Rome: Libraries, and the Palazzo del Quirinale

photo: on the steps down to the Tiber River

a colourful caricature of Donald Trump riding a tricycle

A couple nights ago I rediscovered "Cornetteria" - when I was last in Rome, the B&B we stayed at had this idea that bagged croissants left in the kitchen constituted "breakfast." Even if they'd been good (they weren't), it would have got old after a week. So I turned to the local bakery, "Cornetteria." It was strange walking the neighbourhood a couple nights ago, seeing these steps going down from the street, and stopping dead in my tracks because I still remembered them. I don't know where the previous B&B was (in Prati, near the Ottaviano metro station, just like my current B&B, but I couldn't be more precise than that), and I had no idea where that bakery was - but the stairs remained instantly identifiable a decade later. I went there multiple times for breakfast and snacks, but I was still surprised how clear the memory was.

I went there for breakfast this morning. I remembered them having ham and cheese croissants, but they seem to have nothing but sweets now. So I had a sugar rush for breakfast, a croissant with crema (sugar/cream filling, probably mostly sugar) and a cannoli. Both large, for the staggering price of €1.50 (currently $2.25 Canadian) - no wonder they were lined up up the stairs ... Unfortunately, that's not really what I'm looking for for breakfast, so I probably won't return. I'll retain the fond memory of them from the previous trip.

I started the day with a walk to Biblioteca dell'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei e Corsiniana: the library of the Lincei Academy(?). As last time, the door was locked during declared open hours. This time I was determined to figure it out, but happily no struggle was involved: a woman walked up moments later and asked if I'd pressed the buzzer. Well, no - I didn't know I needed to buzz in. And so in we went. The reception was a bit frosty, but I was shown to the grand reading room - with light so dim photography was essentially impossible. I admit I didn't ask if the lights could be turned on: as I said, the reception had already been uninspiring. It also wasn't ... as beautiful as I'd hoped (I like to think that's not sour grapes).

From there to Biblioteca Vallicelliana - this time the reading room was open. No photography - and they had such an incredibly glorious painted ceiling too.

There's a church next door - Chiesa Nuova. I went in on principle: it costs nothing, and churches in Rome are rarely boring. The "new church," only 400 years old. Wikipedia ( - or the longer article in Italian that I can't read: ) gives its proper name as "Santa Maria in Vallicella." Like almost every church in Rome, it's dazzling. 3D angels and cherubs galore frolic around the gold leaf frames, coffers, and several lovely frescoes on the ceiling.

Continuing my walk, I found myself in Piazza Navona with its several fountains (Romans apparently love fountains). And there was a church, not listed in the guidebook, but immensely popular simply by facing onto one of the best known Piazzas in the city. Chiesa Sant'Agnese in Agone. That one doesn't rate an English Wikipedia article, never mind an entry in my guidebook. It too is beautiful (although they didn't allow photography). And, as far as Google Translate is able to help, that's "The Church of St. Agnes in Agony." Catholics ...

Then, my intended destination: Biblioteca Casanatense. There's a certain magic in being able to say "I'm a librarian." It holds approximately zero value under most circumstances, but step into a grandiose reading room in a foreign country where they're tired of tourists? There's the magic. I was given a wonderful tour of possibly the loveliest reading room I'd seen. Two two metre globes are near the entrance: one of the heavens, one of the Earth. The latter is from 1716, and I thought it was surprisingly accurate ... except for California, which was a very large island off the coast of North America. Ironically, the reading room is no longer for reading: what I gathered is that they don't want the lights on most of the time and so librarians retrieve materials, but no one stays there. It's a glorious space so it's a little sad, but at least they still show it. One of the more entertaining things she told me was the sign that hung on the wall between the globes: it said "don't steal from the library - or suffer immediate ex-communication." I have to imagine that worked pretty well. Multiple smaller rooms around the main one were quite lovely too: I think I'm going to stop the library chasing, because that was probably as good as it gets.

photo: Palazzo Quirinale

a very ornate chandelier

Next up, Palazzo del Quirinale. You may recall me purchasing a ticket last week. I was astonished by the security: for every person entering, they were checking ID thoroughly, including in many cases making a phone call: it took a long time to process what I later counted to be 32 people. They called in the American ahead of me (who spoke fluent Italian), but they didn't call in my Canadian passport. And then there was the functional metal detector. I say "functional" because I've been in multiple places where I've walked through carrying change, keys, watch, cellphone ... and not set off the gate. This one I knew was real, so I dumped almost everything in my bag - and still triggered the gate. I got wanded down, I think it was the belt buckle.

