Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tempus Fugit!

Diario di Roma Tre
Wednesday March 29, 2017
Sunny 71°F/22°C in Roma, EUR, Italia 00144
Partly Cloudy 79°F/26°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
I’m past the halfway point in my current Roman Holiday, but there is still a lot to see and do
Up is THAT way, Mike!
before I board the big bird and wing my way back over the Atlantic. I had bailed on my Italian class at Austin Community College in order to make the trip, but I hope to convince
il mia insegnante, Patrizia, that it was a worthwhile trade-off. Michael has arranged for one of his students to meet with me several times a week in a language exchange.  My new co-learner is una bella donna Italiana named Monica who wants to learn English in time for her U.S. vacation later this year. I, of course am il signore americano  who is trying to learn Italian. Michael has hosted our first two classes, but is leaving us on our own when next we meet over lunch.  I have given Monica my Kindle with the same English-Italian dictionary and phrase book that I have on my IPad.  My fail-safe is Google Translator, which I have on both my IPhone and IPad. But basically we are on our own. You might have noticed my inclusion of Italian words and phrases  in more of my blogs lately. That’s intentional on my part. It’s not because I’m a show-off, but, if these Rome Diary blogs are going to have any value in helping a future traveler, it’s always nice to know some of the local language, and besides, I need the practice.
 The language exchange scheduled for Monday had to be postponed because Monica had to travel to Milano for work. I walked around my neighborhood to hit the Bancomat and catch up on a bit of grocery shopping at the Elite Supermercato. It’s a daily trip for me, because, unlike back home in Texas where I go shopping only once or twice a week, but put all the stuff in the back of my pick-up, I am limited to what I can carry with me on the walk back to the apartment. One night after Laura dropped me off, I discovered to my absolute shock, that the front entryway lock had been broken. I was locked out of the building. My efforts to ring up my landlady via the apartment intercom, proved fruitless. She had also been locked out and had gone to a friend’s house for the evening. I was in a predicament that I couldn’t talk my way out of because I couldn’t speak Italian well enough. Fortunately, one of the neighbors appeared with two big bags of groceries. She saved the day by using the intercom to call upstairs to her husband, who buzzed us both into the building. This was a lock myself out scenario that I had definitely NOT anticipated.  All was well again by the next day after the lock had been replaced and new keys issued to the tenants.
My son has kept himself busy showing me around with new adventures mixed in to the tried and true. One afternoon, we went for a stroll along la via appia
, the first paved highway in the
Michael and MikeBo along the Appian Way
ancient world, straight as a die from Rome to Brindisi. The Appian Way was built way before highway engineers discovered
freeway hypnosis, and built curves into their roadways to keep drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. The ancient roadway is a favorite of walkers and bicyclists, and an occasional farm vehicle or resident’s car heading home to one of the villas along the route.
Another afternoon, Michael picked me up and we headed downtown for a visit to the Musei Capitolini, the Capitoline Museum, which abuts what is now Rome’s City Hall. The museum dates back to Rome’s Imperial days and is Europe’s oldest museum, just chock full of artifacts and statuary including the famous bronze statue of the she-wolf
"Mom" with Remus and Romulus
nursing the infant boys Remus and Romulus. Just before closing time Michael took me to the terrace for a fabulous view of the Forum below and explained the path that triumphal path the Roman Legions would take on their return from victories on far-flung battle fields, passing through a series of triumphal arches en route to being welcomed home by the Emperor. Later, as we retraced our steps downward along what seemed to me to be the longest staircase on Earth, I made another wisecrack about the ancient Romans and their lack of concern for anyone with a physical disability.
Dad! Said my son, with no small amount of disdain in his voice, in ancient times, the penitents would go UP these stairs on their KNEES! As I’ve noted previously, the Romans are bred from hardy stock.
As we proceeded down Capitoline Hill, Michael suggested we walk through Rome’s ancient Jewish Ghetto. As anti-semitism welled up  in the Middle Ages, Rome’s Jews were herded into this
Rome's Forum
narrow area along the Tiber. Here they lived in spite of the severe restrictions imposed on them. One example is the multi-storied synagogue at the center.
Since the Jews were allowed to build only one synagogue, and there were several denominations among them, my son told me, they built ONE synagogue with several floors. By then it was after 7:30 p.m., the Roman dinner hour and the various restaurants were beginning to serve. Anyone of these places appeal to you, dad? Michael asked. One sign caught my eye, Bellacarne Kosher Grill, cucina ebraica! Our Kosher meal in the heart of one of Europe’s oldest ghettoes was delicious. Later, as we walked back to our car, we strolled by the spot were hundreds of people were massacred during World War 2 by the Nazis. The shadows of a dark past are always present in modern Rome. In one afternoon, we had strolled through a thousand years of Roman History.

