Wednesday, June 19, 2019

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

Wednesday June 19, 2019
Sunny 88°F/31°C in Roma, Latium, Italia

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).

[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]

© By Mike Botula 2019

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

That Was The Week That Was!

Wednesday June 12, 2019
Sunny 85°F/29°C in Roma, Latium, Italia

(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!)

[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]
© By Mike Botula 2019