Shoe Shopping in Rome

Categories: Rome | Travel










Mada Shoes
via della Croce 57
06 67 98 660;

Mada is a tiny shoe shop with two loveseats and two or three shopgirls that ask you, as a matter of course, “Che colore cerca, signora? Numero?” (What color shoes are you looking for? What size?) There are shoes scattered on shelves and side tables, but these are a small sampling of the mind-stretching assortment of shoes that simultaneously look nothing and something like the shoe you are imagining. When you say red or gray or green or blue or black or pink or violet or silver or navy or gold, the girl slips down a staircase through a tiny hatch in the floor and then pops up with a tall stack of boxes that precedes her head through the hatch. Once I asked for gold, and in each of my boxes was a pair of gold shoes: one pointed flats; one with square heels; one pair with one ornate bow each; one pair a kind of roughed-up, crumpled, stretchable ballet slipper; one pair of lattice sandals; one pair of glittery sneakers.

When visiting Mada, be prepared to buy un paio di scarpe (a pair of shoes). For if you can’t find a pair in this plethora,  why did you come here? What was your purpose? These are not shoes to think about and put off for another day: you won’t find the same anywhere again. (Only once I did not buy. “Niente, signora?” said the shopgirl, full of surprise or wounded pride.)

If you like trying out your Italian in shops, study up on the following: scarpe (shoes), sandali (sandals), tacchi alti and tacchi bassi (high heels and low heels), senza taco (flats), stivali (boots), apunta arrontodata (round toe), and apunta or appuntite (pointed toe).

Also try:
Sono piccole. / Sono grandi. (They’re too small / too big.)

Mi fanno un po male. (They pinch a bit.)

Sono comode. / Non sono comode. (They’re comfortable. / They’re not comfortable.)
Le piacciono? Si, mi piacciono ma preferisco i tacchi alti.
(Do you like them? Yes, I like them but I prefer high heels.)
Sono carine! (They’re adorable!)

Sono belle! (They’re beautiful!)

I’ve carried away Chianti-red slip-ons with tiny heels, buffed cornflower-blue mules with round toes and a leather ribbon, pointed white flats, black suede boots, and brown sandals with a hexagonal heel, among others. The only shoes that have not been worn again and again are the pair of wrapped black suede with heels so thin and high that I wobble and slip into cracks. “How do Italian women walk in these heels on cobblestones?” I asked. Answer: keep your weight on your toes.

Sarah Arvio
Sarah Arvio is a poet. She teaches poetry at Princeton University.

POSTED BY Robert Kahn on July 7th 2011 | Add a comment

Danny Meyer recommends Al Moro

Categories: Rome | Travel

Al Moro









Al Moro
vicolo delle Bollette 13
06 67 83 495
Reservations recommended.

Go to Al Moro during lunchtime in the fall. The place is bustling with Romans doing business and politics, and the table full of fresh porcini and ovoli mushrooms that greets you upon entering sets the stage for a perfect lunch. I'd eat roast mushrooms and potatoes for my secondo, preceded by maccheroni al Moro--the house version of the best carbonara you're liable to taste anywhere.

Danny Meyer
Danny Meyer is the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes New York establishments such as Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern.

POSTED BY Robert Kahn on July 2nd 2011 | Add a comment

A hidden room in the Vatican

Categories: Rome

A hidden room in the vatican













Chapel of Nicholas V (Niccoline Chapel)
1447-1449, frescoes by Fra Angelico

As you walk through the Raphael rooms, look for a low
doorway off the Stanza dell'Incendio. This is the entrance to the small Chapel for Nicholas V, which was exquisitely decorated by Fra Angelico (the Italians call him Beato Angelico). Usually it is roped off, but if you ask the guards to let you in you can see the frescoes on the ceiling and the back wall.

Elizabeth Walmsley
Elizabeth Walmsley is conservator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art.

POSTED BY Robert Kahn on July 2nd 2011 | Add a comment

Roses From Heaven

Categories: Rome

Pentecost at the Pantheon

Everyone who feels as I do--that the Pantheon is the most moving building they've ever entered--must make a pilgrimage there during the festival of the Pentecost, which falls in late May/early June. Arrive early to get a seat, or gamble that you can jam into the back of the church, near the doorway. The service commemorates the Holy Spirit's descent upon the Virgin Mary and the Apostles of Jesus, and it goes on for hours. Just as you begin to wonder if it will ever end, the music swells and thousands of red rose petals float ethereally to the ground, poured from bags by Roman firemen standing on the roof dressed in bright uniforms. All heads crane upward; people gasp; it's impossible not to feel that Romans know how to get the biggest bang out of each occasion. If you know someone with a terrace nearby, watch the firemen one year, too. It's nearly as entrancing.

