One year ago today I landed in Rome, a roller bag in hand, a duffel bag and backpack draped over my shoulders and a boarding pass from a one-way ticket in my pocket. Today marks my one-year anniversary of retiring to Rome and it has simply been the most amazing adventure in a life full of them. After 94 countries, I finally found the one I want to live in the rest of my life.
Yes, I know I ranted in my blog two weeks ago (https://johnhendersontravel.com/2014/12/31/public-services-make-italy-resemble-a-third-world-coumtry/ that some of the more advanced tribes in the Amazon Rain Forest have better public services than Italy. Look, I’m a retired sportswriter. I have to practice my whining.
But the positives of this culture far outweigh the negative. Living in Rome and putting up with its public services is like living with Kate Upton and putting up with her eating Clif Bars in bed. I’ve had exactly one bad meal in a restaurant. I have more friends than I ever had in 23 years in Denver. I have seen more beautiful places within two hours of Rome than can possibly fit in a Lonely Planet travel guide. Living abroad is an adventure every day. Living in Rome is a feast every day.
My lovely penthouse apartment with the terrace overlooking the Tiber River never gets old. Every day I pass new trattorias I want to try. And I want to visit Trieste. My future here is as bright as my present. And my past year could not have been better. In celebration, below is a long list of all the reasons why I love living in Rome. I would’ve written more, but writing this made me too hungry:
* Waking up to hear Italian chatter outside my window. Even if I don’t understand what they’re saying, the Italian language is as beautiful as a love song.
* How my barista at Linari, the best pasticceria in Rome and just down the street from my apartment, always knows to make my cappuccino “ben caldo,” or extra hot.
* How ben caldo is just one of a dozen ways you can order coffee. It sure beats “a triple shot one shot decaf two shots regular extra compassionate cappuccino with an add protein shot with a straw,” which someone actually ordered in the U.S.
* How Federico, my butcher in Mercato Testaccio, always wears a white hat to honor all the Italian macellaios from the past.
* How Federico’s prosciutto and sweet Italian sausage make my terrace aperitivos and pasta salsiccia the best in Testaccio.
* How the church bells peal on the hour. I don’t go to church, but these bells make me want to go.
* Hearing an old man in Trastevere play “Il Padrone,” the theme song of “The Godfather,” not because he wants you to put money in his cup but merely because he loves the song.
* Hearing strangers in cars yell at me, “FORZA ROMA!” (GO ROMA!) when I walk my neighborhood streets in my A.S. Roma sweatshirt.
* How I yell, “SEMPRE!” the traditional greeting when you hear, “FORZA ROMA!” It means “always.”
* How the Nutella melts in my mouth as I take that first bite of the fluffy cornetto cioccolato in the morning.
* How I can wear an Italian suit to an informal event and no one stares at me, even though I feel like a dancing bear.
* How my market’s fishmonger covered in blood and guts and carrying a knife the size of a machete can tell me how to delicately season a salmon steak.
* How Corriere dello Sport runs 26 pages of soccer every day, including 9-10 stories on A.S. Roma games.
* How sitting in the middle of the Tiber River on Tiberina Island, the longest, continually inhabited island in the world (3rd century B.C.), and white-water rapids fall around me reminding me of the Colorado River I left behind.
* How I get weepy, still, every time I hear the Stadio Olimpico crowd sing “Grazie Roma” while trying to remain stoic in the press box after an A.S. Roma soccer win.
* Asking the man in the pasta shop for buccatino, the round pasta perfect for amatriciana, and he takes a big slab of pasta and feeds it into a machine. In seconds, perfectly shaped, fresh pasta is wrapped up in paper and in my hand.
* How I can sip wine all day and all night and still reach for my espresso machine in the morning instead of my Excedrin.
* Walking through my tree-lined Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice and seeing old women and old men chatting on park benches, smiles still on their faces after all these decades.
* How the clementines from Sicily taste like they were picked in my garden when I suck on their juice to wash down the fresh prosciutto and Sienese dolce cheese from my Mercato Testaccio.
* How no chocolate in the world was better named than the little chocolate droplet from Perugia called Baci (“Kisses” in Italian).
* How eating outside in a garden-ladened, candle-lit trattoria makes the food and wine taste even better and the woman you’re with even prettier.
* Having a Pinot Grigio nightcap at Caffe Oppio, late at night after the tourists have left, and seeing the back-lit Colosseum towering above me across the street, one of the most magnificent views in the Western world.
* Standing on my terrace on a warm summer morning, before the intense afternoon heat arrives, in my bathrobe with foamy cappuccino in hand, looking out at the Tiber River. From that vista, the Tiber looks like the Seine in spring.
* The silence of Testaccio during the afternoon pausa when all the local merchants close for 3-3 ½ hours to catch up on their own personal business. It’s so inconvenient yet so civilized.
* Pausing in St. Peter’s Square, so late at night the only sounds are cascading waters of the fountain, and seeing Bernini’s sculptures line up like sentries leading to the spectacular back-lit basilica. If God ever surfaces on this earth, it will be here.
* How warm a biting gorgonzola pizza tastes after walking through a cool mist to Pizzeria Remo, my cozy, Roman-style pizzeria where the wait is always worth it.
* The packed crowd at La Fraschetta di Castel Sant’Angelo suddenly breaking into Roman songs as the smiling wait staff claps along and the owner pounds the tables in encouragement.
* How one 10-minute train ride and a 50-minute bus ride takes me from Rome to Calcata, a tiny hilltop village of 70 artists and bohemians all escaping atop a 150-foot pile of volcanic rock.
* How I can go into l’Oasi della Birra, my local wine and beer shop and buy a bottle of Barolo, my favorite wine in the world (and it’d be yours if you tried it), for under 30 euros, a steal for the pride of Piedmont.
* How the baker near my gym will tell me “Ciao, bello” when I walk by and I don’t think he’s weird.
* How after one year, I’ve barely dented my massive volume of “365 Giornate Indimenticabili da Vivere a Roma” (“365 Unforgettable Days Living in Rome), by far the biggest book in my growing library.
* How you can smell a woman’s perfume when you do the wonderfully obligatory double-cheek kiss at introductions.
* How women wear stilettos that could puncture a soccer ball even while negotiating 2,000-year-old cobblestones.
* How I can walk from the Termini train station all the way to the Vatican, a walk of about an hour, and never walk down a main boulevard.
* How the amarena gelato has big, fat, juicy chunks of black cherries floating everywhere in your cone.
* Sunbathing on my terrace as the sun sets across the Tiber River on Trastevere and thinking back how I used to do this at my fraternity. But the pizza now is so much better.
* How Italians give friends bottles of their family’s wine stash from their home in the countryside.
* How I get choked up writing this last line of Why I Love Living in Rome.