Married to an Italian…….
A short course on pasta italiana
So I’m back in Rome, ferrying my daughter to a friend’s house for dinner and the friend calls as my daughter’s getting out of the car, to know if she can “buttare la pasta”. “Throwing the pasta in the water”, a loose translation of one of the most important Italian phrases, is so much a part of Italian life they even joke that police cars or any form of transport or person in a hurry right about mealtime must be rushing to get home as the family has called to say they’ve just “thrown the pasta in the water” to cook, and “per carità” - “Heaven forbid” they should have to eat pasta “scotta” – overdone pasta! Pasta must be “al dente” – with just the right amount of bite to it, meaning that when taking a strand of pasta out of the pot to taste for readiness, there should be just a whisper of that uncooked white core for your teeth to bite into. Drain the pasta, sauce it and serve it “subito” –immediately! No waiting around, no letting the pasta sit on one side in a colander with the sauce on the other side for guests to serve themselves – per carità! The pasta would become a gluey, inedible tangle, with all the bite drained out. In Italy, “Family style” means everyone sits down and eats together, with a steaming bowl of dressed pasta in the middle of the table, begging to be served to each table companion as quickly as possible! Leftover unsauced pasta in a baggie in the fridge – an Italian would shiver in horror (Italian tips on what to do with leftover pasta at the end).
Italians certainly don’t have an exclusive on noodles, which have existed ever since humans learned to cultivate cereal and then to grind and mix flour with water and cook it in a myriad of ways, but their intense love affair with pasta in its close to 200 forms has arguably gained them the right to pontificate.
By law, pasta in Italy must be made of 100% durum semolina flour. This is what makes Italian pasta, pasta! It’s the hard wheat flour, high in gluten, not the shape of the flour and water paste, that defines pasta as we know it today. The better quality pasta is made using a bronze mould (look for “trafilati al bronzo” on the package) as this leaves the surface slightly rough which serves to entice the sauce into its ridges, thus exalting the flavour of the perfect marriage of pasta and sauce. Another important aspect is the drying time and temperature: the longer (up to 50 hours) the drying time and the lower the temperature, the better the quality of the finished product.
Many of us believe that it was Marco Polo, the Venetian merchant and explorer born in 1252, who first introduced pasta to Italy. Aside from the fact that this appears to be an American marketing strategy originating in 1929 (what he did introduce Italians to, however, was stuffed pasta, as in the various forms of Chinese “stuffed dumplings”), you may be surprised to discover that pictures, believed to depict instruments for making pasta and actual “pasta” in a form close to lasagne, have been found in Etruscan tombs in Cerveteri, just outside Rome. The interpretation of these archeological finds is disputed by some historians; however, one thing is sure: the Etruscans used spelt flour (remember that modern pasta is defined by the hard wheat flour it is made with) to make their “pasta”. The Romans were apparently quite fond of their Etruscan friends’ “pasta”, calling it laganum “meaning long strips of dough” (from the Greek lasanon which refers to a three legged cooking pot). The melding of the Greek and Latin words appear to describe a process by which flour and water are mixed together, formed into a sort of sheet and then cooked, from which we get the Italian lasagne. The earliest traces of “pasta” recipes in Italy can be found in the ancient Roman cookery book called De re coquinariadating back to 200BC. “Tracta”, The Roman predecessor of pasta was closer to a kind of lasagne or philo dough – still not pasta as we know it today. Early records of a kind of boiled – not baked - dough can also be found in the Jerusalem Talmud; still a far cry from the boiled and sauced noodles we associate with Italy’s trademark dish.
Modern day pastasciutta or dried pasta which keeps longer and travels better than pasta fresca, can probably trace its origins back to the Arab dominance in Sicily in the 800s. The Arab Pasta, called itryya, meaning “string shaped dough”, which still survives in the modern Italian pasta called “tria” in the south and “trenette” in the north, was traded throughout the Mediterranean. The climate in Sicily was perfect for the cultivation of durum wheat, which is native to the Middle East, and Sicily soon became an important producer and exporter of both pasta and the durum wheat essential for its production. The word maccaroni can also be traced back to Sicily and most likely refers to the way pasta was made. Mmaccare in Sicilian dialect, meaning to press or squeeze with force, describes how pasta is shaped. The word pasta itself means paste or dough, obviously referring to the consistency of the rolled out pasta, before it is shaped and dried. Spaghetto means string, the plural being spaghetti. Farfalle, butterflies; mezze maniche, short sleeves; rotelle, wagon wheels; linguine, little tongues……. Sicilian macaroni recipes are some of the oldest and reflect the Arab influence of using various spices, and of course, no tomatoes - pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines), paste con le melanzane (pasta with eggplant).
Naples and Genoa were soon to become major pasta producing areas as well, due to both their favourable geographical positions as port towns and ideal climate which lent itself perfectly to the drying of pasta.That brings us to sauce. Now, as you probably know, tomatoes are not native to Europe and were mostly used as ornamental plants when first brought over by Columbus as they were considered to be poisonous. Commerce between Spain and Sicily first brought the tomato to the island. The tomato then made its way to Naples thanks to the Spanish dominion and the first recorded recipe using a tomato sauce to dress pasta can be found in 1779. The rest is history, as they say.
"It will be maccheroni, I swear to you, that will unite Italy." Giuseppe Garibaldi, on liberating Naples in 1860
What to do with leftover pasta? Here’s what we do:
- Make a frittata: beat enough eggs together to moisten the quantity of leftover dressed pasta, add a pinch of salt for each egg and a few spoonfuls of parmigiano. Pour into a well-oiled frying pan over medium heat. Lift up the sides as it cooks to let the uncooked eggs spill under the frittata to cook. When it gets too difficult to coax the uncooked eggs underneath, place the pan in the oven with the grill on to brown the top.
- Pasta “jumped in a pan” - saltata in padella : simply heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan, dump in the leftover dressed pasta and continually stir as the pasta becomes “crispy”. It’s done when it reaches the level of crispiness you like.
- Baked Pasta - pasta al forno: make a white sauce, add it to the leftover dressed pasta with any thimble sized chunks of cheese you may have, pour into a baking dish you’ve prepared with butter and breadcrumbs, dust top with more breadcrumbs and parmigiano, dot with butter. Place in oven, about 350° (150°c), until bubbly and brown on top. This is how I make a white sauce in the microwave (from the Microwave Gourmet) - easy, no lumps or continual stirring!
- 4 T flour
- 4 T butter
- 2 c. warm milk
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat butter in 4 c. glass measure for 3 min
- Whisk in flour and cook for 3 min
- Whisk in milk and cook for 3 min
- Whisk to remove lumps and cook another 3 min.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Sources: the internet, the now defunct Roman Cookery school, and personal experience
Submitted by Lisa Moore Nardini, July 2012
Best Gelato in Rome
Every Roman has a favorite gelateria, which they will swear is the best in town. To be in the running, the gelato should be made fresh every day on the premises, using ingredients dictated by the season. Extra points are given for a wide range of creative flavors. Old Bridge Gelateria could easily be overlooked, with its small store front, but I was attracted by the swarm of people outside, and then by the crowds pushing and shoving at the counter. But the servers were upbeat and kind and the quality was worth the effort. For only €1,50 you can get your choice of three flavors topped with whipped cream, and there are enough exotic flavors to make the selection challenging, yet none of them are so weird that you wonder what they were thinking. I took the standard combo of vanilla, dark chocolate and strawberry — and became a loyal patron of Old Bridge. You'll find it near the Vatican off the Piazza Risorgimento, where you can sit and enjoy your gelato while watching the pigeons and young lovers basking in the sun.
Via Bastioni di Michelangelo 5 (near the entrance to the Vatican museums)
Submitted by Genna Burton, February 2011
More great gelato in Rome.
Lake Bolsena on a Scooter
Since the Colosseum’s glory days, the citizens of Rome have taken a special pleasure in watching outsiders battle for their lives. In the Romans' defense, the gladiator game has experienced an eloquent evolution over the last thousand years. The modern-day Maximus, armed with a bucket hat and neck pouch, willingly follows the umbrella-waving tour guide to the gates of the Colosseum where he actually pays to enter the arena! Before he realizes his peril, he's clutching ten Euros worth of roses — thrust upon him by an itinerant vendor as a “free gift” — and his wallet is missing. If you think tossing tourists to the lions is an exaggeration, then you’ve probably never exchanged 180 Euros for 200 lbs. of rented-Vespa, as I have.
I became a Roman gladiator on a sunny morning this September thanks to the Bici Baci scooter rental company. Several days prior, I had visited their website, with its pictures of other tourists gleefully enjoying a ride on the back of a vintage Vespa, and I reserved one for myself. Having been in Rome for several weeks already, I considered myself too familiar with the city to enjoy a guided tour, and opted instead for a solo rental. No concept of personal endangerment occurred to me, so I considered myself responsibly over-prepared when I arrived in a full-body leather jumpsuit.
Everyone in the establishment spoke perfect English, so I was able to pay, get fitted for a helmet, and plopped onto a scooter in less than ten minutes. They operated like a NASCAR team, and I felt slightly hurried as I questioned my scooter-assistant on how to get to the Via Cassia.
“How far are you intending to take the scooter outside of Rome?” he asked, hesitating in his attempt to adjust my helmet strap somewhere between asphyxiating tightness and blowing-in-the-wind loose. The honest answer was that I had a very elaborate plan already formulated to ride the scooter 120 kilometers to Lake Bolsena, which really didn’t look that far from Rome on my map.
“Oh, not far, really,” I mumbled, studying the handle bars and wondering if he was going to show me how to turn the engine on. “I read that the Cassia was the pilgrim’s route to Rome, and I’m Catholic, and…um…I was hoping to get a picture of it for my mom.”
With the same look that I’m sure gladiators’ attendants gave them before sending them out to face the lions, he told me to make the next two left turns, cross the river at the Olympic Stadium, and follow the signs to the Cassia.
“Just follow the signs,” has achieved platinum status on the list of Famous Last Words, yet, miraculously, I navigated all the way to the Cassia without hitting a pedestrian or getting lost once! That it took me four more hours to travel the 120 kilometers to Lake Bolsena is due to the simple fact that my 125 cc. Vespa was not built for highway travel. Not that the scenic Cassia is a highway by any means, but with my bottom perched precariously atop a rumbling scooter with a red, flashing “SERVICE” light on its dash-board, it certainly felt like a highway. Maximum velocity was 55k per hour, and I was quickly relegated to the extreme right shoulder. Other motorists flew past, leaving me in a wind-tunnel of dust. I’m sure I would have immensely enjoyed exploring Rome with the wind in my face like a true local. Yet, out on the open road, even the light breeze felt like it was about to suck me off to Oz.
