Rome recovered!

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.

IMG_20200620_134713

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.

IMG_20200531_195021

If you liked this story read more in my book Roman Daze – La dolce vita for all seasons at https://brontejackson.com/prosecco-fixes-everything-stories-of-life-in-rome/

And soon to be published……..Ticket for One. One woman’s transformative, inspirational and humorous trek through Greece, Turkey and Italy.

Sometimes you have to let go of everything to find what you really want.

The eye of the storm

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.

dig

 

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.

Top 10 reasons to love Rome in Autumn!

1.Vino Novello.

November is the time for this years batch of Vino Novello or ‘young wine’ to be released. A red wine, it is produced in a way that accelerates fermentation and has no tannins.  Like a Beaujolais, it is fresh, fruity and deep. Italians have many, many rules as a society and a large quantity of  them are related to as suggestions (like lanes for traffic) except when it comes to food and drink.  The rule of Novello is that it is only available from October 30th until sold out (usually by the end of the week). It does not keep well so needs to be drunk immediately (I am just relating the rules). 

2. The color of the sky.

Rome’s sky turns turquoise in Autumn, its sharp blue the perfect back drop for its burnt orange buildings, and perfectly seen through leafless trees.

3. The food.

Autumn is the time you feel like (and enjoy) eating again after the sweltering humidity and heat of the summer. Oranges from Sicily, mushrooms from Tuscany, fresh pork sausages from the countryside near Rome all go well with Vino Novello as do the chewy salami‘s and tangy sheep’s cheese (pecorino).  Vegetables such as Funghi porcini mushrooms, artichokes and the very Roman puntarelle appear back on the market after their long summer rest, and last sometimes only a few weeks so all of a sudden everything has funghi porcini or artichoke in it.  Food is seasonal in Italy and therefore looked forward to.  The sense of anticipation and reminiscing is shared and joined in by everyone.  If you go to a friends house for dinner in Autumn you know that artichokes, puntarelle or funghi porcini will be on the menu. 

4. The sun

Finally you can sit in it.  Avoiding the sun was the past time for the past six months but now it is sought out.  Sitting in the brilliant Autumn sunshine is a legitimate past time and reason to go outside.  It can still warm, is too bright to look at and bathes everything in happy yellow autumn.  It also goes well with a glass of Vino Novello. 

 

 

5. Gardens

All over Rome, communal vegetable gardens are being prepared for Winter.  Pruning, weeding, digging and raking are all activities being undertaken.  Everyone lives in apartments in Rome so these small plots of land are a hive of activity being undertaken in the brilliant autumn sunshine, often followed by a glass of Vino Novello (just saying).

 

 

6. Leaves

I grew up in a suburb with lots of leaves where every autumn i delighted in diving into big piles of them and throwing them up in the air with my dad frantically yelling ‘don’t do that, there’s probably dog poo in there!’  Rome, having mostly trees that shed their leaves rather than evergreens, like in Australia, is full of leaves.  Just one of the many delights I discovered when I first came here. You can go to any large park in Rome and literally drown in leaf pools. You can run through the middle of them and throw leaves up in the air to your heart’s content and mostly they don’t have dog poo on them. Or you can just scuff them up under your feet in your local neighborhood.  No one rakes them up and they sit there for weeks until an Autumn deluge comes along and washes them away.  

7. The peace

Summer holidays are over, children are back in school, tourists are back at work. The summer squalls and winds are finished.  Leaves float gently down like stars. Vision is clearer through sparkling sunlight. The evenings come quickly and quietly, nothing stirs.

8. The temperature

It’s cool for the first time since April.  The mornings are fresh and crisp, the days sunny and bright, the evenings cold.  Perfect for Vino Novello.

9. The mood

The city rests. The violent rain lashed storms have washed the city clean from the detritus of the summer. Things are ticking along.

 

 

 

10. The olives

The first time you discover you have a friend that has an olive grove and who requires help with picking olives, you think yourself blessed and so so lucky to have landed a friend such as that. After you have helped picked olives for this friend you find that you are busy every November ever after.  Olives are great to eat, especially with a glass of Vino Novello, picking them is not great.

Private tours available via the Tour page on this website or https://www.facebook.com/romandaze/

Read more about Rome in: ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons’.

