Chesterton’s Secret People

The English Catholics It was a rainy spring morning in Wallingford, a charming grey stone market town in Oxfordshire, bordering the meandering Thames. I slipped out of a friend’s house on foot, headed for morning Mass. The wet streets were practically empty, save for a few early Sunday shoppers. Finding the church was a little … Read more

Upper Class and Underground

Art as Secret Rebellion in Protestant England by Suzanne Duque-Salvo “The sun had sunk now to the line of woodland beyond the valley; all the opposing slope was already in twilight, but lakes below us were aflame; the light grew in strength and splendour as it neared death, drawing long shadows across the pasture, falling … Read more

Do’s and Don’ts in Rome

To be perfectly honest, Romans can cope with anything. For centuries, their city has been a target for hordes of tourists and barbarians. Through it all, Romans have remained inscrutable – insouciant, unsinkable and ready for just about anything. That being said, however, if you plan a visit to the Eternal City, it is a good idea to follow a few simple rules:

DO PREPARE YOURSELF: Films and books will help you really enjoy your Roman Holiday (1953), The Cardinal (1963), Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), The Bicycle Thieves (1948), The Scarlet and the Black (1983), La Dolce Vita (Adults only, 1960) and Only You (1994). My favorite classic books include Hilaire Belloc’s Path to Rome, H.V. Morton’s A Traveler in Rome, Bishop Sheen’s This is Rome, Louis De Wohl’s The Spear, Roger Wiltgen’s The Rhine Flows into the Tiber and John Walsh’s The Bones of Saint Peter.

DON’T EXPECT ROMANS TO SPEAK ENGLISH: Give yourself three months to learn some touristic Italian. Never mind the stares from your fellow motorists — drive around with CDs from your local library, repeating “Il conto, per favore?” and “Ho bisogno un medico” with an Italian accent.

DO STAY IN A CONVENT: There are 2,762 hotels in Rome. Convents are cheaper, cleaner, safer and WAY more authentic than any tourist trap, They are the single best way to see Rome – especially for Catholics who would like to attend Mass with the sisters. (Secret Catholic Tip: To find a convent that gladly takes in tourists, visit which calls itself the ‘home of the American Catholic church in Rome.”)

insider2DO CHECK OUT THE VIEW: Some famous vistas are to be seen from myriad vantage points in the old city. (Secret Catholic Tip: The views from the cupola of Saint Peter’s and the top of the Castel San’t Angelo are unbeatable. And for a sunset that will take your breath away –see above– quietly take the elevator to the roof of the Helvetia Hotel.)

DO GO TO LATIN MASS ON SUNDAY: 11:00 Sung High Mass at Santa Trinita Dei Pellegrini, the church of the Fraternity of Saint Peter, just steps from the Piazza Farnese. Dress appropriately, please.

insider6DO LEARN TO USE THE BUS: Forget those dangerous mopeds, although the brave and the foolhardy like Audrey Hepburn (left and below) can rent one for 40 euros a day. Red Roman buses are cheap and plentiful. Find one that stops by your convent, buy yourself a pass at the local newsstand/tobacco store and soon you’ll be zipping around Rome for basically nothing – without losing a limb.



DO VISIT SAINT PETER’S FIRST: For first time visitors, stepping inside the arms of Bernini’s amazing Colonnade is a real thrill. (Secret Catholic Tip: For a free, fascinating personal tour of Saint Peter’s, stop by the Vatican post office and look for a small, unobtrusive sign advising English-speaking visitors when an American seminarian will be there. Impress him by pointing out that the statues on top of the Basilica are the Apostles.)

DON’T BE A TARGET: Avoid drawing attention to yourself. Keep your voice low. Leave your sneakers at home. Wear dark, conservative clothing. Don’t wear a fanny pack or keep your wallet in your back pocket. Americans, especially, need to remember that we have a reputation for being loud and naïve – perfect targets for pickpockets and flimflam artists. This goes TRIPLE at night, or if you have been drinking. Don’t be paranoid, but do be smart. (Secret Catholic Tip: The young woman begging at church doors with a new baby is not starving to death. This is an age-old scam targeting naïve tourists and seminarians.)



A Guide to Roman Eateries

Full Disclosure: The author is Italian-American from a generation that still knew how to cook ‘from scratch,’ so she ‘knows what good is’ without needing to spend a fortune to prove it.

First, you can get good food almost anywhere in Rome EXCEPT near the Termini (train station). Second, the same rules apply as in any major city – the joints that accept a bunch of credit cards on their windows will CHARGE you for that privilege. Third, the pizzerias are mostly ALL good.

Finally, any place that is self-consciously hip is to be avoided like the plague, because while the waiter is robbing you legitimately, his cousin will be waiting outside to rob you in other ways. But if you want something special – or near the Vatican—check these out!



Expensive, Drop-Dead View

Hotel Hassler’s rooftop is achingly beautiful and justly famous for decades for its appeal to the Hollywood, fashion design and diplomatic corps.

Cheap, Drop-Dead View

eateries4SHHH! This is a bigger secret than the cardinals’ vote. Calmly walk into the Hotel Pace Helvetia, and tell the front desk that you would like to take a photo from their rooftop. They will ask you if there is anything you would like to bring up from the bar. Say ‘YES” and climb into their tiny elevator, walk up another flight of stairs and emerge into a magical world of your very own, with the voluptuous beauty of Rome at your feet.


eateries6View from the Borghese Gardens

 Casina Valadier, on the lip of the Borghese Gardens is a romantic place to linger over coffee or drinks. The food is nothing special – but the VIEW is. Near the Villa Medici.



eateries1See and Be Seen, Roman Style

La Rampa, tucked around the side of the Spanish Steps, features a legendary buffet that will tempt just about anyone’s palate. Family-owned, an old favorite of designer Valentino, La Rampa is reasonably priced, too, for the tony neighborhood – right across from the American Express office, in case you’re short a few euro.



Ratzinger’s Refuge: Cantina Tirolese, Via Giovanni Vitelleschi 23

Atmospheric, tiny place with booths, sassy Italian waitresses, and excellent Tyrolean food. There is even a booth downstairs with a plaque on it in honor of Benedict XVI – when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, of course. Very reasonable prices, and a five minute walk from the Vatican in the Borgo.

eateries5Simple Family Place: Hostaria La Frusta, 1 Via Santa Maria dei la Fornaci

A decent family place with nice food. Blue checked tablecloths, no reservations needed. This is a neighborhood full of clergy, convents who take in visitors  and the San Pietrini – the Roman families who work at St Peter’s. Very reasonable prices and a three minute walk from Vatican City.

A Tale of Two Margarets

Modern myth-makers have propounded a view in films and books showing Catholic women ‘oppressed’ by their religion – relegated to the status of inferiors, incapable of valour or great deeds. As the stories of these two great Englishwoman demonstrate, real history tells a very different story. My Lady Margaret, A King’s Niece She lived at … Read more