The world became a much less interesting place on Wednesday, Jan. 31, with the passing of Ashby Bridgforth (Bridg) Allen, Jr. of Richmond, Va. Since 1964, I have been more than fortunate to call him my friend. He imparted upon me a sly brand of intellectual rigor, a healthy sense of skepticism and a keen and sophisticated appreciation for the arts.
A musician and a philosophical muse, Mr. Allen could (and did) charm his way into and out of any situation. His fingers applied to a guitar produced some of the softest, most sensitive music I‘ll ever hear. And his depth of insights into the people, conflicts and motivations of this world made him a welcome companion at any gathering.
He introduced me to ACC basketball, showed me how to cook shad roe and softshells, and tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to teach me how to play the guitar. With the meager fees I offered in return, he purchased for me a Gram Parsons songbook. When I invited him to Topsail Island in 2005 to celebrate the life of Hunter S. Thompson, he appeared – gift in hand – with a signed, first-edition copy of Thompson’s “The Great Shark Hunt.”
Bridg shared with me a love for anything and everything Italian. Fluent in the language, he reveled at the idea of busking the streets of Rome. He guided me toward the Albergo Santa Chiara, where I am staying for the next few nights, and which I reviewed on A+A last September. I’m repeating that post below today, in his honor.
Bridg Allen was a one-of-a-kind, supportive and loyal friend. He was also a kind, gentle and generous soul. He will be missed a great deal.
Services will be held today at St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond, with a reception there afterwards.
In Rome, the Albergo Santa Chiara
Worn down by three days of non-stop viewings of ceramic tiles at the fantastic Cersaie international exhibition of ceramic tiles in Bologna, Italy, I slipped onto a fast train Saturday morning – and made tracks for Rome.
Waiting there for me was a room at the Albergo Santa Chiara. I’d reserved it months ago, at the urging of my very good friend and confidante, Ashby Bridgforth “Bridg” Allen Jr., of Richmond, Va. Mr. Allen is known for his well-traveled, erudite and highly selective sensibility.
“It’s behind the Pantheon,” he’d said in typical understatement.
The room I found there? It was Spartan and almost monk-like. There was a single bed, a bath, a desk and a tiny-screened television. But once I opened the window and threw back the shutters, I found a sensational, sweeping view.
A 19th-century facade for a church dedicated to St. Claire of Assisi presented itself at eye level, seven saints staring back at me. Three stories below, traffic from motorcycles, Smartcars and travelers on foot moved rapidly through a three-pronged intersection. Light poured in from above, the sky tinted aquamarine at sundown.
Next door is a tiny auditorium in an eighth-century structure. Opera’s on tap every evening at 7:30 in the Theatre of Palazzo Santa Chiara. I was lucky enough to hear works by the Italian greats last night, in a live and searing one-hour session from voices and musicians well-versed in Verdi, Puccini and Vivaldi.
Around the corner is one of Bernini’s last sculptures: A grinning marble elephant with an Egyptian obelisk balanced on its back. Right down the block from that is the Pantheon, a sacred space like none on the planet. It’s a metaphysical magnet for the thousands who flock to see its marble floors from Egypt, Africa and East Asia – not to mention its monumental cylinder, dome and Corinthian columns.
Around its Piazza della Rotonda are restaurants dispensing fine foods and wines – cheeses and veals and Barolos and Barones among them. The waiters are happy to serve and eager to please. Ten minutes away on the Piazza Navona, is Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, its flowing water a font of continuous delight.
There is also the 15-minute walk over to his Trevi Fountain, and all the awe it inspires. It’s crowded in the evening, to be sure, but there’s relief at a way-station on the stroll back to the hotel. Stop at the Ristorante Toscano, “Il Buco,” on the di Capriano Nicole as you walk. Ask for Alfredo. He’ll serve you the finest veal with mushrooms and sauce you’ll ever eat. And that’s a promise.
So yes, Mr. Allen: The Santa Chiara is indeed behind the Pantheon. But it’s also on the edge of one of the most interesting and dynamic neighborhoods in all of Italy. And it remains, until today, one of the world’s best-kept secrets.
For more, go here.