Remembering Franchy

A few months ago I wrote about my father in law, Antonio, in a blog entitled Antonio and Francesca – A love story, which mostly focussed on Antonio (Pa).  I promised to write the other half of story.  For those of you who can’t be bothered looking at that blog, a quick synopsis.  Franchy (Francesca) met Pa (Antonio) when she was 13 and he was 17.  They both lived in Taranto, a small town at the very bottom of Italy.  In the 1930’s both families struggled to meet both food and rent expenses on a monthly basis, and sometimes sacrificed one for the other.  Shortly after Franchy and Pa met and started ‘seeing each other’ clandestinely, war broke out and Pa, who was doing his national service, was sent off to fight.   He returned to Franchy several years later by walking home from Trieste to Taranto, a distance of tens of thousands of kilometres, and literally from one end of Italy to the other.  It took him a month, and happened as aresult of the Italian army surrendering to the Allies.   Pa was 19 when he returned to Taranto.

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Francy and Pa were married for 67 years.  They died within two months of each other.  Franchy had a stroke and was taken to hospital.  Pa thought she was never returning and died before she returned home.  His severe dementia meant he couldn’t understand where she was or the concept of time.  He just thought she was gone and wanted to go to.  Francy returned to an empty house and lived on for another two months before a second stroke killed her.  They brought up two children, one of whom is my husband, surrogate parented another two when their best friend lost his life early, and were grandparents to three others (besides their own) who lived across the hall from them.

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Today I wanted to remember Francy.  In acknowledgement of Mother’s Day I thought i would remember her from that perspective.

My first glimpse of what kind of mother Franchy was, and therefore how she had mothered my husband, came one Saturday morning when we had driven to Taranto for the weekend as we did regularly.  We were sleeping in the lounge room (family room) on a sofa bed.  The lounge room had a large balcony from which a basket on a rope would be lowered to the street to pull up groceries or deliveries.  Their apartment was on the fifth floor and there was no lift.  It was a ten flight set of stairs to walk up.  Francy and Pa were in their 70’s when I met them and did the stairs twice a day every day.  I could barely make it up once on a Friday night when I arrived and I often avoided doing it again until Sunday afternoon when we left.  The height of humiliation was that Franchy would often come and meet me half way and carry my suitcase for me up the rest of the flights as i struggled huffing and puffing behind her.

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Most of Franchy and Pa’s friends and relatives were in their age bracket if not older, so in order to avoid the stairs, if they were dropping something off, they usually just used the basket on a rope lowered over the balcony.  It was Saturday morning early and as usual the doorbell and telephone had been going since around 7.00am.   It always seemed to me that the elderly population of Taranto had nothing bettter to do than get up early and start visiting and calling each other.  The telephone extension was in our room, the doorbell very loud, and both parents a little deaf, so I had been woken up time and time again with “yes they are here and sleeping right now’, if only.

A timid knock on the double glass doors leading into our room and a stage whispered “Alfredo”. “Si, Ma”, my husbands response.  There followed a whispered conversation in dialect, in apologetic tones from Franchy.  Her uncle, in his nineties was at the entrance of the apartment block below.  He had made her some tomato pasta sauce and was dropping it off.  Would we mind if she came into our room and out onto the balcony and lowered the basket down so he could put in this precious sauce that he had lovingly hand made for her?  Alfredo said he would go out onto the balcony and lower the basket down and bring up the bottle of pasta sauce.  Franchy stayed timidly at the bedroom door.  I was still half heartedly pretending to be resting.

The basket was lowered, the bottle brought up inch by inch in the basket, over the balcony and the basket placed on the floor.  Alfredo picked up the bottle from the basket.  As he did so, his huge hands did not grip the bottle as closely as it required.  He fumbled, he stumbled, he reached out and up in a desperate attempt to keep the glass in his hands and like a juggler pretending to drop something, it slow motioned out of his hands and crashed onto the marble tiled floor, spreading tomatoe sauce and glass like an egg blown out of its shell.

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I was horrified.  He had ruined the gift so lovingly made and presented, by his clumsiness.  I was caught short by the sound of Franchy’s strangled laughter.  I looked over to see her bent double trying to contain herself.  And across at Alfredo with tomatoe sauce all over his hands and a distraught look in his eye.  At that moment I understood Franchy’s mothering and how Alfredo had turned out so marvellously as a human being and a husband.  Instead of punishment there was love, instead of retribution there was laughter, instead of anger there was lightness and mirth.  At that moment  I understood that Franchy’s playfulness, her ability to look on the bright side of life, her patience, her fortitude, her choice to live life through her heart and not her head was not a recent thing but were her hallmarks and how she had raised Alfredo.  And why he in turn was patient, playful, never took things too seriously, had an inate belief in himself, and lived life with through his heart as well as his head.

I was so jealous that my husband had had a mother like that and I glimpsed what made them a happy, healthy, and functional family.  And I wanted my share.  From that moment on I made sure I had as much of Franchy as she would give.  And she met my need head on and never once wavered.  After my miscarriages I put myself on a train all day to reach Taranto and spent a week with her without my husband present.  Silently sitting with her in the kitchen, watching TV, eating and resting for a week.  It helped heal my soul.

