Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Off To See the Circus! (fuori per vedere il circo!)

Keeping Up With My Son!
Rome Diary IV:
Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!
Martedì 30 Gennaio 2018
Sunny: 59°F/15°C in Roma
Sunny: 66°F/19°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Buona giornata amici miei!
      Following our initial week in Milano and I settled back into my rental apartment, my newest Roman Holiday commenced. We had hit the ground running the moment we got back with our jaunt to Lumina Studios and the taping of the pilot episode of the TV game show About You, that the
La famiglia: MikeBo,
Annamaria & Sergio,
Michael & Laura
show’s producers hope will be picked up by the European networks. Watching my son in action on the set brought back memories of my own radio and television career, now several decades in the past.  I’ve already described several hats that Michael wears in his career: English teacher, tour guide and musician. On this vacation, I’ve seen him add several more credits to his burgeoning résumé – television personality and stand-up comic! So, with that visit to the studio, I realized that a lot of time on this Roman Holiday would not be sightseeing among the treasures of ancient Rome but watching my son in action!
     Rome is home to a large community of expatriates from all nations, speaking a multitude of languages. In that sense, it reminds me of the New York of my late teens when I was a student just getting started with my own career, or the San Francisco of my 20’s and the Hollywood of my 30’s when my broadcasting career was finally getting established. Only Rome has a two thousand year or so head start on New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the same principle applies – these are cities where dreams are born.
      One of the dreamers is Marsha De Francesco – Marsha Cincinnati- who has taken the name of her home town as her nom de plume as the impresario driving Rome’s Comedy Club, a hardy band of aspiring comedians who perform regularly at various Rome clubs to multilingual audiences. The
Rome Comedy Club's
"Marsha  Cincinnatti"
troupe consists of a variety of nationalities – Italians and Americans, of course, but a potpourri of other nationalities as well: Polish, Irish, German, Spanish, and a veritable array of European stand-up comics. This production of Rome’s Comedy Club unfolded at The Tiki Lounge, but the troupe performs at various venues. The last time I was in Rome, last Spring, Marsha asked Michael to act as Master of Ceremonies. The audience response prompted Marsha to ask him to do a stand-up routine, which was very well received, which prompted Marsha to invite him back when the comedy troupe performs again at the end of February.  Marsha made sure that Laura and I had seats right up front, which earned me an impromptu appearance as a straight man in comic Devo’s slightly-blue routine. So, even Michael’s stage dad had a moment in the spotlight.

On the way from my apartment on Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico to Michael and Laura’s home, I spotted the unmistakable outline of a circus tent in the parking lot of the EurRoma Due shopping center. It resembled the familiar Cirque du Soleil big top. But this was
Finale: CirCuba!
the big tent for CirCuba, Cuba’s National Circus. When I said that because of the political situation back home CirCuba won’t be playing in Texas any time soon, Michael said, Fine! Laura and I were talking about going. We’ll invite Laura’s folks and we’ll all go! And, so we did. If it’s still problematic for an American citizen to travel to Cuba, it’s NO problem for an American visitor in Rome to go to CirCuba!

What a show! CirCuba plays to its audience from the one-ring European model circus, not the three ring Big Top of American circuses. So, the more intimate setting seems to amplify the energy of the acrobats, gymnasts and jugglers and the Cuban music which drives the performers. Of course, there were the clowns who kept the audience engaged while the stagehands and performers moved scenery and equipment on stage between the acts.  It was a highly entertaining evening out of my month-long sojourn in Roma. You may have to travel out of the good old USA to see one of the greatest shows on Earth, because CirCuba isn’t going to pitch its Big Top in Miami anytime soon!
       Another installment of my Rome Diary is coming your way very soon. I’ll keep you posted along the way.

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can follow his blog at: mikebotula.blogspot.com, or visit Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Sopresa! Siamo a Milano!

