What I did During Spring Break: The American Academy in Rome.

In recovery at the Academy.

If there is one recommendation I can make to anyone in the art industry at this moment of global doom, it is: Become really good friends with a fellow at the American Academy in Rome so that you can stay there. Located on a hilltop, above trendy Trastevere, the Academy houses more than two dozen fellows, who live in a McKim, Mead and White building and dine on a local foods menu inspired by Alice Waters. After long days of work and study, they retire to the well-tended garden, where they reflect on the day’s drinking thinking. It’s like a 19th century sanatorium for the nervous children of the well-to-do. I kept expecting to see a nurse rearranging patients in wicker wheelchairs on the patio. 

I made it into the Academy as a free-loading guest of San Suzie. For a whopping seven days I hung out in what is effectively academia central, a geek’s wet dream of artists, architects and writers (many with advanced degrees) working on ambitious projects and thinking deep thoughts. There were recitations in Latin. A speech-laden meal that celebrated Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. And a champagne cocktail party for visiting artist Jenny Holzer. Party on, dudes! Any other spare moments I may have had were spent drinking cappuccinos in the company of a barista who told me I looked like Salma Hayek. Clearly, the Academy is an oasis from reality. Kinda like a Canyon Ranch for Ph.D.’s, but with open bar. All I gotta say is that it’s the bestest, smartest hotel I ever stayed at. Though some alum really needs to think about funding a hot tub. 

Grazie, Academy and San Suzie! (And to Brad and Dona for loaning us their space.)



Click on images to supersize.

The venerable academicians are housed in this stately manse designed by McKim Mead and White, designers of New York’s old Penn Station.

The rear of the building at sunset.

The building is littered with plenty of
spolia, the fragments of ancient ruins that are frequently recycled as decorative elements in buildings all over Italy.

The interior courtyard, with an ornamental fountain by Paul Manship, the same guy who did the Prometheus in Rockefeller Center.

Days at the Academy begin with a peek at the International Herald Tribune and a leisurely cappuccino in the private cafe. The wall behind our barista (loved him!) is decorated with the vintage portraits of fellows past. One can only imagine some of the stories behind the faces…

“After a short spell as a model for Tom of Finland, Chet gave up on the arts entirely and decided to accept his father’s offer of a position at the family firm in Greenwich.”

“A renowned residential architect in his native Palm Springs, Snowden never met a girl and a martini he didn’t like.”

“Known around the academy as ‘Bucky,’ the adventurous Ward Walker Choate IV would die in a tragic incident involving a python and a syphillitic prostitute during an extended deployment in Burma.”

In the afternoons, Rome Prize winners retire to the garden to ponder several millennia worth of historical events.

Then there’s a little bocci on the Academy’s private court.

The daily allotment of drinking can never come too soon. On this particular evening, we sipped champagne and munched on olives in the company of artistes Jenny Holzer and Carrie Mae Weems.

Rome Prize winners don’t eat without engaging in deep thought: A presentation on  Jefferson and macaroni. It turns out that the President was responsible for bringing it to the U.S., making him the Godfather of Mac & Cheese.

The Academy’s two-headed seal: Janus.

Arrivederci to all the fellows, old and new! ;-)

Do you have a pile of degrees and a burning interest in studying all things Rome? You can apply to the academy here.


  1. Deschanel

    Looks heavenly..I think I just had a little mental vacation looking at the pictures. Thanks!