Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Long Road Home!

Rome Diary IV:
Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!
Easter Sunday: April 1, 2018
Thunderstorms 62°F/17°C in Roma EUR, Italia
Cloudy 80°F/27°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Buona giornata amici miei!
        A chorus of Buon Viaggio’s sent me on my way.  I bid my friends Arrivederci.  Ci vediamo miei amici! See you, my friends! Sergio, Laura’s dad replied, Ci vediamo PRESTO, Mike! See you SOON,
Goin' Home!
Then Michael drove me back to my rented apartment on Viale Cesare Pavese, to finish my packing and get a good night’s sleep before my departure. The flight back was tedious, but uneventful. On my stopover in Atlanta I went through a final passport check and answered a few perfunctory questions from the U.S. Customs officer. Then, I boarded my flight for the final two-hour flight back to Austin.
      Dana and my grandson Jacob were waiting for me at the curb outside baggage claim for the drive to the apartment I had not seen in two months. Before she headed to the airport, my daughter had gone to the market and restocked my fridge, so I could make myself a snack before I went to bed.  Unlike Rome, where most people don’t eat their evening meal until after 8 o’clock, restaurants in Cedar Park tend to close by ten p.m. My two-month journey was over.

La mia cara maestra Patrizia,
       Prima di tutto, vorrei ringraziarla per aver concesso la mia richiesta di essere assente dalla classe italiana così che potessi viaggiare in Italia per due mesi.
Il tuo studente,
(My Dear Teacher Patrizia,
      First of all, I would like to thank you for granting my request to be absent from Italian Class, so I could travel to Italy for two months.
Your student,

My Italian teacher, Patrizia is from Puglia, Italy. I’ve been taking her class at Austin Community College ever since I arrived in Texas two years ago. According to my online course with Duo Lingo, I am now 49 % fluent in Italian. But, I am still at a loss without the Google Translator App on my IPhone. This trip was supposed to be a sort of final exam for me – putting my newly acquired language skills into a real-life situation while living in Rome. Candidly, after two months of actually living in Italy I would have to give myself a grade of “D!”  In other words, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

Cara Patrizia,
       Sono tornata nello stesso appartamento in euro che avevo affittato l'anno scorso. Ho shopped allo stesso supermercato Elite come l'ultima volta, ha incontrato i miei amici per aperitivo, cenato in ristoranti a Roma e Milano, e viaggiato in metropolitana. Ho incontrato la mia amica Monica dallo scambio di lingua. Ma, quando sono tornato in Texas, ho ancora sentito che le mie competenze in lingua italiana erano ancora molto inadeguata.
Il tuo studente,
(Dear Patrizia,
      I returned to the same apartment in EUR that I had rented last year. I shopped at the same Elite supermarket as last time, met my friends for aperitivo, dined in restaurants in Rome and Milan, and traveled by Metro. I met my friend Monica from the language exchange. But, when I returned to Texas, I still felt that my skills in the Italian language were still very inadequate.
Your student,

We should have an interesting chat when I attend class on Thursday.
         On this trip I arrived in Rome on a Monday morning in January. As usual, Michael was waiting for me right outside Customs. We drove quickly to my apartment on Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico, and quickly got me moved in for the next month. Normally, I take a few days off after a long flight like that, but my son had other ideas. We leave for Milan early tomorrow morning. You can get over your jet lag there, dad, my son informed me. Laura, his wife, is now working in Milan. She commutes from Rome to Milan via high-speed train on Mondays and returns home on Thursday or Friday.
My son had planned a surprise birthday present for me in Milan. That’s the real reason I had
Michael and Mike Botula,
L'Ultima Cena
no respite between my transatlantic flight and our train trip from Rome to Milano. Wednesday was my birthday, and Michael and Laura had something special in mind as a gift for me. That morning, Michael and I boarded a tram for the short trip to the Milan Cathedral. We were about to embark on a walking tour of the city. Where we wound up was the surprise birthday gift. The photo that accompanies my blog on this Easter Sunday is especially meaningful to me.  My birthday gift from Michael and Laura was a visit to the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milano, so I could visit Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, L’Ultima Cena, the world-renowned The Last Supper. It was the high point, for me, of my entire two-month stay in Italy.
       Our trip to Milan is recounted in my January 24th blog: Sopresa! Siamo a Milano!  You can read it on my blog or my website: In fact, my entire series of Rome Diaries is available on my website. I liken the series to Gulliver’s Travels, in Italian!
        As I approached the end of my scheduled one-month sojourn in Rome, I began to regard my departure date with a sense of dread. One night over dinner, Laura asked, So, is there any real reason why you must leave?  Within a few minutes, Dana had agreed to keep Lola for another month, my doctors’ appointments were re-scheduled, and I had re-booked my return ticket. The deal was done.
       The only snag in our plan to extend my stay came when I told my landlady, Amina, about my change of plan. Expecting me to vacate my little aerie in mid-February, she had rented the apartment to another person. A couple from Los Angeles, as it turned out. So, Laura, who is the unofficial international travel agent for the clan found another apartment a short distance away on Viale Cesare Pavese in the same neighborhood. Without missing a beat, I packed my bags and the three of us got me moved into my new digs. My new landlord was a retired Tunisian diplomat
Neve in Roma!
named Mohamed, who travels between his estate in Tunis and his apartment in Rome. Like many other Italians, when Mohamed goes on holiday or travels on extended business trips, he sublets his apartment through Airbnb or Home Finder. That’s how our paths crossed. When I told Mohamed that I was a writer and a retired journalist, naturally our conversation turned to European politics, and within a short time, we became fast friends. Italy’s general election was just a few weeks in the future, and Germany had just had an election, so we had a lot to talk about.
      I was in that apartment when it snowed in Rome for the first time in years. The city was paralyzed. Buses and the metro stopped running. Schools and businesses shut down. It was magic. And next to seeing the Last Supper, the snowfall in the Eternal City was the high point of my holiday. I walked out on to my balcony and just savored the view. It was magic!

