Notes from the Field: Roman Holiday

June 6, 2011

By Cheryl Katz

Our son, Oliver, had been studying in Rome for four months when Jeffrey and I went to visit him in late April. As we arrived at the entrance of Locanda San Pancrazio, Oliver, looking very Roman in a freshly pressed shirt, driving shoes and two days’ worth of stubble, and Donatella Proia, the owner of the six-room hotel, waited to greet us. Like most Roman women of a certain age, Signora Proia was elegantly dressed. At not yet ten o’clock in the morning, she wore a well-tailored lavender suit, a fine wool shawl and low-heeled pumps. During our seven-day stay, Signora Proia would serve us breakfast, change the bed linens and vacuum the stair hall, all while similarly appointed.

Locanda San Pancrazio

With the semester over, Oliver was free to wander the city with us. For six glorious days he was our guide, leading us down tiny cobblestone streets and through vast public squares, introducing us to pizza with crust as thin as paper and to Sant’Ignazio church with its trompe l’oeil dome and enormous fringed curtains sculpted from stone. In return, we took Oliver to dinners that his student budget hadn’t allowed, where we drank wine from Lazio and ate delicately fried zucchini blossoms.

Sant’Ignazio church

Sant’Ignazio church

When we travel, we usually arm ourselves with lists of the newest, hippest, not-to-be-missed places. But Rome is the exception. Save for a few new restaurants, like Urbana 47 with its open kitchen and seasonal menu, and some research into Zaha Hadid’s arresting MAXXI Museum, we went to Rome to revel in what hasn’t changed. We love the ancient city for its consistency.

The courtyard of Sant’Ivo

The Tempietto of San Pietro in Montorio

Roman ruins

This isn’t to say that Rome is not conducive to modern life. On the contrary, at the end of each day, between five and seven o’clock, Oliver would head to his favorite Wi-Fi cafe in Trastevere, the bustling neighborhood west of the Tiber and south of Vatican City. There he would check Facebook while Jeffrey and I lounged on the rooftop terrace at Locanda San Pancrazio, nestled at the foot of the Gianicolo, to respond to our e-mail. Smart cars lined the narrow streets and  a GPS-equipped smart phone pointed the way home.

But–like the elegant Signora Proia, the Baroque Sant’Ignazio or the perfect pizza crust–in Rome propriety and tradition are never old school.