Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Epilogue!

DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino!
Wednesday January 29, 2020
Sunny 58°F/14°C in Cedar Park, Texas, USA
Partly Cloudy 60°F/16°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Buonagiornata,

And, suddenly, it was over! My more than two months in the City of Echoes (la città degli echi) was behind me, and I was aboard a Delta jetliner headed toward New York’s JFK International Airport on the first leg of my flight home to the Austin, Texas area and my cozy apartment in Cedar Park. During 2019 I had  spent more than four months as a resident of the eternal city. Actually, I hadn’t planned to return to Rome until the late Spring. But, that all changed with Michael and Laura’s announcement that their first child – a boy – would be born in November. Well now! I would HAVE to be back for THAT EVENT! So, even though I had just arrived, I had to begin making plans to come back!
Alexander Botula

And so, I did! After suffering along with millions of other Europeans through a heat wave of epic proportions in the early summer, I returned to my second home city on November 21, 2019 planning to stay through the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays along with my birthday on January 17th and fly back to Texas on January 22nd. The weather – which had been over 105°F/40°C at times – had turned rainy and cold since I had been gone. Our first stop after Michael picked me up at Fiumicino International Airport was to make a beeline for Michael and Laura’s to meet my new grandson, Alexander Botula. There, I met the little bundle of joy who was to play an important part in my life for the next two months. As I held him in my arms, I could visualize a similar experience 45 years before, when I held Alexander’s father in my arms for the first time. Son, grandson…it was a testimony to the continuing cycle of life!

In our effort to find an apartment for me on short notice, we reached out to everyone that I had rented from in the past, starting with Stefania, my landlady on Viale Oscar Sinigaglia, but that apartment was no longer available for short-term vacation rental. My friend Mohamed’s place on Viale Cesare Pavese was also booked. Then, I called Amina whose cozy little place I had rented several times. Another strikeout – she had reserved it for her family members who were coming from Paris for the holidays. But, Amina had a friend – Maria, who had an apartment a few blocks away. She would check on my behalf as to availability.  Sure enough, word came back about a week later that the apartment would be available at a special rate because I was a friend of Amina’s. Problem solved, I thought, until two weeks before my departure date, when Maria called me to say that the contactors she hired to renovate the apartment would miss their deadline and Maria’s apartment wouldn’t be available after all. Since I had purchased my non-refundable plane ticket, I was suddenly in a very big bind.

Several days later, my son called to tell me that he had put a deposit on a place just off Viale Cesare Pavese – the notorious Vittorini Penthouse – whose shortcomings have been recounted in an earlier Rome Diary! And so, my adventure came full circle with my move to Via Laurentina 605. It was the ideal, if expensive, solution to the problem. The new apartment came complete with an affable pair of new landlords – Cristiano and Delia. Cristiano spoke the better English of the couple, but Delia and I soon made good use of the translators on our IPhones. Soon, we were chattering like magpies. She would come in to clean the apartment every week. The result was that the place was nearly always spotless.   After all the anxiety of getting shut out of one apartment and having to flee another, I had found the perfect place.

I then sent Mohamed a message asking when he would be in Rome. As it turned out, he would not be in Rome until December 24th. Marsha would be traveling back to the States in mid-December. There would be no December Rome Comedy Night this year. So three of my close friends would either be traveling during the holidays or they wouldn’t arrive for several weeks. As a result, I saw an awful lot of Michael and Laura and the baby during my first several weeks in Rome

Amina in Vietnam
Wasting no time after all of the anxiety of my first days in Rome, I called Amina and invited her for coffee. We met in front of my apartment and immediately adjourned to a nearby bar for caffè. She would host her family for the following week, she told me, whereupon she would follow them to Paris for Christmas and the New Year. She would return to Rome briefly, then she would be off for a holiday in Vietnam, of all places. Bottom line: we would probably not be meeting up for coffee after that evening. But, in the next breath, I agreed to be her guest for lunch the following day, at her place of employ – FAO – the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. FAO is one of the largest employers in Rome – 11,500 scattered throughout the city. Nearly 4,000 people, including my friend work in the massive complex built by Benito Mussolini during the 1930’s as his colonial headquarters. The complex overlooks the Circo Massimo! And so, the following day, I stepped aboard the bus that stops conveniently in front of my building, to be whisked to the Laurentina Metro Station and the subway ride to Circo Massimo and lunch with Amina in the rooftop cafeteria overlooking the oval track where Ben-Hur raced in an epic contest!

