We had asked for a late check-out from our New York City hotel, and The W not only agreed, but also graciously offered a VERY late departure; 5:00 PM to be exact! It could have been due to the fact that we had just produced a very successful event there for one of our corporate clients, or maybe it was simply our charming smiles and personality (NOT!) but in any case, we were very appreciative. James and I had a flight to catch out of Kennedy Airport that evening, as we were heading off to our next job which was taking place in Rome, Italy.
In spite of the 5 PM check-out, we still had to leave Manhattan by 3:00 that afternoon in order to make our plane in time. We were off to a rocky start, traffic was freaky crazy and our driver began to stress over getting us to the airport in time for our 6 PM flight. He finally had to get off the highway and take small side-streets to JFK. Alas, he was not the only person with the idea and even the back roads were only creeping along.
I looked over at James who is totally unfamiliar with Queen’s and its streets, and he asked me how worried we should be. “The driver is making all the right moves,” I answered. “We’re almost there, don’t worry.” At this point, there was nothing short of sprouting wings to soar over the traffic that could make a difference. The reality was that I was a little worried, but what was the sense in stressing out James? After all, how bad could things be? We were blessed with work in freakin’ Italy for goodness sake! Besides, worst-case scenario, we would have to catch another flight. Then just as if a wall had been lifted, traffic miraculously “disappeared” and we were off and running. From that moment on, everything seemed to move along in our favor. There was even no security line… at all… in Kennedy! Before we knew it, we were comfortably seated for an on-time takeoff.
The flight thankfully was uneventful and in nine hours, we were having our passports stamped and heading through Fiumicino a.k.a. Leonardo da Vinci airport with luggage in tow. Suddenly our eyes were caught by the bright smile of a cheery young woman who held a sign that bore our client’s logo. “Benvenuti a Roma!” she greeted. “Please allow me to show you to the car we have waiting to take you to the Weston Excelsior,“ the hotel chosen to hold our clients meeting.
The weather could not have been more cooperative. In fact, it was quite similar to what we had left behind in South Florida! The Excelsior was located in what is called “the center.” Rome had been designed like a wagon wheel, having an outer main-road that circles around the city with many “spoke roads” leading into the center. We were literally a short stroll from the famed Spanish Steps and our rooms were beyond comfortable, offering amazing space complete with fireplace and large French doors, which opened out to a small balcony, surrounded but a granite balustrade. It featured traditional old-world charm but with all the comforts of today’s modern world. Yes we were here to work but we could certainly appreciate the beauty by which we were surrounded.
Our first night there was free time, as work was not beginning until the following morning. We were quite excited and most anxious to see our very dear Roman friends, the Fioravanti’s. We had met Maurizio, his sister Simona, and Mamma Franca while producing a party in Palm Beach and within an hour; we bonded and have been… well, like family for over a decade. Maurizio, an amazingly talented artist, had married Ekaterina, a beautiful Russian-born woman who too is a most remarkable artist. Although I had spoken (whether it be via email, Facebook, or occasionally by telephone) with Simona learning about my friend’s new wife, I had not yet met Kate and was really looking forward to finally giving her a big hug… Oh and did I mention that she and Maurizio are expecting a bambino in January?!
Arrangements had been made for Maurizio to pick us up at our hotel that evening, as we were all going to have dinner together at Simona and mamma’s apartment in the city. The food, fun, and love flowed without end as we made our plans to all be together at Maurizio’s & Kate’s to celebrate Thanksgiving, which was about a week away.
So maybe it’s because we’re Italian or perhaps it’s just “our thing” but as we sat around the table stuffing ourselves with antipasto, pasta, and the most wonderful, crunchy, little fried fish that Simona whipped up, we also planned a menu for the 13 friends, both old and new, who would be celebrating Thanksgiving together!
The following morning was lift off for James and me as it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work… the actual work that brought us to Rome.
In a world filled with people who are unhappy with their jobs, we are surely lucky. I mean; creating a beautiful environment to meet and or celebrate sure beats digging graves! James always says that the best two parts of our job is the very beginning (filled with brainstorming and creativity) and that moment when we open the doors to our clients and their guests and see the expressions on their faces as they enter the now completed room. And by far the standout events in Rome were the two off-site dinner experiences. The first one was held at the Casa Valadier.
