To really understand Rome, you must understand its people – or the mob, as they were known in ancient times. As Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon explore Italy’s iconic capital, they are in search of the generations of ordinary Romans who have left their mark on the city’s culture and gastronomy.
Chapter 1: When in Rome
Giorgio insists that they travel, in true Roman style, by moped. They start their journey at the Trevi fountain, immortalised in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita – which itself featured countless locals as extras to capture the real faces of Rome. Giorgio leads Andrew to some of his personal favourite districts, including Garbatella, Italy’s first garden suburb, with its vibrant market stalls and village architecture, and introduces him to the simplest Roman food – ‘the true food of the people’. He also insists on showing him how spaghetti carbonara should really be made – ‘add cream and I’ll kill you’.
In turn, Andrew introduces Giorgio to some of the most moving pictures by Caravaggio, ‘the painter of the people’, in what was once the city’s foremost church for poor pilgrims – and they set out together to enjoy one of the great erotic masterpieces of Baroque painting. La Dolce Vita still exists, you just have to know where to find it.
Chapter 2: The Eternal City
Andrew and Giorgio continue their exploration of Rome off the beaten track. In search of its Papal, Renaissance and Baroque history, they discover that it is visible all around them. In Rome, everything has been kept, from broken cooking pots from the time of the empire that piled up to form one of the city’s hills to the gastronomy, art and architecture created not just by successive popes and Caesars but by ordinary Romans.
As well as marvelling at the mosaics in the 12th-century Basilica di San Clemente, Andrew takes Giorgio to its deepest basement and an ancient Roman schoolteacher’s classroom. Then it is on to a true architectural and civic wonder – the vast Testaccio Slaughterhouse, where workers were once paid in offal which they took home and used as the basis of delicious dishes that are still sold in Rome today. Giorgio takes Andrew to his favourite Trippa stall to sample some of the best. Travelling to the Palazzo Colonna, Andrew in turn wants to show Giorgio just one painting – the Beaneater by Carracci, a Baroque masterpiece that makes an everyday subject extraordinary. Finally, together they discover Rome’s Fascist architecture, which might have been destroyed anywhere else, but here remains standing in a city that houses all of its history. To understand the truth about the past, they argue, you have to taste all its layers – just like one of Giorgio’s lasagnes.