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Tag Archives: Rome

Il grande rientro

3 Sep
3 September 2016. The deserted streets of the past month are once again full of buses, cars, and motorini. The kids with their unmuffled  POS cars wake us periodically between 23:00-01:00 as they zoom down the hill behind our bedroom and careen around the corner giving us an extra blast of over-revved engine as they pass the front of the building. (The landlady said this was a quiet street! But then she’s Italian and sleeps with the windows closed against a possible chill when it’s still 79 degrees Fahrenheit at bedtime. If we are lucky it’s a chilly 68 when we wake up.)
There were almost no car horns to be heard for the last 4 or 5 weeks, and no double-parking. So many closed businesses. This all seems like a dream as the streets are once again clogged, the impatient drivers leaning on their horns, and an open parking spot is as rare as a Lutheran church in Rome. Stores re-opened with their “New Collections” displayed: the wools, browns, and grays of the autumn wardrobe. Newstands sprang back to life with fresh magazines in stock and the florists are once again oases of color on many street corners.
End of summer

Beaches will be empty soon. And delightful for those not into the usual cheek-by-jowl beach scene.

This, my friends, is Il Grande Rientro: The return to reality as thousands upon thousands of Romans give up their beach chairs and umbrellas and head back to work. School won’t start for another week-or-so, and that will add another layer of congestion back as each child is accompanied to the door of the nearby elementary school by a parent or nanny.
In every store and restaurant you are asked “Comè andata la Sua vacanza?” (How was your vacation?) Or perhaps “Dovè siete andati in ferie?” (Where did you go on holiday?)
So many people go away in August. SO MANY. Apartments are shuttered, entire apartment buildings have no windows lit at night, and renovation work continues day-and-night as contractors struggle to complete work while the owners are on holiday. I cannot do justice to describe what it is like to experience this thing. It is a phenomenon one has to live through to believe.
The great return even gets news coverage due to the crowded autostrada.

The great return even gets news coverage due to the crowded autostrada.

Then on Monday it was like a switch was thrown and the city was refilled from a firehose full of cars and people. And apparently this rientro is quite traumatic for the Italian who have been away for four weeks. There are articles about how to make it less stressful, what to eat (digestion being top-of-mind) to ensure a healthy return. Some sources offer practical and pragmatic tips. Others, like the Corriere della Sera, offer a lighthearted approach in 10 dishes to console yourself with at the end of vacation, including gelato, pizza, chocolate cake, and a Mumbai burger. It’s a funny piece.
Soon this will all seem normal. It’s the sudden onset that is so shocking. Just as things are heating up even more next week with schools coming online, we will escape to the U.K. for our next adventure. I’ll write to you from the road. Until then ben rientro!
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End of the World? No, it’s just August in Roma

24 Aug
20 August 2016.   Imagine a street, deserted of humans, cars parked dusty and unused, dead leaves skittering along in the evening breeze. There is an eerie, end-of-the-world-movie, ghost town quality. Think of the film “On the Beach” where New York City is deserted. Like that, but with the occasional bus or car passing. The trams are empty, too.
Usually this street, our neighborhood's main street, is chock-a-block with cars. Lots of horns would be sounding because everyone is in a hurry, and the lanes are often blocked by narcissitic double-parkers. Tonight you could park on the center line and not bother anyone.

Usually this street, our neighborhood’s main street, is chock-a-block with cars. Lots of horns would be sounding because everyone is in a hurry, and the lanes are often blocked by narcissistic double-parkers. Tonight you could park on the center line and not bother anyone.

That describes our “high street” as the Brits would say, Viale dei Parioli on this August Saturday night. The sidewalk markets (le bancarelle) have even disappeared by early evening since there are no prospective clients. We are the only people on foot at 19:30. There is finally shade and relief from the heat. We seek to stretch our legs after self-imposed confinement since 11:00, and we are searching for dinner.
This street merchant closed up super early. No customers walking by. Usually this area is full of merchant tables.

This street merchant closed up super early. No customers walking by. Usually this area is full of merchant tables.

