To Frascati - once again!

This time a ticket collector appears, and when checking our tickets he tells a long story in rapid Italian. We don't understand much, but it seems that we must change in Ciampino -"Ciampino shjainzzzz!", he says.

At first we are a bit confused, because we think that Albano is the same as Frascati, but then we realize that apparently we got to Albano, because we did not change in Ciampino. How on earth are you supposed to know that?

When we reach Ciampino the kind ticket-collector gets of the train with us, points ahead and says something like "primo". Now it dawns on us, that we are not to change train - we must go to one of the front carriages, because the train is split. The first half goes to Frascati and the other to Albano. The last time we were also in the back and did not notice that the train was split in Ciampino.

Bell tower in Frascati

The train rolls through vineyards and olive groves, and after 10 minutes we are at the last stop. "Frascati", says the sign. Just like in Albano you must ascend some steps to get to the city centre. Just like the lady at the Tourist Office said.

The air is clear and sweet. There is a striking view over the lowlands, where a brown dome of smog indicates the position of Rome. We walk around in the streets that are full of life. The streets go up and down. There are surprisingly many shops and surprisingly heavy traffic for a town this small.

We see several cantinas, but it is a bit early to taste the local nectar, and after all we got a head start several days ago when we switched from Greco di Tufo to Frascati at our favourite wine bar. Instead we relax with a coke and an espresso at a bar. Right next to the bar is a memorial tablet on the church wall telling the tale of the 1943 bombardment of Frascati.

Mindetavle i Frascati

NELL'EDIFICIO A FIANCO DI QUESTA CHIESA
ALLORA SEDE DEL SEMINATIO
VISSE NEL DONO DI SE
S. E. MONS. BIAGO BUDELACCI
VICARIO GENERALE E VESCOVO AUSILIARE DELLA DIOCESI
TUSCOLANA-NOBILE FIGURA DI PASTORE - DAL 1926 AL 1962
MEDAGLIA D'ARGENTO AL VALORE CIVILE
Il Giorno 8 settembre 1943. In Frascati. In occasione di un violentissimo bombardamento aero. Mentre la popolazione superstite terrorizzata si receva al riparo attraverso i campi e gli infelici travolti dalle macerie restavano abbandonati al loro disperato destino. Con animo fermo e impavida determinazione. Mobilitava immediatamente. Quale vescovo aisiliare della diocesi. Tutto il clero regolare e secolare e si portava con esso dove maggiore era il bisogno di soccorso e assistenza. Riuscendo a salvare da sicura morte innumerevoli cittadini e concedendo onorata sepoltura alle migliaia di vittime. Encomiabile esempio di sublime dedizione al dovere e generoso altruismo. (Motivazione della medaglia d'argento)

We find a bench in the shadows near the bus station. Helle is parked here while I try to find the tourist office. Despite two signs I do not succeed. The "Parco communale" seems to be a dusty street corner with all the shadowy benches occupied by pensioners.

The prices of real estate suggest that Frascati is a fashionable suburb. The town is pretty and the air is a lot fresher than in Rome.

The lack of shady benches drives us to the station for the 12:31 train. Here we wait comfortably on the station's first floor. The marble bench might even be antique. Under the table in front of me lies a 10-cent. I leave it for the deserving.

A man is leaning over the balcony's fence to pick cherry plums. The guy in front of me almost swallows his ice cream cone to free his hands. With a gesture he shows that the fruit-picker just needs a minor push to tumble over the fence. We smirk conspiringly, but I continue reading my book giving him the opportunity of initiative.

La Cisterna - the oldest restaurant in Rome

At the wine bar Grand-Mamma shuffles about in her Sunday dress, but we do not see the master of the house, the little yorkie. The bottle of water is unusually cold and the ice cubes experience a little more of this world than previous generations.

Evening outside La Cisterna

We appear at La Cisterna as early as 8:30. We are greeted by the same headwaiter as in 2001 still wearing the same green waistcoat. We choose a table outside. In the corner an elderly gentleman is quietly strumming a guitar. I believe he is just warming up: I hear bits and pieces of Bach and Villa Lobos.

A young waiter brings us glasses of Prosecco, and the headwaiter - with a Latin lover look at Helle - brings a small vase with a carnation. We pretend to study the menu - we already know that we want Fettuccini alla Papalina and Abacchio al Forno. We have not pretended for long, when freshly baked bread arrives along with olive oil.

At the exact moment we turn to the menu's main courses, the headwaiter steps through the door with a large dish with roasted lamb emanating a seductive scent of rosemary. Maybe this speciality of the house could tempt the honoured guests? We pretend surrender and say "Si, grazie!".

The music begins inside: Roman romances by a tenor and a guitar. The pope's fettuccini arrives, and when we are through the musicians come next to our table. Two years ago they were three, but now there are only two old men left: the guitarist and a very short tenor.

They must be past 70, and 80 cannot be ruled out for the tenor. His voice trembles a bit from age, but is surprisingly fit. We applaud and exclaim "Bravissimo!". "A beautiful romance" says the guitarist a bit shy and quite unnecessarily. At the same moment the lamb arrives, and the guitarist asks if we would like them to return later? - We say "Si!"

The lamb is at least as good as we remembered. Tender and perfectly seasoned with rosemary which can so easily be overpowering. We cannot eat it all, and suddenly the music is there again - the head waiter must have signalled them secretly.

After a few more songs they stand in silence. I have a flashback: a waiter in Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie" bobbing up and down with a loud squeaking sound, waiting for tips. Oh Lord! These guys are waiting for tips! Naïvely I thought the music was a house service, and I have only large notes. There is nothing to do. With fixed smiles they withdraw discreetly - how embarrassing. We must tip generously and tell the waiter that some is for la musica.

We sit in silence sipping the house's red merlot. Oops! We even asked them to come back - how stupid. We wave at the waiter to ask for the dessert menu, but he is already on his way with a tray with wild strawberries and urges us to taste.

Obediently we taste one each. They are nothing special compared to Danish strawberries, but we say "Si, grazie!", and 'pronto' two glasses with strawberries and hazelnut ice cream are on the table. The ice cream is delicious, and sprinkled with a bit of sugar the berries are not bad either.

After the dessert we are invited inside the restaurant and into the basement three metres below street level. Here are the remains of the original restaurant and also the well, "La Cisterna", which has given the restaurant its present name. On the old walls guests have scribbled their names in Kilroy fashion.

From La Cisternas basement The well in La Cisterna's basement
Click to enlarge

We leave the oldest restaurant in Rome. In a way it is like leaving bygone days. Countless notabilities have dined here over the years, and there is an air of old memories emanating from the walls. I hope the musicians had their share of the tips.