Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hallelujah! Rome Will Finally Get The One Thing It's Been Sorely Missing.....

All those seafood-craving-Orthodox-Jewish Japanese tourists can book their tickets.  There will soon be no need to stay away.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Un Giorno Del Vino E Delle Rose! (A Day Of Wine And Roses!)

This was an excellent day.  After my morning run in Villa Borghese and my meeting with Antonio to go over issues relating to the apartment, I went to meet Paola for my language lesson.

As an aside, I have not had much progress with my Italian.  I'd actually call it a "regress" -- I knew way more in March when I arrived.  The problem has been two-fold.  For one thing, I've been doing too much travel.  There have been weeks and weeks when I am not here at all.  (And I will soon go to New York -- for Sam's Bar Mitzvah Round 2 -- and to Istanbul.)  On top of that, it turns out that you truly can get by here on inglese; almost all Romans speak pretty good-to-excellent inglese.  Given these conditions, I've decided that -- for me -- it's more important to spend time outside exploring Roma and less time studying Italian.  That's just my view; others likely see it differently.

This doesn't mean I've given up entirely.  I still meet with Paola from time-to-time, and I enjoy it.  But, our sessions have evolved to the point where we spend as much time with her answering my questions about Italian culture and politics as we do on language expressly.  Even better, now that spring has sprung, we often pick an interesting spot at which to meet, and we hold the lesson outside.  Today was a prime example.

Paola and I met at Il Roseto.  This is a public garden in Rome right near the Circo Maximo.  The gardens showcase roses, and this is the height of the season.  There was actually a contest held a couple of weeks ago amongst roses from throughout the world that are planted here, and the roses are still on display (although, to be honest, they are starting to wilt a little).  It was a delightful spot to sit for an hour or so, and to discuss Italian cinema and politics -- oh, and to practice a few paragraphs of Italian.

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There was an Indian wedding ceremony going on.  
The evening was splendid too.  I met up with a couple of friends for vino and some aperitivo in a cute wine bar near their Monti digs.  They are the nicest couple around and it was so nice to chat and catch up.

Wine and roses and some good friends.  The recipe for a pretty damn good day.

*     *     *     *     *

Post-script:  One of my favorite things about this city is that, if you keep your eyes open, you can constantly run into interesting history that goes beyond the major sites.  For instance, while Paola and I were strolling around Il Roseto, a stone tablet with Hebrew writing on it caught my eye.  And then I saw another one 10 minutes later.  Pictures below.

Note the little pebbles on top.  There were pebbles on top of the other one too, but my picture cut them off.  
It turns out that one of the Popes had these rose gardens built on top of what was an old Jewish cemetery.  A big sign written in Italian, English, and Hebrew explained a bit about the history, and about how the land on which the gardens were built was a Jewish cemetery for c. 250 years.  Let's just say that the government did not totally respect Jewish burial customs and Judaic law when constructing the gardens.  Many corpses were not identified or moved, and many gravestones were destroyed.

At least now there are plaques around Il Roseto that commemorate the old cemetery.  In accordance with Jewish custom, some visitors place little pebbles on top of the stone plaques.  (See above.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood: Gelato Version

I've come to enjoy this Piazza del Popolo (or Tridente) neighborhood -- maybe not as much as my old Campo di Fiore haunt (you know what they say about first loves), but I do like it.  There has been, however, one glaring problem.  When it comes to excellent gelato, this Piazza del Popolo area was a barren wasteland.

I made due.  Despite my high standards and foodie cred, I would grit my teeth and force down some of lower-quality mass-produced stuff that several shops around here peddle.  I even put on a good face for Yonkel while he was here.  What could I do, right?  

This all changed on Saturday.  Fatamorgana is now just 2 blocks away from me.  Fatamorgana is one of Rome's most highly-regarded gelaterias.  (Here is their link: Here's some more info on them:  There are several branches throughout the city, but there had never been one this close to MJP 2.0.  This is a game-changer for the 'hood.  Indeed, Saturday's opening has created quite a stir.  (  

I only went twice today.  This was my Basil/Honey/Walnuts + Banana Cream/Crunchy Sesame cone.  

