Since ancient times, the Appian Way has led
south from Rome into the Alban Hills. When
Perry picked us up at the airport, he drove
down a modern highway that essentially
follows that ancient one.
“As you all know, the Appian Way heads south,
straight as an arrow’s flight and flat as a table.
It’s not until you reach the vicinity of Mount Alba
that the road takes a few turns and you begin
to ascend a bit. There are some grand homes
in that area. Pompey has a villa in the woods
not too far off the road. So did Publius
Clodius. I wish I had remembered that, and
been more cautious.”
These are the words of Gordianus the Finder,
hero of Steven Saylor's A Murder on the Appian
Way. He is describing the same scene in the
year 52 B.C.
What a surprise to find our family living in a
villa on Lake Albano, the very site of those
grand ancient ones.
The villa is lovely, as are the views of the lake
below and Castel Gandolfo, the papal
summer home where Pope Benedict began
his retirement, across from it to the right. On
the left side rises the volcanic peak of Mount
Gordianus describes the scene heading away
from Rome. “Mount Alba loomed straight
ahead of us," he said, "steadily growing
larger. Clouds had gathered at its summit,
casting a shadow over the higher slopes, so
that the mountain seemed to erupt from the
surrounding sunlit plains like a brooding
mass of doubt."
I had no doubt as my eyes wandered to copies
of fascinating objects from various periods of
history that filled the villa, and out to the lush
green and dark stone off the kitchen. This
would be the best vacation ever.
We had a light lunch of fresh fruit and veggies,
bread and cheese at the large kitchen table
downstairs. Later Perry made pasta for
dinner, and Renee made a salad. Our
conversation--about family, politics, retirement,
aging and serial careers--was broken by
several fits of heavy rain and thunder.
It was lovely to be sheltered in such beauty
while gazing out at the storm. I felt coddled
and loved and protected.
Frank's brother Paul and his wife Cari stayed
in a room to the left of the sitting room on the
ground floor. Our family had a suite of rooms
on the right, with a double for Frank and me
and twin beds for Kathy and Katyana. Robert
slept on a pad on the floor.
Perry and Renee had the floor above, and
there was a double living room and large
kitchen on the floor below us. A stairway
outside the kitchen led down to the pool level,
which included a grotto, a lawn and a ping-
The next day, we went back into the city on two
buses and the Metro to sightsee in ancient
Rome. It was easy to recall that Rome is the
birthplace of graffiti, with crazy traffic pouring
down winding narrow roads where stop signs
and lights are seen as mere suggestions.
Fancy modern shops are marred by graffiti,
sophisticated men and women drive big cars
with government plates, buzzing wasps of
Vespas weave in and out of traffic, their
youthful riders in helmets recalling gladiators,
taking on traffic, pedestrians, locals and
On the way in, you pass deep woods of vivid
green broken by walls of ancient gray stone,
with occasional towns with steep walls of
yellow or orange. The bus careens around
curves, passing between parked cars with no
more than an imagination of space on either
“Oak trees . . . once the road starts ascending
to higher ground at Bovillae, the trees get
thicker. The top of the mountain is a veritable
forest," says Gordianus.
The round medieval tower at Marino, where we
changed buses, prompted me to chant,
"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair."
"Toward the west," Gordianus continues, "I
was able to look down on the wooded hillside
above the Appian Way, catching glimpses of
the wide ribbon of road below. Beyond the
road were the foothills, where shreds of mist
still clung to treetops, and beyond the foothills
a wide expanse of open plains and farmland
extended to the distant blue-green sea. Above
all was the deep blue bowl of the cloudless
sky. If the day remained clear, the sunset from
this vantage point would be extraordinary."
And even though it was cloudy, the sunset still
was extraordinary. I stood on the balcony of
the villa, looking out over the lake toward the
pope's summer residence which now crowns
the hill to my right, with the sun setting behind
it, splashing the charcoal clouds with vivid pink.
Below, Kathy and Katyana play in the infinity
pool which, from my perspective, seems to
spill off into the lake itself.
Rows of golden lights gird the lake, as the
silver moon brightens against the grays, pinks
and blues of the sky, which are reflected in
both lake and pool. A soft, fresh breeze gives
no hint of the storm of the night before. I thank
God for the overwhelming sense of peace.
The next morning, I go down to the kitchen and
out into the fresh air of one of the many
balconies on the villa. The round lake filling
the caldera of the long-dead volcano reflects
the paling moon in the charcoal blue of the
sky. Bird calls, a distant train and a faraway
rooster's crow accompany the growing pink of
the sky and the lake with the dark bulk of
Mount Alba rising from the opposite shore.
As Gordianus put it, “I turned and walked to the
opposite side of the balcony with the morning
light on my face and looked down onto a wood-
encircled lake hidden from the lower world. Its
placid surface, as smooth as polished silver,
reflected the forested cone of Mount Alba. The
sun had just risen from behind the mountain
and for a moment seemed to be balanced on
its highest peak.”
Our villa on Lake Albano (above left) with Kathy and Katyana in the swimming pool across the lake from the
Pope's summer palace at Castel Gandolfo. Frank and I (left) relax in the downstairs living room with its
Robert (left) in the grotto off the swimming pool, our hosts Perry
and Renee in the pool (below) and gray clouds streaked with
pink from the dying sun (right).