Two-year anniversary inspires all new list of why I love living in Rome

Two years ago today I landed in Rome. Ever since, it has been one "Saluti!" after another.

Two years ago today I landed in Rome. Ever since, it has been one “Saluti!” after another.

Two years ago today I landed in Rome with three bags, fewer friends and more risk than a mob informant. But today, I am approaching my 60th birthday in two months at the apex of my life. My happiness is growing like the lemon tree on my penthouse terrace overlooking the Tiber River. Retirement in Rome was the biggest chance I’ve ever taken but has made me happier than I’ve ever been. Looking forward to retirement, folks?

Retire to paradise, wherever you consider that is.

The last year sent me on many trails. New England. India. Sri Lanka. Paris. Estonia. Slovenia. Rio de Janeiro. Paris again. But each time I returned home, Rome provided a soft landing. It wasn’t like going home to Denver where I faced a job in the tailspinning journalism field and black ice on the roads. In Rome the only ice I see is the amarena gelato at my Giolitti gelateria down the street.

My Italian has improved to where I’m picking up some Romanaccio, the crude side of the Romano dialect. Romanaccio is basically conversational profanity. They are words I can use in public outside the Lazio region. Other Italians have no idea what I’m saying. Around Rome, I am considered crude, rude and foul. In other words, I sound like a Roman.

As I did a year ago today, I am presenting all the reasons I love living in Rome. Please cut and paste on your laptop or refrigerator. Refer to it every time you get depressed. In no time, you’ll buy a ticket to Rome:

The Colosseum will return its prominence in the world when the renovation is finished.

The Colosseum will return its prominence in the world when the renovation is finished.

* Watching the 18 million euro renovation project return the Colosseum from a crumbling artifact to a colossal symbol of Ancient Rome’s strength, with a glass of wine at a table across the street at Oppio Caffe.

* How people will pull over and stop their scooters in order to use their hands more while talking on their cell phones. Italians have about 190 hand gestures. You don’t need to know Italian to know what an Italian is saying.

* Kisses hello.

* Kisses goodbye.

* Fascist architecture. L’EUR south of my home is Benito Mussolini’s unfinished fascist neighborhood marked by architecture that even LOOKS fascist. Strong. Bold. Big buildings. Big right angles. Big windows. Big letters. Mussolini nearly ruined Italy, but his building designs were good.

Slabs of pork waiting to be cooked. In Italy, they use every part of the pig, even the cheek.

Slabs of pork waiting to be cooked. In Italy, they use every part of the pig, even the cheek.

* Guanciale. The wonder meat from the pig’s cheek. It is the key to great pasta amatriciana and cheaper in my Mercato Testaccio than hamburger in the U.S.

* Arrapato. It’s the Italian word for “horny.” This is my idea of an Italian lesson:

“Ciao. Mi chiamo John.” (Hello. My name is John.)

“Sono arrapato.” (I am horny.)

“Sei arrapata?” (Are you horny?)

“Si? Siamo arrapati!” (Yes? We are horny!)

Feel free to clip and save this, too, guys.

* Eating outside in winter. It’s mid-January and I’ve eaten my last two breakfasts on my terrace. Weather plays no role in my life. I handle weather extremes really well. But, I must admit, mild winters are seductive.

* National sports dailies. Every day there is at least 18 pages of soccer — and that’s in the off season.

Saldis (sales) occur every January and July.

Saldis (sales) occur every January and July.

* Saldi. It’s the Italian word for “sale.” They happen in January and July and last about a month. Where in the U.S. can you get a pair of leather, Italian-made loafers for 40 euros as I did last weekend?
The perfect cappuccino.

The perfect cappuccino.

* Baristas. If you go to a cafe for a cappuccino with a woman, the coffee bender will form a heart in the foam. Only Italians can find romance in coffee.

* Listening to Andrea Bocelli while making pasta amatriciana in my kitchen, with the windows open and a cool breeze mixing with garlic in the air.

* Airport bus from Termini train station for 4 euros.