Finally arriving at the Hotel Zodiaco, I flattened my hair and attempted to regain my composure. Yet, when I gave my name to a clerk in the cramped lobby, I was informed that the hotel was overbooked and my reserved room was unavailable. The apologetic woman explained that she had arranged for me to stay at a nearby campground for the same rate, seventy Euro. Now, I wasn’t sure what exactly a “bungalow” would entail, but I was fairly certain it would involve mosquitoes. “Ma’am,” I began, trying to remain calm and polite, “I rode here from Rome on a rented-scooter with no one but two teddy bears accompanying me. I would really appreciate it if you could recommend another hotel where I could stay tonight.”
Five minutes later I was back on my scooter, armed with a complimentary map of Bolsena on which a long stretch of road along the lakeshore had been marked with several stars. I took my time navigating through the main part of town so I could soak in the serene, ancient atmosphere. September is technically considered the “off-season” for the area, so I only had to avoid hitting one or two locals out wandering along the narrow, cobblestoned streets.
The moment I walked into the lobby of the Hotel Lorena I knew losing my reservation at the Zodiaco hotel was the best luck I had had thus far. Set right on the glittering lake, surrounded by thick green, flowering bushes, there was a room available for fifty Euro. Nearly delirious with delight, I was shown to my small, simply furnished room overlooking a white marble fountain and the hotel’s private gelateria. I took a few minutes to nurse the minor injuries I had sustained when the scooter fell on me during my second attempt to park it, then I grabbed my camera and set out on foot.
Bolsena and its lake proved to be worth the trip. The lake was an unimaginable shade of blue that gave off a shimmering silver glow as the sun began to set. I walked up and through the town, stopping to buy a toy Vespa souvenir in one of the many local gift shops and to photograph a striking blue frieze above the main entrance to La Basilica di Santa Cristina. I explored the rows of ancient houses and shops which led up to the Rocca di Bolsena. The climb to the castle was short for the breathtaking beauty of the view it afforded me. I could well imagine why a 13th-century noble had chosen to build his castle from this hilltop, where he could look down on his subjects as well as the volcanic lake, which appeared to be studded with jewels.
I arrived at the castle’s museum around three in the afternoon and found that it was closed from one to four every day. So I wandered along the steep, narrow perimeter taking pictures of the extraordinary view. By the time I had fully explored the castle armaments and walked back into town, the locals had emerged from their mid-afternoon slumber. What had been a quiet, sleepy town when I arrived was now full and alive. Friends met for coffee under café umbrellas and people on bikes cruised along pedestrian-only roads.
I passed the rest of the afternoon wandering through a long stretch of shoreline, admiring the sand, flecked in shades of blues and greens. At sunset, I jogged along the boardwalk and down each of the long piers, working up a formidable appetite. I took my time selecting from a multitude of restaurants until I found one that looked full and friendly and had a variety of menu items senza glutine.
The friendly hostess at the Antica Trattoria del Corso seated me at a table for four towards the back. Even after a fair amount of solo traveling, I’m still uncomfortable eating dinner alone, so I ordered a glass of wine along with an appetizer of mixed cheeses and lake fish. Much to my surprise, I was presented with a platter of cheeses twice the size of my head and a full bottle of wine, which only made me feel more like a sad, lonely traveler.
Most likely out of pity, I was soon joined by a charming German couple on a post-retirement second honeymoon, who first confirmed with the waitress that seven Euros bought an entire bottle of Est! Est!! Est!!! vino and then asked me about my adventure. Over the next hour, I awed them with a slightly enhanced tale of my scooter skills, and they told me the story of the wine I had ordered.
Produced in another Lake Bolsena town, the wine was also called the “Pearl of Northern Lazio.” In 1111, the servant of a local aristocrat was instructed to label all quality wines he encountered with the word “Est.” When the servant tried the Montefiscone moscatello he exclaimed, “Est! Est!! Est!!!”
Since I agreed with the servant’s evaluation, the next morning at sunrise I loaded the re-corked bottle into my scooter’s trunk before departing. I hoped to complete my journey before any Italian in their right mind was out of bed, and, for the most part, I had a much more relaxing cruise on an empty Via Cassia all the way back to Bici Baci’s doorstep. My personal attendant from the day before helped me unload my two teddy bears and a half-empty bottle of wine without comment, most likely because he was speechless with shock when I returned alive. My only complaint, I told him in parting, was that the Vespa wasn’t as fast as my “motorcycle” back in the States. Aside from that, my weekend had been memorably unique.
Submitted by Corielle Heath, October 8, 2010
Caffé Anyone? Any and Every Way You Like It!
When I moved to Rome a few years ago, I had visions of being awash in excellent coffee, as I ordered cappuccinos and lattes with abandon. Little did I realize what really awaited me — so many choices that I would soon end up seasick!
“Signora, cappuccino? With or without schiuma? With? A little or a lot?”
Schiuma? So many choices, so little time. So little time, you say? Isn’t Rome supposed to be the most laid back of European capitals? Not exactly. While normally a charming and accommodating lot, even Italian barmen can get testy if one hesitates too long, since there is usually a colorful and sometimes impatient line of customers waiting to place their orders and start their day. Beginning around 9:30 am at the bar I frequent, La Buvette on via Vittoria, any and all of the following begin to arrive: a string of salesgirls trying to catch up on the latest gossip, have breakfast, and dash off to many of the fanciest shops in Rome by 10 am; agitated businessmen who have already begun to organize meetings on their cellphones while standing in the cue; upper crust matrons, clutching under-sized pooches or over-priced pouches, out to chit-chatter with one another while their Philipino maids clean up after last night’s dinner and start to prepare this afternoon’s lunch; wide-eyed tourists who inevitably get pushed to the back of the huddle. Fear not, overlooked tourist, help is on the way. You, too, can be taken seriously and get your coffee just the way — and I mean any way — you like it.
Cappuccino normale - The genuine article, not the just bowl served up in the USA, but a nice little cup with about half coffee and half milk foam.
Caffé latte - This is coffee with lots of milk, no foam. Do not shorten the term to “latte” unless you want a glass of milk. Latte is the Italian word for milk with no coffee implied.
Senza schiuma - Espresso with a little hot milk, but no foam
Poca schiuma - Espresso with a little foamy milk
You may be asked if you want ciccolata over your foam. Say "si". It's a lovely dusting of chocolate..
Ben calda or bollente - The Italians don’t drink their coffee boiling hot. If that’s the way you like it, you’ll have to specify ben calda (nice and hot) or bollente (boiling). Either way, it won’t burn y our tongue.
Caffé ristretto - For those who like their espresso extra strong.
Caffé lungo - The opposite of a ristretto. Basically, it’s watered-down espresso. The barista gives an extra long pull on the lever to achieve this effect.
Caffé americano - Watered-down espresso, a single shot with 6-8 ounces of water added.
Café macchiato - A regular shot of espresso topped with a spoonful of milk foam. Macchiata means "stained", so the black coffee is just barely stained with milk.
Caffé corretto -A personal favorite, this literally means "corrected coffee". The stimulating effect of the caffeine is “corrected” by the soporific effect of an additive such as brandy or grappa.
Caffé or cappuccino Hag - Hag is actually a brand name (the "h" is silent), but it’s a sure way of guaranteeing that you will get your brew decaffeinated. Decaffinato, isn’t always understood.
Caffè marocchino - It has nothing to do with Morocco and every barista has his own recipe, so it will always be a surprise. Basically it's coffee on top of a taste of dark bitter chocolate, then whipped cream or milk foam and chocolate powder on top.
Posted by Gail Milissa Grant
April 28, 2009
Ticketless on the Airport Train
On the train to Fiumicino Airport there are never any ticket-checkers. Is ticket-checker even the right term? I have occasionally found myself debating with friends over the correct way to identify the person who checks your ticket on the train. I used to call them conductors, but Dr. J said, "If that's the conductor, then who's driving the train?" So I decided to call them ticket-checkers.
It might be that there's some residue of morality left in my brain after so many years in America, but I actually buy the ticket for the Roma Termini/Fiumicino line at least one out of every five trips to the airport. Out of at least a hundred trips to the airport, I've only seen a ticket-checker once, and that was because a man got robbed and the ticket-checker was needed to record everything for the police. So, technically, not even on that occasion was the ticket-checker checking tickets.
The price went up since the last time I bought a ticket. Now it costs €12. I asked the ticket-seller why the price was so high because I remembered it being just €7, the last time I bought one. The man rolled his eyes and fired back at me that tickets haven't cost €7 for "yeaaaaaaaars," upon which I surrendered my fare to the ticker-seller feeling that he had more than justified the price increase.
As usual the ticket-checker was nowhere to be seen and, as usual, I felt like a schmuck for buying a ticket. I looked around and began to scrutinize the people seated near me. I thought to myself, "I bet he didn't get the ticket... she didn't get one either... I'm the only idiot who paid the fare! Well, at least I am honest, and I'm helping the train company, which is going bankrupt anyway."
When I'm riding the train ticketless, I go through a similar thought process: "Oh no! I am the only one on the train without a ticket! Why am I such a cheapskate? It'll be soooo embarrassing if the ticket-checker comes. He'll give me a fine and everyone will stare. Look at him, I'll bet he has a ticket. She definitely has one. I had better go and look for other people who might be ticketless so we can share the blame for the train company's continued failure."
If, in the future, I ever do get checked by a ticket-checker while I am in possession of a ticket, I am going to come right out and tell him, "Yes I bought a ticket, but your company is full of lazies just the same and I can't wait until it goes out of business so the French can buy it and manage it properly!"
Posted by Bezdomny
April 23, 2009
Re: the posting to your Blog "Ticketless..." Perhaps you mean 'clueless to the airport'. Do you not understand that using the services of Trenitalis without paying your fare is stealing? Is this your understanding of morality of the United States: it is okay as long as you are not caught? By the way, the person who sometimes asks to see your ticket is called in English, the "Train Guard".
Beth Sanders. Mandela, Italy September 23, 2009
Roma vs. Lazio
Flags feverishly waving, explosives and canons booming at seemingly random intervals. No, it’s not a protest or a war reenactment but a common occurrence at an Italian soccer game.
This weekend, I attended one of the most anticipated soccer games of the regular season, Roma versus Lazio. I had been warned that it might be dangerous to attend the game, especially as a Roma fan, but I had also been told that a soccer game in Rome was a necessary experience. The rivalry between Roma and Lazio, one of the strongest in Italian soccer history, came to fruition during the Fascist period when the Lazio team was largely composed of international players, while the Roma team was made up of, well, Romans. Fascism also fostered the idea of absolute hatred of your enemies, even on the soccer field. Walking into the stadium, which was built by Mussolini, I felt as though I were stepping back in time. I decided not to wear any sort of clothing that would hint that I was favoring Roma, staying away from the team colors of dark red and gold, but somehow the Lazio fans knew. I felt like a sitting duck in the middle of sea of Lazio light blue. Fortunately, we had seats in the “distinti sud” section, reserved for visitors and Roma fans. It was less raucous than the Lazio section, but still, the fans chanted at such a volume that my ears were ringing long after they stopped. Some of them even threw themselves over the glass barricades in order to get closer, or further away, from their respective teams’ most ardent fans. At one point, riot police bearing protective shields invaded a section of the stadium, clearing out the overly excited.
