Monday, August 5, 2019

Back Story: LST 920 and Charlie Botula!

MikeBo’s Blog
Monday August 5, 2019
Sunny in Cedar Park, TX 94°F/ 34°C
Partly Cloudy in Falmouth, UK  67°F/ 19°C

Howdy!


Lord knows, I did not set out to write a book about a war story my father  told me and my kid brother as we were growing up! But, that’s what I did. And, the reaction was life-changing for me. By the way – it will soon be the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the U-boat attack on my father’s convoy in the Dover Channel during World War Two:  August 14, 1944.  A quick recap: LSTs 920 and 921 – sister ships, having been built and commissioned in the Bethlehem Steel Shipyard in Hingham, Massachusetts, were part of Allied Convoy EBC 72, en route from Milford Haven, Wales to Falmouth, England on 14 August 1944, when the convoy was attacked by U 667, commanded by Captain Karl-Heinze Lange. U 667’s first torpedo struck LST 921 toward the stern, breaking the back of the 328 foot-long landing ship. The dazed crew would have less than five minutes to rescue the hapless souls in the stern section. The explosion triggered the alarm for General Quarters aboard the LST 920, and as the crew scrambled to their battle stations, the Captain – Harry N. Schultz and his Exec – Lieutenant (j.g.) Charles Botula, Jr. raced to the bridge. Once there, Lt. Botula closely scanned the waters around his ship through his US Navy-issue 7 by 50 binoculars.  His heart must have skipped a beat or two as he spotted the indelible signs of a torpedo’s wake homing in on the middle of his ship! That torpedo was coming straight for us, and there was nothing to do but watch it hit us, he would tell my younger brother and me as he recounted the events of that August day over and over as we grew up. Suddenly, a British escort vessel, LCI(L) 99 raced between the on-coming torpedo and LST 920, and took the torpedo intended to sink LST 920. The resulting explosion blew LCI(L) 99 out of the water. After the blast, I watched as the smoke cleared, said my dad. All I could see was smoke and bits of floating debris. The ship itself had vanished!

Don Joost in 1944
On board LST 921, Engineering Officer Don Joost had just left the engine room and had returned to his quarters to lie down for a few minutes before chow, when U 667’s torpedo hit. Below him Motor Machinists John Abrams and Lloyd Meeker were momentarily trapped in the fast-flooding engine room. In another part of the ship, the ship’s cook Seaman Charles Watson found himself trapped under a tangle of shelving in one of the ship’s passageways. And, Seaman Second Class Charles H. Moore would be trapped in the sinking stern section of his ship and go to the bottom of the Dover Channel along with several dozen of his ill-fated shipmates, and two of the LST 921’s officers. Aboard the British escort vessel, LCI(L) 99, Acting Able Seaman William Todd…age 19, the ship’s cook, would be killed by the torpedo’s blast along with most of his shipmates.


As I said earlier, I did not intend to write a book about my dad’s wartime experience, but that changed in 2003 after I left a message on the U.S. LST Association’s web site, asking if any association member had served aboard the LST 920 with my father. In a few days my note was answered by Don Reed, the 920’s Communications Officer. He told me in his reply that he had served with him since the ship was commissioned in June 1944 until dad left the ship in November 1945. Since, I was living in Sacramento, I decided to drive with my son, Michael, to Alameda where Don worked as a volunteer aboard the USS Hornet to meet him and hear the story anew. Don Reed was part of the original crew of LST 920, and was aboard for her entire time in service, becoming  her last Commanding Officer in 1946, before she joined the “Mothball Fleet” in Suisun Bay. This meeting with Reed led to other meetings, telephone interviews and letters from other members of both LST crews. Instead of a straightforward war story, my father’s tale became a wartime mystery with a lot of unanswered questions:

Don Reed in 2003
We were supposed to go to the PACFIC! Reed told me and my son Michael, over dinner in Alameda, when we finally met.  We were on our shakedown cruise when we were ordered into the Philadelphia Navy Yard for a new paint job, and to take on a TOP SECRET cargo. Then we received orders to join up with a thousand ship convoy out of New York and head to EUROPE! Later, I would hear similar versions of Reed’s account from officers of both LSTs – the 920 and the 921. A few weeks later, I drove over from Sacramento to Walnut Creek, California to meet with Don Joost, former Engineering Officer of the ill-fated LST 921. Joost shared his pictures with me and talked to me about the secret cargo carried by the two LSTs. There was a lot of speculation about what we were carrying, said Joost. Some of our officers thought it was mine-sweeping technology. But, I was of the opinion that our secret cargo was technology designed to foil the acoustic torpedoes the Germans were just starting to use. Indeed, late in the war, the German Kriegsmarine introduced a new torpedo designed to home in on the sound of the enemy ship’s engines. Is it possible that the Germans knew what your ship and the other LST were carrying?  I asked Joost. During the war, the Germans had a highly sophisticated spy network operating on the U.S. East Coast. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, Joost replied. But, the answer to that question probably lies on either the bottom of the Dover Channel in the stern of LST 921, or at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay, in the hulk of U 667!

The U.S. LST Association required that I join the association before it would share the names and addresses of the former crew members of LSTs 920 and 921 that I sought. But, membership was a small price to pay for the first-person accounts that I would gain. At Don Reed’s suggestion, I obtained the ship’s logs for my dad’s ship for 1944 along with an aerial photo of the LST 920 at sea for the first time – painted in Pacific Theater camouflage colors. Through the contact list provided by the U.S. LST Association, I was able to either arrange telephone interviews or obtain first-person accounts with a dozen survivors of the ordeal. From that little exercise, I was able to craft a short article for The Scuttlebutt, the LST Association’s newsletter. After evaluating the material that simply did not fit into the one thousand word article, I made my decision to do a book. My book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon Books in August  2016, shortly after I moved to Texas. Almost immediately I began to get emails from the quickly diminishing crew members of the LST 920 or 921, or their friends or family members. I quickly realized that many of the family members of those who lived through the events of 14 August 1944, did not have a father like mine who freely recounted his wartime experiences. And indeed, many of the letters I received containing the first-hand accounts were accompanied by a sentence or two explaining that they were telling these stories for the first time.  I got the eerie feeling that they were being given permission  from their Executive Officer, through his son, to finally tell their stories. Such was the emotional connection that I developed with these old shipmates.

