Travel /
Lazio

R(h)ome in Via Dell’Orso

 ‘I bury my head in the pillow, and dream of my true love… I am rowing to you on the great, dark ocean.’ ~ Caravaggio

For nearly 4 years I’ve been lucky to call the most magical neighborhood in Rome my home. There’s really no name to this quartiere but it can be found outstretched from Piazza Navona to the back alleyways of the Pantheon. Even though I always say Piazza Navona is ‘my backyard’, the magic of this place lies in the cobblestone streets washed over with Rome’s quintessential color palette; think dusty rose, orange & ochre pigments. The added bonus are the Renaissance & Baroque palazzos that line the streets and remind us of our history. More like a village in a capital city, I refer to my neighbourhood as #vicolomagic; this is why the neighbourhood is my favorite place in the world and how it has completely captured my heart.

Every morning I walk out the portone (a massive door) of my 17th century palazzo and hit the cobblestones on Via Dell’Orso – Street of the Bear. Even though I am known for my Vespa life and cherry red wheels I go everywhere on foot. My entire neighborhood has less than a 500 meter circumference, if that. Within a few seconds the waiters from the restaurant next door will call out… ‘Ciao bionda!’ ‘Hey blondie!’ but I don’t stop there because I am headed towards Via del Cancello where I will find my friends, my fellow entrepreneurs living, working and trying to survive these COVID times in Rome. There is Barbara who’s the queen of a fashion consignment boutique, Luigi who’s the feisty owner of an antique shop and my dear friend Alessandro who owns an adorable bici rental and tour company called Around a Roman Bike. You can find me most afternoons sitting out front under the alleyway’s hanging, green ivy talking shop with Ale. 

I say goodbye to my Via del Cancello crew with an enthusiastic ‘ciao, ciao & vediamo dopo!’ sprinkled with a lot of air kisses and love. I keep moving, making my morning rounds. I hang a left back on Via Dell’Orso and pass in front of my go-to, favorite Roman cuisine restaurant in my neighborhood, Lagana. The affectionate owner Mimmo shouts out pretty much everyday ‘I love you!’ and that’s how I feel about them and their amatriciana. The owner’s wife is from Amatrice, Abruzzo where this classic Roman pasta comes from. It’s a recipe for delicious success.

Don’t make a pitstop because today I am on my way to see my friend Bob (his real name is Roberto but I call him Bob!) at his barber shop, Genco, the oldest barbershop in Rome. It is the beating heart of our neighborhood and has been continuously open since 1900 but dates back to the 16th century when even Caravaggio was a client here! We’ll get back to him in a minute. I always call Bob’s barber shop the living room of the neighbourhood. On any given day you can find the old and young, males and females (including yours truly!) and just plain ol’ boisterous Romans hanging out gossiping or getting a shave. Genco is pure magic because the Frangipane tower from 1014 AD where it lives is the exact spot where three rione – districts meet: Sant’Eustachio, Campo Marzio and Ponte. 

Just down the street from Bob’s is a gem of a church called Sant’Agostino where you will unassumingly find a Caravaggio painting, Madonna dei Pellegrini. There are two neighboring churches that are home to Caravaggio masterpieces, the other one being San Luigi dei Francesi with the famous St. Matthew cycle. I prefer Sant’Agostino because Caravaggio’s painting has direct ties to my neighborhood. The actual door which Caravaggio placed his subject, courtesan lover, and consequently model, for the painting is just a short walk away on Vicolo del Divino Amore

We know that Caravaggio was a client at my local barbershop but where did he live? Caravaggio was the rebel of the Baroque era, a rockstar of sorts, the king of chiaroscuro and the epitome of the sacred and the profane. He worked, painted, loved and lost, and lived on the same streets I walk every day. My nameless neighborhood is where he called home from 1595-1599. Frequently moving from apartments and painting studios, depending if he was in favor or not with his patrons, it seems he was always getting himself in trouble on the streets of Rome & beyond. The street was a theatre where the events of his life played out. Via della Scrofa was one of those streets. A huge part of the artist’s life existed in and around the alleyways of this via. It is the spine of the neighbourhood and has always been an important road connecting the Pantheon area to the river. Via della Scrofa is the largest road in the quartiere and makes you feel anything is possible as you gaze ahead into the distance and eye Augustus’ Ara Pacis, my favorite museum in Rome. Lined with colourful shops, boutiques, tourists strolling and Romans doing their daily hustle. A quaint side street Via della Stellata is where you will find the perfect Booktique for curious minds. I pick up all my gifts, books and now masks from this super chic and curated shop.

 

Every Italian has their faithful ‘bar’ a stone’s throw from their house. Where everyone knows your name and the barista knows how you take your caffeine without saying a word. Mine is Caffè Portoghesi taking its name from the street where you’ll find it at the intersection of Via della Scrofa and adorable. Maritozzi & espresso, gourmet panini and a casual yet lively aperitivo with the locals in the evening. They do this trifecta and they do it well. I’m lucky to have such a quality bar like this in my neighborhood considering I live in the historic center and good bars let alone great ones are hard to come by. Just another reason to love this little sliver of town. 

I’ve lived in Rome for 15 years so sometimes I want a more ‘modern’ vibe. My go to near my house will always be Il Marchese, Italy’s 1st amaro bar with over 500 different types of bitters. It makes me feel like I’m in NYC without having to hop a plane. I pull up a stool at their elegant and impressive bar and order an ‘americano’ made with my choice of the local Roman bitter called Formidabile. I go for cocktails but oftentimes stay for dinner and always eat at the bar so I can be part of the mixology action. 

At the end of the evening, I fight to pay the bill because the owner Davide always wants to treat me. With a socially distanced hug I say goodbye and hit the glistening cobblestones as they guide me back home. With a happy heart I think how grateful I am to live here and call this neighborhood my home just like Caravaggio did. These vibrant and funny Romans have enthusiastically accepted this American girl and are just as important in my life as are the winding streets, beautiful churches, and majestic palazzos. They are the highlight of my day. Where would I be without Bob, Mimmo and Alessandro? Or Barbara, Anna and Elda? We are a family and during these recent, uncertain times we have really come together to support each other and that is truly everything. Let’s say… magical. 

 

Annie is an American businesswoman with a Roman attitude. Proud to be a Minnesotan, Annie has called Rome her home for the last 15 years. She’s an entrepreneur, creative director, and photographer and founder of  Scooteroma and Personalized Italy