One of the best things about city living is the neighborhood cafe or bar–a place to drop into at any time for a quick pick-me-up or a chat with friends. Even when traveling finding one close to my hotel is de rigueur. There’s nothing better after hours on your feet to sit, relax, and watch other people go about their business or pleasure. Even in a city, like Rome, that’s full of tourists, it is easy to find a place where locals come and go just as tourists do. Just off the Via del Corso in Via Vittorio, we found just the place. Advertised as a ristorante – tea room – wine and cocktail bar, this little place could satisfy just about anyone’s food or beverage desire.
The diverging tastes of our trio sometimes made it difficult to find just the right place to enjoy a little rest and refreshment. Antun and Haydee have “sweet tooths. ” These have been handed down through generations and inform many of their family rituals. Take for instance birthday celebrations. Growing up, they would enjoy their birthday cake on waking in bed before ever stepping a foot out to greet the day. I, on the other hand, have a “savory tooth” and adore all kinds of salty tidbits. So it was with great pleasure that we would settle down at the end of a busy day at one of La Buvettes’s little tables to enjoy drinks and two plates of snacks–one sweet and other savory.
We found ourselves at La Buvette late one Saturday afternoon after traipsing miles on foot. I kicked my shoes off under the little table and rubbed the bottom of each foot with the other. Then, waiting for our glass of bubbly lemony Prosecco to arrive we laughed about taking wrong turns, walking in circles, and our stamina for yet one more museum.
The Palacio Barberini, built between 1625 and 1633, is now the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica. Of course, there is a handsome Raphael (Rafael) there. La Fornarina is the portrait of a bare breasted woman dressed with elaborate headdress and diaphanous gown. Some say she was Raphael’s mistress; others that she was a baker’s daughter. Some say Raphael painted her; a few others say Giulio Romano, one of Raphael’s followers, created her. No matter, she is intriguing. Her eyes are knowing and her countenance is a bit coy.
The last space we visited in the museum was the most pleasing: The Gran Salone and its ceiling frescoes. Painted by Pietro da Cortona these sumptuously baroque panels celebrate the virtues of Pope Urban VIII for whom they were painted. I especially loved the over-the-top voluminous clouds, rafts of flowing fabrics, and swirls of golden bees. The bees, part of the Barberini Family coat of arms, are not only incorporated into the frescos but are everywhere in the palace. It is not clear what they symbolized to the family but various sources on the symbolism of bees talk about industry, regeneration, and the sweetness of honey. For me, the best part of visiting the Gran Salone is not the frescoes themselves but how you can enjoy them. Stretch out on your back on one of the many flat, backless lounges to leisurely take them in and then rest a moment with closed eyes.
After the Gran Salone, we left the museum by way of a massive, crumbling curved staircase and then walked out the back and up another flight of stairs into a beautiful garden. There we found some little gems: Two classical statues of young men, elegant and strong of line, one with a face of fear; the other with the look of musing. They stood, as though imprisoned, behind the glass pane of a garden house among an elaborate assortment of other statues. We snapped their photo, so then, while we sipped our Prosecco at our little table at La Buvette, we made up stories about whom they might be.
All original content copyright 2008 Mary E. Slocum