A tale of Italian cities – Taranto rehabilitated

Each year when I attend the Italian Film Festival in Melbourne I feel like I get a glimpse into the heart and soul of Italy through the films that have been made, and most loved, by Italians that year.  Last year I was struck by the number of films set in or around Taranto, where my husband is from, and which during the 17 years I lived in Rome, no one ever seemed to have visited or wanted to.

I had been visiting Taranto regularly over the years, spending long periods at Christmas, Easter and the summer months.  It always seemed strange to me that a place that was so much cheaper than the rest of Italy, with some of its best beaches and spectacular food, was not over run with Italians and other tourists. To me it was a place of unique beauty, full of love and laughter from my in-laws, and people that stared at me unabashedly like I was an alien, but who were never the less incredibly welcoming and friendly.

I got engaged in 2002 and I was living in Rome at that time.  When I excitedly shared the news with my local Roman café/bar owners and shop keepers that I was to be married, there was a look I didn’t recognise that came over all of their faces, and a distancing.  Their congratulations were formal and stilted, quite different from the jokey comradery we had built up over the years.  The change seemed to come because I said my fiancée was from Taranto, not because I said I was to be married. I recounted reactions I was getting to the new I was marrying a man from Taranto to my fiancee.  To my surprise he wasn’t surprised.

“Taranto doesn’t have a great reputation in the rest of Italy”

I felt like my parents had told me I was adopted, that the view I had of the world was wrong, and that everyone was in on the conspiracy.  I listened to the descriptions given by my fiancee  as examples of what others in Italy thought of Taranto – lazy Southerners, violent knife wielding thieves, impoverished communist strongholds, aggressive and illiterate fisher-folk, Mafia corruption, and backward saint worshipping enclaves.

So it was with much pride and some amazement that I watched ‘Daddy’s Girl’, ‘Ever been to the moon?’ and ‘Pomodoro’, three films all set in or near Taranto in the 2016 Film Festival.  Each of these films juxtaposed the North of Italy with the South.  Only this time the stories had changed.  Taranto is portrayed as a bastion of humanitarian principles in a world gone mad with excess and ego, a stronghold of human kindness in a world obsessed with image and power, a place that has not lost its core human values of connection with the land and the life sustaining food it produces, and as having deep wisdom about the true needs of the human soul.

In these films it feels like Italy is telling a story about herself; portraying herself as the troubled teenager that went off to find her fortune in the big city and got sick from too much of a good time, returning to her roots to find what she has been searching for, what truly sustains her, was always there.  The common theme in these films is that modernity, luxury, wealth, fame are not always the pots of gold they are made out to be, there are disadvantages to them just as there are to primitiveness, poverty, sobriety and ignorance.  It seemed that through these films Italians were expressing their lessons learnt and revaluing some things about themselves that perhaps previously only outsiders could see.   I am looking forward to the 2017 round of films and this years’ stories that Italians tell about themselves.

What my dad knew about Italy

What my dad knew about Italy

would not fill a book.  However………..

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.

Vale, Giovanni, Vale.

 

01052005(001) 01052005(002) 03032005(004) 20150503_181035 20150906_141054

The legendary Giulia (Noi e la Giulia)

Palace presents the Lavazza Italian Film Festival 2015

How can a movie that highlights the brokeness of Italy and its people, be so uplifting?  By acknowledging everything that is present, and focussing on what is good.  So Italian.

Every aspect and characteristic of Italian society is presented in this film.  How they work together or not is cleverly woven into the interactions between these characters.

  • Winner
    • Best Actor in a Supporting Role – David di Donatello Awards 2015
    • Best Comedy – Italian Golden Globes 2015
    • People’s Choice Award – ICFF Italian Contemporary Film Festival Canada 2015

THE MAFIA

Represented in three generations, in clothes and language that appear clichéd, they still have enough believable (and actual) power to terrify a group of educated and grown men who know that in spite of their legal rights, the law, and natural justice; that being assassinated for daring to not pay a fee to the local mafia, is a sure thing in many parts of Italy.  But this is the first time I have seen an Italian film about the mafia where ‘the people’ win.

