What’s up in a Roman January?

I know, I know i’ve said it before.  January is a dull, cold, dark, short month.  Its sometimes better just to hunker down and get it over with.  Then again sometimes its hard to notice it at all.  By the time Christmas and New Years festivities are gotten over its almost over anyway and there isn’t much to look forward to or do until the Carnivale starts livening things up again in February.

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So this post will be short.  Its just to let you know that January is not a great month to visit Rome.  Everyone is tired, the Vatican in particular.  Many places close for a restful few weeks and those that can, get out of the city and go skiing.  No one wants to party or eat much and no one is very interested in serving you.  Its too cold to stay outside for very long and enjoy the best parts of Rome which are actually mostly outside.  Although the keen winter sun does make it lovely for a short stroll either just before lunch or just after.

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The three best things to do in January in Rome all begin with S – shopping (there are lots of sales), skiing (ski fields only about an hour away), sipping hot chocolate.

A Roman hot chocolate is a spiritual experience and will revive even the most jaded of palates and auras.  When I first got handed a hot chocolate in Rome I thought someone had made a mistake in my order.  It looked nothing like the brown, milky, liquid hot chocolate I grew up with.  You basically had to eat it with a spoon and it came with an inch of whipped cream on the top to “even out the chocolate”.  A hot chocolate is taken standing up at the counter of your local cafe or sitting at a table alone or with friends.  In Winter it is one of the five food groups, along with deep red chianti.  But as most people are heartily sick of drinking by January, and are saving themselves for Carnivale, a hot chocolate is a steady substitute.

Italy has some of the best ski slopes in the world, the most breathtaking scenery and the most comfortable acroutements to skiing in the Western world.  Added to this is the high fashion still apparent on the slopes, the spectacular food and venues and it is a pretty good way to pick yourself up during a dark, cold January.

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Lastly the sales.  While others are working off their Christmas kilos on the slopes or dieting by drinking hot chocolate alone, some are using shopping as their cardio.  Its not just the heart stopping deals and the adrenalin inducing battles that go on between shoppers its that you end up walking for ages laden down with bags due to the fact that the bargains just go on and on.  It is also an ideal way to throw off Winter blues.

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Oh and if you are still stuck for ideas, try http://www.wantedinrome.com and  http://www.facebook.com/TheYellowRomeGuide  between these two you will find everything else you need to enjoy a Roman January.

Happy 2014!!!

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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

http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386736705&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

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!

http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386736705&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

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”

 

 

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 5 Eating spots in Rome

Although there are many great restaurants in the suburbs of Rome, these are not them.  These top spots are all in the “centro historico”, the city centre of Rome.  Handy if you are visiting Rome as generally this is where you will be staying.

My definition of a top Roman restaurant is one that:

  • has been in operation for at least one hundred years
  • is family run (usually by the second or third generation by now)
  • specialises in traditional Roman cuisine (simple, fresh and offal based)
  • has a menu that depends on what is available at the market that day
  • does not depend on decor as a selling point.  (Not for me the modern, sleek, sharply fitted out interiors with modern twists or re-inventions on traditional dishes.  If I wanted those kind of restaurants I would go to Milan or Melbourne.)

So here goes, the top five are not in any particular order:

1.  L’Hostaria Romanesca – Piazza Campo dei Fiori, 40 – 06 6864024

Don’t bother calling as you can’t book and if  you are lucky enough to get a seat you will have to wait a long time often for your meals.  It consists of one small room inside plus a square of the piazza. There is a sign on the wall written in local dialect warning about the wait and not to bother the chef with complaints.  But it is worth it.  Dishes are individually and lovingly prepared, and spilling over with food of the highest and freshest quality.  The Spaghetti Carbonara, Pollo con Pepperoni (only found in Rome)/chicken with capsicum, and Fegato alla griglia/grilled liver are the best I have ever tasted.  But everything on the menu is good, cheap, and cooked with care and attention to detail.  Try any of the specials as they will be seasonal and based on the chefs traditional knowledge.

And while you are waiting you will have the spectacular Campo dei Fiori to watch – full of people, no cars, magnificent medieval buildings, and a statue of Giordano Bruno, the last person burnt to death there in 1600 for heresy.  Reflect on how, if waiting for some spectacular Roman food while sipping wine and eating bread is the main problem you have at the moment, then life is much improved since 1600.

