TRAVEL

Interview with Classical Archaeologist Darius Arya

Courtesy of Darius Arya

Courtesy of Darius Arya

This article first appeared in Traditional Building, March 2019.

There is nothing more new than looking at the past, or at least that’s how Rome-based archaeologist Darius Arya thinks. For Darius, Rome is more than ancient history, it’s living history and an ongoing story that Darius takes to the lecture halls, the field, and to the screens- big and small.

“Everyone dreamed of being Indiana Jones,” tells Darius, “I figured I’d just do it. I wanted to be knee-deep in ancient inscriptions and underground sites, so I started with Latin.” While studying Classical Studies at University of Pennsylvania, Darius was accepted to participate in a semester in Rome at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies, fondly known to alums and students as the Centro. While his focus was Greek and Latin, Darius was captivated by the active history all around him and continued on to a Masters and Masters/PhD in Classical Archaeology, at University of Texas Austin, and was awarded a Fullbright scholarship and fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.

What anchored and still anchors Darius to the Eternal City is the unique juxtaposition of past and present in its art, architecture, and culture. “I tend to look at Rome from the past, like 2,500 years ago, and constantly see these threads in contemporary life here as well as around the world.” His passion for Classical studies and architecture is unstoppable, and over the past two decades in Rome, he’s done everything to share it. As the director of American Institute for Roman Culture, a non-profit that fosters conversation on Rome’s extraordinary cultural legacy through education, outreach, and multi-platform storytelling, Darius created several education and new media initiatives, and as a documentary filmmaker, he hosts 2018’s Ancient Invisible Cities (PBS) and ongoing Italian television series “Under Italy” (RAI5).

Darius on location at the Hagia Sofia, Istanbul Turkey while shooting PBS’s Ancient Invisible Cities. Courtesy of Darius Arya

We sat down with Darius to find out what its like to live, work, and dig in Rome.

You’ve been coordinating excavations in Rome for 15 years. What are some of the surprises you’ve come across? What has been your most fulfilling project to date? No matter how much you plan and study, when you finally excavate you will inevitably find things you didn’t expect, never dreamed of. I’ve come across an undocumented imperial era cemetery, and uncovered an intact opus sectile floor. My personal favorite and probably most fulfilling came from our dig at the Park of the Aqueducts, a public park less than eight miles from the center of Rome. The park itself is amazing with its mile-long arcade of ancient Aqua Claudia aqueduct. We were in our third summer at excavations, already having uncovered a 50,000 square foot lavish bath complex—multiple stories and chambers and lots of in situ marble paneling. We were halfway through the day, already unearthing beautiful statue fragments (clear signs of late antique spoliation) when we uncovered a colored marble head. As we progressed, we realized we had an entire intact statue of the highest quality—a second century AD red marble statue depicting Marsyas tied to a tree, with beautiful detailed musculature and one remaining bronze inlaid eye. I was so paranoid when we found it, I decided to sleep in the trench with Marsyas that night for fear of looters (always a real threat for any excavation). We extracted the statue the next morning with a small crane and transported it to a superintendency warehouse for safekeeping. After a thorough restoration and cleaning, our Marsyas is on permanent public display at Capitoline Museums Montemartini gallery.

What are the biggest challenges? Archaeology is slow work. And the thrill of a season in the field is matched by a long study season in the warehouse and in the library, with a lot of specialists and technicians. Many years in the field are overshadowed by countless more hours of study, research, and documentation. It is tedious and methodical—all totally worth it, but also requires a lot of patience and funding. Maybe that’s why Indiana Jones kept sneaking out of the university during office hours?

Challenges can be bureaucratic and also topographical. Rome has some of the most complex stratigraphy in the world due to the fact that it’s been continuously occupied for over 3,000 years and thus so much was built and deposited on the same land by so many citizens, foreigners, pilgrims, governments, and empires.

Taking the larger view of the field of archaeology and heritage preservation as a whole, probably the biggest challenge today is not looting nor war, but accelerated urban development and growing need for arable land. Often archaeologists and heritage preservation experts are considered hindrances to progressive development, but they are essential stakeholders in preserving/documenting known and delineated sites as well as those yet to be uncovered, and viable sources in collaborative development.

