Day 21 in Italy: Gary is jet-lagged, more heat, and dinner with my daughter

Staying indoors today was a wise move because the temperature hit 102 in Rome. But at least it was overcast, so the sun wasn’t quite so intense. Gary slept until almost noon, still adjusting to the time zone change. We are nine hours ahead of California, which means that his body rhythms are out of whack.

Lunch spread…

I still had food in the “Barbie doll refrigerator,” so I thought I’d better cook some lunch instead of going out. I chopped the last of the tomatoes, peeled and shaved some garlic, tore up some fresh basil (which was wilting quickly), and put the pot of water on to boil. Just as I was softening the garlic in some olive oil, I received a message from Donna-Renée. She and David had just arrived from Florence, but they couldn’t check into their hotel room yet. Could they come by our place? It was not very far from the hotel.

Sure! I texted my address, telling her it was on the block behind the Ministry of Public Education, a large structure that was hard to miss. I put some ravioli in to boil, added the tomatoes and basil to the garlic, and set out a plate with cheeses, olives, lupini, fennel, and bread. I was sure they would be hot and hungry after their train ride.

Gary woke and set the table, though he protested that he wasn’t hungry. No matter. The rest of us could eat while he sat at the table with something to drink. When the ravioli was done, I drained it and added it to the pan with the tomatoes. More cooking so it would absorb the juices and flavor from the tomatoes.

Mosaic at Piazza San Cosimoto

I set aside a bowl of the pasta water after having read that Italian women have beautiful skin because they apply pasta water to their faces and bodies. A joke? An old wives’ tale? A secret to lovely smooth skin? It didn’t hurt to try. My daughter and I would see if the magic really worked.

Another phone call. David and Dona-Renée had become separated at the station, and she didn’t know where he was. So, they may as well go ahead to their hotel instead of coming by. Thud. What was I going to do with all this ravioli?

Was Gary even a tiny bit hungry? No, he was going to check his email and relax on the couch. So, I took my place at the table, ate my ravioli, and cleaned up the kitchen. “Kitchen” is a misnomer. The entire space was about the size of a large restaurant table. Yet it included a cupboard for pots, another for dishes, two drawers for flatware and utensils, and a small stove, a sink, and an under-the-counter refrigerator along one side. There was no place for dry food storage. I will never again complain about the size of my kitchen at home.

Donna-Renée, David, and Matteo at dinner

I washed dishes and pans, stacked them on the tiny dish drainer, and separated the trash – organic, paper, plastic, glass, and everything else. The unused dishes and food were left on the table in case my daughter changed her mind. Gary had already gone back to bed and was asleep again.

OK, what to do now? We needed some aqua frizzante and some bread, so I walked the few blocks to the grocery store. The heat wasn’t too bad, actually, thanks to the overcast skies. Carefour, the small store, was well stocked, and I was tempted to buy a pasticiotta in the pastry case, but I passed it by. A woman behind the deli counter was chatting amiably with a man she obviously knew. Two other women wandered the aisled, filling their baskets with fruit, cereal, and other necessities. I pondered buying more stuff, but with only two days remaining in Rome, I thought better of it. I already had too much in the refrigerator, plus the lunch leftovers.

Me, Matteo, and Gary at dinner. You can tell that Gary is not feeling so well.

I paid the cashier for my two bottles of water and my package of toasted bread. No, I don’t need a bag, thanks. I picked up my change and walked back into the day’s heat. Suddenly, it began to rain as I crossed Via Trastevere. Not real rain. Just big fat plops that left a mosaic of wet spots on the street. I stood there on the sidewalk enjoying the sensation and hoping for more. But as quickly as it had started, the rain ended.

Back at the apartment, I put the bottled water in the refrigerator and found a spot for the bread. Gary was still asleep. So, I grabbed my Audible book, went to Piazza San Cosimoto, and got into the next couple of chapters. All around me, people went about their daily business. A woman struggled to catch her breath as she walked up an incline while talking on the phone. A tall thin man passed by, lost in his own thoughts. Two young girls giggled at some shared joke.

Getting bored with my book, I took some photos of a mosaic, trying to catch patterns rather than the full image. I wasn’t sure they were any good. Some photos of people unaware. And then back to the apartment. Gary was still asleep, so I sat in the coolness and checked my email. My daughter sent a message that we should meet at a neighborhood restaurant for dinner at 8:30. Our former Italian student Matteo, now back in the Rome area, wanted to see us.

I checked the location. Only a few blocks away – an easy walk. No taxi necessary.

Matteo having a smoke

Gary woke around 6pm, and I informed him about dinner. He noticed that lunch was still on the table and asked what he should do with it. We put the cheese and olives back into the refrigerator, but the ravioli was not going to fit. So, into the trash it went. I wanted to be upset, but I was the one who had assumed that everyone would be hungry. And you know what they say about making assumptions.

Gary complained about an upset stomach, but he didn’t seem unwell enough not to have dinner. So, at the appointed hour, we walked the few blocks to the restaurant. After a short wait, my daughter arrived with David and Matteo. Hugs all around. “You are still beautiful!” Matteo gushed.

Seated at an outdoor table, we caught up on news. What was Matteo up to now? Was he returning to California, as he’d planned? Was he still playing soccer? Had he really reconnected with his father? How was that going? What? He was thinking of moving to Dubai? Or maybe we could adopt him so he could have American citizenship!

Bunny enjoying tiramisu

Our Italian conversation was flying around the table. “We are talking past Gary and David,” I said. “We shouldn’t do that. They don’t speak or understand Italian.” Gary said it was fine, but I knew it wasn’t. Our discussion switched to watching people pass by on the street. Although Matteo professed to being more selective about women now, valuing them more for personality than for appearance, we noticed that his eyes still popped out whenever a particularly attractive young woman walked by. And there were plenty of those.

Gary complained of feeling hot and unwell. I checked his forehead – cold and clammy. “What does that mean?” he asked. I replied, “That you aren’t running a fever.” My daughter handed him her fan. He started to feel a little better, but not much. “Where does it hurt?” I asked him. He pointed to his abdomen. “That’s good,” I said. “It isn’t in your chest.”

“But I do have this pain running down my left arm,” he joked. I smacked him.

It was almost 11pm. Time to pay up and go back to our respective lodgings. We walked together down Via Trastevere. Donna-Renée and David’s hotel was only a few blocks past our street. “I used to come here all the time!” Matteo said excitedly when he realized that Gary and I were staying near Piazza San Cosimoto. “I went to the school, and we would ride our bikes all around here!”

More hugs. More promises to see each other again sometime. And then Gary and I were unlocking the front door and entering the cool apartment.

My gnochietti
D-R’s pasta gorgonzola

Gary’s seafood pasta… probably not the best choice for an upset stomach…
Matteo and Donna-Renée after dinner
Donna-Renée with her fan

Day 20 in Italy: Gary arrives, naps, walks

The heat was coming in already. Rome in the summer is awful, and even my longtime friend who lives here says it’s the worst she’s seen. Welcome to Climate Change. It’s global.

Gary texted and said he had landed late and could not find the driver that was hired to pick him up. Several passes through the group of drivers holding up names, and his was not among them. I told him to catch a taxi. Be sure he gets the fare quoted first. It should be a flat 50 euro. Don’t accept any other fare because this is the regulated price for a fare into the city.

He arrived about 30 minutes later, overheated because the taxi did not have working air conditioning. But the driver we nice and personable, so Gary didn’t complain. He arrived with two large bags and a duffel, which I helped him carry in. And then he crashed onto the bed and slept for the next several hours.

At dinnertime, he awoke and I asked if he wanted to go out for dinner. He didn’t. So I made a salad while he negotiated with his bank card company about how to handle an apparent theft of his card number. Yes, he had the card in his possession, so it must have been hacked online. Round and round he went with the bank.

