Have you ever attended a book launch via zoom? Watch the Ticket for One book launch, Rome in the comfort of your own home or relive the experience if you were there! Please join us for some virtual prosecco and cheese while Felicity Griffin Clark artist, writer, curator and co-director of Counterweave Arts in Rome and Brigitte Laliberte global scientist and coordinator of Cocoa of Excellence program host the book launch together with Bronté.
Ticket for One was launched in Rome (where the author is based) and then in Melbourne, Australia both via zoom. If you would like to see the Australian book launch, and the slideshow that went with it please click here.
Thanks a million to all who attended both launches and have supported me in this book. Please keep spreading the word in your networks and leaving me reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Word of mouth and reviews are the best way to publicise a book. Both books are available in paperback and e-book from Amazon, Beaumaris Books, Melbourne, FAO Book shop and Otherwise bookshop, Rome.
Ticket for One reached no. 16 on the Amazon global best sellers list for Italian travel but is not only about Italy. Here’s what Amazon reviewers are saying:
“A great read of an adventurous young women as she finds her place in the world”. UK reviewer
“Bronté Jackson is a gifted storyteller with a talent for evoking the colours and sensations of the places she visits”. Italian reviewer
“A beautifully descriptive and emotional account of backpacking adventures in far away places while reconsidering the direction of one’s life”. Australian reviewer
If you would like to preview either of my books please click on the links below.
I have taken myself off and out for a date with my city – it’s been awhile and I am desperate to fit one in before my privileges are revoked again and we all have to stay at home.
“Where are you going?”, my husband asks.
“I don’t know, that’s the point of an Artists date*, you have no itinerary, no plans; the point is to spend time in the unknown”.
“Well just call me if you need a lift back”.
It’s been decades since I have been able to get lost in Rome. When I first arrived in the early 1990’s it was my favourite thing to do – wander, get lost, discover new things and places. Rome seemed an unending labyrinth of possibilities and new experiences, full of new discoveries to be stored up for revisiting and taking others to later. Hidden corners, quaint nooks, undiscovered restaurants and cafes, quiet streets of artisans, grand public buildings, impromptu exhibitions, tranquil shady piazzas, serene vistas over the river, flower ridden parks, newly excavated ruins, newly restored churches and museums, views of the sunset…….but now I know them all and part of me is sad that I do. I miss the excitement and amazement, the wonder and the thrill of the unknown, of losing oneself and discovering that you are not lost after all, but just in a different place with lots of new possibilities.
But today the city did it for me, for old time’s sake. I managed to not know where I was for a good half hour or so until I spilled out, from a new direction, into a well traversed piazza. Today the city gave me what I needed as it always does. Whatever my need Rome fulfils it. If I am hungry or thirsty it feeds and waters me, if I am bored it delights me, if I am tired it restores me, if I am stressed and overworked it calms and refreshes me, if I am frightened it comforts me, if I have lost my perspective on life it brings it back, if I am broke it entertains me for free, if I am flush it offers me luxurious treats, if I am sad it cheers me, if I need to celebrate and am happy it brings me ways to prolong and satisfy this. All I need to do is get out and into it which I have been prevented from doing for large parts of the year and which is in danger of happening again so I need my dose. And I also need to wander into the unknown; after months of precise assessment, structured processes, analytical decisions and having to care about things I don’t (like how many millimetres a margin in a book should be), I need to be released into the unknown for a bit of a break.
So I do my best to listen to my inner artist, see the unseen, take paths less well trodden and let the day unfold, like it is the first day I have ever been here. It means I have to abandon myself to my senses and watch for the signs that direct me to my unknown destination. Like the movie production vans (Mission Impossible, again) that block my entrance to quiet street I want to duck down and instead put me on another path, or the gypsy standing on the corner obscured in shade, that attracts me to turn down that street, or the view of a walled in bridge up high connecting two ancient palaces that catches my attention and pulls me down towards it. And then I am lost. Lost inside my well known world, enabling me to see it differently, to learn to be at peace with not knowing, to notice the small details of where I currently am, and to appreciate that.
