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Tag Archives: Ferragosto

Summer nights

23 Aug
When it is hot, Italy comes alive at night. The number of people dining at 10:00PM or later even on a week night is amazing. People take their lives out-of-doors once the sun goes down.
Fountains and pools of Villa d’Este, beautiful during the day, take on added drama at night.

Fountains and pools of Villa d’Este, beautiful during the day, take on added drama at night.

Although this summer has not been as miserably hot as the past two (2012 was one for the record books), it’s still humid and hard to move around in full sun. The nights are soft and pleasant, and there is a tradition of special events and the opening of venues that normally close at 6:00PM.   Notte d’Estate a Castel Sant’Angelo, Lungo Il Tevere Roma  (a festival along the Tiber), and various other events dot the calendar in Rome.
Last summer we tried to go to Tivoli to see the magnificent Villa d’Este lighted at night. It was a bust because we were driving, directional signs were poor, and we didn’t know what we were looking for. We did find on that first visit that Tivoli is very lively on summer evenings. So during the past year we made two daytrips to Villa d’Este via train to get our bearings. Finding it remarkable,  we decided to spend a night at a B&B and see the gardens by night.  Every Friday and Saturday through September 13 (weather permitting), Villa D’Este opens its gates after dark allowing one to enjoy its magnificent fountains illuminated. The transformation at night is stunning.
We boarded a regionale train from Station Tiburtina on the holiday of Ferragosto (August 15), and checked into the charming B&B al Palazzetto, a recently restored 15th century building.  The proprietor is an architect and his professionalism showed in the fine design. We were warmly welcomed and shown to a comfortable room with one of the most modern bathrooms we have had in Italy.
Delightful, serene dining on a soft summer night

Delightful, serene dining on a soft summer night

The town of Tivoli offers many fine restaurants, and it seems they are open very late to serve those who choose to tour Villa d’Este before dining. We chose one with a fine location on a piazza, Taverna Quintilia, only a few minutes’ walk from the entrance to Villa d’Este.  Taverna Quintilia is a rarity: a true Neapolitan seafood restaurant in Lazio, featuring succulent octopus, fresh marinated alici (anchovies), grilled spigola (sea bass), and more. This was some of the best seafood we have eaten outside of the Cinque Terre and Sicilia.
After dinner we headed over to Villa d’Este, arriving about 9:30PM to find a fast-moving line. The estate is huge so it swallowed the crowd easily and we enjoyed an uncrowded tour. The estate is transformed by the play of light on fountains. It occurred to us that in the U.S. this place would not be allowed to be open at night: it would be too dangerous with the low lighting, uneven walkways, and dark Renaissance staircases. We firmly held hands and thoroughly enjoyed wandering the grounds, watching the families and couples alike enjoying a soft evening – almost cool for August.

 

The Renaissance-era villa, Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este, son of Alfonso I d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia and grandson of Pope Alexander VI.

The Renaissance-era villa, commissioned by Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este, son of Alfonso I d’Este and Lucrezia Borgia and grandson of Pope Alexander VI.

Beautifully lighted fountains – Renaissance era faces carved into a long wall light a romantic walkway.

Beautifully lighted fountains – Renaissance era faces carved into a long wall light a romantic walkway.

An unidentified church seem s to float in the darkness, just beyond Villa d'Este.

An unidentified church seem s to float in the darkness, just beyond Villa d’Este.

Dramatic lighting of architectural features at Villa d'Este.

Dramatic lighting of architectural features at Villa d’Este.

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Rome – Closed for the Holidays

15 Aug
A simple hand-lettered sign on a boutique. When will they return? Who knows!

A simple hand-lettered sign on a boutique. When will they return? Who knows!

Rome is deserted. For the past three weeks, the city has become progressively quieter: less traffic, fewer stores open. Some of the city buses are on a special schedule in August with reduced runs. Even the seagulls that frequent our neighborhood and scream at 3:00AM seem to have taken off for parts unknown. There are fewer dogs in the park, and fewer runners, too. Some mornings I can walk through Villa Borghese and see almost no one except the omnipresent vendors setting up for the day’s business.

I cannot possibly imagine this happening in the United States, but store after store is closed per ferie, the period surrounding the mid-August holiday of ferragosto.  I won’t go into the ancient roots of this holiday, or the fact that it was co-opted by “The Church.” I will tell you what it is like this month.

  • People are at the beach, whether for the day, the week or the month. Those that are not at the beach are in the mountains, but most Italians are true sun-worshipers and so they flock to the beach where they lay on a chaise lounge under an umbrella, side-by-side-by-side.
  • Businesses are shuttered with little signs that say how long they will be chiuso. Could be a week, or even the entire month.
  • You can find a place to park on almost any street, in almost any piazza. This does not happen any other time of the year. Buses run almost empty.

    A more formal sign assures  customers of this cafe that they will only be closed a week.  Everyone to the beach!

    A more formal sign assures customers of this cafe that they will only be closed a week. Everyone to the beach!

Restaurants are closed or quasi-empty. Two weeks ago, on a Saturday night, we went to a highly recommended restaurant near the Embassy and at the peak dining hour of 21:00 we were the only customers! I’d even made a reservation. A very uncomfortable situation for us and for the restaurant owner.  Luckily the quality of the food did not suffer.

An Italian friend told me that when she was a child (35-40 years ago) it was even quieter in August. It was even difficult to get groceries as supermarkets and shopping centers did not exist.

Another tradition of ferragosto is to give your portiere (building superintendent-manager-doorman-handyman all rolled into one) a gift of €25-€50 (about $33-67) in recognition of what they do for us. This is also traditional at Christmas and Easter.  The portiere is also key to security, so he remains on duty in August when many apartments are vacant and is – hopefully – a deterrent to the break-ins that increase in frequency during the mass-exodus to the beach.

This children's shop in a posh neighborhood is closed from 8 Aug to 2 Sept.

This children’s shop in a posh neighborhood is closed from 8 Aug to 2 Sept.

Today, August 15, is the actual ferragosto. The Embassy is closed, as are most businesses not in the tourist-trade. Our neighborhood is Christmas-morning quiet. No dogs, no birds, no motorini, no traffic, just one suspicious helicopter circling occasionally (never a good thing). We were able to find a nice bar (cafe) open for a holiday cornetto e cappucino fix.

While it may not be the best economic decision to close your business during the current crisis, I have to respect the tradition. People spending time with their families, having lunch with grandma, and escaping the heat if possible. For an amusing look at the holiday, seek out the movie “Mid-August Lunch” (Italian with English subtitles, available to stream on Netflix).

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