Social media, especially live streaming, takes an active role in education storytelling and promoting cultural heritage, according to Arya, who recently won a Shorty Award for his live streaming reportage. His goal is bring his audience live to cultural heritage sites around the world. Courtesy of Darius Arya

I believe it is possible to bridge the gap between innate enthusiasm for the material and the actual academic discipline by utilizing new media to keep the material dynamic—from social media like YouTube and Instagram Stories, to better, interactive tech. — DARIUS ARYA

How do you navigate living in Rome, a contemporary city with nearly three thousand years of visible history and lot of baggage? Can one appreciate the history of the Eternal City and still enjoy its 21st century attributes and vice versa? With hundreds and hundreds of churches, monuments, and archaeological sites and museums, I’m never bored. Even after two decades of living in Rome every single day is a delight for me. There is always something to discover, explore, and rediscover, and my Rome experience flows into the palimpsest of the city. For example, my bus stop is at Largo Argentina, known for its cat sanctuary as well as the area sacra, an incredible open-air site with Republican temple abutted by the late Republican Senate hall where Julius Caesar was assassinated. My local gelateria is down the street and our children get their school supplies at the cartoleria next door. It’s a contemporary marketplace and probably the most historic bus stop in the world! My kids and I bike to school passing the best preserved temple in antiquity, the Pantheon, and then peddle past one of Rome’s most modern museums, Richard Meier’s Are Pacis Museum next to the 2000 year old Mausoleum of Augustus (currently under restoration, slated for a 2019 opening).

Are the upcoming generations interested in classical studies? How do you drive that interest? I’d say that the next gens are definitely interested in the classics but perhaps less conventionally. While less and less are majoring in Latin and Greek, they are absorbing classical studies directly and indirectly through film and television series like Gladiator, Game of Thrones, The Young Pope, as well as fashion, gaming and especially travel. All of this confirms to me that the classics, that history, the art and architecture, those characters and stories, are ever inspiring. Taking that into consideration, the field as a whole (from languages to art and archaeology) is definitely shrinking needs to reboot- reinvent itself, for wider appeal, at the same time staying true to its core objectives and values. I believe it is possible to bridge the gap between innate enthusiasm for the material and the actual academic discipline by utilizing new media to keep the material dynamic—from social media like YouTube and Instagram Stories, to better, interactive tech.

An excavation is a collaborative team effort as history. Arya works side by side with trained specialists and experts in their field such as forsensicsanthropologist Pier Paolo Petroni (shown) who helps put the pieces of history together. Courtesy of Darius Arya.

You were one of the first archaeologists to have an active voice on social media, and you won an award for it (2017 Periscoper of the Year). Will you share with us why social media is so important to archaeology, classical studies and architecture? Visual storytelling, an essential component of social media, is integral to archaeologist and historians. It brings the audience directly to the material culture. I’m lucky to be in Rome, hands down one of the most photogenic cities in the world. From the first time I signed up, it made sense and was easy to share images and live streams from the ancient world via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. It’s more than just a good photo—it’s an opportunity to expand and share knowledge and insights, and interact directly with a global audience that has questions and wants to learn. My hashtags #recycledhistory (a focus on the continual evolution and reuse of ancient materials) and #romeawayfromrome (modern and contemporary architecture with classical architectonic elements from a Palladian home to 1920s theatre or Wall Street architecture) may not trend but they create new discussions and connections of the various facets of classical studies. The results of my efforts on social media really show that the classics, in all its rich, interdisciplinary fields, is alive and well in a contemporary setting. History, art, architecture, and the people of the past that created it all, are engaging protagonists on a variety of platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Facebook). As those sites evolved and change, I’ve adapted as well, having just now launched a new podcast Travel: In Situ. Delivery and engagement is bound to continue to change and evolve, and I intend to stay with or ahead of the curve in the discussion. 

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.

Two Days in Venice with San Clemente Palace

There is another like an island getaway, and some say there is nothing like a Venice escape.   But the beautiful Serenissima is not quite a respite, especially once the weather warms up.  But what if it was? A few weeks ago, I was invited by Kempinski hotels to come to visit the newly opened and renovated San Clemente Palace, a luxury hotel in a small island across from San Marco and the Giudecca that entices you to best of both worlds-  the meandering charm of Venice and the quietude of an island .  (You may remember that I wrote about the San Clemente Palace last year in Forbes Travel round-up of the new/updated St. Regis-Starwood line up-   Yes, same space, same place but new owner with some great surprises).