I wondered what warranted this security: I went back to my guidebook and it says "home of the president." It also appears to be a full blown military installation. The Palazzo is HUGE, covering about the equivalent of four city blocks, and contains a great number of military personnel. At the beginning of the tour they asked "Inglese?" Three of us raised our hands. That was never mentioned again, and the 2.5 hour tour was conducted entirely in Italian. A bit disappointing, but the building made up for it. This is, shall we say, a "working palace:" events still happen here, and several rather memorable ones have happened here in the last century (the only one I understood being the creation of the Italian Republic). We were accompanied at all times by our tour leader plus two sheepdogs in suits: usually one was behind us herding stragglers, and the other was ahead pointing the way. Deviation from the path was not allowed. One of the sheepdogs was older and would answer questions (even, I heard, in English), but the other looked ex-military and was ominously polite. This was certainly the most controlled tour I've been on in Rome. It was amusing to be herded through multiple spectacular rooms they don't even stop for because the next dazzling room was "the important one." The place is immense and very well kept indeed. Again, I'd ordered the tour with all the things - in this case, I think the extras were the garden and the carriages. And maybe the china, or maybe that's part of every tour: three rooms of table settings, in silver, gold, and ceramic. "Gaudy" doesn't begin to cover it: we've simplified our table settings by a couple orders of magnitude in the last century and I'm totally okay with that. The last couple rooms weren't great for the English speakers: they showed photos and important people from the last century, but they were otherwise very ordinary rooms - and they took about 25 minutes. But overall, if you're in Italy? Absolutely, do it. The "working palace" part is really interesting: in most palazzos you visit, things are a little dusty, frayed around the edges, noticeably old. Not here: everything (with the exception of the tapestries, and even those weren't too badly off) is in beautiful shape. It wasn't even something I was aware of or had thought about until I saw this place in such beautiful condition.

photo: Palazzo Quirinale

it appears the ceiling is transparent in places, and dancing above us is a circle of young women

From there I walked the very short distance to Chiesa di San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane. I visited yesterday or the day before, unsuccessfully. Google assured me they would be open after 1500, but I hadn't read the door: apparently they're only open from 0900-1200 these days. I'd like to point out that the Quattro Fontane intersection is actually one of the least pleasant in the entire of Rome (I reacted the same way a decade ago). Indeed, it has a fountain on all four corners, but the roads are narrow, the sidewalks are narrow to non-existent, and traffic is quite heavy. Your last step off the church steps is into the street: the church steps ARE the sidewalk. It's a weird space: it should be lovely, and probably was two centuries ago, but traffic has rendered it quite unappealing. I loved the church though and will probably make another attempt to get in.

I walked to Open Baladin, where I sampled Esprit de Baladin and Beermouth (read that the same as "Vermouth", so "mooth" not "mouth"). You may remember I had "Esprit de Nöel" at Open Baladin a week ago: these are all distilled beer spirits. Esprit de Baladin is quite similar to Esprit de Nöel: they kept saying "floral," which alarmed me (not usually a fan of "floral"). Having had it I get it what they're saying but it's not nearly as strong as their repetition suggested. It's not bad, but I prefer the Esprit de Nöel. As for the Beermouth ... That's Vermouth made on a beer base - as the woman who served me said, "it's not for everyone." No kidding. I didn't dislike it, but ... imagine all the herbals and bitters of vermouth overlaid on a slight taste of beer (the herbals and bitters dominate). I doubt they're getting a lot of takers and wouldn't expect them to make that one again. For a friend who has requested it, and for myself, I've purchased two bottles of the Esprit de Nöel.

They had a wonderful band sticker on the wall: "The Grateful Deaf." Make of it what you will - I certainly did.