I switched things up and went for a cup tonight.  The Panacea (Ginseng/Almond Milk/Mint) + Vanilla/Rice combo was delectable.  Don't fret though -- I can afford the calories.  Did a lot of hoofing today trying to find a new gym.  The old one in Trastevere is just too far away now.  And, given that Fatamorgana is now so close, I may stay in this area and need a gym close by!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Question No. 2 For Readers: Paying For Content

It was inevitable, I suppose.  While in New York earlier this month, I had an impromptu meeting with the bean counters.  They wanted to talk.  The topic left me apoplectic.

As you all know, this blog has from its inception resisted the market forces that often compel content providers to charge fees for access. We have done so despite our iron-clad commitment to eschew all advertisements and corporate sponsors.  I want to continue on this path.  The suits have something else in mind.  They want me to consider changing our blog to a pay-site -- or at least to have some kind of pay-wall.

I kept my cool and did not fly off the handle.  I explained to them that this was the last thing I want to do.  Although it remains my intention to keep this blog free, these bureaucrats had some points that were not entirely ludicrous.

They first emphasized that we must face reality.  They reminded me that there are employees to pay, overhead costs that we incur, and film crews, photographers, and tech vendors who demand payment for their server farms, high-speed routers, etc., etc.  Indeed, once we took this blog international and started providing a more global perspective, these costs rose dramatically.  I could not dispute this point.

Another thing that the number-crunchers in New York underscored is that they are considering a modest and sliding pay structure that would accommodate your busy lifestyles.  Specifically, the suits contemplate a model that could include three different subscription options to meet the diverse needs of our global readership.  Here's what they outlined for me:  For the occasional reader, there might be a pay-as-you-read option with a $4.99 fee automatically charged to your credit card or Paypal account each time you log in to read a new posting.  For more regular visitors, we could have a quarterly payment structure of 4 easy payments of $39.99.  For our most avid readers, there could be a yearly membership fee of $149.99 that would also come with a unique "Marco 2.0" T-shirt or tote-bag, and a monthly newsletter.  As much as I am dead-set against becoming a pay site, even I had to admit that these sound like great deals!

The bookkeepers also reminded me that the times are a-changing, and that pay-sites are becoming the norm -- especially for blogs that are similar to this one.  They pointed out that Politico may soon charge (, and that Andrew Sullivan already does (  Given that we are in the same exact niche as those sites -- a point that I could not in good faith dispute -- the suits are considering whether we should do likewise.

Despite all these solid arguments, I am resisting this proposed change.  I am fiercely resisting it.  What I promised the heavies is that I would be transparent with you.  I said that I would take the temperature of our readership, and explore with you directly how you feel about the concept of paying for access to this site.  Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts or reactions.

As always, we thank you for your loyalty and understanding during these turbulent times. Together, I am confident that we can overcome these difficult financial circumstances that are sweeping through Europe. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Side Trip To Tivoli: Villa d'Este & Hadrian's Villa

In all my visits to Rome, I'd never made the day-trip northeast to Tivoli.  Tivoli is only 22 miles away from Rome, and I'd wanted to go.  But I never got around to it.  As luck would have it, Yonkel had it on his "wish-list" for his visit.  We went on Thursday.

My verdict is that, if at all possible, you should go to Tivoli on your next trip to Rome.  It is definitely worth it.  The train+bus ride takes about an hour each way.  And spending the day at Tivoli's 2 main sites is well worth the travel.

The 2 sites to see are Hadrian's Villa and Villa d'Este.  They make for a superb contrast.  Hadrian's Villa is about seeing the splendor of ancient Rome via the ruins that remain from the Emperor Hadrian's suburban retreat.  The Villa d'Este jumps forward to Rome in the Renaissance.  Cardinal Ippolito d'Este had a stunning 16th Century villa that remains stunning to this day.  The villa is filled with gardens and fountains that are down-right beautiful.

Villa d'Este:

Yonkel and I agreed on this one: the Villa d'Este is one of the most fantastic set of grounds either of us has ever seen.  These spacious and perfectly manicured gardens reminded both of us of Versailles.  The fountains throughout the villa were incredible to look at -- and, more than that, they are technologically incredible too.  According to the audio guide, all of the hundreds of fountains at Villa d'Este function without pumps.  They all work purely through water pressure and gravity.  Regardless of how the cascading fountains work, the gardens, fountains, and sculptures combine to dazzling effect.  This is truly one of the most soothing and majestic palaces you'll ever see.