Thanksgiving is not an Italian holiday!  But, my son has brought the holiday with him. This year,
Family Birthday Celebration
Michael ordered two turkeys. One to smoke Texas-style in his smoker, and the other one to deep-fry.  The Italian word for turkey is tacchino. Two turkeys are tacchini. We had duè tacchini at our Thanksgiving, primarily because with little Alexander’s arrival, the family has a lot to be thankful for this year! Christmas and the New Year passed in similar fashion, small, intimate gatherings with family and friends. Since Laura and I have birthdays which are two days apart, this was cause for a special celebration. And so, it was back to Tiziana and Pino’s apartment for the celebration. After a hearty Italian lunch – a special birthday cake was brought out and everyone joined together in singing Happy Birthday to Laura and me – in Italian, of course!

A few days later, I would board a plane for the flight back to Texas, and my other home.
Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com...now with Google Translator for our international audience!]

© By Mike Botula 2020




Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Tutte le Cose Buone Devono Finire!

DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino!
Tuesday January 14, 2020
Weather 47°F/8°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia                      
Buonagiornata,

La Famiglia
The Italian phrase means All Good Things Must End! And so, as this journey to my beloved Roma enters its final week, a bit of reflection is in order. I have been coming here since 2005, and since 2013 for increasingly longer periods of time, until I feel like a true ex-patriate, living in a world not completely my own, but fascinating none the less. This is my sixth in my series of Rome Diaries, titled Il Bambino! In Alexander’s honor. My new grandson Alexander is a pure joy! I dread the flight back over the Atlantic, but some mysterious force keeps pulling me back here, and I return time after time like a moth to a flame. For Rome has become my second home.

I missed Marsha Cincinnati’s Rome Comedy Club Night at the Makai. I had just arrived and was staying at The Penthouse, before my move to La Casa Grilli on Laurentina. So, with Michael and Laura preoccupied with all things Alexander, I begged Marsha’s pardon and promised her that I would catch her next show, which I presumed would be in December. But I hadn’t considered the fact that she might head back to the U.S. for the holidays. The result of our two ships passing in the night act was that I did not catch up with her until one weekend at Michael and Laura’s when I was finally able to give her the giant bottle of Melatonin Gummi Bears  that I had brought all the way from the H-E-B supermarket in Cedar Park, Texas especially for her. So, we at least had a chance to catch up. And, I swore that I would be in the front row at Comedy Night the next time I came to Rome. (Which, hopefully, will be in the Spring of the year, when it is neither too hot-like last Summer; or too cold-like it is this trip).

This is the second time I’ve spent the Christmas Holidays in Italy. The first time was 2013. Like every holiday this was a little different. For one thing, Alexander is here now, so that meant no winter holiday in Selci, in Sabina, at Sergio and AnnaMaria’s place in the country. So, we spent Christmas Eve at dinner at Tiziana and Pino’s apartment, a few doors down from Michael and Laura. Tiziana and Pino are part of the extended family. Tiziana can be likened to Laura’s big sister. Dina, Tiziana’s mom is a neighbor of Sergio and AnnaMaria. Following our Christmas Eve repast, we exchanged gifts. I’m happy to say most of the gifts were for Alexander, who snoozed in his stroller a few feet away. The next time the same group came together was January 6th, for La Befana, the Epiphany. This time, we were joined by Chiara, Laura’s sister, and her husband, Maurizio and their little girl – Noemi. Formal Italian meals usually run five to seven courses, and I have long-since learned NOT to take second helpings of anything! However, at the conclusion of our Befana repast, I found myself beyond stuffed!

When the holiday meals falls to Michael and Laura to prepare, a blending of Italian and American cuisine is evident. Some years ago, my son introduced Thanksgiving to his Italian relatives. Not only did he introduce the concept of Thanksgiving, but he did it with a whole roast turkey! (Tacchino Arrosto) No turkey parts for him. Since his visit to Texas in 2016, Michael has been heavily influenced by the Texas style of barbecuing which includes the art of SMOKING. This year, he ordered two Turkeys. One, he smoked. The other, he deep-fried. VOILA! A star is born! Texans traditionally spend many long hours tending their smokers. Not my son.

He has an “app” on his laptop that is connected somehow to a circulating fan that maintains the correct temperature as the meat smokes. It’s bound to catch on back home in Texas.

My friend and onetime landlady, Amina, has left on one of her adventures – this time to Vietnam. She had just returned to Rome from hiking in Norway; and with her two sons, spent a month in Spain and Portugal. During the Christmas holidays she was visiting with her family in Paris! The gal certainly gets around! When she was planning her Vietnam adventure, I remarked that the memories of most Americans about Vietnam are not pleasant because of the war, and I mentioned my brother Packy, who flew combat missions in Vietnam with the U.S. Air Force. (How I sweated until he returned safely). But Amina was undeterred by my recollections and flew off to Hanoi on her first stop. In her first photos she sent back was a group of school children that Amina had been collecting school supplies for. So, I learned for the first time that my friend had an ulterior motive for making the trip.
Amina and Friend!