What I found interesting — and even humorous — was the stark contrast between the crazy courage of the fans and the overly dramatic, almost sissyish tactics of the players during the game. I saw a fan throw himself off a twelve-foot wall onto cement ground and walk away as if he’d landed on pillows, but the moment one player was tripped he was on the ground screaming bloody murder, gripping his leg. As soon as he realized no one was heeding his calls for attention, he picked himself up and continued playing. Alas, the stereotypical Italian male still does exist, in the form of some of their most beloved soccer players!
The thing that terrified the pants off me was also the most impressive: the enormous heart and pride each fan, Lazio or Roma, had for their team. I could feel the heartbreak of those around me when Lazio scored, as well as the resounding disappointment that came with the realization that Lazio was going to win. Although Roma did not win the game she, once again, won my heart.
Roma Roma Roma
core de sta città
unico grande amore
de tanta e tanta gente
che fai sospirà
Posted by Katy Gorman, April 14, 2009
Hadrian’s Villa Come to Life
What to do on a sunny Friday in Rome? Why not explore one of the greatest places in the world? Guided by a man I only knew as Hubert, whose stature was in no way proportional to the wealth of knowledge he bestowed, I tried my best to expand my imagination enough to understand, even just a little, the immense grandeur of the iconic Hadrian’s Villa.
I am not an Art History major, and for good reason. I began this journey under the impression that if you've seen one ruin, you’ve seen them all. With that in mind, I arrived at Tivoli with the defeatist attitude that the magnitude and the architectural significance of Hadrian’s Villa would be just too much for lil’ old me to comprehend.
We walked through the ground to the villa, where Hubert gave us a brief history of Hadrian — his achievements as a ruler, his loves and his losses. My worry about next week’s Italian language exam suddenly became irrelevant compared to Hadrian’s everyday worry of whether he would be able to continue the growth and unification of the Roman Empire. Oh, and during his down time he was able to help create one the greatest architectural feats in human history — no big deal.
As we wandered through the complex, Hubert described in great detail how this palatial retreat would have looked in the second century. Although, to the naked eye it all looks very open and free flowing, I was able to see the building that would have been several floors high, the narrow passages-ways linking some of the buildings, the dome of one building, the curvature of another that now seems linear and the magnificence of the man-made waterfalls. At one point, Hubert said he could only describe the intricacies of a theater’s concave/convex dome as “architecturally orgasmic.” What struck me more intensely than any other structure in Hadrian’s Villa was one of the better-preserved baths. An remnant of the original black and white tile floor that was still intact captivated me. It took me a while to realize that the floor I was standing on was the same floor where, thousands of years ago, the greatest and most influential man in all of Rome stood.
All of these sights that had now become lost to time became a reality again, if only for a moment, in my imagination.
Posted by Katy Gorman, February 17, 2009
Fashion Event = Performance Art
After three weeks of living in Rome, having already become bored with the monotony of the club scene that entices many international students, my friends and I decided to take in a fashion event presented by AltaRoma. It was to be held at the historic Tempio di Adriano in Piazza di Pietra, an environment that contrasted sharply with the futuristic feel of the event.
AltaRoma, a company that provides opportunities and fosters relationships among well-known Italian designers, encourages the cultivation of young, talent through training, “intended not only as a means of safeguarding the artisan quality but also as the driving force of innovation, creativity and technology,” according to the AltaRoma website. Needless to say, walking into a room filled with some of the most fashionable young people in Rome, while brandishing only my shabby beige messenger bag was quite intimidating. However, we did not let that get in the way of occupying front row seats and grabbing as much promo material as we could get our hands on.
The first act was called “Wit Open Shooting Roger Weiss,” which consisted of people dressed in colorful cardboard shapes, many of them phallic, dancing around a stationary model as photographers shot around the stage. The music was set to techno remixes of popular American hip-hop songs, and the lighting pulsed to the beats of the music. This composition led one to a sort of hypnotic trance, which came as a welcome distraction after enduring more than forty-five minutes — about forty minutes too long in my opinion — of the same thing. The bored and out-of-sorts expression worn by the model was the mirror image of those worn by the crowd, whose faces and outfits became increasingly more interesting to watch than what was happening on stage. However, after the performance was over, I began to wonder if the absurdity of the act was exactly the point of it. Either way, it was something I had never before, and might never again, experience.
The second act was a performance art piece by Chicks on Speed. I braced myself for something so foreign and creatively different I wouldn’t understand it, as the set began with what only can be described as two screaming banshees. Two women, dressed in identical jumpsuit, used video images, as well as simple, everyday, and typically female, objects such as stilettos, scissors and cloth to create a fascinating and powerful performance. The set was an eclectic mix of a rhythmic montage of derriere slapping to a cover of the Beach Boys song “Surfer Girl”, whose lyrics were changed to create the ultimate female anthem: “super surfer girl in the death defying curl.” The act culminated in a dance party during which fashonistas and common students alike could get up on stage and dance in celebration of fashion, self-expression and life.
I walked out of the show revitalized and ready for the next new and out-of-the- ordinary experience Rome had to throw my way.
Posted by Katy Gorman, February 10, 2009
Election Night in Rome
There were parties all over the city, some of them in elegant hotels, but we chose to join the Democrats Abroad event at the Roadhouse Grill in the train station, for the rowdy atmosphere and the absence of Republicans. Election nights can be fun, heartening or disheartening, often not so different than Academy Award night parties, hoping your guy takes home the statue. But this night was different, infused with hope and fear, and with the feeling that there was too much at stake. There were t-shirts and beer on sale, peanuts on the tables, lots of flat screen tv sets hung here and there in the upstairs room where nearly 250 of us screamed with joy or booed in frustration as the results came in, state by state, leaping to our feet and chanting as it became more and more likely that our guy would win. And then, at the moment when Wolf Blitzer and his CNN pundits came to the conclusion that there was simply no way John McCain could take the White House, there were shreaks and tears. We were all hugging one another with relief. Even the men were crying. Why did it mean so much? Because the thought of a McCain-Palin administration was so appalling. Because under the Bush administration we had become ashamed to admit we were Americans. Because we had begun to feel that the world was falling apart—global warming, terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, economic crisis. We were depressed and we needed this, we needed to feel proud, we needed to know that the American people would elect a man despite the color of his skin. I don't kid myself that Obama won this election because America has finally renounced bigotry. He won because enough Americans found the principles he stood for more imortant than the color of his skin. But he also won because, for a frightened popoulation, the alternative was worse, less advantageous, less reassuring. So they found away to overlook his African father and his Muslim middle name.
This was not a national election, but a global one. To be in Rome that night was not so different from being in New York. The world was watching. At five in the morning, when I finally decided it was safe to go home, to sleep, the cab driver anxiously asked me who won the election. And he was nearly as thrilled as I was. Now let us pray that President Obama can manage to accomplish half of what the world expects of him.
Posted by Joie Davidow, November 6, 2008
Nail Poetry: The Nail Nomad
Intrigue - the maps have been folded so many times that the creases have now gone soft.
The stamps in the passport blurred. In her suitcase, a village blouse embroidered with an ancient mystery.
The luster of gold, an ancient mystery. The luster of gold, an emperor's lost bauble wrenched from the sea floor.
The fabrics the garments, far - fetched, exquisite.
Her pedicure goes from nude to jungle red. And the caravan rolls on.....
Posted by Stephanie, November 5, 2008
Ari's Nails, Via Sudario 39 tel 06 682 12190
The Color of Happy
It’s beyond me - color makes me happy ( good thing I am in the business I’m in). Bold brights , pretty pastels, rich jewel tones, warm earth shades – they all delight my eyes and recharge my energy. Color is a positive force for me – in what I am wearing , to how I decorate, or even what shades of flowers sits at my desk. I never underestimate the role color plays in our everyday lifestyles.
Whether it’s chocolate brown boots I pull on, the candy- apple red car that you drive or the deep purple coffee mug that complements the olive green of the kitchen wall, color is one way in which we express ourselves. Simple put, it is part of our culture. You can get your daily fix at Ari’s Nails with a manicure or pedicure in one of OPI’S 200+ shades of Nail Lacquer. It will make you happy each time you look at it — because that is the power of color.
Posted by Stephanie, April 3, 2009
Perfect Umbria: Finding Bliss in the Hills
Just to prove what a conscientious blogger I am, I'll share a secret with you. I have found the perfect retreat, in the hills of Umbria, just a ninety-minute drive from Rome. It wasn't easy. In the past two years I have stayed in farmhouses, spas and hidden cottages from Le Marche to Tuscany to Campagna, not overlooking, of course, the many pleasures of nearby Lazio. I have carted my laptop from Spoleto to Viterbo to Città di Castello in search of the perfect place to chill out. All of the spots I tried were beautiful, comfortable, tranquil. Then I discovered Entropia.
It was a bistering summer day in Rome. My stress level was in the danger zone. I had packed a small bag and my small dog. My laptop was in its case, waiting by the door. And for the first time in decades, I gave it the finger and ran down the steps without it. I needed a total break from reality. My friend Jenny was staying at a place she described in her SMS message as "brilliant," and that's where I wanted to be.
Entropia, on a country road outside the medieval city of Todi, is a simple stone farmhouse, with a large swimming pool, ample grounds, and a view of the nearby ancient city of Grutti, hills and olive groves. Jenny's shiny new roadster was one of the few cars in the parking lot. The house was quiet. Inside, I was offered a cool drink and shown to my spacious room, with windows taking full advantage of the views, an oversized bathroom, and comfortable furnishings. My little dog, thrilled to be in the country, raced around joyfully and jumped on the bed. We were both very happy. My blood pressure rapidly descended to the safe zone.
Here's what's so great about the place: Everything is done simply, but in impeccable taste. The price is extremely reasonable. The food, including a five-course dinner every night, is awesome. The wine list is superb.
Jenny, dog and I spent our days lying in the shade by the pool, rarely stirring from our lounge chairs. We had lunch under the trees. We read. We napped. We had aperitivi al fresco. The peace was unbroken. Jenny used the free wifi to check her email. I turned my cell phone off.
We entertained ourselves by driving to the nearby villages, but we hurried back to our sanctuary. And for this perfection, we thank our hosts — friendly, helpful, unobtrusive Raniero Lomartire, a major domo with an astounding expertise in wine; and Giuseppe Siragusa, a charming man who proved to be one of the finest chefs in Italy. Check it out: www. progettoentropia.it
Posted by Joie Davidow, August 2, 2008
All Night Testaccio: A Student's Advice on the Club Scene
The only time when my friends and I find ourselves in the vast minority as English speakers is when we go clubbing in the Testaccio zone. With its long strip of clubs, Testaccio varies greatly, and how much fun you have depends on where you go. Having been to Testaccio a few times now, I feel I can comment on the general atmosphere of the life both inside and outside the clubs. The following is the most fun night I’ve had at Testaccio and pretty well represents the experience.
