After the innumerable disappointments of Venice, I couldn't wait to get to Rome. I'd seen enough canals, thanks, not to mention an overload of oppressively impressive architecture. I wanted something more, some stories to go with my sites--and, oh yeah, the Eternal City has some seriously epic stories to tell. Also kick-ass ruins and artisanal gelato and absurdly elaborate fountains and gorgeous contessas blowing air-kisses from Vespas.
This was where I was going to get my groove back. I even had an ace to play, a sure-fire groove restorer: Pensione Texas, a hotel that I'd been looking forward to since the day I opened Europe on Five Dollars a Day for the first time. Frommer spends nearly half a page describing the scene at this "glamorously-decorated" hotel, talking up its "really superb restaurant downstairs" and its worldly, intellectual clientele:
Whenever 6 p.m. approached last summer, Hope and I felt a genuine urge to rush back to the "Texas," to hear the exciting conversation that fills the cocktail-lounge of the pension (our fellow guests, among others: a member of the Minneapolis Philharmonic, and his wife; a professor from the Free China University on [sic] Formosa) ...
I so, so needed that. I was missing Lee. Missing intelligent conversation, missing hanging out in cocktail lounges (and, yeah, dive bars) and chatting the night away. One of the great frustrations of being a tourist is that your interactions tend to be fleeting, your discourse superficial. Here was my solution. If nothing else, it would at least offer a bit more comfort and, well, glamour than the spider-infested inns and boisterous hostels to which I'd become accustomed.
After I checked in, I pulled out my book and showed the above passage to the desk clerk, Alfredo, a tall, middle-aged man, effortlessly dapper in that ineffably Italian way. He had a perpetually wistful expression on his face, as though forever recalling some long-lost, bittersweet memory, and it grew even more poignant and pronounced as he examined the book.
"Yes," he said. "I remember this. We were in many books. And the New York Times. Many publications. The president of Diner's Club International came here with his family. Elizabeth Taylor--Do you know Elizabeth Taylor?"
"She stayed here. She was at another hotel, more famous, but they all found out and were bothering her, the ... press, the ..."
"The paparazzi? She came here to hide from the paparazzi?"
He held up a finger and nodded his head, remembering something, then opened a desk drawer and pulled out a brochure from the 1960s. "I show people this sometimes, so they can see what it was like."
[Click on the images for the full size.]
I could almost hear him thinking, as he pointed to the praise and listed other celebrities who had stayed here, Ah, those were the days.
In much of the rest of Europe, it had struck me that those rare Frommer-recommended places (hotels, restaurants) that were still around were almost exclusively those that were big and flashy and somehow fit tourist stereotypes of the culture--beer halls in Munich, hangar-sized cafés in Paris. Frommer's description of the Hotel Texas, paired with the fact that it was still in operation, made me assume that this was the case here, too. It would be a gloriously and disconcertingly theme park version of a historic Roman hotel, grand and tacky all at once, overstuffed with Rococo furnishings and enormous artwork and hypersaturated color schemes--more or less what you see in the brochure.
[To be continued, because I'm a jerk like that and because other non-writing duties are calling right now. Trust me, though: it's a good story, worth the wait, and with a special twist ending involving--no lie--Mussolini. Are you familiar with Grey Gardens?]