Charles Watson in 1944
By telephone I spoke with Motor Machinist’s Mate John Abrams, who recounted the escape that he and Lloyd Meeker made from the engine room of the LST 921, and their subsequent rescue of the ship’s cook, Charlie Watson. Both Watson and Abrams told me how Abrams  took his own life jacket off and gave it to the badly injured Watson. I spoke with Ensign Jerry Gerrard, the Engineering Officer of LST 920 for his account of the attack and Captain Schultz’ disobeying the direct order to proceed onto their port of Falmouth, in order to come about and pick up survivors from their sister ship, LST 921. The rest gave their first-hand accounts in their letters. It soon became obvious from my father’s account of the incident as well as the other first person accounts, that there was not much known about the submarine that carried out the attack. That would come later in my research under Don Reed’s guidance. Reed, who had done extensive research on the attack, knew that U 667 had struck a mine two weeks after the attack on the convoy, and its wreckage now lay on the bottom of the Bay of Biscay near the U 667’s home port of La Pallice, France. Even my own father had not known that when he died in 1965. So, I was pleasantly surprised to hear from a French diver named

Christophe Moriceau, who not only knew the fate of the U 667 but had actually dived on the wreck site. Moriceau is a member of L’Expedition Scyllias,  a French diving organization. He explained that, while the wreck had been located in 1972, it had been mis-identified as the wreckage of another U-boat. Not until 2014 was the wreckage formally identified as that of U 667. Given this new information, I decided to draft a new edition  of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  This was done in Spring, 2019.


Able Seaman William Todd
Perhaps the largest contribution that the book makes is proving information to the families of the two ships. One family member wrote to tell me that up until my book was published, the only information the family had about one of their own who’d been killed in action, was a tattered telegram from the War Department. Looking back on Gillian Whittle’s note about her great-uncle William Todd, the young Able Seaman aboard the British Escort ship who died that day, I am glad that I was able to provide even sketchy details of his last moments. She ended her letter saying, we cannot let the memories of these great people be forgotten!

Most of the men who sailed aboard LSTs 920 and 921 are gone now, but a very few are still with us. Seaman Charles Watson, the 921’s cook is a hale and  hearty 97, despite losing a leg in his ordeal. A Signalman from the 920, James Dietrich is a healthy 94 years old and walks daily for exercise. Seaman Harold Dunagan, who shared his accounts  of helping survivors from LST 921 is now confined to a nursing home. His daughter wrote me: He was very proud of your first book and keeps it on the table beside his chair at all times!

As I said earlier. I did not set out to write a book, but I’m glad that I did!
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. His book is available from Amazon Books. You can follow his blog at: mikebotula.blogspot.com, including his Rome Diary series, and learn more about Mike Botula at: www.mikebotula.com ]

Sunday, July 21, 2019

“Honey, I’m Home!”

DIARIO DI ROMA 5:
My Return to the City of Echoes!
Mio Ritorno alla Città degli Echi!
Sunday, July 21, 2019
Domenica, Iuglio 21, 2019
Mostly Sunny  91°F/ 33°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia

Buonagiornata,

Happy Again: Lola and MikeBo
 When my daughter Dana and my grandson Jacob met me at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, it was nearly Midnight in Texas. Between Alitalia and Delta, the two airlines had delivered me back to Texas on the same day that we had left Rome. Fiumicino to Logan International in Boston and then on to Austin, following the sun on its journey westward. I was exhausted, and after a few minutes of conversation, I said Buona notte a mia figlia e mio nipoti, left my suitcase – still unopened in the middle of my living room floor and went to bed.  Just as I drifted off  to dreamland, I remembered that there was several  pounds of formaggio Parmigiano – Parmesan cheese - that Laura’s mom, AnnaMaria had given me to bring home with me still in the unopened suitcase. That realization brought me instantly back to consciousness, because both the TSA baggage inspectors and the U.S. Customs Service frown on contraband of any sort. But, the Parmesan was still in its refrigerator bag, all five pounds of it! I placed the contraband in my fridge and went back to bed!

A few hours later, I woke up again.  So THAT’S how it’s gonna be? I thought to myself. Different bouts of jet lag, or as I personally prefer to call it – circadian rhythm disfunction – affects me in different ways each time I cross several time zones. I had spent two weeks following my arrival in Rome recovering from an overnight flight of fifteen hours duration. Now, following the sun all the way across the Atlantic to Boston affects me differently with each flight. That is why I usually stay in Italy for at least two months. First because it takes at least that long to get over the long, cramped hours in the Economy Section of the jetliner. And secondly, to recover from jet lag. Then, get to do it all over again on the return trip. BUT, you might ask … is it worth it? My answer will always be a resounding YES!

This trip to Rome was, in effect my dress rehearsal for actually living in Italy. The thought of one   
Amina
more move in my retirement has been in the back of my mind at least since my divorce in 2013. That was the first time I had spent longer than a couple of weeks in Italy. I decided to go back to a neighborhood I was familiar with in EUR, where Michael and Laura had rented me my first apartment on Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico. Last year, after spending a month at that apartment, I decided to spend another month in Rome, but my landlady, a Moroccan lady named Amina, had already booked the apartment to another party. I wound up booking another apartment nearby on Viale Cesare Pavese from a retired Tunisian diplomat named Mohamed. Both Amina and Mohamed have become close friends. As luck would have it this time, both of their apartments had been booked, so Michael and Laura booked me through Airbnb at a third apartment on nearby Via Oscar Sinigaglia. All three apartments are within easy walking distance of the stores, restaurants and shops that I need to maintain my existence and be physically close to Michael and Laura. I still haven’t made my final decision yet, but I have done all the necessary research. Now, all I need to do is secure a long-term visa from the Italian government to replace the three month tourist visa that I visit with now.