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Once when I tried to take a plate to the sink after lunch she almost arm wrestled me to the ground to get me to let go of it.  She told me that her name wasn’t ‘thank you’ so I should stop saying it every time she did something for me.   One day I let rip about how much i loved her vegetable soup, brodo, she made it for me every single time I visited even though my husband hated it.  He occasionally joked that his parents asked after me more than they asked after him.  It didn’t seem right to share that I had partly married him so I could get them as well.

Franchy didn’t ever read books, she barely spoke Italian preferring to stay in her dialect.  She had not attended high school and thought that going to the Post Office was the height of complicated, post industrial living.  She had never been into a bank.  Her sister came every week to set her still black hair.  When she was hot in the middle of searing Taranto summers she would strip down to a black negligee which she always wore underneath her dresses and apologise to everyone for her appearance but she was too hot to wear anything else.

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She spent most of her days at the local market buying the food for the two meals of the day and then cooking it.  She always asked us what we would like to eat on the weekends we were coming down and she would spend days preparing it.  The food was always very simple pasta and meat dishes but were unlike anything i have every tasted anywhere else.  So flavoursome and I always ate double what i normally would.  At first I would try and explain that i really could only eat one or maybe two courses and to please not cook anything more.  To which she would solemnly agree.  Then after the first two courses she would shyly explain that she had just made a really small something else and would i mind eating it?  She would usually do this at least twice per meal until I just gave up directing her and accepted my fate to eat lovingly home cooked food until i could eat no more.

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I realised that this was the real way i could say thank you to Franchy.  She had almost no way of relating to me in the world i lived in of university degrees and world travel, of global organisations and several languages, of independant living and international friends but she could make sure that i was extremely well fed and that i didn’t have to spend any of my time on providing for myself in that way.  And she did a marvellous job.

And because of her example of and sharing with me of her patience, her fortitude, her playfulness, her living through her heart and not her head I often feel stronger, patient, positive, playful and have the courage to listen to my heart more than I would have had without her.  It is hard to live without her at times but it would have been harder if I had never had the opportunity.  Vale Francesca, Vale.  xxxx

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Top 10 things to eat in Rome!

I thought i would make this post a little lighter than the last one and focus on the one thing that brings joy to every heart, and travellor, in Italy – the food!!!

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Residents of Italy, as opposed to travellors, will understand the importance of the title not being “Top 10 things to eat in Italy”.  This is because, as I have mentioned before, Italy is a country of REGIONS, and towns, and none more so obviously than when it comes to food.

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When I first arrived in Rome, after several months of eating what I called Italian food, I was longing for a change and enquired of my Italian friends if we could go to a different type of restaurant and eat another type of food. “Oh sure”, they answered, “we will arrange it.  Plenty of variety here in Rome.  We could go to a great Abruzzi restaurant we know, or the Sardinian restaurant on the corner is good, and there is an amazing Tuscan place in town and a new Sicilian place opening up.”  Not quite what i had in mind but a good demonstration of how different the food is between regions.  And  not just regions.  If you are wanting variety it is often enough just to drive an hour up the freeway to the next little town, and the food will be different with unique dishes and ways of preparing salads, pastas, desserts etc.

Often dishes that you can get in one part of Italy are unavailable in others.  So it would be a shame to focus on general “Italian” dishes at the expense of the local cuisine and that way you can taste your way around Italy knowing that the variety will be significant.

For example it took me about seven years to work out why I couldn’t find Spaghetti Bolognaise on the menu in Rome.  I attributed this fact to it possibly being an Anglo-Saxon made-up Italian dish, like garlic bread that is not available ANYWHWERE in Italy.  Until I took a holiday to Bologna.  Then I found it on every menu.  Rome of course has its own version, but it is made with pork meat not beef and is called Spaghetti con Ragu.  If you want Spaghetti  Bolognaise when you are in Italy you need to go to Bologna.

Therefore this post will focus on the top 10 dishes to eat in Rome primarily because they are mostly only available in Rome and represent some of its best cuisine.  They are not the type of dishes that the average Italian home cook would make as they are quite tricky or have special ingredients.  They are the type of dishes that Italians go out to eat.  All the restaurants featured in my post ‘Top 10 Restaurants’ will have these dishes available.  I have written the dishes in the order of how they will appear in the menu and in the order you are supposed to eat them.

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There were so many yummy savoury dishes that I ran out of numbers before I got to dessert so I have cheated and included a number 11.  Also you may have heard me comment previously that Roman desserts are not prolific or spectacular.  Especially when you compare them to the ice-cream desserts of Calabria, Sicily and Puglia or the creamy custards of Tuscany and Umbria.  Also Romans have available at all times spectacular ice-cream which is not only a dessert but a daily medicinal requirement, and recommended to all travellors at all times, and they have adopted the Tiramisu (probably the most like a ‘national’ dessert that Italy has) with avengence, so no need to suffer a dessert desert when you are in Rome, but not alot of desserts that you can only have in Rome.  The one I have included is the only one unique to Rome unless you count Chestnut honey which the Ancient Romans used prolifically as a dessert and which I also recommend you try.

Just one other thing then.  Roman cooking is characterised by two things – its simplicity and its focus on offal (which i have reccomended only in one dish but should be tried in its various forms if you have the stomach for stomach…..).  This is because of its history of being a Papal city, one of the most signficant.  Traditionally most of the best cuts of meat and produce went to the Vatican, and the local food producers of Rome had a prolific amount of Priests and nobles connected with the Vatican who they could provide food for.  It meant that the local citizens were left with the lesser cuts of meat.  The general poverty of the food producers and other city dwellers meant that simple, local, ingredients, along with offal was what made up their cuisine.  Like many culinary traditions, the food of the poor became adopted by the rich and now its quality and custom is entrenched in the average modern Roman diet.