Last Sunday, my son invited me over to spend some time with Alexander and made it clear that I was to walk. So, at the appointed hour, I set out. Crossing Via Laurentina, I made my way to Viale Cesare Pavese, walked along for a while, turned left at the shop with the sign that reads Fiori e Pianti, and headed up the hill to the next left turn. I think you get the idea – it’s a long walk. As I took my life in crossing Viale Carlo Levi, Amina checked in on Whatsapp from Vietnam. Hi! What are you doing? She inquired. I’m hiking to Mike and Laura’s house, I replied.  Good! You need the exercise! She texted.  You sound like my son! I texted back. She sent me her latest pictures as if t say I’m having more fun! (I couldn’t argue with that. I was drenched in sweat and still had two kilometers before I reached my destination). When I reached Michael and Laura’s house, I found the smoker giving off the smoky aroma of ribs and discovered that I was in for another family gathering, which is what Italians do on a Sunday - La Famiglia!

Alexander, it seems, is a very popular little fellow. Until the novelty of a new baby wears thin, everyone wants to spend time with Alexander. Including me. I love the little guy, but at that moment I am a soggy, sweaty mess from my hike. (Especially that last hill – which is a killer). So, before I knew it, the doorbell was ringing. Marsha was already there, so I finally was able to give her Gummi’s to her. The doorbell delivered (In no particular order), Beppe; Chiara and Nöemi; Sergio and AnnaMaria. The whole gang! The little guy was brought into the living room to all the Oohs! And Ahhss! That only a family and close friends can muster and passed around like a new toy – which he is. When we finally sat down for dinner, it was apparent that Michael had worked his magic again. The meat was falling away from the rib bones and the aroma of wood smoke wafted through the air. After dinner, Beppe grabbed his guitar and Michael got his Ukulele and the two stars of No Funny Stuff treated us all to a sample of the songs that have made NFS famous all over Italy.

The serenade was the climactic moment of another perfect Roman Day.
Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a former broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]
© By Mike Botula 2020




Sunday, January 5, 2020

Felice Anno Nuovo!

DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino!
Sunday January 5, 2020
Sunny 56°F/13°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Buonagiornata,

As midnight approached, it got louder and louder in Rome! At the stroke of Twelve, the sound offireworks was absolutely deafening! Italians, it seems, love the sound of fireworks as they usher in the New Year! They must be going absolutely NUTS in Napoli! My son had observed earlier in the evening. Apart from the fireworks, the evening had passed quietly for Michael, Laura and Alexander and I. The big Christmas gathering at Laura’s sister’s house had been cancelled because of the illness of her daughter, Noemi. And now Laura’s mom had come down with the flu, and a priceless component in little Alexander’s childcare had been lost. Michael and Laura were left on their own to care for a colicky infant. Suddenly, the revelry associated with ushering in the New Year disappeared. We spent a very quiet New Year’s Eve.  I was back at my flat shortly before Midnight. With the fireworks exploding all around me!

Alexander and Michael
Rome has been spared the kind of terrorist attacks that have been visited upon London and Paris and some other European capitals, but the sound of fireworks is especially unnerving to a bloke like me who hails from a quiet suburb of Austin, Texas. Especially THESE fireworks, whose loud explosions sound like heavy artillery punctuated by small arms fire. Bear in mind, a nation that backs up the police with heavily armed soldiers at subway stations and historical sites and other public places must be expecting trouble. Yes, New Year’s Eve in Rome can be a little unnerving. By the next morning, all was calm and bright in my beloved eternal city.

My son, bless his heart, is of a mind that the perfect activity for his dear old dad, who is officially Pushing Eighty…is plenty of walking. Never mind that I am possessed of a bad back, with enough slipped or bulging disks that would make a xylophone weep in envy. Or, two chronically flat feet, And, my beloved Roma, which is over two-thousand years old, ABOUNDS in cobblestones and potholes! This, however, is no reason to allow me a plea of physical frailty when I should be out strolling. And, so it was that I set out from my apartment on Via Laurentina last week for his home in Colle Parnasso. Against my son’s advice, I decided against the most direct route along Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico, in favor of a path off Viale Cesare Pavese. This was my mistake, and I wound up at the foot of Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico anyway, a considerable distance out of my way. Fortunately, my grandson Alexander’s smile made the detour worthwhile. The next day, after consulting my Google Maps, and confirming the route with my son, I retraced my steps successfully.
Alexander Botula
are the envy of pancakes everywhere. Add to that collection of infirmities, a pair of hammer toes and a missing digit on my right foot, and it’s small wonder that I bring a walking stick or  that bastone every time I come to Rome to negotiate its cobble stones and potholes.

