Scenes from the rank and file: Happy Birthday, Rome

April 21, 753 BC and we are still having a party.  Welcome to the rank and file-- legions, emperors, entertainers and barbarians as they marched through the city to celebrate the Natale di Roma (founding of Rome).  For a whole other look at the festivities, please check out my photo-based story on Huffington Post and visit my #bbclocalite features on Rome for BBC Travel.  And if you want to hang with a legion, check out Gruppo Storico Romano.

A secret butchers club in the heart of Rome


~ This article originally appeared in BBC Travel on April 5~

Every year, Rome's confraternity of butchers celebrate Palm Sunday at a tiny piazza behind Campo de' Fiori, giving out traditional Easter breakfast to anyone who comes by. This year, I got to go behind the scenes of the 483-year-old confraternity, visiting with the head butchers and getting a peek into their private church. Welcome to Rome’s secret butcher’s club.

Last Sunday – Palm Sunday morning – I was in line in the tiny Piazza della Quercia waiting to be served breakfast by a bunch of butchers. The woman to my left told me to push my six-year-old up front, while the man on my right reminded me to burn my egg shells over a flame to prevent bad luck. The crowd hushed as a procession of white-frocked priests walked by with huge palm fronds.It was the sort of small town gathering that seems out of place in the shadow of Campo de’ Fiori, one of the busiest squares in Rome. But this neighbourhood, full of side streets, local shops and curious neighbours, hides the headquarters of the 483-year-old Confraternity of the Butchers of Rome. For the past 23 years, the butchers have hosted a Palm Sunday brunch in the tiny Piazza della Quercia to give back to their friends, clients and neighbours.

  • The Confraternity is an unassuming association representing nearly all of Rome’s more than 300 butchers. For nearly five centuries, they’ve quietly collected dues, acquired property and subsidized fellow butchers in need. Imagine the Templar Knights with cleavers, meat hooks and a good shank. Since 1532, the butchers have met monthly to discuss, well, butchery issues, but rarely does the confraternity promote itself publicly.
  • When my daughter asked for an extra egg – and I asked to know more about the confraternity– Riccardo, a butcher-cum-civil servant, brought us past the police guards and through a 16th-century palazzo to a kitchen filled white-jacketed butchers. They were slicing colomba (Easter cake), porchetta (seasoned roast pork) and salami, garnishing dishes with hard-boiled and chocolate eggs. They also dished out platefuls of coratella, a traditional Roman dish of lamb offals and artichokes. It’s a breakfast that’s not for the faint-of-heart.

  • After breakfast, a butcher from the San Giovanni neighbourhood, Bruno Babusci, led me upstairs to the Confraternity’s inner sanctum. It’s a private, beautifully frescoed room, with a 17th-century Sebastiano Conca painting that was discovered when a Prosecco cork popped a hole in the covered ceiling.
  • Confraternity president Roberto Dionisi pointed out the marble inscriptions that detail the butchers’ benefactions from the 16th-century to the present, and gave me a glimpse into the upper story of the butchers’ church, Santa Maria della Quercia. He showed me things that only butchers had seen before.

    When I asked why, he replied, it’s important to share what you can.

BBC Travel #AskaLocalite

As a #BBCLocalite, I have a lot of fun sharing my photos, tips and thoughts on Rome on Twitter and Instagram.  I had the chance to get out from behind the small screen for a great question and answer session about visiting Rome for BBC Travel's #AskaLocalite . Let me know how I did!

BBC Localite, Rome and Me

BBC localite
BBC localite

I am proud to be part of a great team of journalists, bloggers and social media influencers as BBC Travel's Rome #bbclocalite.  For the next few months, I will be sharing 21st century Rome through my eyes on BBC Travel's Instagram and Twitter profiles.  We have a great team in London, New York, Munich and Paris, all ready to share our cities with you.  Just follow the tag #bbclocalite and make sure to reach out to say hello!

Speak softly and carry a big stick: Big Bambù

[photo by Nicolee Drake]

If anyone cares to know what I want to do with my life, this is it: interview artists atop public art installations, preferably monumental in size. And to be honest,  I think I am doing my best to make sure this happens.  At the end of last month, photographer Nicolee Drake and I climbed to the top of Big Bambù, an over 100 foot tall whirlwind of bamboo created by Doug and Mike Starn for MACRO Testaccio and ENEL Contemporanea.  We went back two more times.  You should go too, you'll probably catch me lying around . . .

Big Bambù opens today and will be up forever. For more information on the exhibition, please read my latest piece in BBC Travel.  And if you won't be able to climb, take a look through Nicolee's lens- and Tumblr.

[Photo by Marco MoscatoMe and Nicolee

In action.


Writing Rome

Sometimes I feel I am constantly rubbing my eyes to remove yesteryear's grimy patina from a Rome that I know exists in the 21st century.  Rome will always be, at least for now, the Rome of contradictions, attitude and inane traditions, but sometimes I think she wants more.  The landscape is changing, both physically and emotionally, which means everyone is going to have a complaint and everyone will have something to celebrate. I take the latter, and that's what I like to write about. Here are my latest pieces: BBC Travel "Rome's new architectural renaissance" and Huffington Post's Friday Night Lights: Eataly Rome.