My weekend was perfect. The sky was constantly painted by Titian, the water never made up its jewel-toned mind, and the temperature was warm to a balmy chill at night.  And the hotel.... it was fabulous. Or maybe I just like history with a luxe decor?   San Clemente was a crusader stop over, a monastery, a hospital and sanitarium (famously, Mussolini's first wife had a Zelda Fitzgerald finish here), and now  190 room hotel, most of which opt for that Baroque-inspired finery we've come to expect of Venice- Venetian plaster, carved wooden headboards, velvet covered furniture, gilded mirrors and opulent drapery with incredibly large tassels.  My Junior Suite was just that, with the most comfortable bed in the world, a beautiful view of the lagoon and San Marco, and a large marble bathroom stocked with Acqua di Parma products and a very, very good hair dryer.  Yep, I was in heaven until I walked through the San Clemente Suite, a stand-alone top floor apartment which is probably the love child of Poltrona Frau and SanLorenzo Super Yachts dancing in my seaside fantasies: exposed wood beam ceilings, gorgeous contemporary Italian furniture in leathers and velvets, floor to ceiling windows with a front row view of the Venetian Lagoon, and did I mention private dock?  Consider it a 10, 000 euro sunrise... San Clemente Suite.

Let's round it up:  San Clemente Palace is a time piece.  Its long hallways and a vintage bar are reminiscent of a favorite Kubrick film.  San Clemente is a compound.  You could quite possibly stay here without visiting Venice because it has *almost* everything- three restaurants, under chef Vincenzo di Tuoro,  three bars under superbarman  Alessio Venturini, (note: try his White Lady, my new cocktail), pool, putting holes, tennis courts, park benches and enough grounds that I lapped the site 3 times for my morning run - admittedly, I stopped a few times just to take in fresh air. But even Kempinski knows you need to get lost, so if offers guests complimentary water taxi service to and from San Marco each half hour.  [For a walk around San Clemente Palace, please flip around my Steller Story].

What didn't I like? More like, what would I like to see next? I'd love to see the herb garden they are talking about cultivating, with chef's tabl dining. In fact, I'd like to see how Chef di Tuoro evolves the restaurants.  The pool is beautiful- but will Kempinski expand to more spa services and perhaps enhance the on site gym?  And that's it.

My two days in Venice were just what I needed to clear my head from Rome.  I made sure to cross over to Venice for some cicchetti and art. I stumbled across the Joseph Klibansky Beautiful Tomorrow exhibition at Palazzo Franchetti- humorous and beautiful, best combination-- and then went to the Pinnault Foundation double header opening of Sigmar Polke (Palazzo Grassi) and Acchrochage (Punta della Dogana). By the time you read, Klibansky will have ended but you should plan to catch Polke, an excellent retrospective of the German artist who had far more fun than Andy Warhol.  But yes, I was lazy and stayed on the island- participating in a master cooking class with di Tuoro, where we talked gnocchi, and then met up with  Alessio at the Clemente Bar for another White Lady. My kind of weekend in Venice.

#EmptyVatican, totally #blessed with Instagram

A photo posted by Erica Firpo (@ericafirpo) on Nov 3, 2015 at 12:26am PST

I like art.  It's pretty obvious if you happen to hear me chatter, whether face to face or on social media.  I love going to galleries, meandering museums, investigating installations-  it doesn't matter, I just need to have an art experience.  I could probably call it an addiction, which may explain why I am so adamant about being first in line at the Venice Biennale, finding art tags on Instagram or helming my own Insta-artsy project #EmptyMuseo.   Combining my love for art and the fun I can visually have on Instagram, The Professor (aka Darius) and I have been curating some great art meet ups in Italy's galleries over the past year.  The latest installation was October 26's #EmptyVatican the love child of a great coffee talk between me, Darius and the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, an organization focused on bringing together restoration projects and donors within the walls of the museums.   Darius and I would select a group of 10 Instagrammers, including ourselves, based on interest, aesthetic, community participate, and committed desire to share Italy's cultural heritage, and let the world know about the Vatican Patrons and its free app Patrum.

The game plan:  The Vatican Patrons would curate an early morning away from the crowds and in non-accessible areas of the museums.  So yes, the Galleria of the Maps, Raphael Rooms, Lapidarium and Sistine Chapel were all ours.  To be clear, we abided by the rules of the Vatican Museums and did not use flash, nor take any photos or videos in the Sistine Chapel.  With just 10 photographers,  #EmptyVatican increased followers by more than 35% and brought the Vatican Museums and Vatican Patrons to the fore front of international press-  as seen and written about in  The Guardian, Condè Nast Traveler, Condè Nast Traveller India, Swide, Lonely Planet,Catholic Herald… and more

The Players:  @Aivenn, @DavidPinto_, @EricaFirpo,@Helium_Tea, @MarkoMorciano,@MatteoAcitelli, @Mattego,@MBMissMary, @Saverome,@Sherokee

Click below to see all the photos.  And give me a shout if you want to join the next #emptymuseo erica@ericafirpo.com

#EmptyVatican
#EmptyVatican

Florence vs. Rome, Yahoo City Smackdown

This originally appeared in Yahoo Travel on Wednesday,  August 27, 2014.