Films depicting the mafia have slowly changed over the decades.  From semi-glorifying the mafia, then depicting it as evil but always winning (One hundred steps, 2000, Gomorrah, 2008), to challenging that this should be the case (The mafia only kills in the summer, 2015).  The legendary Giulia goes even further in a way that I am hoping represents a  change in the power dynamic.

The Mafia Kills Only In Summer            

In this movie the characters not only dismiss the Mafia’s age-old reasoning (the state provides no help for this region and only the ‘families’ provide support and economic infrastructure so you should pay them fees like you pay taxes to the state), but they actively fight back and then ‘remove’ them.   Doing to them what has been inflicted by them, for centuries.  In doing so they also ‘rescue’ one of them from the role he has been forced to play.

The mafia rises again though, showing how hard it is to cut off the head of this Hydra, and at the end of the movie you are not sure who is the victor.

The individuals that make up the Mafia show that, like other roles in Italy, the one you get is often determined by the geographical location of where you are born and what kind of family you are born into.  Although there appears little room for choice and this has led individuals down the paths we are shown, the central characters show that choice is possible, although painful and requiring great courage, and that happiness can be the end result.

SOCIALISTS

Many people don’t know about the deep connection many Italians have with Communism and that it is still a significant force in Italian society and approaches to living.  It explains many things about how Italy works.  There is a deeply held reverence and respect for work, whatever that work is.  There is more importance on having work than what type of work it is, as all work is considered valuable and all workers deserving of respect.  There is a strong sense of everyone having their say and acting only when there is consensus, and when there is, throwing your lot in behind the majority for the sake of getting things done, rather than standing apart and sabotaging (many nonItalian politicians could learn from this).

The strong ‘people power’ sentiment is represented by a character who lives his communist values by keeping everyone together and ensuring that everyone is treated equally in the face of extreme fear and lack of resources.  He is the one that fights for their rights against the parasitical mafia who want to send them broke as a new business, and whose practical experience and ‘hands on’ approach to life ensures that the right foundations are laid for all to enjoy .e.g. he is the only one who knows how to fix a toilet using only his bare hands, some rubber gloves and a tea towel……….

REFUGEES

Italy is heaving with refugees from Africa and elsewhere.  Literally millions land on its shores every year and many of them eek out existences where no one else would bother, and in the dry, deserted lands of the interior and south of Italy.  In this film, a tribal Prince from Ghana who led his nation into warfare is treated with fear and derision by a broke celebrity who wears an ‘Italy for Italians‘ T-shirt and thinks that Ghana is in Nigeria.  The refugee helps them out in a crisis, rescues them from themselves, and protects them when they are in danger.  Essentially performing the role that Italy has performed for them.

  

 

 

 

 

CELEBRITY SEEKERS

The cult of the celebrity, superficial relationships and fake connections are all exemplified in one of the characters who depicts Italy‘s fascination and long-held reverence for television and all who appear on it.  The fantasy world of television where looks and money mean substance has long been seen as a major foundation of Berlusconi’s success in political campaigning.  It comes unravelled as we see the truth of the exploitation  of others that is required for this image to be maintained, how it can’t actually produce or contribute to anything, and how it has to be ‘saved’ by the older generation of practical socialists who have the know how and the courage to back up their goals.  The story of Italian politics over the past two decades.

QUIET, DESPERATE CONFORMER

“When you hate your job, you begin to hate everything about the world and your life is about escaping. In your 20’s it is to run a bar by the sea, in your 40’s it is almost always a country B & B”.  Such is the powerful line from one of the central characters as he is lamenting the fact he has never chosen to do anything he really wants to do in his life.  The failure of the state, the stranglehold of the mafia, and staleness of the socialist approach to life have all amounted to work being difficult to get in Italy with unemployment rates around 50% in many regions of Italy and nationally never under 10%.

