have your own method of transportation to get around the area. The best strategy is to rent a car and drive practically due east from Milan to Brescia and then Erbusco. You'll pass gorgeous Lombard greenery for the hour-long drive. Just try to stop yourself from pulling over for a selfie at each kilometer along the Strada del Franciacorta.

Where to Stay For absolute pampering, L'Albereta, spa resort owned by the Moretti family, producers of another top-notch Franciacorta Bellavista, and very much in the center of their vineyards. Slightly further done the road along the late is Rivalago Hotel. The view of Lago Iseo is entirely meditative. Palazzo Torri is the choice for history. For a low-profile-stay deep in the terroir, I'd book a stay in any of the Franciacorta consortium's suggested agroturismi, which range from rustic to stylized.

Tokyo Palace Hotel

One of my favorite things to do is review hotels.  I know that sounds odd- who really wants to pack up for a day or two, obsess over every detail from proper pillows to mini-bar ?  Me.   I love the idea of a temporary getaway-  a moment to get out of my own hair and get into another personality via a brand new room.  I'd like to say this hotel obsession of comes from a [necessary] self-imposed housing stability and my star sign Gemini.  But no, tediously raking over every square inch of a hotel room has been a fun game of mine since I was a kid.  It's like running my own kingdom . . . and I think I'm kind of good at it, how about you?

My latest review is the Tokyo Palace Hotel for Fathom-- or what I like to consider my next home in Tokyo...

A glittery corner tower that seamlessly fits with the tranquil harmony of Marunouchi, Tokyo's quiet downtown neighborhood near the Imperial Palace. Though high-rise often screams business, the Palace Hotel Tokyo is a vertical culture trip...

Everything Old is New in Rome

Believe it or not, there has been a lot newness going in Rome, and a lot has to do with its Ancient and Renaissance past. I've shared it all in the article "Everything Old is New in Rome" for Fathom. From hotels and restaurants to historic sites, Rome has some great old news.  

Trevi Fountain, Rome.

ROME – Rome is a city that doesn't always follow the rules or live by definition, especially when it comes to the concept of newness. Living here, I've languished in the old-school vibe and old habits, while occasionally thirsting for that take-the-wrapping-off new feeling. I've come to the conclusion that newness is relative...  Read more on FATHOM.

Palazzo della Civilta Italiana
Imperial Ramps
Furriers at work at Palazzo Fendi
Casa Copelle Bar
Tiberino restaurant