I stumble into a sunny regal renaissance piazza, completely empty, quiet, and in repose. Plants in marble pots and wrought-iron lampposts border it. Elaborate lace-iron balconies offset the neatly painted white and light orange buildings, all with matching shutters. The small windy street is bereft of cars and motorini, there are no tourists wandering, no one is sitting on the rails edging the small space reading a map, checking their phone, or eating a sandwich. No one is standing in front of the small church doorway taking a selfie, or posing for someone else. I listen to the wind and notice the empty rubbish bin. I self-consciously take photos of the building that is shaped like a triangle. An older man in an impeccable suit exits a government ministry building, eyes me hungrily, but walks on, looking back at me once or twice as he ambles deliberately slowly across the piazza; but I show no signs of catching up to him or noticing him, the communication is accepted and he moves on.
I amble along the thin curvy street, hemmed in by the walls of the buildings and too soon find myself in a well-known destination, Piazza della Rotunda. The piazza that houses the 2000 year old Pantheon, one of the best preserved Roman temples dedicated to ‘all the Gods’. It has been in continuous use throughout its history as a temple to receive sacrifices, as a Catholic church and now one of Rome’s most visited monuments. Today for the first time in 2,000 years entry is prohibited. The Pantheon is shut. I wander into the piazza, one of my favourite and where I always come when I need to spend time in a special place, either celebrating or commiserating – when my dad came to Rome, when my best friend visited, when my Nan died, they have all been marked here in this piazza at a table with some Prosecco. Today I am celebrating the finishing of my second book, but it also feels a bit like a commiseration.
At lunch time, a table in the winter sunshine, without being a politician, movie star or having sat there since mid-morning, would be impossible. But today as soon as I round the corner I am pounced on by the liveried waiter and there is no need to ask if there is a table in the sunshine available, they all are. I order a glass of Prosecco knowing it will come with ample snacks (today it is peanuts, olives and chips) and settle down to watch people in the piazza. Gangs of politicians come strolling through on a lunch break from the Parliament houses close by, groups of tradesmen in uniform amble by, and a couple of pigeons. That’s it. Usually this piazza is packed and worth hours of people watching, while waiters hover as soon as you have finished your drink and others hopeful of your table start to move towards it. Usually there are so many people sitting around the fountain that the steps are obscured and the entrance to the Pantheon obliterated by the snaking line of tourists queuing, the horses and carts waiting, police strolling, gypsies begging, sellers selling, and photographers flashing. Today the waiter doggedly stays inside so I can’t ask for my bill and have to sit there for as long as possible, hopefully enticing others to sit as well. I slowly munch through my peanuts, chips and olives relishing the December sunlight.
The place I usually go for lunch is closed. There is a sign on the door explaining that as long as the Covid restrictions are partly in force they can no longer afford to open. Glad I ate all my peanuts, I head to my favourite café for a hot chocolate. It’s in via Condotti, Rome’s busiest and most exclusive shopping street that leads up to the Spanish steps. Café Greco usually has a queue to get in, service is slow and erratic, and it has been continually open since 1760. Today the formal suited waiter opens the door for me and ushers me to a table. I am the only person in here. It is so quiet I can hear the coffee machine steaming.
I order my hot chocolate which comes with separate whipped cream and is the kind of thing that is akin to enlightenment – the world looks and feels entirely different after one of these. I snuggle in to the plush red cushions at my back and take my fill of the glorious paintings and etchings that surround me, knowing I can take as long as I like. About five minutes later the overpowering silence and lack of activity begins to feel eerie. This is not a place that should be bereft of people, of the clinks of china, the swish of tray bearing waiters, exclamations of consternation from people as they realise there are no spare seats, the squeals of children that usually run up and down between the aisles of tables, murmured conversations, delighted laughter, selfies and group photos, customers trying to get the attention of waiters, heated conversations mid-passageway between staff, and the muted shouts from them behind the counter to their mobile counterparts.
This is the unknown. An empty Rome, and none of us feels comfortable, and we are all sick of it. The last time Rome was this empty was after the final conquering of it, more than 1,600 years ago, when everyone that was still alive fled, and sheep grazed amongst the rubble in the Forum for the next 1,000 years. After years of wishing that Rome was less full of tourists and having given up even frequenting some parts of the city, I find myself hoping that they would all come back, hoping that you all come back, hoping that we all come back.
It starts about five minutes into the introduction of my book, Ticket for One, by author Liliane Grace. She talks about what makes the book ‘work’ from a readers perspective and why it ticks all the ‘best writing/entertaining’ boxes. We then dive into a Q & A about why I wrote the book, how I handled the tricky themes of vulnerability and bravery, as well as the struggle about keeping the ‘voice’ of the young woman I was when I took the journey. There are a couple of readings from the book, which while not giving anything away, give a flavour of what there is to enjoy about the book. And then we launch it! The whole thing takes about 45 minutes so sit down with a glass of wine and a Greek salad, some Turkish mezze or Italian antipasto and enjoy the show!