The first week or so, it rained. But, I didn’t mind that too much, because of my jet lag; but then, the weather turned, and a heat wave descended, not just on Rome, but the entire southern region of Europe. Paris saw its high temperatures exceed 114° Fahrenheit (46° Celsius) day after day, with Roma not far behind, nipping at the 100° F, or 38° Celsius day after day. That’s when I said a hearty Thank You to my new landlady, Stefania, when she had the foresight to air condition her apartment when she installed all new appliances prior to listing her apartment with Airbnb. (Air conditioned apartments are at a premium in Rome. Italians apparently put air conditioners in the same category as clothes driers). So, my moving around the city usually was begun at dusk. The primary exception to that was my grocery shopping, which was done early in the morning. Fortunately, there were two Elite Supermercati  within several blocks of the apartment. Depending on the need to visit the BancoMat at Banco Popolare  or the  Tabacchiao for Biglietti  for the bus and Metro, I would choose the closest Elite Supermercato. Back in Texas, I would have to take Lola with me and drive for miles to run much the same errands. If Michael and Laura invited me for dinner, one or the other of them would pick me up. Otherwise, I could cook something up in my apartment, or walk down to the end of the block and grab a bite at the Nuri Bar. Or, I could head down in another direction to Ristorante Nuraghe and see what the specials were. Nuraghe has a garden dining area, which made it especially pleasant after dealing with the heat of the day.

Roman Moon
One evening, Amina invited me over for dinner, partly to apologize for her apartment being booked. On my short walk to her building, I stopped at the little negozio di Fiori and bought an orchid for her collection. Unlike my old apartment on the floor below, my hostess’ place boasts a terrace on the top floor of the building. I explained to her that all I had to do was look out my living room window to catch a glimpse of her building. We dined together on the terrace and were treated to the rise of the largest moon I had seen since Texas.  Amina is originally from Morocco and speaks four languages: Arabic, her first language; French, English and, of course, Italian. I related my studies of French in high school; my seemingly never-ending effort to learn Spanish in night school and college; along with my more recent efforts to master Italian. Why are you so frustrated that you don’t speak Italian better, she asked me? I have spent the past three years taking Patrizia’s classes, I told my hostess, and I practice every day on DuoLingo (on-line teaching tool) but, in everyday conversation, I am limited to just a few words. I guess I either didn’t learn the language when I was young, OR, I winked at her, maybe it’s because I don’t have an Italian girlfriend to practice with. (Did I detect the slightest hint of a blush under her tanned skin?)
No Funny Stuff! at AUR

One of my greatest joys has been band groupie to Michael’s band, No Funny Stuff! Back in Texas, we’d call the ensemble a Jug Band!  Definitely country and western, but with a pronounced Italian flavor. Michael and his buddy Beppe Cassa are tireless promoters. No Funny Stuff! has made countless TV and Radio appearances and have been featured in dozens of newspaper and magazine articles. They’ve performed in concerts from Scandinavia to Slovenia. On the first weekend I was in Rome, No Funny Stuff! was getting ready for a weekend of concerts in Switzerland. Their big ambition is to book a tour in the U.S. and perform at the big South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. During my visit, No Funny Stuff! played gigs at Guidonia, just outside Rome, the Independence Day Festa at the American University of Rome and the Taba Café at Campo de Fiori in Rome. I invited Amina to the 4th of July celebration at A.U.R. and another friend of mine – Alba to the N.F.S. performance at the Taba Café. They both agreed that No Funny Stuff! is FUN!

There was also the usual sightseeing around Rome. Fortunately, the location of my Airbnb apartment played into my plans. I was able to walk twenty minutes to the Laurentina Metro Station, which whisked me to the Circus Maximus, the Coliseum and other Roman sight-seeing high points. Then, I managed to figure out the schedule of the buses that run along Laurentina and my travels became immensely easier. Near the end of my stay, Michael came to my apartment on his scooter, and we traveled together to the Coliseum, where we spent the next few hours walking through the Forum, the ancient Jewish Ghetto, and the Vittorio Emmanuelle Memorial, where Italy’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is enshrined. It was nearly dusk when Laura arrived to pick us up, and we were off to dinner.  Parking the car back at my apartment, the three of us, with Sofia tagging along, headed to Nuraghe and dinner.

This will probably not be my last Rome Diary in the current series. I’m certain to conjure up an additional memory or two. But, I would be woefully remiss if I didn’t thank Laura’s mom and dad for
Dinner by Starlight!
their hospitality. AnnaMaria and Sergio have welcomed me into their family’s life, and for that, I am eternally grateful. A trip to Rome, for me, would be incomplete without a weekend at their second home in Selci, in the neighboring region of Sabina. Michael could stay only for the first night. Since Selci was as hot as Rome, we waited until dusk to fire up the barbecue and work his magic on the grill. He and No Funny Stuff! were off to play at an evening wedding. Laura, Sergio, AnnaMaria and me headed off in the other direction to a neighboring village and a Festa sponsored by the hunting club that Sergio belongs to. Once there, we dined on Cingale, the wild boar that roams the hills around Selci.

Already, I’m thinking of other stories about this particular journey that are trying to escape past my fingers as they skip around my computer keyboard. But, I’ll save them for another time. In terms of word count, I have already exceeded my self-imposed limit of 1,500, so I’ll simply sign off with my signature…
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 the entire Rome Diary series and more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]

© By Mike Botula 2019

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Language Thing!

