Our friend Robert maintains that there are four times in the year that it looks like Halloween here in Rome - and none of them come on the last day of October. According to him December 8th and the festivities surrounding the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Piazza di Spagna is one of those Mr. Dress-up days. So it was hard to resist his invitation to meet him along with Walter and another old friend Yvon, who was in town visiting from Prague, at la Fontana della Barcaccia.
The Statue of Maria Immaculata was erected in 1856 to commemorate Pius IX's declaration of the Immaculate Conception. Its at the southern end of the Piazza just in front of the Spanish Embassy.The faithful converge around the column to sing their Aves and Salves and present enormous floral tributes to Our Lady. Parishes under her patronage process through the square with banners as do members of various confraternities in capes, caps and plumes. The odd Bishop or Cardinal wanders through with his entourage and various orders of religious join the processions and the singing. I was mildly disappointed that there were no flagellants but was reminded this was Italy not Spain.
And at around 1600 Big Ben and the Boys from the other side of the river come to place a floral crown on Our Lady's head. Well actually Big Ben doesn't do it himself - I'm told one of those brawny brave Vigili del fuoco(firemen) goes up in the cherry picker on his behalf. Then there is just the festive crowd that comes to watch, roam the street and celebrate what is, for most Romans, the first day of Christmas. And of course being Romans they head into the trattoria and restorante for an extended lunch (pranzo.) How could we do less?
Off we headed to Ristorante Mario on Via della Vite. Its a warm, cosy and extremely popular place because of their exceptional Toscana cuisine. For starters two bowls of warm white and black beans in olive oil and a large ball of Buffalota Mozzarella followed by Ribolleti (a thick Tuscan vegetable soup - just the thing on a chilly day) then a remarkably light lasagna (paper thin pasta, a light bechamel sauce, a savoury veal-beef mix, a sure hand on the cheese and not a sign of tomato sauce) and a slice of warm apple tart to finish. All of course accompanied by a very nice white from Tuscany.
The place was now packed - every table occupied by groups of families, friends, colleagues and the two rooms were filled with that now familar sound of Romans celebrating over drink and food - I know it seens odd to say but it is a sound I've never heard anywhere else. As we ordered our coffee the waiter, who had been good but slightly aloof, heard André, a friend of Robert's who had joined us for desert and is currently finishing his Doctorate in Mid-Eastern Studies, speak Arabic with Laurent - suddenly we were his favorite table. He was from Alexandria but has lived in Italy for 25 years. The bottles of grappa and lemoncinni were brought out and left on the table, conversations at this point were going around the table in Arabic, French, Italian and English.
Seemed a highly appropriate way to celebrate a major Feast Day.
16 decembre - 111a domenica di Avvento