Rome unlocking

“Now we can start living again” is the phrase I most hear around my neighbourhood.  Its mostly from the elderly, those over 70, of which Italy has one of the highest population levels globally.  My suburb is representative, many of the inhabitants are over that age, and in the range that has been most impacted by COVID.

The vaccines are here and being handed out with military precision and effectiveness as always happens when things get handed over for the army to do.  The infection and death rates are plummeting and soon this all will be a memory. I am glad we have faced it head on, dealing with and learning from the consequences, adapting, and adjusting rather than trying to avoid it, pretending it’s not there, or hoping that it will just go away. The changes we made as a population and as a nation helped us survive and will continue to, as changes always do.  There is a lot to be said for having weathered a storm.   

When in March 2020 we were sent home from work for two weeks, with schools, restaurants, gyms, shops all closed, no one imagined that we would still be in some form of lockdown more than one year later.  March 2021 was a hard month for everyone.  In March 2020 no one imagined that instead of two weeks it would be more than two months before we were allowed outside again without a certified signed document stating the 3 reasons you could leave your apartment (buying food locally, visiting the doctor or on a walk by yourself in your own neighbourhood for mental or physical health reasons), or risk being fined up to 800 Euro. No one imagined that over one year later it would still be mandatory to always wear masks inside and outside, or that some form of lockdown would continue indefinitely with strict lockdown occurring again at Christmas, New Year, Easter and for weeks at a time either side. 

I like many others have never returned to the workplace. No one imagined that after a brief hiatus last summer, all gyms, theatres, schools, and businesses would again be closed until the beginning of the next summer, or that when restaurants, bars and cafes were closed at 6pm and a curfew installed at the beginning of last autumn, that it would be spring before we could go out and eat at night again.  And no one imagined that there would be second birthdays or anniversaries of things in lockdown.  The challenge of adapting the celebration to the new restrictions and the fun of inventing new ways to do things is gone the second time around. All the energy to recreate new traditions and the fight to make the best of it has gone.  Used up in the more than a year of daily energy required to be resilient in the face of a never-ending threat and combatting an ever-present level of anxiety that we all feel, an undercurrent to everything we do, making any other stressful events even more so. After a year of this we are all slightly stupefied and lethargic, it’s as close to a zombie nation as I hope to ever live in.

There is a listlessness that comes after over a year of lockdown and restrictions.  We have all been champions at working and schooling from home converting an entire nation almost overnight to digital. We work, study, socialise, exercise, play, relax, celebrate, eat, shop, have medical appointments all through the screen of our computers, and always in the same 20 square metres. Italians like many nations live in relatively small and mostly shared spaces where there is only one space for the family to relax during their leisure time.  This space is also the workspace, the study space, and the exercise space.  Yoga mats replace roll away desks, and ironing boards in front of sofas become ballet barres after hours.  Balconies, if you have one become the place where you can shout out or down to friends and neighbours in the street, and many an abandoned rooftop got dusted off and decorated with socially distanced deck chairs and tables over the past year.

We haven’t been able to hug or kiss or touch each other for over a year, a culture that kiss each other several times a day, amongst friends and family.  Recently a friend gave me a clandestine hug when she came to visit me while I was mourning the death of a family member (not from COVID).  It was like an electric shock.  The feel of someone’s arms around me stunned me out of my grief for a few minutes and then made feel incredibly sad that we had all missed out on this most basic of human kindnesses in a time when we all most needed it.  Eating together as families and friends outside in the public places that replace most people’s living rooms, sharing a table, sitting long into the night together, the tinkling of glasses in the moonlight, or the odour of fresh seafood in the sunlight, the energy we all get from each other, from changing our environments, from the wind that whips up the edges of table clothes, from the sounds of music coming from other classrooms in the gym or dance school, the stimulation of peers and colleagues, the snatches of different languages, going for a walk in the countryside, being in nature, leaving the province to go on holiday or visit family, the feeling of being challenged physically, the feeling of advancement over compensation, of thriving rather than surviving, of gain over loss, these are all the things that have been sacrificed in this long, hard, more than a years battle.  They are integral to the experience of life here and without them life has changed considerably.