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Here are the first five, next five, next week.

1.  Fiori di ZuccaStuffed zucchini flowers.  These are spectacular and not to be missed and to be eaten at every opportunity possible.  Many of my ‘regret’ moments are about the fact that I did not eat enough Fiori di Zucca when I had the chance.  They are also not to attempted at home.  I tried it once and have had much empathy with my gynachologist ever since.  It is almost impossible to open up the delicate petals enough without splitting them to get in the ingredients you need to get in there to qualify them as stuffed, and it takes ages.  These beauties usually come two or three to a dish and are small and light.  They consist of the end of the zucchini, the flower, stuffed with golden, melting mozarella and a sharp tasting anchovy (just enough to flavour it), dipped in a light batter and quickly deep fried.  Have I mentioned they are divine?

2.  Olive ascolane.  Stuffed olives.  Much more robust than the Fiori di Zucca they are green olives stuffed with pork mince, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried.  They are like little mouthfuls of intensely flavoursome and chewy peices of heaven if you like olives and pork.  They usually come 8 -10 to a plate.

3. Spaghetti Carbonara.  No translation available.  This dish is not to be missed and comes after the antipasti dishes mentioned above.  It is usally served as a spaghetti but can also be served using penne or rigatoni as the pasta.  If you have ever eaten what you think is a Spaghetti Carbonara outside of Italy, you will be quite surprised, and then very angry with the previous person who cooked you Spaghetti Carbonara.  This is a thick, rich and highly filling dish.  It is the Italian version of bacon and eggs and therefore can be eaten as early in the day as you want and is recommended as a great hangover cure.  It is simply eggs cooked together with so much parmesan cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano) it is scary, until a cream develops.  It is then thrown together with some small pieces of  pigs cheek or pigs stomach (guanciale or pancetta) lightly fried in their own fat and then mixed with the pasta.  More parmesan and a splash of pepper usally accompany it.  Under no circumstances is cream used.   Talking and fast movement may need to cease for some time after this dish has been eaten.

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4. Amatriciana.  Same.  This is a pasta dish which can be served using Spaghetti, Penne, Rigatoni or Bucatini.  The pasta sauces is made from tomatoes, pigs cheek (guanciale), a pinch of chilli and Pecorino (sheep’s) cheese.  It is salty, flavoursome, and makes you feel like you could run a marathon afterwards.  It is my hands down favourite food in all of Rome.

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5. Spaghetti Caccio Peppe.  Spaghetti with Sheep’s cheese and Pepper.  And lastly for today we come to another Roman favourite.  It is so simple and sounds so foreign that many people shy away from it but it is also not to be missed and one day long into the future you will remember how good this dish tasted.  It is served only with Spaghetti and it comes with a mountain of fresh sheep’s cheese (Pecorino) finely grated on top of it and dusted with a thick layer of black, cracked pepper.  Your job is to mix it all in until the cheese melts and then just eat it.  Talking will not be possible during the eating of this dish and it is fun to watch the face of the person eating this dish as the unlikely yumminess hits them again and again.

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If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about Roman and Italian food and food stories, my book ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons‘, will have you longing for pasta and searching for an Italian/Roman food fix!  Available at your local bookstore (in Australia) or from

Stay tuned for the final top 5 things to eat in Rome!

 

 

 

Antonio and Francesca – A love story.

Antonio and Francesca were my parents-in-law.  They are the charactors Renato and Checchina in my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasonshttp://www.amazon.com/roman daze.  They lived in Taranto, a small city right at the bottom of Italy on a beautiful bay.

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This blog is to honor them both, but today the story is mostly about Antonio, and Francesca’s stories will come next month.

This story begins around 1937.

Pa was 17 when he first set eyes on the 13 year old Francesca.  She was already working as a seamstress, along with her sister and mother, taking in sewing in any form to earn money in a family that had a choice between food or rent every month, unless there was enough sewing.

He saw her entering and leaving an apartment block every week on a Tuesday afternoon with her sister Nina who was 15.  He had a friend living in that apartment block and so took to visiting him every Tuesday hoping to get a chance meeting with her which he eventually did.  Not being with a parent emboldened Antonio to approach Francesca and a clandestine and innocent friendship struck up, aided and abetted by Nina who was already “spoken for” by a handsome young Carabinieri (a special squad of police that form part of the national miliatary) called Rocco.  Nina wanted her sister to have the joy of a boyfriend too.

It seems that every romance in the south of Italy begins with the parents of the female automatically hating her suitors until the very point of the wedding ceremony and Antonio was no exception.  He was aided in his meetings by Rocco who, being a Carabinieri was seen as vastly more acceptable than a worker from the local munitions factory (where Francesca’s father also worked).

But Antonio was approaching 18, the age at which all Italian males were obliged to do their military service.  This was a two year stint where Italy’s young men were trained as soldiers and could be called up to serve their country if war broke out any time in the proceeding 15 years.  Antonio didn’t have to wait that long.  It was 1939.  War broke out during his national service and he was swept up in it as a young and fairly untrained soldier.

