Sunday, April 28, 2013

Roaming Around

We had bleak weather in Rome on Sabato, and fantastic weather on Domenica.  I spent most of the weekend getting acclimated to the new place, and walking around the city and eating with some new friends.  Some pics from the weekend follow.  

A neat statue in Villa Borghese
Trevi Fountain late at night
Spanish Steps abuzz on a sunny Sunday
My favorite pictures of the weekend were, as usual, the unexpected ones.  I have no idea what this statue is, who created it, when it was created, or whether it's famous.  I can't find it on-line and I don't think there were any signs near it.  But I walked by a run-of-the-mill obelisk near the Spanish Steps that has 4 statues around it.  One of them caught my eye.  

I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that the horns or rays of light emanating from the figure's head, and the parchment the figure holds with what is clearly Hebrew text written on it, must mean that the figure is Moses.  I totally luv finding images of Moses in European art!  Everything I see on-line regarding Moses in Rome is about Michelangelo's famous Moses in the San Pietro in Vicoli church in the Monti neighborhood.  But this one is different and pretty cool.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Moving Day: Onward To Piazza Del Popolo

The move yesterday went without a hitch.  With my apartment manager Antonio's help, it was a snap.

And the new appartamento is a refreshing surprise: it's way better than the Campo pad.  Probably twice the size, a super high ceiling, much lighter and brighter, clean, more closet and dresser space, and a color scheme that is more me (splashes of red throughout).  I confess that I was a tad nervous when we opened the door, for -- although I'd seen pics -- I had never seen the apartment in person.  (That, btw, is something Marc 1.0 never would have done.  But this MJP reboot is playing things a little bit more by ear.)

Well.....anyway......I exhaled a sigh of relief when we walked in.  It's really nice.  The only thing that prevents it from being a 10 is that the bathroom is a little small.  So be it.  (The kitchen is small too, but it's not like that will make a difference to me.)

Here are some living room pics:

 And here are some bedroom shots:

As for the new 'hood, I do think I'll miss Campo de Fiori and the old Ghetto that was adjacent to it.  But Piazza del Popolo is a fantastic space.  Visitors to Rome may not have seen it before.  If you enter the Centro Storico from the north, then Piazza del Popolo is your gateway to all the main sites of Roma -- it really welcomes you in and grabs you.  But if you're staying in the heart of the Centro, then you might not see it.  It's a huge Piazza.  It had a nice buzz on Friday night, my first one in this new district.

You can see the beginning of Villa Borghese on the right.

From this view (which is looking south), you can see why the area in which I live now is called "Tridente."  The three streets -- Via del Babuino, the famed Via del Corso, and Via di Ripetta -- all fan out from Piazza del Popolo.  I live off of Ripetta.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Festa Della Liberazione (Liberation Day)

Today is Festa della Liberazione, or Liberation Day, in Italy.  This is the day that marks Italy's liberation from Nazi occupation and fascist rule at the end of WWII.  Sounds to me like a pretty good holiday.  I didn't do too much to observe the holiday.  For one thing, there was the hangover.  That felt better after a late morning run, and lots of tea and cafe.

I then trekked out to a big park that is far from the Centro Storico (city center) for a session with my language tutor.  This was fun.  We went to the Parco Appia Antica, which is a big but not fancy-pants park that is way out there.  I'm sure there were no other tourists there.  The place was pretty crowded because people were off for the holiday, and we had to walk a ways to get some quiet.  One of the benefits of being off in a distant part of the park was that we had a prime location for the stampede of sheep that went for a jaunt (at about the same pace as my torporific run this morning).

The sheep approaching -- look how tightly packed in they are.
They're getting much closer now.
Now they're passing right by us.  Up close, they are totally gross!
The other great thing about this park is that there was an excellent bakery right near the entrance.  I felt it was my obligation as your journalist to sample the goods.

It was a tough choice but here's what I had.  They said it was the only place to get this masterpiece. 
Happy Festa della Liberazione!!!

More Italian Eye Candy

I promised at the start that I'd keep you updated on all the Dalmatians I met on my travels.  Well, it's been a while since my post of March 17, but please meet Ernie.  (His full name is "Ernesto.")