It has made us all more appreciative of small things, tolerant, and thankful for the battle we have fought and (mostly) won together. With great suffering comes great joy.  I don’t know whether the suffering always has to equal the joy, but I would never have imagined I would have the amount of joy I am experiencing right now at the announcement that my ballet school will now be open in a week, or at how much the joy is intensified by sharing it with the 10 others that I have struggled through 9 months of pretty hopeless and very frustrating ballet lessons via zoom! Due to bandwidth issues we all heard the music at different times so we could never co-ordinate our movements, and those of us (i.e. me) used to copying the person in front them, could no longer do so. For the teacher to be able to see my whole body the screen had to be so far away that I needed my glasses on to see anyone else, and for the same reason I have become very familiar with everyone’s crotches as we neared the screens each time the teacher needed to demo something. Let’s not even mention trying to do pirouettes in the space usually taken up by a desk.  Or about how my barre, which is really the back of my office chair, keeps wheeling itself away during pliés so I am left holding on to thin air and post-menopausal muscle density. Small suffering, maybe, big joy at its ending, definitely.

So maybe the joy is always greater, and, in that case, we are all in for a big load of it. Not the least of which is that we will soon be free to leave the country and wander this wonderful earth again, as well as welcome visitors to this wonderful piece of it. Flights full of vaccinated, quarantine exempt citizens from the UK and US are speeding towards us this very minute.

When I hear the phrase “now we can begin living life again”, I know exactly what it means, and I sincerely look forward to it.

Reviews and news

“As a busy, weary, health worker in a COVID challenged work environment ‘Ticket for One’ was the ideal break, the ultimate escape, the virtual trip I really needed.” 5 stars.

Good news for Australians! Amazon has now started printing paperbacks in Australia so you can order my book directly from them, as well as still being able to buy it from the fabulous Beaumaris Books bookstore, Melbourne.

For the rest of the above review, please read on…………

“Bronte, a young woman in turmoil, started recording her experiences at the start of her overseas travels, her penmanship reflecting advancing maturity both as a traveller, a person, and a writer. The youthful outlook, phrases, and perspectives on life develop and mature as she gains experience not just as a traveller but as an author. She is able to take the memories of what she has seen, done, and felt and record them using beautiful word pictures that take the reader on a journey into places, immersing you in the emotion of events, through Brontes’ vivid recollections.

The book is indeed a reflection of Bronte’s ‘Coming of age’, as an individual, a traveller and most excitingly as a writer.

Turkey’s beautiful landscapes, people, and shared food are described in depth, as is the wonderful culture, a rare glimpse in sharp contrast to the usual political side we often hear portrayed in the media.

Through Greece to Rome, described so well and intimately by Bronte Jackson that I felt I too was there, reliving my travels in the early eighties. It brought back wonderful memories but with greater in-depth vision brought about by her wonderful, descriptive phrasing, and bravery in sharing a single female’s travel from turmoil to peace.

I recommend this to anyone wanting to escape on a trip of the senses in a romantic Europe”.

And who doesn’t want that? 😉

Further more from Goodreads…….

“I enjoyed this book. It kept me turning the pages to discover what Bronte would get up to next. It also made me want to visit the places (eating the food) she wrote about. I appreciated the mini history lessons.

I recommend this book to those who want to do some mind-travelling or have a laugh at the author’s speed dating before the internet was available.

Reading this book was a lot of fun.”

On sale until 25th April

Have you ever dreamt of winning a ticket to a whole new life?

5 star reviews on Amazon

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.

Greek islands, Summer…

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.

A Roman Sunday

Morning light seeps through the slats in the blinds quite early even though we are in Winter. The light is weak and grey which means it is raining but we cannot hear it. It’s a soft rain, almost tropical in its cadence and different from the lashing, sideways rain that pelts ice cubes at our windows on a regular basis in Winter. Sunday morning in February and only the second one where we have been allowed to travel outside of Rome since before Christmas.

We have been waiting for weeks to get out of the city and into the beautiful Sabine countryside only an hour North of Rome. Reminiscent of Tuscany in parts because of its proliferation of cypress and rows of olive groves, it is less polished, less touristed, perfect for rambling and blasting the city from your senses. In no time at all we are deeply immersed in its green rolling hills, and constantly changing landscape. Jagged medieval towers rise in ruins out of dense forest, abandoned abbeys sit forlorn in the mist, Etruscan fountains still sprout in the wilderness, and everywhere you look there is a view below and above you.