A couple of days prior I made a reservation, as is my practice, but this morning while we walked before the heat came on, the restaurant called. They had made a mistake. Actually, their on-line reservation system had made the mistake, but most likely because they did not bother to update the calendar. They are closed for ferie. Throughout the hours surrounding Italian lunchtime I called three more restaurants whose websites and GoogleMaps purported they were open. I called again between 17:00 and 18:00. No answer. Maybe they did not open for lunch. Perhaps they are too busy to answer the phone. It’s possible that no one answers before 18:00 when they are readying for the evening.
We decided to walk 40 minutes to an area with several good restaurants we have patronized. Surely on this hot August night one will have a table. We pass the place we ate at recently. It was fine, but has a small menu and we do not care to repeat so soon. Then as we approach each familiar restaurant, going farther and farther from home, they are all shuttered. Chiuso per Ferie. 
This is usually an attrative little aperitivo bar with umbrellas and vute tables, candles, etc. Not this month!

This is usually an attractive little aperitivo bar with umbrellas and cute tables, candles, etc. Not this month!

By now we are past the British Embassy and almost to the American Embassy in Via Veneto. Seeing a lively corner we stop to peruse the menu. Looks fine. Nonno (grandpa) is outside asking to seat us. Is there a table within? Air conditioning seems like a good idea after an hour’s walk in 80-degree Fahrenheit temps.
A memorable meal for the wrong reasons. Fish previously frozen, an over-priced wine list, and an 80-year-old-guitar-playing-singer who went from table to table. He skipped us. Might have been the look on Ric’s face.
I pity the tourists lured into such a place that might think this is great food.
We did enjoy the goings-on around us. A couple from South Carolina that could not shake the minstrel as he sang them song-after-song. Three (southern) American women who wanted iced tea (eyss-TAY). The waiter, who could not understand their request, confirming they want te caldo, which is NOT cold tea but hot. A priest seated nearby piping up to correct the waiter. Across the restaurant, a little girl is enchanted by the singing grandpa.
We headed for home in moderating temperatures, luckily finding a bus just when we needed it most. This week, Rome begins to re-awaken. More stores re-open the 29th, and by September 5th we will be in full rientro mode as even the wealthiest people with case al mare (homes by the sea) will need to get back to reality.
And the motorini will once again scream past on the street past our bedroom making sleep difficult.
Before you go, over at Our Weekly Pizza we are on a pizza-eating hiatus and reviewing some of the restaurants we’ve enjoyed lately. Not the unnamed tavern above.

 

Every year the same thing: One, two, three, even four weeks closed.

Every year the same thing: One, two, three, even four weeks closed.

Hot town: summer in the city

4 Aug
4 August 2016. There is a hush over Rome that arrived earlier this year than in the past. Since our return from the Dolomites we’ve noticed traffic is already lighter. We cross the street almost without looking. Motorini do not disturb our sleep even with windows ajar.There are many empty parking spots on our street, although double-parking still plagues the commercial streets. Some stores are closed for the entire month. Are the Romans already off to the beach for their summer holidays?
Sure sign of August: closures everywhere. This on a cellular service storein our neighborhood. They'll be back AUgust 29.

Sure sign of August: closures everywhere. This on a cellular service store in our neighborhood. They’ll be back August 29.

It’s dreadfully hot: 35C/95F today. We pity the workers pouring concrete in the courtyard of our apartment building after replacing a gas line, as well as the guys doing construction on ritzy apartments whose dwellers have gone off to the beach during the renovation. But there are heat lovers: the sadistic bus drivers who do not turn on the A/C until afternoon. The 1940s-era trams that have no A/C are to be avoided after 10:00. 
How to survive in a city of bricks and pavement that retains more heat day-after-day, full of Italians who think air conditioning is the devil’s work? It’s all about taking advantage of the (relatively) cool morning and evening hours. We do not have A/C in the apartment or we’d turn it on full blast and wear sweaters to compensate. We had such great exercise in the Dolomites last month we do not want to backslide. But walking in 90-plus degree (Fahrenheit) heat is not an option. (The highs in Ortisei were lower than the lows in Rome right now.)
So here is how we structure our days.
October in Portland? No, it is August in Rome. The big trees on Viale Parioli have not had significant rain for awhile. Still they offer a welcome canopy as we shop.

