Saturday, April 05, 2008

Blast from the Past

Appia Antica, Rome, from Slow Travel Italy

From the late 1960s thru mid-1970s, my father was an Italian movie star, appearing in such unforgettable masterpieces as Per grazia ricevuta and Paolo il caldo. OK, maybe not such masterpieces, nor unforgettable. But he was also in C'era una volta il West (Once Upon a Time in the West), in which he played a lovable barman named Max; and an episode of Robert Wagner's "It Takes a Thief," shot in Rome, in which he played a lovable thief named Max. In 1979, after 15 years in Europe, Dad moved to L.A. to play lovable major domo Max in Wagner's TV series, "Hart to Hart." (We named the cat in hommage to Dad, though he didn't like cats, and his mother and sister were felinophobic. Conveniently, Max will only eat Max Cat dry food, so we never forget what brand to buy.)

In September 1973 I visited Dad in Rome, where he was living on the Appian Way with wife & daughter #6. The villa he was renting, formerly inhabited by screen siren Gina Lollobrigida, was down a quarter-mile driveway, lined with fragments of ancient Roman funerary busts. Though technically in Rome, the villa was so far out in the country that it was surrounded by fields of eggplants--not quite the glamourous neighbors I'd envisioned. A sixties-ish couple, Bruno and Rita, tended the grounds and house, and frequently my baby half-sister. Arno, a big white Abruzzese shepherd, ferociously guarded the property and its inhabitants against anyone he considered an intruder; e.g., yours truly, despite my honeyed words and friendly overtures.

The memories of that trip came flooding back thanks to an article in today's NYT about the Appian Way, Past Catches Up With the Queen of Roads. During my visit, I ate a marvelous pasta dish--scrigna, I thought it was--at a restaurant by a nearby ruin, but couldn't remember which one, and a Google search came up cold.

But from the Times, now I know the ruin was the tomb of Cecilia Metella, just down the road (left). Then a search for "Cecilia Metella restaurant" turned up--presto!--Ristorante Cecilia Metella, one of whose specialties is...Scrigno alla Cecilia, which looks exactly as I remembered it (below).

I no longer have the photos I took then, but a search of the house address led to Parco Appia Antica, which has a document containing photos and descriptions of various structures in what is now a park along the Appian Way. One of them is at the foot of my father's old driveway (below):

Tomb with epigraph of Baricha Zabda and Achiba

Past the junction between via di Tor Carbone/via Erode Attico and on the right, opposite number 288, another concrete nucleus of a tower-shaped funeral monument has been preserved, bearing an inscription in front in memory of L. Valerius Baricha, L. Valerius Zabda and L. Valerius Achiba, freedmen of the Valerii family and clearly of Semitic origin.

How fitting that the only Jew on the block lived in a house with a Jewish monument out front! It used to have a little pine tree growing out of it--horizontally--about two-thirds of the way up. I gained an all-too-intimate knowledge of the edifice one day, when Arno decided that I was still a stranger. I clambered up as high as I could go and hung on till Bruno came along and called him off. After that I gave up on the sweet talk and kept well clear of Arno.

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