City Smackdown: Florence vs. Rome

Each week, Yahoo Travel pits rival destinations against each other to determine once and for all which one is the best. Today, an Italian-flavored Smackdown: Florence vs. Rome. 

THE CASE FOR FLORENCE

By Nicky Swallow 

florence-italy

In this corner: Florence (Photo: Andrea Zanchi/E+/Getty Images)

One of the world’s great art repositories, Florence proudly holds its own against Rome in spite of its diminutive size. Florence is so much more than just museums and monuments, and foodies, fashionistas, and fans of the good life will all be blown away by this compact gem of a city. You can walk almost everywhere that’s worth going, and thanks to our ex-mayor (now prime minister) Matteo Renzi, central Florence boasts one of the largest traffic-free urban areas in Europe, so you don’t have to contend with the fume-belching buses and bumper-to-bumper jams that are a constant in Rome. And if you want to combine your city break with a day in the country, a 10-minute drive will have you surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. It can take hours to escape from Rome…

Population: 377,000.

Famous Faces: The Gucci family. The Ferragamo family. Roberto Cavalli. Matteo Renzi (Italian PM).

Related: 67 & Dumped: Photo Bombing in Florence, Italy

florence-architecture

Piazza della Repubblica, one of the architectural marvels you’ll see in Florence (Photo: Glowimages/Getty Images)

World-Class Art: Often dubbed “The Cradle of the Renaissance,” Florence has a concentration of fabulous art packed into a small space that is second to none. The Uffizi Gallery houses one of the world’s greatest collections of paintings (think iconic images such as Botticelli’s “Primavera” and Rosso Fiorentino’s lute-playing putto);the Galleria dell’Accademia is home to “David,” the most famous nude statue on the planet; and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo lists Ghiberti’s great bronze “Doors of Paradise” among its treasures. The churches are stuffed full of fabulous frescoes, and the streets and piazzas are lined with elegant palaces and architectural masterpieces such as Il Duomo, the Ospedale degli Innocenti and the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. You could stay in Florence a month and still not see it all.

scooter-florence

Looking at art on a scooter: there’s nothing more Florence than that (Photo: Sofie Delauw/Cultura/Getty Images)

Popular Way to Get Around Town: On foot. Florence is a small city, and you will find that nearly everywhere you want to go is contained within the compact Centro Storico. Bicycles are another good option (pick one up at Santa Maria Novella train station). But if you want to do it the Florentine way, rent a scooter from Alinari. Tired feet? Hop on one of the Lilliputian, eco-friendly bussini specially designed to negotiate the narrow streets in the center of town. Tickets cost €1,20 and are available from newsstands, bars, and tobacconists’ shops.

hotels-in-florence

Go ahead and call the Four Seasons “palatial.” It’s in a palace (Photo: Firenze CB/Flickr)

Sleep Tight: It may be small, but the Renaissance City has a wide variety of accommodation options that range from five-star hotels offering in-your-face luxury to B&B gems in family-owned palazzi. Top-of-the-pile options include the Four Seasons, housed in a Renaissance palace and set in the largest private garden in the city, and the St. Regis, which boasts rooms overlooking the Arno. Then there is the new, immaculately stylish riverside Ferragamo Portrait Suites, which is set to give the other top boutique contender, J.K. Place, a run for its money. The Rocco Forte-owned Hotel Savoy is a good choice if you want a supercentral location, and the Helvetia & Bristol offers old-school service and a retro atmosphere. For something a little more intimate, try Palazzo Galletti or the Loggiato dei Serviti, which occupy old palazzi. Or to get away from it all, book into the funky, minimalist Riva Lofts, a complex of converted artisan workshops on the south bank of the Arno, a 20-minute walk from town.

florence-fashion

Sorry, Milan. Florence takes a backseat to no Italian city when it comes to style (Photo: Thinkstock)

Fashion Pulse: Milan may grab the headlines when it comes to the catwalk, but Florence is traditionally the home of moda Italiana. Italy’s first fashion show was held in Florence in 1951. The Florentines are proud of their long artisan heritage, and their fashion sense is based firmly on quality and craftsmanship. During your time in the Renaissance City, you will be surrounded by beautifully dressed men and women oozing an innate sense of style and elegance, even when they are dressed in their sweats. It’s no coincidence that some of Italy’s top labels are Florentine: Gucci, Roberto Cavalli, Pucci, and, of course (by adoption), Ferragamo.