Ticket for One has now reached no. 16 on the Amazon global best sellers list for Italian travel but is not only about Italy. Here’s what Amazon reviewers are saying:
“A great read of an adventurous young women as she finds her place in the world”. UK reviewer
“Bronté Jackson is a gifted storyteller with a talent for evoking the colours and sensations of the places she visits”. Italian reviewer
“A beautifully descriptive and emotional account of backpacking adventures in far away places while reconsidering the direction of one’s life”. Australian reviewer
I say the book is about three things:
How you can be on the brink of things, with everything falling apart around you, and come back from that to a whole new version of yourself.
Travel. The wonder, the hardship, the joy of travel; travel as a journey to learn about yourself and others, getting the widest possible input into your world view, understanding ‘the other’, realizing that we are all much more like each other than we are not; friendship, those made on and off the road, and sustained.
The beauty of the Mediterranean. The power of that beauty to heal and restore, to reach right down into your soul and find you, the power of history, of past civilisations and their human experiences that teach and help us in our struggles today.
And apparently you will laugh a lot, and need to eat Greek, Turkish and/or Italian food!
To launch the book I asked Helen Palmer, facilitation artist, team shaper and founder of Self unlimited, Melbourne, and Liliane Grace speaker, author of many books, and writing coach/teacher. Liliane and I attended high school together and shared a passion for writing even back then. We reconnected at a school reunion about twenty years later, and have been firm friends ever since, as well as co-encouragers and advisors in our writing and creative ventures. Liliane also launched my first book ‘Roman Daze – La dolce vita for all seasons.’ Helen and I have worked together, served on a global board together, co-created as professionals and spend time regularly in a peer support/review group for experienced Organizational Development and change practitioners.
Thirty eight people zoomed in from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, NSW Central coast, north coast of Victoria, and Rome to attend the Australian based launch. You will not be able to see all the participants as the recording done on zoom only catches the first screen of people. You will also not be able to see the slideshow so I have inserted it below. You will have to play the soundtrack yourselves of the songs that went with it and captured the moment and moods of summer 1993………..
(Madonna, Like a Prayer; REM, Loosing my religion; Pet shop boys, Its a sin, Go West; Black, It’s a wonderful life; D:Ream, Things can only get better; U2, In the name of love)
The northern hemisphere book launch will be posted soon, along with a podcast of this one. Thanks a million to all who attended both launches and have supported me in this book. Please keep spreading the word in your networks and leaving me reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Word of mouth and reviews are the best way to publicise a book. Both books are available in paperback and e-book from Amazon, Beaumaris Books, Melbourne, FAO bookshop and Otherwise bookshop, Rome.
Dear friends, I am so excited to let you know that my new book is ready! Click below for sneak preview and to order! Kindle version is ready now and paperback version any day now. And Rome-based residents can purchase directly from me. It is available in all Amazon markets. Stand by for an invite to the book launch. Please help me by spreading the word and sharing this in your feed or group of friends, and leave me a review when you have finished it! Happy reading everyone!
Sometimes you have to let go of everything to find what you really want.
Greek islands, Summer 1993……
Bronté finds herself backpacking through the Mediterranean, but it’s not all paradise.
Reeling from the end of her marriage, the loss of her job, and with no place to call home Bronté hadn’t hesitated to pack her bags when she unexpectedly won an airline ticket to her dream destination, with spending money included!
With nothing left to lose, she had set off into the unknown with no itinerary, no experience, and a hastily filled backpack. After losing access to her money on her first day, being poisoned on her second day, and finding herself sleeping on a beach next to travellers on the run from organised crime, her adventure takes her on an hilarious tour through the underworld of backpacking.
This is a story about transformation from helplessness to power, hopelessness to faith, and anguish to joy. Set against the backdrop of breathtaking Mediterranean islands, vibrant Rome, enchanting Tuscany, and captivating Turkey, Bronte connects with the beauty of nature to restore her shattered heart and confidence.
But how will she be able to go back to normal life after this journey? Should she stay in the arms of her belly dancing boyfriend? And is the amount of byzantine icons in a city a good indication of whether she should settle there?
“I listened, I let myself go where my heart took me and it never took me ‘back home’. It took me to a new one.”