October in Portland? No, it is August in Rome. The big trees on Viale Parioli have not had significant rain for awhile. Still, they offer a welcome canopy as we shop.

Up at 5:00AM, we open the house and allow the cooler air in, lighting citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes out while we have coffee and feed the cats. Only our bedroom has screens and we had to pay to have those installed. It’s about 22 Celsius in the morning. That’s 72 F. When we hit the sack at 10:30 or so, it’s still 29C/84F. We do our errands and appointments — always walking an hour at least — as early as possible so we can be out and back before 11:00. Or, as we did this morning with no big errands to run, we might take a purposeful walk of 90 minutes, leaving at 6:15-or-so, when the city is quiet and walking is tolerable. Home by 8:00 (stopping for cappuccino, of course!) we shower and then run to the store for any fresh food we might need. By 8:45, as the sun creeps up over the building next door, we have to close the windows and the heavy Italian serrande that hold the heat out. We become cave dwellers, leaving only a small cat-height opening onto the terrace as the girls still like to bake themselves. It is so dark with the serrande down, we have to use lights all day.
New on the street this year: motorino sharing from ZigZag. Three-wheelers.

New on the street this year: motorino-sharing from ZigZag. Three-wheelers.

Fans are on high, and we sit around the dining room table with laptops, both fans aimed for maximum air-blast. If we had Italian mothers they would be shocked. Air blowing on you can cause an illness called colpa d’aria. Or we may move a fan with us to a different part of the apartment to facilitate a chore: chopping up ingredients for dinner in the kitchen, for example. Use the oven? Certainly not, at least not after 7:00AM. We use the crockpot, but even that generates some heat. Salads are our friends these hot days and nights. We watch some TV, we read, write, manage finances, shop online, plan trips.
About dinner time (20:00) we can think about opening a couple of windows as we do not face west. Is there a breeze to catch so we can cool off the house a bit before bedtime? We light the citronella candles again against the dreaded mosquitoes. (Why don’t Italians do screens? Instead, they close the shutters tight and sleep in the hot rooms, fearful of killer night breezes and mosquitoes.) After dinner, we might take a stroll just to get some air and stretch our legs.
This store decided to only be open from 16:00-20:00 for 3 weeks.

This store decided to only be open from 16:00-20:00 for 3 weeks.

One evening we bravely took a bus at 17:00 (the street was shady at least, in the 31C/88F temp) to a movie theatre, where we basked in air-conditioned comfort for two hours. Then we walked an hour home in the relative comfort after 20:00. Another night we ventured to the opera at the Baths of Caracalla; starting time, 21:00. There is a lot that goes on after dark in summer and people come alive embracing the night time for socializing and getting out. Dinners run past midnight in many restaurants.
At bedtime,  we have to close up everything except the bedroom (so happy to have screens on the terrace doors!) and aim the best fan right at the bed. We sleep like the dead as with a diminished number of people in the city the motorini passing on our street are also miraculously few.
The beauty of Rome in summer is that it is eerily quiet and it’s kind of fun to wander around in the crepuscular hours.  We will live this way until September 7 when we head off on another trip. Somehow, magically, when we turn the page to September the heat is not so intolerable. The Roman sun follows the order of the universe and nights will mercifully drop below 20C/68F. We might even turn off the fans.
Not to be outdone, Enjoy, a cooperative effort with the national train service and ENI a fuel supplier, adds motorini to their car-sharing fleet.

Not to be outdone, Enjoy, a cooperative effort with the national train service and ENI a fuel supplier, added motorini to their car-sharing fleet.