Hadrian's Villa:

Hadrian's Villa is ancient.  And massive.  I've never walked through such an immense set of ruins.  These 2nd Century ruins are what remains of Emperor Hadrian's theme park.  They do not have the beauty of the Villa d'Este, but you will marvel at the sheer size and scope of these ruins -- especially how in the world they could have been built 2000 years ago.  

I'm Back!

It was a busy week for me and I hope you made it alright with no blog postings from me.

My good friend Yonkel from Palo Alto visited from Tuesday through this morning.  Yonkel was one of my first friends in California, and he had never been to Rome before.  We did a lot of sight-seeing and -- luckily for me -- many of the places/things that Yonkel wanted to go/do were new to me.  We had an excellent time, ate lots of gelato and cannoli, and drank lots of vino.  The main thing that kept me from blogging, however, was that our server farm went down on Tuesday morning, and only became operational this morning.

The radio silence is accordingly over.  I will provide an update or two later today, and will get back to more regular updates immediately.  I'll be in Roma all week.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend to those of you in The States!

Aristo in Campo D'Fiore on a rainy Wednesday

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Il Grande Gatsby

I don't know why, but I got a kick out of seeing "Il Grande Gatsby" today in a Roman movie theater.  It was my first movie in Rome.  And it was totally fun to meet up with some friends and see what I understand to be a big cinematic event back home.   [FYI, the vast majority of foreign movies here are dubbed into Italian.  They are not in sub-titles.  That makes 'em pretty useless for someone like me.  But, there are a few theaters in the city -- and they rotate, they're not always the same ones -- that show movies in their "lingua originale."  Gatsby is being shown here in inglese.]  

I know the reviews stateside are pretty mediocre, vecchio mio.  But I give it a thumbs up.  Since I do not remember the first thing about the novel, I went in with no preconceptions and was not encumbered by any nostalgic longings for the film to be "true" to the book.  Given my blank slate, vecchio mio, I kinda liked it.  It is truly stunning in terms of its visuals.  The movie looks as good as any that I've ever seen.  I certainly did not love it -- and it sure felt long at times.  But it did grab me.  Know what I mean, vecchio mio?

TTYL, old sport!

It's Like Being Back On The Dalmatian Coast!

Marco + "Dalma" the Dalmatian in Piazza del Popolo.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Last Full Day In Croatia: Trogir, Art, Etc.

I did a side-trip on Thursday from Split to a medieval town about 45 minutes away by bus:  Trogir.  The truth is that the weather was so bad for the first 3/4's of Thursday (my first bad weather in 10 days in Croatia) that any place would have been bleak.  It was rainy and incredibly blustery.  So, I can't give Trogir a great review -- but it might have been different had Mother Nature cooperated.

The best part of the town that I saw was St. Lawrence's Cathedral.  This church was started in 1213 and completed a few centuries later.  But the door, the door!  The Slav mason Radovan carved the door in 1240, and it was very cool.  It's hard to see in the pics here just how detailed the carvings are -- but I'll do my best.

The cathedral's interior had some very nice sculpture and artwork too.  Otherwise, the town was fine but pretty desolate given the weather and given that it is not yet high season.

On returning to Split, I visited the Split Art Gallery, which is a small (mostly) modern art museum right outside the Palace walls.  This was a pleasant surprise.  The current exhibition on the lower of two floors had some incredibly cool art from the past 10 years or so.  This exhibition makes it seem like the Croatian art scene is pretty happening.  Some samples:

Just a couple of last things about Split in case you are there any time soon.

First, there is a dynamite wine bar/resto that just opened a week ago.  What I loved about it is that they have a varied selection of wines by the glass, and they also have awesome food that includes light/healthy options.  I was a little surprised by how difficult it was to eat healthy in Croatia.  Although the coast is rife with fish options, other than that, it's tough to find good selections of healthy fare.  "Zinfandel" is an exception.  I ate there 3 times -- yes, 3! (I got comped the last time) -- and I had different dishes each time.  Each of them was scrumptious and had both seafood and copious amounts of veggies.  The wine was superb too.  In particular, I had a Croatian Gewurztraminer that was as good as any Austrian or German Gewurztraminer I've ever had -- and definitely better than the Californias or Italians that I've had.  The waiter told me that this Gewurztraminer is the only one in Croatia, and that it's made by monks.  (Not sure any of that is true).  Here's an article about Zinfandel (  There's no website yet.

