We boarded the bus near Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. It was dark and we were all tired having just arrived from Canada, Asia and the U.S. Eighty travel ambassadors were invited by the Italian Government Tourist Board and the Comune di Roma, in collaboration with BIL, the International Film Locations Exchange to see, taste and experience the “New Rome.”
Suddenly, lights flashed and sirens blared in front of our bus. Four police motorcycle escorts waved their arms wildly to the on-coming cars yelling, ‘Fate Largo! Make Way!’ As we swerved in and out, the sea of cars magically parted until we abruptly stopped within steps of the famous Fontana di Trevi. It felt surreal! Instantly, our old sleepy ragdoll bodies became infused with the Italian spirit!
The ornately sculpted Baroque Trevi Fountain always feels like to me that Nicola Salvi and Giuseppe Pannini, the sculptors, were on a 30-year caffeine high and didn’t know when to stop. It goes on and on, up and up. But, tourists love it. I love it. Throw a coin into the fountain and you will be guaranteed to return to Rome, find a new love, or get a divorce (you pick). It means 3,000 Euros a day collected for the poor. And, it also provides a tight backdrop for filming movies, probably the most famous is Three Coins in the Fountain - the 1954 movie that earned the Academy Award for ‘Best Original Song’ and Best Cinematography.
In a tiny ally from the fountain, we poked into Harry’s Bar. Not, the Harry’s Bar from La Dolce Vita, but a sister bar recently renovated that houses a gem of a private theater where we viewed the new, award-winning “Omaggio a Rome” by di Franco Zeffirelli staring Andrea Bocelli (scroll down and click to view video – Bellissimo!). We dined and drank fine wine (of course) then had a tour of the ruins underneath. New film, old ruins.
Everywhere you go, there are ruins. It’s a minor miracle that anything is renovated since when you dig a hole or pick up a hammer, you are almost guaranteed to find some ancient, valuable and meaningful part of history. All work stops. The Romans live in the ‘Old Rome’ which is one reason they are always striving to create a ‘New Rome.’
The ‘New Rome’ means innovation, invention, creation all surrounded by art and beauty, yet no less grandiose than the Trevi Fountain. This flows through Roman blood over the millennia. They can’t help it. Being a daughter with Roman ancestry, I’ve had this hunch for a long time; I cook big (one Christmas, a dessert demanded a yard-size platter), I paint big, my sculptures are monolithic pieces…
Over the next few days, my hypothesis was confirmed: we toured the site of Rome’s new convention center and hotel with its amazing “Cloud of Fuksas,” named after the architect. You have to check this out – so innovative - a huge translucent, curvy and sexy, suspended cloud as the focal point. Then there’s the Congress Centre designed by Renzo Piano with tons of glass, interior winter gardens, heated by solar panels. One building was the beautiful square coliseum that held a fantastic and whimsical art exhibit by Fabrizio D’Ottavi, a new take on Norman Rockwell.
This is not all. The ‘New Rome’, called Second Tourist Pole, is this huge expansion, southeast of the airport and west to the seashore. These extraordinary structures along with a new aquarium, race track, and a theme park are all connected with trams, bike paths, waterways and green parks will become a destination for people around the world. The completion date for this is supposed to be the end of 2012. I think they’ll need to pull people off the street, like the Egyptians did to build the pyramids, in order to meet this deadline.
Italians may be tired of the old; but, they should not underestimate the love affair we have with ‘Old Rome’: the institutions of antiquity filled with art, the archaeological ruins around every corner that whispers stories of ancient Rome, original black cobble stones leading us into spectacular piazzas where we can dip our toes in the fountains, hear the spontaneous songs from trattorias, and snoop into open art studios.
In Rome, there’s ‘old’ and there’s ‘slightly’ old. Such is Mussolini’s villa, Villa Torlonia, where he paid $1/year. When Mussolini wanted to rent your place, you just give it to him. This renovation is still not complete. Our hosts provided us with a full evening of entertainment. During dinner, I excused myself to use the bathroom. Up three flights I walked with only the echo of my shoes. Following signs, I made my way through a labyrinth of connected bedrooms rooms turned into art galleries. In the far corner, I finally reached the tiny bathroom with one double-hung window overlooking the servant quarter. I kept thinking, “Wow, I’m in Mussolini’s bathroom!” As I tried to leave, the shifty old lock was stuck! With a jiggle here and there, I finally emerged. Next time, as a safety measure, I’ll bring my own screwdriver!
On the main floor the music room glittered with crystal chandeliers above, marble floors below, and a baby grand piano graced one end. There, we experienced live arias called, Toccata and Fugue. I thought, this must be a music term I’ve never learned. But, I know some Italian and from the deep recesses of my brain, I thought: “hit and run.” And, this is what the tenor and baritone did – they took turns, like being in a relay, singing with gusto! So fun! Our hosts sure know how to throw a party!
But, the gala night party was the creme de la creme, on the Caffarelli Terrace, the very top of the Capitoline Museum – no doubt one of the most beautiful views of Rome. We just had a private tour of the museum that included a new addition since my last visit. The original bronze of the twins, Remus and Romulus, suckling the she-wolf was centerpiece in its own room and the huge equestrian statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius now had a whole new section built to house it. High modern sky-lights above and an archaeological dig below; once again, the old and the new shall meet.
The week culminated with the “Premio Colosseo” – an annual award given to someone who has contributed the most to the artistic and cultural image of Rome. The winner – Lindsay Davis, who is a British historical fiction writer who often places her capers in Rome. And, this is what I love most about Rome: they love us! Who else would give the first prize to a non-Italian?!
What did I do on my one ‘free’ day? I looked for an apartment to rent for a month, a year… after all, I threw my coin into the Trevi Fountain – I will return!
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