Ernie's mom is a journalist at RAI, which is kind of the Italian BBC.  She found Ernie 7 years ago in the countryside, not in Roma, and adopted him then.  She thinks he is around 8 years old.  Ernie's mom lived in Washington, D.C. for several years.  She worked for RAI there during that period.  Her English is excellent and -- given that we are both journalists -- she was happy to tell me all about Ernie!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

That Jewish Bakery In The Ghetto (con'td)

Holy @*%#$!  Just went back to Boccione, that nondescript and run-down bakery in the old Ghetto.  I promised myself that I'd try the torte di ricotta (cherry version, not chocolate).   Amazing!  My friends were right.

This one looks better than the Pizza Ebraica.  It's not as easy on the eyes as those Sicilian pastries, but it's at least not an eye-sore:

It was off da hook.  There's not much cherry.  It's much more ricotta than cherry.  And it's not too sweet.  Just sweet enough.  But the warm and slightly sweet ricotta makes a great combination with the torte crust and the slightly charred top.  It's really good.

This place is definitely worth checking out.  Well, let me explain.  If you're only here for a short trip -- and especially if this is your first time in Roma -- you're gonna go with some of the fancy-pants Italian pastries.  Of course.  You'd be crazy not to.  I mean, if you only have time for one museum and you've never been here before, you have to go see the Cappella Sistina.  Obviously.

But if you're digging a little deeper -- either because you've been here several times before or because you're on a longer trip or because you're interested in Jewish history in Roma -- than the unmarked bakery in the Ghetto is a jewel.  The treats are truly fantastic, and you won't find them in too many (if any) other places.  Get the Pizza Ebraica and the Torte di Ricotta.  And then just do a lot of walking.

OK, I'm off the gym.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Rome's Most Surprising Pizza (By A Mile): Pizza Ebraica!

OK, so, just a day after sampling what many consider to be among Rome's best pizzas, I tried something today that really excited me.

Since I arrived in March, I'd been reading about this crazy good bakery in the heart of the old Jewish Ghetto.  The thing is, when you read these reviews and blog posts about this bakery Boccione (a/k/a Il Forno del Ghetto), it sounds fantastic.  But, then you see the place.  Let me tell you, I do not know how to say "nondescript" in Italian.  However, whatever that word is, if you look it up in an Italian dictionary, I am positive that there is a picture of Boccione.  Here is a picture they could use:  

There is no sign.  They have no website.  The shop is without any visual adornment at all.  Barren.  Threadbare.  And, if you think that the bakery itself looks unappealing, you should see the food.  Everything -- and I mean everything -- is burnt.  It is the antithesis of the awesome Sicilian bakeries, where -- besides tasting marvelous -- the pastries look amazing.

Anyways, I've been reading in particular about Boccione's Pizza Ebraica (i.e., "Hebrew Pizza").  I stopped by last month, but they were getting ready for Passover -- that meant no traditional baked goods.  Then they were closed for Passover.  Then I started traveling.  But I passed by today and thought I'd give a gander.  I struck gold.

Sitting in a thoroughly unappetizing platter were a whole bunch of these charred and dense-looking bricks.  I asked the woman what they were, and she said a bunch of words I did not understand as well as "...Jewish pizza...."  I said, "Pizza Ebraica?"  She said, "si."  I requested one, and also asked for a couple of little nuggets that were labeled "biscottini."  

Here's what they looked like when I dashed home:

My goodness.  I have never seen a bigger disconnect -- a gulf!! -- between the way a food item looks, and the way it tastes.  The Pizza Ebraica was to die for.  It's hard to describe, but it's dense, chewy, moist (on the inside), and filled with almonds, pine nuts, raisins, and other dried fruit.  I suppose that the closest thing I've ever had to this would be classified in the US as "fruit cake."  But that does not do it justice.

To be honest, this was one of my favorite food experiences in Rome.  The reason is that it was different.  Although Italians might look down on us, we do have some pretty good pizza in North America.  (We even have good pasta dishes, but that is something I can only whisper about.....)  However, I have never had anything like this.  For the same reason, although I love some of the cannoli I've had here, we also have some pretty good Italian bakeries in NYC -- and I grew up eating some of the best cannoli there.   On the other hand, I've seen certain Sicilian pastries here that I'd never seen in the US (e.g., the Cassata and the Dolce d'Etna), and that have blown me away.  Likewise for the Pasticciotto in Lecce.  Well, it was the same with the Pizza Ebraica at Boccione.