“From a dark, gaping hole of plans that had fallen through, and a life that had never worked out the way I wanted I had trodden step by step, carrying nothing with me except what was required, staying constantly in the present. Somehow I moved forward just by being, just by stepping, just by continuing to look at the sky, talking to the people around me, and being out on the road each minute, each hour, each day. Although I had wanted to stay still, crying on a Greek beach waiting for someone to rescue me, I found that moving into the unknown was so much more interesting and, in the long term, truly fulfilling.”
A compelling and candid story. An odyssey of self-discovery that fundamentally questions how to live and find happiness.
At last we are let out and into the city we go! I have never met a Roman who was not in love with their city – who did not appreciate its history along with its almost 1,000 year reign, world domination; and subsequent contribution to law, philosophy, government, military strategy, engineering, architecture, literature, painting, sculpture, religion, sanitation, town planning, heating, food, holidays and hydrology.
It’s the first Sunday since quarantine was lifted and after 2.5 months of eerie silence the streets and piazzas of Rome are packed. Chock full of Romans. There is not a tourist or an English speaker in sight or earshot. I feel like I am in a time capsule that has landed me back in the early 1990’s when I first arrived in Rome. Before the invention of cheap flights and millions more tourists at all times of the year. Prior to this, Romans had always had the city to themselves from October to March, and during those months, people stared at me as though I had forgotten to go home. At that time by mid-December you could sit by yourself in the Sistine Chapel and write a novel, and by February most of the city shut down for a good long rest until Easter. In comparison, for the past decade, and before quarantine (BQ), no one has been allowed to even stand in the Sistine chapel for longer than a few minutes without being hurried along to make room for others waiting to come in. You stood shoulder to shoulder admiring as much of the ceiling as possible while shuffling along in a sea of humanity, towards the exit.
Sunday night has always been a big social night for Romans. Far from it being the night in which to stay in and prepare for the work week ahead, it is seen as the last opportunity to milk the weekend. It’s also the time to catch up with friends after having spent the whole day with extended family. Italy has the second highest amount of elderly citizens globally therefore most people have parents or are one. So the streets and bars are packed as my husband and I saunter lazily through them. Imagining that we would be a lot more alone than we are, I am surprised but also delighted.
It’s busy and full but not crowded and bursting. There is space. Space between the gatherings of people, empty medieval corridors where chairs and tables are being set up for dinner, ivy covered spaces empty of people because it’s not yet the Roman dinning hour. A city being used by, and for, its residents alone.
The tables in the bar next to me are filled with octogenarians drinking Aperol spritz, mostly women, and groups of couples with prams and newborns. In the piazza in front of me, instead of a keyboard and badly played Dire Straits covers, there is a vigorous game of soccer being played between six under twelves, who keep it going amidst the walkers, and use all four corners of this huge space. Instead of flower sellers and photographers coming to our table there is a determined gang of five year olds on scooters, using the 1.5 metre quarantine space between tables as lanes, and being constantly shooed away by the waitress. Instead of coloured plastic toys that make a noise when thrown into the air by their hopeful vendors, the shouts and screams of five girls playing hide and seek can be heard. And as the twilight lengthens, instead of a gaggle of uncomfortable looking foreigners wearing the same T-shirt, drinking beers and self-consciously stumbling across the piazza, a serene flock of Romans cruise gracefully past on a bike tour.
Just after sunset everyone leaves, aperitivi is finished, and it’s time to go home and eat dinner. The piazza is quiet, empty and darkens a little just as the breeze that always occurs at sunset blows over it. For a few minutes in the silence the piazza is bleak and windswept, reminding me of another of its original uses – a place of execution. The imposing statue of the last person burnt at the stake on this spot, looms out of the darkness, his hooded figure menacing and joyless. But just as quickly the piazza starts to fill up again as families who have decided to come out for dinner do so; like the appointed hour for aperitivo, dinner is similarly scheduled. Freshly washed children prance around with their parents as groups of friends meet and sit down to dine.
My husband and I have been coming to this restaurant for twenty five years – many of our early dates were here. It’s been two decades since I have seen groups of Roman families here. It’s mostly couples and always tourists. The proprietor’s Nonna still makes the fettucine daily, sometimes just inside the front door if you come for lunch. They bake their own bread and he is the fourth generation that has run the restaurant. We are his first customers after quarantine and if we could, we would hug vigorously. Instead we talk loudly and at length about all that has passed in the last few months.
