Uberto Gasche poses with one of his Bengasche Neapolitan Mastiffs in front of Villa Savoia.
By Denise Flaim
Driving down one of the most ancient roads in one of the world’s most ancient cities, I am looking for another echo of Italy’s glorious, antiquity-choked past: a famous Neapolitan Mastiff kennel called Bengasche.
Today, Via Salaria in Rome is dotted with five-star hotels and boutiques, trendy enough to have been included in one of those “ultimate hipster” travel guides on the Internet. But before Rome was even Rome, an ancient Italic tribe called the Sabines used this thoroughfare to travel to the marshes of the Tiber River, where they procured salt to extend the life of their foodstuffs.
Of course, Rome is the ultimate example of preservation of all that seems impossibly perishable, which is precisely what prompts my visit: I want to meet Uberto Gasche and see his Bengasche dogs – a traditional kennel of big, booming Mastini smack in the middle of cosmopolitan Rome, which has improbably resisted the modern world elbowing in all around it.
Every serious Mastinaro eventually makes the pilgrimage to Gasche’s kennel, as surely as other Roman tourists ogle the Coliseum or crane their necks at the Sistine ceiling. You’ve probably seen the by now-iconic photographs of Gasche holding a dozen or more of his Mastini – bundles of bestiality, held by thin leashes.