B.U. Bridge
ALEA III: 20th International Young Composers Competition, September 25, 8 p.m., Tsai Performance Center
Week of 20 September 2002 · Vol. VI, No. 4

Current IssueIn the NewsResearch BriefsBulletin BoardBU YesterdayCalendarClassified AdsArchive

Search the Bridge

Contact Us


BU chef’s intimacy with Rome flavors new travel book

By David J. Craig

Two years ago, while being whisked through Rome’s boisterous streets in an unlicensed taxi, G. Franco Romagnoli got a candid report from Piero, his driver, about what had changed in the Eternal City since he emigrated from his birthplace to the United States in the 1950s. For one thing, there are more pellegrini, or pilgrims. The word, in the Roman dialect, describes not only immigrants and foreigners, but anyone from outside the city.

G. Franco Romagnoli Photo by Fred Sway
  G. Franco Romagnoli Photo by Fred Sway

Piero made a show of sniffing the morning air as he drove through a popular marketplace, and expressed his ambivalence about the aroma of Chinese and Indian spices. “You won’t believe it, but the other day I drove two Buddhist monks around!” he then shouted, and chuckled amiably. “Nice guys -- I can still smell the incense.”

The product of that visit is A Thousand Bells at Noon: A Roman’s Guide to the Secrets and Pleasures of His Native City (Steerforth Press, 2002). The provincialism of Romans surely has been noted in the pages of more than one travel guide, but what’s unique about Romagnoli’s book is its candid firsthand conversations with common people. With chapters covering everything from the city’s parks to its religious traditions to its food -- Romagnoli’s own area of expertise -- it is first and foremost a personal account of the author’s six-month stay in Rome.

Romagnoli, 76, hosted the PBS cooking show The Romagnolis’ Table with his late wife, Margaret, from 1974 to 1976, and subsequently owned three four-star restaurants of the same name in Massachusetts. Now he is an adjunct professor of culinary arts at Metropolitan College. “I wanted to get at the feeling of the city, not just the physical setting,” he says of his book. “So I talked to people on the street. If I wanted to know why a fountain in a park works the way it does, I found the person who operates it.”

The result is a chatty, fact-filled volume that is part guidebook and part memoir. Romagnoli, who was raised in Rome and came to the United States in his early twenties to pursue a career as a documentary filmmaker, writes, quite simply, about whatever interests him. He offers detailed, affectionate descriptions of how Romans like to show off, for instance, exemplified by a small market “that will display its few goods, apples and oranges, colors and textures, as if they were rich, sophisticated jewelry.” He writes about nepotism in the city’s government and the pack mentality that breeds intense familial loyalty, and he describes the magical powers Romans attribute to the ovetto fresco di giornata, or day-fresh egg, and how close Roman sons are to their mothers -- 70 percent of single, 30-year-old men still live at home.

The lengthiest discussion is reserved for Roman cuisine. Romagnoli says it is defined by “simplicity and freshness,” qualities that distinguish it from the Italian food most commonly served in American restaurants.

“Eating Roman food is a sensual experience, not an intellectual one,” he says. “Compare it to French food, for example. As soon as you taste a French sauce you know it’s no simple production. But you don’t have to analyze a Roman meal. When you eat fettuccine Alfredo as it’s prepared in Rome, you can taste the four elements clearly -- butter, cream, cheese, and pasta. You don’t have to think about it.
It just makes you feel good.”

Romagnoli will give a lecture about his book and his visit to Rome, entitled Rome, Revisited, at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, September 25, at CAS 222. The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, call 353-2551.


20 September 2002
Boston University
Office of University Relations