It seemed fitting for Alitalia to introduce its new flight attendant uniforms with a runway show in Rome. After all, Italy worships fashion. So media from six continents were gathered in the birthplace of the paparazzi to ogle the new collection, the first sartorial update in some twenty years.
A spectacle of lighting, music and projections accompanied Italian haute couturier Ettore Bilotta's designs evoking the Golden Age of Cinecitta with gloves, handbags and pert hats in Campari red and forest green. Sophia Lauren, Anita Ekberg and Claudia Cardinale would be jealous. The collection was tailor-made entirely in Italy by a team of 500 people, with fabrics from Tuscany, silk from Como, leather accessories from Naples and shoes from Marche.
This retro look and the "Made of Italy" ethos is part of the broader renaissance under way at Alitalia in its partnership with Etihad Airways.
Italy consistently ranks as a top tourist destination. Now, Alitalia's new international management team is determined to make the airline once again synonymous with Italy.
Famous Italian brands have a leading role in the airline's makeover. Bulgari will provide amenity kits in business class, Frette the bedding and Richard Ginori all the china, silver and glassware.
The Italian experience begins on takeoff. A new menu in business class featuring superb regional cuisine is available any time throughout the flight. The Materan pasta with mozzarella and cherry tomatoes met the standards of a top-level Italy eatery. For the secondi, a sea bass fillet in a Livornese tomato sauce was moist and flavorful, a surprise for any fish this writer has ever caught flying at 38,000 feet.
And if you need any reasons to go to Italy, there are plenty.
Rome is not a city but a dream, a vision of beauty, a celebration of all that pleases the senses and an exaltation of the spirit.
So it has been for centuries. Rome has long been a favorite stop for Europe's aristocracy.
Hotel D'Inghilterra began life in the 19th century as the Contessa of Torlonia's guest house for British royalty visiting her at the family palazzo across the cobblestone street. Keats made it home before it was converted into one of Rome's most famed hotels. In its current incarnation, it has provided lodging for celebrity royalty including Elizabeth Taylor and Ernest Hemingway. The hotel can arrange a private dinner or party at one of the pallazzo's frescoed reception rooms. How very Roman.
Plush pink sofas, green Chinese porcelains, dark wood and various antique objets adorning the Inghilterra's sitting rooms and library make the hotel feel like home. That is, if your home happens to be a Park Avenue apartment or London club.
The Bond Bar, all mahogany paneling and leather seating, is the place to go for a martini (shaken, not stirred) or, if you prefer, a Campari cocktail.
The restaurant, Cafe Romano, welcomes a local crowd for lunch and dinner. Outdoor seating on Via Bourgognona provides a front row seat for the best people watching while enjoying zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, fresh house made pasta with prawns and unbelievably delicious pistachio gelato made in house. It's a place to see and be seen for stylish Romans.
Hotel de Russie
The Tsarist elite trod the paths of the secret garden behind the Hotel de Russie. Nijinsky, Diaghelev and Picasso followed in their footsteps and slept in what is one of the finest hotels in Rome.
Suites are designed like private apartments, the finest featuring extravagant terraces overlooking ancient gardens and the nearby Piazza de Popolo. Cocteau noted he could pick oranges from his balcony.
You don't have to be exiled, royalty or even a hotel guest to enjoy the splendor of the Jardine de Russie. The restaurant offers an lunch buffet that features a scrumptious and seemingly endless selection of antipasti, pasta, ceviche, pizza, fish, meats and dolci with al fresco dining in the gorgeous garden.
The glittering jewels and opulent fabrics displayed in the luxe emporia of Rome's historic center evoke the splendor of the imperial roman court.
And so does Rome's food.
A knot of stylish Italians chatter and smoke in front of a doorway on the ancient Via Giulia behind Campo di Fiori a block from the Tiber at 11 pm. It's not a nightclub, but Assunta Madre, known for the freshest fish and seafood in Rome. No wonder -- owner Gianni Micalusi has a fishing boat as well as restaurants in London, Barcelona and Milan. The boat, like the restaurant is named for his mother.
Pacino, DiNiro, Armani and Coppola gaze from photos on the Wall of Fame upon the real celebrities of the place: prawns, langoustines and fish of all scales stacked in tubs just inside the entrance.
Women in tight dresses and stiletto heels and men of varying ages who love them, bearded hipsters to silver foxes, pack the tables inside and on the patio. All carry themselves with the bearing of the Roman who, thanks to family, profession and history, feels a certain superiority and obligation to enjoy life and all its pleasures.
And surely here in this restaurant there is plenty to be enjoyed. Plateaux heavy with giant red prawns, oysters and langoustines perch above crisp white table clothes as a waitress parades around with two massive green lobsters on a plate for all to see. Couples and groups arrive steadily as the staff scrambles to set up more tables in the street that's serves as the restaurant's rear patio.
The waiter previews what's fresh and asks what we prefer and the symphony of seafood begins. The first movement, sonata: carpaccio of red prawn, pounded paper thin and slicked with a sheen of olive oil. Another carpaccio of sea bass arrives with a thin Sardinian bread known as carazoa.
A variation on the theme: a sea bass roll with green herbs inside, "sashimi of Perugia," the waiter exclaims.
The waiter rushes back carrying a plate of sea bream tartare with fresh avocado, informing us it came off the boat 30 minutes ago and still has the scent of the sea. Crudo crescendo.
The pasta movement begins scherzo with a sea bass and lemon concoction flecked with green herbs, delicate and delicious. This is followed by a hearty tonnorello with lobster and cherry tomatoes.
There is simply no room for the whole fishes and steamed lobsters other diners are avidly tucking into. A small cheesecake, not too sweet, topped with wild berries is the perfect coda.
Italian cuisine conjures its magic from the freshest ingredients of the highest quality. Gianni Micalusi is Merlin and Assunta Madre his workshop.
This family owned trattoria has been wowing Romans and visitors alike with dishes from the Marche region for years. Unpretentious, moderately priced, with food of a quality that would command far more at one of New York's tonier restaurants, Trattoria Monti is not to be missed.
If you've never heard of red onion flan, don't let that stop you from ordering it. Thinly sliced onions, cooked until tantalizingly sweet, almost caramelized, are molded into a flan-shaped mound then placed in a puddle of gorgonzola cream that provides the perfect counterpoint.
Green tagliatelle with fava beans, chicory and pecorino burst with the flavors of rustic springtime. The pasta with anchovy and parmesan drizzled with oil was satisfyingly salty and slick.
Sea bass stuffed with bread crumbs, pine nuts and raisins came dressed in a light sauce of steamed cherry tomatoes in a perfect balance of consistencies and flavors. You could almost imagine making it at home from grandma's recipe, if your grandmother was Italian.
Trattoria Monti reminds us that long before the moniker "farm to table" was invented, the Italians were doing it every day.
Through empire, invasion, war and globalization, Italy has maintained a unique culture. Now, a new international partnership of Alitalia and Etihad Airways is using Italy's national patrimony to renew an iconic brand.