JP Gaul: When he thinks of Rome


To mark the publication Rome: Moods & Places, we asked J P Gaul, author of this guide, to tell us what comes to mind when thoughts turn to Rome.

Fountains. The city of water, when Rome throws the stuff about on the hottest days it gives off that sense of display and decadence that is uniquely Roman.

Zebra Crossings, and the different interpretations of them that the British and Italians have. Like much else in the city they are largely decorative, and create the dangerous illusion of security for the pedestrian.

Big portions. I have seen much of Italy and there can be little doubt that Roman cucina povera places an unusually glorious emphasis on good gutsy food in large quantities, in contrast with the more refined culinary approach one encounters elsewhere in the peninsular.

Peacocks. The city is of course awash with attractive women but who is looking at them when the men are strutting about with such Latin vanity and pride? In Rome the suit still reigns supreme, and Roman men wear them with remarkable élan or, dare I say it, sprezzatura.

Secrecy. The screens around the espresso machines at Caffe’ Sant’Eustachio, the mysterious buildings around the Italian parliament, the high walls around the Vatican, dark cars with blacked out windows speeding around – this ancient city is long used to sleight of hand, to intrigue, to politicking.

Summer heat. On my trip to research this guide I experienced a jump of 15 degrees in the 1,000 miles between London and Rome. My red wine was served with chunks of ice in it, the grappa glass was iced, and the cab driver told me how much he craved the British climate.

Puntarelle. A curious bitter green leaf, available mainly in Winter and Spring, and served in a punchy anchovy sauce. Utterly delicious and still very much a local Roman speciality, it is well worth seeking out.

The short black one. You know I’m talking about Mr Espresso here. Of course it’s good everywhere in Italy but is it just my imagination or is the Roman offering superior? Some experts say the water supplied by the ancient aqueducts has the perfect mineral content for espresso ottimo and who am I to argue? I do know it is possible to stand up in a bar in Rome and get a slug of liquid gold for under a Euro which strikes me as the kind of modern miracle that the Pope has had nothing to do with.

You can read more from JP Gaul on his excellent blog, The Syllabus. You can buy the map from our shop.

Published 24 August 2012

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