It’s starting to feel like winter is finally here in Rome. Papery brown leaves scrape across the sidewalk, collecting in drifts against the tree trunks, turning to mulch in the puddles left after the latest flash rainstorm. If you’re like me, every few days will force you to turn to the ever watchful Umbrella Men (as they shall be named) who seem to spring up in the rain, offering you barely functioning bundles of metal spokes and plastic you can use for about two seconds as you run to the metro before they fall apart and are left cluttering up the sidewalks, like abandoned broken birds in the gutters.
A few weeks ago was Halloween, a holiday just recently adopted in Italy a few years ago, thanks to globalization and the inspirational power of American TV blaring the constant subconscious message: be like us, be like us, be like us. Last week a student asked me, “But Lauren, do they really do this thing in America? With the costume and the dolcetto or scherzetto (treat or trick).” When I said yes, she almost swooned and said, “America, it’s like to be in a film!”
Another student said he had tried trick or treating in some apartment blocks last year but had come across some signs saying “We don’t believe in making the Day of the Dead into a holiday,” a concept I think many Americans wouldn’t even understand in a holiday that has become almost entirely commercial.
In Italy November First is All Saints Day and November 2nd is All Souls Day, a time to commemorate dead relatives. Over and over again I was asked by my Italian students, “What does Halloween commemorate? What do you celebrate?” I had my little lesson plan about evil spirits returning to the earthly world and the difference between a pumpkin and a jack o’lantern but the reality is that now Halloween is just a time to dress up, be someone else for a night, and indulge in piles of candy or buckets of beer (depending, usually, on your age bracket.) Does it have to have a meaning?
Whether you found a way to celebrate Halloween or All Souls, November itself, with its darkening evenings and chill in the air is the perfect time to indulge in all things creepy, spooky, and sinister. After this it’s all Holiday spirit and Christmas lights. So take the next few weeks to enjoy Rome’s tiny taste of fall before the winter sets in, learn a few words for the occasion and visit some of Rome’s most haunting sites.
WORDS OF THE MONTH
1. Spaventoso: Scary
Era spevantoso (It was scary)
Ero spaventato (I was scared)
2. Infestato: Haunted
Sei mai stato in una casa infestata? (Have you ever been in a haunted house?)
3. il fantasma: ghost
Credi nei fantasmi? (Do you believe in ghosts?)
WHERE TO GO
1. Capuchin Crypt
What: A museum (nice) and four rooms decorated in human bones from the remains of 4,000 Capuchin Friars (the real reason to go).
Why: This is by far the creepiest thing I have seen in Rome … or possibly anywhere. If you haven’t been to the Capuchin Crypt yet, make time to go! Ponder the sign above the door: “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.” Walk back out onto the streets of Rome and feel fully alive in a way I’d bet you haven’t for some time.
Where: Via Vittorio Veneto, 27
When: Open every day 9:00am to 7:00pm
How Much: 6 euro
2. Centrale Montemartini Museum: Machines, Gods, and Ghosts (until November 20)
What: Part of the Capitoline Museum collection set in an abandoned electrical power plant. Until November 20th there is an exhibit called Machines, Gods, and Ghosts that add fluttering silk prints of ghosts made by American Artist Patricia Cronin.
Why: To see Republican and Imperial era marble statues of ancient Romans set against the backdrop of steam boilers and diesel engines. I thought it would be kind of a cool idea but I was not expecting the emotional impact this museum had on me. It’s location somewhat out of the center makes this a quiet museum where you can contemplate in solitude the concepts of time, memory, history and above all …. ghosts.
Where: Via Ostiense, 106
When: Tuesday to Sunday 9:00 to 7:00 pm (closed Monday)
How Much: 6.50
3. Catacombs of Priscilla
What: One of the over 50 catacombs stretching beneath the city of Rome, this underground labyrinth of tombs contains what is considered the oldest image of the Virgin Mary in existence. Entry free includes a guide (English available) so you don’t get lost!
Why: Ever wondered what lies beneath Villa Ada? The Answer: Tombs! Miles and miles of tombs stretching for 13 kilometers and three stories down beneath the grassy fields and trails of joggers and dog walkers. There’s a whole city of the dead beneath the streets you walk on every day and if you haven’t had a chance to explore some “neighborhoods” yet, I suggest exploring one of them!
Where: Via Salaria 430
When: 8:30am to 5pm with a break from 12 to 2:30 (closed Monday)
How Much: 8 euros
AND A BIT MORE…
Everything in Rome is piled on top of each other which means incredible things seem to be tucked into every crack and crevice of this city.
Try out Eataly’s zucca (pumpkin) soup that I just tasted this weekend at the vegetarian section on the first floor (enter, turn right and go to the end). Chewy bread, salty seeds, soaked in thick pumpkin soup…mm might have to go back…
Abandoned buildings (like the one below, visible from the Garbatella Bridge) are everywhere and full of fantasmi.
Not all Italian Graffiti is of the “ti amo” variety.
And always look up. Quite often, ghoulish faces are leering down right above you!
Visit our contact page and send us some pics of creepy things you’ve found in Rome!