Rome Diary IV:
Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!
Wednesday January 24, 2018
Sunny 59°F/15°C in Rome
Sunny 51°F/10°C in Milano
Sunny 50°/10° in Austin, Texas
Buona giornata amici miei!
      Translated, the title of the first blog in the new series of Rome Diaries is: Surprise! We Are in Milan! But, hey! It’s OK because I landed in Rome after my long flight from Texas, and that’s where
Andiamo a Milano!
my rental apartment is. But Michael and Laura wanted to take me with them to Milan for my birthday, and since I’ve never been to Milan before, I repacked a small bag and the very next day, the three of us caught the Italotreno, the sleek, high-speed train that shuttles between Roma and Milano at speeds up to 300 kph or 200 mph, double any sane highway speeds. (Eat your heart out, AMTRAK!)
      Normally, I go to ground for a few days after a long transatlantic flight to cure my jet lag and other travel jitters, but this time, I hit the ground running and I did not get a chance to relax in my apartment for the next week. We stopped by to drop my bag and pick up the keys from Amina, the landlady and went out to dinner. Then after a night’s sleep Michael and I headed for Milan.
     Since my last visit in the spring of last year – la primavera – Laura has changed jobs and now works in Milano, commuting from Rome to Milano on Tuesday, returning Thursday or Friday and working from home in Rome on the days she is not in Milano. Upon arrival at Termini station in Roma Central, we stopped at a snack bar and picked up two panini e bevande, so we could snack on the train.
      Europe, Japan and now China are light years ahead of the U.S. in the development of a high-speed rail system. California has one under construction, Texas has another on the drawing board, but the battle for American high-speed rail is all uphill. Too bad! It’s 350 miles from Rome to Milan, a six-hour drive. The high-speed Italotreno traverses that distance in half the time – three hours flat! Italy has two high-speed rail lines, Trenitalia, which I’ve ridden to Florence and Venice, and Italotreno, which we took to Milano.
      Since this trip to Milan was a special birthday gift from Michael and Laura, a very special tour of the city had been arranged by my son the professional City Wonders tour guide. But first, a short cab ride from Milano Centrale to our rented (Airbnb) apartment on Corso San Gottardo, where we met Laura and checked in. As we walked in to the inner courtyard, I spotted a gleaming glass elevator which had been installed long after the main building. I was relieved because I knew our apartment was up a long flight of stairs on il primo piatti, what Europeans refer to as the first floor, and Americans know as the second floor. My advancing years and a bad back problem have me walking with a cane anyway. Laura must have seen the relief in my eyes when I caught sight of the elevator. Don’t get your hopes up! That elevator is not for us, she said. We don’t have a key. When I asked her why we couldn’t use the elevator, she explained. The residents of the building decided to chip in and pay the cost of installing the elevator, she said. One resident refused to contribute, so the rest of the tenants locked him out of the elevator. The apartment we’re staying in does not have access to the elevator. Laura concluded, and that’s why you have to hobble up a flight of stairs!
       Corso San Gottardo runs parallel to one of the network of canals – The Navigli - that once connected Milan with the Po River and thence to the Adriatic Sea, which made the city of Milan an inland port city on the order of Stockton, California, which lies 100 or so miles up the Sacramento River from San Francisco Bay in Central California. Some of the canals were filled in in the 1930s, and by the 1960s plans to remake Milan as an inland port were abandoned. Along the remaining canals today is an enchanting river walk, La Darsena, with quaint shops and restaurants with an abundance of ancient, historical buildings that give this part of Milan a unique flavor.  Once we settled in to our comfy second floor, or primo piatti apartamento, we headed out for a stroll along the Naviglio Pavese looking for a ristorante to have dinner. I had no idea that Milano, like Venice was a city of canals. But, unlike Venice and its famed gondolieri and their sleek, black gondolas, the canals of Milano are awash in the kayaks belonging to the city’s sports clubs.
      The next morning while Laura headed off to work, Michael led the way up the Corso to the tram stop, where we caught the Number 3 trolley to Il Duomo, Milan’s spectacular gleaming white
marble cathedral. There, we caught up with our City Wonders guide, Simone, who would take us on a walking tour through Milano toward what my son had decided would be the piece de resistance of my birthday celebration, an opportunity to stand and gaze at Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper! But first, Simone led our group through the heavy security cordon surrounding all of Italy’s landmarks in this era of heightened tensions. Il Duomo, or Milan Cathedral took nearly six hundred years to build. Its trademark white marble was quarried miles away and was carried by barge through the canals to a port adjacent to the construction site. Simone kept up with his colorful description of the art works and events that have taken place in the cathedral over the centuries. As we exited the cathedral, Michael and I left the tour because there was a statue that we wanted to see that was not on Simone’s regular tour
itinerary – the artist Maurizio Cattalan’s huge statue of a hand with its middle finger extended skyward toward Milan’s stock exchange in a statement intended by Cattalan for the stock exchange’s brokers and bankers. The giant finger caused a furor when it was first installed in 2010, but, it remains to this day in Piazza Affari blaring its message across the piazza to the denizens of La Borsa, Milano’s venerable stock exchange. Naturally, Michael and I took time to snap some selfies with the giant statue.
      By now it was almost time for our main attraction, The Last Supper. A short stroll past Sforza Castle, built in the 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, brought us to the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, where the mural is displayed. After passing through the usual tight security our group was led through a series of interlocking, climate-controlled glass chambers until we reached the convent’s former dining hall where we came into the presence of Leonardo’s masterpiece.  I
thought to myself, so this is the centerpiece in Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Well done, Robert Langdon!
      Both Laura and I were celebrating our birthdays in this same week – me on Wednesday and Laura on Friday. For my birthday, Laura and Michael took me to a Ristorante Milanese-cum Texas-style dining establishment called Brisket! Sure enough, the entryway was adorned by a large map of the Lone Star State, and inside, Lone Star flags graced the walls. My namesake meal was delicious! The brisket I had definitely had been cooked by an Italian chef. Not quite Franklin’s in Austin, but it was tender and delicious. Later, the owner told us that he special-orders his meats from the U.S. After a short stroll along Naviglio Pavese, we were back at our apartment.
       Friday morning, Laura left early for a meeting at her office. She would meet us later at Milano
Laura, MikeBo, Michael at Dinner
Centrale, Milan’s main train terminal for the three-hour ride back to Rome. Michael’s day would not be over for many hours yet. A van would be waiting to take him to Lumina Studios to rehearse for the television pilot he would record the next night. But, the studio driver’s first stop was his house, so he could pick up his ukulele for the rehearsal. Once we got to the house, Michael grabbed his instrument and headed to rehearsal. Laura drove me back to my apartment where I collapsed in a heap. It had been an exhilarating but exhausting week!

Next time: A star is born, and other adventures! I’ll keep you posted along the way.

[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! He is a retired broadcast journalist, government spokesperson and media consultant.   Mike’s book is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble Books. You can visit Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com]