My grandson has thrived in his first two months. Michael and Laura visit his pediatrician every week for a checkup, but even my unskilled eyes tell me that young Alexander is blossoming into a healthy young lad. Every time I visit, he seems bigger. And when I can’t for one reason or another, Michael and Laura keep me well supplied with photos, many of which I immediately post on Facebook, much to the delight of my friends there. The pictures of my newest grandchild are designed as a respite from the election year politics back home.  

Michael has returned to work as a tour guide. I have taken the Metro several times to meet him at the Coliseum for lunch during a break in his schedule or he has dropped by my apartment and father and son have gone for coffee at a local bistro. Many of my friends have either returned to the States to visit their families or have returned to their countries of origin here in Europe. Since my birthday is this month, my son has promised a special performance by his band, No Funny Stuff!

Next time, more of my Roman Holiday adventures
Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a former broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]

© By Mike Botula 2020

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Il Primo Natale di Alexander!

DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino!
Sunday December 29, 2019
Sunny 50°F/10°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Buonagiornata,

Apart from the excitement of Christmas Eve, Alexander’s FIRST Christmas passed quietly. We had
Alexander and Michael Botula
been invited to Laura’s sister’s house, but, Chiara’s own daughter, Noemi was sick with a slight bug, so Laura and Michael opted to stay home. I joined them later in the day for dinner. On Christmas Eve, we were invited Tiziana and Pino’s home for dinner. Tiziana and Laura have been friends for years, and the two couples are neighbors in the same condominium complex. We enjoyed the traditional Christmas Eve dinner of several courses, in the Italian manner, and exchanged gifts. It seems that many Italian families lean more toward Christmas Eve for their celebration instead of the typical American fashion of the big event being on Christmas morning, following Santa’s visit the night before, and the joy of the children seeing their presents under the Christmas trees. I explained to Michael and Laura and the others, that Donna and I used to exchange our gifts on Christmas Eve right up to the day that our daughter Dana was born, and we began to wait until Santa’s visit along with everyone else.

Michael, MikeBo and Balcony
A few days before Christmas, I took the Metro down to the Coliseum to meet Michael for an aperitivo, a longtime custom among Romans. He was back to work as a tour guide and was just wrapping up his full day of showing visitors to Rome the sights. Nowadays, his bookings are made through Airbnb. So, you can rent an apartment, and book one of Michael’s tours in the same transaction. I waited for him in front of the Metro station in the shadow of the gigantic amphitheater. We set off along the wide street through the Forum toward a shimmering Christmas tree in the distance. That’s the Piazza Venezia, said Michael. We’ll see what’s happening there and have our aperitivo. We left the Coliseum behind and strolled past the glories of ancient Rome in the gathering twilight. We passed by the Capitoline Museum perched on one of the Seven Hills of Rome, the seat of power during the heady days of the Roman Empire. I love to stroll through the Forum at Sunset…so many ghosts haunt the city! Soon, we reached the Piazza Venezia and the Christmas tree in the Piazza. We stepped inside the tall, iron fence to Italy’s War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier high above us. To reach the tomb, a massive line of granite steps awaited us. I demurred, citing my age and my arthritis, which makes it difficult for me to negotiate stairs of any kind, especially if there are no handrails to assist me.

Il Duce at one point ordered that the boulevard in front of his Fascist headquarters to be widened and straightened to accommodate the huge military parades that accompanied his early military conquests. Mussolini, it seems, was bent on restoring the glories of the Ancient Roman Empire, but he accomplished far less than that. However, in the glory days of fascism, Mussolini embarked on a massive public works program, much of which can still be seen today. Fortunately, by the time Rome fell to General Mark Clark’s troops on June 5, 1944, it had been declared an Open City, which spared Rome the massive destruction suffered by other European cities in World War Two. Il Duce himself along with his mistress, Clara Petacci, were executed by partisans in 1945 in Northern Italy, and, in a final indignity, were hung upside down by their heels in a Milan gas station. In a typical gesture of Italian gallantry, Ms. Petacci’s skirt was tied at her knees, so her legs would not be exposed to the gazes of the thousands of spectators who came out to witness the spectacle. The famous balcony was restored in 2011. So much for the Italian history lesson. And, now back to Christmas.
Mussolini's Balcony in its Heyday
We crossed the street and posed for several of Michael’s famous selfies. When I saw the photos later, I saw that he had taken two varieties of photos. One included just the two of us in several frames, and the other series widened out to include Rome’s infamous balcony from which Benito Mussolini used to address hordes of his fascist followers. In fact, and Michael has pointed this out to me every time that we have come here;