Fabulous Food: Simple, earthy, and satisfying, traditional Florentine cuisine is based on seasonal local ingredients prepared with lashings of peppery Tuscan olive oil. Meals start with hearty bread, bean, and veg combos such as ribollita and pappa al pomodoro or pasta sauced with hare or wild boar. Next up is the city’s famous signature dish, bistecca alla Fiorentina, a vast T-bone eaten almost raw. Family-run Il Latini and subterranean Buca Lapi are good places to sample traditional dishes. In a hurry? Street food Florentine style means tripe and lampredotto (cow intestines), so man up and join the locals at one of the mobile trippaio stalls in the city center.

eating-in-florence

Lampredotto is not vegan (yzhelen/Flickr)

Great Escapes: The classic day trip from Florence takes you south into the famous wine-growing region of Chianti. Need more art? Siena, Arezzo, Lucca, and Pisa all have magnificent churches and museums and are within easy reach of Florence. Beach bums should head west to the strip of coast known as the Versilia, where neat rows of deck chairs, sun beds, and parasols occupy the wide swaths of sand.

tuscany-wine

The vineyards in Tuscany are a great detour from Florence (Photo: peter zelei/E+/Getty Images)

The Aperitivo Trail: The pre-dinner aperitivo craze hit Italy (and Florence) some years ago. The coolest way to start an evening out here is to head for one of the city’s buzzy bars, order an Aperol spritz (a Venetian cocktail of Aperol and prosecco), and dig into the buffet spread. In some places this just means a variety of nuts, chips, and olives, but others lay on a feast of hot and cold dishes. Up-market bars such as the East-West Fusion at the Gallery Hotel and the superelegant Atrium Bar at the Four Seasons bring an elegant selection of nibbles to your table; at rooftop bars SE.STO at the Westin Excelsior and La Terrazza at the Hotel Continentale, you get 360-degree views of the city with your drinks; Oltrarno shabby-chic stalwart Cabiria serves up a particularly generous buffet, while at Negroni, you get art and photography exhibits with your lethal Negroni cocktail. Favorite hang-out in laid-back Piazza Santo Spirito is Volume, an ex-woodcarver’s workshop, where the food offerings include delicious buckwheat crepes.

best-bars-in-florence

Start your evening off right with a Aperol spritz (Darren Milligan & Brad Ireland/Flickr)

City on Celluloid: “I Vitelloni” (Federico Fellini, 1953), “Obsession” (Brian de Palma, 1976), “A Room With a View” (James Ivory, 1986), “Tea With Mussolini” (Franco Zeffirelli, 1999), “Hannibal” (Ridley Scott, 2001).

Born in London, Nicky Swallow moved to Florence for three months in 1981 to play the viola in the opera orchestra and never left. She has been writing about travel, food, wine, and life in Florence and the rest of Italy for 15 years, contributing to guidebooks for Frommer's, Time Out, Dorling Kindersley, and Insideout. She is the Florence expert for Simonseeks.com and Afar.com and a regular contributor to Condé Nast Traveller (UK) and The Guardian.

movies-florence

A Room With a View (Photo: Mary Evans/Merchant Ivory/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection)

THE CASE FOR ROME

By Erica Firpo

image

And in this corner: Rome (Photo: John Harper/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Everyone loves a weekend visit to Florence, but what everyone really wants is to live in Rome. Rome is a chaotic convergence of beauty, history, culture, and conflict. For nearly 3,000 years, the city has fostered an amazing roll of artists and architects, actors and scientists, poets and politicians, with just the necessary amount of humor to make the good, bad, and ugly practically perfect. And within the last decade, Rome has worked to reinvent itself into a mecca for 21st-century culture and culinary delights, unveiling new contemporary museums, opening new restaurants, and renovating historic spaces. Its undeniable and best personality trait is independence, reflected in all its niche neighborhoods, like Testaccio, Monti, Trastevere, and even the historic center and Borgo.  And for that, Rome embraces you like a small town. In other words, it’s a 21st-century capital city with a hometown vibe.

Population:  2.8 million.

Famous Faces: What more could you want than the pope and Francesco Totti? After that, everyone else is just an extra. Other fabulous Rome residents include fashion’s Fendi sisters, Gucci’s Frida Giannini, and Valentino. The silver screen’s Willem Dafoe, Ralph Fiennes, Raoul Bova, Gabriele Muccino, Sophia Loren, and Paolo Sorrentino also live here.

famous-rome-residents

Rome has Sophia Loren. Game over (Photo: isifa/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

World-Class Art: While masterpieces and monuments may be on almost every corner, church, and piazza, Rome is definitely not stuck in the past.  The city has an endless amount of museums, collections, and cultural sites covering a range of eras and genres from ancient to avant-garde.  Off the bat, Rome has bragging rights to underground first-century houses, a chapel decorated by Michelangelo, a tiny villa by Raphael, a collection of Caravaggio paintings, and a 21st-century climbable monument by the Starn Brothers. Must-sees include the Vatican Museums,Capitoline Museums, and Palazzo Massimo. Contemporary art and architecture aficionados will want to walk through Richard Meier’s Museum of the Ara Pacis, Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI (21st-century art), and the neoclassical National Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery.  And that’s just the beginning.