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site
© By Mike Botula 2017

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Emperor’s Country Estate!

Diario di Roma Tre
Thursday March 23, 2017
Partly Cloudy 62°F/17°C in Roma, EUR, Italia 00144
Cloudy 67°F/19°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime. Mark Twain

         Many first-time visitors to Italy bring with them travel plans that are simply far too ambitious.  And, I’ll quickly admit that my first visit to Rome fell right into this category. Over a dinner in Trastevere on my first night in Italy, my son asked me, so what are your plans for your two weeks in Italy? I laid out my game plan which included a few days in Rome with a side trip to Pom
MikeBo, Rebecca, Laura, Michael
peii, then a couple of days in Florence and a few more after that in Venice. Oh, and of course we wanted to visit Pisa to see the leaning tower. Then, if we had time, I had thought about attending the opera at
La Scala in Milan! As it turned out, I didn’t even get to Pompeii that trip. In fact, I never left Rome. It has taken four or five additional trips to visit all the cities that were on my original wish list. And I still haven’t been to the opera – in Milan or anywhere else.
      In addition to teaching English and playing in a popular band in Rome, my son is a professional tour guide with the City Wonders company.  So, I have tagged along with him on City Wonders tours all around Rome, Pompeii, Florence and Venice. In Rome, everyone wants to see the
Hadrian's Castle and Michael-2005
Coliseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, Hadrian’s Castle, Trevi Fountain and St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican. Now, with a few trips to Italy under my belt, I’m able to branch out. So, this past weekend, Michael called a friend of his to ask a favor, and off we went on another adventure to an ancient wonder.

Now, every tour guide in Rome has their own favorite places, where they take their friends when they are not on the clock for their employer. Rebecca Bright’s favorite place is La Villa Adriana. This was her day off, but since Michael’s Dear old Dad was in town, Rebecca offered to show us around Hadrian’s country estate. So, off we went on a 29 kilometer (18 mile) jaunt to the countryside near Tivoli.
      The grandeur that was Rome is visible througout the Eternal City. The images that come most readily to mind are the Coliseum and the triumphal arch alongside. There’s the Forum, the Pantheon and Castel San Angelo, tomb of the Emperor Hadrian.   Hadrian,  who reigned from AD 117 to AD 138 was a builder who left his imprint throughout Rome and the Empire beyond. Under his reign, Rome consolidated its empire and the glory days began to recede. In order to preserve Roman territories in Brittania, Hadrian built his famous wall across northern England near the present day  border wth Scotland. An early wall, like the 20th century Berlin Wall that never lived up to its expectations.
      Considered to be the third of the Five Good Emperors by historians, Hadrian actually ruled his empire from Villa Adriana, during the later years of his reign. The villa sprawled over 350 acres
and had a permanent population of about a thousand people who helped Hadrian tend to the
Villa Adriana
business of empire since the Emperor did not feel comfortable at the Imperial palace on Palatine Hill. The villa is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a soft spot in Rebecca’s heart. Visitors to the villa usually stop at the visitors center at the entrance. On display is a model of Villa Adriana as it was when Hadrian ruled. The structures and the gardens are breath-taking. At the center is a large reflecting pool reminiscent of the one on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There are the ruins of a huge bathhouse, an ancient fitness center available at no cost to all citizens and operated by hundreds of slaves. Within the city, the Emperor had several places reserved for his exclusive use, either when he preferred solitude or when he wished to entertain a few special guests.

       Villa Adriana is definitely worth seeing, if your schedule allows. We made it a full day’s outing with a leisurely drive to the country, a delightful lunch at a local ristorante in Tivoli and several hours of prowling through the ruins of Villa Adriana. It was a busman’s holiday for Rebecca, but a whole new experience for the rest of us. I would strongly suggest that the next time you travel to new places, that you ask your guide where he or she takes their friends on their day off.

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site

© By Mike Botula 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Flashbacks and Distant Memories!