‘The day after we had to shut down, I came to the piazza anyway’, he says. ‘I had come here every day for the past thirty years to work, it just seemed natural. When I saw the piazza empty and everything shut, I felt my heart break, it was too difficult and I stayed away after that.’
After such a long time I expected things to be a bit rusty, but it was as though 2.5 months of pent up longing went into my meal. The antipasto of burrata cheese with char-grilled slices of zucchini and eggplant put me in my happy place for more than 24 hours. The lamb was juicy and tender, the wine cool and fruity, and the roast potatoes sprinkled with sheep’s cheese and pepper, induced an eating episode that was more like an inhalation of all that I had missed and loved about this place. I sailed home as the last twilight faded, wishing that everyone in the world could come here and have this – just a few people at a time though.
Since the beginning of quarantine two weeks ago it has been very calm here in Rome. Somewhere else the virus has been raging and people are having their loved ones in coffins being removed by the army. Somewhere else people are fighting in supermarkets over the last rolls of toilet paper, and somewhere else shelves of supplies are disappearing at a great rate. Somewhere else politicians are dismissing, ranting, raving, telling everybody that all is well, while trying to give this sickness a nationality.
Here the birds are loud and their song is bright, and it is heard all day long. The shushing sound of the traffic that reminds me of my seaside city home and the sounds I fell asleep to as a child, is silent. On windless nights, which these have mostly been, not even a grain of dirt moves on the roads and footpaths that surround my apartment block. The moon is huge and shines out through the leafless trees each night mocking me in my sleeplessness – too much light and too much silence – both stimulants for my body. During the day the unfolding drama and constant mental activity of processing, associating, cataloguing and adapting taking place, on top of a usual work load and the daily running of a household, have put me in overload and I have difficulty shutting down.
But outside, my environment is eerily quiet. The usually busy streets full of traffic, children, motorbikes, delivery men calling to each other, the gardeners with their leaf blowers, the actors from the theatre next door who rehearse on the street and sometimes in our communal garden, the portiere (caretaker) who calls out to people as they leave and enter all day, none of this is happening. The shoppers, the unemployed, the elderly, the mothers, the shop keepers, café owners and workers who stroll outside during their lunch hour, who all usually fill the streets, are not there.
The silence and the inactivity are overwhelming. Even the dogs are quiet. There is nothing to bark at.
Occasionally someone scurries by, head down, mask on, always alone, and sometimes wearing plastic gloves. If we meet coming towards each other we each take a side of the footpath and veer past each other, sometimes with cheery eye contact, sometimes not. I can sleep without ear plugs for the first time in two decades. I can rest during siesta listening to the wind if there is some, and now the birds are so loud they keep me awake. Sometimes I can even hear bees. Blossom rains down along empty streets, sunlight pours over still piazzas, cats lazily stroll across them and I don’t bother to look either way when I step onto a road.
There is music everywhere though, loud and blasting from speakers but also being played from pianos, guitars and keyboards, much more than usual. None of us are comfortable with the silence. We are all used to the noise that surrounds us daily and reminds us we are part of a huge city and that although we may be alone in an apartment we only have to open a window to know we are part of a community.
Now we have to shout out to each other to remind ourselves of that, and so we do. Each night at six we join together on balconies and at windows to make noise, to combat the silence that says we are a city that is in lock down, in mourning, in fear and dread for what may come. Each night we gather to shake off the silent day and break it up from the silent night and remind ourselves that we are not alone, that we are here, all here, all here in this together. We sing and shout and clap from our silent siloes and rebel against our quarantine from each other and this is how we are able to be patriots and our usual anarchic selves both at the same time. This is how we are able to be in this storm, in its eye, all together.
For many years what determined where I lived was whether it was possible to have coffee in Piazza Navona, one of Rome’s loveliest renaissance piazzas, whenever I wanted. It meant that Rome was always top of the list. Today is a Piazza Navona Day. It’s a day I regularly set aside to do nothing much except sit in Piazza Navona and drink a coffee.
Like magic a bus appears as soon as I leave my apartment, it whisks me away and in 20 minutes I am in the very heart of Rome. The Capitoline hill, where the Roman Empire, once extending as far as England and Egypt, was governed and is still governed from today. I salute Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor in bronze on his horse at the top of the staircase in Michelangelo’s square, guarding the spot where the temple to Jupiter received sacrifices and spoils from Roman conquests. I wander slowly along Rome’s main street lined with palaces now housing banks and insurance companies – providing the same service as the noble families who once inhabited them did.