And there is more there to try.  Several reliable friends have reminded me that, although the Pizza Ebraica was indeed a must, I still must sample the cherry/ricotta tarts at Boccione.  I will.

You can read more at --

Rome's Best Pizza?

Well, if New Yorkers can't agree on what is NYC's best pizza (California, of course, doesn't really have pizza), and if Parisians can't decide who makes the best falafel there (see my April 14 post), then it probably goes without saying that there is no clear answer to who makes Rome's best pizza.  But I went to an out-of-the-way place on Sunday that is on everyone's top 3 list: Pizzarium.

I kinda stumbled upon it.  I was running some errands in Prati and I had accomplished my goals.  I was also hungry.  So, I looked at my Rome food app and saw that I was close to Pizzarium, and that -- more importantly -- they are open on Sundays.  (A lot of places are not.)  I had wanted to go for weeks, but it's rare that I'm over that far onto the other side of the Tiber.  This was finally the time.

As I understand it, Pizzarium is well known on the foodie circuit.  The owner, Gabriele Bonci, is kind of a celebrity in foodie circles.  He is known for making pizza with some super high-quality flour and some particular yeasts and some long fermentation process.  I don't understand any of it, of course, but you can read up on it in some links I'll include below.  Bonci is also known for making pizzas with dozens or hundreds of different funky and exotic toppings.

I was impressed during my visit yesterday by the fact that there were maybe 15 different varieties available, and that the guy behind the counter recited them all to me one-by-one in very clear inglese.  (I thought it interesting that they spoke such good English because I imagine that not a ton of tourists go here.  But maybe I'm wrong on that.)

I went for a slice with zucchini flower (which is something I'd never seen until I got here), anchovies, and mozzarella.  It was very good.  If you're here visiting, Pizzarium is worth a visit.  And, on top of the food, it was just a very good experience.  I didn't have a film crew with me -- it was Sunday.  But this is basically how my visit went.  (You need to copy the URL into your browser -- some copyright issue is preventing me from embedding the video.)

And here are some other links with info on Pizzarium:

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Catching Up

I apologize for the lack of any substantive posts for the past several days.  This is the first time in several weeks that I've been back in Rome for more than a couple of days, and I've had lots to do in terms of catching up with friends, planning some upcoming trips, and taking care of affairs in Rome.  I was also absorbed in the news from Boston.  

On the Roma housing front, I am switching apartments sometime in the next week.  I was supposed to have my Campo de' Fiori digs for three months (through the end of May).  But I was told that some glitch had come up, and my people now need to move me to a different apartment.  We had some back-and-forth for a while because the initial proposals would have had me living on the other side of the Tiber -- potentially quite far into the other side and out of the city center.  We have now fixed that.  I will be moving (for May and June) very close to Piazza del Popolo.  

On the one hand, I'll be sad to leave Campo.  I have made friends with several people that work in my favorite shops, and there is the daily produce market, the Sicilian pastry shop with which I am obsessed, and my other regular haunts.  At the same time, the Piazza del Popolo area is also fantastic.  It is very close to the Villa Borghese gardens (think Rome's Central Park), the awesome shopping on Via del Corso, and posh Prati. 

Even old Marc -- who was frequently called "Mr. Flexibility" back in his law firm days -- embraced unanticipated changes like these.  This MJP 2.0 reboot practically lives for these sorts of things.  They are merely sources of new adventures.  To that end, I strolled down my new block this evening just to see how it vibed on a Saturday night.  I popped into the luxury hotel that is 4 doors away from my new apartment (see, and the bartender at the hotel's lounge bar told me that The First Luxury Art Hotel Roma takes enormous pride in its cocktails.  I told her that I'd be by a week from now to sample some!  (I also just checked.  Their only available rooms for the next few weeks go for $1600-$1700/night.  It looks like they take the word "luxury" in their name seriously.)       