Santa Maria in Trastevere at night (Credit: Wiki Commons)

They wanted to send him a new card, but he’s here in Rome. Where will he be next? Ischia? OK, that’s where they’ll mail it. But suppose we miss it? Well, they will cancel it. But can’t he keep using the card he has with him? Oh yes, if he’s using in-person transactions with the physical card, they will honor it. But not any remote transactions. And yes, he can use his other bank credit card because there’s no problem with that one.

So, what was all the rigamarole? He can use the physical card. And he has another card. Problem solved.

After I cleaned up my dishes and made arrangements for our night in Napoli, plus our train tickets, Davide Conti contacted me. He’s Alessandro’s father, and we’re visiting them in Ischia.

He has contacts, so he asked if I would cancel my hotel in Napoli, and he would set us up at a place he knows. It’s a little more expensive, but we could walk to the hydrofoil dock and avoid taxi fares. It sounded good to us. And he would also arrange for a friend with a taxi to pick us up at the train station and take us to the hotel. Good? “It’s a jungle at the Napoli train station,” he said.

Yes! Anything to avoid the taxi jungle. And on top of that, we got the “friends and family” hotel discount of 25%. Great all around! “We can’t wait to see you,” Davide said. “Ale and Cristina are in Sicily right now, but they return Friday, the day after you arrive. We want to show you all of Ischia!”

Hydrofoil schedule to Ischia

Not only am I looking forward to our visit, but Ischia is an island. That means cooler breezes.

“Do you want to go for a walk around the neighborhood?” I asked Gary. He said he did, so I took him along the streets that Jenny had shown me — indicating the bus stops, taxi stands, pharmacy, supermarket, and other landmarks. We crossed through little streets lined with tables filled with diners enjoying a night out.

“It’s 10:30,” Gary said. “Doesn’t anyone work here?” Yes, they go to bed late, get up early, go to work, stop at noon to get out of the heat, and then return at 4 so they can work until 7 or 8. Midday is just too hot for activity, so they catch up on sleep and family time.

I did notice that most people were about college age. Probably out following the end of the semester, or perhaps spending summer break in Italy with their friends. We seemed to be the oldest people around.

Stepping through the cobblestone streets, I took him to Piazza Trastevere. “Jenny says this is the heartbeat of the neighborhood,” I said, pointing to the fountain and the Chiesa Santa Maria in Trastevere. “That church was originally constructed in the second century,” I told him.

Gary and Bunny in Piazza Trastevere

We were lucky enough to find a table for two on the piazza, where we ordered Aperol spritzes (rather strong!) and watched the activity around us. Three people at the next table started playing cards, and at another table, young lithe girls lit up cigarettes and blew smoke into the sky. “Don’t they know that cigarettes will turn their beautiful skin into crêpe paper?” I mused aloud. Too young to care. They believe they’ll never grow old. Even Bunny agreed. (Yes, Gary had brought Bunny with him.)

“Is that a church over there?” Gary asked. I was surprised that he hadn’t heard me mention it earlier. “Yes, originally built in the second century,” I said. “It’s where Jenny and I lit candles and I took photos.”

Gary related how the cats really missed me at home and seemed very confused that I wasn’t around. They kept snuggling with him and crying. Now, what will they think with Bonnie there to take care of them? There’s still a month to go before we return home. Will they be angry with us? Will they remember us? Will they be happy? Confused as Hell? Who knows what goes on in the mind of a cat?

We walked home and fell into bed at 1:30am, falling into deep sleep. Gary kept dreaming that the cats were jumping on him in the dark.

Annie and Charlie probably hunting for us around the yard
Charlie took over the guest room after Alessandro returned to Ischia.

Day 19 in Italy: Sunday is a day of rest, stayed indoors, went for groceries

The Lord rested on Sunday, and so did I. And a good thing. The temperatures are starting to soar, and I’m now thinking like a native – go out in the early morning, come back when the heat begins, and go out again around 6pm, when it starts to cool.

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun.

That said, “cool” is a relative term. Even at night, it’s been in the high 80s, so I’ve come to appreciate my apartment below ground level. The higher you go, the hotter are the floors because (if we paid attention in science class) heat rises.

I did go out at around 3pm to pick up a few things at the store. But I forgot that shops also close between noon and 4pm, or maybe 1 and 4pm. It’s hot for them, too, and Italians do enjoy having lunch at home and perhaps taking a nap with a fan going full blast.

When I tried to stop at my favorite little restaurant, Paulo was just closing the door. “Chiudo?” I asked. “Si,” he said. “A che ora e aperto?” I asked. “Sette mezzo,” he said. OK. Open again at 7:30, like most other restaurants.

That kind of compelled me to stop at the sidewalk restaurant I’d visited on my first evening here – the one with the greasy amatriciana. Obviously, they were a tourist restaurant because they were still open and the place was loaded with non-Italians.

My neighborhood. That’s the Ministry of Education straight ahead. Turn right, and you’re at my place.

I indicated an open table and asked the owner, “Posso?” She said yes, I could sit there. Even under an umbrella and in the shade of a tree, it was hot. I fanned myself with the wine menu. Eventually, the waiter came over. “English menu?” he asked, handing it to me without waiting for an answer. “Italiano,” I replied. He looked annoyed because it required him to go back to the menu box and pick up an Italian menu.

Scanning the choices, I settled on a traditional bruschetta with tomatoes, basil, garlic, and olive oil. And the carciofi alla giudea – the Jewish artichokes I’d fallen in love with. “Wine?” he asked. “No, Fanta,” I replied. I wanted something cold with ice.

Fanta?!” he mumbled under his breath as he walked away. Apparently, he was more interested in admiring himself than in waiting on tables.

Italy is always good for tomatoes and garlic.

A little while later, a woman came out with my plates. She appeared to be the one in charge. I started to cut into my bruschetta and realized that my drink had not arrived. OK, maybe they’re busy. I got all the way through my bruschetta (mediocre) and my artichoke (fine, but 5 euro for one piece was kind of expensive for this place). Still no beverage.

OK. No tip. “Conto, per favore,” I asked the busboy. He brought my bill, and I paid my nine euro and left. “I should have told them I am a food writer,” I thought. “Maybe that giggolo of a waiter would give me more attention.”

Looking at my watch, I realized it was now 4pm and the market would be open. And it was. I entered the department store, headed down the stairs, and indeed found a market on the underground floor! Who’d have guessed?

My stocked itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenie refrigerator. That thing at the top is a Barbie-sized freezer box.

But it looked very small – only a small produce department. I grabbed a plastic basket with wheels, which you are required to pull behind you as you navigate. They probably know that, when you walk home, you can’t carry much with only two hands, so there’s no need for a big wire grocery cart. I chose a couple of tomatoes and then noticed a cheese case. Some of it was on sale, so I picked up a couple of wedges. These would be good for Gary’s arrival tomorrow. Then I noticed a dairy case. And further on, a bakery.

Wow. This was not set up like an American supermarket, with even rows set parallel to each other. Instead, the Italians had applied their road-building skills and laid out the floor plan the same way – like spaghetti. I felt like a rat going through a maze. Nope, this is a dead end. OK, this one twists right and then left. Oh look! This one takes you straight to the shelves stocked with alcohol! I picked up a bottle of Prosecco. And some dark beer.

At the very end, you’re led straight to the checkout counter – la cassa, or the cashier. This is your reward for getting through the maze. You get to pay for your purchases! Meanwhile, you’ve been led through every possible aisle just so you can be tempted to buy more than what you originally planned.

At least, that’s how it worked for me. (I’m looking at you, big bag of chocolate cookies sitting on the kitchen counter.)

Back at my apartment, I unloaded the bag and flopped down on my bed. That air conditioner certainly felt great! Should I just stay there and not move a muscle?

TV in the combo kitchen/dining/living room

No, I figured I’d make my own bruschetta… much better, with toasted bread, chopped tomatoes (with the juice!), minced garlic, torn basil, and plenty of olive oil. Let that puppy soak for a few minutes!