[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]

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Winding Down!

Rome Diary IV:
Il Mio Ritorno a Roma!
7 Marzo 2018, Mercoledi
Sunny with Rain Later 57°F/14°C in Roma, EUR
Cloudy 67°F/20°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Buona giornata amici miei!
      Ever since it snowed here last week, Jupiter – the ancient Roman God of Storms -  has been
MikeBo and La Neve!
trying to persuade me that my decision to stay on in Rome for an extra month was a bad idea! (I was trying to avoid for a while longer the political chaos back at home, and maybe – MAYBE – avoid an environmental disaster or North Korean nuclear attack on my corner of Texas in the process!) Adding to my weather-related mopery was the number of my well-meaning friends back home who were thoughtful enough to share a CNN story entitled Rome’s Sad Decline Sums Up Italy’s Problems! My favorite city was being used as the horrible example of what ails the whole country, on the eve of Italy’s National Elections. Which, it now turns out were inconclusive, and it will take weeks, if not months, to form a new government, which is part of the Italian National Problem! The new government will be Italy’s 66th  or maybe its 67th  government since 1946.
      The pot-holed, rutted streets of Rome, and the piles of uncollected garbage are little noticed by the throngs of tourists who are primarily interested in seeing ancient ruins anyway and pay little attention to the graffiti that adorns walls all over the city. Only on the national highways, the autostradi, does a motorist get any relief from the kidney-bruising rough rides along Rome’s pot-hole infested streets. My message to my well-meaning, but dubious friends is this: Rome has had historic falls in its past but has always risen to new and glorious heights. So, I am not worried about a few rutted streets or random piles of garbage!
      A city that is nearly 3,000 years old and still relies on its 2,000-year-old sewer system and ancient aqueducts is surely not going to disappear under a bit of trash or a few pot-holed streets for
La Famiglia at Ancient Paestum
very long. Rome has withstood hordes of barbarians of varying sorts over the centuries along with plagues and pestilences of many varieties. It has suffered under kings of many nations and modern dictators, fascist and Nazi! What’s a little graffiti, or a smattering of trash? But YES! Italy does have some political challenges, which even has some of my friends in the ex-pat community voicing concern. (As if we didn’t have sufficient political woes back home in the U.S. of A.)  But, I am not going to dwell on the care and feeding of the body politic, either Italian or American. Instead, I will focus on the high points of this trip and how I will prepare for my next Roman Holiday.
      Next time, I will plan on staying for two or three months at the outset. That way, there is no last-minute scrambling. It’s easier for my family on both sides of the Atlantic. And, I will choose a warmer time of year for my next sojourn. It’s no fun to sit home day after day while it’s rainy and cold outside, when I should be taking long walks and getting to know my neighbors a little better. The snowfall we had last Monday was a bonus to me, but even a few inches of snow brought Rome to a standstill. The Mayor was in Mexico at an environmental conference and, naturally, was blamed for all the glitches that occurred in her absence. Like, the lack of snow tires for Rome’s fleet of transit buses.
      Looking back on the past two months, I have some treasured memories: the high speed train trip to Milan and the sights I saw in Northern Italy; the visit to ancient Paestum and learning more about Magna Graecia, and the expansion of ancient Greece onto the southern reaches of the Italian Peninsula; the thrill of seeing a performance of the National Circus of Cuba, in Rome and just a short distance from Michael and Laura’s home. THAT was a great show. In fact it was held over past its original departure date of February 18th and was still going strong in mid-March.

Laura and Michael -
Lumina Studios
I’m getting a big kick watching my son’s career take off. When we arrived back from Milan, he was whisked away to the taping of a Television pilot for an Italian game show where he was the host. At Rome’s Comedy Club, he did his first stint as a stand-up comic. His band No Funny Stuff is making more frequent radio and television appearances in addition to their club dates, private party bookings and their concert and festival appearances. No Funny Stuff has competed on Italy’s Got Talent! Displayed their culinary talents on Chef Andrea Mainardi’s cooking show and have another forthcoming appearance on another RAI-TV show demonstrating their home-made musical instruments. Michael is still working at his day jobs – tour guide and English teacher, but he’s growing as a performer.  
Despite my extended visit to Rome, there is a lot that I did not get to do – I was not able to make my long-anticipated trip to the Czech Republic to visit the city where my grandparents emigrated to America in 1903. I did not fly to Amsterdam to see my lady friend Joan. I missed seeing la mia amica Romana, Alba, because I visited the museum gift shop where she works, on her day off.
       Michael took me on a private, personally guided tour of the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. At the Sistine Chapel, where the new Pope is elected by the College of Cardinals, I got the inside view of that process from my son who had worked for CNN as a production assistant following the death of Pope John Paul II. Our chat in the Sistine Chapel was far more revelatory to me than reading Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.
        On another occasion, he took me to another outstanding art gallery, Il Palazzo Barberini, Italy’s National Art Gallery. Housed there are masterpieces by great artists like Caravaggio and Raphael.
Two Mikes Contemplate Caravaggio!
The Palazzo’s collection includes: Raphael’s La Fornarina, Caravaggio’s Judith Beheading Holofernes and Hans Holbein’s Portrait of Henry VIII, which I recognized instantly from following the adventures of the Tudors on Masterpiece Theatre!
         Roman history is like a big Lasagna, my son is fond of saying. There’s layer upon layer of history in this Lasagna. Just choose a point in time and DIG IN! You’re bound to come across something that fascinates you.
And so, it is!

[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:, or visit Mike Botula at ]