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Amber Paulen

The San Calisto, Rome

For many years Simon and I have been going to the San Calisto bar in Trastevere, Rome. We will take our friends there before we will take them to the Colosseum. It is a place that exemplifies the very best of Rome, and nowhere have I read such a perfect description of it than in Geoff Dyer’s essay about Rome, Decline and Fall. Reading it makes me want to head out across the city and pull up a chair on its terrace to while away a full afternoon.

The Calisto was such a fixture of life in Trastevere that it was hard to imagine a time when it—or its clientele—had not been there. Restaurants and resorts often boast of their “exclusive” status, but most of the world’s best places are the opposite of exclusive—and nowhere was less exclusive than the Calisto. The Calisto made a prison look exclusive. It wasn’t just that everyone was welcome; everyone was actually there. Heroin addicts, film directors, journalists, models, garbage collectors, tourists, drunks, nutter, doctors, waiters from other bars that had already closed—they all ended up at the Calisto. Some started out there as well. There was no need ever to arrange to meet anyone at the San Calisto: you simply assumed they would be there. Most of my friends went to the San Calisto; some of them I saw only at the San Calisto. On busy nights—from June to the middle of August and from late August to the middle of October—it was impossible to tell where the Calisto terrace ended and the nearby piazza began. Parked mopeds became chairs, cars became tables. It was as hot at one in the morning as it is in England at one in the afternoon in the middle of a heat wave. No wonder the air was heavy with desire.

(Thanks to Elizabeth who directed me to this great essay, perhaps one of my favorite things I’ve read about Rome. Her ebook, The Marco Chronicles is also set in Rome, and is both hilarious and poignant.)


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