We took a different direction on Sunday morning, up the street away from the center of Rome toward a nearby square. We made a turn and passed through the ancient city wall.
We were strolling there when we came across a monument with a bronze soldier on top. It commemorate the Bersaglieri, a corps of infantry in the Italian army. The monument is across from Porta Pia, which is a gate added to the old Imperial city wall in the 16th century by Pope Pius IV. The gate isn’t particularly pious, but is named for a guy named Pius.
We learned shortly later that it was here, on Sept. 20, 1870, that the Bersaglieri’s artillery breached the wall of the city and the troops stormed in. Their successful entry into Rome completed the unification of Italy.
The interesting thing about this soldier monument is the date, 1936, maybe around the time that Mussolini was speaking to the ten thousand. Certainly it was a time when Mussolini was speaking to someone.
There’s a quote attributed to him on the side of the base. From what I can make out, it says: “Just a century of history, yet how many sacrifices, how many battles, how much glory.”
The Bersaglieri were formed in 1836 by somebody named La Marmora, which may mean marble.
The Porta Pia is closed to traffic. The street now called Via XX Settembre divides and goes around it. The gate originally let traffic in through a large wooden door (now locked) in the middle of the structure. There were small office buildings on either side. The old offices now house a museum of the Bersaglieri. One side is early stuff, complete with swords. Mannequins display historical uniforms.
Since I saw the monument, I have learned a few details about the Bersaglieri. They are a highly mobile, fast-moving infantry unit, created to serve the Piedmontese, who couldn’t afford cavalry. Their dress uniforms are topped by a wide-brimmed hat with black feathers. They put the feathers on their helmets.
The museum has a shrine to La Marmora. My Italian being what it is, my reading of inscriptions in the shrine telll me that he died of cholera during the Crimean War. Where was Florence Nightingale when he needed her?
I found out later that there is a tomb here, not for La Marmora, but for Enrico Toti, a one-legged Bersagliere who threw his crutch at the enemy before he died. He also became an accomplished bicyclist after he lost his leg. Don’t take my word for it. Look him up on Google.
The other side of the museum gets creepy, of course, because it is talking about distinguished service in places like the Russian Front and Spain. And we all know whose side they were on back then. This room contains automatic rifles and a mortar.
We walked down the via and started to see some familiar sights, a men’s store called Bac & Harry’s, for instance. We were lost here briefly on Friday when we first left the Hotel Priscilla.
Joanna wanted to go back to Pepy’s Bar for lunch, so get this—I actually found the way. We took Via Venti Settembre to an intersection with four fountains. Joanna noticed the fountains first. We turned right on Via delle Quattro Fontane, paused in the garden of the Palazzo Barberini (now a national museum), passed the notorious leather goods shop, and went into Pepy’s to say hello to our usual waiter.
We had to wait a couple of minutes for a table, and while we stood in front of the refrigerator case I noticed that they had some Italian craft beers, including an IPA called CarAibi. It was the first IPA I had in at least two weeks and went very well with the salad.
When the rigatoni alla Amatriciana came, I switched to Montepulciano. Beer goes with almost everything. Maybe not corn flakes, but just about anything else. But wine is superb with pasta.
Nobody stole anything from us, so after lunch we continued walking in what Rick Steves calls the Heart of Rome.
We were near the Trevi Fountain and decided to try to something different. A street passes a guard house. It looks like a dead end at a prison gate, but then we saw civilians going up. So we did too. There’s nothing up there but a right turn down a street of steps. So we went down.
We wandered some really charming Old World alleys that I may be able to find again in another life. I was someplace else, so I was happy.
After a while, we had to stop. I was thirsty so I ordered two Campari and sodas, pretending that Joanna was going to drink one of them. She did take some of hers, so I had maybe one and three-quarters.
While we were sitting at the sidewalk table, Joanna noticed a file of soldiers coming down a hill. What the hell? They’re in camouflage, so they really stood out in the city. they were marching down some steps and turning into a doorway at the top of the hill. They even had guns. But no black feathers, so they probably weren’t Bersaglieri.
All right, this looks interesting. So after we overpaid for our drinks, we climbed up the hill and came to the steps, which we climbed. And we discovered an imposing prospect of just about nothing.
There were some public buildings. You can tell because of the Italian and European Union flags. There was an empty square paved with black blocks, like most of the old city streets. A couple of guys in what may be Italian navy uniforms stood by a door and shouldered rifles.
We’re at one fence full of people. There’s another fence full of people across the way. There’s nothing but smooth rocks in between. What the fu?
I do the natural thing for a stranger. I look at the map and guess. My best guess is that it’s the Quirinale Palace, the former home of the kings of Italy. The royal family, the Savoys, have run off to Switzerland. I’m not sure who chased them or why.
The Quirinale is now the official residence of the president of Italy.
That leaves a question. What if the Savoys come back? Where will the president live?
I can’t say. I don’t understand Italian politics.
We wound up back at Campo di Fiori for dinner. The place is ringed with great, and reasonable eateries. Joanna had a craving for tripe. Sounded good to me. We tried Baccanale, where we had eaten once before. We were seated and ordered. They had run out of tripe.
We left and went next door. Apparently that place shares the kitchen with Baccanale. No luck. So we walked two restaurants over, to La Romanesca, where we were assured that the tripe supply was sound.
We had spaghetti carbonara. We had tried two previous dishes of the same name. One was made with tomato and thick pieces of fried pancetta, which was excellent. Another seemed to be a cream sauce, and was disappointing.
La Romanesca’s version had no tomato and was very good. It was yellow with egg. Indeed, a good breakfast pasta, with egg and bacon.
Joanna started to fall asleep after dinner, so we took a cab back to the hotel.
It was a good night, gang. As always, I hope yours is good too.
Carbonara and tripa a la Romana in one meal? How great does life get?
I made my own pasta for lunch, with leftover veal and rabbit meat, dried crepes, new local garlic (too much for most; just enough for me), and a tomato. Heaven with a white Vacqueyras.
Have a great trip back!