Diario di Roma Tre
Sunday March 19, 2017
Cloudy 57°F/14°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00143
Mostly Clear 67°F/19°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
       La chiava rossa si apre la porta d’ingresso! My son Michael was giving me a combination tour of my new apartment and another Italian lesson. (The RED key opens the entrance door). La
Mike, Bike & Tiny Elevator
grande chiava, piatta apre la porto corridoio dell’appartamento. E la chiave d’argento apre la porta al suo interno.
(The big, flat key opens the hallway door to the apartment, and the silver key opens the inside door).
       I think that one of the reasons why I enjoy my visits to Rome so much is that I am reminded of my early days in New York City. I had graduated from high school, and was going to a broadcasting school in mid-town Manhattan trying to jumpstart my career in radio. After growing up in a small town about one hundred miles east of Manhattan, I was on my own going to school in the Big Apple. Now, I am sixty-something years past that youthful experience, and once again, on my own and experiencing life in a big city, Rome!

Big cities seem to breed small apartments, and mine is no exception. Michael and Laura found this one for me through AirBnB, the internet rental. It’s in a large building along Vialle delle Oceano Atlantico in the EUR district of Rome, just a few blocks from the Laurentina metro stazione, at the end of the Metro B line. EUR (roughly pronounced air) is a residential and business district
My Neighborhood
south of Rome’s center. It was developed back in the 1930s as the designated site for the 1942 World’s Fair, which Benito Mussolini envisioned as a showcase for his
 Fascist Paradise, but World War II put an end to il Duce’s bright idea. EUR stands for Esposizione Universale Roma. (Pardon the digression into Roman trivia, but EUR has mystified me since my first visit. Laura finally explained part of my mystery. I also used Google).

Coincidentally, many years ago, I had another small apartment in an area designated as a World’s Fair site – the Flushing section of Queens, in New York City. That was the site of the 1939 New York World’s Fair (the last before WW2 captured the world’s attention) and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. My new digs are on the sixth floor of the building, which requires a ride in a tiny elevator slightly larger than the phone booth that Clark Kent used to change clothes in. My kitchen is a reflection of that European scale of living. I have a small table and two chairs along with a sink, a washing machine, and a small refrigerator topped by a small microwave, a two burner electric hot plate on the counter top shoe-horned into a room about 6 feet by 7 feet. Unlike my two bedroom Texas apartment back home, my Rome digs has no dishwasher. Dishes are handwashed and drip-dryed in a rack installed in the cabinet above the sink. Italians, as I discovered on my previous trips,
My Tiny Kitchen
do not believe in clothes dryers. Laundry is done in the washing machine and then dried on portable drying racks like my mom used to do when she was first married in New York City. The scaled-down size of the appliances, like the fridge reflect the fact that everything has to be brought up in that tiny elevator. There are no oversize freight elevators.

There’s another thing that takes a little getting used to. The heat comes on only at certain times of the day for the comfort of the residents, and is turned off for the night around 11 p.m. or Midnight. That’s why I not only have a quilt on the bed, but an extra blanket and I’m wearing pajamas for the first time since I was a little kid. The bathroom is built on the same scale as a bathroom in an American motor home.  I have to carefully plan my turn-arounds in the tiny doccia, or shower. But, it is a well lit, airy little apartment and I am quite comfortable in it. But, I am looking forward to my big two bedroom, two bath with living room, full kitchen and washer-dryer steps away from the dishwasher apartment in Texas.
       My landlord, Kurt, another American ex-pat lives on the top floor just above. One Friday, he and Amina invited Michael and I up for a little nosh and a little socializing to welcome me to Rome. Kurt has lived in Rome for 28  years and as we talked about life’s roads that we’ve both traveled we discovered that we both grew on Long Island within miles of each other. The charming Amina is originally from Morocco and speaks several languages, Italian and French among them. A delightful evening, even after the conversation turned to American politics. Everywhere I go – when the locals hear my American accent, I am asked what I think about the new U.S. President. Then they will tell me that Italy survived Berlusconi. America will survive Donald Trump! Emilio Berlusconi is the egotistical media mogul who was the two-term President of Italy and is now being prosecuted for corruption. Not to worry, Mike. Romans are survivors as are Americans! You’ll be OK. Well, enough of that. After all, this IS a vacation for me.
        One of my British ex-pat acquaintances is also a journalist. At our ex-pat get together John invited me to a benefit concert for a group of fellow journalists who are being sued by the United Nations Food Program. Who’s being sued, I asked. Well. There’s ME, replied John, and several others. So, several days later, Michael and I and Laura, and Beppe Cassa, one of the other musicians from No Funny Stuff trooped dutifully to a Rome nightclub for dinner and an evening of vintage American Jazz and Folk Singing by Brit Simon Finn who flew in from London especially to lend his support to John, his long time friend. The evening reminded me of long-ago nights in various pubs in the heart of Greenwich Village in the late 1950s, when an as-yet-unknown folk singer named Bob Dylan was singing his heart out for tips at the Café Wha?
         This is now about my fifth or sixth trip to Rome, Michael has been here for the past fourteen years, working as a teacher and tour guide. Laura was born here. So, it’s safe to say they both know
Michael, Laura and Me
the city very well. I’m getting more and more familiar with it with every visit. Most vacationers see it only once, usually on a very overcrowded travel schedule that sees them dashing from one city to the next trying to cram as much adventure as they can into two or three weeks, not counting time out to deal with jet lag. But, people like Michael who actually live here begin to experience Rome in all its nuances. That’s what I am beginning to experience as well. So instead of booking into a four or five-star hotel with all the other American tourists, I’ve settled into a small Roman apartment in a neighborhood where I can shop or walk for blocks without hearing any English spoken. I’m beginning to see Rome as it really is, and I am becoming even more enamored of it. Next time I’ll take you to a place where relatively few tourists venture because it's away from the center of the city, and introduce you to an Emperor who built a wall to keep out intruders. ‘Nuff said!