* Sipping a nightcap glass of Frascati wine on my terrace after a night out in Rome, looking at the street lights dance off the Tiber River. At night, in Rome, even the Tiber is sexy.

* How two turns can take you from the touristy madness of Piazza Navona and onto a side street lined with ivy and flowers and solitude.

Tomatoes are so sweet in Rome, people eat them like apples.

Tomatoes are so sweet in Rome, people eat them like apples.

* Bufala mozzarella fresh that day from Campagna. Sweet, juicy nectarines from Sicily. Sweet, juicy tomatoes from the Lazio countryside. My daily trip to my Mercato Testaccio would make any man look forward to grocery shopping.

* Caffe schumato. My new coffee of choice. It’s a little mini cappuccino and perfectly acceptable to order in the afternoon. Order a real cappuccino after noon, the baristas will give you a hand gesture.

* No bouncers. Romans drink very little, even the men. In two years, I have never seen a drunk outside of New Year’s Eve. Forget bar fights.

* How Italian women negotiate 2,000-year-old cobblestones in stilettos. These women were made for sexy style.

* Walking through the orange trees in Parco Savello on Aventine Hill where, legend has it, one of the city’s founding twins, Romulus, set up his first camp. Today, Aventine Hill is the site of the basilica of Santa Sabina. When I see priests do their contemplative strolls among the orange trees and look down at the city at sunset, I want to join them.

* How “vino della casa” (house wine) still guarantees you good wine. House wine in America only guarantees you a good headache.

* How pistachio gelato tastes just as good as you imagined it would in Italy when you tried it for the first time as a kid in America.

* Communist Party. Hang on. Before you hit the delete button, keep in mind Italy’s Communist Party is not your father’s communism. It’s pro labor and pro environment. I once attended a party rally where local leaders raised awareness of a tree-laden neighborhood about to be razed to build a shopping center.

* How panna (fresh whipped cream, almost always free) on gelato adds a sexy, subtle touch to the end of any date.

* How gelato always reminds me of my favorite quote I heard as a travel writer. For a story on gelato I once interviewed the owner of Giolitti for SilverKris, Singapore Airlines’ in-flight magazine. I asked what he liked most about gelato. He had a faraway look in his eye (was that a tear?) and said, in an Italian accent right out of central casting, “You know, when you walk around a dimly lit piazza, and you have your lover in one hand and a gelato in the other, and you lick and you Lick and you LICK … THAT is love!” I couldn’t print it but damn, I was arrapato.

Caravaggios in the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi.

Caravaggios in the Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi.

* Church of San Luigi dei Francesi. Right in the heart of Centro Storico, you can walk in on any given day and stare at three priceless Caravaggio paintings. For free.

* How every bar makes their chocolate cornettos a little different — and every one is just as good as the rest. It’s the Italian version of the French croissant and doesn’t take a back seat to any pastry in the world.

* Fathers kicking the soccer ball around with their sons in piazzas. It’s a custom that dates back to the invention of soccer, the Italian equivalent of American fathers throwing the baseball around with their son, a tradition we lost so long ago.

* Cacio e pepe at Da Felice. The best restaurant in my Testaccio neighborhood has waiters come to your table and prepare the traditional Roman dish. In the Romano dialect, “cacio e pepe” means “cheese and pepper.” That’s all it is, mixed with pasta, but the Pecorino Romano cheese makes it one of the kingpins of Italian cuisine.

* How, after two years, my honeymoon in Rome hasn’t worn off. I don’t think it ever will.

17 thoughts on “Two-year anniversary inspires all new list of why I love living in Rome

  1. I can’t remember when baristas here stopped decorating the tops of cappuccinos (should that be cappuccini?) with hearts or other decorations. Even in coffee-centric Seattle it’s now mostly people running out the door with their “venti to go” and most of them don’t know what the word venti means.
    So glad your love affair continues.

  2. Lucky you! I think I want to be a Roman too someday. I have such happy memories of visits there. I enjoy your blog posts, it’s cool to hear about living in Italy as opposed to just visiting. Bone for Tuna!