I turned on the TV to find a British mystery series dubbed in Italian. Maybe if I left it on during dinner, I could absorb some Italian words and make sense of the story. Good try, but not perfect. But that was OK. My bruschetta was wonderful, and the lupini afterward were a great bit of satisfaction.

Now, to do the laundry. That means I’ve finally figured out how to operate the machine properly. Oh yes, and answer my emails…

My neighborhood. I’m at the blue dot with the white circle. When Jeanne, Nicole, and I had dinner with David and his sister, we were at a restaurant in the black circle at the top. On the right is the Tiber River.

Day 18 in Italy: Meeting a friend, a lot of walking, and learning my neighborhood

It’s the weekend, and I’m finally feeling more at home here. It’s a direct benefit of meeting up with my inherited friend Jenny, who lives just up the street from where I’m staying. Luck, or what? I chose this particular BnB for its location in Trastevere, a neighborhood near the Tiber River with many good restaurants and activities. And just by chance, I can see Jenny’s condo just up the hill.

Fountain commissioned by Pope Paul V in 1612

So, how did I inherit Jenny? It was probably about 30 years ago when I met her husband Börje on Compuserve. We all were part of a group interested in Italian language and culture. Although he was Finnish, he was living in Rome with his British wife Jenny and their daughters. In the same group, I friended Linda, who was living in NYC at the time. (She eventually moved to Florida, then to New Orleans, and then back to Florida after Hurricane Katrina.)

The three of us clicked and started emailing outside the group. He would often complain about his daughters dancing all night at the disco and then filling the house with beach sand each day at their summer house. When I came to Italy in 1995 with my daughter and my mother, Börje invited us to lunch in Rome at a lovely restaurant close to the Caracalla – the old Roman baths.

Click the image to see how many sites you can find.

When Mom asked for a menu recommendation, he suggested the suckling pig. She was quiet for a long moment and then said, “But I’m not hungry enough to eat a whole pig.” Typical Mom! No, Börje laughed, you get only a few slices.

Then tragedy. Börje was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and his health began to deteriorate. Lin and I sent him a “CARE package” at the hospital, and we watched him fade away forever in 2001. The only good thing to come of it is that we connected with Jenny and have been friends since then.

She had just arrived back in Rome after one of her many trips to see other parts of the world. Would I like to go for a walk and see the city from a hilltop? Yes, please! My hill climbing in Ferrazzano must have done me some good because I was able to climb hills and stairs while talking at the same time. Our climbing was rewarded with a visit to a large fountain I’d never heard of. It was fed by mountain streams and was inscribed with a pope’s name. It seems that the popes of centuries ago liked to imitate the Roman emperors and carve their names into everything possible.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, the George Washington of Italy

And of course, a huge part of the Italian peninsula was part of the old Papal States. (Remember, there was no such thing as Italy until 1861, when all the independent nations were united.) A monument to Garibaldi was a prominent part of the piazza. Mounted on a horse, he held a dignified pose befitting a man who had led the battles to stitch together one nation. Not far away, there was an equally large monument to his wife Anita, shown on a rearing horse and brandishing a weapon.

“She looks like she’s carrying a gun,” I commented. Jenny said yes, Anita had fought alongside her husband as a revolutionary. My later research shows her as a beautiful but steely-eyed woman who could be equally charming but fierce in her convictions. Someone I could admire!

Anita Garibaldi, fighting for the unification of Italy.

Several monuments to other revolutionaries dotted the area, along with gifts from Argentina, a longtime ally of Italy. In fact, many Italians migrated to Argentina (including my mother’s cousin Maria) to set up businesses and homes under benefit of the federal government. One of those monuments is a lighthouse set on the hill, given by Italians who had set up residence in Argentina. I didn’t understand the purpose of a lighthouse standing in the city and miles from the sea. But I suppose it’s more symbolic than practical.

We headed downhill this time, toward the large pediatric hospital named for the infant Jesus, past the souvenir stands, and toward the Tiber. By now, it was growing sunny and hot. The sidewalks were filled with people rolling their suitcases along the cobblestones – arriving in Rome or departing, entering and leaving taxis. Typical Saturday activity.

Jenny wisely suggested that we stop for a drink at a little café that she frequented in the evenings after attending the neighborhood cinema. (There was a movie theater nearby? Note to self…) For her, coffee. For me, a Fanta with plenty of ice.

Artifacts found at the church site now are displayed at the entry.

“Let’s go to the local church,” she suggested. I agreed. It was impossible to avoid churches in this nation where the pope resided. As we crossed a large piazza, Jenny explained that this was the “heartbeat” of Trastevere – the central part where the basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere was based, along with a large fountain that was not running.

The original church was built in the second century, but successive incarnations were constructed or restored or updated in the ensuing years. Entryway walls were decorated with stone artifacts uncovered on the site – inscriptions in Latin or Greek, stone lacework, pieces of stone from ancient tombs.

Altar mosaic in the Byzantine style

Inside, the main center aisle was flanked by stone columns that I later learned had been removed from the Caracalla Baths and reused here. Along the two side aisles, right and left, were small chapels dedicated to individual saints, each with taper candles lit by visitors asking for special remembrances. Jenny and I each lit one in front of the statue of Saint Anthony, with mine in memory of Börje and my mother.

This obviously was a popular spot because the statue held hundreds of folded pieces of paper, each inscribed with someone’s special request, inserted into any available crevice in the statue. Around Saint Anthony’s feet, a large pile of more notes holding someone’s fervent wish for a miracle or a favor.

Oddly, one of the little chapels held a table, a few chairs, and computers. Could this be someone’s office or workspace? It sure looked like one! Should I light a candle and ask for a more stable internet connection?

The main altar was under a half-dome decorated with mosaic images reminding me of Saint Mark’s in Venice. Definitely Byzantine, with gold backgrounds and saints assembled in a row. Jesus and his mother were the focal point. Twelve lambs, plus a central lamb, were included – Jesus and the Apostles?

Requests to Saint Anthony

The four Evangelists were represented, as well as saints I didn’t recognize. Heaven must be really crowded with all these famous people. When you get to Heaven, do you walk down the street, starstruck by bumping into Saint Matthew or the Angel Gabriel? Do you have to earn special points to be living in their neighborhoods?

Jenny inserted coins into a box, which turned on the lights illuminating the mosaics so I could take photos. I took as many as I could before the lights dimmed once more.

Back on the street, we headed in the direction of her favorite restaurant, on a tiny piazza close to her home. This is where she would come for restoration, when she was tired, or when she didn’t feel like cooking. It was owned by brothers from Sardinia, who hired their waiter Paulo many years ago – so many years that Paulo was part of the family now.

A portly man who walked with a shuffle, Paulo set up our places at the table and took our orders – two wines, aqua frizzante, crayfish for Jenny, and a salmon steak for me. Plus, two servings of chicoria, the slightly bitter herb similar to dandelions that my grandmother used to cook for us.

Church ceiling with pillars from the Caracalla Baths

Jenny and I had gone through a million topics of conversation today – the history of Rome, the fight to unify Italy, our mutual distaste for Baroque architecture, what our kids were up to, the downside of relationships with the wrong men, her longtime friendship with a group of women who met for dinner every Sunday, my process of obtaining recognition for my Italian citizenship, how she and Börje met and moved along into marriage, the history of my own marriage, the frustrations of working with unreliable contractors.

Now tired from the heat, she took me on one more tour – orienting me to the shops and services in my neighborhood. Did I know that this huge department store had a large supermarket on the floor below? Did I know that this shop was too expensive and that this one was better? Did I know that on summer evenings they show outdoor movies in the piazza a block from my BnB? Did I know that every morning this same piazza has an outdoor farmers’ market? And that this is where the taxis gather, so I can walk up and hire one with no problem?

Jenny enjoying her crayfish

Suddenly, my neighborhood looked a lot friendlier and more accommodating. I started to feel grounded, and I began to acquire a sense of place. Indeed, in the evening, when I was having trouble connecting online, I brought my computer and the modem to a tiny computer repair shop next to my BnB. The mid-eastern man was kind and, after a lot of troubleshooting, told me that the modem was the problem. It wasn’t my computer. And for all his work, he charged me only 10 euro when I’d expected to be charged much more.

Thank you, Jenny! You’ve opened up the windows for me and made me feel a lot more comfortable.

Saint Anthony with our candles… and hundreds of requests for favors.
Lighthouse from the Italian people living in Argentina
Prime Minister Berlusconi depicted as Che Guevara
Posters and graffiti
A parade of about 50 Ferraris. We didn’t know why, but they did have a police escort.
Preparing for a summer festival on the Tiber River.
OK, this is weird… a prison named for the Queen of Heaven
A young man prepares for his Punch & Judy puppet show later in the afternoon
Another weird thing… this is a logo for a poke bowl restaurant. Want to go for a poke?
Torquato Tassi sat under this now-dead oak tree to write his poetry.
A trip she’ll remember
A wall inscription
While exploring the neighborhood last evening, I found our favorite restaurant. It’s only a short walk from my BnB.

Day 17 in Italy: More observations and lessons

These are the only legal taxis in Rome.

Taxis and Catching Them — After my frustrating time trying to catch a cab in Rome, I searched on the internet for instructions. (Remember: Google is your friend.) This is what I learned. You can’t catch a taxi easily on the street. They could be on their way to a booking. Or they could be on the way home. Anything. The best thing is to find a taxi stand, if you know where they are. Most likely, they’re in popular areas or on busy streets. Or you call by phone and ask for one to arrive at a particular address. But they arrive quickly, typically within five minutes. So, call only when you’re ready to leave. They start the meter the minute they hang up the phone, so it keeps ticking if they have to wait. And — take only the white taxis with a phone number on the side. These are run by companies and not by rogues. Make sure the meter is turned on!

Dogs and Cats — Italians love their dogs. They walk them, feed them, love them, treat them like kids. While having dinner the other night, I saw one woman walking by holding the leashes to five dachshunds. Five. But cats are a different story. Most of them are feral, and they’re treated like squirrels — just part of the natural scenery but nothing to have as a pet. Or to feed. My niece Nicole almost has apoplexy over the number of feral cats, most of which are thin, and some of which are sick. If she had her druthers, she’d spay and neuter the lot of them — and maybe start a cat shelter, as well. I could get behind that idea.

Air kissing starts with the left cheek. Men don’t typically kiss each other.

There’s a Kissing Ritual — Remember when you were a teenager first learning how to kiss? You never knew which way to turn your head so you wouldn’t bump noses. Here in Italy, they kiss a lot when greeting family and friends. Always it’s a “cheek-to-cheek” kiss. And they have a solution for how to do it properly. Always start with the left cheek. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve forgotten and just aimed for the cheek closest to my face. Then there’s this moment of embarrassed laughter when you realize you’ve messed up the ritual. So, left cheek on left cheek, kiss the air, then right cheek on right cheek, and kiss the air again. Got it?

Wear a Scarf or a Hat — If it’s winter, spring, or fall, wear a scarf or hat of some kind. Of course, no sane person does it in the summer unless the hat is for sun protection. It seems that Italians have a fear of chills, believing that if you are cold, you will — catch a cold. (This explains my grandmother and her habit of putting a wool scarf on us kids when we were sick.) If wool is too heavy for you, try silk or cotton. Just wear a scarf or a hat, or some shopkeeper will warn you about getting a chill and ending up sick. Don’t argue. Just do it.

Making a good impression is important — but it includes good manners as well as dressing well.

Make a Bella Figura — Italians take pride in their appearances. You never see them wearing sweatpants and flip-flops in public. Nobody appears outdoors with wet hair. Even those who do not have much money will do their best to present a bella figura — a beautiful image. Everything is perfection. The hair, the lipstick, the clothing, the shoes. I’ve even seen really old ladies with swollen legs and compression stockings, but their toenails are perfectly painted red. My niece Nicole commented that she never saw young men or boys with pants hanging so low that their underwear shows — or worse. I’ve seen young girls with simple clothing so elegant that I’ve thought, “Wow! I have to try that!” You’ll see couples of all ages going for dinner, and both are dressed well — even on a Tuesday night when they’re just going for a plate of pasta. It’s not that they spend a lot of money. In fact, the average Italian has far less clothing than the average American. They buy fewer items, but they buy good items that will last a long time. Quality over quantity. This is not a “throw away” society.

Nobody Eats on the Street — Not while walking, anyway. If you eat, you sit down to do it. Eating gelato, whether in a cone or a cup, is probably the only exception. I’ve never seen an Italian sipping coffee while walking down a street. Nor do they dip into a bag of cookies or chips, and they definitely don’t eat fruit or sandwiches while walking. They don’t even eat while driving, though they may take a few sips of water. If you buy something “to go,” you take it home or to another place where you can sit to enjoy it. No walking down the street while slipping a slice of pizza into your mouth. See the part about “bella figura” to understand the reason.

This isn’t a medieval torture device. It’s a clothes drying rack.

Clothes Dryers Are Rare — Sure, you’ll find them in a lavandaria — a laundromat. I mean, who wants to lug a load of wet clothes up to their third-floor apartment? But the typical home has only a clothes washer, and it’s a small one at that. I mean, small enough to fit in the bathroom or kitchen cabinet. After washing, clothes are hung out to dry on outdoor clothes lines or drying racks. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a balcony or courtyard, then clothes can be hung on indoor racks. Some are clever devices with ropes and pulleys to bring the clothes rods down to your level. Then you hang the clothes and raise them back to the ceiling to dry. (Note: Many older homes or apartments have 10- or 12-foot ceilings. And in Italy, most things are older.)

My name appears on signs pointing to the women’s restroom.

My Name Is Not a Name — Here in Italy, nobody names their daughter Donna. It is a title, literally meaning Lady. Or more generally, meaning woman. So, I often get blank stares when I introduce myself. “Hello, I am Woman.” Or, “Pleased to meet you. I am Lady.” Then I have to go into this explanation that, although Donna is not a name in Italy, it really is a name in the United States. Sometimes I just introduce myself as Donatella to save the explanations. But when I’m checking into a BnB, I have to introduce myself with my real name because it’s on my passport, and that’s how they register me. Some people will then call me Donna Maurillo, my full name, because they think I’m Lady Maurillo. Or they’ll avoid using my name. Or, in the case of my current BnB host, she calls me Rose or Rosa, my middle name. It confused the heck out of her when she saw that my passport lists me as Donna Rose DeLuca Maurillo. What’s the DeLuca? It’s my mother’s last name. Maurillo is my father’s last name. That makes them even more confused. My daughter Donna-Renée has the same problem, so some people just call her Renée. (Side Note: To my knowledge, I am the only Donna Maurillo in the world, except for three or four in the Philippines. Google it.)

My Last Name Is a Problem, Too — And let’s not get into the questions about, “You can’t be Italian. Maurillo is a Spanish name.” Yeah, but… I have no Spanish DNA. Try explaining that. I’m almost 90% Italian. Mixed in with that, from centuries ago, I also have Turkish, Greek, and a tiny spot of Celtic. The Turkish and Greek are easy to explain. Southern Italy once was part of Greece. And as for the Turkish and other “general Mid-eastern” DNA, there were all those trade routes. And Celtic probably came from the Romans when they conquered the British Isles and brought back slaves and wives. But Spanish? Not a single chromosome. So, where did my name come from? I don’t know. Maybe there was an adoption somewhere back in time.


Day 16 in Italy: Improved mood, down time, and meeting family again

I should not complain. My poor sister and my niece arrived at JFK after a pleasant (and food-filled) flight from Rome. They were supposed to have a three-hour layover, enjoying the Delta First Class lounge. Instead, they boarded their flight and had to turn back to the gate. “Bad weather” was the explanation.

Flights were a nightmare today because of storms.

We’ve heard on the news that flights were being canceled left and right, and we thought we’d been lucky. Apparently, Jeanne and Nicole’s luck ran out. They had to spend the night in the airport. The lounge had closed at 10:30pm, so they had to remain on the concourse, cold and with nowhere to sleep. The lounge opened again in the morning, so they went back up there.

However, they were on wait lists without ever boarding a couple of flights. She just texted me that they finally are on board and now headed for Syracuse. They are exhausted! They will be arriving in Syracuse about 12 hours late, if I’m counting correctly. Maybe even later.

I hope all this airline fuss is over by the time Gary and I have to return home on July 26. Otherwise we’re going to be exceedingly tired with a trans-Atlantic flight that also crosses the US.

9:30pm — I was feeling much better today. It’s amazing what ten hours of sleep can do for you. And a bit of American TV. I streamed some Netflix last night and fell asleep around 1am. I didn’t wake until 11am. Shocked the heck out of me because I normally get along on 5-6 hours a night. I know, I know. It’s not good to sleep so little. But I keep going at night and then can’t wait to get started again in the morning.

I took time to answer emails, chat on What’s App with my sister, look through my photos (way too many of them… will have to edit!), washed and hung some clothes, took a shower and washed my hair, and got ready for Lorenzo’s graduation from medical school. All in all, a quiet day. I even forgot to eat anything.

See the woman in the bright blue suit? That’s Lorenzo to her left. This was his graduation ceremony.

At 4pm, I went out to Via Trastevere (the main street about a block away) and tried to hail a cab. I figured I could attract one while dressed in my long black jersey tiered dress, my Kate Spade bag, my naturally curly hair, my ruby red lips, and my movie star sunglasses. How could they ignore me?

They could. The first one passed me by. So, I stepped out into the street. The second drove by while wagging “no” with his upraised index finger. What?? OK, try again. Once more, I caught the cabbie’s eye, but he drove past me, too. What the…?

Finally, I saw a cab pulled over at the curb a block away. He looked like he was checking his phone, so I scurried up and asked if he could take me to this address… and I showed him the campus map so he’d drop me at the correct building.

Al’ospidale?” he asked. (“To the hospital?”) He looked alarmed. Yes, I answered. It’s also a medical university. My cousin is graduating today. Obviously, my Italian wasn’t great because he gave me a puzzled look as we crossed the Tiber River. I tried again. “Mio cuggino e un laurea adesso a scuolo per medico.” Still a puzzled look. Had I told him I was a prostitute on my way to my next job?

Lorenzo’s mother putting a laurel wreath on his head. In Italy, grads don’t wear mortarboards. They wear laurels, the symbol of wisdom.

I decided that small talk might be better. The weather and traffic were safe topics. I also explained that I was in Italy so I could learn how to speak Italian better. He said I was doing great. (Probably great except for that prostitute exchange.) I told him I was from California, and he wanted to know if I lived in a nice city there. Yes, it’s on the beach, and we have a lot of tourists, just like Rome. I mean, if Santa Cruz was the size of Rome.

A woman darted in front of us, trying to cross amid the traffic. My driver had to hit the brakes. “Vuole morire!” I laughed. (She wants to die.) He said it happens all the time.

We finally reached our destination, and I saw the big crowd standing outside the graduation auditorium. I gave the cabbie 20 euro for a 14 euro trip. It totally shocked him, and I thought he was going to kiss me.

My cousin Vincenzo saw me immediately and waved. He had been standing outside with Antonio in the wheelchair. Oriana, Maria Elena, and everyone else were inside watching Lorenzo graduate. We could see it streaming on Vincenzo’s phone, as it was being recorded for YouTube. The room was small — it was actually a lecture hall with limited space. So attendees were restricted.

Lorenzo with is father and his brother Francesco. All three are doctors.

I was surprised that Lorenzo had to stand at a lectern for 15 minutes and answer questions from a panel of professors. The last time I was here, Maria Elena had explained that final exams here are really one-on-one interviews with your professor, lasting about two hours. This obviously was not an exam for Lorenzo, but he still had to respond to questions.

When the ceremony was over, all the grads came out — about 15 of them — and greeted their friends and families, who were cheering wildly. Photos and more photos. And then more photos. It was like a wedding — first alone, then with parents, then with siblings, then with friends, then with mother alone, then with father alone, then with girlfriends, etc etc. Lorenzo proudly displayed his published dissertation (in a book with a hard cover) and a copy of his Hippocratic Oath, which he’d signed and dated. This, he would frame and display in his medical office, whenever he got one.

Lorenzo with my cousin Vincenzo and family — from left, Vincenzo, Antonio, Lorenzo, Maria Elena, Oriana.

Right now he’s hoping to be accepted to the university at Bari to focus on his specialization in family medicine. Maria Elena is hoping to be accepted for a teaching position closer to home, which means she and Lorenzo won’t be so far away from each other and from family. In fact, tomorrow her parents are driving to Turin with her so they can pick up her belongings and then drive back to Lecce, where she will spend the summer at home. A crazy drive, but it’s what must be done. She can’t carry all her stuff on a train.

Gathered on the sidewalk, we celebrated with Lorenzo’s parents, who had brought champagne and refreshments. Confetti was fired off to much applause. We snacked on rice balls filled with cheese while everyone congratulated Lorenzo. One of his friends gave him a Spiderman action figure. I joked that the webs would be great for tying up sutures in the operating room.

By 7pm, conversation slowed down and everyone was tired. So, I said my good-byes and said I was going to catch a taxi back home. Off I sauntered, to the main street, where I tried to hail a cab. But still, I got the “no no” wave of the index finger as they sped past me. So, I changed my spot and walked up a block. Still, I was ignored. Damn! There must be a secret to this. Maybe I look too American??

Me with Oriana, after a hot and windy day.

I crossed the street and went into a snack bar, where I asked how to get a taxi. The young woman behind the counter said, “You have to call them. Would you like me to do that?” Oh yes! Please! She went outside, lit up a cigarette, and got onto her phone. It sounded like she was talking to a friend. I was thinking, “Did she understand what I said? Is her friend a cab driver?” She went back inside while I stood helplessly on the curb.

A few minutes later, she came out and said, “He’ll be here in four minutes.” I almost kissed her.

Sure enough, a cab pulled up shortly afterward. And yes, he could take me to Via Morosini in Trastevere. He knew where it was. This time, I was too tired for conversation. And besides, he was listening to some people shout at each other on the radio. I couldn’t help but laugh. “Come in America,” I said. “Yak, yak, yak, yak!” (“Just like in America.”) He laughed and said everyone has strong emotions here.

I did check my Google map to see if he was taking me to the correct location. Yup. We skirted the train station, went past Piazza Venezia, drove along the Tiber, and there we were — at my tiny front door on a minuscule side street. How do they do it? I mean, my last street was Via Bu Meliana — one block long. How do they know all these little side streets in this big city? Beats me.

Next time I try to catch a cab, I’m going to look for a taxi stand.

Before going to my little apartment, I stopped at a mini-mart and picked up — not much. The regular grocery stores were closed, so all I could manage was a bottle of olive oil, some pasta, a couple of soft drinks, and a package of cookies. While it was short on foodstuffs, the store did have an abundance of alcohol. But I passed.

Now it’s time for me to stream a little Netflix while I fall asleep and get some real work done tomorrow. Buona notte!

PS — Jeanne and Nicole did make it onto a flight. They are safely at home now.


Day 15 in Italy: I’m feeling a bit of a letdown today

Jeanne saying goodbye as she gets on the elevator, going to the airport

This morning, my sister Jeanne and my niece Nicole left. They returned to Syracuse after a whirlwind two weeks in Italy with me. We moved out of our delightful and spacious apartment in the San Pietro area of Rome, and they headed for the airport while I moved to the Trastevere neighborhood. My current apartment is about one-third the size and on the ground floor. Actually, it’s a bit below ground level, so it feels like people can look into my windows if I don’t keep the blinds shut.

