The famous Porta Portese market is about two miles long, according to my phone app, going down one aisle, one way. It looks like a Dollar Store threw up. Cheap shoes, scarves, off-brand towels, 10 to a package socks, knockoff ipod/ipad charger cords. Though I looked for things my girls might be interested in, there was zip, zilch, nada. If you jumped out of the torrent of humanity pushing forward and veered toward the edges and a little way into the side streets, there was more of an attic and garage sale feel, like these heaps of frames, belts, and bins of beads.
I’d expected much more variety and felt like I’d wasted my morning, until I came across a box of vintage postcards. I bought a dozen for 5 euro and look forward to sketching on them. It will make a change from the famous works of art cards I’ve mailed.
Two hours in, and done to a crispy turn, I stared at Googlemaps, perplexed, tired and hungry. I thought about doing an audio walking tour of Trastevere but couldn’t find it on my phone apps. No taxi stand in sight. After 15 minutes of dithering, I trudged a few blocks down the main drag and found refuge in a great bakery and coffee bar. I had a cappuccino and a meli e noci (apple and almond) pastry, just like I used to get at Caffeteria Rubeto, and eat in the Vatican courtyard. Hope revived.
I called Uber thinking lunch at Testaccio Market would be grand. Upon arrival, it looked closed and I asked the driver who said, ‘No, people are there, go in.’ It was closed and the lesson was I should have checked my indispensable Theory of Everything listing first, but the best plan won’t work if you don’t use it. That’s on me. I thought about taking another Uber, but surge pricing was in effect. I consulted my GoogleMap and saw a starred restaurant two blocks away, not far from one of my favorite street art buildings, the falling wolf mural painted by Belgian artist ROA in 2014. Wondered if it alluded to the mother of Romulus and Remus or the AS (Associazione Sportiva) Roma soccer team.Given a table at the intimate Osteria Degli Amici, Via Nicola Zabaglia, 25, I ordered pasta with artichoke and pancetta and listened to their Ray Charles, Sinatra, and Nat King Cole playlist. It was lush, but to my surprise, I couldn’t finish it – guess I shouldn’t have had that pastry.
I took Uber to the Villa Medici, The French Academy in Rome, which was open for free visits. After being frisked, wanded, and my bag searched, I joined the others walking up the hill and entered the seven-hectare garden. High hedges divide the garden into sixteen squares and six lawns, and inside the squares I glimpsed an aviary for peacocks, a grove of orange trees, a newly planted kitchen garden, and a contemporary art installation.
There was also a fountain with several detached sculptures, and I asked one of the French docents about it. She told me they represented the story of Niobe, a mother considered too proud of her seven sons and seven daughters. For her presumption, her children were slain by Artemis and Apollo. Here she stood, weeping , surrounded by the bodies of her 14 children. This group of Niobids was discovered by archaeological excavation at the end of the 15th century, purchased by Ferdinando de’ Medici and installed here. On that unhappy note, I headed towards the palazzo, passing a table laden with jars of marmalade made from the villa’s own oranges and noting the acanthus plants, sprawling into the paths from the geometry of the hedges. They are everywhere in art, a stylized ornamental motif. Here they were part of a frieze of putti. I’d never seen them in the wild, so to speak.
It’s a gorgeous palace, though not open for visitors today.
The artist in residence of the French Academy, Annette Messager**, is one of France’s leading visual artists known for her installations that explore feminist themes. She knocked my socks right off with her snakes installed on a fountain. Loved it, and loved her banner.
This elegant stature of a stylin’ Frenchman, whose name Colbert made my brain instantly supply Report. Marco! Polo!
And this warlike female statue. I’m guessing she is Artemis, but no, Google informs me she is Rome.
Reading the news on my iPhone, trying to get a bead on Delta, who canceled 3000 flights. Will I need to find shelter here?
**Messanger is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, from the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, to the Praemium Imperiale Arts International Award for sculpture.