Once upon a Rome
By Suzanne Dunaway
ummaging through old letters, I found this one from 30 years ago. For six months I lived with my husband in a small and lovely villa owned by the Ruffo family in Villa Borghese located not far from the Flamino Metro stop and train station. I wrote about my discoveries to dear friends in Los Angeles. Those who love the city might enjoy the excerpted and abridged musings of someone soon to become an Italophile.
February 2, 1987
Here is how our days go: We get up from our bedroom over the subway trains (very light vibration each morning and then on until dark), put on fuzzy robes from the white sale at Cesari and have blood oranges and coffee from Castroni, a well-stocked goods store. It's the best coffee I have ever drunk. I have to mix it with Castroni decaf in order not to go through the ceiling. Coffee is [sipped] in the dining room, gazing out at the statue of Diana perched upon the roof of the adjacent apartment building.
Ours is not the usual apartment, such as the ones in New York City. It is in terra cotta, crusted with gargoyles, a 200-year-old beauty with high ceilings and tall windows. Kasmir, the little dachshund, starts barking at the lurking striped cat (feral). Star, the neighbor's golden retriever, is let out for the morning and sits in a golden pool of sunlight in the Ruffo driveway.
Giuliano, our portiere, is out cutting palms that have been hit by the crisp cold. Yet sun still pours into my studio. Yesterday, at the Roma vs. Atalanta soccer match, we both got sunburned!
Rome winters are kind and not long enough to do physical or mental damage. Clothing is worn by collective agreement. Fur coats come out on such and such a day, as do dark colors. People then eat tripe, trippa alla romana, and polenta with sausage. Then, just as quickly, they begin wearing grey and start eating spaghetti alle vongole, asparagus, and artichokes. It is all worked out. You simply cannot eat vitello tonnato (veal with creamy tuna sauce) in winter without showing that you're a complete imbecile and a foreigner to boot. It's like drinking a cappuccino after lunch.
I then go off to market — where Constantine defeated Maxentius (I love this detail). I come back laden with vegetables that have to be cut, cleaned, picked over, steamed, boiled, sautéed, etc. and this takes some time.
Plus, the chicken, or rather the gallina (the hen, big difference!) must be beheaded and even de-egged (for there are lovely eggs — belle uove — inside), all thanks to the chicken lady. I have trouble doing all this initially, but soon get over it as the days go on.
Then it's time for lunch and a nap, then up to take the step-children to tennis or to shop for ski parkas or, when we are very lucky, a movie — like "Round Midnight," in Italian, which, to say the least, loses a bit in translation. I will say that "The Mission" with De Nero did not suffer in translation. In fact, the language seemed quite appropriate to the scenery and people, though I do not equate the Italians with the Portuguese.
Dinner is at 8:30 or 9 p.m. and we can walk out almost anywhere for a pizza and some red wine and a salad and then walk back up our villa on the hill to catch the hilarious weather reports on TV.
I don't now what it is about Italy, but my last assignment for Gourmet Magazine took me about three hours, and the editor was in heaven. Now the magazine is going to color — uh, oh. That will be quite a challenge, especially since getting the paint and brushes ordered from the cartoleria takes about three weeks.
Our sweet Anne is married by now—would love to know what they served at the wedding supper— and I shall light a candle in San Pietro for her and new hubby. It can't hurt.
Religion is big over here. And I mean big.
Abbracci da Susanna
PS: I have to call myself that or everyone calls me Susan, which I am not, plus I love the ring of it in this magnificent cittá.
PSS: Cooking is heaven here. The markets are beautiful enough to provoke Stendhal Syndrome. The gallina broth for the risotto ai funghi porcini is beginning to smell heavenly. Must run.
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Amid unfolding natural tragedy and tales of woe, it takes a cook to tell you where to seek refuge: in the kitchen.
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Saying "no thanks" to a wide variety of foods is a Western affliction that cuts out whole segments of the world's bounty and insults the poor.
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