The one advantage is that it’s cooler, so I don’t need a fan. The disadvantage is that, being at street level, I can hear the noise from passing pedestrians and vehicles. The ambulance sirens are especially loud at this level. The furnishings aren’t as nice, and the refrigerator is tiny. And it costs about 25 euros more per night than the beautiful apartment we just left. The owner is nice and very friendly, however.

Nicole saying goodbye

Our last host, Clementina, said she had no more dates available when I asked if I could extend my stay. And when I looked at her booking calendar online, she was booked all the way into next summer! Or maybe she is winding down with the Air BB rental because we did see her place advertised in a real estate sales window. It would make sense. She lives an hour outside of Rome now, and renting the apartment would require her to be there on guest arrival and then to clean up after they left.

After arriving here, I took a short nap and then cleaned up my emails. I walked around the neighborhood to get a bit of orientation, but there’s less activity in my immediate area. I saw no grocery stores, no fruit stands, no coffee bars. I walked to a pizzeria, but the pizzaiolo said that he’d just fired up the oven, and it wouldn’t be hot enough for another 90 minutes.

Well, it was only 6pm, and most Italian restaurants don’t open for business until around 7. A grocery store would have been nice because I had not eaten since 9am. But I couldn’t find one. I’m sure I will once I get to know the area, but for the moment, I’m disoriented. (Reminder: Italy has spaghetti streets.)

Three years ago, I took a photo of my friend Jenny Streeter in front of this mural in Rome. Now I find that my current apartment is a half-block away.

A pasta restaurant was just opening, so I stopped for spaghetti amatriciana. The pasta was done correctly, but it was swimming in sauce and tasted a little greasy. At least it was filling. And the gelato cone from the neighborhood gelateria was exactly what I needed.

But for me, travel is more fun when I’m with other people. Someone to exchange observations, to laugh with, to get lost with, and just to share human kindness. I’m not a good solo traveler — unlike my daughter, who can schlep a backpack and explore by herself. I need communication. Maybe it’s my Italian blood. We are not genetically predisposed to be solitary. We are socializers. We are clannish.

Nicole and Jeanne having gelato in Rome for the last time before returning home

And I guess I’m just missing the hubbub of having conversation floating around in the air, as my sister makes me laugh and my niece shares personal stories.

But all is not as empty as I make it sound. Tomorrow, my cousin Maria Elena’s fiancé Lorenzo is graduating from medical school here in Rome. They invited me to join them, so it will be good to get back into a social group again, even if it’s only for a few hours. Friday, I’ll be here working, and then Saturday I’ll get together with my friend Jenny, who lives not far from here. Sunday it’s back to working on stuff, and then Gary arrives around noon on Monday.

After all the whirlwind of the last couple of weeks, I just have this big letdown that I have to adjust to. At least my Italian is improving. I conversed with the cab driver all the way over here today. And I conversed with my BnB host, who speaks some English. She helped me with my Italian verbs, too. I can do present and past tenses, but I have to work on future. And then those objective cases knock me for a loop because of where the pronouns are placed in the sentence depending on the use.

Jeanne at the Delta Lounge in Rome just before takeoff.

9pm — Another thing I don’t like about this particular apartment. I can’t close the bedroom blinds completely because the adjustment rod is broken, and the blinds are angled in a way that anyone in the courtyard can look in. So, I have to be in the bedroom with the lights turned off. It just doesn’t make me feel safe. If I didn’t have to pay a penalty of 50 percent, I’d try for another place. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by having decent places so far. I have to spend another week here.

Actually, maybe it isn’t so bad that I can’t turn on the lights. The night stands have bare-bulb lamps, or things that pass for lamps. No shades or anything. Did I mention that I miss the apartment in the San Pietro neighborhood?

I’m going to try and stream a movie and then get some sleep. This was not my best day, and though I feel that I should be continually upbeat with this travelogue, I also think I should be honest about the good days as well as the not-so-good days.

I was surprised that Rome has wild parakeets. This type is the monk parakeet, and the other is the ring-neck parakeet. They were domestic birds that got away, and now they fly all around Rome. I saw flocks of them through our living room window at the San Pietro apartment. They’re larger than regular parakeets, and they have long tails.

I’ve circled some of our apartment windows. The two on the left are the living room, and the one on the right is Jeanne’s room. My room was on the other side, as were the kitchen, hallway, and bath.

Food for Thought: An Italian food experience in Italy

[Note: This is my newspaper food column for this week, not a regular part of my travel blog. But it related to our travel in Italy, so I’m including it.]

Italian food is the most popular in the United States. Maybe it’s because pizza and pasta are so ubiquitous. But it’s even more so when you’re in Italy. Which is where I am as I write this.

Even more to the point, Italian food is even better when you’re in the middle of the country of origin. The tomatoes are sweeter. The fruits are more flavorful. The pasta is cooked truly al dente. Salads are more imaginative. Even the olive oil is more deeply flavored.

For example, we stayed a few days in my maternal grandparents’ home village in the mountains. Even with only 3000 residents, the availability of good food was plentiful. Our friend Carmine invited us to his home on our arrival. There, he’d set out a table with large green olives, polenta torta (which he’d made himself), fresh cherries, cheeses, salami, and homemade sangria. Hospitality is the operative word here, and good food is the vehicle.

Pietro’s mound of pasta with freshly made sauce of tomatoes, garlic, and onions.

Taking a walk with us after church, he brought us to meet his friend Pietro, whose door had a sign indicating that this was a gastronomical institute. I expected some type of school. But no, it was a small home with a table, sofa, fireplace, and tiny kitchen on the first floor. Hanging from the ceiling were a leg of pork and a dry salami. Pietro was preserving them himself, making prosciutto from the pork. “Making it yourself is better,” he said in his native Italian. (Sure, I thought, I’ll go home and do that.)

The table was crowded with large canning jars filled with cherries, some packed in sugar, and others marinating in 96% grain alcohol. The sugared cherries were left to sit for a few months, preferably in the sun, whereupon the sugar would draw out the juice, melt, and become a syrupy liquid. This could be spooned on cake or gelato or eaten straight.

The marinated cherries also were an appealing part of dessert. Enjoy drunken fruit while getting smashed yourself! However, that isn’t at all common here. Drinking to excess is seldom done, even though you can purchase hard alcohol in almost any store that sells food or drink, including coffee bars. “Going to a bar” in Italy means going for coffee.

Pietro's homemade soprasetta, prosciutto, liver sausage and pork sausage. (Contributed -- Donna Maurillo)
Pietro’s homemade soprasetta, prosciutto, liver sausage and pork sausage. 

Pietro offered pieces of his dry-cured pork sausage, liver sausage (none for me, please), prosciutto, and salami. Molto delicioso! In fact, it was the best I’d ever tasted, with a richer flavor and less fat.

He offered to cook us some spaghetti, but we had to get back to our lodging. (Can I admit that we stayed in an elegant 14th century castle apartment? At about $35 a night for each of us?) So, dinner plans were made for 8:30 that evening.

We arrived to find the little table crowded with our place settings and the spaghetti almost ready to serve. The sauce, ladled in the middle of the spaghetti mound, was made from fresh summer tomatoes, insanely sweet and deep red. A sprinkle of torn fresh basil topped it off. The pasta had a perfectly cooked texture that was soft but not mushy, and firm but not too hard. Pietro truly was an artist even with the simplest of dishes.

Bread of life

I found that grissini, those thin crispy bread sticks, are less common in restaurants now. Instead, more of them are serving crusty Italian slices.

One thing my niece Nicole noticed – the bread here is fluffy but sturdy with a crisp, dark crust. None of the pale, undercooked version served in many American restaurants. Most Italian dining spots serve it in a brown bag on your table.