I've also been having some more wonderful times with new friends in Roma.  The weather has been stellar, and I've been enjoying it to the fullest.  My language tutor and I have done our last couple of lessons outside in parks, and I had a long lunch today with a new friend literally right next to the Colosseum.  Other highlights have included lunch at a hip new winebar/restaurant in Prati, a fantastic dinner of Ethiopian food, and a return visit to my favorite bartenders at Barnum.  Federico and Patrick (see my post of March 20) remain on top of their game.  In other words, I have quickly overcome any sadness I experienced upon leaving Parigi.  And I'm still incredibly thankful for how gracious so many people in Rome have been to me.  I'm also still doing my best to get used to all the day-time vino!

In terms of travel, the next 6 weeks have lots in store.  I have quick trips to New York in early May and early June for family fun, a trip to Croatia in May, and a trip to Turkey in June.  An old law-firm friend swears that he will be meeting me in Istanbul.  He better come through!  I'm also excited about the three other law-firm friends that I will see in Rome over the next month.     

I promise to do better with pictures in the days to come.   

Friday, April 19, 2013

Question No. 1 For Readers: Croatia

I'm trying to firm up my plans to go to Croazia in a few weeks.  However, it's tough to find good English-language guide books in Roma, and on-line sources are always a bit spurious.  I'm therefore struggling to map out some of the particulars.

It just hit me though that I have access to an audience of thousands of well-traveled and sophisticated people who might be able to offer assistance:  you!  Why not crowd-source this, right?

So, have you been to Croazia?  If so, I'd love to hear from you.  You can post comments on the blog, or you can email me directly.  Where did you go?  What was great and what was just so-so?  I'd love to hear about deets like that.

Right now, I'm planning on hitting Dubrovnik, Split, and Hvar.  But I'm not sure about how many days to do in each.  Also not sure about hotels in each spot.  Maybe you have some rec's.  

Thanks, readers!!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Parting Shots From Parigi

[I wrote most of this on Tuesday during a flight delay at CDG airport, but did not finish and post it until Wednesday back in Rome.]

The Final Day:  Had a super last day here (on Monday).  The highlight was the long walk to -- and climb up to -- the Basilique Sacre-Coeur at Montmarte.  Everyone who I talked to about what to do in Paris mentioned this place, and now I can see why.  So beautiful and peaceful.  It is really stunning.  (The interior is amazing as well, but pictures are not allowed.)

I tried to eat well on this last day too.  That included several more Canelle pastries and lots of cheese.  Indeed, I really took the plunge in terns of food near the end of my stay.  I would tell you how many Canelle and other pastries I had in the 48 hours before I left, but I can only count to dix in French.  I have no idea -- in any language -- about how to quantify cheese.

As I think you can tell, I had an awesome time in Paris. I remembered from my first short trip 20 years ago that it was pretty great. But having a week to explore it now has cemented that view. I'll definitely be back more than once.  It pained me to leave.  I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of the city.  I was noticing new things I wanted to try even on the blocks right where I was staying and where I had walked every day. Each step seemed to reveal the possibility of a tempting new adventure.

The One Most Important Take-Away:  If there is one thing you need to remember for your next visit here, it is this: get the Museum Pass.  Get it at the airport before you head into the city.  Do not pass "go," and do not collect $200. Just get the Museum Pass. It not only saves you money (if you go to more than a couple of museums); it also saves you from waiting on lines.  I probably netted, in effect, an extra day here just through having the Museum Pass.

Was Steve Right?  Steve Martin told a joke a long time ago about a trip he took to Paris.  Steve quipped, "it's like those French have a different word for everything....  But you never appreciate your own language 'til you go to a foreign country that doesn't have the courtesy to speak English!!!"                         

Now, Steve is a boyhood hero. He had a profound influence on my formative years.  It hurts me to say this, but I think Steve may have gotten this one wrong. In my week in Paris, it was pretty clear to me both (a) that everyone there speaks English, and (b) that the Parisians do not mind speaking English with you.  And that's with me not even trying to speak French; I was too wrapped up in Italian.

Of course, it could just be that I blended in there, and this was merely a matter of professional courtesy. After all, my stylish attire made me appear Parisian to even the keenest observer. That's all I can surmise from the fact that 5+ people per day would stop me to ask directions. (You don't have to point out that those were Asian or North American tourists -- not Parisians -- who thought I was a local......)