Roman Life – Il Primo Bagno, The first swim of the season

Some things can’t be homogenised, commercialised, mass produced or copied.  Thank goodness.  You have to wait until they come around again, like the seasons of the year.  A lot of things in Italy are like that. Some see that as an archaic attitude to life, lacking rationale (economic in particular), and a wasted opportunity.  But not all experiences can be bought or made, sometimes they are just to have.  And its in the having and savoring, without a desire to do anything else with them, that Italians excel; and why their lifestyle and culture is so envied and, ironically, copied………

Its exactly eight years since I last tasted the tart little tarts, filled with fruit from the orchards and fields that surround them deep in the heart of the countryside south of Rome.  The paddocks are lined with glasshouses that supply the city with its peaches, figs, tomatoes, and berries.  Buffalo cows that produce the milk for mozzarella meander the streams that flow down from the rocky mounts behind them. into the sea just in front of them.  We search for the small, nondescript little cafe that we always stop at, about half way into our journey from the city to the sea and yes, it is still there!

And so are the tarts……… I choose blackberry and as I bite into it thank goodness that some things stay the same, that some things are a genuine expression of their local resources and culture.  I thank goodness that the owner of the bar still serves these tarts, as she watches me.  No doubt wondering why a foreigner, who has probably lived all over the world (I have), would bother to look so happy and satisfied at a roadside stop somewhere between Rome and Naples.  But I have come literally half way around the world and waited eight years for these little dense, well built, rounds of fruit.

We continue on our way to Sperlonga, a beautiful white stone, seaside town built on top of a cliff.  Its staircase, which begins at the sea, twists and turns up the mountain through caves designed to be blocked off so that invaders (including a pirate called Red Beard – really!) couldn’t reach it.  The water at Sperlonga is a particularly high quality due to the underground springs of fresh mineral water that bubble up through the seabed, in bursts of freezing cold water, in the otherwise 22 degree, translucent blue, undulating body of sea.

20180708_193251

At the bottom of the cliff the large stone, knee height pool that fills with natural spring water is still there, built for the women of the village to do their washing in and take advantage of the clean, cold water.  Italy bursts with fresh, cold drinking water from the ground for its citizens.  Where ever you are it seems the earth sprouts forth the enticing and the necessary to enable and cherish life and encourage it to stay (or return) right here at its source, enjoying and relaxing in its abundance.  Maybe that is why the residents are so thankful to their local Saint, who presides in a full life sized statue over the beach.

It is hot and sunny, the perfect day for our first swim of the year/season. We have our lunch in the shade of the Saint, giving thanks and celebrating our first swim with local buffalo mozzarella, local tomatoes and a zucchini and ricotta strudel from this months La Cucina Italiana cooking magazine, http://www.lacucinaitaliana.it

When I first arrived in Italy, I was fresh from back packing around the Greek islands.  I wasn’t carrying any cook books in my backpack.  The internet didn’t exist and cookbooks in English were rare. I knew how to cook but not how to use Italian ingredients (I had no idea what to do with an artichoke and some months it is THE main vegetable on offer), or cook Italian food (and many of the ingredients I was used to were unavailable – pumpkin, ginger, coriander, self raising flour).  I was especially not used to only using seasonal produce.  I was so stunned the first time I asked for strawberries and everyone in the shop laughed at me.  So I needed to learn how to cook in Italy and I needed to learn Italian.  In the days before the internet, La Cucina Italiana monthly magazine did both.  I learnt all the Italian words for food and cooking terms, including local expressions like ‘a string of oil and 2 fingers of milk’, as units of measurement.  It helped that there were a lot of pictures, step by step guides and special features each month on what to do with the in season vegetables and fruit, as often you couldn’t get much else.

“Do you have anything besides zucchini?” I once asked my fruit and vegetable seller.

“What do you mean?  We have dark green zucchini, light green zucchini, baby zucchini, zucchini flowers, why do you need anything else?”

So in zucchini season its helpful to have a few recipes for zucchini. I have translated it so you don’t have to learn Italian as well. See below for recipe. Serves about 9.

  1. Slice up finely and length ways (called a listerelle) about 6 zucchini (not the baby ones) with a bunch of spring onions and fry them for about 10 minutes in some italian extra virgin olive oil (its really important to use this oil and not another type), with salt, pepper and sage, oregano or bay leaf.
  2. Mix together 300g ricotta cheese with 200g of fetta cheese, some salt, pepper and a small dash of italian extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Mix the cooled, cooked vegetables in with the cheese and spread it on a sheet of flaky pastry.  Put another sheet on top of it and close the edges  so it is as rectangular as possible.  Make some slits on the top of it and brush it with egg yolk.  Bake it for 20 minutes at 180

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, FAO Bookstore Rome, and via Amazon, Kobo and ibooks.

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

Click here for a free download of the Prologue and first chapter.

Click to access roman-daze-la-dolce-vita-for-all-seasons.pdf

#holidaysinitaly #holidaysinrome #rome #italytrip #thingstodonearrome #toptenthingstodoinrome #booksaboutitaly #walkingtoursofrome #romandaze #brontejackson #memoirsofitaly #writersinrome #englisgspeakingwalkingtours #aussiesinrome