Second, I stayed in an apartment rather than in a hotel.  Magnolia Apartments was terrific.  The apartment was a good size, immaculately clean, modernly appointed, and in a good location.  It took about 6 minutes to reach Diocletian's Palace.  They cleaned every day, brought over fruit and tea, and were available for recommendations about where to go and what to see.  You should look into Magnolia if you're going to visit Split.  (

I'll have final thoughts on Croatia later on in the weekend.  Right now, let me just say that it is SOOOO good to be back in ROMA!!!!

Wednesday On The Marjan Peninsula

I spent Wednesday on the Marjan Peninsula part of Split.  Marjan is just a 5-minute walk from Diocletian's Palace and the Riva (which is the cafe-lined waterfront part of the Palace along the Adriatic).  I've seen Marjan called Split's Central Park.  I don't know if that really makes sense -- but it is an oasis nevertheless.

If you look on a map, you'll see that Split just has this Marjan Peninsula that juts out into the sea.  It's beautiful.  It's heavily wooded and green, but its perimeter gives way to scenic beaches.  The views in almost every direction are fantastic.  And there are some nice spots to see Croatian art.

A couple of Marjan's highlights are the two little museums dedicated to Ivan Mestrovic, who is I believe Croatia's most celebrated artist of the 20th Century.  (Mestrovic spend the last couple of decades of his life at Notre Dame in Indiana.  I believe he was exiled during WWII, and fled to the US.)  The Mestrovic Gallery holds a bunch of his sculptures.  The sculptures are nice, and the grounds are amazing.  It's worth a 30-minute stop if you're here.

A view from out one of the Gallery's windows.  

This sculpture of Job is I think one of Mestrovic's most famous.  

Here's the view as you're walking out of the Gallery.
Next stop was the Kastelet.  Mestrovic bought this property in 1939, and it holds his Life of Christ cycle (and that's about it).  It's right on the sea and a very tranquil spot with nice views.  The Crucifixion sculpture is impressive too.

I also found my way to one of the several beaches on Marjan.  The trees come right down the cliffs to the edge of the water.  That makes the beaches quite picturesque.  The beaches are not sandy -- they are pebble.  That might not have been the best design choice.  But, still, the beach I hit was a nice spot at which to take a rest.

On the way back down to Split proper, I stopped at Split's old Jewish cemetery.  Jews in Split were buried here until sometime in the mid-20th Century.  The city did not want to allow more burials here, so, at that point -- because the Split Jews had bought the land in something like the 1500s -- the city now gives Jews free burials in some of the other city cemeteries.  My friend Albert at the Synagogue told me that there are bodies here from as long ago as the 1470s.  I didn't see that.  The oldest one I saw was from the 1870s.  Interesting to look around in here.

And, on the way down from Marjan, you also get good views of the city.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


At 6:18 pm on my last day on the Dalmatian coast -- almost at the buzzer -- it happened.  After walking out of the Split Art Gallery (which is a nice little art museum), I ran into Leena.

My first-ever Dalmatian Dalmatian.  I can return to Rome tomorrow at peace.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Culture Vulture Hits Croatia

I was trying to figure out what to do on Tuesday night in Split, when it hit me:  why not see what's going on at the Croatian National Theater, which -- as you know -- is the most prestigious theater by far in Split?  That turned out to be a stellar idea.  

There was a performance tonight by the jazz quartet led by jazz clarinetist Anet Cohen.  Cohen is an Israeli who has lived in NYC since 1999.  The NYT just had a piece on her earlier this month.  (  

She was backed up by a marvelous pianist from NYC, an incredible drummer from NYC, and a bass player from Bologna, Italy.  To be honest, this is not my favorite genre of music -- no Manilow at all.  But it was totally fun and the music was fab.

The Croatian National Theater is a great venue too.  If you're ever in Split, see what's going on there.  It's a 600-seat venue, and it's awesome to see world-class musicians (or dancers or actors) in such an intimate venue.   

Top it off with a vino-and-formaggio apertivo and a post-theater octopus-salad-and-vino, and you have a cool night out on the town.

One last thing on Anet Cohen.  The picture of her in the NYT profile is good.  But this one is actually just a tad better: