Five Times correspondents from around the world offer thumbnail sketches, from cities they have covered, of places where people gather and memorable things happen.
CAFFE GRECO, Rome
ON THE FIRST WEDNESDAY OF EVERY month, a group of self-appointed intellectuals who call themselves the “Romanisti” gather to parse the Roman cultural universe. “They are rather advanced in culture and in years,” says Maria Grimaldi, their hostess at the Caffe Greco, their meeting place.
Where else would these most Roman of Romans assemble? The Caffe Greco, a registered national monument, has been the coffee-and-cognac hangout of Italian artists and intellectuals, foreign luminaries and Rome-wise tourists for more than two centuries. Hans Christian Andersen once lived in rented rooms upstairs. Dickens, Keats, Goethe, Stendhal, Goldoni, Thackeray, Byron, Hawthorne, Wagner, Mark Twain and Ludwig I of Bavaria all drank and talked here. Rossini composed at the Caffe Greco. Gogol wrote “Dead Souls” in the back room. Schopenhauer was once thrown out for maligning Woman.
The Romanisti meet in a red damasked room just beyond a signed portrait of Buffalo Bill, who dropped by with his circus in 1903. Mendelssohn and Berlioz began a lifelong friendship here in 1830. Mendelssohn found the Caffe Greco noisy. Berlioz found it a “detestable tavern . . . dirty, dark and damp.” If anybody knew, it was Berlioz. He came nearly every night.