If you’d like to read about past impressions of life-in-Rome in August, here are links to 2012, 2013, and 2014. (2015 we were in the U.S. lapping up the air conditioning.)
August 2014
August 2013
August 2012

Of man and machine

29 Jun
29 June 2016. Finding statues from the Roman Imperial Era is easier than finding a seat on the bus in Rome. Every museum is loaded with the statues of this era (and earlier), all by unknown artists, mostly slaves who were primarily Greek. Many of these statues are beautiful marble copies of Greek bronzes and they are EVERYWHERE. They are so common that unless you are an art historian, sooner or later you just pass them by. Statues with broken noses, exposed breasts, and missing arms and penises become quite ordinary when you see them everywhere. Until you go to Centrale MontemartiniHere the artwork is juxtaposed (I love using that word) with the machinery that once was used to produce power.
Machine works surrounded by ancient works of art.

Machine works surrounded by ancient works of art.

 
Dionysus, 4th century B.C. I love the juxtapositioning with the industrial site.

Dionysus, 4th century B.C. I love the juxtapositioning with the industrial site.

 
Huge resconstructed mosaic floor at Centrale Montemartini.

Huge reconstructed mosaic floor at Centrale Montemartini.

Centrale Montemartini was the first power plant to produce electricity for Rome, starting in the early 20th century, on the banks of the Tiber. A 15-minute walk from Stazione Ostiense brings you to this lightly-visited corner of Rome. The machinery has not been removed: rather it provides a startling backdrop for the Roman Imperial Era statues that are a part of the vast collection of the Capitoline Museum. In fact, this museum started as a temporary home for works the Capitoline could not accommodate. 

 

Head of a colossus, female. from 101 B.C....

Head of a colossus, female. from 101 B.C….

...and her foot. Ric demonstrates proportion.

…and her foot. Ric demonstrates proportion.

Whether you favor twentieth-century machinery, classical marble statuary, or a peaceful location, Central Montemartini has something for you. After a visit, saunter on over to Eataly for a nice lunch and some shopping before hopping the Metro, tram, or bus back to the throngs of tourists in the Centro Storico.
Fabulous mosaic from Anzio, 1st century B.C.

Fabulous mosaic from Anzio, 1st century B.C.

 
Missing body parts...perhaps the heads and arms are in a different museum. Franco Tosi was the machinery manufacturer. Still in business.

Missing body parts…perhaps the heads and arms are in a different museum. Franco Tosi was the machinery manufacturer. Still in business.

Missing the U.S.A.

19 Jun
19 June 2016. There must be something in the air causing ex-pat Americans in Italy to miss America.  I am pretty certain it isn’t Trump, Clinton or Sanders conjuring up the emotional response to missing the homeland, but a rash of articles, blogs, and posts to Facebook broke out in the past couple of weeks.
We’ve now been in Rome four years (as of May 18, 2016) and retired for one (as of May 19). We have found the experience as true ex-pats, outside the protective bubble of the embassy, to put us more in touch with what it is really like to live here. And yet we do not have to face many of the challenges working Italians that are raising families face. We have no pesky jobs.
Still, I have to say from time-to-time I get a little maudlin about not being in the United States. Rome is so beautiful and a delight to walk through when people aren’t knocking you off the sidewalk, but there are a few things from the U.S. that I miss so very much.
Clothes dryers
Drying rack on our terrace. It faces south, so when the weather is good the drying is fast. That's Libby in the foreground.

Drying rack on our terrace. It faces south, so when the weather is good the drying is fast. That’s Libby in the foreground.

