September 27, 2023 | Rome, Italy

The Romesick blues

By |2020-12-23T23:07:24+01:00December 12th, 2020|"Suzanne's Taste"|
In search of Rome Christmases past...

am Romesick. I am tired of being isolated in France, where I’ve been cooped up since early March. I have been away from my beloved Rome since late December of last year. 2019 seems like a decade ago. Never before have I been separated so long from the place I’ve lived in and visited for more than half my life. Then again, plenty of things this year have never happened before, at least not in modern times.

Suddenly, I am flooded with memories of so many Roman Christmases past, gatherings with stepkids, stepgrandkids, and my husband’s ex-wife, with whom I have a warm and loving relationship. I miss her 93-year-old cousin who lives alone but invariably joins us each year to sip on killer margaritas, dip into the guacamole, and snatch up smoked salmon canapés. I miss playing traditional holiday Tombola, a kind of Italian bingo, not to mention the wacky prizes for the winners that often had us erupting in laughter. How about the time the 12-year-old daughter won those battery-operated rainbow-colored shot glasses?

Wistfulness, please be still.

I remember a long-ago Christmas on the brightly illuminated Corso, hordes of shoppers munching on grilled chestnuts sold by vendors. The aroma of these ubiquitous winter treats perfume the wintry city air with an irresistible charcoal scent.

I went Christmas shopping once with a tiny bottle of good olive oil and a salt shaker to enhance roasted chestnuts, but their mealy consistency turned out to be the perfect excuse for a glass of red wine or a warming whiskino at the Bar del Tempio in Piazza della Rotonda, followed by a soul-nourishing gaze at the Pantheon, by far my favorite ancient monument in all the world.

The landlady had a peep hole through which she could hear the sermons and the singing from the little chapel.

I’m searching for the right words to convey the utter joy of wandering through Rome’s holiday streets — the shop window on Via dei Bergamaschi decorated with an upside-down fir tree, its branches like the luxurious skirt of a gown on some chic mannequin.

I recall the light flooding out of the I Dolci di Nonna Vicenza tea room on Via dei Pettinari, and the miniature Sicilian cannoli and colorful marzipan fruits and arrangements inside.

And in the same neighborhood — I once lived in an apartment nestled in Largo dei Librari — the devout landlady had a peep hole in drilled into her wall so she could see and hear the sermons and singing emanating from the little chapel of Santa Barbara.

Every December, we meet friends at a beloved spot to eat buttered bread with anchovies along with crisp fried filets of tender salt cod. As good as the cod is the welcoming smile of the maker of these delights, Marcello, the Filettaro himself.

But my longing for the ravioli alla noce, walnut sauce, made by Jole, wife of Nicola at the restaurant Il Buco, is ever-present in my Romesick heart. Just two steps from our apartment, they are always there to greet us, setting a table and bringing out late-night sustenance of cinghiale salami and a salad of ovoli mushrooms with a much-needed glass of vino. They are part of our extended Rome family, and I hope, above all that they manage to weather these stormy times that have seen all too many restaurants shut down.

Even as I put together the weekly Sunday night pizza here in our tiny Pyrénées-Orientales (east Pyrenees) village to remind us of our sweet other home, I cannot temper the longing for the weekly evening walk my husband and I took through the lovely Piazza Sant’Ignazio, seen so often in films. There, we’d have our Sunday night Rome pizza and a platter of perfect little crisp fried artichoke slices at la Sagrestia.

Even if sometimes the tender violet artichokes come from France, they could at least make the trip, unlike so many people these days.

Beati loro.


About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.