[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site
© By Mike Botula 2016

Friday, March 17, 2017

My Not So Happy Journey to Nettuno and Anzio!

Diario di Roma Tre
Friday March 17, 2017
Cloudy 66°F/ 19°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Sunny 63°F/ 17°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00128
       When my folks bought the house in Riverhead, Long Island where my brother and I grew up, I started second grade at the Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. It was 1947. I was the new kid in
American Cemetery, Nettuno, Italy
a new school. Most of my classmates had started together in kindergarten two years before. In fact, the teacher had introduced me at the start of the class, telling everybody that I had attended first grade at rural Aquebogue Elementary School, my mom was a registered nurse and my dad had served in the U.S. Navy during the war. So for the second time in a year, I was meeting new friends and classmates. Most of those getting to know you conversations focused on basic questions like, do you have any brothers and sisters?, how old are you?, where do you go to church?, does your mom work or does she stay home? and, what does your father do? Did he kill any Japs in the war? These were talking points that led, in many cases, to the formation of life-long friendships.
       Eager to fit in with the other second graders, I joined in these childhood conversations, asking each new acquaintance about their families and making new friends until I happened to ask one little boy what his dad did. His smile was replaced with a very sad look, and he stammered, choking back a tear. Oh, I don’t have a dad any more. He was killed in the war! I hadn’t expected an answer like that, and I was dumbstruck. Mumbling a whispered Oh, I’m sorry, I slunk off to another corner of the playground. When I got home from school that afternoon, I told my mother what had happened. As it turned out, my mother knew the little boy’s family and the story about his father’s death. I would meet other classmates who had lost their dads in the war, but, this was my first experience with this kind of tragedy, and I was badly shaken by what the boy had told me. His father was killed at a place called Anzio, my mother told me. It’s in Italy. With that, she went over to  our bookcase and brought back the globe that she had used to follow my fathers wartime journeys around the world aboard the LST 920. Anzio is right here, she explained as she pointed to a place on the coast of Italy, not far from Rome. Your friend’s father was a soldier in the U.S. Army. His unit was part of the Allied invasion force trying to liberate Italy from the Nazis. He was killed by the Germans. That’s why your new friend doesn’t have a father. You are lucky! Your dad came home safe and sound, but a lot of boys and girls weren’t so lucky. That’s why you have to work hard to be a good friend to that little boy. Some kids don’t understand, and make fun of children like him. It was an important lesson in compassion.
          The Anzio beachhead is part of what Winston Churchill called the soft underbelly of Europe! Churchill had persuaded Franklin D. Roosevelt to launch an Allied invasion from North Africa
Bill Mauldin Cartoon -" Up Front" 1944
through Sicily onto the Italian coast south of Rome to outflank the Germans. Following Sicily, the Allies landed at Salerno, Anzio and the nearby port of Nettuno. But as General Mark Clark, commander of the U.S. Fifth Army later
  commented, the soft underbelly turned out to be a tough old gut! It took Allied forces more than four months of the bloodiest fighting of the war to break the Nazis steel ring. The Allies-U.S., British and Canadian troops had selected an area of reclaimed marshland surrounded by mountains around Anzio as the invasion site, counting on the element of surprise for the success of the invasion. Allied strategy counted on quickly breaking out of the landing area, taking control of the mountains and moving forward to surprise the German forces under Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. But, the American commander, General John P. Lucas delayed the advance so he could consolidate his positions at the beach. A big mistake! When the Allied force broke out four months later, General Lucas was relieved of his command and sent home.  The Germans reacted quickly to invading forces and quickly seized the high ground over the beach. For months they rained artillery fire down on Allied troops below. Both sides suffered horrendous casualties.  The Germans and Italian forces suffered 40,000 casualties with 5,000 killed in action and 35,000 wounded, missing or taken prisoner. The Americans, British and Canadians sustained 43,000 casualties including 7,000 killed in action and 36,000 wounded or missing. Anzio was one of the bloodiest battles fought during World War 2.
        Many years later, I have become a regular visitor to Italy. My expatriate son Michael is married to an Italian woman and has made his life in Rome, which I’ve come to consider as my second home. His job as a tour guide takes him not only to the sites of ancient cities like Pompeii and Ostia Antica, but some of the famous battle sites of both World Wars. In fact, the first time I visited Pompeii, our tour bus passed by Montecassino and Anzio. After I told the story  about my friend in grade school, Laura said, Then we should go to the American Cemetery in Nettuno. Last Saturday, we did just that. And, as we toured the memorial hall at the visitors center, my childhood memory came face to face with my study of World War 2 history as an adult. During my research for my own book about my father’s Navy service (LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target, Amazon Books), I had been captivated by Bill Mauldin’s wartime cartoon saga of Willie and Joe, his typical GI’s trying  to survive the war. I had read the legendary war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s book Brave Men cover to cover many times.  Then, after my own move from California to Texas last year, I discovered another bit of history to weave into this story. The Lone Star State’s 36th Infantry Division which fought in this campaign and suffered very heavy losses at the Battle of the Rapido River. It wasn’t only the distant memory of a young classmate’s grief that prompted me to make this pilgrimage. My parents had friends of theirs who lost loved ones at Anzio or Salerno along the Allies road to Rome on June 5, 1944 – the day before the D-Day invasion at Normandy.  And, among the thousands of troops from every state in the union were the sons of Italian immigrants who had left their homeland years be    fore seeking new opportunities and the freedom to fulfill their dreams in America. Many of these new immigrants and children of immigrants still had close relatives here in the old country. For them, the war was personal! Members of their own families were going hungry and dying because the land they loved had fallen under the boot heels of tyrants. Now, nearly eight decades after the guns fell silent, nearly 8,000 of them rest under the white travertine crosses in the American cemetery.
          One of the Texans from the 36th Infantry Division, Captain Henry T. Waskow of Belton, a small town in central Texas, was immortalized by Ernie Pyle in what came to be his most famous wartime column. Captain Waskow was idolized by his fellow Texans, and his death was a
Captain Henry T. Waskow
devastating blow to his comrades. Correspondant Pyle was on hand that moonlit Italian night near Anzio, when Waskow’s body was brought down the mountain on the back of a pack mule. As Pyle tells the story…..

          Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.
               "After my own father, he came next," a sergeant told me.
                "He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He’d go to bat for us every time."
                 "I’ve never knowed him to do anything unfair," another one said.
                I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow’s body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked.
                Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.
               Like cartoonist Bill Mauldin and the other great war correspondents, Ernie Pyle covered the war from the point of view of the individual GI’s doing the fighting and dying.  He revealed moments in wartime with well chosen words that even a photograph cannot capture, like Captain Waskow’s men saying their farewells.
Ernie Pyle
                One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, "God damn it." That’s all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, "God damn it to hell anyway." He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.
                 Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: "I’m sorry, old man."
                 Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:
                 "I sure am sorry, sir."
           Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.
            And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.
              Captain Henry T. Waskow is buried here at the American Military Cemetery at Nettuno along with 7,800 other heroes of the Sicily-Anzio-Rome Campaign. Captain Waskow is buried in Plot G, Row 6, Grave 33. I don’t where my young classmate’s father is buried, but I paid my respects to him as well. I’m sure that my friend would have done the same for me.

(Excerpts from: The Night They Brought Captain Waskow Down, from Brave Men, Ernie Pyle, University of Nebraska Press 1944.)

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site , and is linkedto Facebook,  Twitter and Google Plus!]
© By Mike Botula 2016

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Getting Settled!

