Magazine article The Spectator

ROME Shop L Ik E a Rom an Rampant Materialism Is Their Forte, Says John Laughland

Magazine article The Spectator

ROME Shop L Ik E a Rom an Rampant Materialism Is Their Forte, Says John Laughland

Article excerpt

When I am in Rome, I do as the Romans - I engage in rampant materialism. The eternal city may be - via the Church which has its headquarters there - the way to heaven; its population, however, is more interested in this world than the next. The city is full of superb shops, as the Italians' gift for manufacture, and their seemingly effortless creation of beauty, remain undimmed by the advance of modernity. Rome is therefore a perfect destination for Christmas shopping because by visiting it, you can combine limitless consumerism with a warm glow of spiritual self-satisfaction. Isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Taxis and buses are plentiful in Rome but most tourists walk. Let us start, therefore - after you have perhaps heard Mass in the crypt of St Peter's at 7 a. m. , and after you have breakfasted in the cafe on the Piazza Farnese opposite the French embassy - at the charming Piazza Mattei in the old Jewish ghetto where we can admire the delightful Tortoise Fountain and the stunning Palazzo Mattei, whose courtyard is full of Roman sculptures, before getting down to business. Italian men being the best dressed in the world, why not begin at Bracci (Via de' Funari, 18), a tiny family-run shop which sells very beautiful Italian shirts at reasonable prices - made-to-measure ones are ?48, off the peg ?38. They also sell boxers, socks and ties - all perfect for the discerning husband, father or boyfriend.

An alternative address for socks is the milliner at the bottom of Piazza Navona, Antica Cappelleria Troncarelli in Via della Cuccagna: in winter, they also stock magnificent black Venetian capes so you can stalk around like Don Giovanni. Another source of socks is the world-famous ecclesiastical outfitter Gammarelli at Via di Santa Chiara, 34, where the Pope goes and where you can pick up purple ones (for bishops) or red ones (for cardinals) as well as gloves, belts and scarves - not to mention a velvet and ermine camauro or an embroidered Roman chasuble should you need one.

Italians make very beautiful paper and stationery products and there are many such shops around Rome. The one we use is about ten minutes' walk from Bracci, just over the Ponte Sisto in Trastevere at Via Benedetta, 26b.

There, the charming Gaetana Gilardi makes and sells exquisite boxes, photo albums, guest books, notebooks and much else besides. It is difficult to leave her shop without being weighed down by numerous presents. She also sells (as do all stationery shops) beautiful wrapping paper for a few euros a sheet: your Christmas tree will instantly look many times smarter if your presents are wrapped in it. (There is a similar shop just behind the Pantheon at Via della Rotonda, 13, but I find it a little touristy. ) Having taken a coffee or a glass of water (served in all Italian bars for 50 or 60 cents, and far more civilised than walking around with a plastic bottle) at Checco Er Carrettiere diagonally opposite Signora Gilardi's, you can re-cross the Ponte Sisto and continue walking north along the breathtaking Via Giulia - which is, with Via dei Coronari, one of the best addresses for antiques, but only if you have a generous budget - to visit, just off Piazza Farnese, at Via di Monserrato, 50, Maurizio Bellacci's wonderful little shop selling lampshades and lamps.

Lampshades may not be an obvious Christmas present, and they are obviously difficult to transport, especially if large. But lighting is one of the most important elements of interior decoration, and other European capitals are ill served in this regard. …

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