Related: 67 & Dumped: on Her Own in Rome

rome-museums

One of the countless lovely sights you’ll see in Rome: the staircase in the Vatican Museums (Photo: Boccalupo Photography/Moment Open/Getty Images)

Popular Way to Get Around Town: Foot, taxi, and even public transportation are the most efficient, while the brave will opt for bikes and scooters.

Sleep Tight: With last year’s opening of the J.K. Place and Gran Meliá,  Rome’s hotels have upped their game. The Hassler unleashed an amazing penthouse suite that rightfully boasts the best view of the city, while the always-desirable Hotel de Russie remains tops for its bonus concierge services and flawless style. I love the more intimate luxe of the Art Deco Palazzo Manfredi, plus its rooftop view of the Colosseum can’t be beat. My wallet adores the charming Locanda San Pancrazio.

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The Palazzo Manfredi isn’t bad to look at, but you can see an even more famous site from its roof ( Photo: Dan Shaw/Flickr)

Fashion Statement: Roman style is all about the three S’s — sunglasses, sparkles, and shoes, for men and women alike. Whatever the walk of life, Romans never leave home without good hair, pressed clothing, bright colors, and an outgoing personality.

rome-restaurants

(Photo: 4FR/Vetta/Getty Images)

Fabulous Food: Roman food is best known as cucina povera, a basic “poor” cuisine made from cooking staples and leftovers, giving us unforgettable caciopepeamatriciana, and carbonara pastas that can be found in every trattoria and osteria. Over the years, the city has undergone a food revolution — slow food and street food make table appearances, while the city makes room for a galaxy of Michelin stars, including the three-star La Pergola, two two-stars, and 12 one-stars. My favorites are street-food pick-me-up Trapizzino, fritti from Cesare al Casaletto, and Pipero al Rex for a fabulous carbonara with a Michelin star.

rome-street-food

A street food pick-me-up from Trapizzino (Coso/Flickr)

Related: Avoid the Tourist Traps and Dine at These Mouth-Watering Destinations in Rome

Great Escapes: If you really think you need to leave Rome, hill towns like Tivoli and Frascati; lakes like Martignano and Bracciano; and beaches like Fregene, Maccarese, and Ostia are just a 30-to-45-minute escape.  Most are reachable by local train or bus, but some require a car.

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The hill town of Tivoli, about 20 miles from Rome (Thinkstock)

The Aperitivo Trail:  Florence doesn’t have a monopoly on the aperitivo scene. In Rome, it’s an integral part of Roman daily life. Hotel de Russie’s garden bar is the prettiest location for afternoon aperitivi. If the weather is warm, you’ll want to head to a rooftop, and the best views and great drinks are from the hotel terraces of Dom and the American Bar at the Hotel Forum. For serious drinks, step into the tiny speakeasy Jerry Thomas Project, dressed-up dive bar Barnum (with Rome’s best bartender), and D.O.M.’s ground-floor bar, a sexy and intimate backdrop with amazing and expensive cocktails.

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Enjoy the view at Hotel Forum (Photo: Space Hotels/Flickr)

The Celluloid City: Florence has done okay but it does not match Rome’s status as one of the great film settings. Fellini showed off its never-a-dull moment nature in “La Dolce Vita” (1960), and Audrey Hepburn embodied its beauty in “Roman Holiday” (William Wyler, 1953). From comedic slice of life to picturesque period pieces, and ancient history to sci-fi and mystery, every generation and genre has filmed in the city: “Ben-Hur” (William Wyler, 1959), “Spartacus” (Stanley Kubrick, 1960), “The Conformist” (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970), “Mahogany” (Berry Gordy, 1975), “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (Anthony Minghella, 1999), “Gladiator” (Ridley Scott, 2000), “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” (Walt Disney Pictures, 2003), “Ocean’s Twelve” (Steven Soderbergh, 2004), “Romanzo Criminale” (Michele Placido, 2005), “Mission: Impossible III” (J.J. Abrams, 2006), “Angels & Demons” (Ron Howard, 2009), “Eat Pray Love” (Ryan Murphy, 2010), “To Rome With Love” (Woody Allen, 2012).

