Thursday, September 20, 2018


We've lost track of the amount of times we've driven up the gravel road and pulled up to the gate at the Agriturismo Frattoria Armena. The first time was when Emmy was three; she's now twenty-two. There were no gates when we came for the first time. The pool was an above ground version with a ladder you had to climb up in order to get into it.
The barns were a bit messy and our current apartment hadn't been built, yet we knew from that first moment that this would not be the only time we'd come here.
From the hundreds of possibilities we had before us there was destiny in our choosing Armena.
The unexplainable sense that you've found your place in the world happened then and over the dozen or so times we've returned there's been no doubt that this place is our home. Nestled in the arms of our acquired Italian family, the Saracenis, we've found our heaven on earth.
This trip was particularly significant for me. It coincided with my birthday. I'm not one who looks forward to these milestones. I was devastated when I turned ten and had to move into double-digit territory. So now I no longer count the years but celebrate time well spent.
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Dylan Thomas
I'm not on death's door but I do believe that it's best to always go forward with defiance and passion in search of laughter and new adventures.
Let the world marvel at who you are and what you can do.
I was not of a mind to demand or want any big celebration but a quiet dinner with family and friends was what I was hoping for and my family and friends did not disappoint.
Eight o'clock reservations at Boccon Di Vino in Montalcino, a hilltop restaurant we'd been to several times.
The view is spectacular and the food is a religious experience. The menu for Saturday night is catalogued below:

Our first surprise was a tomato, bread and Parmesan puree with toasted bread chips, a gift from the restaurant owners,
longtime friends of Stefania and Giulio Saraceni, the mother and son team who joined us for dinner. We would be dining with the rest of the family the following day when we were to celebrate Stefania's sister's birthday.

Crispy hot bread filled with bacon and pecorino cheese then topped with wild herbs and garden grown cherry tomatoes.
Raw prawns from Mazara del Vallo plated with Burratina served in a fluted crispy bread bowl and a smear of green tomato jam.
Molded chicken liver pate with homemade toasted bread and apple compote served in a separate cup.

Pappardelle alla Carbornara with prawns, crispy Tuscan bacon and 100% Arabica coffee powder.
The famous house onion soup.

Beef duck breast with Moscadelo in fig sauce accompanied by roasted vegetables and pistachios.
Beef stewed in black pepper and Brunello wine on a bed of organic chickpeas with drizzled rosemary oil.
Codfish cooked at low temperature with beetroot cream, wild poppies, breadcrumbs and shaved almonds.

A pistachio birthday cake with dark chocolate wafers.

A bottle of Moscato Fior d'arancio spumante as a parting gift from the restaurant owners and staff whom all raised their glasses in one last toast.  The perfect end to a perfect birthday in a place I'll always love.
Cin Cin!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018



We arrived in Rome in the early evening of the thirteenth. For me having the ability of sleeping almost anywhere included the confined seating on two airlines in the economy section with seats that virtually pushed your knees up into your chest was a task I was well up to. I accomplished this despite two crying babies and three middle-aged women having each downed three mini bottles of champagne and then proceeded to include all of us passengers in a continuous giggle fest all the way from Heathrow to Fiumicino. I slept through it, for Rick and Emmy not so much.
I had my travel goggles on the minute our driver left us off at our hotel. Rick and Emmy had their sleep masks on and it was all I could do to drag them to dinner.
The fourteenth turned out to be much better, so much better that I have to break our 24 hours in Rome into two posts rather than one. As much as we no longer need to see the standard tourist traps we seemed to wonder by some of them involuntarily.
Chronology is not going to play a part in the plot line of our journey here but once we were situated in our hotel
it was out into the heart of our Rome, the shopping district and its port of entry, the Spanish steps where you can see a good deal of Rome spread out before you.
On that evening of the thirteenth tired and bleary-eyed we got as far as two blocks down the Via Condotti before our weary legs gave out and we crawled back into a taxi and then into our beds.
Our neighborhood of choice for our Roman holidays has always centered around the Via Veneto with its infamous hotels and its anchor point of the old celebrity watering hole of fame, Harry's Bar. Even though it is now very passé you can still see the exquisitely fashionably dressed pretenders sitting outside in suits and Dior sipping cocktails in the ninety degree heat without producing a bead of sweat.
Of course we couldn't avoid the Trevi Fountain, it was too close to our choice for dinner that night. Even at the witching hour the area around the fountain was more packed than Times Square on New Year's Eve.
And since all paths, at least the ones we take, always go through the Piazza Navona our trip this time would once again pull us through that notorious tourist trap where street vendors with dancing light balloons and fake portrait artists try to pry you from your Euros and your dignity making many an American tourist walk around for the rest of the evening with a ridiculous lit balloon on a stick.
Still, the piazza is one of the surest places in Rome where we know we can find a taxi stand. Unlike New York where you can stand on any corner and hail a cab Rome is different. You can stand forever with your hand in the air but a cab isn't going to stop to pick you up.
On the night of the fourteenth by the time we returned to our hotel we realized for the first time the true character of our hotel's surroundings. Cica Cica Boom Boom, oh what a night!

