Sunday, July 21, 2019

“Honey, I’m Home!”

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


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   
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…

[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]

© By Mike Botula 2019

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Language Thing!

Sunday July 14, 2019
Sunny 80°F/27°C in Roma, Latium, Italia

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.  

[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

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Giorno dell’Independenza!

Sunday July 7, 2019
Sunny 90°F/32°C in Roma, Latium, Italia

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!

[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

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Il Mio Quartiere e Benvenuto!

Wednesday July 3, 2019
Sunny and Hot 93°F/34°C in Roma, Latium, Italia
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!

[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