holland herald

La Dolce Victory

By Eric J. Lyman

The moment Italy's dramatic victory in the 2006
World Cup became official, television cameras
from around the world focused on the Italian
celebrations in Rome's massive Circus Maximus.
Three quarters of a million blue-clad fans packed
into the 3,000-year-old venue to watch the game
on cinema-sized screens and then celebrate the

For Circus Maximus, it was merely the latest --

albeit the most visible -- celebration in a line of
celebrations dating back nearly as far as modern
civilization. The location -- a natural amphitheatre
that spans the land between the Aventine and

Palatine hills -- was first used in pre-Roman times,
by Tarquinius Priscus, the first Etruscan king.
Julius Caesar  expanded it to its current size, and
since then the arena has played host to chariot
races, royal coronations, medieval demonstrations, military parades,
concerts, and
myriad victory marches. But with a World Cup-sized
television audience
tuning in to watch the seemingly endless mass of
hugging and shouting
and jumping football fans, none has been watched
by as many people.

To those taking in the images of the joyous, celebrating residents of
Eternal City, it must have seen like life had never been sweeter.
But then
those people do not know Rome.

Most of the world focuses its attention on the present and the future.
But even while celebrating victory in the world's largest sporting
event, the eyes of the Italian capital were on the past.

Media commentary in the wake of the game immediately struggled to
place the stunning triumph into a historical context compared to other
glorious milestones, whether in sports or in other fields. The Rome
daily newspaper Il Mesaggiero predicted the Italian team would return
home and be greeted like a "band of victorious Roman generals"; state
broadcaster RAI noted that the crowd gathered in Circus Maximus was
nearly twice the size of the Roman crowds that packed the arena to
watch "wildly popular ... [and] usually deadly chariot races" in
ancient times.

Fans automatically responded in kind. "I can say I know what it feels
like to be part of something great," said 23-year-old Roman waitress
Alessandra Soldati, a football fan celebrating in Circus Maximus the
night of the victory. "This is our generation's version of a great
military triumph. It is like we were under siege and we did not

As the capital of what was the most glorious imperial empire the world
has ever seen, one of the centers of the Renaissance, and the former
seat of the Papal States, Rome knows that its greatest heights are in
the past. And while the city is a also a modern and bustling capital,
its intuitive backwards gaze means its citizens can concentrate on the
task of living well rather than on proving themselves worthy of the
modern age.

    The term "La Dolce Vita" -- "The
    Sweet Life" -- was originally coined
    in connection with the glitzy go-go
    days of the 1950s and early '60s
    -- a time when the city's restaurants
    and clubs hosted some of the
    world's most glamorous stars, such
    as Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren,
    Frank Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot, Ingrid
    Bergman, and Gregory Peck.
    Director Federico Fellini, in his iconic
    film "La Dolce Vita," coined
    the term "paparazzi" -- the bane of
    many of the stars of the day.

    But "La Dolce Vita" has since evolved
    to mean something else, a
    shorthand way to refer to Rome's
    unique and seductive rhythm of life.

"The secret to enjoying life the way Romans do is to know when to do
things quickly, and when is the proper time to slow down," says
Maurizio Pirola, co-owner of the Roman icon Taverna Trilussa, which
has been open in the neighborhood of Trastevere for nearly a century.
"Compared to foreigners and even some other Italians, Romans really
know how to enjoy a meal. They take their time and linger over each
course. They enjoy the conversation. They put thought into what they

No place aside from fast food eateries or the most tourist-oriented
restaurants would plan on serving two parties at different times from
same table. Most traditional places don't even ask their regular

customers what time they plan to arrive when they make a reservation.
The wait staff will not bring the check unless asked. The table
belongs to
the first party for the evening.

"It's much more important that someone really enjoy their meal than it
is that they are hurried away so someone else can be seated," Pirola

When it comes to the city's countless piazze, the philosophy is
similar. As
the city's main gathering places for centuries, there is
hardly a more
typical -- or pleasurable -- way to spend an afternoon
than by sipping a
glass of wine or a demitasse of espresso while
seated in a picturesque
piazza and watching the city pass by.

It is said that by waiting long enough, the entire city will
eventually pass
through Rome's Piazza Navona, the most stunning piazza
in a city known
for them -- and it's probably true. There are nearly a
dozen bars with
outdoor seating on the edges of the large oblong space
(the shape is a
remnant of its birth as an athletic stadium under the
Roman Emperor
Domitian). While none of the bars are known for having a
impressive wine list or exceptional coffee, the reason to
come is for the
view. An original Egyptian obelisk rests atop
Bernini's legendary Fountain
of the Four Rivers, dominating the center
of the piazza. The statue's
colossal marble figures around the pillar
are known for the way they
writhe and twist. Behind that is
Barromini's intricate baroque church
dedicated to St. Agnes. And in
between it all is Rome passing by: locals
on their way to work or the
market in nearby Campo di Fiori, waiters
contorting themselves to fit
between the packed tables, artisans selling
their wares, painters
painting, and visitors savoring the unforgettable

Nearby is another breathtaking square, the Piazza della Rotonda. It is
home to the Pantheon, the best preserved ancient structure in the
which towers over other buildings in the square like an adult in
a room full
of small children. The façade of the second-century
structure, built by the
emperor Hadrian, and pockmarked from centuries
of pillaging. The light
inside comes from a single opening in the
massive dome, and it
changes the colors of the floor as the sun rises
or sets.