Diario di Roma Tre
Tuesday March 14, 2017
Cloudy  63°F/17°C back home in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Partly Cloudy  61°F/16°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00143
           As Beppe Cassa drove Michael and I downtown to Roma Centro Sunday night to meet our friends for the evening, I couldn’t help thinking…If New York City and San Francisco have pot holes
My "Welcome" Mat
like Rome, then Western civilization as a whole has an infrastructure problem, and we are all doomed!
Gads, what a jarring ride! It was the same in Nettuno, a port city about 30 miles south of Rome, when we were there on Saturday.
         Even though I’ve been to Rome before and have gotten acquainted with it, it takes me some time to reacclimate myself. First hurdle is the jet lag that accompanies each of my transatlantic flights. I’ve been here almost a week, but I’m still feeling the effects of my 4,400 mile, seven time zone journey. Michael and Laura always do a great job of making me feel at home and getting me settled in. This morning after I showered and had my morning coffee, I headed up the street to the nearby market where I shopped for a few items for my apartment and checked out the neighborhood. This is a different neighborhood than the one I stayed in almost four years ago. It is just a short distance from Michael and Laura’s home, which makes it convenient for visiting, but far enough away to ensure each other’s  privacy. Right next to
Michael and Beppe Cassa
the market is a little restaurant or
bar, which dispenses sandwiches and other light fare along with caffé, vino and other bevando alcoliche. The neighborhood reminds me of a similar neighborhood in Queens when I was working in New York City, or my little corner of San Francisco when I was doing radio in The City. Everything one needs can be found in the neighborhood, and it is usually within walking distance of home. For longer distances there is the bus or the metro, Rome’s two-line subway system. The A line and B line will eventually be joined by the C line, but there have been ongoing delays in this project, which has taken on the historic delays of New York City’s effort to build a new  subway line under Second Avenue.
         Rome’s C Line subway construction has been frequently halted by the discovery  of antiquities along its planned routed.  Rome is more than 2,000 years old and built in layers piled high upon itself, like a wedding cake as my son the tour guide frequently explains to his enthralled fans. When any antiquities are spotted, work is halted while teams of archaeologists survey and evaluate and decide what the contstruction crews can do next. Rome will probably get to be 3,000 years old before the new subway line is running. There is a main boulevard that comes to an abrupt halt for no apparent reason, because some 4,000 year old Etruscan ruins were uncovered. God only knows when the construction of the boulevard will resume, if ever.
          Following our visit with the other ex-pats, it was just a short walk to Piazza Repubblica and a one-stop metro ride to the Termini train station when we changed to the other metro line for the ride out to Palassport where Laura would pick us up for the short ride home.
          The exchange rate – Euros to dollars is pretty good right now 1= $1.06 USD. I generally order a few hundred Euros from my bank before I even get on the plane. Then instead of cashing travelers checks along the way, I visit a local Post Office or bank ATM to get the cash I need along the way. By the way, I always let my bank or credit union and the companies that issue the credit cards I plan on using on the trip that I am going to be out of the country, so they would think that some unscrupulous hacker has purloined my credit card. Make sure, too, that all of the debit and credit cards you will be using are the new chip cards. They are the standard in Europe. Your old magnetic stripe card may not work. As an extra precaution, I replaced my pocket wallet, my travel wallet and my passport holder that I wear around my neck with RFID blocking cases, so some sly hacker/thief with a pocket scanner can’t read my credit card numbers.
          If you don’t speak the language of the country you are visiting, don’t fret. Travelers are eased along their way with pictograms and multilingual signs at airports and train stations. It helps to invest in a conversational course in the language of the country you’ll be traveling to, or failing that, download a book of phrases and key words onto your Kindle. I’ve got the Google Translator App on my IPhone and IPad. The Google app even scans and translates written material. Local folks will appreciate the fact that you are trying to communicate with them and will generally try to return your effort. An attitude of America First! or Speak American! Will get you no where. That’s an attitude best left at home.

[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site , and is linkedto Facebook,  Twitter and Google Plus!]
© By Mike Botula 2017

Saturday, March 11, 2017

My Newest Roman Holiday!

Diario di Roma Tre (3)
Saturday March 11, 2017
 Sunny 69°F/21°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00143
It’s the first full day of my newest Roman Holiday. As you know from reading my earlier Rome Diaries, this is NOT a Rick Steves travel blog.  I spend most of my time OFF the beaten path.
Il Colosseo, Roma
  So, you’re not going to get the latest  scoop on the five star hotels or the newest “foo-foo” resort to catch the fancy of the Zagat Guide. My blogs are more of a survival guide for American travelers venturing out of their native land for the first time. And, in this time of political turmoil, it might be nice to have some alternatives in case Uncle Donald sends you a tweet cancelling your American citizenship. I can’t help but think as I make this particular trip that I am also seeing my vacation journey through the eyes of a potential refugee. Since I am writing this entire blog series from outside of the country, I won’t know for sure if anyone is government follows my blogs until I am asked for my passport a month hence at JFK International in NY. So then…..
After a three hour flight from Austin’s Bergstrom International Airport to JFK International in the Borough of Queens, New York and a five hour layover for a grilled reuben sandwich (pastrami, swiss cheese and kraut grilled on Rye) I spent the next eight hours on an Alitalia flight from NY to Rome in an end seat across the aisle from a colicky infant who screamed all the way across the Atlantic. This was somewhat offset by the kid behind me who expressed his opinion of the screaming baby by keeping time with the cries with kicks to the back of my seat. After I glowered at the tyke over the top of my seat, his mom banished him to an aisle seat at the opposite end of the row. (Most Italians talk with their hands. I don’t know what this little twerp’s ethnicity was, but his feet spoke a language all their own). So, I spent most of the flight with the headset clamped tightly over my ears with the sound off – like earmuffs – while I watched the little cartoon airplane on the video screen in front of me traverse the map of the Atlantic. After a stop at Michael and Laura’s house for coffee and the obligatory Benvenuto a Roma “selfie” with Sofia the family’s black Volpino, we drove over to a il Mercado for a few domestic supplies. The grocery tab including a packet of Lavazza coffee came to about 28 Euros and change ($28.60 USD), which I paid for with a crisp, new 50 Euro bill ($52.87 USD). Michael headed off to work to let me get settled in. He had already unpacked my one suitcase, so all that was left for me was .to arrange the voltage adapters and plug in my laptop and my Sonicare. I awoke two hours later stiff as a board – the effects of Rome’s cool weather on my arthritis, and 14 hours sitting in a cramped Economy-class jetliner suite in my own imitation of a sardine packed into an itty-bitty can.
Obligatory Selfie 
neighborhood close by to get me settled into the sixth floor apartment where I will be staying for the month. We took inventory and then headed up the street to
My first evening was spent with Michael and Laura with a delightful home-cooked meal and lots of catch-up family chatter. Since my first visit in 2005, Rome has become my second home, and I long ago decided that in spite of the language barrier, I would not mind at all becoming an expatriate and settling down for the duration, whatever that may be.  Toward the end of the evening Laura and I made plans to have lunch the next day while Michael went to work, so she could show me around my new neighborhood. I returned to my vacation pad, and shortly after I got home, decided to hit the feathers so Morpheus could sooth my jet lag. When I regained consciousness it was almost noon the next day.
Sometime between my departure from JFK and my arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport, Laura’s sister, Chiara gave birth to a baby girl, a big first for Chiara and Maurizio. Little Noemi thus made Laura La Zia (aunt Laura) and Chiara and Laura’s parents, Sergio and Annamaria first time Nonno e Nonna (Nonni = grandparents). That makes Michael il zio. But he’s a veteran at being an uncle – his sister has five children – two boys and three girls. So, I am Nonno, too.  Chiara had Noemi in a maternity hospital that is part of the Italian government health system. Unlike many American hospitals which seem to encourage family picnics in the delivery room to promote family togetherness, this hospital was decidedly Old School. Visiting hours are short and strictly enforced. The newborns maybe viewed by family and friends through the windows of the nursery where the tykes are on display for onlay a set time. Noemi was #41 and was five rows back in the gaggle. Nonno, Nonna and la zia are rightly proud of la nipoti.
Sergio and Laura and I left Annamaria to visit a bit longer with Chiara, so we decided to walkespresso. As we left the hospital I asked to take Sergio and Laura’s picture in front of the graffiti which covers the façade of the hospital. This is big city graffiti with a decidedly Italian touch, and only an Italian mind would tolerate any graffiti on the front of any hospital. But, this spray art is special. Instead of LA-style gang graffiti with gang signs and slogans, these scribblings are greetings and congratulations to the newborns and their parents. If this occurred in LA, SWAT would be summoned.
Nonno Sergio e Zia Laura 
across the street for an
It was over coffee a few minutes later that Sergio asked me the question that I most feared, but one that I fully expected, because it is a question that every European is asking every American that they run into.
SERGIO: Cosa ne pensi di TRUMP? (“How do you feel about Donald Trump as President?”)
I thought for a long time, and chose my words carefully before answering the inevitable question. After all, Sergio is family.

MIKE: Non ho imparato abbastanza parolacce in italiano per dire cosa penso di TRUMP! Io ho votato per Hillary Clinton! (I have not learned enough Italian swear words to express to you how I feel about seeing Donald Trump as President. I voted for Hillary Clinton.

SERGIO: Gli italiani hanno eletto Berlusconi. L’America sopram vviverà Donald Trump come Presidente! (Italians elected Berlusconi. America will survive Donald Trump as President).
I just know I will be asked about this many times while I’m on this trip, so I’ll have better polling to report in the near future. But I can tell you this: Italians, who had their own lapse of sanity when they elected and re-elected Silvio Berlusconi, the womanizing media mogul, take our election of Der Trumpenfuhrer as the Great American Joke. But, the Italians, who have seen some 62 governments come and go since World War 2, see our election plight as a mere blip on history’s radar screen, while many Americans  believe that the end of civilization as we know it, is at hand.
It always takes a few days for me to get my land legs back after traveling for 4,000 miles through seven time zones, so I always allow myself time to adjust before any further adventures. That’s why the first few days are spent getting to know my new surroundings, especially since I’m staying in a rental apartment, and not at the Hilton or another hotel with four or five stars. I can’t simply call down and order for room service. If I am hungry and want to eat, I either have to go up the street to the market or il ristorante. So, in a way I find myself identifying with the refugees that are pouring into Italy from North Africa and the Middle East. I know only a few words of Italian. But, I have family here and I know when I’m returning to hearth and home. The refugees don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. It’s a big story here, and I’ll be sharing some of my observations as we go along.
Next time – No Funny Stuff, LIVE at TIFF, and a visit to a famous World War 2 battle site. But, for now….

[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site ]
© By Mike Botula 2017

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Check-in Opens in 24 Hours!

Rome Diary III
Sunday March 5, 2017
Mostly Cloudy 54°F/12°C in Roma, Lazio, Italy 00143
Cloudy 58°F/14°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Buongiorno amici miei!
The app on my IPhone informs me that check-in for my flight to Rome is now only one day
away. Months have dwindled to weeks, then to days and now – scant hours before the spell of La fontana di Trevi takes hold and it’s Buon viaggio! By Wednesday morning it will be Benvenuti a Roma! I must admit, at this point, that I haven’t worked so hard to get ready to go someplace since I uprooted my long life in California and moved to Texas a little more than a year ago. It’s been almost two years since my last trip to Italy, in August 2015. That’s a big month in Rome, for American tourists who don’t know how hot it gets there, and why all the regular Romans get the heck out of town. This trip I will see La primavera in the Eternal City. (Hmmm! I wonder if I’ll catch a glimpse of Il Papa Francesco at the new McDonald’s in Vatican City).
Yesterday, I took a Skype call on my IPad. It was my son Michael calling from Rome. He appeared on my screen in his kitchen preparing dinner for himself and Laura. I’m trying my hand at making Sushi, Pop! It’s a challenge. And so, I grabbed another cup of my own caffé americano, and settled in for one of our regular video calls. He wanted to check and make sure that I was on schedule in my preparations for the trip. Like a NASA space launch, my boy. We’re T-minus 48 hours, and counting! By the time we ended our call an hour later, he was showing me his handiwork, the most attractive platter of sushi this side of Mama Fu’s. Apparently, Junior has moved beyond his normal Roman culinary specialty, Texas chili, using Mexican seasonings and other ingredients sent to Rome by his father from ethnic food stores in East Los Angeles. Caramba!
     It’s a gross understatement to say that I am really looking forward to my journey. I love to travel – anywhere. And, if I were to visit every place on my bucket list, I would be on the road for the next century. But that’s not going to happen to a septuagenarian like myself. So, I’ll just accept the travel horizons I’m dealt. Italy is a great place. Every time I visit Rome, I understand more about why my son moved there. Long ago I put Rome on my list of my favorite cities like New York and San Francisco. This is also the first time I’m traveling from Texas to Rome. That means an eight-hour flight across the Atlantic instead of 11 or 12 from LAX or SFO. The trip back will be longer – ten hours from Rome to New York because of the west to easterly Jetstream winds. But, I am two time zones and 1400 miles closer these days since I moved to Texas.
    I will be posting my travels in my Rome Diary 3. My blogging career began back in 2013 with a few random postings on my new Facebook page. That led to a whole new interest for this old newsguy, writing.  Not only did my travel musings become a blog which led to producing my own website, but I eventually authored a book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! It’s about my dad’s navy adventures during World War 2, published by Amazon Books. So, Facebook begat Rome Diary, Rome Diary 2 and now I’ve got my laptop packed in anticipation of Diario di Roma Tre! Since my first trip, I’ve visited Pompeii and many of the legendary historical sites in Rome itself. Michael has taken me to Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance and he and Laura have taken me to Venice, a city that I instantly fell madly in love with.
   So then, my passport has been renewed, my Euros are tucked in my wallet and I’m hours away from getting my boarding pass. I’ll keep you posted on this Pilgrim’s Progress!

[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  (Amazon Books)  MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site , and is linked to FacebookTwitter and Google Plus!]
©Mike Botula 2017