Playing an extra in “The Young Pope” teaches me the cardinal rules of film business

I play an American cardinal, one of the many nameless bodies that form a fluid red or black background as Jude Law maneuvers through scenes. We’re shooting a breakfast scene and I’m sitting two chairs down from a cardinal who’s about to die. My job is to eat slowly, look over calmly and appear expressionless as the cardinal falls to the floor. But did I eat too many grapes? Could Sorrentino tell I was choking? I KNEW I should’ve eaten the breakfast roll!
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My five favorite restaurants in Rome

Cutting down to five required some ground rules. I ruled out pizzerias. I wrote about those in May. I also included nothing that’s listed in Lonely Planet. I trust Lonely Planet’s restaurant recommendations but I’ve walked on every path in Rome. The best restaurants are on the paths less beaten, even by LP. Making it easier is including a disclaimer that these may not be the five best in Rome. They may not even be my five favorite if I went back to all of them with a more critical eye. I have a whole new list by Jan. 1. The depth of restaurants in Rome is that good.
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Cleaning day: Clearing my past in Denver clears my future in Rome

The purpose of the trip was to downsize. Since moving to Rome in January 2014, Public Storage twice jacked up my rent from $100 a month to the larcenous price of $158. Emptying it will save me nearly $2,000 a year. Hell, that’s almost as much as I spend on wine. Besides, I will not pay $158 a month for furniture I’ll never sit on again and clothes I’ll never wear again. What good are college sweatshirts in Rome? I look so American I could have hopped off a Chevrolet commercial. If I walk around in a USC sweatshirt, ’ll look like I hopped off an American Express bus.
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Playa del Carmen’s erotic Reina Roja Hotel “awakens your senses” among other body parts

I had a travel experience that will never make “Lonely Planet” or the Los Angeles Times. Penthouse? Almost. That’s why I’m writing this here. The famous literary magazine (Hey, it does have fine writing, too!) loved the tale I told of a trip I took to a hotel that specialized in erotica. You’ve heard of hotels that cater to families and pets and football fans. Welcome to Playa del Carmen where the Reina Roja Hotel caters to sexual deviants. Sadomasochism. Pool-side sex. Lighting out of a brothel. The Reina Roja, while also functioning as a regular hotel, invites anyone to explore their sexual fantasies — or find fantasies you never knew existed or never thought were legal outside Nevada.
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Saving Bolt: A near-dead kitten atop a gutter becomes highlight of a Greek holiday

“Andiamo.” (Let’s go.)
I said that when Marina started walking over to pick it up. I wasn’t worried about her catching a disease from a dead animal. I just didn’t want to break down after watching a dead kitten lay limp in the palm of her hand.
But women have maternal instincts. She broke from my hand and bent over. When she picked it up, a remarkable thing happened. It moved. It moved its tiny, little arms and legs, one of which looked deformed, horribly bent under its scrawny body. It was as skinny as a baby bird in an oil slick. Its elongated neck was as out of proportion as E.T’s. The way his ears dwarfed his tiny head made him look like a bat. I could put my thumb and middle finger around his torso.
And he was near death.
He didn’t meow. His eyes were fused shut from mucous. He didn’t fight to break from our hands. He just moved his three tiny workable legs and his head up and from side to side, straining to see who was helping him. He didn’t need to mew. We knew what he wanted to say.
“Please save me.”
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Skiathos: Greek gods’ gift to Hades-like August travel

Traveling in Greece gave me my definition of freedom: Freedom is deciding what Greek island you want to go to on your way to a boat dock. You can do that in Greece. I didn’t do that on this trip. I took one look at my hotel in Skiathos and had a hard time imagining sleeping anywhere else. Besides, traveling to Greece in August is problematic. It’s bulging with backpackers, partiers, lovers, historians, sun worshippers and shoppers. Zeus would not approve.
But, unlike Greece’s beauty, Zeus is just a myth.
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A new soccer season beckons and Rome’s fans still disgrace the city

This city has the worst soccer fans in Europe.

For a tip of the fan base’s melting iceberg, consider Roma opens its Serie A, or national league, season Saturday at home against Udinese. Roma is picked as the best bet to stop Juventus’ string of five straight titles. It’s the last season for Francesco Totti, the native son who will spend his 25th season wearing the Roma jersey and is the most popular figure in Rome since Augustus. Yet 72,000-seat Olympic Stadium Saturday will not sell out. They are frantically selling individual seats in Curva Sud, which is usually filled cheek to cheek three hours before kickoff. As of Tuesday they had sold only 17,000 season tickets, a shocking number considering the passion I see in this city rivals that of the Denver Broncos’ in my old stomping grounds.
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Think Trump would be disaster? Ask Italy after Bunga Bunga Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times for nine years, from 1994-95, 2001-06 and 2008-11. He had all the trappings of Donald Trump before he took office — and proceeded to run the entire Italian peninsula into the Mediterranean. I wanted to write this as a warning to all the racist, fascist, sexist, uneducated, angry white men who will vote for Trump what could lay ahead.
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