At Piazza Navona I spy a table in the morning winter sunshine, draped with dense cream linen and standing on some ancient cobbles. I point to it and politely ask the waiter if it is OK to take that one. Although my Anglo Saxon looks can never pass for Italian, my accent and language can, so I get the usual quizzical (are you a tourist or not?) stare as I order my cappuccino ‘ben caldo, con poco latte, niente cacao’ very hot, with less milk than usual and without chocolate on the top. It comes so hot and strong that it will take me an hour to drink it – just what I need.
Although we are deep in the middle of winter, the sun is shining brightly and warming the top of my head. No wind reaches this piazza, protected from the river breezes and tucked well into a ring of medieval and renaissance palaces. I hear the constant falling of plentiful water in the fountain nearby, designed by Bernini in 1650 to represent the four great rivers of the time. The gigantic statues of four men that depict each river lean out from around a huge Egyptian obelisk, stolen from Cleopatra, which pierces the bright sky with a Christian cross. The fountain sits on top of the ruins of the Emperor Diocletian’s chariot racing track. Here is Rome in a nutshell, or a fountain – marble statues, flowing water, stolen treasures, sports arenas and empires one on top of another. A great unbroken line of humanity in this very place; people who loved, laughed and cried right here; people who thought their worlds were about to end and those who thought they would never end.
At the table across from me a woman and man, well advanced in their journey through life, soak up the sun and sip their coffee talking about a family lunch this weekend. I have always admired these Roman women. When I first arrived in Rome in the 1990’s they wore floor length fur coats, glittering jewelry and hard cased Prada handbags wherever they went. The fur coats are now mostly gone but this woman stands up and puts on an ankle length carmine red wool coat with matching colored Prada backpack, her jewelry catches the sun and makes her whole body sparkle. She looks so cheerful and benevolent, and I wonder when I can expect to transition from cranky and sweaty to cheerful and benevolent. After we retire says my husband.
Watching this couple, I can’t wait, I feel like I am always chasing after a life that is just ahead of me – just out of reach and disappearing as quickly as I gain on it. A life of old Rome, of women in fur coats, and men in hats, of unhurried conversations with family and friends, of quiet winters with no tourists, of freezing Februaries with no sun, of deserted summers where the city shuts down, and doesn’t exist online, and a country where no one speaks anything but Italian. Coming up fast behind me, pursuing and almost engulfing me is another life, full of a younger generation I don’t want to be, and a fast paced, hurried life that I don’t want.
The huge bells of Saint Agnes in Agony ring out deafeningly and I feel my entrails turn to water as a Roman senator would say. They ring out an ancient stone sound that makes me want to cry; young laughter from the table of girls behind me overlays it – ancient and new, sorrow and joy, pain and the exquisite gift of being, mingle together. The sound fades away slowly and I am in the present again with my faint headache and feet that feel the uneven cobblestones beneath them. I am home for now and will give myself another ten minutes to sit in the sun and enjoy my here and now life, exactly between the other two.
It is hot. Hot, hot, hot. Yesterday my husband phoned me from his car at 8.30 am to tell me it was already 30 degrees with high humidity, and warned me to be prepared. As if I wasn’t already prepared. It has been hot since the end of May. It is now the middle of August.
One of the challenges of a Roman summer, besides its length and temperatures, is that Romans don’t really believe in air conditioning. Air conditioners have only been readily available on the Roman market since the early 2000’s and until recently many apartments, shops and restaurants did not have it. Many Romans believe that air conditioning is bad for you, mostly because of an in-built and ancient fear of fever, in particular death by fever, a reality in the ancient past for many citizens of Rome. They believe that air conditioning will cause fever because of the severe changes in temperature that will result, and that it is unhealthy to have cold air blown on you.
They have a point. Going from an air conditioned location to the fierce heat of a Roman summer is not a pleasant experience. And this is part of the charm of Rome. It retains its ancient beginnings and mixes them in with its post-industrialism. So these days most public places, including public transport, will have air conditioning on AND the windows open. “So it doesn’t get too air conditioned”, is generally the answer I get when I ask bus drivers or proprietors why this is.
Rome as a city has had thousands of years of dealing with the heat without it. It is a city that moves outside to catch cool breezes and shady areas. And living in a city which doesn’t air condition the seasons away means you have to live within them. Adjust your routine, your activities, your diet and your lifestyle to accommodate and move within them. Romans have been doing this for centuries. It is only us foreigners who insist on living the same kind of lifestyle for twelve months of the year and are outraged if our productivity slows down.