James Barron
James Barron is an art dealer and author..

POSTED BY Robert Kahn on July 2nd 2011 | Add a comment

Richard Howorth recommends All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw

Categories: Arts & Letters | Books
All God's Dangers










All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw
By Theodore Rosengarten

Theodore Rosengarten was a young Harvard graduate student, a native of Brooklyn, New York, when he traveled to Alabama in 1969 to conduct research on Southern sharecroppers' unions of the 1930s. There he came across an eighty-four-year-old African-American man, Ned Cobb, who had been a member of a communist-originated union. As he probed Cobb with questions about his union involvement, he realized that this illiterate man had a remarkable capacity to recount the details and events of his life.

In 1971, Rosengarten returned to his subject with equipment to begin recording Cobb's life story. The transcription, edited down from fifteen hundred pages of material, became a six-hundred-page book entitled All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw, published by Alfred Knopf in 1974. (Rosengarten changed Cobb's name in the book as a safety precaution.)

All God's Dangers earned immediate praise. The New York Times said that " . . . Rosengarten, the student, had found a black Homer, bursting with his black Odyssey and able to tell it with awesome intellectual power, with passion, with the almost frightening power of memory in a man who could neither read nor write but who sensed that the substance of his own life, and a million other black lives like his, were the very fiber of the nation's history."

Paul Gray, in Time, called the book "astonishing," and noted that "Miraculously, this man's wrenching tale sings of life's pleasures: honest work, the rhythm of the seasons, the love of relatives and friends, the stubborn persistence of hope when it should have vanished. All God's Dangers is most valuable for its picture of pure courage."

Several reviews noted the "Faulknerian" quality of the narrative of Shaw--who was born twelve years before Faulkner and died ten years after him--and the Baltimore Sun commented that "Nate Shaw spans our history from slavery to Selma, and he can evoke each age with an accuracy and poignancy so pure that we stand amazed." In 1975 All God's Dangers earned the National Book Award.

The book has remained in print over the past thirty years, long a Vintage paperback and presently available from the University of Chicago Press. During that time, roughly the same as my own as a bookseller, I have been asked countless times to answer the same question, which always more or less comes in the form of "What one book would you say best explains the South?"

I have always answered it-usually standing right amidst the canon of Faulkner, O'Connor, Welty, and Wolfe, all in their beauteous Library of America editions, and in paperback aplenty, and To Kill a Mockingbird, All the King's Men, Black Boy, or Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, not to mention the book of a personal hero, Walker Percy, author of the first great postmodern novel by a Southerner, need I say it, The Moviegoer, or the work of several notable writers who are also friends, Larry Brown, Ellen Douglas, and Barry Hannah among them, and even a few newcomer gems such as Serena by Ron Rash or The Missing by Tim Gautreaux- I have always answered the question with the title whose mere utterance never fails to give a little thrill: All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw.

This question--What one book best explains the South?--usually begs the next: Why? Lots of reasons, many of which I have suggested, but in case not: the strength of the narrative and its epic story, the sheer beauty and honesty in the language, the uncanny detail about agriculture and animal husbandry, about mules, for heaven's sakes, about the economy of farming and of Shaw's time, including the Depression, about labor, class, and race--about race in a way that takes the reader to the heart of America's great, vexing issue--about family, power, and truth, and, perhaps most of all, about human dignity.

Though I do it all the time, I am sometimes annoyed to see "Southern literature" subcategorized, when doing so somehow seems to minimize its importance. All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw--let there be no misunderstanding--is a great American work of deep universal relevance and, for its readers, invariably, a source of astonishment and, indeed, reassurance that literature-even from an illiterate-is a thing of unsurpassing satisfaction.

Richard Howorth

Richard Howorth is the owner of Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, the bookstore he began in 1979. He served two terms as mayor of Oxford and is a former president of the American Booksellers Association. In 2008 he received the Authors Guild Award for Distinguished Service to the Literary Community.

POSTED BY Robert Kahn on July 29th 2010 | Add a comment

Berry Bros. & Rudd

Categories: London | Travel

Berry Bros. & Rudd
Established in 1698

3 St. James's Street sw1
020 7396 9600;

The most gracious shopping experience in London without doubt is a visit to Berry Bros. & Rudd, wine and spirit merchants to the Queen and the Prince of Wales, who have carried on business at their sublime lopsided premises since the seventeenth century. There is no finer place to buy a bottle of claret than in this unchanging shop, with its creaking uncovered floorboards, collection of ancient bottles, large set of beam scales, and the courteous service of yesteryear.