2. La Carbonara  – Piazza Campo dei Fiori,23 .- 06 6864783

You will be lining up often with international movie stars and politicians to get a seat but it is not a pretentious or expensive place, just a Roman institution.  At the other end of the piazza from L’Hostaria, it is thankfully much larger so your chances of eating there are greatly increased, and they take bookings.  Again it produces very traditional, high quality Roman dishes with just a bit more flair (and prices) than the down market L’Hostaria. The Fiori di Zucca/fried zucchini flowers, Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal with proscuitto and sage) are the best I have ever tasted and the Carbonara is on a par with L’Hostaria.  Again you will have the Campo dei Fiori piazza to look out upon and will be entertained by a parade of non-stop travelling musicians.

 

3. Il Bric – Via del Pellegrino 51, 06-687-9533

This one is around the corner literally from La Carbonara and has a gorgeously rustic, cosy, and wine filled interior,  with a wine list that resembles an encyclopedia.  It is often referred to as the “cheese restaurant” by locals as one whole window is dedicated to a range of melt-in-your-mouth French and Italian cheeses in such an array that stops passersby in their tracks.  It gives the impression of being only a Vineria (wine bar) but has a full restaurant menu.  It is fairly new (twenty five years old) and its decor does draw me in, hence the rules don’t always apply.  But the combination of feeling like I am eating in someones lovingly kitted-out cellar, with high quality food based on traditional Roman and French cuisine, in a romantic and more tranquil atmosphere than the other two, gets me in every time I want something just a little more upmarket and refined, without feeling I have to forgo my casual Roman street-wear.   Booking is essential.

4. Il Drapo – Vicolo del Malpasso 9, 066877365

Il Drapo is certainly the most upmarket, expensive, romantic and luxurious so far.  It is great for a romantic dinner for two, or elegant get together with more.  I notice that they tend to put couples and quieter parties together which preserves the atmosphere in some rooms, and makes others louder.  The food is Sardinian based so you will get a slightly different menu but they are respectful of where they are (just around the corner from La Carbonara), and Roman cuisine is also honored.  It is a peaceful and attentive experience compared to the above four.  The food is fantastic, beautifully presented and you come out feeling like you have been refreshed and pampered with a belly full of excellent memories.  My favourite here is the suckling pig in juniper berries.  Bookings essential.

 

5. Da Luigi – Piazza Sforza Cesarini 23, 06 6865 946

I stumbled on this place when I used to live around the corner from it and noticed it was always full with lines of people waiting.  Hence I usually had to eat dinner next door in a grossly inferior establishment.  Da Luigi is packed full with Roman families who like to keep this place a secret.  It is squashed along the side of a tiny piazza across the road from Piazza Navona.  Here you will find reasonably priced, down-to-earth Roman dishes specialising in sea food.  It is noisy and always crowded and there is nothing to look at, but the variety and good reliable quality of the food makes up for it.  The booking system doesn’t seem to work so be prepared to wait for a table which is never very long.

 

 

Shipwrecked in Italy

January is never a good month in Italy.  It is short thank goodnesss; but it is a cold, dark month full of the hangover from Christmas and New Year, and the necessary guilt-  based dieting that goes on to try and recover from how much you ate and drank.  There is absolutely no hope of a reprieve in the bleak, boring month and definitely no excuse for a party until Carnivale in February.  In short its a bit boring and a bit depressing.

This year even more so as we contemplate the sheer bizzareness of a captain who wanted to steer his huge ocean liner full of thousands of people onto a beach for fun, and the sadness and shock that it resulted in of lives lost.  In a world full of obvious dangers it seems particularly unfair that lives should be lost as a result of being shipwrecked on a cruise ship off the coast of Tuscany, 50 metres from shore.

As the stories come out about the lack of procedure, the captain not following basic maritime law and protocol, huge risks taken and responsibilities abdicated, none of it actually surprises me.  Bucking the rules for family and friends, bending the rules for personal comfort, and plain ignoring them at times are all fundatmental parts of Italian culture.  This leniency benefits just about every Italian in their lives, as well as most foreigners, at some stage or another.  It is part of the charm of Italy and something that makes it a special and magical place to live in.  It just sometimes all goes horribly wrong.

I am reminded of a hovercraft trip I took a few years ago from Sorrento to the island of Capri with my tall, blonde haired, blue-eyed, British girl friend.  There were more people wanting  to go to Capri than the boat could legally carry.  However in order not to disappoint travellers and their families they just kept letting  on as many people as needed to go (it is a short trip).  As all available space slowly filled up my friend and I found ourselves being pushed to the top of the hovercraft until we were at the Captains cockpit.

“Come in, come in”, he beckoned to the dozen or so of us standing around squashed up against the door.

“There’s plenty of room in here, stand up along the wall here.  You two (meaning my friend and I), come and sit up here on the Captain and First Mates chair.  We can stand.”

We found ourselves sitting in front of the “wheel” which is actually a stick which steers and drives the hovercraft.  It was difficult for the Captain to actually steer the hovercraft with my friend sitting in the seat directly in front of the wheel.

