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» Italy (UK),  1/6/2005

Annunziata Mercuris – owner of the Pavilion Bar, Colle Oppio

Jesper Storgaard Jensen meets a lady who refreshes Romans and tourists alike:

Annunziata Mercuris – owner of the Pavilion Bar, Colle Oppio

Pictures by Jesper Storgaard Jensen and Pierluigi Properzi

The so-called historical centre of ancient – and now modern – Rome is an intense bombardment of all the senses, which has an incredibly tiring effect on even the toughest metropolitan flaneur. So what do you do, when you have run out of energy and when you once again have been caught in an expensive and sneaky tourist trap near Pantheon or the trendy Via Condotti? What do you do when you feel that your daily need for carbon dioxide has been more than fully satisfied and when your whole tortured tourist being is simply craving for green idyll, peace and birds singing? Well, do as the Romans do and go to Nunzia’s pavilion bar in Colle Oppio!

The metropolitan oasis

The small Colle Oppio park is situated in the southern part of Rome’s old Esquilino neighbourhood. You’ll find a way in from Via Labicana or Viale della Domus Aurea. Both these ways connect Colle Oppio with its two far more famous neighbours: Coliseum, which is situated just a stone’s throw away and Nero’s Golden House, which has recently been opened to the public after a thorough restoration. In Colle Oppio you will also find what’s left of Titus’ and Trajan’s baths.
However, the most important attraction for tired feet and dry throats is the small, green pavilion bar, situated in a corner of Colle Oppio, partially hidden between acacias, cypresses and pines. Every morning, summer and winter, for the last 38 years Signora Annunziata Mercuris - just called Signora Nunzia by the regulars - has rolled up the shutters of her small bar, put out chairs and small tables and made the coffee brewer ready for the daily brewing of cappuccino and espresso.
Here the neighbourhood’s local housewives meet to talk about their children and grandchildren, whilst their offspring run about. Elderly men sit and discuss politics and soccer, young couples hold hands blinking in the sunlight and at one of the tables a small group of chess aficionados is following a complicated end game.
In the early hours you’ll meet the young unemployed and university students reading the left-wing paper Il Manifesto. Around midday they are joined by officials from the nearby public offices, who will usually check out the news in the moderate conservative paper Corriere della Sera. At weekends, the mornings are quite busy and many of the Esquilino families gather in Colle Oppio. On these days Nunzia’s coffee brewer is working at high pressure, whilst Alberto - Nunzia’s loyal waiter - drifts around between tables and visitors with customary elegance and an impressive moustache.
Around 1 p.m., as if by magic, the green oasis is suddenly empty. The Roman’s ritual consumption of the lunch hour pasta and a good glass of wine, followed by two hours of compulsory horizontal digestion, is about as sacred as the Catholic Church’s Virgin Mary.
At that time during the summer months, when the mercury in the Italian capital has come to a lazy rest around 35 C, you’ll find shade under the acacias’ thick crowns and Peace of mind - with a capital P - at Nunzia’s place. And all this in the middle of Rome. It’s a small miracle!
The departure of families and children now attracts young intellectuals, Bohemians and elderly men and women with thick books and reading glasses. Once in a while, sweating tourists show up to get a cold refreshment, to check out their aching blisters and where to go next.

The Ponentino

On Saturdays, Nunzia’s corner bar is often frequented by newlyweds attracted by the splendid photo opportunity of the nearby Coliseum. Accompanied by officious photographers, lighting assistants and beautiful-looking bridesmaids, you’ll often see the happy couples posing with a bright red Campari soda at one of the tables.
If you are attentive, during the summer months from the middle of the afternoon, you’ll be able to feel the Ponentino, a fresh and light west wind, which blows caressingly over the guests’ faces and through the leaves of the trees.
Some of Nunzia’s regulars claim that the Ponentino only blows for a couple of hours. Then it disappears between 4 and 5pm, along with the intellectuals, the other bookworms and the bohemians when the spiritual nourishment and whatever Alberto has served, have been consumed.
This leaves the field free for local housewives, matrons and families with children who all of a sudden show up again in the late afternoon. The air will soon be filled with talk and laughter from the tables and sounds from the energetic offspring playing soccer and hunting pigeons.
After the necessary refreshment the tourists depart. If they have already visited the Coliseum and Nero’s Golden House, just on the other side of Via Labicana they will find ancient treasures in the beautiful, three-level San Clemente Church, which is definitely worth a visit.
Around 8 p.m. the last visitors are slowly leaving the oasis. The chess players have collected their pieces, the tourists are long gone and the local families are preparing to go home to cook the evening pasta.
Nunzia puts the coffee brewer to rest, puts the chairs and the small tables into the shed and pulls down the shutters. You’ll see her leaving Colle Oppio with what seems to be a tired gait while the darkness and the quietness slowly closes in on her small pavilion bar. But don’t worry, next morning she’ll be ready again, for as she amusingly puts it: “To really enjoy the peace of mind in Colle Oppio, you need something to run down your throat”.

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