On Christmas Day, I got up and went for a long walk around the neighborhood. Our family plans had been dashed by the illness at Laura’s sister’s house. When I decided to stay through Christmas and the New Year, plus my birthday in January, I had expected to spend a lot of time alone or with other friends simply because Laura and Michael would be focusing on the new addition to THEIR family. Which is as it should be.  So, I brought my faithful traveling companion with me – my trusty IPAD and a selection of Netflix movies, including the Godfather Trilogy. In the process, I discovered that my entire HBO subscription and most of my Amazon Prime subscription do not work in the European Union. Ditto for CBS All Access. (CBSN works fine for news). But Netflix, with it’s international menu works fine. So, between my long walk and the Godfather Part 1, I was able to put Christmas Day in the “win column.” Then, 5:30 rolled around, and it was time for dinner at Michael and Laura’s. I got to see my new grandson again on Christmas.

The next day, I told Michael when he called, that I would walk over to his house. And so, shortly
Alexander Botula
after two, I started off, deciding to try the new route along Via Cesare Pavese instead of the more tried and truer route along Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico. As a result, I became hopelessly lost shortly after turning left on Via Salvatore Quasimodo off Via Cesare Pavese. It was after 3:30 before I executed my course correction and discovered the true path leading to Laura and Michael’s place. As it turned out, he was planning to deep fry a duck. We would be dining in style. My extra-long walk had been worth it.

Next time, more of my Roman Holiday adventures. Until then,
Ci vediamo, (See you soon).
Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a former broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]
© By Mike Botula 2020

Sunday, December 22, 2019

La Vita Romana!

DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino!
Sunday December 22, 2019
Partly Cloudy & Windy 59°F/15°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Buonagiornata,

Life has certainly smoothed out for me since the tumultuous first week or so. I never fully recovered  from the apartment I had counted on to live in for two months, disappearing at the last, possible minute like that. Even worse, the Penthouse being such a disastrous replacement. Even though our money was quickly refunded, the whole experience left a bitter aftertaste in my craw. I periodically check that listing on Airbnb, and I am gratified that The Penthouse shows nary one booking for all of 2020! The main reason that I am even here in Rome at all is an infant named Alexander…my grandson and heir to the Botula name. He is the first-born child of my son Michael and his wife Laura and is the first Botula to be eligible for dual citizenship – Italian and US.
Alexander and Michael
 I am happily ensconced a short distance away on Via Laurentina, a major thoroughfare in this section of the area known as E.U.R. I’m a short distance away (less than a ten minute walk) from the apartment I originally rented from Amina in 2015 or so. So, I have a bit of a history in this particular neighborhood.

Thursday evening, I sent a message to Maria, the lady who was going to rent me the original apartment, just to touch base. She was not in Rome. In fact, she was on a train back to her home in Linz, Austria. It seems all high speed trains in Europe have Wi-Fi. What’s more she would not be in Rome during my stay. AND, she promised to make it up to me for the inconvenience of the apartment that wasn’t there! I promised her that when I planned for my next trip to Rome, she would be the first person I would contact. It’s always nice to have options. I only pray that the contractors Maria hired to renovate her apartment have finished by then. My son had expressed doubt that they would be finished in time for my trip when he checked out the apartment for me. So, when Maria sent me her frantic note, I wasn’t totally surprised.

Alexander turned one month old on December 14th.  This will be my newest grandchild’s first Christmas, and we could not be happier. He’s a bit colicky, but that is to be expected. Mike and Laura take him to the pediatrician every week. He definitely is growing and filling out.  Alexander is Laura and Michael’s first child. As many of you know, my daughter Dana has five children, three girls and two boys; Joshua, Jacob, Jessica and the twins Jaydan and Jordan. In fact, I followed Dana’s family from California to Texas to be near my grandchildren. Alexander’s appearance provides me with more of an incentive to visit Rome. (As if I needed more of an incentive).

Laura at the Chinese Store
I love the neighborhood. It is chock full of little shops, bars and restaurants. All the modern conveniences of life without the Texas-sized distances that I’ve grown used to back home. My entire life is now within walking distance. And, for further distances, there is a bus stop directly in front of my building with an endless line of buses to whisk me to the Metro station and the entire city beyond. One such establishment is known throughout the neighborhood simply as, the Chinese Store, or in local parlance il negozio cinese. In this day and age of specialty shops, the Chinese Store is a throwback to the time when every small town had at least one five and ten cents store. This version occupies perhaps two or three store fronts, and it’s one entrance is guarded by an elderly Asian woman sitting behind the store’s only cash register. Inside every conceivable household product is jammed on the shelves which go floor to ceiling across the extremely narrow aisles. Laundry detergent, fabric softener and the ubiquitous drying racks occupy shelf space right across from the flat ware and dinner plates. Stationery items are at the front of the store.  And, the replacement batteries and USB cables are kept alongside the cash register, under the watchful eye of the Asian lady. Overhead, along one jam-packed aisle, shower caddies dangle on hooks, high and out of reach, except for an employee with a long pole with a hook on it. Everything is somewhere – here in the Chinese Store. The store has a sign that says SUPER CONVENIENZA! Everyone in the neighborhood knows where it is. I have never seen so many items jammed into one location as I have crowding Il Negozio Cinese, except for the old Five and Dime Stores of old.