Often when I used to look at Antonio smiling benignly over a plate of cream cakes (he had an enormous sweet tooth) or giggling over the Italian version of Benny Hill, or blowing raspberries into his wife’s stomach (at 91 years of age) or crying as he hugged his son goodbye after a weekend visit; and when I understood his character to be one of gentleness, trust, and contentment with his small lot in life, I found it hard to imagine him with a gun in his hand shooting at others his age.  And then I realised that probably his character, his ability to be utterly content with the simplest of lives and to have no fear of the things in life that I fear, was a result of what he had lived through rather than a pre-existing condition.

Pa was on the front line when Italy changed sides.  He was lying on the ground on his stomach alongside other Germans and Italians shooting at the enemies advancing through the top of Italy, somewhere around Trieste, the most Northern part of Italy.  There was a strange unrest and tension in the air that day.  None of the Italian officers had shown up to the war that morning.  It gradually became known down through the line of soldiers that Italy had changed its allies and was therefore an enemy of Germany.  The very men who were holding guns, side by side with Antonio.  He and another mate from the same home town, Taranto, dropped their guns and ran.  No formal discharge, no orders, no waiting for authority figures to tell them what to do and no fear of reprisals.  Their guts told them to get the hell out of there and so they did.

Trieste is at one end of Italy and Taranto is at the other.  It is a distance of tens of thousands of kilometres.  They walked home.  It took Antonio a month to get home and leaving the front line did not guarantee that their lives were now safe.  They were in uniform and therefore in danger of being picked up by the German military who ruled Italy.  Therefore they couldn’t use the roads or travel during the day.  Because of those same uniforms they were in danger of also being killed by the Italian partisans, the resistance, those who had opposed the war or deserted early.  This meant they were in danger at night, when the resistance travelled along the roads and paths of Italy.

So they followed the aqueducts.  The ancient system of water tunnels the Romans had built from one end of Italy to the other, at night, and only every second night.  They were tired, hungry, afraid, and needed to rest a lot.  They knocked on deserted farmhouses in the evenings and begged for food.  At that time in Italy thousands of men were making their ways home from this war, and resistors were making their ways out to fight it clandestinely. The housewives of Italy fed them all.  A knock on the door around evening time and all through the night was common.  They all needed food and it was always supplied.  The women didn’t care if they had uniforms on or not, whether they carried arms or not.  Most of them were hoping the next knock would be from their men and were relying on other women far away to be keeping them alive as they themselves were doing for the men of other women.

A month after Antonio fled the front line he arrived in Taranto.  No one there knew if he was alive or dead.  He walked up to his apartment building and greeted his incredulous mother who was on the balcony.  He washed and ate and then went to see Francesca.  She was coming along the street, arms laden down with two bags of food shopping and walking next to her mother, when she saw him coming towards her.  She dropped the bags of food (a serious crime in those days) and ran towards him.  There was never any question after that of whether he was good enough for Francesca.  He was a returned soldier who had fought for his country, been caught up in the terrible political machinations of the powerful and wealthy and had survived to come home.  That was good enough.

Antonio went on to father two boys, Hercole (yes that is a name) and Alfredo, and be the surrogate father of two more; the sons of his best friend, Alfredo, who lost his life early to cancer.  He and Francesca lived with other couples in rented houses and eeked out a living, often hungry, for nearly two decades after the war had finished.  Their financial highpoint was being able to afford a one bedroom apartment of their own, five stories up with no lift, in the centre of Taranto, with a view of the sea.  Hercole slept in a small walk-in cupboard at the end of the corridor.  When he went to military service at the age of 16, they had a second son, Alfredo, my husband.

Pa went back to work at the munitions factory after the war and worked there every day for forty years.  His life was unadventurous from my point of view.  He never travelled.  He spent his holidays with Rocco and Nina at their small plot of land about forty minutes away from where he lived and picked almonds for them each summer.  He never read anything except newspapers.

“What’s the point in buying a book?” he once said to me as I came home laden yet again with a half dozen of them.  “Once you’ve read it what do you do with it?” He then chuckled at me like I was a little soft in the head. I am known as a person who is addicted to buying books and never letting them go.  He spent his leisure time talking with his mates in the piazza below, watching TV, playing cards with his son and daughter-in-law, and talking with Francesca.

His first question to me when he saw me on the weekends we travelled down from Rome, was always “Have you eaten?”.  He enthusiastically embraced the introduction of Anglo-Saxon traditions such as Christmas crackers and the wearing of the hats that came out of them, insisting his whole family did too.  This was a vastly unfamiliar tradition to them but one that made my Christmases a whole lot better amidst all the pasta, ice-cream desserts and lack of alcohol that made up their typical southern Italian Christmas dinner.

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One day shortly before Pa passed away, Hercole came into the apartment to find Pa lying on the floor, the bottom half of his torso wedged under his double bed.  Francesca had gone out to do the shopping.  Pa was lying there calmly waiting for someone to come and find him and help him up.  Are you alright Pa, Hercole asked half concerned, half finding it funny (I told you they were quirky).  “I’ve been better”, was the reply.

So for his bravery, his contentment, his peacefulness and his fathering which produced an amazing husband (biased point of view) I say Vale Antonio, Vale xxxx

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It’s been two years since both Francesca and Antonio De Luca passed away.  Married for 67 years they weren’t able to exist, one without the other.