Peter Horrocks

Peter Horrocks, a barrister, is a freeman of the City of London. He is a former Chairman of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, runs the Covent Garden Minuet Company, an 18th century dance group, is a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society.


Famed for selling and sourcing the best wines, particularly claret, Berry Brothers gives equal attention to a highly rare case of Château Latour as it does to a single bottle of their famed Cutty Sark whisky. Behind the green-shuttered façade, the Victorian clerks' desks stand on the ancient undulating floor whilst on the scattered Georgian chairs clients quietly discuss their next purchase with the highly knowledgeable staff.

A huge old coffee scale on which most of fashionable London has been weighed since the eighteenth century still hangs in the shop, beside framed telegrams that include one gravely reporting the loss of a consignment of wine aboard the Titanic. Once their clients may have included Napoleon, countless European monarchs, and famous figures, but now they could equally include pop stars and shrewd dot-com millionaires.

Below the shop lie the cavernous cellars, rumoured to link with St. James's Palace by a lost tunnel, which now also play host to dinners and tastings for both private and corporate clients.

Jeremy Garfield-Davies

Jeremy Garfield-Davies is an architectural and art historian. A former director of Mallett in London and New York, he advises privately on the research, restoration, and acquisition of works of art for some of the most important private and public collections worldwide. 

POSTED BY Robert Kahn on July 28th 2010 | Add a comment

Poet Mark Strand recommends The Russian Samovar

Categories: New York City | Travel

The Russian Samovar 
256 West 52nd Street between Broadway & Eighth Avenue
212 757-0168

When Joseph Brodsky was alive, he and I would often go to the Russian Samovar to drink and talk about poetry. It was always vodka-many flavors of it. Joseph would usually have cilantro. I would have cranberry. We talked and talked, stopping now and then to take large bites of smoked salmon, smoked sturgeon, pickled herring, usually with black bread. And the caviar we consumed! The food, like the vodka, was excellent. But what made the Russian Samovar special was its owner, Roman Kaplan, who knew Joseph before he came to this country. He is one of the warmest and most generous men that I have ever known. Whenever I go to New York, I go to the Russian Samovar, sit down, have some vodka, and talk with Roman. A gifted pianist plays sad Russian songs. Almost everyone in the restaurant is speaking Russian. Mikhail Baryshnikov, who is a part owner, is a frequent patron. Joseph hovers nearby.

Mark Strand

Mark Strand is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Man and Camel (2006); The Continuous Life (1990); and Blizzard of One (1998), which won the Pulitzer Prize. His many honors include the Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Bollingen Prize, three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, the 1974 Edgar Allen Poe Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and a Rockefeller Foundation award, as well as fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. He has served as Poet Laureate of the United States and is a former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He currently teaches English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

POSTED BY Robert Kahn on July 7th 2010

Songwriter Hugh Martin's love affair with the movies

Categories: Arts & Letters | Movies

The late Hugh Martin is best known for his score for the 1944 musical Meet Me In St. Louis. Judy Garland sang three of his songs, The Trolley Song, The Boy Next Door, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. This is what he had to say in City Secrets Movies:

Passion (Madame DuBarry)
Ernst Lubitsch

Broken Blossoms
D. W. Griffith

The Last Flight
William Dieterle

Love Me Tonight
Rouben Mamoulian

Rouben Mamoulian

The Clock
Vincente Minnelli and
Fred Zinnemann

The Night of the Hunter
Charles Laughton

The Good Fairy
William Wyler

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Elia Kazan

My love affair with movies began early--too early, as it turned out, because my first experience occurred when I was six years old, and it was a disaster. My poor, unsuspecting mother took me to see a silent movie called Passion. Pola Negri played Madame du Barry. When they dragged her to the guillotine she pleaded with the French revolutionaries for her life. "Don't kill me!" the title card screamed. "Life is so sweet!"

Now it was my turn to scream: convinced that I was right there, in the middle of the Place de la Bastille, I was carried out of the theater shrieking at the top of my lungs. Mother rushed me home, put me to bed, and phoned for the doctor, but all to no avail; I hollered for several hours.