 

 

Soon our car crunches onto a caramel-coloured road that seems to have a small tributary running through the middle of it. Other cars are inching along it ahead, obviously also Romans unused to driving over anything that is not cobbled, asphalted, or coated in leaves. We pull up at some stone buildings that have stood for centuries. They are connected by makeshift wooden verandas made up from sticks gathered in the forest nearby, hanging together because of their shapes rather than any type of formal attachments like a nail or bracket. Behind the small buildings we can hear a donkey braying loudly, and around them the most beautiful chickens and roosters I have ever seen peck and strut. Some of them have fluorescent green feathers, others are puffy balls of white down, still others are speckled with two tone feathers and white polka dots. And they are gigantic.

We have come to celebrate my husband’s birthday (which was in December, but we were in lock down), with some close friends who live in the Sabine hills and who have recommended this restaurant. It is a fixed menu that changes depending on the season and day, and none of us knows what is on it. We do not need to, and we never do. In this country it is part of the culture to eat this way, as though it is an extension of eating with the family, whatever they are cooking, using their own and local produce, they cook enough for all of us. With no explanation or introduction plates begin arriving as soon as we have sat down.

Inside, the place is quirkily and lovingly restored and decorated with farming tools and implements, hand painted doors and murals, and wooden tables and chairs. It is light and bright, warm, and noisy, each group seeming to have its own area, so it feels like you are dining alone in your Tuscan farmhouse (probably because of needing to have appropriate distance between tables for social distancing to occur). A large glass bottle filled with dark red wine is on the table along with a bottle of water and a basket of bread. They all get refilled as often as we ask.

A plate of thickly cut pink prosciutto (dried, cured ham) laced with fat, some bresaola (dried beef) and salami studded with slices of whole black peppers arrives, then a plate of crusty white bread laced with local olive oil and topped with bright green broccoletti, a bitter and delicious green leafy Roman vegetable boiled and then fried in oil, garlic, and chilli. Other dishes land simultaneously until our table is covered and luckily, we know the custom or we would assume this is our whole meal instead of just our appetiser…. or antipasto. Thick wedges of creamy white ricotta cheese resting on purple leaves of radicchio appear, along with a dish of rolled up and deep-fried slices of eggplant stuffed with mozzarella and ham, whole baked mushrooms filled with minced pork and vegetables and a steaming bowl of beans in tomato sauce floating with bits of chewy pork belly. I am unable to eat, drink, talk, look, and absorb my beautiful surroundings all at the same time, so I give up and just eat. Just in time for the focaccia topped with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella cheese to be placed in front of me.

The bean dish is full of a deep earth flavour that makes me want to shove everybody out of the way as I engulf it, the sauce is also slightly piquant, and the pork and mince are chewy mouthfuls of heaven. The ricotta has a deep flavour unlike the ones I buy at the supermarket. It is slightly tart but also sweet and full of body which means you must chew it not just swallow it. The rolled up eggplant slices, although small and only one each unfortunately, are so juicy and filling that one is enough. And the cured meats have a robust flavour and consistency that you only find in the countryside where they are produced, salty, fatty, and deeply satisfying. Washed down with a glass of the strongest red wine I have ever tasted, I am very happy, and have forgotten that its rainy, Winter and that there is or ever was a pandemic raging.

 

 

 

 

 

As I said those of us in the know, know that this is only the beginning of a meal so matter how yummy the beans are and how many slices of prosciutto there are left, none of us is rushing for a second helping. Luckily, the portions are just right and there is nothing wasted. There are several courses to come though – the primo, secondo and dolce, dessert. Luckily coffee and liqueurs will help us digest. The primo dish is pasta and a communal bowl of ravioli squares filled with ricotta and spinach and covered with tomato sauce and parmesan is served. A little while later a platter of thin barbequed pork steaks like huge thick slices of bacon, and some sausages come out, juicy, tender, and full of flavour. Coffee is served with bowls of homemade biscuits to choose from. They are filled with jam, nuts, dried fruit, or spices. Hard and crunchy they are small and light, just perfect. Local digestives and some from far away (the Amalfi coast) finish off this magnificent birthday meal (all for a cost of AUS$ 40 per head).

The rain has not let up and is now coming down steadily, the fog has descended halfway down the valley settling on the top of the Abbey of Farfa giving it a white fluffy halo and making the bright green olive groves directly under it light up. We are back in our car to watch the light gently fade and the sun set over Rome as we drive back into it.

If you enjoy these blogs you might also enjoy my books Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons and Ticket for One. Available in paperback and kindle on Amazon, Book depository and book stores. https://www.amazon.com/Bronte-Dee-Jackson/e/B00I5BH68K