Il pessimo vicini - e il parente piu stretto.
(The worst neighbor - is the closest relation.)
Nook of Naples: Tiberius (42 B.C. to 37 A.D.), the Roman emperor who ruled after the death of Augustus, was a forlorn man who refused to step up to the difficult tasks of leading the Empire. Instead, he left it to, among others, the hated Praetorian Prefects (or Emperor's aides).
The life of Tiberius is a tragic tale of the 'rich and famous' who wished he wasn't. As a young man, he distinguished himself in many campaigns as a general. He also married Vipsania Agrippina. But Emperor Augustus, priming Tiberius to succeed him as Emperor, forced him to divorce and marry Julia the Elder, Augustus' daughter. Tiberius left Vipsania who at the time was pregnant and lost the baby out of shock.
His new wife, Julia, had one baby who died in infancy. She also openly flaunted her affairs, in particular her nightly escapades at the Forum, thus humiliating Tiberius.
The villa in Sperlonga, like Tiberius' life, lies in ruins along the shore of a public beach. The grotto used to showcase mammoth marble statues, including a naked Polyphemus being speared. That impressive marble structure still exists in the accompanying Archeological Museum at the entrance to the complex.
The drive to the villa winds through highways overlooking cliffs. The view, the beach, and the museum are magnificent. The grotto has a cool hollow feel that perhaps mirrors the lonely and sad life of Tiberius.
(I'll write more about Tiberius's life in a later post about the Blue Grotto.)
Getting There: Drive north of Naples toward Formia and then follow the signs to Sperlonga. After that, signs are everywhere to the Tiberius Villa. It's quite easy to find. While there, you can also visit the city of Formia that boasts, among other things, Cicero's tomb. Nearby, the city of Gaeta has Split Rock where the rock split three-ways on the day that Jesus was crucified.
La Cucina Napoletana: Legumes are a staple here. I've eaten saffron rice with lentils as well as tomato sauce with lentils. What's more, Neapolitans make legumes without much seasoning. Astoundingly, this seems to be in keeping with the ancient Roman tradition.
Take a look at this ancient dish called Tisana attributed to the Roman writer Apicio:
1,500 liters water
100 g chickpeas
100 g dry peas
100 g orzo
6 spoonfuls nuoc-nam
1 handful of parsley
1 pinch vinegar
200 g. tops of broccoli
1 good pinch oregano
2 cloves of garlic
1 handful of levistico
2 spoonfuls of oil
Soak for one night and then boil in the water full of 20 g of salt, the chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and orzo. Put thin strips of leek, the fennel, aneto, oregano, garlic, levistico coarsely cut into the pot. Add the nuoc-nam (or, if you don't have it, two anchovies fried with a spoonful of oil). At the end, throw the tops of pre-boiled broccoli into the soup. Add salt and nuoc-nam to taste.
Definitions of the ancient foods:
aneto -- Is a plant with threadlike leaves. It's about 60-90 cm in height and has small yellow flowers. Today in Rome, where the ancient ingredients were often used, it's impossible to find fresh aneto. You can find it dry in specialized stores or at an herbalist, but it's not the same thing.
levistico -- Today this herb is no longer cultivated. It has a pleasant flvor that is a mix between celery and parsley. Using the two can be a substitute.
nuoc-nam -- A brine used often in Indochinese cooking, it's like garum or the liquid of fish of various genera. Optimally, it's used for hot plates rather than raw. Pliny the Elder said "It has the warmth of honey and is so good that it can be drunk from a glass."
(Pictures: View of the beach from the Tiberius Villa, the grotto, the small remaining preserved wall fresco, a view of the complex, the sign announcing the villa.)