And, speaking of the neighborhood, I’m happy to know, that in this small-town atmosphere, my neighbors are getting to know me as well. There’s the lady cashier at the Elite Market, who is very patient with me as I fumble with la busta or plastic shopping bag or my Euros to pay her. She remembered me after one of my absences. I always   try to greet her in Italian and inquire as to how she is. Buongiorno. Come stai? And, at the end of the transaction, it is always, Grazie. Ciao! In the case of Alejandra, who did my manicure at the spa around the corner, she not only remembered me from last May, but she remembered that Laura made the original appointment. That left me with no alternative, but to make my next appointment with her for the next time. Several of my neighbors in the apartment building have noticed my new face among them and welcomed me with a warm Benvenuto! Even my friend and sometime landlady, Amina, has gotten into the welcoming act. When we met for coffee on my first night in the apartment, she made a point of taking me in to each bistro and specialty shop to introduce me to the shopkeeper and asking them to take care of me because I didn’t speak Italian well.

And then, there is Delia, who is technically my landlady. She and her husband Christian literally saved my bacon when I was forced to move from the Penthouse, and they couldn’t be nicer to me. Delia offered to clean the apartment during my stay and help me shop and cook. I opted to retain her for the cleaning chores. She comes every Friday or Saturday, and when she is finished, my little casa fairly GLEAMS.

I realize that I have a distinct advantage over the typical tourist. On my extended stays, I actually live here! Unlike my first couple of trips to Rome when I stayed with Michael and Laura, I now pack a big suitcase (usually overweight) and rent and apartment for a couple of months usually in my chosen neighborhood in E.U.R. A couple of years ago I developed the habit of leaving an extra suitcase with a variety of clothing to be worn on my next trip. My extra suitcase is joined by my laptop computer, which I leave with Michael and Laura. That means I can hit the ground running when I arrive in Rome. The days of the life of a tourist, with its regimen of hotels and a bewildering array of cities and tour buses is now behind me. I actually LIVE here, at least part-time!

Next time: Alexander’s first Christmas, but, for now…
Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a former broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]
© By Mike Botula 2020

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Un Giorno Piovoso!

DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino!
Sunday December 15, 2019
Cloudy 58°F/14°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Buonagiornata,

Sta piovendo! It’s raining!  Back in Texas, this would just be another gully washer, but here in Rome
Snow in Roma - 2016
the citizens take things more seriously. I’ve experienced this first-hand several times now. This storm rolled in on Friday the thirteenth… or, in Italian, Venerdi tredicesimo! The first time was the snowstorm that paralyzed the city two years ago.  My son called me to check up on me. It snowed, Pop! He told me. When did it last snow in Rome? I asked the pride of my loins. About fourteen years ago. He told me. I wasn’t here for that one. We were in Bologna. But Rome is shut down. Schools are closed. The buses are not running, and the Metro is not running. Dad, the CITY is shut down! I knew instinctively what I had to do. I ran to the balcony and snapped a few photos with my IPhone. Then, I looked down the street. The activity on the street indicated to me that the Coop Mercato was still open. I grabbed my coat and my walking stick and headed down the street to pick up some survival supplies. As I entered the store, one of the clerks greeted me with a friendly Buongiorno! Dove il sale?  I replied. Where is the salt? He pointed to the back of the store. I headed there with my basket and picked up three boxes of rock salt. In a snowstorm, you can never have too much rock salt!  I used it liberally on my way back to the apartment to salt down the entry steps.

Last Spring, it was a record heat wave that paralyzed the city. One evening we even had a moderate earthquake. Now, we have a rain emergency. What next – locusts? Visigoths? American Tourists? But now, it’s raining … and Rome is paralyzed! Rome is built on seven hills. It has a fabulous sewer system, parts of which are two thousand years old. The rain will run off… but povera Venezia!  Venice has more to lose than Rome in this era of climate change. The summer rains have been bad…up to four feet of water flooded Piazza San Marco recently, portending the future date when Venice will be completely under water.

Sofia and Alexander
But the primary reason for this visit is my new grandson, Alexander.  Like my daughter’s five kids, Alexander is a joy to his Nonno in his dotage. It’s amazing how fast newborns GROW! Alexander Came home from the hospital with a tiny knit cap on his tiny head. He was a peanut! Now after just a few weeks, he has grown considerably. I don’t have the relevant statistics at my fingertips, but he sees the pediatrician every week, and his parents keep track of every weight gain – meticulously. Michael took off from work for a full month to help in the parenting chores and to bond with his new son. Laura has several more months of maternity leave remaining. Fortunately, her work enables her to work from home much of the time, and that’s how she will gradually return to her job.

On Wednesday, I rode the Metro to Circo Massimo, where the ancient chariot races were held; at the invitation of my friend Amina. She works at F.A.O. the massive United Nations Food Organization. The FAO building was constructed during the 1930s by Benito Mussolini, during the height of his conquests in Africa to house his colonial offices. The view of the Circus Maximus from the FAO
Amina
rooftop is nothing short of spectacular! The Coliseum and the Forum are just one Metro stop away. During our luncheon of Couscous (for her) and Pasta Napolitano (for me) Amina suggested that our next lunch date be the following day near the Basilica San Paolo, at a little neighborhood restaurant that she knew. After that, she would be traveling to Paris to spend Christmas with her family. It meant that I might not see her again on this trip to Rome, because she would be leaving after that for three weeks hiking in Vietnam.  Sure enough, she rang my apartment the following day to catch the bus to the Laurentina Metro. As I met her in front of my building, the skies opened up, and it started raining – hard. We were rained out of our excursion to Basilica San Paolo. We scurried into a nearby bistro, had lunch and waited for the rain to stop.

The next day, Friday the Thirteenth, I awoke to another storm that had rolled in during the night. THAT was the storm that closed schools and created such havoc. I had been expecting Delia – my landlord’s wife to clean the apartment, but sure enough – at the appointed hour I received a text from Christian saying that Delia would not be coming until the afternoon. Even then I had my doubts, because I felt that the storm would be with us all day. Sure enough, word reached me that afternoon that Delia would be unable to come over until the following day.

If it were not for my teacher at Austin Community College – Patrizia Papi – I would be totally lost in the language department! Each time I come to Rome, my well-meaning son tries to find one of his students for me to practice with in a language exchange or scambio di lingua. That has had mixed results for me. For instance, three years ago, Monica and I had molti gelati together, but didn’t practice much English OR Italian. I have decided to take matters into my own hands with Delia. The arrangement is that she comes in to clean the apartment weekly. (And, I suspect, to keep an eye on the place for her husband, Christian). So, I have introduced Delia to the wonders of Duolingo. We both have our Google Translators on our Smartphones. So, we are able to communicate. Where there’s a will there’s a way! Now, every week when she comes to clean, we sit down at the table, beve caffѐ, and practice our languages. I usually spend at least an hour a day practicing with Duolingo.

Next time, more adventures with Alexander the Great, conquering hearts everywhere he travels through the known world.
Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a former broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]

© By Mike Botula 2020

Sunday, December 8, 2019

La Vita Domestica!

DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino!
Sunday December 8, 2019
Partly Cloudy 60°F/16°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Buonagiornata,

Alexander Botula
In my travels to Rome, I’ve always gone onto explore most of Italy. Hence, I’ve been enchanted by Firenze, Venezia, Pisa, Milano and, yes …. even Napoli. I’ve walked along La Via Appia and visited ancient Paestum, a hardy survivor of Magna Graecia, and visited the notorious World War Two battlefields of Salerno, Anzio and Montecassino. But, from the moment Michael and Laura told Annamaria and Sergio and me about the blessed event they were anticipating in November, I knew that major changes were coming to my gad-a-bout scheduling. MAJOR changes were in store for Michael and Laura, too! The memory of what my cousin, Mary Duffy said all those years ago to Donna and I came flooding back to me now.

Donna and I had just made one of our career moves to San Francisco. It was 1966. The Summer of Love. I had just taken the Program Director’s job at KFOG radio, when it was still located at Ghirardelli Square. Donna would soon get a job at the BBDO Advertising Agency at 650 California Street. It was before our Dana or Michael made their appearance, and we thoroughly lived the San Francisco life for a full year. I realized that my cousin Mary Duffy lived in San Francisco orbit nearby with her husband, Tom Walker. (In the Botula family, the cousins were always referred to by their family name, so the other cousins could keep track of them). I called Mary and invited she and Tom to join us for dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf. It was on our post-prandial stroll around the area, when Mary uttered those immortal words. Enjoy it now, Mike and Donna! She said. Because when your kids start coming along, these carefree days are going away for a L-O-N-G time. You’ll be old and gray before you have the world to yourselves again! Mary was right. Dana was born in 1969 and Michael was born in 1973. Life, as we knew it in our carefree days together, ended with our first diaper change. But, as I hasten to add since, I know that Alexander will read this someday. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life with children is to be savored, because they grow up much too fast!