The area around the piazza is also known for its coffee, which is as
as much a part of the Roman culture as wine or food. Romans seem
believe the liquid has magical qualities: the deliberate placement
of a
coffee cup down on the table means the meal is finished. Locals
that the same coffee that helps the drinker wake up in the
morning will
help him sleep at night. It is believed that a few coffee
beans in a glass of
Sambuca bring good luck.

Most Romans have a soft spot for their neighborhood coffee shop, where
they perhaps tasted their first-ever cappuccino. But ask where the
best coffee in town comes from and the answer will probably be one of
the two famous coffee shops near the Pantheon. Facing the ancient
building, Sant'Eustachio, known for its deep and strong brew, is two
blocks to the right. And just off to the left is Tazza d'Oro, which
makes a
more delicate form of espresso. Locals love to bring visitors
to both so
they can judge the two extremes of Roman coffee at its
highest levels.

"In certain ways, Rome changes every year and over the course of
decades and generations it is easy to see the way priorities and value
have changed," says Raimondo Ricci, one of the owners of

Sant'Eustachio. "But one constant over the generations has been a love
of coffee."

That love of coffee explains the events two days after the Italian
World Cup
victory. City workers were cleaning up the mass of refuse
left after two
days of partying in Circus Maximus, and the
newly-crowned world
champion players flew back to Rome for a reception
with the prime
minister before heading their separate ways. Upon
landing at the airport,
the first thing several players did -- even
before collecting their bags or
facing the throng of shouting fans
waiting for them outside -- was to take a
coffee at the tiny airport
coffee bar.

Italian photographers captured the moment, and when a few foreign
journalists expressed surprise that the players would make that their
first order of business upon their return to Rome, at least one
photographer shrugged his shoulders. "What do you expect?" he asked.
"They've been out of the country for a month; they're missing good

© Copyright 2006 Holland Herald
All rights reserved.
This article originally appeared in

A brief description of some of the places
and some other "winners" for
those who want to experience the good life,
alla Romana.

Taverna Trilussa, one of the most typical
Roman establishments in the
city, is always
bustling. The menu is even written in the
local Roman
dialect rather than in Italian, and
is stocked with classic versions
of some of
the city's most classic pasta dishes. But the
best bet may
be the Taverna's own creation,
the ravioli mimosa: homemade pasta in a
pumpkin-based sauce is a sworn secret (Via
Poleteama 23. Phone:

A short walk away and across the river is the
Hosteria dell'Orso, one of the icons of
Rome's fine dining scene. The Hosteria is
set in a
15th-century palace and has been a
favorite of dignitaries ranging
from Goethe to
Clark Gable. The atmosphere is a contrast
between old
and new -- modern furnishings
in a classis setting -- and so is the
which modernizes and elevates classic
dishes mixed among unique
gems. It's not
inexpensive, but some people consider it the
best place
to eat in the city (Via dei Soldati
25c. Phone: 06-683-01192).

Originally an athletic stadium designed by
the emperor Domitian,
ancient Romans
Piazza Navona and held naval
battles there.
Today it's the best place in the
city for people watching. Around
the piazza hosts a massive fair, with dozens
of artisan
stalls -- many of which are
dedicated to "La Befana," the Italian
Christmas witch. (Piazza Navona. No phone).

Atop the Spanish Steps, one of the best
brunches in Italy is served
from the rooftop
restaurant of the
Hassler Hotel every Sunday
noon to 4. It isn't a bargain, but there's
no better place to sit
back, relax, and eat a
long and refreshing with one of the best
possible views of the city (Trinta dei Monti 6.
Phone: 06-699-340).

Aside from its unforgettable aesthetic

qualities, the Pantheon is an engineering
marvel. Nearly 2,000 years old, the massive
contains a perfect sphere in the
dome, which if continued downward
just touch the floor -- to the millimeter. Built
as a pagan
temple, it has since been
christened as a Catholic church, Santa Maria
ad Martyres. The church contains the bones
of Italy's earliest kings,
the Renaissance
painter Rafaelo, and dozens of early Christian
martyrs. (Piazza della Rotonda 1. Phone:

Off to the side of the Pantheon is the

timeless Caffe Sant'Eustachio, where the
coffee is pre-sweetened (they'll make a
version on request) with a
pleasantly-burnt edge to the after taste.
The espresso machines are positioned so
that customers cannot see the
process, and employees must reportedly
non-disclosure forms before they can
start working there (Piazza
82. Phone: 06-688-02048).

Its closest rival is
Tazza d'Oro, which is
almost always packed -- but worth every
second of waiting. The coffee is roasted and
ground on the
site, and the signature drink is
a blessing on warm Roman afternoons:
a shakerato (ice coffee with sugar, violently
shaken until it becomes
frothy) (Via degli
Orfani 84. Phone: 06-679-2768).

Piazza del Campidoglio is the historic,
spiritual, and political
center of the city. The
hill was long known as caput mundi -- the
"head of the word" and even today the star at
the center of the plaza
is the point from which
all distances to Rome are measured. The
boasts an impressive history and art
museum, a Michelangelo-designed
pattern and buildings, and the best view
available of the Imperial
Forum, with the
Coliseum in the distance. (Piazza del
Phone for the museum: