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Rush hour

12 Aug
Mid-August and the commuting is easy. Fewer cars, buses and motorini, as well as fewer people and closed shops define the period from now through the end of next week. Starting the 25th, life will return to the city. For now, we enjoy the quiet.  Usually the major avenue near us, Viale Parioli, is chock-a-block with vehicles. Ric says on a normal evening you could practically walk across the street on the tops of cars.
This is Viale Parioli at 17:30 this evening, the major shopping street a few minutes walk from our apartment. Usually it is a hubbub of cars, motorcycles, buses and people scurrying to do their shopping.

This is Viale Parioli at 17:30 this evening, the major shopping street a few minutes walk from our apartment. Usually it is a hubbub of cars, motorcycles, buses and people scurrying to do their shopping.

Sunday morning it was so quiet we could hear the priest in the church across the street giving his homily to a greatly reduced congregation. His voice echoed off the walls and spilled into the street.
No matter how long we live here, I think we will find this an interesting and amusing cultural phenomenon: everyone who can leaves town and goes to the beach for as much of August as they can manage. Many shops and restaurants close from the 1st to the 31st, some for only a couple of weeks.  
Friday is the holidayFerragosto, which has its roots in ancient Rome introduced by Emperor Augustus.  Families will lunch, everything that can manage to will close, and we will get the day off. Gotta love the foreign holidays!
To my Italian friends, buona festa


Typical sign on a local restaurant. Nice break for the employees, paid of course!

Typical sign on a local restaurant. Nice break for the employees, paid of course!

Rome – Closed for the Holidays

15 Aug
A simple hand-lettered sign on a boutique. When will they return? Who knows!

A simple hand-lettered sign on a boutique. When will they return? Who knows!

Rome is deserted. For the past three weeks, the city has become progressively quieter: less traffic, fewer stores open. Some of the city buses are on a special schedule in August with reduced runs. Even the seagulls that frequent our neighborhood and scream at 3:00AM seem to have taken off for parts unknown. There are fewer dogs in the park, and fewer runners, too. Some mornings I can walk through Villa Borghese and see almost no one except the omnipresent vendors setting up for the day’s business.

I cannot possibly imagine this happening in the United States, but store after store is closed per ferie, the period surrounding the mid-August holiday of ferragosto.  I won’t go into the ancient roots of this holiday, or the fact that it was co-opted by “The Church.” I will tell you what it is like this month.

  • People are at the beach, whether for the day, the week or the month. Those that are not at the beach are in the mountains, but most Italians are true sun-worshipers and so they flock to the beach where they lay on a chaise lounge under an umbrella, side-by-side-by-side.
  • Businesses are shuttered with little signs that say how long they will be chiuso. Could be a week, or even the entire month.
  • You can find a place to park on almost any street, in almost any piazza. This does not happen any other time of the year. Buses run almost empty.

    A more formal sign assures  customers of this cafe that they will only be closed a week.  Everyone to the beach!

    A more formal sign assures customers of this cafe that they will only be closed a week. Everyone to the beach!

Restaurants are closed or quasi-empty. Two weeks ago, on a Saturday night, we went to a highly recommended restaurant near the Embassy and at the peak dining hour of 21:00 we were the only customers! I’d even made a reservation. A very uncomfortable situation for us and for the restaurant owner.  Luckily the quality of the food did not suffer.

An Italian friend told me that when she was a child (35-40 years ago) it was even quieter in August. It was even difficult to get groceries as supermarkets and shopping centers did not exist.

Another tradition of ferragosto is to give your portiere (building superintendent-manager-doorman-handyman all rolled into one) a gift of €25-€50 (about $33-67) in recognition of what they do for us. This is also traditional at Christmas and Easter.  The portiere is also key to security, so he remains on duty in August when many apartments are vacant and is – hopefully – a deterrent to the break-ins that increase in frequency during the mass-exodus to the beach.

This children's shop in a posh neighborhood is closed from 8 Aug to 2 Sept.

This children’s shop in a posh neighborhood is closed from 8 Aug to 2 Sept.

Today, August 15, is the actual ferragosto. The Embassy is closed, as are most businesses not in the tourist-trade. Our neighborhood is Christmas-morning quiet. No dogs, no birds, no motorini, no traffic, just one suspicious helicopter circling occasionally (never a good thing). We were able to find a nice bar (cafe) open for a holiday cornetto e cappucino fix.

While it may not be the best economic decision to close your business during the current crisis, I have to respect the tradition. People spending time with their families, having lunch with grandma, and escaping the heat if possible. For an amusing look at the holiday, seek out the movie “Mid-August Lunch” (Italian with English subtitles, available to stream on Netflix).

Summertime and the city is deserted

18 Aug

Everywhere you go, businesses are closed. Some are closed for the whole month, some for a week or two.

18 August 2012

Every blogger seems to be writing about Ferragosto, the heat, and the Italians fleeing the city. Lacking a family casa al mare (house by the sea) we are, of course, here working. And this city is indeed a strange place this month!  Ferragosto is the Italian late-summer holiday introduced by Emperor Augustus, now a big family day (think beach, lunch with Grandma) and also a religious day, The Feast of the Assumption. Many people build a vacation around it, much as Americans would do around Independence Day.

7:00AM – There should be trams, a bus or two, several motorini, and dozens of cars. Niente this week!

There’s little or no street construction, so noise is  reduced considerably. Many apartments are empty and we hardly see any lights on at night in the neighborhood. Portieri (building superintendents) are on duty all month to provide extra security for vacant apartments.

At lunch, you might have to hunt around for a small cafe to even find a sandwich. Some grocery stores shorten their hours or close for a couple of weeks to remodel. We also hear evidence of some indoor remodeling work as apartment owners have projects addressed while they are on vacation.

Piazza Fiume, major bus plaza, deserted

5:15PM Friday – This piazza is usually a chaotic mix of cars, motorscooters, buses, taxis and pedestrians. Not yesterday during my “rush hour.”

At the office the phone doesn’t ring, there’s less mail, few visitors, and meetings are cancelled for lack of attendees.

In the evening, there’s a sense of desertion. It’s eerie in a Zombie-Apocalypse sort of way. Buses still run, but some are less frequent. One part of the Metro is shut down for renovation.  Why not? Ridership is down. So what if tourists are confused?  It will reopen in time for back-to-school-and-work.

Summertime and the parking is easy! Usually filling up with commuters when I walk through, this street is in Villa Borghese. The dogs playing in the park have disappeared and the joggers are few.

Except for major tourist areas, the buses are almost deserted and on schedule.

Poor Man's Limo - Alone on the bus

Usually I have to stand on the way home, at least until the last few stops. This week, I not only get a seat, but I am the last one on the bus for almost half the trip.

We were kind of dreading August: the heat, the stories about closures and inconvenience. However, I think I am going to like August here.

  • My morning commute (walk) is serene and I don’t have to dodge traffic
  • I have time to catch up on projects at work
  • We avoid cooking as much as possible  and go out to the restaurants that remain open

And sometimes we get marvelous thunderstorms!

We grew up in thunderstorm country and missed them while in Portland, where they are neither frequent nor intense. In Rome they are intense, if not frequent. Monday we were treated to a two-hour show! (Although I did get soaked on the way home.)

A castle and a palazzo

6 Aug

We had a busy and fun weekend. While some would cower in air-conditioned comfort, we headed out to experience more of Rome. The key is to go early, come home by noon-ish, then back out at night. There’s too much to do in Rome in the summer! You can’t curl up under the covers like LibbyJean!

Saturday we always go to Campo dei Fiori, a busy busy market almost any day of the week. We love the bustle and hustle, and access to the best salumi in all of Rome: Antica Norcineria Viola. Unfortunately now closed for ferie, so we have to make do with our stockpile until he returns in September.

Beautiful vegetables and the best salumi in Rome.

We also had our usual cappucino and pastry, this time con mele e crema, near Santa Maria della Pace.

Saturday night, after dinner at our favorite little trattoria, we ventured to Castel Sant’Angelo for Notti d’Estate (Summer Nights), and a special tour including the Passetto di Borgo (secret passage allowing the Pope to escape if the Vatican was sacked — and it was), prisons, and the bathroom of Clement VII.

Castel Sant’Angelo aglow, beckoning.

The English tour, for which we had reservations, was at 22:45. We were there by 22:00, looked around a bit, and then waited for our tour to be called. At 22:50 I asked “When will the English tour start?” Madam it has already left! We never heard or saw anyone claiming to be an English tour guide…. So we joined an Italian tour and vowed to return later this summer and pick up an English version so as to get all the details. Lucky for us, tours continue into September. And with the lovely nights we have in Rome, it will be a good excuse to stay out late once again.

We were able to climb to the ramparts and look down on the Tiber River, the crowd in front of the castle, and the gorgeous moon over Rome.

Playing with water: fun for kids of all ages. There are “nasone” and other little drinking fountains like this all over Rome. Ric demonstrates his technique. Block the flow with your finger creating a stream to drink from.

It really was a gorgeous night. The river was still and Rome glowed like it was lit by torches. That’s St. Peter’s Basilica on the right in the picture.

Bridge reflected in the Tiber; Basilica San Petro on the right.

Sunday we ventured out early to see a photo exhibit at the Museo di Roma in Palazzo Braschi. While the photos were great (Italian movie stars of the 40s, 50s and 60s), the star real was Palazzo Braschi

The art is interesting, but Palazzo Braschi is the star.

Featuring many scenes of Rome as painted during the Renaissance, it is fun to see how things looked to the artists of the time. Palazzo Braschi was the perfect stage for its collection.

The massive staircase was like an Escher painting.

This captivating capital crowns one of the many red granite pillars and is typical of the amazing detail in Palazzo Braschi.

Fabulous detail throughout, this captivating capital is typical.

Residents of Rome get a reduced price, and those residents over 65 with a Carta d’Identia get in free. (There are reductions  for residents at many attractions.) We had the place almost to ourselves. Once you have seen the Vatican Museums, the Capitoline, and the Borghese, it’s nice to avoid the huge crowds and escape to one of Rome’s many lesser-known sites.

You never know who you’ll see in a museum. We thought this papal bust looked like Vincent Price.

Palazzo Braschi exits right onto Piazza Navona.

Sunday afternoon we spent at home, and after sunset, a gelato outing capped the weekend. Perfect!

Have a great week everyone!

Rome at night

30 Jun

It has been brutally hot in Rome for 15 days; there is no end in sight (well maybe it will be in only the upper 80’s by Tuesday). varies the forecast with catchy phrases like “plenty of sunshine” and “blazing sunshine.” The low here tonight is higher than Portland’s forecast high for the day.

Il Colosseo at night, glows as if lit by torches.

But night time is magical and soft. Last Saturday (we are repeating the pattern today) we did our morning shopping, then holed up in air conditioned comfort from Noon until 7:30PM, when we hit the streets. For those who know us, this is aberrant behavior. We were usually on our way home from dinner by 7:30PM in Portland.

Rome comes alive about 8:00PM. We headed to a riverside “event” called Lungo il Tevere. This is a street market that runs along the Tiber (Tevere) River for about a mile. It’s a seasonal, semi-permanent installation that occurs every single night until September 2. Some nights the focus is on jazz, on others comedy or the creative arts. So one can return over and over and find something a little different in terms of entertainment.

The Tiber is >30 feet below the city, thanks to flood-control walls built in the 1870s. The broad riverside walkway is perfect for the tents, booths and cafes that line it for the summer season.

Lungo il Tevere (along the Tiber) summer market, cafe, entertainment venue.

Lamplight makes the river walk more romantic.

Young and old, singles and families, strolled from booth to booth, café to café, enjoying the night and freedom from being cooped up in apartments. We declined to eat at Lungo il Tevere this time, preferring the Largo di Torre Argentina area and a little place we found last December. But on our way out, we paused on the bridge to savor a lovely sunset and the dome of St. Peter’s.

Sunset and the Basilica San Pietro

A summer night out in Rome would not be complete without a stop at the neighborhood gelateria. This is the scene a couple of blocks from our apartment at 23:15. And it is like this every night of the week (at least in summer). There seem to be two peak times: around 18:00 for pre-dinner aperitivo and about 23:00. Bar Gelateria Duse has a melon gelato that is to die for! So intense is the fruit that it is practically healthy.

This is our go-to place for gelato. Open late!

Another night, we ventured out as dusk descended with guests to see the monuments along Via dei Fori Imperiali, which leads from the Coliseum past the Roman Forum. There we so few people compared to daytime, you’d have thought you were in downtown Omaha except more scenic. (No offense to Nebraskans, but you know what it’s like.)

Monuments at night: serene, peaceful, lovely.

Even our neighborhood is bathed in gold at night!

Goodnight Moon! Parioli – view from our window.

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