However, don’t ask for butter. Instead, ask for olive oil, but even that will be out of the norm. When we requested olive oil for our bread, the waiter plopped a bottle on our table, but no bread plates. We were left to pour drops at a time on our slices.

And the road food!

Even on the highway, the AutoGrill rest stops served up sandwiches on a variety of crispy rolls and flatbreads – prosciutto, buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomato slices, coppacola, sausages, meatballs, and even hamburgers. Heat them on the panini press or enjoy them cold. Or go for the prepared dishes like breaded fish filets, roasted chicken, lasagna, grilled vegetables, and pasta. Don’t skip the pastries like Nutella-filled muffins, stuffed croissants, and a boatload of Italian pastries. Most salad bars have gone away with COVID-19, but the pre-made salads please every taste, from plain to fancy. You could go nuts just making a choice.

Bad food?

I tend to avoid anything with a tourist menu or one that caters to non-Italians. You may find plenty of those in any popular city, especially around the visitor sites – the Vatican, Pompeii ruins, the Ponte Vecchio.

Here, you’ll find the spaghetti and meatballs that really isn’t an Italian dish. If you want meatballs (polpette), they’re usually served as a side dish in sauce. On our last night in Pompei, we dined at a restaurant near our Air BnB. It was openly for tourists, but we went anyway because of the convenience. My pasta was fine, if too mushy, but the tomato sauce was overly oily and flat. Not terrible, but not up to the nation’s standards.

If you want decent Italian meals, ask your hotel concierge or your BnB host where they usually go. Explain that you want real local food, not the kind catering to tourists. If you’re in a larger city, the restaurant staff may speak at least some English.

However, the farther south you go, and the smaller the town, the less likely that English will be common. Just subscribe to an online translator for your phone and do your best. Most Italians are happy that you’re even trying.

Except when I needed road service, and the guy who arrived was yelling at me in Italian using words I never heard before. Tow truck. Maintenance yard. Blown tire. The less I understood him, the louder he shouted. However, I got the impression that even his co-workers thought he was over the top.


Day 14 in Italy: Bits and pieces to make you laugh or scratch your head

Leathers? We don’t need no stinkin’ leathers.

Motorcycles — Nobody wears leathers. Maybe it’s too hot. But when you’re on a bike roaring down the street with a young kid hanging onto your waistline, maybe you should think about it. Helmets are sort-of worn, but not everyone uses them. I don’t know what the fatality rate is for motorcyclists, but certainly the injury rate must be high.

Stop Signs — These are not mandatory. They are only a suggestion. You can stop your car, or not. First one into the intersection (or the person with the biggest car) gets the right-of-way. I don’t make the rules. I just wonder why they’re in place.

Cigarettes — Everyone smokes, including the dogs. I don’t actually see a lot of smokers, but the number of butts stuck between the cobblestones in Rome is a significant clue that cigarettes are a big seller. Maybe the smokers come out only at 3am when I’m asleep. When we asked for our check at a restaurant the other night, our waiter said OK, but he had to finish his cigarette first. Priorities.

Buying Fruits and Vegetables — When you go to the supermarket, don’t just toss your farm produce into your cart or basket. First, take note of the bin number where the fruit is sitting. Then place the fruit in a plastic bag on a scale. Then hit the number corresponding to your bin. The scale then spits out a sticker with the UPC code and the price. Paste that onto your plastic bag. If you don’t want a plastic bag, I guess you have to paste it onto your apple. By the way, this is a really cool way of knowing the cost before you reach the cashier.

Toilet and a bidet. The one on the right is for cleaning up afterward. It’s more sanitary than paper.

Toilet Paper — Italy’s toilet paper has improved since the 1950s. But the rolls are much smaller than in the US. They are narrower, and they have fewer sheets. Plus, the cardboard tube is bigger, which means more frequent changes. Stock up when you go to the store. You’ll run out fast. But many public toilets don’t even have paper. You’re expected to use the bidet — a shower for cleaning your private area. It’s actually more sanitary than paper (which can clog old Italian sewer systems, anyway), so don’t be weird about it. If you’re squeamish, bring a pack of travel-size tissues. And if you’re really lucky, you may come across a public toilet that is simply a hole in the ground with two little places for your feet. Practice squatting. It sure shocked the heck out of my mother when she came across one several years ago. (By the way, don’t ask for the bathroom. It literally means the room where you take a bath. Ask for the toilet.)

Food Prices — We’ve been pleasantly surprised that food prices here are much lower than back home. A box of Barilla pasta (a half-kilo, or about a pound) was only 0.69 euro — about one-third the cost of US prices. Restaurant meals have been affordable for very good food, averaging about 12 euros per person. A bottle of Aperol, which sells for about $20 at Costco, will set you back only about 10 euros here.

Living/dining room for our two-bedroom Air BnB in Rome… at $65 a night.

Air BnB — Not only in Italy, but in many places around the world, you can find good lodging that won’t break the bank. Most are individually owned, and you can stay in anything from a room in someone’s home, or a private room with a separate entrance, or an entire apartment, or (in our case) a 14th century castle apartment. Air BnB has strict rules for the hosts, so you know you’re getting something that is accurately reflected in photos, location, and guest reviews. It’s far better than a chain motel, and most times you get a kitchen and bath to go along with it. Our current space is a full two-bedroom apartment a few blocks from the Vatican at a cost of only $65 per night.

Enjoy cappuccino in the morning, like my sister Jeanne, not later in the day. Or they’ll break your face.

Cappuccino — Please don’t order cappuccino after about 10am. Certainly not after noon. It’s a morning drink, and the rules are the rules. Most baristas will give you a pass as an ignorant foreigner. However, when my niece wanted a cappuccino after dinner, the waiter slapped his head and almost walked away. You’d have thought she asked for Rice Krispies for dinner. “Never mind,” she said. “Just bring me fizzy water.”

Fizzy Water — If you want carbonated water, ask for gassata or frizzante. The great thing about carbonated water here in Italy is that it has much less “fizz” than in the US. So you won’t end up feeling bloated, and you won’t belch in the middle of dinner. The Queen would approve.

Passagiata — Given the daily heat, Italians like to take a passagiata in the evening. This is a little walk around the neighborhood, saying hello to friends or sitting on a bench and waiting for them to pass by. In the old days, this is how the young men of a village or town would make the acquaintance of a single young woman… under the watchful eye of her mother, grandmothers, siblings, and aunts. Today, it’s not so much looking for a spouse as it is catching up with the latest news. This is more common in smaller towns than in urban centers.

The “walk” signal is no guarantee that cars will stop. Cross with a guardian angel — or a nun will do.

Look ALL Ways — When crossing the street here, look ALL ways, not just both ways. Cars can run helter-skelter around corners, almost shaving your legs as they pass. Even if the “walk” light is green, cars may barge into the crosswalk. I’ve learned to get aggressive — look the driver in the eye, hold up my hand telling them to stop, and then hurry across the street. Giving an appreciative wave also helps. I think drivers look upon pedestrians as pigeons. If you feed one, they all show up. As pedestrians, if you stop for one, you end up stopping for the whole crowd. So, I can’t blame the drivers. Oddly, I haven’t seen any fender-benders or injured pedestrians.

Supermarkets — If you find one, it’s very unusual. Most stores are small and specialized — fruit and vegetables, or bakeries, or cheese shops. Pharmacies are not like CVS, with a variety of goods. Buy your health items there, but not much else. It’s nice because most shops are staffed by the owners, and they get to know who you are. Very personal.

This Madonna was over our elevator in Pompei. Probably because it often didn’t work, and people were afraid of being stuck.

Work to live, not live to work — Italians seem to take a more relaxed attitude about working. It’s simply a way to make a living. It isn’t central to your life. The important things are food, family, and relaxation. One man told us that the northernmost cities (Milan, Turin, etc.) focus more on work and material goods. But the farther south you go, the less important are big homes, cars, and closets filled with clothes.