DIARIO DI ROMA V
Sunday July 14, 2019
Sunny 80°F/27°C in Roma, Latium, Italia
Buonagiornata,

In the grand scheme of life…it was bound to happen, sooner or later!

On Thursday, as I waited by the Metro entrance immediately adjacent to the front of the Palazzo
Naidi in Piazza della Repubblica waiting for mia amica, Alba, the hotel doorman approached me and asked me something in Italian. Sensing that he was asking why I was waiting, I reached into my shirt pocket for my cell phone and its Google Translator app and asked him for a moment for my answer. When I had composed my answer, I approached him and read my response.  Sto aspettando per una amica, I told him. (I am waiting for female friend). As luck would have it, Alba arrived and showered me with hugs and kisses to both my cheeks in that time-honored Italian manner that I have come to know and love. (Especially when a beautiful woman is administering the hugs and kisses). Alba spoke to the doorman in Italian. He answered her in perfect English. I’m sorry, ma’am! But I don’t speak Italian, as I was trying to explain to your friend. Alba, who speaks beautiful English, responded, but my friend here is an AMERICAN. He is just learning Italian! That’s when I came back into the conversation. Where are you from? I asked the doorman, who by this time was sporting a smile as big as Texas. I am from Gambia and we don’t speak Italian in Gambia! I later discovered, after Googling Gambia, that our doorman comes from a small, west African country that is almost surrounded by Senegal. His native language may be Mandinka, but it’s certainly NOT Italian! As if to cement our new friendship, the doorman asked if he could do anything for us. We asked him to hail a taxi for us. I tipped him, and Alba and I were soon headed to Campo dѐ Fiori.

Alba works at the gift shop at one of the most popular attractions on one of Michael’s tours, the
Michael, Alba, MikeBo
Capuchin Crypts. In the ten years since Michael has been bringing literally hundreds of tourists to see her in the gift shop, Alba has never heard No Funny Stuff perform in person. I met her on one of Michael’s tours some years ago. (She refers to me as her American friend, and I, in return refer to Alba as la mia bellissima amica Italiana). Or Mia Cara Alba on Facebook, which is how I stay in touch with all my Italian friends in between my visits to Rome. So, after a short taxi ride to Campo dѐ Fiori, we were at the Taba Café, all ready for a night of No Funny Stuff.


No Funny Stuff!
No Funny Stuff seems to improve with each performance, and the guys were really on their game at the Taba Café. Hearing all the music coming from the Taba, crowds of people started drifting across the Piazza to get closer to the music. Much to the dismay of the other café owners, who were losing their customers to the Taba and No Funny Stuff! So, about fifteen minutes before the band was supposed to finish, somebody called the cops! La Polizia showed up and the music stopped immediately. Apparently one of the other club managers saw nothing funny about all the attention that No Funny Stuff was drawing.

The next evening Michael and Laura called and invited me to join them for dinner at the beach in Ostia. An opportunity for me to dine on the shore of the Mediterranean doesn’t come too frequently in Texas, so I quickly accepted their kind invitation. Of course, they brought along Sofia, their swift, black Volpino, who was more than ready for a romp on the beach. As I’ve said, the Italians bring their dogs everywhere!
Michael, Laura, MikeBo at Ostia
 The Romans called the Mediterranean Mare Nostrum, (Our Sea) and woe betide any interloper (e.g. Carthaginian) who might attempt to wrest control from the mighty Roman Navy. We all went for a walk along the beach before dinner. I love the beach at twilight. The crowds of beachgoers have all left after a day in the sun, and the only people left are strollers like us.  And Sofia, who pursued her Frisby into the surf more than a few times. After our stroll and appropriate number of selfies, we walked back to the restaurant and sat down for dinner.  There is nothing like a fresh seafood dinner on the shores of Mare Nostrum, unless it’s lunch high above the Eternal City overlooking the Circus Maximus with the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Forum and the Coliseum in the distance.

I had invited Amina to join me for the July 4th Celebration at the American University of Rome. The
MikeBo and Amina on July 4th
entertainment was being provided by, surprise, my son Michael and his band, No Funny Stuff. I’ve rented Amina’s apartment several times since I’ve been traipsing back and forth from the U.S. and Rome, and we’ve become friends in the process. She is originally from Morocco and speaks four languages, while I struggle with just my Italian. After the Fourth of July celebration, we had plans to meet for dinner, but because of a communication problem on both our parts, she was leaving for Paris on a trip that would take her out of Rome past my departure date for the states. So, I was surprised to see a text message from her inviting me to come and meet her for lunch where she works. Amina works at FAO, the international food organization of the United Nations. It’s across from the Metro stop at Circo Massimo, the Circus Maximus, where the ancient Romans held their chariot races. (Yes, Charlton Heston fans, THAT Circus Maximus)!

What Amina hadn’t fully prepared me for was the intense security shield at her building. I’ve grown accustomed to the increased military and police presence at the landmarks in Rome since my first
Circo Massimo from FAO rooftop
trip in 2005. The Italian Army seems to be everywhere in Rome, and I had to walk by squad of troops to check in at the visitors’ lobby.  As I approached the bullet and blast-proof wall that awaited me, I had the unnerving feeling that I had a thousand unseen eyes focused on me. As I passed through the metal detector, I entered a cylindrical chamber which simultaneously scanned every inch of my body and acted as containment chamber for any explosive I might have concealed. I passed through this area only to face a person behind another wall of steel and glass. Do you have your ID? An anonymous voice asked. I slipped my Passport Card and my Texas drivers license into the slot. Both were returned a moment later. She will have to come down and get you. Now, she is not answering her phone, said the anonymous voice. I was instructed to step to one side and call Amina. A few minutes later, she arrived with a big smile on her face. Have any trouble? she giggled.

The view from the top of the building was breathtaking. After a few pictures, we enjoyed our salads on the top floor veranda shaded from the sun beneath an awning. The view and the lunchtime conversation were worth the price of admission.

On Saturday, Michael came over on his scooter to my place for another father and son outing. We walked to the bus stop and boarded a bus for the Laurentina Metro Station where we caught a train for the Coliseum. On the way, the skies opened, and it started raining. By the time we got to the Colosseo Metro stop, the terminal was jammed with tourists who had taken refuge from the sudden downpour. We waited for the rain to stop. When it did, my son gave his dad his best tour guide’s personal tour of the Coliseum and the Forum. Later, we met Laura for inner in Rome’s ancient Jewish Ghetto. More on that evening in future Rome Diaries.

This is my final blog from Rome, but not my final Diario di Roma Cinque. I’ll post a few more when I get back to Texas.  
Caio,
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 2019


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Giorno dell’Independenza!

DIARIO DI ROMA V
Sunday July 7, 2019
Sunny 90°F/32°C in Roma, Latium, Italia
Buonagiornata,

To most of us Americans, the July 4th holiday is strictly a party that’s thrown for domestic
consumption, within the confines of the continental USA. But, that’s not true. First, if we really want to celebrate the holiday, we should do it on July SECOND!  For it was on July 2, 1776 that the Continental Congress really voted to declare our independence from England.  However, my real point is that our Independence Day Celebration is not strictly a domestic celebration.  For, all around the world, American expatriates take their unique holiday with them. For the United States of America is not just a nation. It is an Idea, whose very future is being challenged on several fronts. But wherever Americans are celebrating on the Fourth of July, they take the celebration with them.  And, that is how I came to be at the American University of Rome…in Italy… on the Fourth of July this year!

My son Michael earned his degree at A.U.R. in 2005, after doing his undergraduate studies at
No Funny Stuff!
California State University – Sacramento. Living in Rome has taught him to maintain those old school ties. And so, every year he returns with his band – No Funny Stuff! to provide the music for the celebration. It was a closed affair – reservations were required. But the American faculty and students invited their Italian friends and their families, young and old, to join in the festivities.  It was an old-fashioned, down-home, neighborhood, truly AMERICAN celebration where the people of several nations got together to celebrate an IDEA. But this American picnic definitely had an Italian accent. As it should. The history of Italians in America shows that four million Italians immigrated to the United States between 1880 and 1924.  New York has the largest population of Italian Americans followed by New Jersey and California. Even Texas has more than 360,000 Italians living in the Lone Star State. (That might account for the fact that my favorite Italian restaurant is Mandola’s in Cedar Park, near where I live).

Picnickers munched on hot dogs and hamburgers and drank copious amounts of vino e birra  
4th of July Partiers at AUR
(soft drinks and juice for the bambini).
Even the band showed off its international composition. No Funny Stuff! is made up of one American (my son Michael) and three Italian musicians; Giuseppe “Seppe” Cassa, Fabio Gabbianelli, and Giuseppe Petti. NFS is what most Americans call a Jug Band! As the band’s Facebook page states,” No Funny Stuff is a poor man’s hokum – Bluegrass, Ragtime, Blues, Ragtime, Jug Band.” And, I might add, “with a pronounced Italian accent.”   The band played through its jug-band repertoire right until fireworks time and then had to move away from the area where the fireworks were to be set off from the rooftop overlooking the courtyard. The fireworks show was limited to aerial displays. That’s because the crowded buildings of Rome don’t allow for many wide-open spaces for static fireworks displays. Limited in scope, perhaps a little. But, overall, spectacular nonetheless!  Bear in mind, this scene was being played out around the world, as dusk made its appearance in every time
MikeBo and Ex-pat Friend
zone around our troubled globe. Americans celebrating the Fourth with their friends from all over the international community. As I said earlier, the celebration of American Independence is more of an Idea than just a celebration.

For me, it was a great evening because I realized just how many friends I have among the ex-pat community in Rome and how many connections there are to my life back home in the states.  I am constantly running into people whose families emigrated to the U.S. about the same time as my grandparents did, early in the Twentieth Century, and what we still have in common.  Spending a Fourth of July in a foreign country is an experience that I will treasure forever. The American Dream still shines brightly abroad, even if it has begun to dim back home.

Next time: On the road again with my favorite Jug Band!
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 2019



Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Il Mio Quartiere e Benvenuto!

DIARIO DI ROMA V
Wednesday July 3, 2019
Sunny and Hot 93°F/34°C in Roma, Latium, Italia
Buonagiornata,
                            
One of the reasons that I love my forays to Italy is that I get to hang out with my son Michael. After all, as he says, Pop! Just remember. All roads lead FROM Rome! Which is one of the little-known facts that he like to dazzle the folks on his tours.   I like to think that he inherited my love of history, and my appreciation for getting the facts straight. But, his love of music and his creativity, not to mention his performing abilities, he inherited from his mother. Donna was dancing and singing and performing well into her fifties. While she was in the position of marrying a guy with two left feet.

I like to think of my son as a renaissance man.  He’s a tour guide in Rome; he performs in a band; he
Padre e Figlio alla Barbiere!
teaches English; and he is an art aficionado of the first order. So, our conversations are rarely dull, even when we go out for a haircut together. On Tuesday, we walked down the little barbershop on Laurentina for a Taglia e Barba (haircut and beard trim). The barber had no sooner finished shampooing our hair, when Michael struck up a conversation – in Italian – with his barber. He then turned to me and reported; he says this barbershop has been here since 1957. Do you remember where you were in 1957? Sure! I answered that I was a Junior in high school and in my spare time, I was playing Polka records on the local radio station. My dad had just bought a new Dodge Custom Royal, and things were looking good for the Botula clan. Eisenhower was in his second term, and Sputnik had not orbited the earth yet. It was a welcome break in his incredibly busy career, and a chance for padre e figlio to catch up on family stuff.

Loosely translated, Il Mio Quartiere e Benvenuto, means My Neighborhood, and, Welcome to it!  I’m away from the heart of Rome by a fifteen-minute walk to the Laurentina Metro Station, which is the last stop on the system’s Linea “B.”  From Laurentina, all of Rome lies within a 35- or 40-minute
Fa Caldo!  (London Express  Map)
Metro ride… at my feet, EXCEPT when the mercury hovers around a blistering 100 degrees!  That’s when it’s more appealing for me to stay comfortably cocooned in in the cool comfort of my air-conditioned Airbnb apartment. I must admit that I am a terrible judge of Rome weather. Last year I arrived in January, which is a terrific month for avoiding the mobs at the Sistine Chapel. But I got cocky and decided to stay an extra month and got caught by a rare March snowstorm which left the city paralyzed for three days. Another time, I arrived in mid-August, a time when most Romans take their vacations and leave their city to hot, sweating tourists. It didn’t start to cool down that year until September. Even this year, I didn’t start my annual trip until mid-May, and by then, it was my son’s busy season…so I haven’t seen much of Michael on this trip, either. So, I’ve accepted the roll of the dice and am exploring my neighborhood, practicing my Italian on DuoLingo and watching a bit of Italian television. Thankfully, RAI News seems to be bereft of the American News Channels’ fixation on everything dealing with THE DONALD! Which is just as well…after I am on vacation, and what’s more I’M RETIRED. All the viewer sees of Mr. 45, is a quick set-up shot, and then the local announcer translates whatever Trump is saying into ITALIAN! At which point I ask you to imagine what that sounds like, especially since what he has to say doesn’t make much sense in English, either!

Last Friday, Michael introduced me to Grazia, an English student who is going to help me learn  Italian through a Language Exchange (cambio di lingua). We are scheduled to meet every week until I return to Texas, and she goes on holiday with her boyfriend. It’s much like two years ago when Michael introduced me to Monica, a career woman who wanted to learn English so she could deal better with her American clients. Grazia’s goal is to secure a position with an American company.

The heat has played Hob with my plans to get around Rome easily. Given a choice between a hot, steaming bus or subway car, not to mention those other sweaty bodies, and I’ll opt for my airconditioned pad every time.  Subways, buses and walking were my main transportation during my New York student days, and a few years later in San Francisco, especially when I got to know the Gripman on the cable cars on a first name basis.  It was approaching 100 degrees when German TV News carried the story that the U.S. was the only country on the face of the earth to decline to endorse the Argentine Climate Change Accords at the G-20 Summit. The Argentine Treaty is the follow-on to the Paris Climate Change Treaty, which the U.S. has already deep-sixed!  Meanwhile, the global temperature keeps going up and up and UP!

Over the past weekend, we went on one of my favorite trips, up to the neighboring Sabina and the
Dinner by Starlight!
village of Selci, where Laura’s parents have a country home. Even in Selci, it was CALDO! No sooner than we had taken lunch, it was time for siesta. And so, we all took naps in the coolness of the house’s three-foot thick masonry walls. It was dusk before Laura, Michael and I went shopping for dinner. By the time my son had worked his magic with the barbecue grill, the sun had set. The next day, Michael headed off with the rest of No Funny Stuff to play at a nearby wedding, and Sergio, Laura’s dad took us all out to a Festa, so we could munch on Cingale, the wild boar that roam the hills of Sabina. Then, Laura drove us back to Rome.

Domani, ѐ Giorno dell indipendenza! I’ll fill you in on how many Americans who are away from home are spending their 4th of July. Tanks! But, No Tanks!
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 2019


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

"When the Moon Hits Your Eye Like-a Big Pizza Pie!"

DIARIO DI ROMA V
Wednesday June 19, 2019
Sunny 88°F/31°C in Roma, Latium, Italia
Buonagiornata,

My buddy of longstanding – Roger Aldi gets a well-deserved credit for the title of this installment of my Rome Diary. Roger and I toiled long ago in the newsroom at KRLA, Pasadena under our erstwhile News Director Ron Robertson, whom I had known from my San Francisco days at KFOG radio, and he worked for archrival KPEN. So, that means that Roger and I worked together back in 19-ought-71. (I no longer refer to my friends of longstanding as old friends any longer, because, at my advanced age…they keep dropping like flies!) So, here’s the story of how my title came to be.

I was having dinner with my once and future Rome landlady, Mia, last Sunday night when I
Chiaro di Luna a Roma!
happened to look over the parapet of her top-floor terrace and gazed upon the largest moon I had ever seen in my life. I was so moved by the sight, that I unholstered my IPhone camera, and squeezed off a series of photos, which I posted on Facebook, the minute I returned to my own top-floor apartment. The next evening, I looked out from my own balcony and saw an even BIGGER moon. (They don’t even have moons that size in TEXAS!) I duly snapped another series of photos and duly posted another picture on Facebook under the title Moonlight In Roma II. In response, my buddy of longstanding – Roger - posted When the Moon Hits Your Eye, Like-a Big-a Pizza Pie…that’s Amore! That song was a hit for the late, great Dean Martin many more years ago than I care to remember.


Speaking of more years ago than I care to remember, the Città di Roma is fast approaching it’s
3,000th Anniversary! (Put another candle on YOUR birthday cake!) To honor the occasion, my son the tour guide loaned me his personal copy of historian Mary Beard’s scholarly tome, SPQR. (Senatus, Populusque Romanus – The Senate and the People of Rome!) I quickly purchased the Kindle version of the book and downloaded to my IPad so I could avoid lugging the actual book around. To this day, you can see SPQR emblazoned on every manhole cover in Roma. In truth, Benito Mussolini had a lot to do with wanting to restore the Roman Empire to its previous glory days during his heyday back in the 1930s. In fact, massive archaeological excavations dot the city along with massive examples of architettura fascista that still dot the landscape of Rome, especially in the neighborhood known as EUR, which was established specifically for Il Duce’s ill-fated quest for glory – The 1940 Rome World’s Fair. Too bad that Mussolini’s buddy, the German, spoiled everything for Il Duce, by invading Poland and starting World War Two, in September 1939. Mussolini had drained the massive swamp that covered what is now EUR, and everything, to prepare for HIS big show, but Hitler upstaged Mussolini with disastrous consequences, ultimately, for both. But, in terms of the History of Rome, WW2 passed in the flick of an eye.


My Italian teacher, Patrizia would be happy to know that I seem to be getting along in the language better on this trip than I have in the past. Since I finished Patrizia’s class last semester, I’ve signed up for Duolingo Plus, which involves a small fee, so I can practice my vocabulary every day. Then, I have the Google Translator on my IPhone, IPad and computer. I have a few key phrases on my IPhone so I can at least alert a stranger that I’m still learning the language. Italians, like Spanish speakers tend to talk faster than me, so I’m still taking baby steps with the language. I can go shopping for groceries, order at a restaurant comfortably now, but when I need to do a specific task at a neighborhood shop, I prepare the appropriate phrases with the translator. Now, I can get tickets for the bus or Metro at the Tabaccaio or buy more time for my internet service. For example, before I had dinner with Mia on Sunday, I stopped at the flower shop on way, as is the European custom, to buy her a plant. Knowing that she likes orchids, I crafted my request orchid, feeling proud.

I’ve rented Mia’s apartment several times now through Airbnb. Mia is Moroccan by birth and has now lived a considerable length of time in Italy. She speaks four languages including Arabic, French, Italian and English. She is, by far, one of the most interesting people I’ve met since I’ve been coming
La Bella MIA!
to Rome.  I now have a repertoire now of three apartments that I can stay at when I’m in Rome. I like the neighborhood. It’s within walking distance of Michael and Laura and 30 minutes from the center of Rome by Metro. (Just like when I used to live in Queens and would catch a bus or subway into Manhattan). Another apartment is owned by a retired Tunisian diplomat named Mohamed who lives in Rome part of the year and rents his place out when he is not in Rome. Last year I decided at the last minute to stay for another month, but Mia’s place was already booked, so we shopped around and found Mohamed’s apartment right down the street. This year, BOTH places were booked by the time I was ready to travel, but Laura was able to find a place to hang out for two months, close to the other two apartments in the same neighborhood, which I have come like very much. My third apartment – the one I’m staying in this time is owned by a woman who lives in Sweden. She has her brother and sister look after it when she’s not in Rome.

I like to stay for extended visits, in a place of my own choosing. I find my hosts to be more welcoming, and I am free to come and go as I please. Mia, for example, is rated as a Super Host by Airbnb. She gets consistently good reviews from renters for her hosting skills and the cleanliness and convenience of her apartment.  On the Airbnb website, her apartment is listed under: ROME, E.U.R. Comfort For Two.

A few years ago, I even flew to Amsterdam to visit an old flame. The years had passed, and we were both single again. It was a great visit, and she is gone now, but the days we had together, at that moment in our lives was indeed a treasure. Now, I have a craving to take my son and visit my grandparents’ hometown in the Czech Republic. But it is not to be this trip. Michael is simply too busy with his own work.

Too many people visit Italy on their holiday without really experiencing the people or the country. Since my   first visit in 2005, I have been to Florence, Naples, Milan, Pisa, Venice and points in between like Sabina and Pompeii. I have gotten to know some key members of Rome’s expatriate community, like Marsha De Salvatore, the one-woman powerhouse behind Rome’s Comedy Club. Marsha started her brand of ex-pat humor in Rome and is now expanding the concept. As she says, First stop Naples! Look out Firenze and Bologna! Marsha is already on tour with her one-woman comedy show up and down the length of Italy.

I am meeting some wonderful and interesting people here in Rome. Each new day is an adventure.
More, in the next exciting chapter of my Rome Diary Cinque (5).
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 2019


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

That Was The Week That Was!

DIARIO DI ROMA V
Wednesday June 12, 2019
Sunny 85°F/29°C in Roma, Latium, Italia
Buonagiornata,

(Writer’s Note:  I have been senza internet – without internet service since last Friday, hence the delay in posting my Rome Diary. Explanation to follow!)

Prima Domenica (My First Sunday)
I was rather rudely awakened from my jet-lagged induced slumber early on my first Sunday morning in Roma, by the roar of low-flying jet aircraft near to my top floor apartment. Since Fiumicino
Frecce Tricolori - Over Locarno
International Airport is not too far away, I wrote the sound off to some changes in the airport’s take-off pattern and momentarily ignored the sound. It wasn’t until the third or fourth time that the tranquility of my Sunday was interrupted by the jet noise, that I even thought to look through the glass door to my top-floor balcony. There, in precise formation, was a squadron of the Italian Air Force’s precision aerobatic team, the Frecce Tricolori!  The Frecce Tricolori is the Italian Air Force’s equivalent to the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels, or the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, both of which I have seen perform. So, I stood transfixed watching the Frecce Tricolori demonstrate the maneuvers that make them one of the top aerobatic teams in the world, over the city of ROMA! Obviously, the pilots were concentrating on their close quarter flying skills on this Sunday morning practice flight. There was not any trace of the colors they normally favor when Frecce Tricolori cast their multi-color smoke across the skies to form the Italian Tricolor flag across the heavens. No. On this recent Sunday morning, the pilots’ thoughts were focused on the basics of close formation flying, and none of their theatrics. But what a show they put on, just with their basics! Later, when I mentioned my early Sunday air show experience, my daughter-in-law, Laura, told me they were probably rehearsing for the Liberation Day festivities in Roma.

Please forgive my little side notes in Italiano, but I am in ROMA, and what’s more, I AM attempting to learn the lingo in these here parts.  I am NOT trying to infuriate some yokel whose life’s mission is to exhort all who are living in the US of A to SPEAK AMERICAN! I am, however, trying to learn the language, so that if I move here to live out, what I hope will be my long life, I will be able to chat up my new neighbors. So that is my reason for the occasional sprinkling of Italian in my Rome Diaries. Capisci?

Venerdì Scorso (Last Friday)

La Via Appia
I was having a second cup of coffee at my apartment and admiring the view from my balcony when the tranquility of the day was interrupted by the insistent buzz of my cell phone. It was my son, Michael inviting me to join him as he took his dog, Sofia, for a walk. I replied in the affirmative, and moments later, he texted me from downstairs that my chariot awaited. I quickly went through my usual ritual of locking my apartment. (With practice, it takes me only TEN minutes, now). And, off we went for a ride through the countryside, until we came to Parco Regionale Appia Antica, which has the Via Appia, the Apian Way, ancient Rome’s first highway as its centerpiece. La Via Appia once ran from the Roman Forum…350 miles south…to modern day Brindisi. Contrary to popular myth, as my tour guide son delights in telling his guests, the saying is NOT All roads lead TO Rome, but, All roads lead FROM Rome! As the Roman Empire expanded, Roman engineers connected the new colonies with home base through a network of military highways, that quickly became useful for commerce, like Germany’s autobahnen or our own Interstate Highway System.

Narrow by modern standards, roads like the Appian Way were the superhighways of Antiquity, two thousand years ago. Along some parts, the original paving stones can still be seen, complete with the deep grooves worn by countless chariots and wagons over the centuries. Along this stretch of the Appian Way, modern villas share the landscape with the ruins of ancient tombs and towers.

Rome’s Comedy Club
For me, no trip to Rome is complete without a visit to Marsha De Salvatore’s brainchild and gathering place for English-speaking expatriates from around the world. Marsha Cincinnati, as she
Marsha and RCC Troupe - 2018
likes to be called, is the driving force behind Rome’s Comedy Club, which convenes monthly at the Makai Surf and Tiki Bar, which is a short walk from the Piramide Metro Station, (which is how I measure distance in Rome). Among his other talents, Michael has done his stand-up comedy routine several times with Marsha’s troupe of regulars.  In addition to being the motivating force behind Rome’s Comedy Club, Marsha is on tour up and down the Italian peninsula with her own one-woman show. Marsha’s audience is drawn from Rome’s large ex-pat community, but all are welcome at her shows. The routines are always changing, as are the comics who may come and go, depending on their own career tracks, but are always welcome to return to try out a new routine, or simply renew old acquaintances.

Sabato Scorso (Last Saturday)

No Funny Stuff!
How have I managed to NOT mention No Funny Stuff! until now?  Well, my son and his three Italian buddies have not performed since my arrival. This night, the Pride of Italy Jug Band, is doing a benefit performance at a symposium on “Saving the Planet Through Recycling.” (My words, not theirs). Since No Funny Stuff builds its own instruments out of life’s leftovers like olive oil cans and old suitcases, not to mention the bells and washboards …. It seemed like a great idea for a symposium on recycling. So, there I was, in the front row snapping pictures, while the dialogue swirled around me … in ITALIAN!

Well, No Funny Stuff! will be performing in Switzerland this weekend, since their van only holds the four of them and their equipment, I will be stay behind in Rome. But I can’t help but wonder how the Swiss customs officials will react when they spot all that recycling that makes up the No Funny Stuff!  instrument collection.

Giovedi (Thursday)
Took the Metro down to Colosseo to meet Michael for lunch during one of his tour breaks. The famous Flavian Amphitheater is just steps away from the Metro Station. I had taken the Metro train
Padre e Figlio al Collosseo!
down from the Laurentina Metro Station, and I arrived slightly before my son showed up. So, I did what any other tourist would do. I sat on a nearby wall and people-watched until Michael showed up. In front of me, signs on a construction fence informed that the front of the Coliseum would soon host the site of Il Colosseo’s new terminal for the long-awaited Linea C, the Rome Metro’s “C Line.” The new subway line has been delayed for years because the excavation work has unearthed thousand of ancient artifacts. So much so, that any time there is digging, an archaeological team watches closely to assess whatever may be found.

The Coliseum is probably one of Rome’s greatest tourist attraction. It was the first place I headed on my first trip to Rome in 2005, and I’ve been since many times since then.  Each time, Michael has managed to dispel some of the myths that have been woven into the fabric of its history. For instance; while gladiators did fight to the death, and condemned criminals were torn to shreds by wild animals, most of the persecution of early Christians took place at nearby Circo Massimo, the Circus Maximus, the site of Charlton Heston’s great chariot race in the movie Ben-Hur! (Don’t forget the silent film version starring Ramon Navarro). Another tid-bit. A thumbs down by the Emperor did NOT signify the death penalty for the hapless gladiator. That was reserved for thumbs UP. And a thumb displayed to the side meant Ugula. If that sign was displayed, it meant that the hapless combatant would quickly be dispatch by a quick slash to his Jugular!                                                              
Following my briefing on the finer points of gladiatorial combat, we walked over to a restaurant called Propaganda, where we ordered two tasty salads and a bottle of mineral water.  Later on we stopped for an ice cream at a gelateria on our way back to the Metro. My adventure by subway to Roma Centro was complete!

Ci vediamo! (See you soon!)
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 2019