Couple of Final Pics:

The Seine at dusk.
Rodin's The Kiss outside of Musee de l'Orangerie.
Jardins des Tuileries
Berthillon ice cream

Monday, April 15, 2013

Springtime In Paris

As noted in my expose on the Falafel Wars, Sunday was picture perfect.   It was the first full day I've had here where the weather cooperated fully.  It was around 75 degrees with a very blue sky.

The city looked marvelous and people were out everywhere.  I spent good chunks of the day wandering.  During my wandering, I stopped to enjoy the Holy Grail -- my favorite French pastry, which is the Canele.  I only discovered these little cakes last year in California.  I think they're relatively obscure in the US.  But they are marvelous.  Right up there with the Sicilian Cassata I've been enjoying and the Pasticciotto from Lecce that I gushed over last week.

I went to a couple of sites as well.

Sainte Chapelle:  This church close to Notre Dame is on all the lists of "must-see" sites in Paris.  The books also all say to try going to Sainte Chapelle on a sunny day, which I did.  The reason is the 15 floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows that were constructed in the mid-1200s.  There are 15 of them in the key room, and they are huge.  They look pretty amazing.  Most of the windows depict stories from the Old Testament, and so you can look at the scenes and try to recognize Moses or Adam & Eve, etc.  The pics can't do it justice, but here's what the windows look like:

Memorial De La Shoah: France's memorial to the Holocaust is a small museum right off the Seine in Le Marais district.  It is a very moving and sombre museum, but is quite well done and polished.  It tells the story of the European Holocaust in general, and focuses in particular on what happened in France; this is history I did not know.  Almost all of the descriptions in the entire building are in both French and English.

It surely brings you down for a little while, but if you consider it important to visit sites like these, this is a good one.  

Walls with the names of French Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Wall outside of the Memorial with the names of the "Righteous" -- French citizens who saved Jews during the Holocaust.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Falafel Wars

You think that Apple and Samsung have a heated rivalry in the smartphone market?  Think that Coke and Pepsi are stiff competition for each other in cola sales?  Or that Mars and Hershey's were bitter enemies in the fabled Chocolate Wars of the early 20th century?  (I only mention that last one because one of my close friends at work and one of my brothers read this book about Mars v. Hershey (, and I heard them talk about it ad nauseum for 3 years.  I want to see if they're reading this blog.)  Well, unless you've been strolling around Le Marais district in Paris, you ain't seen nothing.

In the winding streets of the largest historically Jewish section of Paris, there are 2 or 3 falafel shops that  are in the throes of an epic battle.  I saw it first-hand on Sunday.  And I wasn't the only one -- Parisians appear to care about their falafels.

First off, let me mention the crowds and energy.  This old Jewish section in Le Marais was absolutely hopping and was hecka vibrant.   There was even a klezmer band playing with 40 people standing around and listening.  Here are some pics outside of and around the top two falafel shops.

 But the heart and soul of the neighborhood sure seemed to be these two falafel shops:  Mi-Va-Mi (which you see above) and L'as Du Fallafel (where I ate).  L'as and Mi-Va-Mi occupy spaces that face each other on the same street.  Here's how close they are.  You can see the side of Mi-Va-Mi (not the store-front which claims it is "the best of the street") on the left, and the front of L'as on the right:

L'as is the industry leader.  It is the one that all the guide books, Paris foodie blogs, and articles talk about.  It is a destination for foodies in Paris.  It is even the one that Lenny Kravitz endorses (as L'As proudly advertises all over the shop).  And let me tell you that on this perfect sunny spring Sunday it was packed.  It is the single most crowded place (in terms of density) that I have seen in almost a week in Paris.  For example, there were more people standing in line outside of L'As to get a falafel to-go than there were in front of the Mona Lisa on Friday evening.  I'm serious.  Here's what it looked like inside:

This was mine.  You can't really see with perspective just how big it was! 

I only had the ability to eat one today.  And I think I have a few other things that I need to see in my last day+ in Paris.  So, I obviously can't weigh in on this debate.  That would not be fair to Mi-Va-Mi.  But I can say that the falafel at L'As was outstanding.  You should check out one or the other next time you're here -- for the experience as much as for the food.