After only two weeks in Rome, my friends and I felt we'd seen the sights of Rome, tasted the wine, eaten the food and lived the life. Already pros (in our naïve minds) when it came to the nightlife, the night began with a home-made dinner and a playful argument over which of Rome’s many nightlife locales we'd check out.By the time we'd made it through dessert, it was already past midnight. Great, no one wanted to go out for only an hour and a half. The night was over. Then someone mentioned that a few clubs in Testaccio don’t close until 4 am. With this news and desperate for something to do, everyone, now antsy to leave, met in the courtyard of our student housing complex and we ventured out. The clock read 1:05.
A profound lack of available taxis forced us to walk down the entire street of clubs looking for our friends, which was frusting, but proved beneficial. Our first stop was Charro, a club with an unassuming entrance. So many people were there we nearly had to go inside holding hands hand-in-hand to avoid losing one another in the crowd. And, astonishingly, for the first time in our two week long Rome partying careers, we heard only Italian, with Italian music played by an Italian DJ. Dancers of all ages were moving to the beat . The price of drinks was bit steep and they closed at 3 an . Half an hour and a gallon or so of sweat later, we decided to move on in search of a club that didn’t close until 5 am. Enter Coyote.
Armed with more girls than guys (never a bad way to enter a club), we were bound to rock the place. The first thing you should know before I describe our night is the way Italians dance, or at least what I’ve seen so far. First things first, Italian guys are completely okay with dancing by themselves, something not often/ever seen in America. If an Italian guy wants to dance with a girl he doesn’t know, he (again, this is only from what I’ve seen) approaches her and dances near her, making occasional eye contact but still keeping his distance. If she’s into him, they can then dance closer, but you don't see much of the very close dancing (called grinding) found in American clubs. When an Italian guy does not receive the go ahead from the girl, he keeps his distance still dancing in her vicinity while he starts scanning for other girls. We danced in a group, though, making this kind of approach very difficult for the Italian guys. With the girls on the inside of our small circle, we were able to have our own fun without any unwanted intrusions. So, basically, the way the dance floor looked that night was a kind of three circle effect with the girls in the center, the guys from our group surrounding them, and a few feet behind us danced about ten to fifteen guys we didn’t know. It may seem that we were completely shunning everyone not in our group, but we have had some bad experiences and found this approach the most cautious. At Coyote we heard a mix of English and Italian songs, all with good dance beats. We were dancing in the club's outdoor area, so we could see the sky lighten as dawn approached. At 4:45 am, we began to make our way outside.
Leaving the club on the brink of day, we headed for panini from one of the street vendors, which really hit the spot after a long night of dancing. Note – after about 3:30 or 4:00, cabs assume that you are not capable of calling them out on their charges so they will either start you at a higher number (5.80 is where it should start) or they will begin with tariffa 2 which goes much faster. Tariffa 2 should only be used outside the city, so if you see it, call the cab out and they will change it, usually reluctantly.
Posted by Bejamin Schulte, July 11, 2008
First Night Out: A bewildered young American tackles the Campo de' Fiori bar scene
As a new member of Roman society, walking throughout the city during the daytime and immersing myself in this entirely new way of life showed me just how different our cultures really are. And as any American college student would, my first thoughts went to how the nightlife in Rome works and if it resembles in any way the nightlife I've experienced back home. One of the members of my newly formed bars, too, I think to myself. One of the members of my newly formed group of friends said he'd heard of a place called Campo de' Fiori and that it supposedly had good bars with outdoor seating. Okay, so Italians do bars, too, I think to myself.So far so good. The evening pushes nearer and a few of us head to a local convenience store of sorts to purchase wine and beer so we can get a head start on drinking and not have to spend €50 on drinks at Campo de' Fiori. This process is referred to by Americans as pre-gaming and, if done right, creates very enjoyable evenings. If done to excess, however, pre-gaming can lead to early nights and quality time with a trash can at your side. Another side note: wine can be purchased very cheaply here (three bottles for about €6 if you know where to look) but is not quality Italian wine, so if you're looking for something that tastes good and doesn't kill your wallet, go for beer (Peroni, Tuborg, Carlsberg, Moretti, Nastro Azzurro) and enjoy.
Back to the story. After an hour or so of getting further acquainted and slightly less sober, we venture out. The tricky thing about going out in Rome at night and without a car is doing it cheaply. Taxis are somewhat expensive if used for all-evening excursions and the metro and buses stop running after a certain point. Luckily, for us, the buses were still going, meaning we could get close to Campo without having to pay €5 each for a taxi. We make it to the Capolinea bus stop, which is the beginning and of the line, only to realize that only three or four of us have the bus/metro pass needed to legally ride the bus. I really don't want to get arrested my first night in Italy. Oh well, we get on nervously (all fifteen of us), sit down and try not to look suspicious. The bus driver gets on five minutes later and we drive off without a problem. Though I don't recommend breaking the law in a foreign country, apparently the buses at night are hardly ever checked for riders without passes, so this could be your first daring attempt at the illegal if you so choose.
We arrive at Campo without incident and start to scan the bars for places to go. The two bars we hit this first night are Magnolia and The Drunken Ship. Both are pretty happening but both are also overrun with Americans (looking to do the same thing as the fifteen of us — so much for a night of learning Italian culture). Oh well, I say, and we head toward Magnolia. Forty-five minutes later, after a round of Red Bull and vodka, we set our sights on The Drunken Ship at the other end of Campo on the same side of the square. This bar resembles many American bars I've been to and tries way too hard to be the bar for Americans. It even has a beer pong table set up in the back. The atmosphere is more American frat party than anything vaguely Italian. As the herd of us pushes our way into the bar, we bump into (literally, in some cases) many people from other cities in America as well as other countries. I personally talked with girls from a university in Boston and a few guys from Ireland. Not a total cultural loss, I tell myself, now sporting a Becks in each of my hands. Our night winds down and we're ready to head home, armed with a half-assed Italian pronunciation of the name of our residence and the street where it's located. This works well enough and we make it back safely and in our original number. Not a bad first night. The great thing about Campo de' Fiori is the ample outdoor seating and the open piazza where crowds from all the bars can mingle. It's all bettr than being stuck shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowded space. The not-so-great thing about the Campo bar scene is that it attracts so many non-Italian girls (mainly American) because they are the target of Italy's least desirable male characters. If you go here at night with girls, be sure to stay together so no one is unwillingly stalked by these guys. Go to Campo to enjoy the company you're with and to meet new people, but don't necessarily expect to see many Italians there.
Posted by Bejamin Schulte, June 16, 2008
I Wouldn't Leave Rome to Go to Heaven
My new novel, "I Wouldn't Leave Rome to Go to Heaven," is now available at Amazon.com and at Amazon.co.uk.
The book deals with three women, all middle-aged or getting there, who are single. Like most novels, this one is based on my own experience. It's something I've been thinking about for a long time. My mother didn't really know any single women. But I have lots of single friends. I'm single now myself, and the weird thing is, I really like my life. But it took some years for me to come to this happy place, and that's basically the subject of the book. It's set in Rome's expatriate community, because that's where I find myself these days.
For those of you in Rome, The Almost Corner Bookstore and Feltrinelli International will be selling it.
Posted by Joie Davidow
You can read an excerpt from the book, and order directly from the publisher at this link:
Or use one of these Amazon links:
The Joy of Roman Efficiency
This morning, as I was walking towards the Anagrafe building on Via Petroselli, my mind was full of dark thoughts. I was about to enter an ugly monolith of Italian bureaucracy, where I would be tied up for unknown hours. If I was lucky, I might get a seat on an uncomfortable plastic chair. Otherwise, I would have stand in a crowded, overheated room, with dozens of similarly unhappy people.
A year ago, my wallet was pick-pocketed for the third time in two years. I had waited to request a replacement for my Carta d’Identità because my Permesso di Soggiorno was up for renewal. Now, fourteen months later, I had finally received the new permesso, a small but significant triumph.
I took a circuitous route along narrow and winding Medieval streets, making my way through the old ghetto and past the Teatro Marcello. The torrential rains of the night before had left the air smelling sweet. I told myself to enjoy the walk, that this was the reason I had come to live in Rome. I banished the trash bin full of disgruntled thoughts that littered my mind.
When I got to the Anagrafe, I stopped at the information desk to make sure everything was in order before making going on to the huge hall where I would take a number and wait. The man behind the window was in no mood to talk with me, but finally, I got his attention and he advised me to go straight into the hall.
The number I took was 79. There was only one window open for Carta d’Identità seekers, and it was currently serving number 48. After a few minutes, I found a seat, and to pass the time, I fiddled with my cell phone in an attempt to check my email, since Fastweb had mysteriously cut off my ADSL line at home. It was 11 am. The office closed at 12:30 pm. Chances seemed slim that my number would come up in the ninety minutes remaining, but I decided to wait.
My Vodafone service, for which I was paying each month, did not work. I was not surprised. I could see my email, but I couldn’t open it. I reminded myself that I was in Rome, and that the people on either side of me, if they were not similarly occupied with their own cell phones, would be happy to make friendly chatter. But it was cold comfort.
At ten minutes past twelve, my number came up and I hurried to the window. The woman on duty, who had been dealing with people like me all morning, was short on patience. She began to crumble the documents I handed through the window but restrained herself before throwing them away. The man at the information booth had misled me, I needed a form, which I could get on the floor above. The copy of the Denuncio I had filed with the police when my wallet was stolen would not do. I would have to go back to the police station and demand the original. I would have to come back to the Anagrafe another day.
When I left, it was raining hard and windy. As I crossed the bridge over the Tiber, my umbrella repeatedly blew inside out.
By the time got home, my shoes, socks and jeans were soaked through. I decided to call Fastweb to demand that they fix my ADSL line. I was put on hold. I called back. I was put on hold and then disconnected. The third time I phoned I managed to get a number in Milan. I called Milan. I was put on hold. I called back. I was put on hold and then disconnected. When the operator finally answered, I explained the situation. “C’è un problema,” she advised me. “Un attimo solo.” I was put on hold. She came back. “Un attimo ancora.” I was put on hold again. After the third or fourth attimo, she discovered that I had failed to pay a bill back in February 2007.
What! 2007! And you never sent me a reminder? You just cut off my service? I don’t recall receiving that bill. I always pay my bills promptly! Can’t I just pay this now with a credit card?? Mah, no signora. I would have to go to the post office, which was by now closed, wait in line, pay the bill, and fax her a copy. But since I still had no fax or ADSL service, I’d have to find some place from which to fax it.
I decided to quit for the day and read a book. It was still pouring rain. I needed to dry off. I needed a brandy.
Yesterday, a taxi driver told me, “Oh these foreigners come to Rome and tell me what a beautiful city this is. They should try living here!”
