Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Roman Holiday, Part II

Porto di Triano, 3rd Century, on Vatican mural (note hexagonal harbor).
by Ned Brown

The rain arrived, came more and more. Rome has been unusually cool and damp for May. JP bonded with Polissena’s two boys (ages 13 and 15). My son speaking no Italian and Polissena’s boys, who speak little English, have managed to bridge the language barrier with the universal language for boys: X-Box and Play Station 3. We did manage to break them away from the television monitors occasionally for some soccer outdoors.

The visit to Rome was definitely a learning experience for JP. Manfredo Paulucci taught him how to twirl spaghetti using just a fork. Who better than an Italian Count to teach one how to eat pasta properly?

After food shopping with Manfredo (the seafood, meat and produce departments at the supermarket are exceptional), we went off to fetch Marco Petrasek at Fiumicino airport. I believe it was the first time we had been reunited in 40 years. There was some conversation about school when we were boys, but most of all, it was warm and comforting to catch-up on life, pause and contemplate what future years might bring. There is a sentiment that there will be more occasions such as this for the three of us.
Mozart, Manfredo Paulucci and Marco Petrasek on walk.
The meals at Manfredo and Polissena’s home were perfect in every way. Each meal is a four-course affair. The three boys sit at their own end of the table with their pizza, pasta or meat dishes. At the appropriate time, they get the nod from Polissena, and immediately bolt from the table, leaving the adults to enjoy dessert in conversation a bit more calm. The boys, after three days, were communicating rather well. Manfredo, Marco and I recalled from our own experiences with French immersion (our original language of commonality) that it takes about 3-4 weeks for young children to begin communicating effectively.

Saturday afternoon, the rain lifted a bit so we could take a walk. After the Pauluccis outfitted us in appropriate shoes for the wet ground and water-resistant jackets, we set out for a walk around the Torlonia-Sforza-Cesarini property. Today, it comprises about 1,250 acres. Originally it was over 10,000. There is a panoramic picture taken in the 1920s from the roof of the main house that shows only an expanse of Torlonia land where Rome Fiumicino airport is now situated. Still with the proximity of the property to the airport, one rarely hears the airplanes.
Aerial shot of Porto today where the Sforza-Cesarini estate surrounds hexagonal lake.
We circled the perfectly hexagonal-shaped lake in the center of their property, which is exactly 33 hectares or approximately 80 acres. If you look at the accompanying photograph of a Vatican mural (at top of piece), it shows the entire Roman trade center originally known as the Porto di Traiano with the hexagonal harbor. The design was created for maximum density of ships to enter, moor, unload and leave. Today the harbor is landlocked, but water still flows from the lake to the sea through a series of locks.

All around the property are pine trees 150 years old or more, and old Cedars of Lebanon. To live this long, the pines have to be meticulously pruned to avoid cracking and disease. I recalled similar-sized Cedars of Lebanon planted by President James Madison at his home in Virginia over 200 years ago. The largest pine trees next to the Sforza-Cesarini main house are cabled to each other to provide stability in high winds. They provide a gracious canopy of shade. As we circled the lake, we came across the old Torlonia hunting lodge. Today it is used as a refreshment house and rest place when the backside of the property is open to the public two days each week.
Sforza-Cesarini Main House. Old pines canopy around Main House.
150-year old pines on the property.
Torlonia-Sforza-Cesarini Hunting Lodge. Inset: Torlonia Family crest on Hunting Lodge.
The vegetable gardens on the estate are a picture of geometric symmetry. Scattered around are pieces of ancient Roman marble columns and piles of pottery shards that have been unearthed after decades of gardening. All are kept for analysis by local universities doing archeological digs on the property. The gardens produce an abundance of vegetables used by the Sforza-Cesarini and Paulucci families throughout the spring, summer and fall.

A full-time gardening staff keeps the grounds and the gardens in impeccable condition. Francesco Gucci, who is married to Polissano’s sister Vittoria, oversees the herd of Marchigiana cattle raised on the property for beef. I did not ask Francesco if the skins were sold to his family for belts, shoes and handbags.
Marco Petrasek, Manfredo and Polissena Paulucci, and Christina Baxter.
Front terrace of Sforza-Cesarini Main House. Drinks awaiting guests for Sunday lunch.
Sunday for Monica Sforza-Cesarini’s luncheon party looked ominous. Over 70 people were invited for the tented affair on their front lawn overlooking the lake. When Monica’s husband Don Ascanio looked out his widow at 11:20 a.m., the day was not looking good. The rain was blowing sideways, and he could not see the lake just 100 meters away. Then, within ten minutes, the rain stopped, and the clouds began to clear. By noon the sky was blue.

The guests began arriving around 1:00 p.m. The luncheon began in and around the main house. It was largely a mix of old friends and family, many from Roman society and the aristocracy. The Sforza-Cesarinis, a ducal family, are descendants of the Prince of Civitella Cosi and closely allied with the Papacy.
Flowering bush on pathway to lunch. Staff heading to luncheon tent.
Guests arriving the luncheon tent.
Vittoria Sforza-Cesarini Gucci and NB.
Lunch was served under the tent. Being the good hosts, the Sforza-Cesarinis put us at an English speaking table made up of friends and family: Francesco and Vittoria Gucci, Charles Price (whose father was Ambassador to the Court of St. James under President Reagan), who is married to Drusiana Sforza-Cesarini, Manfredo Paulucci, and another couple, the husband of which runs General Electric’s business in southern Europe.

Manfredo works for the Italian Council of Ministers and all of the men worked in business; hence, the conversation largely centered on worldwide economic and political issues. The news about Greece, Spain and Portugal was bad enough. Thank goodness we escaped this week’s turmoil in the stock market, the Euro decline, and the lack of confidence in European economies. There were two qualities I liked about our little luncheon group: lots of wine consumption and smoking — very civilized in my book.
Giuseppi Recchi, Francesco Gucci, and Christina Baxter.
I adore aristocratic Italian women. They are beautiful, sexy, smart and confident. On one hand, they know how to manage the male Italian ego; on the other, these women run the show. The four Sforza-Cesarini women I met are superb examples. The daughters learned well from their mother, Monica. I could see how closely attached Polissena Sforza-Cesarini Paulucci’s teenage sons are to her.

While she runs the household with a tight hand, she addresses her husband and sons as “Amore.” Polissena has a soft yet firm way of guiding the males in the house to do what she wants. It appears her sisters manage their husbands much the same way.
Guests on carriage ride.
Vigilant Sforza-Cesarini, horse supervisor. Riding through ancient Roman wall and archway.
Pathway around lake.
After lunch, the family brought out their horses and vintage carriages to give everyone a ride around the lake. JP rejoined us as he had not yet circled the property. We passed by Roman ruin port loading docks, which are being excavated by archeologists. It is hard to believe that a property such as this is so perfectly preserved after 17 centuries. There are still many ancient marble columns and pieces of pottery that constantly pop-up from the ground. At one point, Manfredo reached down and picked-up a broken off Roman nail.

As our brief stay came to a close, I asked JP how he liked his first visit to Italy. I got two thumbs up. And as a double affirmation, he said, “Dad, learning Chinese stinks, I want to take Italian.”
Marble statue of Roman merchant ship.
Unearthed Roman artifacts in garden.
Roman column at the edge of the hexagonal lake. My son, JP, with one of 4 Paulucci dogs.
Click here for Roman Holiday, Part I

Photographs by Christina Baxter and Manfredo Paulucci de Calboli.

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