Many people just quietly buckle under, are grateful for anything, and accept demeaning treatment to keep their jobs while slowly feeling like their souls are dying.  They accept a high level of dissonance between their own personal values and what must be accepted in order to keep their livelihoods going.  There is  a generation in Italy that got so used to never being able to achieve anything, and seeing that merit was not a reason to receive, that they gave up or left.  This character represents them.

The Mafia Kills Only In Summer

POLICE/THE STATE

The Mafia characters continually refer to the Police as not being relevant.  To those of us who come from nation states that function, it is hard to understand how this can be possible.  Is Italy so advanced that everyone polices themselves?  Does everyone just obey the law naturally as exemplary good citizens?

Partly the answer is ‘yes’ because it becomes apparent when the Police behave little better than the Mafia that it is not due to them there is law and order.  The ‘fees’ for protection that they request are just as high as those asked by the Mafia, and their behaviour just as demeaning and inappropriate.  The difference is that there are more of them and they are sanctioned by the state in a much more obvious way than the Mafia are.

For many the actions of the Police in this movie will be hard to take seriously and have little impact.  Surely this is an exaggeration?  It is a movie after all.  For real life examples of Italian Police behaviour, see the movie ‘Diaz – Don’t clean up this blood’, 2012.

LOOSERS/FAILURES

I love the fact that they celebrate failures in this movie.  A sign of a healthy culture is one that celebrates failures and successes as being part of the same cycle.  Many cultures (particularly those that focus on the celebrity and superficial aspects of life), ignore or denigrate failure.  It takes an exceptionally strong one to celebrate it.

I find it a common characteristic in the Italian culture – to accept all that is there about life – mental illness, financial ruin, poverty, childlessness, vulnerability, weakness, old age, death, illness, loss, loneliness, and not shun it or hide away from it, but to integrate it into daily life, as well as not using it to define who a person is, or always will be.

The admissions of the four characters of their failures was poignant and confronting given that it had mostly resulted from their own choices rather than circumstances.  Instead of making them want to crawl under a rock and admit defeat they used it to go for their heart’s desires, feeling like they had nothing to lose.

HOPE AND NEW APPROACHES

The Madonna is still a powerful icon in Italian society  and the pregnant, single woman in this movie exhibits enormous power in bringing the gang of characters together, nurturing them, and inspiring them to achieve their dream of opening a country B & B.  She is beautiful, feminine, bedecked in flowers and colorful robes and has her protruding (new life, new start) belly constantly on show.

And there are others too.  Amidst the tired but still proliferating Mafia there are other groups represented in this movie that bring international influences, connections with the wider world, and a post industrialised version of Italy – Tibetan monks, Brazilian capoeira dancers, Yoga practitioners, bikies, and young (ish) social media savvy travellers.

Even though most of the worst and most unpalatable aspects of Italy are plainly in view for all to see in this movie it still presents as incredibly inspirational and optimistic.  It is  because of the steady approach to adversity the characters display, the fact that they allow different and more positive influences into their lives, the fact that they never lose heart or fall into despair, and the fact they focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t.  It is the recipe of modern-day Italy.

http://www.italianfilmfestival.com.au/films/the-legendary-giulia

Don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  Check out and ‘like’ and ‘share’ my NEW FaceBook page too!

Top 10 reasons to be Italian (and live in Italy)

Hi everyone and apologies for the lack of posting over the past few months.  I injured my neck and shoulder (too much stting at my computer!) and needed to have a complete break from it.  Finally here it is, the last four reasons it is great to be Italian (and live in Italy).  Enjoy!