It is a beautiful city, but if you are thinking of living here, as I do, there’s a price to be paid. My experience today was not unusual, or even noteworthy. Every Rome resident goes through days like this one several times a year.
Sure, sometimes I think I just want to move back to a country that functions. But I’d miss morning cappuccino, apperitivi, pasta con cacio e pepe with a good bottle of Falenghino eaten at the civilized hour of nine in the evening. I’d miss the guy at the newsstand who’s crazy about my little dog, and the guys at the café who are always happy to see me. I’d miss sunset over the Tiber and tripping on mislaid cobblestones.
So I guess I think it’s worth it. Vale la pena
Posted by Joie Davidow
May 21, 2008
Roma Worth Quoting
These quotes were collected by Roberta Musolino, who offers walking tours with her "Roman Rendezvous" company. Her clients were suitably impressed by la bella Roma. If you have quotes we'd love to add them. Just send them to email@example.com and you'll see them online! Check out Roberta's website at
“Rome is an open sky museum”
“The oculus of the Pantheon is the centre of the universe for me”
“I wish I were in love just so I could go the orange grove”
“When I was growing up my brother & I would ride our bikes at 2 or 3 in the morning. From Corso Vittorio Emmanuele you could hear the sound of the fountains of Piazza Farnese”
“I promised myself at age 20 that I wanted to live here forever, I went home, raised a family, learnt a profession and now I’m 46. But I kept my promise.”
“It is the most beautiful city in the world”
"How can you not be seduced by olive trees, stupendous art works & statues with naked breasts all around?”
Posted by Roberta Musolino
The Roma Look
We've noticed that there's an easy style in Rome. Like most people, we wear a decent pair of jeans, boots, a good jacket and a scarf just about everyplace we go. But we thought we'd ask the experts for some advice. This comes from our favorite manicurist, Stephanie, at Ari's Nails near Largo Argentina:
"Nails are a hot fashion accessory in Rome. In today's Roman society I could not help noticing that no true diva leaves home with out her cell phone, slipping on her mary jane's, and grabbing her designer handbag. From sophisticated to casual , professional to bohemian, glamour girl to the girl next door are now expressing themselves in a very unique way- Nails -our nails are more of an expression of our personal style and taste as our clothing … they are the ultimate fashion accessories and whether we realize it or not they are the most powerful first impression and your choice in color is a part of your overall look. So, as the season changes... from winter to spring from Piazza di Spagna to Piazza Navonna, do not forget to indulge in the colors of spring that surround, you but also on your nails, too.
P.S. From the runways of Rome to your way Spring colors 2008 - Pink and Pastel"
Posted by Stephanie Alliman
March 11, 2008
Link to Ari's Nails
I Walked the Walls
Just two and a half weeks after arriving for a semester at Temple University’s Rome Campus, I was intrigued by the chance to take a fourteen-mile guided walk around the walls built by the Emperor Aurelio that still encircle the city. I had already become an avid fan of the Roman nightlife, but I hadn’ taken any long walks. Most nights, I found myself in Campo de’ Fiori, or the surrounding neighborhoods, enjoying the scene with my friends. I was having a great time, but I reminded myself that I hadn’t come all the way to Rome just to surround myself with my fellow Americans.
So, a couple of mornings ago, having slept roughly four hours the night before, I got up at the horrifyingly early hour of 7:30 am and made my way to the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano to begin the “Wall Walk.” I immediately realized that this walk was going to be way more than worth it. Some fifty of my fellow students had shown up at an hour most of us rarely see the light of day, to be ushered around the city by one of our history professors.
Starting from basilica, we made our way south along the ruins of the wall to Porta San Giovanni. The old arches somehow seemed to blend in with the graffiti and piles of old abandoned cars that littered the neighborhood. I learned that this part of the wall was originally solid but the arches were cut out in the early 20th century to accommodate car traffic.
We followed the walls in a southerly direction making our way into a labyrinth of cobblestone streets almost too narrow for cars to pass. The ancient wall rose high above to our left, where it was topped by train tracks. The wall blocked the sun’s rays, but whenever a train passed, the sun bounced off the gleaming metal, creating a beautiful nuance of colors.
After a couple of hours of solid walking, the mass of students had split up into smaller groups of five or ten waking partners. It was way past time for breakfast, so I was delighted when our guide called a time out at a local pizzeria, where I bought a delicious toasted prosciutto and mozzarella panino.
We followed the walls towards the British embassy, and eventually to the neighborhood of San Lorenzo, where the largest university in Europe is located, Rome’s Università La Sapienza.
This student neighborhood is nearly covered with graffiti but it has a certain charm. Its small cobblestoned streets, overlook residential buildings, some of them beautiful designed. In fact, San Lorenzo imprinted such a splendid image in my mind, I’ll definitely return there, especially towards the evening when all the small, cozy are pubs open.
The path along the walls turned uphill to the Villa Borghese. Wow! The large park with windy sidewalks is an ideal place to go for a picnic, a run, or a walk with your dog. I was impressed by the all the greenery, even in the middle of January. At the top of the hill, I found myself on the Pincio hill, with its series of beautiful fountains, and a view of the Piazza del Popolo below.
Then it was downhill to the Vatican, and uphill once again, as we climbed the Gianicolo to Villa Aurelia, home of the American Academy in Rome, and and an awesome view of the city. I could even see the hills in the distance.
We’d been walking for four hours and it was barely lunched time! Our second time out called for a beer and another panino, then it was down the hill, following the walls towards Porta San Paolo and the Piramide, the tomb of the Emperor Cestius, one of the best-preserved monumnets in Rome. At the Viale di Porta Ardeatina, the ancient walls are still nearly intact, and surrounded by trees. With no souvenir stands or pizzerie to ruin the illusion, I flet as though I were truly back in the days of the Roman Empire.
At the end of the walk, as we headed toward the Metro along the ancient walls, I couldn’t help but notice a couple of very nice bars along the way, very stylish and secluded, perfect to stop by after a long walk. (Okay, so I have beer on the brain.)
Posted by Mihai Morar, January 25, 2008
The Birds Dance
I have spent years marveling at the incredible dance performed by thousands of birds in the twilight sky over Rome. They swirl and dive, divide in two and rejoin without every hitting each other. Sometimes I run up to my terrace when I hear their wild chirping, just to watch in wonder, as they celebrate after a long day of hunting. These swifts have been notorious in the piazza outside the Stazione Termini, where passengers have been known to raise their umbrellas as they leave the station to protect themselves from the unlovely droppings that crash to the ground by the truckload. This never bothered me. I'm not at the station that often, and the birds weren't covering my terrace with poop. But this year, things have changed. One day I crossed the Piazza Sonnino near my apartment in Trastevere, to discover a newly laid carpet of white ... bird shit. What happened? The next day, I got ready to open my car door, to find it encrusted with ... you guessed it. I have heard two theories on the subject, both involving measures taken at the Stazione Termini to get rid of the unwelcome visitors. Someone told me they had employed trained falcons, to scare the birds away. Then I heard the more plausible theory that the authorities had installed loud speakers blaring owl sounds. Owls are the birds natural enemies. Either way, they have moved into Trastevere. Welcome to the neighborhood.
Posted by Joie
January 11, 2008
A Postcard from Rome
Dinner at the Ponte Rotto
Have you had dinner on the island yet? If not, run, run, run. The restaurants along the river will only be open until Notte Bianca (the end of summer, when everything stays open till dawn), which this year falls on Saturday, September 8th. But in the meanwhile, there are two wonderful places to eat on the Isola Tiberina, a boat-shaped island in the Tiber separating Trastevere from the Ghetto.
Restaurant number one
serves pizza the right way — fresh and hot from a wood-burning oven — as well as great salads. And their scarmoza (melted spun cow's milk cheese) is fantabulous, topped with rugetta (rocket salad).
The other island restaurant is a bit more formal, and it's a real hit with me. The tables are placed directly in front of the Ponte Rotto, the single remaining arch of an ancient bridge, originally the Pons Aemilius, built in 179 BC and rebuilt in the 16th century by the Borghese Pope, Paolo V, who also gave us the façade of Saint Peter's. The Italians really know how to light their monuments, and this one is breathtaking. It looks as though they could be shooting a movie. There's a wonderful dead tree-trunk on the bridge, which landed there during the last flood. It reminds me of an art project. Somebody should make it into a postcard. I've seen photographs of the Ponte Rotto from the late 1800s, when there will still two remaining arches, and a third arch had been replaced by a stretch of wooden planks, so that the bridge spanned the river. It was a functioning bridge until the mid 19th century, when Victor Emmanuel II built tall walls along the river to hold back flood waters, and, in the process, one of the arches was destroyed.
Because the arch is illuminated by a very bright spotlight, you can also see what's behind it. Voila! Another bridge: all modern and steel and concrete. It makes for an incredible juxtaposition of two time periods — the 16th century meets the 20th. This "other" bridge is in reality called Ponte Palatino, the Palatine Bridge, but the Romans call it the Ponte Inglese, the English Bridge, because it's entered from the left side, and you drive across on the "English" side of the road. That's English enough for me.
So there you are, facing this magnificent relic, and what are you eating?
Their fettuccini fatto in casa (homemade pasta); it's incredible. I order it with tomato, basil and Parmesan cheese. Go, Go, Go, the Isola Tiberina is calling you.
Posted by La Marchesa
August 13, 2007
An Englishman in Rome on a Shoestring
I was on one of my usual shoestring excursions, flying a budget airline, using a low cost hotel, a mode of travel I had become used to over the years affording me some interesting anecdotes. You don’t get collapsing beds, leaking bidets and shower heads that become autonomous spinning wildly whilst soaking the whole bathroom and a good proportion of the bedroom at a Hilton or a Marriott. My hotel was in the Monti area of Rome, located on the highest of the seven hills the Esquiline. During the days of empire this was an exclusive area. Patrician villas dominated whilst fruit orchards, olive groves and temples dotted the area. The ever increasing barbarian raids forced the inhabitants to safety closer to the Tiber in what is now the Centro Storico district leaving Monti virtually uninhabited until it became a battle ground for rival clans in the Middle Ages. It is now a multicultural area and home to many of Rome’s budget hotels including mine, the Hotel Giubileo in the Via Carlo Alberta.Only about 100 yards from the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore the Giubileo lurked almost apologetically between a barber’s shop, and a couple doors away, the four star Mecenate Palace Hotel. My room is on the fourth floor and there is no lift. At this point let me recap. I am overweight, middle aged, unfit and have a weak ankle, a result of an army injury. I have booked a hotel on a hill, the Cispius, a sub peak of the highest hill in Rome, the Esquiline. The area is called “Monti” (mountain in Italian), and I am on the fourth floor. I am really excelling myself this time! I had read through the comments left by ex-clients of the Giubileo on the web site. They hadn’t rated the place very highly; noisy and small rooms appeared to be the main concern, the hotel’s web site itself was full of dead links and the photographs bore no resemblance to the hotel where I stayed; only the addresses matched. In the lounge for want of a better word, a small wooden post box was mounted on one wall, it was marked Complaint, in the singular, perhaps wishful thinking rather than badly construed English. The box did, however, seem rather full.