You can try to romanticize the fresh-air drying, clothes warmed by the sun, blah, blah, blah. The truth is, all we have is a terrace with a rack from IKEA. The clothes come out stiff. I have never ironed so much in my life. There is nothing fresh about the motorino-scented air of Roma and if I leave them out too long, they gather pollen and dust. 
In winter, we have to hang clothes on a smaller rack in our second bedroom because they won’t dry in the cold and not enough sun hits the terrace. Drying bed sheets can take 24 hours. Give me a good old tumble dryer! We had one in our embassy apartment but running one is cost-prohibitive for the average person. Plus, there’s not room for one in our apartment.  
Ethnic food
Yes, we love Italian food. We can (and do) eat it day and night, but we miss the diversity of Peruvian, Mexican, Lebanese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indian available in most great cities. Certainly some are available in Roma. We’ve tried Thai in Roma and just was not comparable to anything we get in the U.S., although there is an excellent Lebanese place. On our recent trip through Switzerland, we managed to find excellent Mexican, Vietnamese, and Indian food. Oh, yeah, we had Italian, too. 
It is also challenging to find certain ingredients. I have been seeking fresh cilantro for 4 years. No dice. 
Understanding what is going on around me most of the time
How wondrous it would be to not only understand the words but also most of the pop culture references. Italian journalistic style takes some getting used to. Reading the paper is a chore for me, and I can understand the TV news only if I sit and watch it, completely focused, so I don’t. 
Family and friends and easy visits
Seeing family means an awfully big trip for one of us. We have American friends in Roma, but it is a transient community. In fact, our closest friends of the last two years are leaving this summer. 
Pedestrian-friendly sidewalks
Walking down the sidewalk is a full-body-contact sport in Roma. In the U.S. sidewalks are wide and level.  In the U.S. foot traffic moves more smoothly because there are norms. People in most cities, whether Paris or Portland, stay right or move over well in advance of any possible impact. In Roma, five people walking together expect to walk abreast of one another regardless of oncoming traffic. They gather in large groups in the middle of the sidewalk blocking passage while carrying on a conversation. People barge out of shop doors without glancing left or right. Add the bancarelli (sidewalk vendors) and cars parked on the sidewalks, and you get the picture: There’s little space left for pedestrians. 

 

A classic example of Roman parking: across the sidewalk, on a pedestrian crossing, in a school zone. I'm sure s/he was only going to be a couple of minutes...

A classic example of Roman parking: across the sidewalk, on a pedestrian crossing, in a school zone. I’m sure s/he was only going to be a couple of minutes…

This is our street. We live in the orangey-pink building on the left. Note the tow-away zone yet cars parked half-on-half-off the sidewalk. There is a sticker on the sign right below the arrow that says "Capito?" Ha! Never, ever do they enforce the parking law here.

This is our street. We live in the orangey-pink building on the left. Note the tow-away zone yet cars parked half-on-half-off the sidewalk. There is a sticker on the sign right below the arrow that says “Capito?” Ha! Never, ever do they enforce the parking law here.

 

Things working and making sense
  • Buses have no schedule because the traffic is heavy and double-parking is so rampant that the bus cannot keep to a schedule. AND the bus drivers are willy-nilly about departures from the top-of-the-route, so often 2 or 3 buses on the same line are within 5 or 10 minutes of one another and then there will be no bus for 45 minutes. WTF? Funny how in Paris you can set your watch to the bus. In Paris, the parking laws are enforced. How novel.  
  • Websites with an “events” page last updated in 2013
  • Stores that close for the afternoon just about when you have time to actually go shopping, and Post Office hours that are 8:35 to 13:05.
  • Parking in the pedestrian crossings, or on sidewalks, or anywhere the driver damn well feels like it. Arrrggghhhhh!
  • Needing to pay the cable company when we disconnect service. Yup, it costs €200 to disconnect and 60 days notice to do so. We might just test this program by not following the rules….
We recently took a cab home from Stazione Termini and the driver was incredulous that we choose to live in Roma. “Why?” he asked. “America is great. Everything works! Italy is a third-world country!” Even Italians know things don’t work here as well as in the U.S.
Talbots, Zappos, & Nordstrom
I miss my favorite stores and online shopping. We have Amazon.it (not good for clothes), and Lands End U.K. (which is good for clothes). I hate going from one tiny store to another looking for something. 
Going out to breakfast now-and-then
Real American smoked bacon is missing from my life. Along with fluffy omelets and breakfast potatoes. I don’t need them often, but more often than twice in four years would be great. 
Reading the Sunday paper (You still have them, right?)
Still we are privileged to live here. In May, we celebrated four years in Rome. Il tempo vola! My grievances are so-called First World Problems. The food in Italy is terrific, the coffee unbeatable, and the wine both excellent and inexpensive. After a recent 7-night stay in Switzerland where we practically had to sell our blood to afford wine, Italy looks mighty affordable. Our rent is less than we’d pay in Portland and we have trains
We do miss you, though, America! Baci to our friends and family. 

 

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