7.  There is a time for everything and everything has its time.

Italy has the same amount of time as everywhere else obviously, but somehow life seems to linger there and fit, in a more balanced way, to the 24 hours alloted to each day.  I never get the sense of being rushed in Italy, or expected to do too many things at once, or that I will miss out on something if I don’t.  In fact rushing (di fretta) is often used as a slight rebuke.  If someone says to you ‘Hai fretta’? (are you in a hurry?), it is usually not because they want to help you out, but because they want you to chill out and stop upsetting everyone around you.

Image result for italians at work imagesImage result for italians at work imagesImage result for italians at work images

There is a timetable in Italy for doing things, from eating and shopping to working, holidaying and resting, dictated by the seasons, connected to nature, and supported by ritual.  Many of the things I have already referred to – expectations that you will eat a long and proper lunch, resting,  only participating in activities that are right for the current season, celebrating as much as possible.  These all create the ability to live in the present, as well as expectation and hope for the seasons to come, which bring with them their own new activities, celebrations, food and rituals.  Somehow by spacing things out, taking time in between them, living in the present yet being secure in the knowledge of what is to come, and by repeating activities that are connected to the natural world around us, Italians have created more room in their lives than I ever feel I have anywhere else.

8. No one talks about work outside of work.

I could be cheeky and add that often no one talks about work while actually at work, but I do not want to perpetuate the perception (mostly because of the above points), that Italians are somehow lazy.  As I have said before, being one of the 8th most productive countries in the world, is not the achievement of the lazy.  But I find that in Italy you are not what you do.  There is always a question about work, between friends and at social gatherings, but the question is usually ‘Do you have work?’, not ‘What do you do for work?’.  If the answer to the first question is ‘yes’, the conversation usually stops there, as the most important part of work here is whether you have a job or not (and it always has been).

Italians talk about politics, food, love, holidays, art, love, food, music, philosophy, love, literature, food and sport much more than they talk about work.  I have known some of my Italian friends for years before I actually knew what they did for work.  In Italy it tends to be more relevant how else you spend your life.  Also because for the most of the decades since WW2, work has often been scarce.  People tend to take what they can get.  A person with a PHd in Chemistry might be working as an administrative clerk in an aid organisation, someone with a Masters degree in languages might be managing a video rental store, and a brilliant musician might be teaching Primary school.  It is generally accepted that any work is good work, and that who you are and your interests, may not be reflective of that work.  And that you are one of the extremely fortunate ones if it does.

Image result for italians at work images

Even at work, having a conversation that creates a relationship is far more important and effective in getting things done than merely discussing the tasks.  I once worked with a team of people that began each morning talking in detail about what they eaten the night before for dinner, where they had bought the ingredients and how they had prepared them.  Not only did I earn a wage and create an effective outcome with this team, but I learnt why my Melanzane alla Parmagiana was never as tasty as everyone elses, how to prepare Mozzarella in Carrozza (fried cheese sandwhiches), and where to find pumpkins.

9. You only eat what is in season.

Speaking of pumpkins, the first time I felt like making some pumpkin soup in Spring I couldn’t understand why the green grocer just laughed at me, or why he treated me as though I was slightly mad when I asked for strawberries in Autumn.  Where I grew up, everything was available all year round and nothing tasted like the season fruit and vegetables I began to eat in Rome.  The first time I ate a peach it tasted like it had flavouring added to it.  I had never eaten vine ripened fruit.  It is much easier to sit down to a meal of mostly vegetables, or to eat a dessert of only fruit if they taste the way they taste in Italy.

Eating what is only seasonally available means also that you look forward to eating certain things at certain times of the year, make the most of them, and enjoy saying goodbye to them as you anticipate the next season’s bounty.  It provides a structure for life when certain tastes, flavours and dishes only come around once a year and contributes to that sense of space and time that seems to occur in Italy.