Franchy had a stroke when she was 89.  She was rushed to hospital from the 5th floor apartment they had both lived in for over fourty years.  She was away six weeks, floating between life and death and then rehabilitating and learning to walk again.  Pa couldn’t comprehend it.  He was almost blind, had difficulty walking and was in the advanced stages of dementia.  He could also not be consoled.

The person who had been the only constant in his grey and continually dimming world was no longer there.  He was living more and more in a world of fantasy where if he passed a mirror he often spent half an hour talking into it, thinking he was having a conversation with someone else.  He could also spend hours having a conversation with the television.  All he knew was that the person who prepared his coffee first thing in the morning, the person who helped wash and dress him, the person who helped him go to the toilet, who fed him, bought his food and went walking with him was gone.  The woman who, when he woke regularly in the middle of the night and started to get dressed, told him that it wasn’t time yet, the woman who laughed and joked with him at his eccentricities and still took him, and his needs seriously, the woman who even at 89 years old could still make him smile, grab her in a big hug and kiss her repeatedly on the mouth.  All he knew was that she was no longer with him, the concept of time, that she was somewhere else and could eventually come back, eluded him.

In her place were well meaning sons, grand children, neighbours, doctors and professional carers.  He struggled on for several weeks at home then in professional care.  Like Romeo at Juliet’s tomb, believing her dead, he just wanted to go with her.  One day he just stopped eating and died three days later. Francesca survived her stroke and came home to an empty house.  Francesca couldn’t walk very well and as their apartment was on the fifth floor with no lift, she was confined to it.  Her sister Nina and her best friend Maria visited every day, sometimes twice a day, along with neighbours, children and grandchildren. She lasted almost two months without Antonio and then one day another stroke killed her.

They were the kind of parents and parents-in-law that you really miss.  Funny, quirky, courageous, honest, tenacious, tender, unconditionally and endlessly loving to the full extent of their capacity and beyond.  They were two of the most selfless and endearing people I have ever met.  I wish the world had known them more.

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Every one is an expert on Rome…..

A beautiful and insightful review from the Editor of ‘Insights.  Melbourne Business and Economics.’ by Associate Professor Geoff Burrows.  A regular and passionate visitor to Rome.

REVIEW of ROMAN DAZE – LA DOLCE VITA FOR ALL SEASONS

The saying that ‘every immigrant is an anthropologist’ is colourfully realised in Bronte Jackson’s Roman Daze.   Arriving in Rome as a backpacker courtesy of a free airline ticket won in a raffle and after a failed marriage, she immediately fell in love with the city during what turned out to be a 17-year stay, acquiring along the way fluency in the language, an Italian husband and employment with the UN’s Rome-based World Food Program.

 

Loosely structured around how the four seasons impact on Rome and its inhabitants, the text offers a series of fascinating excursions into Rome’s geography, history and the living, working, courting, shopping, eating, beach-going, and other socialising and recreational habits of its citizens.  Some clichés are shown to be true – timetables are largely works of fiction, Italian women do apply make-up before exercising, bank tellers do demand the personal phone number of young female customers as a condition of providing service.  At least one legend is also verified: the existence of a keyhole, remote from the Vatican, which offers a breathtaking view of the Holy See.

 

There is no air-brushing of Rome’s frustrations: long waits and customer-unfriendly banking procedures and the lack of a service ethos in Italy’s bloated public sector.   However, there is always the compensation of superb food and coffee, the search for which is a sub-theme running through the text.  Frustratingly for tourists, the best food and coffee is served in small obscure establishments, mostly invisible to foreigners.  The locals never patronise establishments directed at tourists.  The subtleties of local variations are constantly described.  Unexpectedly, Italians emphasise the taste of pasta itself rather the toppings.  The author also describes her own culinary triumph – a quiche at a neighbour’s crowded sixtieth birthday party.

 

Much travel writing is by experienced journalists based on quick impressions on sponsored trips.  Roman Daze is the account of a 17-year love affair with a city.  Written in a deceptively easy prose style, it is recommended to both first-time and regular visitors to the Eternal City.

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The Perfect Bun

Arriving back in Italy after having been away I am always dying for an Italian coffee and a cornetto (Italian sweet breakfast pastry).  So my first stop is always………the airport.  Yes, that’s right, I can’t wait until I get into the city for a long awaited cup of Italian coffee, so I stop at the first cafe I see in the arrivals section of the airport.  It is important to note that this does not apply to the departures lounge.  For a simple reason.  The Italian airport staff are served their coffee in the arrivals section of the airport (as it is open to the public).  The departure lounges do serve departing Italians but they also serve mostly tourists.  So you know that the standard of coffee etc. you get in the airport will be the same standard as that outside the airport as their custom is the discerning Italian local and worker.

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As well as providing me with my Italian coffee fix this stop also serves to gently ease me back into Italy by being able to sit awhile and leisurely savour my cornetto and cafe.  Otherwise it all hits me hurriedly in the face as soon as the glass sliding doors open and its almost too much to take in.  The perfectly coiffed women of all ages, the impeccably suited men of all shapes, the uniformed personnel of all statures, the crisp neatness of the designer clad children, the amount of women wearing high heels that can actually walk in them, the sun tanned slick haired touts and tour guides.  It overwhelms me and I feel an immediate need to go to a hairdressers and book a gym appointment, or the other way around.

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“OK can we go now?”, says my husband ten minutes after we have both finished our respective coffees and cornettos.