The building was named after its famed designer, Roman architect Giuseppe Valadier, who is most noted for his design of the city’s renowned, “Peoples Square.” The grandeur of the neoclassical design, once home to Valadier, features Pompeian style frescoes and paintings and also boasts incredibly romantic views of the “Eternal City.”
We will never forget how beautiful this majestic building looked on event night, framed in custom designed lighting, with hundreds of lanterns lighting the way along the red-carpeted path, sweeping up the semi-circular stairs that grace its entrance, all the way into its grand foyer. As luck would have it, there was a young couple taking their engagement portrait on the park grounds outside and their savvy photographer seized the opportunity to get some wonderful shots with Valadier as backdrop to the lovers!
The, grand finale, nay…make that the pièce de résistance wrapping up events here in Rome was a rare and wonderful dining experience set in the world-famous Palazzo Colonna. There are no words known to this humble blogger that could properly describe the grace and majesty of this thirteenth century palace, complete with Live-in Prince and his royal family. About the only thing I have ever seen to compare it to, is the Vatican and quite frankly, I think Palazzo Colonna was done with better taste… but that’s just my opinion.
Once the home of Cardinal Oddone Colonna before his raise to Pope (Martin V, 1417–1431) its gallery displays countless works of art and historic artifacts. The palace’s collection of paintings with works by (but not limited) to Bronzino, Pinturicchio, Salviati, Carracci, and Tintoretto is still one of the most important private collections surviving in Rome today. One of our favorite paintings, Annibale Carracci’s, The Bean Eater or “Mangiafagioli” circa the mid-1580’s is on display there and it was quite awesome to see the real thing!
Another celebrity (of sorts) residing within the palace walls is a famous cannon ball which is planted firmly into the stairs of the Great Hall. The story has it that back in 1849, during the period of the Roman Republic, the French army spent months occupying Rome. Under the orders of General Oudinot, the cannon was shot from the Janiculum Hill, to assist Pope Pius IX against the Republican insurgents. Although the Papal States fell completely to Italian nationalist armies in 1870, the Colonna family decided to leave the cannon ball on the step where it came to rest, in the Galleria, as a symbol of Roman history and it is one heck of a conversation piece indeed!
As James and I arrived at the Palazzo to begin setting up for the evening’s event, we were surprised to find that the streets outside were packed full of thousands of people who had gathered in some sort of protest rally! The protest had absolutely nothing to do with our event; our venue was simply unfortunate enough to be right in the middle of the rally location. Again we were quite lucky, as one; the protest ended long before any of our guests arrived so we didn’t have to worry about maneuvering our attendees through the crowds and two; the rally was in support of the deaf, who were seeking one universal sign language. Although the streets overflowed with protesters, they were very peaceful and quite frankly – quiet, as they “signed” there issues and ate pizza. I swear, you can’t make this stuff up!
Anyway, back to our event; a venue this opulent required table linens that would stand up to the regal hall yet not compete with the surrounding art. The florals too must cleverly enhance without becoming busy looking. I think we accomplished our goal as we heard that the prince himself spent two hours inspecting each table for quality and care of placement. Once he approved, he and his family headed off to their country estate for the evening. The dinner looked beyond lovely. Even the palace staff was taking pictures of the completed hall to show off to their families. You know you’ve done well when you impress those who have seen it all!
Guest arrived at the Palazzo and broke into small groups, each treated to a tour of the galleries by an eloquent and knowledgeable guide. Their tour came to an end just outside the great hall where everyone came together again for cocktails.
Two trumpeters dressed in renaissance costume heralded everyone into the dinner in noble fashion. As the guest entered through the doors to the grand hall, protected by regal guardsmen, cameras and cellphones came out in droves as people took advantage of the photo-op to capture the moment for posterity.
An elegant and very talented quartet (also dressed in period costume) filled the hall with classical music that made one feel as if they had somehow magically traveled back through history to a long-forgotten time and place, reserved strictly for nobility and statesmen alike.
All-in-all, everyone enjoyed being king or queen (at least for an evening) and catching a rare glimpse into Rome’s rich and opulent history.
Next post… onto Paris!
Until next time,