The Galleria Borghese was my idea. We always find time to go into the park at the Villa Borghese every time we're in Rome but we've never made it into the Galleria. The Galleria requires a timed ticket and you  have to have made reservations far in advance to get your tickets. I took it upon myself to garner those tickets well in advance of our arrival in Rome. What I didn't consider was my museum partners deciding shopping might be more enjoyable than a two-hour tour of the museum. I wasn't eager for a tour either but I figured once inside I could slip away and do my own investigating. So with three tickets one for me and the other two unclaimed by Rick and Emmy, I went on my own. I tried to give away the two extra tickets to an elderly couple that had come to the ticket counter looking for tickets and were disappointed that the 1pm time slot had been sold out and there'd be no other tickets available for any time that day but when I approached them with my two extra tickets the guy behind the counter said he'd have me arrested if I handed out the tickets inside the museum. So much for a good deed going unpunished.
Despite my almost acquisition of a criminal record and a ticket to wage my own fight with the lions in the gladiator ring of the Coliseum I went unopposed into the galleria and I was glad I did. It's impossible to annotate the entire experience.
So I'm going to let my photos do my talking about the architecture, the frescos, the paintings of Caravaggio and the amazing sculptures of Bernini and Canova.

Despite the unhelpful people behind the desk, get your tickets if in Rome and go to the Galleria Borghese. You'll then know why tickets are in such demand.

Monday, September 17, 2018


Shopping in Rome is for us a contact sport. It is not a frivolous activity. It requires extreme stamina and years of skill development. We are masters. Emmy is still an apprentice in training but one with exceptional talent and potential. She may be a little green around the edges but she will soon have earned her degree with marks equivalent to a Magnum Cum Laude in shopping.

For the uninitiated Rome is not for the unschooled. It is rich with high fashion and the Romans know how to flaunt it. You can spot the non-contenders a mile away dressed in jean cutoffs and t-shirts with sayings like "I'm with stupid" and an arrow pointing down to their crotch.
The real Roman men are decked out in starched white shirts either with silk ties or unbuttoned to the point just above where any lower and it would be too gangsterish rather than sexy at sixty.
The women wear linen and heels and genuine leather bags that can be differentiated from the knock-offs by the professional shoppers with a degree in shopping fraud detection.
Now real shopping schooling doesn't always require a huge bankroll. It helps but when you're trying to school someone on how to develop an eye for bargains you want them to learn in places where they have to hone their sleuthing ability of separating the fashion wheat from the chaff. Emmy's training ground has been through high-end window shopping in the prestigious shopping meccas of the world and then applying that knowledge in thrift and vintage stores where the finding tests her knowledge and fortitude toward real bargain fluency.
This can be seen in this Christian Dior coat she snagged at an antique mall for an amazing $36.
In Rome she did her research and found a street crowded with vintage stores not frequented by many tourists and kept close to the chest by most Roman fashion trendsetters.
Hunting through stores so cramped with merchandise she immediately sniffed out the best of the best walking away with a Gucci belt, Trussardi handbag and an amazing red velvet jacket from the fashion house of Roberta di Camerino. We were so proud.
Rick was on top of his game sorting through the new trends in fall fashion from some of the higher-end shops and coming up with a whole new look for the fall in patterns that will make New York stand up and take notice.
He also decided that since my birthday was coming up the following day he wouldn't forget me. I'd never been into jewelry in a big way. Never bought much more than a ring or two. Never wanted a gold tooth or a grill, but I recently bought an inexpensive chain bracelet to go with the watch I'm never without. I'm old-fashioned.
My watches are never digital but radial. I was hoping to find a sterling bracelet to go with my watch and the chain bracelet I already had. I was a little weary of parting with the kind of Euros I knew I'd have to spend for what I wanted, but Rick came through with exactly what I was looking for. He knew sterling from the imposters and boy did I luck out.
My shopping came in the form of a little antique shop I only happened to stumble upon selling these small rolling pins and ink jars form India. I couldn't pass them up. I'm a sucker for high design.
Not a bad haul for a day that included a trip to the Galleria Borghese, breakfast at the hotel and two meals at two different restaurants and topped off by gelato to boot.

When an American hotel tells you breakfast is included the best you can expect is a coffee dispenser and a selection of packaged sweet rolls. Not so in Europe. At the hotel La Residenza breakfast was a meal well worth getting up for and one that would sustain you all the way to dinner. Scrambled eggs and bacon, prosciutto and sausages, muesli and granola, a selection of exotic fruits, chocolate croissants, cheeses and the list goes on. Our hostess, who remembered us from our last visit, also remembered who took what beverage with his or her meal. As soon as she saw us she was there with Emmy's cappuccino, Rick's juice and my hot chocolate. Bless her heart.
We were so full from breakfast we didn't want to do anything major for lunch.
Around three in the afternoon while visiting the vintage area on the other side of the Piazza Navona we decided on making a stop at an old friend, Etabli.
It's one of those cafes that serve an ingenious menu in a room that feels like a warm worn shearling coat,
not too fancy but exuding comfortable style.
Everyone feels welcome in Etabli including children and dogs.
The menu was extremely tempting but knowing we were going out to dinner we settled on an appetizer plate with a selection of salumi and cheeses along with an olive tapenade and bowl of sweet honey.
That evening we decided to go back to another old favorite, Nana. They specialize in seafood and did not disappoint.
Emmy and Rick are much more adventuresome seafood eaters than am I . Anything that stares back at me before I have to eat it is going to automatically turn me off. Besides I have an aversion to those needle-like little bones that I fear are going to puncture my throat or lodge permanently in the lining of my stomach converting it into an inverted porcupine.
I must admit that the sea bass didn't look quite so scary once it had been prepared for baking and presented in a blanket of sea salt.
Then once the filets had been plated with the heads missing and the filets boned I could sort of see the appeal.
I, on the other hand, went for these boneless crustaceans in the form of some Mediterranean langoustines served on a bed of linguini with sundried tomatoes, pepper and virgin olive oil. Clearly my plate looked much better than theirs.
At the very end of the evening Alessandro, our hotel maître d' and mixologist supreme, sent us off with a nightcap making sure we'd sleep well and be prepared for the next days journey.