Rome-based Erica Firpo likes to cross lines between art and culture, writing about art, lifestyle, fashion, and food for a variety of magazines, books, and online publications. She is a contributing editor to Fathom and is a regular contributor to Forbes Travel, Travel + Leisure, BBC Travel, Discovery Magazine, and ANSA.

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!

The AFAR Guide to Milan

milanafar
milanafar

Everyone knows that I love Milan, even if sometimes I keep it on the down low. Well, I've teamed up with AFAR for a guide to the city that sometimes never sleeps but not on weekends.... Take a peek to my guide to Milan for AFAR.....!

Milan is Italy’s quiet triple threat—capital of fashion, finance, and design. Begin at the heart of the city in the Piazza del Duomo; the rest radiates outward in a mosaic of neighborhoods where history, art, and fashion overlap. Walk around the tony Brera neighborhood and peruse the shops of the Fashion Quadrilateral, literally a rhomboid dedicated to the world’s best designers. Head to Navigli for a cocktail when the sun is about to set. Wander the Isola neighborhood for homegrown designers and unique boutiques. By night, Milan’s marble and modern architecture is incandescent, so between aperitivi, make sure to stop and take it all in.

Roadtesting Lavazza's Espressgo

In December, I was invited by  Lavazza to join 9 other social media chiacchieroni in Milan and Rome to spend a personalized day with Espressgo, Lavazza's very clever portable espresso-maker. I needed to catch up on some street art, so I chose to head to Rome's Quadraro neighborhood first thing in the morning.  And of course, I needed a caffe...

The Concept:  Espressgo is a magic thermos that allows you make a shot or two A modo mioespresso flavors in a matter of minutes, and all while in the comfort of your car.   It is the very definition of Italianismo-- from concept (efficient espresso shot) to design (sexy, slick, high tech) to philosophy (everybody needs espresso on the go) to communication (it inspires conversation).

The Basics:  The Espressgo has an "on" button, temperature dial and 12-volt plug.  You will need a 12-volt/cigarette lighter outlet is required, a bottle of cold water and espresso cups.  Likewise, sugar and milk should that be your flavor.

The Process:  Unscrew lid (which will act as filter), add 50ml of cold water, put in the capsule, screw on lid, plug it to outlet and press on. Brewing takes approximately 1 minute with a nice vibration, after which you just need to wait approximately 30 seconds for three "beeps" which alert you that the espresso is ready.  Then you just unplug, flip thermos over and pour into a cute cup.

My reaction ~ a three-part revelation:

    • Espressgo is my mother's dream come true.  When my family went on road trips, my mom would make bottles of espresso and bring them with us because it would be hours before we could put our moka on a stovetop.  These bottles were sacrosanct and could be not broken, misplaced or emptied.
    • It is cute, adorable and very easy to use. I had no problem making the shots and I loved it. Its design is perfect for a driving picnic, and super cute.  My only wish that it came with a portable foaming device because I am milk-addicted.
    • It is the perfect wing man.  Imagine yourself at a stop light.  With espresso ready to go,  you timidly offer a shot of espresso to the cutie to your left. . .  oh, the things I could do.....
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891993463cd3a0e474dc9711d939624c

Rome and the Worldwide Instameet

This past weekend, we [me and the Professor] had an instameet.

Wha? Ma che ci fai con un "instameet"???

An instameet. I.e. a group of people getting together at a decided location to take photos and then post them on Instagram in an excited, obsessive frenzy, with hashtags accompaniment.  I know, I know. Neither of us are the first people that come to mind with the words "group" and  "organization" [Flashback: insouciant birthday partying, resistant airplane ticket buying, writing habits that often do not include eating or cleaning for days].  But obsessive frenzy? Yeah, I'm that girl. I like passion, I like passionate people and I like how Instagram foments that passion.

Over the past several months, we've had six instameets with a few different hashtags: #instameettheromans in Historic Rome, #eurwalk, a walk around the Fascist era architecture of EUR neighborhood, #colosseumfordays, all about the Colosseum (a tag I hope keeps going for centuries) and #walkroma, the consistent and underlying tag of these walks plus our Ostiense and Ostia Antica instameets and this past weekend's walk at Ponte della Musica in zona Flaminia.  And we've consistently had a great group of people [artists, photographers, journalists, interior designers, students, rocket scientists, pro athletes, diplomats, government lobbyists, mind readers] who have come from all over (Lazio and then some) to walk around and photograph the Eternal City ~ who wouldn't want to?  And on a side note, I'm also a late night "silent participant" of many others instameets, like Hong Kong, Sidney, Venice Beach and London, when insomnia is fuelled by a steep fall down the hashtag rabbit hole, especially the #WWMI8 (Instagram's tag for all instameets that happened this weekend).