So, I am reliving those times through Michael and Laura. True, it impacts on Nonno, as well, because if their focus is totally consumed by their new son, this will impact as well on the people who have been free up to now, to simply drop in for a visit. It’s a whole new ball game for them as well. How I wish Donna could be here to share in the moment. (We divorced in 2003. A few years later, she was diagnosed with cancer and died in 2010). But, at moments like this, my cousin Mary Duffy’s words ring down through the years. But, back to the present!

RUB A DUB, DUB!
I missed Alexander’s birth by a week, but I have been here for many of his small, but important milestones since, most notably his first bath. Laura and Michael have spared no expense in seeing that their son has all the right equipment. That includes his bathinette. It’s literally a tiny bathtub on wheels. From their son’s equipment room, my son rolled it into the kitchen, where the infant Botula would get his first wash down. Even before Alexander was brought in, Michael carefully measured the warm water for the first bath, and repeatedly took its temperature with a special, stainless steel thermometer. Finally, after all the preparations of Dr. Michael DeBakey’s surgical team preparing for a heart transplant…Laura brought the baby into the operating theater. All that was missing were the surgical gowns, masks and rubber gloves! Layers of baby clothes quickly disappeared as did the diaper, which Alexander was not quite done with. Uh, ONE and Uh, TWO! Alexander used his diaper for the final time and was quickly committed to the warm water. The experience of his first dunking immediately elicited squawks of disapproval from the infant. I was present with my cellphone camera at the ready, ever mindful of the potential for future embarrassment once the baby Alexander had reached maturity and the inevitable baby-picture displays by his parents. So, I have chosen one, carefully cropped photo to accompany this blog.

Alexander was born on November 14, 2019 at Oespedale San Camillo, in Roma. It’s the majorhospital in Italy’s government health care system, where babies are born – at least in Rome. Laura was born there, and now her son. Laura’s sister, Chiara, had her little girl, Noemi there as well. So, for the patriarch of the Tomei family, Sergio, it has meant a lot of visits to San Camillo over the years. The front of the hospital is marked by greetings of well-wishers spray-painted, graffiti-style across the façade. Sergio and I posed for a photo in 2017 when Chiara and Maurizio’s Noemi was born in the same hospital as her little cugino was born. Oespedale San Camillo is not a birthing center as Americans would understand the term. It is a specialty hospital, operated by the government, where Italian babies are born. It is a full-service hospital with surgical suites and neonatal intensive care units. Such care for newborns has resulted in Italy’s low infant mortality rate worldwide. (5.5 per thousand versus the USA’s 6.5 per thousand).
Sergio and MikeBo

So, I return to my original point: I’m not gallivanting around Italy much on this trip. I’m trying to stay close to my new grandson without becoming a pest to his parents. I recall when Dana was born in 1969, my mother-in-law traveled all the way from Illinois to southern California to help out, then announced that she would stay until our baby girl was Baptized in the Catholic Church! (Oh, the joys of a religiously mixed marriage). That’s why I have one daughter who’s Catholic, and a son who’s a nominal Methodist. (When Michael was born, my mother-in-law was too ill to make the trip). So, I am pretty much on my own this trip. I am getting reacquainted with my friends from my previous trips, and yesterday, bought a slew of biglietti so I can travel by myself on Rome’s Metro e Autobus system.

I’ve reconnected with Marsha de Salvatore, the Grande Comedienne of Rome’s Comedy Club, where she performs as Marsha Cincinnati. In fact, I brought her a big jar of Melatonin Gummies to help her sleep. I ran into Marsha at a Louis C.K. performance during my first week in Rome. The comic has come to Rome, trying to make a comeback after a disastrous encounter with the Me Too movement! 
Amina

The week before, Louis C.K. had played Tel Aviv in a comeback tour of epic proportion. Then, I met Amina for coffee. She is my landlady from my first stay at an Airbnb apartment. I’ve stayed there a few other times. Hence, we’ve become friends. In fact, for this trip, her place was booked. So, she arranged with a friend to let me rent her apartment, but the deal fell apart when the contractors remodeling her apartment missed their deadline. That’s how I wound up in The Penthouse. Anyway, we met for coffee last week. Before we said our Buona Sera’s, she had introduced me to every shopkeeper on the block, as their new neighbor. Amina is like Welcome Wagon on steroids.




Next time. Two turkeys, as we ex-pats celebrate Thanksgiving.

Ciao,
MikeBo

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]
© By Mike Botula 2020