My room was therefore a bit of a surprise, quite large with a five foot-wide bed, and an adequate, clean bathroom with all the necessary fixtures and fittings. Air-conditioning whirred away whilst a window looked out from the back of the building onto backs of the buildings opposite. The furniture was utilitarian but serviceable; footmarks above the bed-head did worry me a bit, but when in Rome! The only real problem was the climb up the four floors which made it imperative to keep water, beer or oxygen handy. My initial climb with bags and camera had me running for the mini bar as soon as I could persuade the door to open. To my surprise, it was empty, the room description should have read mini fridge, which I soon stocked. I then set out to find restaurants with easy walking distance of the Hotel. La Vecchia Conca provided my evening meal and the Antico Caffè Santa Maria, whose waiter offered interesting snippets of information concerning the architectural merits of the Santa Maria Maggiore and the undoubted charms of Rome’s young ladies, offered superb lunch time salads.
An after-lunch stroll down the Via Carlo Alberta brought me to the Piazza Vittoria Emanuele II, two large screens had been erected for the Notti di Cinema showing American and Spanish films from nine in the evening until the early hours. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the square was the remains of Villa Palombara, built by the Marquis Massimiliano Palombara. Integral within its structure was the Alchemist’s or Magic Door. The story revolved around one Francesco Giustiniani Bono who found grass straws capable of producing gold in the garden of the villa, the following day he was unfortunate enough to disappear through the door leaving behind gilded straws. The remains of the villa are now home to a colony of feral cats who parade and preen themselves in the sunlit garden.
Although the Hotel had it shortcomings, it was a low cost establishment, convenient for the attractions of central Rome. Most of its 38 rooms, are embedded in the private flat complexes surrounding the main entrance, a strange setup! But the staff were helpful and friendly replacing my faulty telephone within five minutes. They seem to be making the best of what they have. For a short stay such as mine or a weekend break the Giubileo was perfectly adequate, before complaining one should remind oneself of the cost of staying there!
Text and photographs posted by John MacDonald, July 11, 2007
A Confounded American in Rome: In Search of Cheddar Cheese and Shopping Malls
Personally, I and many of my friends were shocked at the level of daily hassles it took/takes to get even simple things done, like picking up a letter at the post office (bring your passport, be prepared to be rerouted to a different post office, be prepared to come back because the supervisor is out and has the key, you know the story), getting minutes on our cell phones (sorry, the computers are down, come back tomorrow; sorry, we're closing early today, it's a beautiful day, [to which I respond: but your hours are engraved in bronze on your door here...), etc. But, I really would have appreciated knowing the following information as I seriously thought I would land here and be settled within a month. Also, it never occurred to me that they wouldn't have things like cheddar cheese or cilantro.
There is a mall called Parco Leonardo by the Fuimicino airport complete with food court. You can find household items and clothes much more inexpensively here as compared to your neighborhood stores. There are a couple of Ikeas with easy access off the GRA for necessary household items with reasonable prices. [at Porta di Roma in the north and at Anagnina in the south]. Also, very, very important, it's pronounced ee-kay-ah here, NOT i-kee-ah, as I found out after driving all the way to Fregene on gas attendants' advice on how to get to i-kee-ah;
in Fregene I finally wrote down "Dove Ikea" and showed an attendant and a lightbulb went off, ahhhh, ee-kay-ah, ee-kay-ah, not i-kee-ah!).
For anyone living by the American Overseas School
of Rome, there's a wonderful vet nearby who will give you the proper certifications for carting your pet back and forth to the states or elsewhere (I'm not sure of the address but it's about 700 Via Cassia, in the set of white buildings to the south of the Pastarita/Pizzarita restaurant.) He takes people without appointments (though it's better with) and speaks English.
Cheddar cheese and cilantro are very difficult to find, though they are staples in many Americans' diets. Cilantro is called coriandola and can usually be found if asked for at any of the Asian booths in the daily markets (at Termini or for those by the international schools, Ponte Milvio). You have to ask for it though as they keep it under the table. [Click here for more food markets.] Cheddar cheese is more difficult to come by but
can be obtained at any of the military or embassy commissaries as well as at the FAO commissary. Most ex-pats not affiliated with any of these places find new best friends with family members who work at these places so they can keep up a supply line. There are a couple of international food stores
that contain very expensive imported items that one can't get here. For instance, missing Duncan Hines cake mix? Pancake syrup? Jello? There is Foods Oasis in the 600 block of Via Cassia on the east side of the street that carries a large bottle of pancake syrup for 8 euros, and a
very large bottle of Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce for 10 euros (and yes, I've bought both, desperate people do desperate things). Also, the CTS store on the old Cassia carries American cake
and brownie mixes as well as mexican food items like taco shells, flour tortillas, and salsa. [Click here for the In Rome Now Gourmet Foods listings where you'll find more options. Castroni in Prati carrie everything and Inocenzi in Trastevere carries a good selection of American foods.]
Posted by Kimm X Jayne, May 29, 2007
Click here for more tips on overcoming culture shock.
Trastevere's Back Streets
Ah, to be in Rome now that April's here! The buskers are back on the streets, torturing my ears with out-of-tune violins, screeching voices and badly played accordians. The streets are so crowded with tourists I can hardly stand to leave the house. But the wisteria is in bloom. Young leaves have sprouted on the chestnut trees that line the banks of the Tiber. Restaurants have put tables out on the sidewalks again. The shaved lemon ice stands have re-opened and the gelato shops are suddenly irresistible.
This year I got a little dog, which has given me a reason to explore the back streets of my neighborhood, Trastevere, as doggie and I take our morning walks. Just steps from my own door, there's a warren of quiet streets, a world away from the hustle and noise of the via Lungaretta, the Piazza Santa Maria in Trastsevere, and the raucous nightlife for which the zone is famous.
Instead, doggie and I wander vicoli, cobblestoned streets too narrow for even a Smart car to pass, where ivy covers ancient brick walls and every morning I notice something I'd missed the day before— a carved door, a tiny balcony, a medieval window.
On weekend mornings I give directions to ladies in fancy dress and too-high heels who moan "oh, Dio" when they find out they have parked near the wrong church, and that the wedding they are rushing off to attend is blocks away.
The locals snort with laughter when my little dog responds to my command to "ashpeh" to wait, aspetta delivered with the Southern accent I heard from my Italian-American neighbors growing up in New Jersey. And the dog drags me along as she rushes past the doorway where a horny dachsund seems always to be waiting to make yet another fruitless assault on her virginity. This morning I confounded my poor dog by stopping every few feet to take photographs, trying to capture the light of that particular April Saturday in Rome.
Posted by Joie Davidow April 21, 2007
Cristof Ranocchi's Guide to Italian Slang
The following guide takes you through the labyrinth of Roman street vernacular, necessary to (’intrattenere’=) holding a colloquy with roman citizens and successfully survive through Rome’s nightlife.
Roman’s slang has had a revival and never has been more present than it is today amongst youth, so if you are thinking about eavesdropping on the younger crowd, you might want to refresh your vocabulary and grammar with a few up-to-date tips.
Romanaccio (or Romano) is not limited to the young, but is spoken, or at least known by many residents of all ages. Trust in the fact that although it is a slang, anyone will understand you.
J substitutes GLI (e.g. MOGLIE > MOJE, = “wife”) and is pronounced like “y”.
Personal pronouns MI, TI, GLI/LE, CI, VI, are replaced by ME, TE, JI/JE, CE, VE.
Verbs that indicate the repetition of an action and are characterized by the RI- prefix in traditional Italian, are preceded by A- (e.g. RIFALLO > ARIFALLO = “do it over/repeat”; RITORNACI! > ARITORNACE = “go back (there)!”)
Double consonants aren’t pronounced in Romanaccio (e.g. TERRIBILE > TERIBILE = “terrible”).
O and AO are often used at the beginning of a sentence (usually an exclamation), or to get somebody’s attention, “Hey,” for example.
Male Article IL > ER = “the”. As a result: DEL (DI + IL) > DER = “of the”; CON IL > COR = “with the”, and so on.
With the Infinitive form of verbs, the final –RE is cut off and the final vowel is accented (e.g. OTTENERE > OTTENè = “to obtain”; GIOCARE > GIOCà = “to play”)
-NGI- is replace by -GN- (e.g. MANGIO > MAGNO* = “I eat/ am eating”; PIANGI > PIAGNI* = “ you cry/ are crying). *[GN is pronounced “-NJ-“]
ALLORA DAJE! – “so here we go!”:
First of all you will enter into a Roman’s good graces by remembering Rome=LA CAPITALE, Italy’s capital, ofwhich we are particularly proud.
Young Romans males (adolescents, teenagers and slightly over) barely use the traditional CIAO, but instead greet each other through BELLA. Despite the resemblance with the Italian female adjective “beautiful”, the greeting does not apply to the female gender. *[BELLA also means “great/cool”].
- BELLA, COME BUTTA? or BELLA, KE SE DICE? = “hey, whats up?”
(Traditional: CIAO, COME STAI?)
- T’AREGGE? = “are you up to it?”
(Traditional: TE LA SENTI?)
- TE PIJA? = “do you feel like it?” – NO, NUN ME PIJA = “No, I don’t feel like it.”
(Traditional: TI VA? – NO, NON MI VA.)
- SCIALLA = “cool” or “chill/it’s OK” (e.g. O ME DISPIACE – SCIALLA = “Hey I am sorry – It’’s OK.”).
(Traditional: MI DISPIACE – TRANQUILLO)
Also as a verb (e.g. TE DEVI SCIALLà! = “You need to chill/calm down!”)
(Traditional: TI DEVI CALMARE!)
- DAJE = “bring it on/ come on” (e.g. DAJE COR FOMENTO! = “Bring on the heat!”)
- STIRà = “to be worn out/fatigued” or “feeling badly (physically)” (e.g. AO STO A STIRà = “whoah I am eating it”; (EGLI) HA STIRATO = “He felt sick” or “He was worn out”)
(Traditional: STO MESSO MALE; (EGLI) ERA SFINITO.)
- SCAPOCCIà = “to go crazy/be angry” or “worn out/fatigued (mentally)” (e.g. TOSTO L’ESAME? – AVOJA**, STAVO A SCAPOCCIà = “was the exam hard? – Definitely, my brain was steaming up.”
(Traditional: TOSTO L’ESAME – Sì UN SACCO, STAVO IMPAZZENDO.)
- **AVOJA = “sure/of course so”; to agree with something
- ‘NDO’ VAI? = (“where are you going?”)
(Traditional: DOVE VAI?)