I'd like to say that our instameets are a non-stop discussion on photography and its techniques, plus showing off a little cultural heritage, but really they are all about making friends, making jokes and confirming that all roads lead to Rome.  Inevitably, someone discovers that they are  tangentially related to someone else.  In my case, someone a) knows one of my cousins b) has dated/could potentially date one of my cousins c) works/worked with one of my cousins d) has never met any of my cousins  but somehow randomly knows one of my old and forgotten friends from wherever.  Yes, the Rome instameet is a yenta, a matchmaker, a nonna and a nosey neighbor.

If you'd like to be kept up-to-date on our Instameets, enjoy the gallery below (a sampling of this past weekend's #walkroma at the Ponte della Musica and Stadio dei Marmi), send me an email and/or keep your eye on our Rome Instameets here.  For a who's who of our #WalkRoma participants in Instagram's 8th Worldwide Instameet, peruse the photo below (and the foot shot above) and click on it. I've tagged everybody who came with an Instagram profile.  Thank you again, you guys are really great-- can't wait to see you for the next instameet!

 

Digital Detox Sicily

For the next few weeks, I may be dredging up some writing that has been shelved  as I tried to get in the right headspace.  Or I may not.  .  .

{September 2013} It's been a while.  Last spring, the Professor and I  realized that our computers and phones and apps were intravenously dripping into our daily existence. What was once a lovely symbiotic relationship [i.e. we could turn off/respond whenever we wanted], had become the clichè of photo realism documentation through a never-ending conversation of paths, tweets, grams, vines and any other word you can think that used to have normal street significance.   We had become parasites on the mothership of connectivity and we wanted out. We wanted off.  We wanted Sicily.

Why  Sicily and why one month?  Since antiquity, Sicily has been the Island of Abundance: a diverse terrain of beaches, rocks, hills, mountains, volcanoes, mini-islands, autostrade and dirt roads, an overflowing platter of sfincione, arancine, caponata, ricci, brioche con gelato, granita, pesce and panelle, and full daysand evenings of  hiking, horse back riding, car racing, art, archaeology, Caravaggio, Romans and Greeks.  Sicily encompasses everything we love and how we want to live- fresh food, fresh air and a necessary slow pace.  One week, hell, even one month is not enough.  But that was all we had, a month out of  Dodge.  The Professor's dig was dug, children's activities were no longer, Rome was hot, we found a cheap place to rent, and Trenitalia offered cheap night train tickets.  And secretly, where better could we go for a digital detox?

Digital Detoxnoun,informal: a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world:

  • break free of your devices and go on a digital detox

The question was Could we do it?  Could we stop checking our email, stop looking at Instagram, stop responding on Twitter, and just turn off for more than a few hours?  Realistically, no.  There was just some shit that just needed to be done: summer homework assignments, article submissions, a Keynote presentation, job interview, donor outreach, calls, calls and more calls.  And there were some things that we wanted to do, like read Night Film, research Etna and make sure to pick up my sister at Punta Raisi, whenever she decided to show up.  Since Sicily has sporadic 3G coverage, digital detox was primarily decided by the island, but an anorexic connectivity was decided by us with the investment in a not-so-fast-nor-big mi-fi device that limited how much time we were allowed on the internet.  In other words, absolutely rare downloads, no films, Facetime and Skype calls of necessity, and a strong commitment to not connect.

Did we unplug?  Yes.  We cooked, ate, invented, swam, fought, played, paused, hung out and visited a lot of amazing places.  All the same things we always do, but taking our time to be in the moment, as opposed to simply taking a photo. (Yes, we did that too).  And most importantly, I read.  I read more books in four weeks than I had from January to June.  Along with Night Film, I read and re-read a bunch of books including Ghana Must Go, A Visit from the Good Squad,Super Sad True Love Story, A Song of Ice and Fire series, 22 JD Salinger short stories, a bunch of arty-spy-WWII novel and F. Scott Fitzgerald tales, and pretty much anything else that was left in my Kindle. [Please note the slight dystopian/digital post apocalypse them as in the Egan and Schteyngart novels.]  To be honest, I had forgotten how much I loved reading, which makes me realise that is probably why I had forgotten to love writing.

Yes, this detox was much more than unplugging from our addiction to digital communication.  It was about reminding myself what I liked, not just "liked".

IMG_1456 (1)
IMG_1456 (1)

For a glimpse into our days in Sicily, here's my spur-of-the-moment Sicilia flipagram I created with mini-e.  Forgive the spelling, I was in a rush to take my time and have lunch.