I went to my 101st country last year. Iceland blew my mind and wallet with equal explosiveness. Laos, No. 100 on my list, was a paradise I never knew. But No. 1 in my world remains the country where I live. And its capital is still my favorite city.
Today marks my fourth anniversary of moving to Rome. Much has changed since I arrived with a duffel bag, two backpacks and a roller bag. I’ve met the woman I hope to spend my life with, my Italian has improved to where I naturally speak it before English and I’m bitching about Rome’s lousy public services.
But no, the honeymoon hasn’t worn off. I still wake up and take my cappuccino to my terrace and get weepy thinking how lucky I am to live in this paradise.
Then I see a dead carp on the bank of the Tiber and come back to reality.
I never want to fall into the trap of being a whiny expat. That’s why every Jan. 11, my anniversary, I jot down all the little things I love about living in Rome. Read them. Get inspired by them. Dream about them. Because the reality of living in Rome is better than the dream:
I love driving the narrow alleys of Centro Storico with the windows down and feeling the warm summer breeze then emerge in front of a 13th century church, all back lit like a monument.
I love the bite of the salami piccante pizza at Pizzeria Remo down the street and how the lusty fresh tomato sauce makes it one of the greatest food combos known to man.
I love how you can swap recipes with an Italian buddy and no one thinks it’s gay.
I love watching the old couples gossip in my Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice, even though I don’t know the old Romanesco dialect and have no clue what they’re saying.
I love having lived here four years and never having a bad bottle of wine.
I love knowing I could live here 1,000 years and never try all the wines in Italy.
I love how the fishmonger at my Mercato Testaccio sees me and automatically says with a knowing smile, “Tonno? Centottanta e quindici,” meaning “Tuna? 180 degrees and 15 minutes” which I always order and always double check how to bake.
I love that Radja Nainggolan, my favorite player on A.S. Roma, turned down more money to stay in the adopted city he loves like I do.
I love escaping a rainstorm in Piazza del Popolo’s Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo and seeing a Caravaggio masterpiece over my head, totally free as I dry off.
I love getting up early for a conchiglia, the triangle-shaped puffed pastry named for the seashell it looks like, when it’s warm and gooey at Caffe In on my piazza.
I love how the cash register at L’Oasi della Birra, my local beer bar and enoteca, is surrounded by designer Italian chocolates to tempt you as you leave with a healthy buzz.
I love how I can wear a designer suit to a casual aperitivo when the sun’s still out and I fit in just fine.
I love strolling through Piazza Navona just after dawn in winter, before the tourists pour in, when fog settles in just above Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.
I love how Marina, and all Italian women, think sexy high heels are casual wear, too.
I love how every wine region in Italy comes to Rome to push their product in one room during wine tasting events in tony hotels.
I love Rome-Palermo 56 euros round trip on Alitalia.
I love the grilled calamari at Amelindo in Fiumicino, the town known more for Rome’s airport than boasting the largest collection of affordable, fresh seafood restaurants in Italy.
I love the Blow Lounge.
I love reading books about Roman history in the summer with my terrace door open and Andrea Bocelli filling the air.
I love how grated parmesan cheese gives fresh pasta the cheesy flavor it has and then topped off with a pile of parmesan on top.
I love how no cafes in Rome offer coffee in paper cups.
I love how Marina never complains about my Italian but always encourages me to get better.
I love how no Italian woman wears Birkenstocks.
I love going through Campo de’ Fiori in the morning just in time to stop at Forno Campo de’ Fiori for its ungherese, a big fat toasted dough ring covered in white icing.
I love standing in the Olympic Stadium’s press tribune and hearing “Grazie Roma” right before AS Roma and its opponent marches onto the field.
I love that my Testaccio is one of the few neighborhoods in Rome that still honors pausa, the afternoon break when everything closes from 1-3:30 or 4 p.m.
I love how Italian leather shoes feel as comfortable on Day 1 as they do on Day 100.
I love SportWeek’s photos of Italy’s beautiful women athletes.
I love looking down at my courtyard from my fourth-floor kitchen window and seeing cats sunning themselves in the morning sun before it disappears behind the building.
I love the view of Centro Storico at sunset from the top of Terrazza Borromini while clinking wine glasses with total strangers in overstuffed couches.
I love Marina serving me espresso in bed with her cat, Coco, asleep near my feet.
I love a cold Italian craft beer at 8 percent alcohol outside on a hot summer day with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
I love Sicilian takeout.
I love talking to people from around the world on Tiburina Island as whitewater rushes by us during an Expats Living in Rome Meetup.
I love how Italian has no word for “hangover.”
I love the Roman dialect profanity “La mortaci tua!” meaning “Your family is dead!”
I love sitting upstairs in Abbey Theatre Irish Pub with our private room full of romanista dining on the best pub food outside London and watching AS Roma beat the mortal piss out of another opponent.
I love Marina’s father was a member of Italy’s Communist Party and loves Barack Obama.
I love that Italy’s Communist Party was pro labor and not pro Stalin.
I love eating my prized pasta amatriciana, covered in parmesan, on my terrace with cold clementines while looking out over the calm Tiber River on a warm spring day.
I love leisurely Sunday mornings outside at my Linari cafe, with my chocolate cornetto, cappuccino ben caldo (extra hot) and Corriere Dello Sport, and dig into Rome’s best pastry and 30 pages of soccer news.
I love AS Roma 2, Lazio 1, Nov. 18, 2017.
I love getting thirsty in summer then taking a draw from the ice-cold cisterns that have graced Rome for nearly 150 years.
I love how only one-third of all Italians are overweight compared to two-thirds in the U.S.
I love the romantic walk along Via dei Vascellari, the narrow cobblestone alley in Trastevere on my way to Trattoria Da Enzo, home of the best carbonara in the city that invented it.
I love how Federico my macellaio (butcher) wears a white fedora, not like the thousands of tourists who parade around idiotically with them but as an ode to macellai who wore them in the early 20th century.
I love how Marina’s fantastic pictures of us in Rome make me more grateful for living here than I did when I first arrived.