- ‘ND’ANNATE? – STAMO ANNà’ MAGNà’A PIZZA. – BELLA! STO A VENì PUR’IO – NO, NUN TE CE VOLEMO.
= “Where are you (guys) going? – We’re going to eat pizza. – Great! I’ll come as well. – No, we don’t want you to.”
(Traditional: DOVE ANDATE? – STIAMO ANDANDO A MANGIARE LA PIZZA. – OTTIMO! VENGO PURE IO. – NO, NON TI CI VOGLIAMO.)
- STO A GIOCà = “I am kidding/just messing with you.”
(Traditional: STO SCHERZANDO.)
Posted by Cristof Ranocchi, March 19, 2007
Getting An Italian Driver's License
So, you think buying a house in Italy is difficult? Try getting an Italian drivers license. There are two ways of going about this: legally or illegally. Illegally is a no brainer. Simply pay 800 euros or more, to the right person and get your license (maybe). It turns out there are many con artists, so this is a risky proposition to undertake.
Legally, is the ?great adventure of all adventures?. You can (1) do it on your own (not recommended) or (2) take a class. Doing it on your own requires a Sherlock Holmes type personality. Lacking this trait, I elected to enroll in a class.
This is My Story
I and three other expatriates hired an Italian driving instructor to give us a class on the rules and regulations of obtaining a drivers license. The cost was 350 euros each. We met twice per week, two hours per session for almost four months. During this time, our instructor discussed many things, most of which put me to sleep.
I discovered the Italian love of expressing oneself, extends to their road signs, of which there are approximately 200. There are signs underneath signs, combinations of signs, and signs that tell you to ignore other signs. There are also human signs, called policemen. If the policeman is higher than the road sign, his directions take precedence. However, if he is of short stature, without a box to stand on, you may ignore him with impunity (referred to as ?height makes might?).
If you think the above is complicated, try to understand the ?right of way? rule, without a Phd in mathematics. This rule states, that at a junction without a stop or yield sign, the person on your right has the right of way. Sounds simple. However, what happens if you enter a junction with seven roads all merging together? (In Italy, these really do exist.) Option one, you get out of your car, make a diagram, and have a group discussion on who has the right of way. Option two, he who has the fastest machine goes first, e.g., the tortoise and hare rule.
After four months of class, we were still unprepared to take the test. What we should have studied was the Test Question Manual, consisting of 3000 questions. Unfortunately, this manual, in English, was only in production for two weeks. My copy is available to the highest bidder.
The written exam is taken at the Motorazione in Rome. The first time I went, the computers broke down. The second time, I forgot my identification and was sent home. The third time, after waiting four hours, I was led into a small room with 20 other hopefuls. There were two proctors making sure answers were not being read off your shirt sleeves. We had 30 minutes to answer 30 questions. Sound straight forward? Nope. In order to pass, you must think like an Italian. Major tip: opt out of the written exam and request the oral exam, available to all expatriates.
Once you pass the written test, you have three chances, you then register for the drivers test (cost ? 94 euros). You take the test. You pass!!! Do you receive your drivers license? No. It must be printed. When? It?s a mystery. But you are now legal. Congratulations!
(2) Permesso di Sorgiorno
(3) Carta D'Identità
(4) Driving School form
(5) Eye exam
(6) Bollo for taking test
(7) 3 passport-sized photos
Posted by Brian A. Rothbart and Linda Penzabene
November 16, 2006
Bianca Notte ed Alba Rossa
I have been something of a humbug where La Notte Bianca is concerned. After one horrifying experience during which I was nearly crushed to death by a swell of incredibly patient Italians who were packed into the Piazza di Spagna with virtually no room to bend an elbow, I decided to stay in the next year, and the year after that. I began to refer to La Notte Bianca as an "incubo," a nightmare. And I still would like to see the figures that prove it actually makes money for the city. This year a virtual army of workers were required to clean up the mountains of trash that accumulated all over the city- not to mention the cost of all those stages and sound systems and big screen tv projections and the publicity and the brochures- and the ambulance services. But this year, for some reason, which problem has a lot to do with a bottle of prosecco, I got into the mood, and decided that for the first time, I would stay up all night, welcoming in the dawn at the top of the Gianicolo hill. And it was worth it! We attended a wonderful concert by Tim Martin's "Amazing Grace" gospel singers at the Piazza Bocca della Veritá, repaired to the rooftop bar at the nearby "47" hotel, where we had a great view of the procedings and a bottle of wine, from there to the banks of the Tiber for a cous cous and wine supper, and before we knew it it was four am. We staggered up to the top of the Gianicolo with yet another bottle for reinforcements,in time to watch the sun come up, listened to music and felt the general good vibes of our fellow revelers. Walking down the hill in the early morning, I was so happy and drunk I repeatedly greeted the city with a boisterous "Buon Giorno Roma!" and nobody looked twice.
Posted by Joie, September 10, 2006
One of the best ways to enjoy the summer nights in Rome is to go down to the banks of the Tiber, where the annual summer festival, "Lungo Er Tevere" is alive with people, music, food and drink. The bicycle path along the river has been transformed into a magical setting, lined with potted plants, bars, restaurant, shops, a cabaret, a movie theater, even a hookah den.
Posted by Gaby Bruna
July 7, 2006
Gaby's photo essay
When are you leaving?
This is the question everybody asks these days. The waitress at my café asked me this morning. So did the lady at the market where I buy
my fruits and vegetables. And the man in the drycleaning shop asked me the same question when I went to pick up my white linen pants. My friends, who used to open conversations with "So how are you?" have now switched to "So when are you leaving?" Rome in July is like the last hours of the Titanic; everybody seems to be planning to get out. But why? The heat and humidity are beginning to drive us crazy? Not if we know how to deal with it, adopting the age-old siesta schedule of running around town in the cool hours of the early morning then bunking down next to the nearest fan until it's safe to go out again at about seven in the evening. Roman summer nights are FABULOUS! The city turns into an enormous block party. I love browsing the booths and listening to the music along the banks of the Tiber. I love drinking a beer and eating a plate of cous cous at the spot where a damn in the river makes a misty waterfall. I love long, lazy summer dinners with friends at a sidewalk table or on my own litle terrace. I love the outdoor concerts in historic and beautiful places like the Teatro Marcello, Ostia Antica, and the Villa Pamphili. I love walking around in nothing but a loose linen dress and sandals, or shorts and a t-shirt. I love gelato and granita and grattachecca! I love Rome in the summer! So when am I leaving? August fifth. What about you?
Posted by Joie
July 6, 2006
Men in Rome Do As the Romans Do
I am an invisible woman in Los Angeles. If I try to remember how long it’s been since men paid attention when I walked into a room there, I have to count in decades. When I moved to that youth-crazed city. at the age of thirty, I was already considered over the hill. Twenty-seven years later, I’m so far over the hill I can barely remember climbing to the top.
I bought into the youth culture, but it wasn’t cheap. I invested in designer jeans that I hoped made me look young and thin. I spent too much money on skin care. I frequented expensive hairdressers. I went the gym six days a week. I stuck to a low calorie diet until I switched to a low fat diet followed by a low carb diet. And it has paid off. Today I am as well maintained as a woman past fifty can be, short of the drastic surgical intervention favored by so many women in L.A. But no matter how hard I worked to keep my buns firm, I was still as sexy as somebody’s grandmother.
And it made me mad. Women of my generation fought for equality. We spent much of our lives trying to advance professionally in a world dominated by men, chipped away at the male establishment to grasp the slenderest threads of power. But just as we pause, panting, to look around proudly at what we have achieved in the battle against sexism, we get hit in the head with ageism. Not only in the workplace but in our private lives. A well-maintained man of fifty-five is still a hunky guy. A well-maintained woman of the same age is a matron. I don’t want to imply that we need the admiration of strange men to feel okay about ourselves. But a dose of male attention now and then lifts the sprits.
At forty, even forty-five, there were those punched-in-the-stomach moments when the truth first became apparent — when I struggled to lift my suitcase into the overhead compartment on the L.A. –New York flight, and three men pushed past me in the aisle without offering to help; when I went to a club with a younger girlfriend, and men offered to buy her drinks, while I sat there like the old chaperone; when I started a conversation with a handsome man at a party and he asked me to introduce him to the younger woman across the room.
Eventually, I accepted my lot, acknowledged that I’d had my day and that it was time to move on to the next phase of my life, a phase which turned out to be more serene and productive than the turbulent years of dating, falling in and out of love, beginning and ending relationships. I discovered that being invisible had its advantages. It brought a certain freedom. I never had to worry about getting hit on. I could be alone in a room with a man and absolutely nothing remotely sexual would happen. When I was younger, it seemed as though every man I knew, sooner or later, would make a stab at seduction as though it were some sort of requirement. But an invisible woman can have male friends with no hidden agendas. If a man sought my company, I could safely assume he enjoyed my conversation or my sense of humor, which is, after all, much more flattering than being sought after for my ample bosom.
When I moved to Rome, it was not because I nurtured vain fantasies of an Italian lover — I’d given that up long ago — but because I always adored Italy, and, with the help of high-speed Internet access and a low-cost international phone card, I finally figured out a way to live and work here. Although I no longer thought of myself as an object of male desire, I couldn’t help noticing the men. The ratio of god-like creatures to ordinary mortals was astonishing. Sure, the streets were full of guys who looked like they worked for Tony Soprano, but at least once a day some young Adonis took my breath away. I admired them idly with no thought that they’d notice me. Even though I still wore the L.A. uniform of jeans and t-shirts, I considered myself a middle-aged signora.
Then something amazing began to happen. Men flirted with me. Old men and young men in shops, restaurants and cafés made eye contact and held my gaze. Men changed seats on the bus to face me, followed me through the cars on the train to sit beside me. They found excuses to talk to me. Strange men stopped me to ask me for a cigarette then followed me, still chatting, after I’d explained that I didn’t smoke.
When an overweight man squeezed by me in a crowded supermarket aisle, he muttered under his breath, “Ah, ma Dio, che bella!” Oh my God, how beautiful! The young repairman who came to fix the air conditioner stopped in mid-sentence to tell me I had beautiful eyes. The older man who came to fix the lock on the door invited me out for a pizza. While I was waiting for a bus, a bald-headed guy in overalls asked me for directions then proceeded to ask me to lunch. “But you are so beautiful,” he said. “E per niente.” And it’s for nothing. Just lunch. He kept insisting until I managed to get lost in the crowd. In L.A., I might have looked for the nearest cop. But in Rome he just made me feel good about myself for the rest of the day.
At first I thought it was an aberration. I couldn’t possibly have become visible again at my age. These men were obviously perverts. Didn’t they know I was old enough to be a grandmother? But the almost daily attention began to have an effect on me. I looked in the mirror and saw a still vibrant woman where I had become accustomed to seeing a dumpy old lady. I began to walk straighter, smile more, take a little more time when I got dressed in the morning, knowing that an unknown someone might appreciate the effort.
I am particularly attractive to Roman taxi drivers. I get hit on so much from the back seat of a cab that I’m beginning to think I must look a lot younger in a rear-view mirror. The other day I gave an address to a driver as I slipped into his taxi. “And why are we going there?” he wanted to know. I told him I was going to the dentist. “But why do you want to go to the dentist?” he asked. “You have such a beautiful mouth. It is a mouth for kissing. Let’s not go to the dentist. Let me take you to the beach instead.” When I demurred, the driver went on to explain that I ought to reconsider because he was really good in bed. If that had happened to me in L.A. I might have jumped out of the cab at the next red light, but in Rome, I knew that the driver was just being playful.
I came to realize that Italian men of all ages like older women, in fact, they like most women. My Italian girlfriend, Alessandra, insists it’s because they are all hopelessly in love with their mothers. And I’m sure she’s right. I hear them on their cell phones all day long asking, “Mamma, come stai?” Mamma isn’t calling them. It’s the grown up, even middle-aged sons who are calling her. But God bless them for it, I say.
I’m not suggesting that Marcello Mastroianni look-alikes are following me down the street. I’m still virtually invisible to the virtual Adonis types. But I’m enjoying the chance to brush up on my long forgotten flirting skills in a city where flirting is a national sport. And I don’t really believe that the compliments I get have much to do with the truth. Italian is a language of overstatements. Our American “yeah, right,” is their “Bravo!” Our “What a bummer,” is their “Che miseria!” But I’d still rather hear “Bellissima!” than “You look fine,” which is the highest compliment a lot of men in L.A. will give a woman, and only after having been asked “How do I look?”
Alessandra says that Italian men make lousy husbands. She says their mothers rule them, that they think adultery is normal behavior, and that despite the cab driver’s boastful claim, they are lousy lovers. I’m not shopping for an Italian husband, anyway. I’m just having fun. I’m sure this period in my life is like Rome in October, a flash of warmth in the midst of autumn before the long winter sets in. So I’ve decided to have a good time while it lasts.
I’ll be back in L.A. soon for a month or so. I wonder how it will feel to slip back into invisibility. But maybe it won’t be so bad. I think of myself differently now. Who knows? Maybe it’s all about attitude. Maybe I’ll walk into a room expecting a little playful flirtation and be surprised by the way men react. It’s worth a try.
Posted by Joie
June 12, 2006
The Curse of the Touristic Menu
And just what is a "touristic menu?" you might ask. It's code for bad Italian food. It's those menus posted on boards outside restaurants that give you a limited choice for what might look like a good price until you think about it. It includes an antipasto, a pasta or second dish, a dessert, a single glass of wine or a carbonated beverage. It closely resembles the food you might have been unlucky enough to remember from your college dormitory. And it pleases a staggering number of tourists, who have been brainwashed into believing that it's impossible to eat a bad meal in Italy. Granted, it might be better than what they remember from the Pasta Barn back in Dayton, but WE'RE IN ROME NOW!!. All the prime tourist spots in town are infested with these menus. Trastevere's Via Lungaretta is a particularly sad case. Tourist traps pretty much line the street. And what the unsuspected visitor doesn't know is that a lot of them are owned by the same people. That's right, folks. They are all opening the same cans to put food on your plates. Do yourself a favor. Stay far, far away from touristic menus. You can find good cheap plate of pasta and a decent house red in lots of places without lowering yourself to that. Sure, you're suckered in by the sidewalk tables and the cute little lights. But just keep walking. There's better fare to be had nearby. Which is why we were so delighted when we saw this sign in the Via Lungaretta, just steps away from the worst of the lot. We couldn't agree more with either sentiment.
Posted by Joie
June 11, 2006
Down by the River Side
For the past couple of weeks, the river bank in Trastevere between Ponte Sisto and Ponte Rotto has been a construction site. I watched the work going on as we've crossed the bridges, knowing that soon, the Tiber's banks would turn into a nightly party. As the tents went up, the stages were built, and the outdoor theater was erected on the Isola Tiberina, I felt the excitement of watching a stage set come to life. The annual summer festival along the river opens next weekend, Friday, June 16.
The deck chairs and benches are already
waiting at the riverside bars and cafes.
The summer movie theater is open on the island, playing classic films in Italian, including homages to Visconti and Almodovar.
"The rum drunk most in the worst bar in Trastevere."
The bar under the Ponte Sisto on the Trastevere side is serving snacks, beer and (according to the sign) lots of rum, from early afternoon until late at night. A stage has been set up for live music and dancing here and there will be additional stages and dance floors at other locations along the river.
Posted by Joie
June 10, 2006
Don Francesco explains La Befana
In the Christian liturgical cycle, January 6 marks the feast of the Epiphany. "Epiphany" comes from the Greek for "manifestation", "revelation" or "showing", referring to the "revealing" or "manifestation" of the Christ Child to the Magi or "Wise Men" or "Three Kings", as they are known in various cultures and/or places.
The feast of the Epiphany complements Christmas in this way, theologically: whereas the new-born Christ Child was announced on Christmas to shepherds outside of Bethlehem (those shepherds represent Jesus' own local, Jewish people), the "manifestation" of the Christ Child to the Magi (who represent all non-Jewish nations and peoples) points to the universal significance of the Incarnation of the Son of God. In other words, Christ came not only for His own Jewish people, but rather for all people, everywhere — universal salvation.
Most liturgical scholars believe that long before December 25th was celebrated in the West as Christ's birthday ("Christ Mass"), the January 6th date was already being celebrated in the East to recall Christ's Incarnation and Manifestation. In fact, many of the Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Christ's birth on the Epiphany, rather than the more "Western" or "Roman" date of December 25th, which was adopted in the West as a symbolic date to commemorate when the "Light of the World" and "Sun of Justice" first scattered the darkness of sin — an obvious tie-in with the pre-existing, non-Christian celebrations of light conquering winter darkness.
Since St. Matthew's Gospel describes the Magi as bringing precious, symbolic gifts for the new-born "King of the Jews", the tradition of exchanging gifts on the feast of the Epiphany quickly became popular. In many cultures children still hang stockings on the chimney or put their shoes on the hearth in the expectation of the Magi leaving gifts for them as well.
In Italy the word for Epiphany "Epiffania" slowly got distorted when the initial "E" was dropped and the word became "Piffania", "Beffania" and finally "Befana". While the tradition of gift-giving on the feast of the Ephiphany — now "La Befana"— continued, somehow the gift=givers (originally the Magi) were changed into an old woman or benevolent witch. She is traditionally portrayed riding a broomstick with a sack of gifts over her shoulder for good girls and boys — and the traditional coal or onions and garlic (!) for the bad ones. In Rome, the festivities surrounding the celebration of "La Befana" have centered on Piazza Navona for some centuries now, where one can still find all manner of treats, candies, toys and assorted Christmas decorations.
Posted by Don Francesco
January 5, 2007
Alas, the towering Christmas tree in the Piazza Venezia, the very centerpiece of Rome's Christmas decor, has been pre-empted this year by the dig for the new subway/underground/metro line. In revenge, and to show their dismay, the people of the eternal city have decided to hang poor Santa. He can be seen suspended, in a state of terror, from balconies, buildings, umbrellas and sign posts all over town. In a valiant, but ultimately pathetic, effort to provide a substitute, the Paris restaurant in Trastevere's Piazza San Calisto has erected its own tree, festooned in a cheery but low-rent fashion with red and gold plastic plates and forks. At least we still have the Christmas lights, strung across streets throughout the old center.
Posted by Joie
December 14, 2006
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Holiday on December 8th
On December 8 the Catholic Church throughout the world celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception -- a much misunderstood feast, even by Catholics. Many (Catholics included...) mistakenly think that the term "Immaculate Conception" refers to the moment of Jesus Christ's virginal conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In fact, the term refers to Mary's conception in the womb of her mother, identified by an ancient tradition (though not in the Scriptures) as St. Anne. So, this is a feast of Mary, though it obviously has Christological significance as well, which could easily be another whole article.
What exactly do Catholics celebrate on the feast of the "Immaculate Conception"? They celebrate the doctrine (and the event it refers to), formally and infallibly defined by Pope Pius IX ("Pio Nono") on December 8, 1854, stating that "The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (From Pius IX's declaration of the Immaculate Conception called "Innefabilis Deus."
Now, what exactly does that mean? In a nutshell, the Pope was "defining infallibly" or declaring to be authentic, revealed doctrine, the ancient belief that Mary, in preparation for her extraordinary mission as the Mother of the Savior, had received from God a special, literally unique grace or unmerited gift. The woman who would become the Mother of Our Lord was to be preserved --from the very instant of her conception-- from all taint of the Original Sin that is borne by each and every human being since the fall of humanity from its original, created state of grace.
Does that mean that Mary had no need of Christ or of salvation? An emphatic "No!" Rather, the doctrine teaches that the same, saving grace which derives from Jesus' death and resurrection, and which justifies all believers in Christ, was graciously applied by God in Mary's case before her birth. In fact, at the moment of her conception. For God, of course, there is no time, no "before" or "after" -- all is an ever-present "now" for God. Thus, Mary was "preserved free from sin" --saved-- by God's grace, in preparation for her mission of bringing the Savior into the world.
What was the significance of that particular date, December 8? Since an ancient tradition held that Mary was born on September 8th, by counting backwards 9 months one arrives at the "day" (obviously symbolic...) on which St. Anne would have conceived Mary in her mother's womb. In the same way March 25th traditionally came to mark the feast of the Annunciation (of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary). When Mary said "Yes!" to God's invitation that she consent to become the Mother of the Savior, at that moment Christ was conceived in Mary's womb, and was born 9 months later -- on December 25th.
In Rome, December 8th witnesses various solemn celebrations of the Mass around town, and then large crowds flock to Piazza di Spagna to witness the Pope's annual visit to the monument there commemorating the declaration of the Immaculate Conception in 1854. The pope brings a wreath with him in honor of the Blessed Virgin and Rome's Vigili di Fuoco (Firemen) proudly place it at the feet of the Virgin's statue atop the great stone column -- riding their "Cherry Picker" or hydraulic platform to the top. It's well worth fighting the crowds to witness this traditional event and catch a glimpse of the Pope outside of the Vatican. Afterwards many folks take advantage of the holiday to do some Christmas shopping on the famous and elegant Via dei Condotti, or to have a coffee, tea and pastries at Babbington's Tea Room or at the Antico Caffe' Grecco.
Religious trivia lovers may be interested to know that this was the first of two times that a pope has ever solemnly and infallibly defined a dogma -- contrary to the general assumption that everything the pope says is "infallible". Wrong! The second time a pope did so, again defining a Marian dogma, was when Pope Pius XII solemnly declared the dogma of Mary's Assumption into Heaven on 15 August, 1950. Pius thus provided Romans and all who reside in Italy with another famous holiday: the most important day of the annual summer vacation, called "Ferragosto". But that's another story...
Don Francesco December 7, 2007