10. Everyone in the world wants to be you.

If I had a dollar for every person I have heard say ‘I am Italian on the inside’ or ‘my soul is Italian‘, I would be rich.  Why is it that I can travel to over 45 countries and ALL of them have Spaghetti or Pizzza on offer?  Why is it that everyone who can afford one buys a Prada or an Armani something? Why do 48 million people visit Italy every year making it the 5th most visited country in the world? Why is owning a Ferrari on every male’s (and quite a lot of females) secret wish list?  Because the world wants to be you! 🙂 If we could bottle Italy and take it out on a grey, cold work day, when we are sitting at our desks eating heated up left overs out of a plastic container over our computer, or while we are congregating in a shopping mall full of machine-made things from millions of miles away rubbing shoulders with strangers who won’t make eye contact, or when we are walking at night across a vast and people less, council built, strip of community park or concrete play ground hurrying to get to our next appointment/activity, then life would be just that little bit better.  Don’t you think? 🙂

temperament of Italian womanImage result for italians at work images

 

Don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  Check out and ‘like’ and ‘share’ my NEW FaceBook page too!

 

Top ten reasons to be Italian (and live in Italy) cont.

Today’s continuation of Top ten reasons to be Italian (and live it Italy).

4.  You get to eat the BEST and BIGGEST Easter Eggs ever!

 

Image result for italian easter eggs

Image result for italian easter eggs

Easter is taken seriously in Italy, and nowhere more so than with the giving and receiving of Easter Eggs.  They are the most colorful, ornate and decorated eggs I have ever seen!

 

 

5.  You get to lay down in the middle of the day.

Yes the siesta is alive and well.  And before you scoff just remember that Italy is one of the G8 countries which means it is one of the 8 most productive countries in the world.  (Confirming research that shows sleep and work/life balance actually contributes to sustainable effort) .  At 1.00pm until 4.00pm each day all shops and professional services (lawyers, dentists, doctors, accountants) shut their doors to partake in an appropriate lunch (Top 10 reason no.1) and then snooze, rest, sleep it off before starting the second half of the working day from 4.00pm til 8.00 (this doesn’t apply to office workers who have to power on with only a lunch and a walk followed by a stiff coffee to keep them going).  I particularly love this quiet part of the day where my suburb shuts down and a peaceful silence descends.

 

 

 

 

 

6.  You get to have two birthdays.

I love birthdays and was determined to make a big fuss over my husband’s birthday when we were first going out.  Imagine my surprise when four months earlier than his birthday, his parents, siblings, niece and nephew, God-mother, friends and colleagues all began calling early in the morning to wish him a ‘Happy Onomastico‘ (Happy Name-Day), delivering gifts and asking him ‘what was he was doing for his onomastico?’

It is a tradition in Italy to be named after a Saint or after a family member (who was originally named after a Saint) and each Saint has a special day of the year named after them.  San Vincenzo is April 5th and all those guys who are named Vincenzo celebrate their Onomastico on that day.  Same with San Francesco(a), San Guiseppe, Sant’ Alfredo, San Valentino etc.

There are cards, cake, presents, celebrations.  How is that not like a birthday?

Image result for onomastico san giovanni

Next time, the last four top reasons to be Italian.

Don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  Check out and ‘like’ and ‘share’ my NEW FaceBook page too!

Top ten reasons to be Italian! (and live in Italy)

1.  You get to savour lunch!

I have noticed the lunch hour, and even the concept of lunch, is dying out in many post industrial countries.  Not so in Italy, the inventor of the Slow Food movement.   In Italy lunch begins at 1.00pm.  Not 12.30 or 1.10 but 1.00pm.  No one questions you or where you are going at that hour.  Everyone knows.  It’s lunch time.  Lunch occurs mostly sitting down, mostly with company but not looked on strangely if it is taken alone.  It involves at least two courses, is followed by a coffee (cafe/short black) and a gentle walk.  It never occurs while walking or working.  If a good, nuturing and sustaining lunch is what you desire then pretend to be Italian for a day and take it!

20131016_141813

20130929_145535

2.  You can eat pasta every day.

Not just for special occasions or only after you have laboured by making it fresh yourself, pasta is a staple and comes in a myriad of forms.  Pasta is eaten ‘al dente‘ (chewy) so that the flavour and texture can be truly appreciated, and is paired with seasonal produce and is therefore constantly changing.  It is part of every Italians’ diet and now even gluten free pasta is offered at most restaurants (by asking for it as it won’t appear on the menu).  Pasta is not only matched with seasonal ingredients (herbs, vegetables, fish and meat), the shapes, sizes and texture (ribbed or non ribbed) of the pasta are matched with particular sauces and ingredients to bring out the taste and texture of ingredients e.g. ribbed pasta with tomato based sauces  The thickness of spaghetti is also chosen depending on what it is served with.  Tip: never serve size no. 3 with seafood!

20130917_202754Rigatoni cacio e pepe –  one of my favourite typical Roman pasta dishes.  Sheeps cheese and pepper.  Sounds simple, is delicious.  Note it is served with ribbed pasta so that the cheese coats the pasta as you eat it – yum!

25122004(001)My mother-in-law Francesca’s Timbalo (baked pasta dish – every mother does one).  Francesca’s has fried pork meatballs in it and is sealed with fried eggplant.  The pasta inside this dish is usually penne, unribbed because the mixture is already dense and doesn’t need to stick to it.

 

3.  You get to experience four complete seasons, consecutively and well spaced (but don’t forget to follow the seasonal ‘rules’).

Each season is quite distinct in its weather, food, activities and lifestyle.  As everyone is impacted by the seasons at the same time it creates a sense of community – everyone is eating, doing and talking about the same things at the same time.  Where you will be going for your summer holidays, when the seasons last vegetables are available, how you will be celebrating this seasons’ saints days, what you will be eating for lunch that day are all acceptable conversations with complete strangers at the bus stop or with neighbours in your apartment block.  The first sunny day is not a reason to go to the beach unless it is after June 21st (the official beginning of summer) and if the heat continues into September it is still not a reason to wear your summer clothes as I recently experienced.  While walking in my local neighbourhood wearing my summer clothes (as it was 27 degrees), I overheard a person commenting to her companion how ridiculous I looked wearing them when it was now September and therefore clearly Autumn!

20131016_133956

If you’re not sure what to do in each season or how to behave, head to the Trevi fountain and look up.  The four statues at the top represent each of the four seasons in Italy and how they are personalised!

Trevi fountain-building

Next week: more reasons to be Italian.

If you love this blog don’t forget to check out my book Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all seasons on http://www.amazon.com/Roman-Daze-Bronte-Dee-Jackson/dp/192212933X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659611&sr=8-1&keywords=roman+daze

or at your local bookstore.  A synthesis and first chapter is available on this blog by clicking on the ‘My book’ page.  If you have already read it please ‘like’ my FaceBook page, subscribe to this blog, write a review on Amazon, and tell your friends!

The best things in Rome………..are free!

The title of this blog was supposed to be ‘ Top Three Spas in Rome‘ (watch this space for a later blog), but while doing research for that blog post I became outraged about the amount of ‘best things to do in Rome‘ articles requiring the spending of zillions of $$$. They included things like breakfasting on hotel rooftops and banqueting with 250 of your closest friends inside the Vatican palace ‘so you can experience the splendour that only Popes and royalty do/did’, while casually mentioning ‘you might like to also take in a few piazzas, the Trevi fountain and the Pantheon if you have time’. So I decided to change the topic of my blog.  I am passionate about my adopted city  because it is one of the most visually beautiful cities in the world, full of art and colour and life, it also is one of the most historically and culturally interesting.  And most of all I love the fact that nearly all of this can be experienced for free!  Yes folks it’s true, the best things in Rome are free!

20130919_130711

 

It is therefore a backpackers and budget travellers delight.  However probably because a lot of it is free, it seems that the Eternal city sometimes thinks its needs to embellish itself and add costly delights for travellers who don’t feel they are special if they don’t have to pay lots of money for something.  One of the things I love the most about Rome is that I can be minding my own business sitting around at the Trevi Fountain when right before my eyes Isabella Rossellini hops out of a taxi.  Or that I can be waiting for a table (not queuing, there is a big difference) at a well-known restaurant in Campo dei Fiori and ahead of me in the not-queue is Harvey Keitel.  Or that I can walk into Prada or Dolce & Gabbana or Versace on the Via dei Condotti and be treated like I, in my wildest dreams (and theirs), would be able to afford anything.  You could also find yourself out for drinks with any one of Italy’s international movie stars or politicians who frequent the vibrant aperitivo (pre-dinner drinks that often substitute dinner) scene in Rome’s tiny back streets.

20130919_131626

Rome is a great leveller.  Its streets and piazzas are open to everyone, always. It’s accessible a lot only by foot and so this makes it hard to create VIP experiences as opposed to public experiences. Rome is unequivocal, it can’t be cordoned off because Brangelina are visiting. Movie stars, models, zillionaires, dictators, mafia bosses, Prime Ministers mingle with the unknown, every-day tourist, back packer and refugee.

02092006(001)

Every year on my birthday (since I stopped being a backpacker and could afford to eat properly), I used to choose one of the fancy restaurants advertised in tourist magazines as being ‘the best restaurants’ to eat in.  The kind where you spend your weekly and sometimes monthly wage on dinner.  Year after year, hoping for an amazing experience, I was disappointed.  The food was always average, the service pompous (one year my husband and I had to sit near the toilets because he wasn’t wearing a tie – just a suit) and we mostly ended up stopping on the way home at one of our usuals to calm ourselves down with a real bowl of pasta and some local wine.  My point being that in Rome the best restaurants are always frequented by average Romans, even the very wealthy ones.

So when in Rome don’t spend your money on rooftop breakfasts in hotels or dinning in the Vatican museum with 250 0f your closest friends or in a fake Roman spa being pampered by Eastern Europeans or on ‘private’ tours (where in the end you will have to queue up and approach things on foot with everyone else anyway).  Here’s my tip for a fabulous Roman Day out and, apart from the inexpensive meals, it is all FREE!!!

20131016_124531

Begin at the nearest bar (cafe) to your hotel.  There should be one within 100 metres.  Order a cappuccino or a ‘cafe’ and a cornetto, possibly with an orange juice if you want to be healthy.  You will find the coffee is the best you have ever had, the cornetto (Italian croissant) will be light, and made that morning, the juice will be juiced in front of you and you will pay about the same amount altogether as the cost of one cup of coffee on a rooftop.

Then take your free map (get them at the airport, McDonalds or from your hotel).  Hopefully you have done some slight research (free on the internet) or have a cheap guide book.  Otherwise scroll through this blog to get to the ‘Top ten things to do in Rome‘, ‘Top ten places to eat in Rome’ etc. articles. If you are staying anywhere in the city of Rome (centro) everything will be in walking distance with plenty of opportunities to sit down, grab more coffee or juice, fill up your water bottle free at a fountain or just rest.  Start at one end of town and make your way down and then left and right as you please.  Take one to five days depending on your itinerary and energy levels and repeat in the evenings for a different view.  You can start anywhere but I have you starting at Piazza del Popolo.

20130922_134031

Marvel at the huge space in such a crowded city, cast your eyes up to the lush green gardens of the Villa Borghese on one side, and put it aside for another day.  Feast your eyes on the fountain in the centre of the Piazza, the churches all around it (one of which contains a Caravaggio) and the Egyptian obelisk (stolen by the Romans from Egypt).  Walk out of the Piazza and down the Via del Babuino and admire the antique shops (stop at Hotel de Russie if you want a spa – next blog).  Be entranced by your next view at the end of Via del Babuino which will be Piazza di Spagna.  Sit awhile on the staircase and admire the beautiful people and the view of Via dei Condotti, Rome‘s premium shopping strip.  Don’t forget to look in the window at Dolce & Gabbana half way down the Via Condotti, one of the best visual feasts outside a museum that you will see.