Religious Images — They are everywhere. Streets and neighborhoods are named for saints or for the local parish church. Many people wear crosses around their necks. I’ve seen teenage boys make the Sign of the Cross as they pass a church. Catholicism is the official religion of Italy. In fact, the Pope almost lives around the block. However — it doesn’t mean that everyone attends church services. In fact, I believe that attendance has dropped in recent years. But still, almost everyone identifies as Catholic.

That’s it for now! I’ll be back as I learn more about living here. If you enjoy the blog, please “like” it below. And if you wish, you may include a comment further down. Subscribing guarantees that you’ll receive email notices when I post. And you want those notices, right?


Day 13 in Italy: Return to Rome, dinner with my daughter, and another walk

We’re finally getting into the spirit of Italy. Early up, indoors by afternoon to relax, and then out during the cooler evening. But then, we aren’t running around the country hither and yon anymore. Jeanne and Nicole leave on Wednesday (day after tomorrow) to return home. I’ll be here by myself for almost a week, and then Gary arrives for a month.

However, yesterday we did a bit of road travel. Jeanne, Nicole, and I were going to take a train from Pompei to Rome, but my daughter graciously offered a ride. She and David had spent time in Naples, just about 15 minutes north, and they were returning to Rome yesterday, anyway. So, not being stupid, we accepted their kind offer.

The elevator in our building was not working, so we had to thump, thump, thump our bags down the marble stairs to the ground floor. We hoped that we weren’t waking any babies on a Sunday morning. After I reached the main entry, the man in the apartment next to us offered to help bring the rest of the bags into the parking lot. Thank you!!!

Fast food on the road in Italy. Can’t get away from the good stuff!

Donna-Renée and David arrived shortly after, and bless his heart, David managed to get all our stuff into the trunk. Well, except for the bags we held on our laps in the back seat. We were not going to complain.

Off we went, north to Rome, about two hours away. A stop at the AutoGrill kept us fed and energized, though as usual, our choices were difficult. Too many choices, and too much time thinking about it. But we did get refreshment and piled back into the car. I joked that, with five people and a mountain of bags, we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies. As the oldest, I guess I was Granny.

Sidewalk gas station. Just pull up and fill up!

D-R and David were late getting the car returned, and they worried about an extra day’s fee. Plus we had to put gas in the car at a pump right there on the sidewalk — just pull up to the curb and pump your gas. David dropped us off at the taxi stand at the train station, and we were lucky enough to catch the first one — which was an SUV with plenty of room.

Meanwhile, D-R and David returned the car and were dinged extra. “You checked the car out at 1pm and you returned it at 2:30pm. So that’s another day’s fee,” the cashier said. But my daughter, never one to be pushed over, said, “When we picked up our car at 1pm, they had to exchange it because of body damage. So we had to wait for another one. That delayed us until 2pm. We are not paying for a full day extra.”

The cashier relented and charged an extra 30 euros rather than the day rate of 80 euros. Not quite a full win, but better than not winning at all.

Jeanne, Nicole, and I reached our apartment — the same one we had when we first arrived. So Clementina didn’t have to explain anything to us. We already knew the drill. We fussed over her dog, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Light, and she was on her way to take him for a walk before driving back out to the country.

D-R called and asked if any of us wanted to walk over to Santa Maria Maggiore for church services, but we were much too tired. However, we agreed to meet them for dinner at a sandwich shop not far from the Pantheon. The predicted 40-minute walk actually took us an hour. (Think about the “spaghetti streets” in Rome.) The route took us past the Vatican Museum, through several piazzas, across the Tiber River, and deep into the historic part of the city. I caught a glimpse of Piazza Republica and exclaimed, “We walked all the way to the top of the Forum?? And we have more to go?”

Aperol spritz!!

But only a few more blocks. The place was tiny. Tiny, tiny. Small tables that fit maybe two or three people, and no more seating outdoors. OK, we were led to a little table that squeezed in five people — a table about four feet long and 18 inches wide. When David and D-R arrived, her chair was placed at the end of the table, right in the narrow walkway where the waiters were running back and forth bringing food to the outdoor diners. I figured that if they got inconvenienced enough, they’d find us a place outside. But that never happened.

After ordering our sandwiches and salads, the waiter brought a long wooden board loaded with sandwiches and set it crosswise on the table. No room for elbows. But plenty of chances to spill food on the floor. Luck was on our side, and we didn’t tip over anything. It was a miracle!

I needed an Aperol spritz by then, and they brought a strong one. Perfecto! I was feeling the buzz pretty quickly, and it was exactly what I needed. The food was excellent, however, with organic ingredients and plenty of vegetarian choices. I think David was the only one who had meat (roast beef?) We had overloaded on carbs during our first few days, but now we were settling into more sensible eating.

Well, except for the gelato we ordered at the shop across the way. Then we felt fully satisfied. Besides, we’d already walked 15,000 steps, so we’d earned it.

Pantheon at night… chiusa… closed.

The Pantheon was a short walk from there, but unfortunately it was closed. Disappointment because the interior is beautiful, and it has the tombs of King Victor Emmanuel II and his son King Umberto.

Why is Victor Emmanuel called “the second” when he was Italy’s first king following the unification of the country? Because there was a Victor Emmanuel “the first” in his family’s dynasty, even though he was Italy’s first king. It made sense to him but not to the Italian people.

Also note that King Umberto had many dalliances with other women while married to Queen Margarita. So, how was she further ignored? Well, if you see Umberto’s tomb, it’s large and prominent. His wife’s tomb, however, is behind his and hidden inside the wall. I don’t know who made that decision, but I doubt that it was the Queen.

Anyway, we were unable to get into the Pantheon, so we took some nighttime photos and continued on our way to the Spanish Steps, some 20 minutes away. More walking. Even at night, it was hot and tiring. But we made it. No, Jeanne and I did not climb them, but the others did.

Me and Jeanne at the Spanish Steps. They’re called Spanish because the Spanish embassy was on this piazza.

As she and I waited in the piazza, a man came up and gave each of us a long-stemmed red rose. “You are beautiful,” he said. “This is my gift to you.” He didn’t ask for money, so we said thanks and walked away. But he continued to follow us. “Are your husbands here?” “Where are you from?” “If you give me money, it will bring you good luck from Italia to America.”

He would not leave us alone. So, I walked over to a random guy sitting on the steps and said, “This is my husband, and he wants you to leave me alone.” The flower man sneered at us, took the roses, and walked away. I looked at the man on the stairs and said, “Lucky you. You got to be my husband for five seconds.” He laughed and said, “A pleasure.”

After the rest of our group came back, Jeanne kept getting harassed to buy cheap trinkets from various vendors. “I already bought some,” she said, showing her bag. They offered other trinkets. She kept responding. Finally, David gave them a stern look and told them to go away.

Apparently, these guys (mostly from the mid-east and Africa) think it’s acceptable to harass women, but not so much when she’s with a man. I noticed that the Italian men may give you an appreciative look, but they don’t chase after you like bloodhounds. No wonder their women are traditionally covered up. It probably cuts down on the harassment.

Next time, I’m going to pull out my camera and start taking photos of them. Or I’ll flash a fake police badge first.

Piazza di Spagna at night.

I wanted to visit the Trevi Fountain at night, when it’s lit up. But everyone else was really tired and didn’t want to do another 15-minute walk. So we kissed D-R and David good bye and sent them off in a taxi. It was a 10-minute wait for ours, but the driver was friendly and honest, and he charged a fair price for the ride.

And lucky him. Just as he dropped us off, two women came up and asked if his taxi was available. So, he got another fare just by taking us home.

Tomorrow, we agreed, no alarm clocks. We’re taking the day off to cook at our apartment and relax before Jeanne and Nicole return to the U.S. on Wednesday. It’s been too quick a trip, but we did it. And the funny thing is that I feel so much at home here in Italy.