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I have been watching a steady flow of men and women of all ages and shapes come to take their morning coffee standing up at the bar.  They all look magnificent and I try to analyse why.  I notice they dress in a way that suits their particular forms, strong features, and advantages – so well that you don’t notice their less than perfect statures or girths. And their clothes fit.  Their hair is also groomed, all different styles and generations of fashion but they all have good hair cuts, and shoes.  Even those that are not naturally gorgeous looking, dress as though they are, and it has the same effect.

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I watch a short, grey haired man walk to the bar in an immaculate suit with a tall, wrinkle-faced woman wearing a gorgeous green silk knee-length dress and gold high heels.  They happily talk and greet others, chit chat and move on. With his perfectly cut suit, silk tie, shinning skin and good hair cut he looks ten feet tall even though he is a head shorter than the beautiful woman on his arm.

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“Oh please just a few more minutes, now the Carabinieri are coming over, and they are wearing their winter uniform…………..knee length boots…..”

The carabinieri notice me checking them out.  They glance boldly fully at me in the face, an acknowledgement of the compliment they know I am paying them, before they turn their backs to me, one heeled boot resting slightly higher on the bar running under the counter in order to show off butt muscles to perfection.  I appreciate the gesture and salute them with my empty coffee cup. Ahhh viva Italia I am home!

Speaking of perfect buns………The Perfect Bun restaurant, American bar, is celebrating their fifth anniversary this month!  I am particularly excited about this because it is a place I visited for the first time five years ago and features in my book “Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons”.  It is the setting for the Chapter entitled ‘Foreigner’ and features because it was a good example of what was so hard to find in Rome back then (and still now).  That is, an authentic escape from Italian culture, which all expats need from time to time!

There are many wannabes and my book talks about why that is so disappointing – imagine missing a particular Anglo-Saxon dish and then ordering it at a place that advertises itself as producing it and then having an Italianised version of it served up.  It is better to avoid the whole experience than to try and convince yourself that your ‘Greek salad’ which consists of mozzarella cheese, tomatoe and basil with an olive thrown in, is really OK.  The list goes on – cold pasta as “brunch”, Italian almond biscuits as “Devonshire tea” and my favourite – a pastry case full of melted chocolate advertising itself as a “brownie”.  No, the disappointment is just too keen.  Sometimes it is just best to accept that Italian food is SO good, they don’t need to offer other nationalities as well.  Sometimes its best to wait a year or two til you get home.

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For this reason many places fail to survive after a year or sometimes only a few months.  The fact that The Perfect Bun is celebrating its fifth anniversary is truly a feat and shows they have catered to the Anglo-Saxon palate and those Italians that remember their Anglo-Saxon treats and want to re-visit them, successfully.  Well done Perfect Bun and many happy returns!

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Perfect-Bun/120823150120

 

 

 

Free Download: Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons

Roman Daze-La Dolce Vita for all Seasons

Please feel free to try this sample!  The Prologue and first Chapter of my new book.

Early reviews describe it as “conjuring up people and place in a masterful way and having the effect of making you want to eat pasta and book a trip to italy”

“What a beautiful book, you start reading it and can’t stop!”

“The book is a quirky and perceptive cultural set of observations and decoding of the phenomena that is Rome, and her beautiful people. Brava Bronte”

The full copy can be bought from the below link in hard or digital copy, or from any major e-platforms

Book Launch: Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons!

Its finally happened folks!  My book, Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons was launched last week to great acclaim!  In fact we sold out!

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Go here to get more!

or any major e-platform booksellers (google, kobo, ibooks).  It is available as a hard copy or electronic.

Early reviews describe it as “conjuring up people and place in a masterful way and having the effect of making you want to eat pasta and book a trip to italy” and

“The book is a quirky and perceptive cultural set of observations, and decoding of the phenomena, that is Rome and her beautiful people. Brava Bronte”

 

 

La Dolce Vita for all seasons

This post is to announce the publication of my book “Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons”!!!!  I am very excited.

What is it about I hear you ask?  Well………….Twenty years ago, Bronté Jackson won an airline ticket that thrust her into the heart of the Mediterranean. Recently separated, made redundant and evicted from her home, Bronté spent six months recovering in Greece and spending her redundancy package, before making her way to Rome. Roman Daze: La Dolce Vita for All Seasons is a book about living a personal and continuously surprising adventure. It’s about following your heart and what it’s like to live among people who continuously use theirs.

In Roman Daze, Bronté Jackson describes how the seasons, food, family, landscape, rituals and history combine to create and explain the Italian lifestyle and why, from the outside, it looks like La Dolce Vita.

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“It took only three days to fall in love with Rome. Like all infatuations, I expected it to wear off. I decided that I would leave when I no longer noticed the Coliseum. I am still waiting.”

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From December 10, 2013 it will be available on all major e-platforms as an e-book and hard copy (print on demand). I will provide the links as soon as I have them. Many of you will relate to the stories and lifestyle description in this book (and some of you are in it! – you know who you are;).

If you enjoy the book, please write a review of it and recommend it to your friends. More information on the book is on the page in this Blog “Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons.

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How to enjoy a Roman Autumn (Fall)

Autumn is a great season to visit Rome in because the city is fresh, crisp and relaxed.  The weather is a perfect and steady 24 degrees with sunny, blue skies.  The blistering heat has finished, the colder months have not yet started, and the rain of spring is far away.  Romans have returned from their summer holiday months and are tanned, cool and refreshed; ready for work, and if that includes the tourist trade then the service is much better than you would get in the baking hot and crowded summer months.  There are also fewer tourists as most of the Northern hemisphere has taken their holidays and have returned to work.  Airline tickets cost less; everything is open, and the city is back to business.

