Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Does this photo look like a scene from Woody Allen’s last movie, To Rome with Love? It could, since they filed a few scenes on this vine covered little alley. Even though the characters in the movie refer to it as Trastevere, it’s not. It’s Monti. And since it’s my street, I should know.
If you haven’t heard of Monti you may have been living in a cave the last few years. It’s a small neighborhood in Rome, but it’s gotten a lot of attention (here, here and here) lately. Why? Well, vine-covered alleyways for one.
Yes, it’s awful picturesque. But unlike other areas of Rome like Trastevere or the area around Campo de’ Fiori or the Pantheon, Monti has managed to retain its cute while still acting like a real old fashioned neighborhood. Yes, there are tourists here. There are tourists everywhere in Rome. But here the locals definitely outweigh the visitors.
And even if the neighborhood has become gentrified over the last two decades (which explains my presence I guess) there are still a lot of people who live here who not only were born here, but can trace their Monticiana roots back a few generations.
This past weekend was the Ottobrata Monticiana. It’s basically a village festival - complete with corny bands and grilled sausages - that takes place in the middle of a big city. Every rione used to have one, including Trastevere with the much more famous Festa de Noantri. As far as I know, the Monti festa is the only one still going strong.
I think it’s due to the intense sense of community the structure of the neighborhood encourages. Things are very much at a human scale: traffic is limited and life is lived out on the street. People really do just hang out on the corner or in the piazza and chat. Kids play ball in the square. Neighbors - for better or worse - all know what each other are up to.
So I wasn’t so surprised when one of my neighbors stuck his head in my ground floor studio window the other day. People stop by just to chat all day long. Girl friends like Sienna, Gillian and Monica who all live in the neighborhood, but also a lot of the older Montinciani.
He lives just down the street and is an ex-professional boxer and now has a small second hand junk store. I know he must be doing something else in there, but at least the front is more tchokas than you’ve ever seen in your life.
He wanted to know if I’d be moving my car anytime soon, since he was having a dinner party that night.
Yup, he sets up a table right in the street. I told you Monti was like a small village, didn’t I?
And I also mentioned that life goes on as much in the street, as behind closed doors. A life which includes eating, despite the recent law passed by the intensely moronic current government that bans eating outside on or near anything historic. Since just about everything in Rome is historic , it's pretty much illegal to eat outside in Rome these days, unless you are sitting at a bar or restaurant.
Evidently Umberto didn't get that memo.
So after I moved my car, I decided to photograph his dinner/act of insubordination in progress. Umberto had been to the market that morning, and picked up a kilo of funghi porcini and some sausages which he was cooking in his makeshift kitchen. His other guests were bringing fruit, side dishes and even an Indonesian stir fry.
Later that night as I headed home from a terrace top dinner party at Sienna's, I stopped by to say hello. The sausages and mushrooms were long gone, but the wine was still flowing, and would be for a few more hours yet. The music from the Ottobrata made the entire neighborhood seem like one big festa and Umberto and his guests were happily parked for the rest of the evening. When I asked them if they were worried about the new law and getting a fine they all just laughed. I told you they'd all lived here a long time. They knew. Laws come and go, and life pretty much just goes on as it always has.
Umberto's Funghi Porcini
1 kilo fresh funghi porcini
handful of parsley, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
salt and pepper
Trim and clean the mushrooms, brushing off the grit. Cut into biggish chunks.
Heat olive oil in a pan, add mushrooms and cook until done. This should take about 12 minutes. Near the end of the cooking time, add the garlic, salt and pepper. Let cook a few more minutes and turn off heat. Add parsley.
Set up table between motorino and Fiat 124, and serve.