Rome is not a city governed by trade and commerce. At 3.00 pm in the afternoon even if you had a million dollars you couldn’t spend it. No sane commercial trader would try and out compete his competitors by staying open during the siesta, and in fact it is mostly illegal. But why bother when there will be plenty of trade at 5.00 pm when the siesta is over? Why bother when you can make money AND see your family, make love all afternoon, let your gorgeous lunch digest, prevent a heart attack, have a nap in the middle of the day. Rome runs on the seasons and on tradition. And I love it for those reasons.
No one except me is in Rome in the middle of August. Really. My whole suburb has shut down. I have to have my coffee at home as none of the dozens of little cafes serving Romans their daily coffees are open. Why would they be? All the Romans have gone on holiday to the seaside or the mountains. I have another two weeks before going on holiday and I had a long list of things planned but instead I find that the heat exhausts me after around two hours of activity, and all the other things I had planned can’t be done because nothing is open. I have to wait until September to get my hair cut for example. Our phone handset died yesterday due to battery failure but we have to wait until September to get a new one. My work suits sit in a pile by the door as I didn’t manage to get them to the dry cleaners before the start of August. My husband can’t go shopping for T-shirts to wear on our holiday as all the clothing shops are shut for two weeks, and thank goodness one of the two supermarkets are open otherwise food would be a bit of a problem too.
But it it is peaceful. So peaceful. The quietness of an abandoned city is refreshing, and worth staying in it for. I love August in Rome. It is the only time I have the city to myself. I can wander around unhindered by traffic, human and mechanical. It takes half the time to get anywhere and I can stop and look at anything without fear of being run over. It is quiet at night and quiet during the day.
It is a time to stop, to slow down, to contemplate and relax. The cities work-a-day functions are not available so it forces you to rest in parks, laze by pools, look at flowers and bathe in the sea. It forces you to take the mental and physical break that nature is taking, a rest before the next seasons’ activities. It is a time of substituting ice-cream for lunch or dinner, for long siesta’s while outside the afternoon bakes away in silence, not a leaf stirring, as even nature tries to keep cool by not moving. It is a time to enjoy the silky evening air on your skin, to sweat out toxins and negative energy, to wear loose clothing and move languidly, in sync with the city.
Rome is a built of stone and water. Clean, free, cold water gushes continually out of drinking fountains by road sides and in parks all over the city. It comes from underground springs in the countryside around Rome and is pumped in using the ancient aqueducts built by the Romans. Now that’s something a post-industrial city doesn’t have. It is enough to rest under a tree, stand on a cold stone and drink or splash the water over you to cool down and enjoy a Roman summer. Who needs air conditioning after all?
Contact me for one of my private tours in the Tour page on this website or my Facebook page – Roman Daze
Read more in: ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons’, Melbourne Books, 2013
Available at all bookstores nationally within Australia, Otherwise Bookstore Rome, and via Amazon, Kobo and ibooks.
For those of you who missed this I wanted to show you the new page on this blog which contains my new private walking tours of Rome! Check it out for your next trip, live vicariously, or share it with your friends who you know are traveling to Rome.
When I first moved to Rome he began speaking to me in Italian …….
“Where’s the wheelbarrow?”, he would ask, when I phoned him.
“Is it in the elevator?”, and
“Hello, beautiful girl.”
These were the only three phrases he knew and it revealed his history of having worked with Italian labourers on building sites. (He told me once that what Italians didn’t know about concrete wasn’t worth knowing.) As the Project Manager he needed to be able to ask them these questions and many of them didn’t speak English. He also heard them often trying to chat to women passing by. I never knew my dad could speak Italian, or how much he liked it until I began living there, and he gleefully repeated all his known phrases to me every time we spoke.
My dad first encountered Italy as a young man on honeymoon in the early 1960’s. He and my mother arrived by ship from Melbourne, Australia, along with hundreds of Italians returning home to look for brides and for family visits. They docked at Naples. Dad said he had never seen men cry until that moment. He said the ship erupted with crying men, hours out of Naples, as soon as they could see land, and that the crying didn’t stop for hours until they docked and were met by crying mothers. He was very impressed with how manly Italians could be and yet how much they could cry.
