Rome Diaries - Week 82

May 14, 2009


I wanted Frascati to live up to its mystique. How could a town in the Alban Hills known for its refreshing white wine and lavish villas disappoint? But the Allied bombings of World War II and municipal neglect have drained away some of Frascati’s magic. With good connections between Metro and bus, you can be there in forty minutes from the center of Rome. The bus stops in Piazza Marconi a car-choked plaza in front of the sweeping hillside lawns of Villa Aldobrandini, which enjoys a commanding view of the region. A busy mountain road pours continuous traffic into this part of town. and the city tourist office shut its doors last December. To the right of the forbidding Villa Aldobrandini (currently closed to the public), lies a park created from the gardens of Villa Torlonia. This estate was an infamous SS stronghold, destroyed in World War II. When Cardinal Scipione Borghese took possession of the place, back in 1607, he retained Girolamo Fontana, Carolo Maderno and Flaminio Ponzio to create a spectacular water theater including a course of waterfalls punctuated with towering jet fountains. The display still delights, a gorgeous relic, cordoned off from the rest of the well-used public park. Track-suited joggers and pick-up soccer players go about their business while a baroque spectacle from the 17th century splashes away. I wander further into the town and come to the dramatic marble and pepperino façade of St. Peter’s Cathedral, its interior quite bare -- another casualty of the bombings. (In all, 50% of Frascati was destroyed in the single bombing raid of September 8th, 1943.) The Italian Jesuit painter Andrea Pozzo, whose illusionary architectural frescoes were much imitated by never equalled, is represented in Frascati by a false dome and apse in the modest Jesuit church here. A Mass is going on when I arrive so I decide to return for a longer look before I leave. My guidebook tells me a Capuchin church is hidden in the woods beyond Villa Aldobrandini. As I trudge up the hill past the villa, Ican see the Off on my left, I can see the switchbacks of the Via Latina off to my left, they lead to the ruins of ancient Tusculum. The city may have been founded three hundred years before the Trojan War but was snuffed out utterly by plague and war in the 12th century. Many from Tusculum came to life in Frascati. Higher up the road, I pass a wayside shrine depicting the vision of Mary that appeared to marauding troops after the Sack of Rome (1527). The Virgin, holding the child Jesus in her arms, declared, “This land is mine!” The soldiers took the point and moved on, sparing Frascati. Finally, the Capuchin church comes into view. It is engulfed with the cast and crew of a movie company: a bride is leaving the church in her coach-and-four. I retrace my steps and when I revisit the Jesuit church down the hill, this time a real wedding is in progress. As I wait for the return bus, a surly teen emerges from behind the war memorial and demands a cigarette, something I stopped carrying forty years ago. With a curse (in English), he returns to his den. The bus arrives early and departs almost immediately...my sentiments exactly.

May 16, 20

An American cardinal comes to administer Confirmation; he has wide-ranging interests and is a good conversationalist. The three children serving Mass are introduced as Sky, Star and Stormy. When their mother talks to the cardinal, he wants to know “the story” behind their names. “There is no story,” she says, quickly adding, “I gave them all Christian middle names.”

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