“Here, you do it”, he said after a while.  “It’s really easy, just hold it straight like this and head for that island, I’m going off to get a coffee”

Photographs curtesy of A.Lake

Berlusconi’s last bunga bunga

It is with great relief and so much joy that we say goodbye to Berlusconi as Italy’s Prime Minister for the better part of seventeen years.  Now I know a little how people feel when their countries are rid of dictators.  Berlusconi came to power shortly after I arrived in Rome and hailed himself as a progressive leader that would modernise Italy.  Instead he went about feathering his own nest and did nothing to revitalise or bring Italy forward.  He even went on national television (which he owned) and gave a monologue speech in which he contracted with the Italian people to do a number of things, and holding himself accountable to the population, for them.  At the time I am sure he believed himself.  I can’t remember if that was before or after he was charged with corruption and asked to step down as Prime Minister.  The first time.

Italians are an incredibly forgiving race and tolerant to the point of the ridiculous but I knew it was all over when I read in the paper last week that according to Berlusconi’s second in command, Berlusconi had to go as he had created a laughing stock out of Italy and that no other countries respected them anymore.  Four indictments of corruption, constantly accused for having broken the law in a number of other areas during his seventeen year reign, his lack of leadership, changing electoral laws so it was easier for him to win elections, owning most of the print and television media and using it as the communications arm of his political campaign, flagrant womanising, stacking his political party with gorgeous women he had seduced, and sex with an underage prostitute was never going to be enough.

Italians have an expression La Bella Figura which is fundamental to understanding part of their culture.  It means “to make a good impression” and is the basis for all social interaction and behaviour.  It is important at all costs to conduct yourself in a manner which creates a good impression (and this means treating others well as part of it).  I knew that the comment in the newspaper meant that Berlusconi had crossed this line and caused his country to not have a Bella Figura.  I was therefore pretty sure that unlike all the other times, this time he was doomed.

I do however have a word of caution to the Anglo leaders (USA, UK, Australia) who have been calling for him to get his act together and start leading the country.  Like that was the piece of advice he had been missing.  If only it had come sooner.  There are several cultural, historical and social reasons that Italy is the way it is, and not the way any of the Anglo type countries are.  These circumstances, although they may lead to some disasters such as now, are also tied up in the many successes and wonders of Italy.   It is not as easy as it first seems.

  1.  Berlusconi has mostly had to govern with a minority government over his seventeen year reign.  Traditionally his government has had to include parties in it from the extreme left to the extreme right, in order for him to form a government.

At the moment Australia has had a minority government for just over a year and it has caused us paroxysms of anxiety, debating, stalemates, slowness and at times divided the country because we have had to get the OK of a few people not in the party of the current Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The UK and USA systems have been constantly paralysed and brought almost to the brink of disaster over the past four years due to partisan politics.

Berlusconi’s government has had to run the country like this for seventeen years, trying to get agreement on everything they do across a wide spectrum of political parties, any of whom could dissolve the government if they didn’t agree.  Governing in Italy is a major act of facilitation, participatory practices and consultations to bring everyone along as a group.  It is something that not many other governments have to put up with, and even fewer display the aptitude and leadership skills for.

2.  Traditionally who you voted for in Italy depended on what your professional was or where you lived (your region).  In order to keep your job/get a job or have access to government services in your region you had to pledge support to the candidate who represented this as part of the election campaigning.  All journalists voted a certain way, so did university staff, doctors, bank employees etc.  It was only recently that a law was passed banning mobile phones in the polling booths so that people could not be pressured to prove who they voted for by taking a photo with their phone of their ballot.

This is a system of patronage that greatly hampers any individual politician leading or making any great changes once they get to Parliament.  Much like the system of big business and other factions in the Anglo countries that can afford to pour huge sums of money into candidates’ electoral campaigns.  In Italy the politicians go after the voters, in the Anglo countries it is the other way around.

3.  Italy is a country of 65 million people and one of the eighth most industrialised countries in the world.  It has huge wealth, high productivity, and a black market possibly as large as the one that is recorded on paper.  It is much harder to manage this kind of economy than one which has only 20 million people in it and only 1% of the world’s market.

The way Italy’s economy works is based on its social system which has been around for longer than the economy.  Unlike other countries whose culture can now be called Economic Rationalism, Italy has retained much of its pre-industrialised values and traditions.  This is what makes it such a wonderful place and is also part of the reason it is filled with world heritage treasures.

Sometimes the “Stock Market” is not able to list, define or appreciate all the world’s stocks.  Therefore let’s not make it the only measurement of value in the world.