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Here are my top ten tips for how to enjoy a Roman Fall/Autumn.

1.  Plan to walk a lot.

Autumn is perfect for walking (as is the city of Rome).  It rarely rains, is not too hot, and the sunshine and blue skies set off the rich colours of the city and its monuments perfectly.

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2.  Visit a park (Villa Borghese, Villa Ada, Villa Pamphili)

Sunshine will filter in through the green foliage of the summer growth making any park seem cool, lush and shady.  But there will also be evidence of the season, with colours changing to yellows and browns and crunchy leaves underfoot. Tracks will be dry and easy to walk on, summer mosquitos will have gone and the air still warm and balmy.  A Park is the perfect accessory for autumn.

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3.  Visit the Municipal Rose Gardens of Rome.

Internationally acclaimed and featuring over 1,000 varieties of roses they are still blooming ferociously in autumn.  Although not publically listed as open in autumn (they are only open officially for a few weeks in May and June), I was walking past the other day and they were definitely open and being visited.

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4. Don’t go to the beach.

As tempting as it maybe for some of you from colder climes who don’t get much opportunity to go,  the beach will generally be shut in autumn in Rome.  Romans are seasonal creatures and will finish going to the beach at the end of summer (21st September), no matter what the temperature.  Most beaches are privately run and are fenced in and will be closed due to lack of clientele.

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5. Don’t look as though you are going to the beach.

Likewise if you are still wearing shorts and sandals in autumn it will be noticed.  My summer clothes were noted and commented on a few weeks ago in my neighbourhood in an unfavourable manner by a fellow customer at my local café.  There is a season for everything in respectable Roman society, and in September to December it is autumn, and the attire that represents that (closed shoes, longer trousers, jeans, layers, light cardigans, cotton scarves, etc.).

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6. Shop for last season’s cloths.

Many shops, though not in the trendiest parts of town, will still have remnants of their summer stock, from cloths to bags.  As no self-respecting Roman would be seen dead in the colours, fabrics, or shoes of summer, the prices are rock-bottom and on offer to the tourists who are the only people that will buy them.  Stock up!  Rome’s last seasons’ stuff is what the rest of the world will be wearing in a years’ time.

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7.  Eat seasonal delicacies – Funghi Porcini, Puntarelle, Carciofi alla Romana, Roasted Chestnuts.

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Funghi Porcini are large flat mushrooms that taste earthy, nutty and quite unique. They are one of my favourite things to eat, made all the more special by the fact they are available for only a few months of the year.  I recommend eating them grilled and as a stand-alone dish. They don’t require any other accompaniment than bread and the fresh green olive oil, parsley and garlic they will be cooked with.  Most people are hooked after one taste.  If you are a bit shy and need to dilute your first experience then I recommend ordering the Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini, a thick egg noodle/pasta delicately flavoured with fine slices of Funghi Porcini.

Puntarelle (little points) is a vegetable dish.  They look and taste a little like celery but come in the shape of a small squid or octopus (the ends are all curled up).  They are served with olive oil and flavoured with a few anchovies, vinegar and garlic.  They are fresh, tangy and divine to eat.  They are found only in Rome, in autumn, and are the ends of a vegetable that no one, not even a large amount of Romans I asked, knows the name of.  They are notoriously difficult to prepare and are therefore best eaten at a restaurant where someone else has had to chop, scrape, soak, slice, and marinate them.

Carciofi, artichokes are a Roman speciality in general but prepared alla Romana is even more typically Roman.  Again it is ordered as a vegetable dish and will come as a single, large artichoke soaking in its own cooking juices of lemon, mint, garlic, parsley and boiling water and garnished with olive oil.  It is magnificent!

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Roasted chestnuts will be available on every street corner in the centre of the city.  Roasted over a coal fire you can buy them in small paper scoopfuls.  They are warm, nutritious, richly filling and slightly sweet.  They make a perfect snack or an excellent (and very cheap) breakfast along with a coffee.

8. Sit in the sun.

It is one of the best recreational activities of the year.  Winter it is too cold to sit still outside, summer it is too hot to sit in the sun, spring is unpredictable.  Autumn has long, lovely, warm days full of a sunshine that caresses without burning, stimulates and sooths, tans and smooths, gently washing away negative and stressful thoughts.

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9. Watch the sun set.

The sunsets of autumn fill the sky with brilliant reds, oranges and yellows that blot out clouds and pollution and linger on for hours.  It is as though the sun needs to go out with a bang in its last season of dominance; that it needs to remind us all of its majesty so that we don’t forget its importance and power as we live through the winter months.

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10. Go to a Vineria.

If Parks are the perfect accessory for autumn and sun sitting the perfect recreational activity then the Vineria is the perfect resting place.  The evenings that darken early, and the slight chill in the air when they do, force you inside at a time usually too early to eat but perfect for the partaking of a little wine, cheese and salami – the trifecta of the Vineria.   Vinerie serve only that (although some can also entice you with dinner once you have settled in), and from around early evening (just before sunset).  They specialise in an exhaustive range of wines and usually have shelves of bottles that line the walls from floor to ceiling as part of their decor.  Cheeses and salamis will be offered that match the wine you choose, and the small, cosy and intimate nature of these establishments will make you glad that you chose your sojourn to Rome to correspond with the magnificent season of autumn!

