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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

From Rome to Amalfi

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When I arrived at Villa Grazioli in Frascati, just south of Roma, I was overjoyed that the long travel day was over. The beginning of a trip can often forecast its outcome. It depends to a great extent on one’s attitude when dealing with the unexpected arrows of misfortune. Within minutes of landing at Fiumcino Airport in Rome, a day prior to my own arrival, my mother was the victim of a pair of cunning thieves in the baggage claim. A carry-on was snatched containing all her credit cards, two cell phones and two pairs of prescription glasses. Thankfully, the passports were stashed elsewhere. I felt awful for her upon learning this news when checking in at Villa Grazioli on Friday but she had a good attitude about it and was determined not to let a minor misfortune bankrupt the promise of two weeks in Italia.

Set in the hills above Frascati, just south of Rome, Villa Grazioli is a grand palace with an expansive view of the valley below the Roman interior. I could not envision a better place to pop a bottle of Chianti, indulge an antipasti and just sit among the iron tables watching the sun rise and set. The day was half-finished by the time I got settled into my room and dressed for dinner. After a two-stop train ride into Termini, we hopped a bus to Trastevere and had a full Italian dinner at Sabbatini’s in Piazza San Maria. Sabbatini himself served up the pasta and poured bottles of Chianti and Rosso. It was a hearty meal capped off by gelato from Blue Ice gelateria across the Piazza. The dinner group – all nine of the attendees for the wedding of my stepbrother and his fiancé – stumbled accidentally into San Maria church and listened to the angelic singing from a service in progress. We headed home to rest up for the wedding day.

After bouncing from site to site around Rome with my stepsister Rise, we had a late lunch at the highly recommended L’Archetto di Spaghetteria on Via Del’Archetto just north of Piazza Navona. We sat outside in the hot sun along a strand of tables and enjoyed plates of spaghetti as we watched our waiter dodge Alfas, Peugots, BMWs and the wide array of scooters that careened up the street.

Although I was technically on holiday, I was in Rome to photograph my stepbrother Brad Fanger’s wedding to Lisa Katze at Villa Grazioli. The photographs and blog posting of their wedding photographs appears here: DVB Blog. A light overcast afternoon sun combined with the overwhelming photo opportunities on the grounds of the villa led to a portfolio of strong wedding images. It was a very moving ceremony, the nine of us in a long, frescoed hallway on the second floor, followed by cocktails in the garden and a seated dinner in a private room of the villa. By one o’clock in the morning, we were all sipping from the third bottle of Fontadenna sparkling wine as we shared stories around a hearth in the main lobby.

The final day in Rome centered on our midday reservation for the Museo e Galleria Borghese in the Villa Borghese. My patience for art museums in Europe can be short but this museum, tucked in the heart of the park north of the Spanish Steps, is an overwhelming visual feast. The entire villa, under the ownership of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, was transformed into a hallway of masterpieces — the marble works of Bernini, as well as the paintings of Coreggio and Caravaggio — with vaulted ceilings covered with paintings and scenes from Greco-Roman religious lore. It was an unexpected and overwhelming two-hour amble through these halls.

The travel day to the Amalfi coast, with a stopover at the near-deserted ruins of Herculaneum, was fraught with near-death collisions on the Autostrada. With half the wedding party gone, the bride and groom, my mother and stepfather and I crowded into a four-door Opel nicknamed "the Toaster." Tensions flared, the TomTom was guilty of misdirection, Depends undergarments were almost needed on more than one occasion but we finally reached Onda Verde Hotel in Praiano intact. Italian driving is fast and dangerous and then faster.

Amalfi is breathtaking. Perched on a chaise lounge on Onda Verde’s upper deck, the sloping, terraces along the coast are breathtaking, regardless of the time of day. You keep a camera with you at all hours of the day, photographing and re-photographing the shoreline to capture the essence of the place and the light that is a perfect compliment to the emotions of the moment.

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