Through the years I continued to over-respond. (In fact, I do so to this day.) But I learned to control myself sufficiently so that I didn't have to be removed-that was the last thing I wanted. In spite of my terror attack during Passion, a 1919 German film by director Ernst Lubitsch, I have never found a place more desirable than a movie theater.

Another silent film that made a lasting impression on me was D. W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms (1919). This was--and is--a film of great richness. It is rich in beauty, as visually lovely as a lotus blossom. It is rich in emotion, too; the performances Griffith brought forth from Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess are more powerful than anything the screen offers today.

Moving into movies with sound, William Dieterle's first American film was The Last Flight (produced by First National in 1931). In an interview in The New York Times, Dieterle stated that regardless of all the awards lavished on him later, The Last Flight was the movie he believed to be his best. I agree wholeheartedly. We find Mr. Barthelmess again in this one, and his leading lady--the ethereally beautiful Helen Chandler--is every bit as sensitive as Ms. Gish. John Monk Saunders, a popular novelist of the 1920s, wrote the screenplay. His style is reminiscent of Hemingway, but I like him better. Hemingway goes for the jugular; Saunders goes for the heart.

The best musical of all time came from Paramount in 1932: Love Me Tonight. Director Rouben Mamoulian gave Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald a luster that sparkles as brightly today as it did then (if you can find a good print). Don't bother searching for better songs than those Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote for Maurice and Jeanette, because there are none. "Lover," "Isn't It Romantic?" and "The Son of a Gun is Nothing But a Tailor"--all of the songs are unsurpassable.

Another fine Mamoulian film is Applause (Paramount, 1929). I became addicted to Helen Morgan when she sang "Bill" in Show Boat, so Mamoulian's hunch that she had the making of a great dramatic actress thrilled and fascinated me. Her performance, under Mamoulian's loving direction, is shattering.

Only Judy Garland came closest to the place in my heart occupied by Helen Morgan. There's nothing esoteric about Judy's movies. Most of them were commercial as well as artistic blockbusters and need no help from me in attracting attention. However, The Clock (MGM, 1945) did become slightly lost in the shuffle. Too bad, because her acting had never been stronger. It was the second time she teamed with Vincente Minnelli, and he found depths of feeling in his wife (they married shortly after making The Clock) that none of her other work has quite matched. And Robert Walker's performance is equally good.

Charles Laughton directed only one movie, The Night of the Hunter (1955). It was received without excitement by critics, and this wounded Mr. Laughton so deeply that he never put on the director's hat again. Our loss, more than his. I find it a breathtakingly original film, with ingenious directorial touches and wonderful performances by Robert Mitchum, two splendid child actors, Shelley Winters, and the inimitable Lillian Gish. Good actresses don't die; they just get better.

Did you happen to see The Good Fairy? If you did, I don't have to tell you what a charmer it is. Preston Sturges wrote the screenplay in 1935 for Universal. He adapted it from a play by Ferenc Molnár, turning it into a vehicle for Margaret Sullavan. Although Sturges wasn't the director, it has many of the earmarks of a Sturges comedy masterpiece: the hilarious dialogue, the sweetness, and the stable of great character actors he loved to assemble (Frank Morgan, Reginald Owen, Alan Hale, Beulah Bondi, and Eric Blore). This is Morgan's best and funniest performance, and Herbert Marshall scores beautifully as the inamorato of Luisa Gingelbusher (Sullavan). William Wyler directed it with his usual skill and taste; Sturges himself couldn't have done it better.

Elia Kazan directed his share of blockbusters, but the film of his that I cherish the most is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945). James Dunn, Dorothy McGuire, and Joan Blondell are superb; but it's the portrayal of young Francie by Peggy Ann Garner that knocks me out every time I watch it, year after year. With due respect to Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper, Margaret O'Brien, and Shirley Temple, I believe it to be the best juvenile performance ever.

Hugh Martin


POSTED BY Robert Kahn on June 28th 2010 | Add a comment

Frank Stella recommends Sebastiano del Piombo's Flagellation of Christ

Categories: Rome | Travel

Sebastiano's Rome

Flagellation of Christ
c. 1521, Sebastiano del Piombo

Church of San Pietro in Montorio

In a letter attempting to explain his difficulties with a commissioned altarpiece, Rubens complained of a "perversi lumi." Bad light pervades the churches of Rome, yet sometimes it can be more of a blessing than a curse. Discovering a great painting all by oneself is a thrill that is hard to come by nowadays. Usually, the great paintings are thrown at us, overpresented and overlit, but a few are still somewhat hidden in their original settings, awaiting discovery. What light there is in these Roman churches has been mismanaged over the centuries, diminished by careless renovations. Not surprisingly, the Church of San Pietro in Montorio, just such a dark case, made for a perfect discovery. Pushing my son's stroller over a worn stone floor, I looked up into a reveal to catch a poorly defined aura, the afterglow of what had to be a special painting.