20131017_121818

At the end of Via Condotti you will arrive at the Via del Corso. Turn left and head towards the ‘wedding cake’ Victor Emmanuel Monument at the end of the street.  Admire the palaces and beautiful baroque buildings that line either side of this main street of Rome.  Shortly after you pass the houses of Parliament on your right, turn down a pedestrian side street on your left full of market stalls.  Follow it on to the end.  Gasp.  Get pushed in the back by other tourists behind you who don’t know why you have stopped.  Yes folks this is the Trevi Fountain, at the cross roads of three streets or ‘tre vie’.  All the more beautiful because it is contained in such a small space, wangle your way to the front and admire it sitting down for as long as you can.

20130924_113415

Walk back the way you came and cross back over Via del Corso to another pedestrian street full of restaurants.  Meander along the path following everyone else until you get to the Pantheon, another breathtaking moment but within a larger piazza.  Sit on the steps of the fountain in the piazza and take it all in before you head inside (for free) and view the perfectly round, 2000 year old temple, with a hole cut out in the middle of the roof that lets the sun in to highlight different sculptures around the room as the sun moves overhead.  How’s that for antique engineering??  Using your map move your way left (with the Pantheon to your back) towards Piazza Navona.

20130919_130721

Now at this stage if you really have had enough of Roman culture and need to recover, you could eat at the McDonalds which faces the Pantheon (and serves beer), therefore having a drink/burger with one of the world’s best views at about 100th of the cost of sitting at any of the other cafes that also surround the Pantheon.  I am only recommending this on the grounds of it being cheap and acknowledging that sometimes people need a break from antiquity (based on the experience of some of guests over the years).  Otherwise I would suggest pushing on and eating a slice of pizza, also for the same price as a burger, at one of the places around Campo dei Fiori, a bit further along in our walk.

20130919_131129

As you spill out into Piazza Navona and take a stroll around its race track type shape (yes it was originally a chariot racing track), admire the artists who display their wares and the magnificent fountain of four rivers in the middle.  At one end (on the other side of the toy shop) you can see the original entrance to the race track in Roman times, below street level.  Exit the piazza at the other end and cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele into cobblestoned streets that sell great pizza by the slice, and where you can sit down and eat for around the same price as McDonalds.  Take the opportunity here to have an ice-cream in the same area.  Campo dei Fiori will open up in front of you.  Stroll around the square, take in the history of this being the last place that the Vatican burnt someone at the stake for daring to state that possibly the earth rotated around the sun rather than the other way around……

If you follow most of the traffic going out of the piazza in the opposite direction from where you came in, you will eventually hit a street going off to your right which becomes a foot bridge over the river.  If you follow it you will find yourself in Trastevere, the oldest neighbourhood of post medieval Rome and home to its vibrant restaurant and nightlife.  Have an aperitivo, at any of the little bars (cafes) that line its tiny cobbled streets, standing up of course which will cost you a fraction of what it costs to sit down, enjoy the free bar snacks and choose your inexpensive restaurant to eat at for dinner!

20130922_155501

After dinner take a stroll along the river, meander throughout the Trastevere neighbourhood or go back the way you came for a completely different view of Rome.  We haven’t even touched the free St. Peters or Roman Forum or the many parks and gardens that are just waiting to be explored!  During your walk, or the next day, lose yourself in any one of the streets off this main beat. Sit and watch the local Roman traffic go by from a street cafe. Admire the marble columns, statues and painted plaques that adorn most buildings. Freely feast on the art inside most churches, and regularly look up to enjoy the free natural beauty of the skyline with its domes, starlings and magnificent sun sets. Now that’s something for free that’s worth paying for!

20130918_131439