  3. I live in here in Rome and still your words make me dream Rome. LOL! And thanks for posting about Philippine food :-) I haven’t been home for 9 years now and you made me miss it more. Saluti!

  4. Ciao John,

    Ho una domanda, if you don’t mind. I love dates wrapped in bacon. I got a wild hair last spring and tried cooking pancetta and eating it like bacon. This is a serious no go. Do you know of a store that sells bacon an easy train/bus ride from Bracciano – not Castroni’s?

    By the way, your blog is funny! Grazie mille!!

    • If you can get a train to Ostiense, you’re only a 15-minute walk to my Mercato Testaccio on Via Galvani. My butcher cuts pancetta into strips that I sometimes cook as bacon or chop up and put with my scrambled eggs. It’s a great meal before the gym.

      Thanks for the compliment. I wish I had more readers but I’m the world’s worst self-promoter. If you’ve got any good marketing strategies, let me know. I’ve tried just about everything short of threatening the cyber world at gunpoint.


  5. Ha! I was just having the same conversation yesterday with my Italian friends. They say just get the Americans here. Like *poof* I wiggle my nose and here they all are. Maybe one day we can get together and brainstorm on how to be better social media marketers. By the way, have you noticed that the better you become at Italian the worse you become at English? It seems my English is atrocious after the past year and a half.

  6. Kimberly: I am finding that I pepper my English conversations with “CAZZO!” and “VAFFANCULO!” when I get angry. I say “Scusa” instead of “Excuse me” while in the States and I’m using my hands more, with Roman gestures that a corn farmer in rural Nebraska wouldn’t misinterpret. But my Italian hasn’t reached the level of efficiency where my English is hurt. I’m trying to think in Italian. But when I do, my lips move. Then everyone in the subway thinks I’m one of the mentally ill Americans they put on a boat in Delaware.

    • Reminds me of an Italian joke ( I’m 100% Italian )

      How do you keep an Italian from talking ? Tie his hands

      The “boot” is intoxicating, isn’t it?

      • Good joke, Marty. I’m still not fluent in my comprehension. Fortunately, I’ve become fluent in Italian hand gestures so I understand my Roman girlfriend just fine, especially when she’s mad.

  7. Nice Blog John. Well done! E’ per me molto interessante leggere i vostri commenti. Vedo che uno degli argomenti principali è il cibo; del resto, è un argomento molto caro agli italiani ma specialmente ai romani. Complimenti per i tuoi viaggi e per la tua scelta di vita. Molto coraggiosa ma molto interessante. ciao
    a presto.

  8. I just discovered your blog and am really enjoying reading all your Italy posts. As a 52-year-old who plans on living part-time in Italy within the next few years, it’s gratifying to hear that you took the leap at 58. Kudos to you! I’ll have to dig through your old posts to see how you managed to become a full-time resident, etc.

    Ciao from New York City!

    • Hey, Wynne. Thanks for the compliment. I’ve written a lot about what it took to move to Rome. The most in-depth look was what I wrote for It’s here: If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to help. I also wrote in-depth about what it takes to get the elusive Permesso di Soggiorno, the one-year resident’s permit.


      • Thank you kindly! I will read through the post you suggested. I’ve read so many posts/stories from your fellow Italy bloggers about the Permesso di Soggiorno and I truly lack ANY degree of patience that is so deeply required for that process. It sounds like an utter nightmare! I would likely live in Italy part time in 60- to 90-day increments (per the Schengen Agreement) or through my employer and their vast network of worldwide offices.

        Thanks again for your reply and your offer of input – I just may take you up on it!

  9. No problem, Wynne. The Permesso really isn’t all that bad if you have enough money in the bank and are an American. The Italians don’t hassle Americfans, particularly if you prove you have the money to stay. I don’t want to stay for only three or four months. I haven’t been back to the States since February 2015 and I don’t even want to visit.

    • You’re not missing much, especially with the inanity of the current political climate. It makes escaping to another country pretty appealing right now!

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