A late-winter afternoon in Rome is not the best time to stalk sixteenth-century church painting. It's very hard to find your prey. But that afternoon I did flush a great painting out of the Janiculum's shadow. I had no idea of its source. It looked like a Renaissance painting, but it easily could have been a copy, like the compositionally striking Caravaggio I had seen a few days before at the Palazzo Corsini, a fantastic Narcissus, easily the highlight of the collection. I had been very disappointed when my wife read the label of the Narcissus to me--a "copy after Caravaggio." I went into a deep sulk, wondering why I couldn't tell an original from a copy and why this copy was so good, because even confronted by its lack of authenticity, I still wanted it. To me it was a hot painting from the moment I saw it, maybe the hottest cool painting I had ever seen.

The painting in San Pietro in Montorio didn't have the boxy modernism of the Narcissus, but it did have a special kind of in-your-face classicism. It was an over-the-altar painting with mural power, one with "a tiger in its tank." My first guess was a conservative one, maybe after Giulio Romano; my second guess was, "I just don't know." I was surprised by the attribution to Sebastiano del Piombo, but not by the title, The Flagellation; the darkness was not so great that I couldn't make out the action.

Three months later I was there, again late in the afternoon, when the painting was perfectly lit, the seasonal angle of the sun being now in my favor. Sebastiano's painting was beautiful, inventive, and expansive. The beauty was all Sebastiano's, brought out by his Venetian gift for full-scale color, intensely articulated and swirling across the canvas from side to side and from top to bottom. Beauty brought out also by his paint-handling and form-building skills, so evident that Michelangelo, in Sidney Freedberg's words, had no reservations about selecting Sebastiano as his deputy in what amounted to a Medici-driven painting contest with Raphael.

The inventiveness in the painting owes something to Michelangelo's design, which allowed Sebastiano to run wild with a full-blown painterly classicism tinged opportunely with an innate piety. Painterly, pietistic classicism may sound strange, perhaps even at odds with itself, but it is a quality that really counted for a lot in the following hundred years of painting.

Finally, The Flagellation has a convincing expansiveness, an ability to make narrative action and gesture fill the pictorial boundaries to the point that they seem to swell and and bow out the framing edges. In a similar way, Sebastiano's work pushes painting itself beyond the confines of the sixteenth century into the seventeenth century. It is clear, too, that it was Sebastiano's brand of Roman painterly classicism that helped make the expansion so fluid and so far-reaching. He easily caught the attention of Caravaggio and Rubens, as we can see by their magnificent versions of the Flagellation. Certainly, this power-enhanced sixteenth-century Roman art had no trouble beaming itself out all over Italy and across Europe, led, for example, by Sebastiano's Flagellation to Naples and Antwerp. And it's equally certain that any painter, having seen the Roman light, perversi lumi as it could often be, was bound to follow its path all over Italy, and all across Europe, as the history of Western painting so clearly attests.

Frank Stella

POSTED BY Robert Kahn on June 16th 2010 | Add a comment

Dany Levy recommends Doughnut Plant

Categories: New York City | Travel

Doughnut Plant

379 Grand Street between Essex & Norfolk Streets
212 505-3700;
Closed Mondays.

Sandwiched between a thrift shop and a row of brick apartments, Doughnut Plant's storefront is easy to miss. But what lies within puts the franchise doughnut stores to shame.

One day, while sifting through boxes, Mark Isreal happened on some of his grandfather's recipes, so he whipped up a batch of doughnuts and tried selling them to his local coffee shop. The orders poured in literally overnight, and today Mark's doughnuts grace the counters at, among others, Dean & Deluca, Zabar's, and Balducci's. But for the real experience, head down to Grand Street and meet the man behind the doughnut.

This is not your average cop food. Flavors range from classic vanilla bean to ginger, lime, pistachio, and rose water, all hand-cut, hand-rolled, and fried in canola oil.

Best of all, each doughnut measures roughly the size of a human head. In the words of The New York Times' Florence Fabricant, "a plusher chocolate doughnut than his Valrhona would be hard to find."

Dany Levy
Founder of Daily Candy

POSTED BY Robert Kahn on June 10th 2010 | Add a comment