As an engineer my dad was very interested in buildings, art, furniture, design. All the things Italy offered an abundance of. He and my mother toured around the major cities, he documenting everything in slides – the Duomo in Milan, the Vatican in Rome, the canals of Venice and the Bay of Naples. His love of design shows through in each of his photographs.
Several decades later when my dad and my step mother visited me once in Rome, we stopped in a piazza in front of the Pantheon, a beautiful, round Roman temple, right in the centre of the modern city of Rome. We took a seat at an outdoor cafe. The waiter arrived and my dad asked for a drink I had never heard of and couldn’t pronounce, even though I spoke fluent Italian and he didn’t. The waiter responded in the affirmative and without a glance backwards took off and brought back what ended up being an alcoholic, cherry liquor in a tall glass with soda water, and a blob of vanilla ice-cream floating in it. Something he’d remembered that he had drunk last time he was in Rome, in 1960.
He told me that one of the saddest days of his life was after that first trip when he and my mother arrived back in Australia, after spending over six years travelling and working in Europe and Asia (during which time my brother and I were born in Malaysia). He loved the influences of Europe and Italy, and felt Australia was very quiet and very far away when he first came back. He was completely understanding of my need and desire to stay and live in Italy and encouraged me to stay as long as I liked. He told me that he could walk around a piazza every day and not get bored but that once he had seen somewhere in Australia once it was enough for him. It never entranced him the way a European city could. I felt the same.
Growing up I remember Dad was very popular with his Italian employees, so much so that they gave him gifts of live birds, home-made salami’s and other incredibly smelly foodstuffs, cakes, eggs and tomatoes. Once I came home from school to find mum in a bad mood and a strange Italian bloke in our back yard hammering together a cage for the doves he had brought over for my father.
“What are we going to do with those?”, she asked my father. “We don’t know anything about birds!”
“It’s a sign of respect, darling. He wants to give them to me. I have to accept them.”
Dad provided a huge party for his builder’s labourers at Christmas with as much beer and food as they could eat. He also gave them money from his own pocket when they needed it. Once it was to pay the funeral costs of a labourer who had died at a work site he also worked at. He loved the exuberant hugging and kissing and emotional displays he got included in as one of them. He never lost his fascination for Italian men and their camaraderie from the moment he had that first experience on the ship with them.
He loved that my Italian husband Alfredo, called him Giovanni (Italian for John), and taught him even more words in Italian.
“How are you? I’m good thanks, how are you? I speak Italian. Do you speak Italian?” He would repeat over and over, every time he saw my husband. He plied Alfredo with dozens of questions every time he got the opportunity.
“What’s the name of the football team based in Turin? Where is the city with the round, white houses? What dialect do you speak? How far is it from Bari to Brindisi? Do Italians eat much meat?”
He never lost his interest in or passion for history, geography and all things Italian, and treated Alfredo as though he was a living specimen of a culture he found endlessly entertaining and inspiring. His daughter (me) who was actually a Social Anthropologist he never asked anything of. I wondered if he knew anything about the depth of my knowledge and association with Italy, the country I had lived and worked in for 17 years. I sent him postcards and wrote him emails with photos of everywhere I travelled, long before I met Alfredo. One day he got out a huge Atlas to confirm a conversation we were having, just the two of us, about a certain part of Italy. It fell open naturally at those pages and I saw inked in lines drawn all over Italy and other places I had visited. He had traced my journeys and plotted them all on the maps in the Atlas, using the postcards and emails I had sent him.
He understood my need and desire to live there but when I was back in Melbourne, towards the end of his life, he often expressed anxiety at the thought of me returning. Last year we were shopping for some dinning furniture and took him with us. We were in an Italian furniture design shop whose headquarters was in the south of Italy, the region Alfredo is from. As I touched the furniture I sighed and indicated how much I missed it. He turned to Alfredo and said in a menacing but joking way “No, she is not allowed to go back now.” My blood ran cold as the thought of disappointing him hit me. Returning was always an option for me.
My dad passed away 1 month ago. In those last days of palliative care, I sat and held his hand and looked in his eyes and told him I loved him and heard him say it back. Whenever Alfredo spoke to him and called him Giovanni, he responded with a smile and tried to speak in Italian back. I am glad I don’t have to disappoint my dad by returning to a country I love. I am glad I am now free to go. And I am glad I returned to Melbourne, to spend these last years with him.
I am glad I inherited his love and passion for travel, for history, for geography and for learning about new languages and cultures and I will always take him with me where ever I go.