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Top 10 restaurants in Rome (6 -10)

Hello all,

The rest of the list is a bit later than expected.  We have been through some trying times recently which I will blog about next.  In the meantime here is the rest of the list!   Although I did say they would be in order, upon reflection I can’t order them as they are all so different and depend on what kind of dinning experience you are seeking.  The caveats from the last blog still apply though.

 

6.  Ai Spaghettari – P.za di San Cosimato, Trastevere 57-58-59-60

A beautiful, succulent and rich experience of a typical, contemporary restaurant, that has nevertheless been around for half a century or more.   It is based in the most traditional part of Rome, Trastevere, a mostly pedestrian only precinct, which is now packed with restaurants and is an enchanting neighborhood to eat in.  Ai Spaghettari is always noisy, has the television blaring, and is always full.  A pizza oven greets you at the door and you can watch while your pizza is made, being flung up in the air and all. There are vast amounts of seating outside and in, and service and menu are both good, featuring lots of traditional Roman specials.  If you don’t book you may be waiting a while but you will get a seat eventually.

 

7.  Pizzeria Popi Popi – Via delle Fratte di Trastevere 45, 06-589-5167

I avoided going to this restaurant for years as it looks like the typical tourist trap often found in Trastevere.  Red checkered table cloths, tables set outside in front of a beautiful, white marble church, and filled with tourists.  Then my Italian husband and his mates took me there.  Now we know the waiters by name.  Frequented by both Italians and tourists alike, its cheap and cheerful outdoor atmosphere make it a superb summer Roman dinning experience (and indoors for Winter).  They have a large and traditional menu (including pizza) and the food always tastes surprisingly good for its quick production, volumes turned-over, and large variety.  Their Tiramisu is one of the main  reasons we keep going back.  By the way, once I asked the waiter what the significance of the name was.  He told me its the sound that Italian men make when they squeeze the breast of a woman “popi, popi”.   Booking is optional, just turn up and the waiters will look after you.

8. Ciak – Vicolo de’ Cinque, 21 ,Trastevere 06 5894774

Carnivores unite! The window is packed with hanging dead animals of the kind not often seen – boar, pheasant, deer and hare.  If you need an iron or blood fix this is the place to come.  Deep rich, red salamis of wild boar, pastas with venison ragu, stews of hare, Fred Flintstone steaks of beef, pork and veal are all on the menu here and nothing much else.  If meat is what you are after you will get any kind your heart desires (including heart…..).  It feels like you are eating in a Tuscan agroturismo with bare brick walls, lively noise and Chianti bottles everywhere.  The huge open grill is at the front and you can go and choose your type and cut of meat before cooking.  Best to book as it tends to be a restaurant that people go to specifically for this kind of food.

9.  Spaghetteria L’ Achetto – Via dell’Archetto, 26, Trevi Fountain 06 678 9064

This is the Frat Boy version of these top ten restaurants in that it has foregone all the add-ons of Italian cuisine and just focuses on the pasta.  Exactly 100 different pasta dishes can be ordered here and not much else.  But why would you bother coming here for anything else, their pasta dishes are fantastic?  Originally another restaurant I stayed away from as it seemed too gimicky to be good food to me, but I was dragged again along by my husband and his mates who had all eaten here for years.  Once I tasted my Fiume di Londra (London Fog) pasta dish I understood that no short cuts had been taken in delivering high quality, mouth watering food by focussing on just one type of dish.  This is a great place to go when you are sick of the same menus in all the other more traditional restaurants of Rome, although here you can get the traditional plates as well of course.  Try also the Pasta al Limone and the Penne alla Vodka a traditional dish that many restaurants disdain to put on their menus but is delicious and won’t make you drunk (although perhaps best not served to children).  Their vegetable dishes and Tiramisu are pretty good too.  Seating is outside partly and right on the cobblestoned street so cars will pass at your elbow.  Inside there is plenty available although it is a bit warren like, underground and airless at times.  If you book try to sit outside or ask for a table close to the entrance.  This restaurant is literally around the corner from the Trevi fountain.

10.  Est, Est, Est – Via Genova, 32, Nationale  06 488 1107

This is a gorgeous, out of the way, nourishing and cosy restaurant.  It is situated off the main shopping strip of Via Nazionale, close to Termini and right at the end of a dead end street.  It serves most things but I come here for the pizza which is slightly different from the pizza you will get in most of Rome.  Instead of the delicious light, thin-crust pizza that is typically Roman, these guys follow the Neapolitan tradition of thick crusted, doughy pizza bases.  Most Roman pizzas, like their pasta dishes, have two, maybe three toppings on them.  Don’t be tempted to do more, especially not in this restaurant, as you will be unable to finish it.  Toppings  are designed to enhance the pizza base not drown it out, similar to the toppings for pasta.  For example the best pizza is usually the Margarita (named after their last Queen) which consists of tomato paste, mozzarella cheese and basil (the three colors of the Italian flag) .  The wood panelled walls and old-world decor make it a relaxing and casual dinning experience, inexpensive and a nice place to eat as a couple or in a small group.  The menu is not large but has most traditional Roman food on it.  It is small, quieter than the other restaurants and has high quality food.