This is an excerpt from an article on staying in Roman convents that appeared in the September 2007 issue of Dream of Italy –
The smell of holy water hits me the moment I’m buzzed into Fraterna Domus, which sits just a few blocks from Piazza Navona. A slim woman in her 50’s, with pixie hair cut, navy blue sweater and skirt introduces herself as Sister Milena.
“Where’s your habit?” I want to ask, but hold back and get the scoop later from Sister Cecilia, the youngest of the four nuns who live here. “We’re an order founded in 1967, after Vatican II, here to help the poor,” she tells me. “We are not different from the people we help, so we don’t dress differently from them.”
The building was formerly used for offices, apartments and artisan workshops till the sisters moved in. Now polished pine tables and wood block paintings of saints and Madonnas in bold primary colors decorate the lobby.
My basement room is as stark as I’d imagine a nun’s cell to be, with an IKEA-style closet and twin bed. Over my desk there’s a friendly looking Jesus, with long flowing hair, moustache and goatee. The closet-sized bathroom is one of those old fashioned set-ups where there’s no shower separation — water drains into the slanted floor and there’s also a gizmo I’ve never seen before: a spigot sticking out from the toilet, so it can double as a bidet.
The simple atmosphere is calming after running around the curvy Baroque splendors of the neighborhood. I don’t even mind the 11 p.m. curfew. I bring a bottle of wine back to my room and stay up late writing and sipping from a paper cup, feeling a twinge of naughtiness: Will one of the sisters knock on my door and bust me for drinking? Outside my tiny alley-level window, signorine in high heels clickety-clack by – their breathy exchanges with their boyfriends adds a spicy touch.
— Susan Van Allen
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