British and Irish pubs are big in Italy. One reason is the expat population here is nearing the numbers of the Mexican population in Arizona. Another is pubs serve good beer and Italy’s national brew is Peroni, which the Italians have labeled, “La birra della senza tetto” (The beer of the homeless.) That’s partially true. You see very few drunks in Rome but the ones that are passed out, an empty liter bottle of Peroni is usually within arm’s reach. (I have learned to emphasize the “O” in tetto. I more than once called it “La birra della senza tetta” (The beer of the titless.).
Yesterday I learned to be a better cook. I took my first cooking class in Rome. I emphasize first. When you’re retired, you’re shocked at how much time you have. I find myself revolving my days around one scheduled event. The rest of the time is spent with whimsical wanderings through the windy streets of Centro Storico or lounging on my couch reading about soccer. Or I’m in the kitchen making up recipes with whatever ingredients happen to look good in the market that day. Right now, my fettuccine with sausage and bell peppers would go for about $20 in any Italian restaurant in Denver.
The Hash House Harriers bills itself as “A Drinking Club with a Running Problem.” They meet every Sunday for what’s a combination run/scavenger hunt through parts of the city you’ll never find in “Lonely Planet.” Everyone has punted their Christian names long ago. They are given “hash names,” all based on embarrassing pratfalls, obvious physical abnormalities and just plain dumb luck. That’s why I wasn’t startled when a French woman in the group approached me, held out her hand and said, “Hello. Eatamypussy.”
Soccer as a religion is ancient news in Italy. There are archives of pictures of plump popes in full robes playfully booting a soccer ball over the cobblestones of St. Peter’s Square. But how an Italian Cup quarterfinal captivated this city of 3.5 million is another example of how soccer in Italy can’t be described. It must be experienced.
I took a bar stool and sipped a larcenously priced 6-euro pint of Nastro Azzuro the young American bartender seemed almost embarrassed to price for me. Watching football in foreign countries is foreign in more ways than one. You get the curious, not the fanatic. Rome is filled with American exchange students. One salivating male art student explained to a ditzy blonde in tight, TIGHT leather pants the rules of American football. She was not Italian. I think she was Californian.
Cell phones are as much a part of Italians’ lives as pasta. They’re connected to their ears like a growth. Land lines went out in Italy about the time of chariot races and cells, or cellulari as they’re called here, have become their lifeline. Italians have the fourth highest usage per capita in Europe (If you care, Lithuania is first), with 1,346 cell phones for every 1,000 people. Yes, that’s right. Italians even have backups.
I became addicted to public markets during my first stint in Rome from 2001-03. Mercato Trionfale was a sprawling open-air food bazaar not far from the Vatican. I got to know the Cheese Boys. I fell in lust with the Olive Goddess. I chatted up the Pasta Princess. It’s a great way to shop. You go to one stand for your cheese, another for your sausage, another for your bread. Then you stop at a tiny alimentari and get a bottle of decent Chianti for 2.50 euros.
It’s an odd sensation driving with all your present and future possessions to your next home for two months. That’s not a long time but for a traveler it’s a lifetime. You become friends with the cafe owner and the cheese vendor, the newspaper salesman and your neighbor. Moving into an apartment sight unseen is like parachuting into a different planet with no escape.
Fortunately, no escape necessary. In fact, throw away the key. I’m home.
I’m not into omens much. Man determines his own fate. That’s why I’m sitting here in Rome, my life’s remains enveloped in the five bags that surround me as I await passage into my new apartment. An early retirement that has baffled friends and foes alike has taken me to Rome, site of the wildest 17 months of my life and hopefully home of many more to come.
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