One morning in mid-September I was exploring a part of Centro Storico that I didn’t think I’d visited before (although I later learned that the 116 bus drives right through it). I looked up, as usual—you miss so much if you don’t—and stopped dead in my tracks. Right in front of me was a church and on top of it was a deer’s head with a cross sticking out of it! That’s not the typical decoration on the top of any church that I’ve ever seen, but this basilica honors St. Eustachio (St. Eustace).
The legend says that during a hunt, a Roman warrior saw a deer with a cross on its head. Later that night the warrior received a prophecy that he would suffer for Christ. Following this prophecy, the warrior became a Christian. He was later denounced as a Christian and was reduced to abject poverty. Eustachio was then called up for military duty once again and successfully defeated the barbarians. Upon his return he refused an order to sacrifice to idols in thanks for the military victory. Emperor Hadrian ordered Eustachio to be thrown to the lions; however, at the sight of Eustachio, the ferocious lions turned as docile as cats. Ultimately Eustachio was martyred together with his family by being burned in a bronze bull.
Several weeks later I went into the church, which is quite simple and spare—not at all typical of so many of the ornate churches in Rome.
In November our daughter Kate and I followed a Fodor’s walk through the “Baroque quarter” and stopped just around the corner from the Italian Parliament, as the tour book suggested, for a cup of the alleged best coffee in Rome. According to Fodor, “There’s no better place than Il Caffé, which a true Roman will tell you, serves the best coffee in Rome, if not the universe.” We snagged a table outside and ordered cappuccini. I was elated to sit down and excited to taste the best coffee in Rome. A few minutes later I was shocked to find out that it IS the best cappuccino—by far—that I’ve had since I’ve been here. It’s the best I’ve ever drunk! I wanted another cup! I want a cup right this minute! So imagine my wonder when I leaned my head back to get the last sip and saw looming above me the deer’s head with the cross sticking out of it!
Yesterday our Italian class resumed after a three-week holiday. We talked about what we did during the holidays, and Rossella, our professoressa, described a trip to Il Caffé for a cup of the best caffé in Rome. So far, Rossella hasn’t led us astray, telling us about Fassi, the palace of cold, for example, so if she says Il Caffé serves the best caffé in Rome, I’m on board! Unfortunately for me, Rossella brought a bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans as a treat for the class, and they are great! So I know I can never go back to Il Caffé without indulging in those candies. That may put the kibosh on my New Year’s resolution to lose a few pounds before my surgery in March. I’ll try to resist . . .
So here’s my tip: Go to Il Caffé in Piazza di Sant’Eustachio—about two blocks from the Pantheon—and treat yourself to the best coffee in Rome. Pay the extra price for an outdoor table. Splurge on some chocolate-covered espresso beans. Face east, look up, and toast the deer with the cross on its head. If you’re not smiling when you leave, there’s no hope for you!