Only one third of all Italians are overweight. In Rome it’s even less. They walk everywhere. They eat fresh food in smaller portions. They don’t drink much beer. I have yet to see an overweight person in Lungotevere Fitness. I have also yet to see a steroid-crazed bodybuilder. They’re all fit, well-proportioned people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are merely toning up, not showing off. However, I was, ahem, quite impressed by the blonde built like a lingerie model doing pelvic thrusts with a 25-kilo weight on her stomach.
Unlike other Renaissance artists who draped themselves in religion and groveled at the foot of the Catholic Church, Caravaggio was a rebel. He was a brawler. He was a womanizer, a partier. He was accused of theft. He was jailed numerous times. I admire him because he stuck to his own religious beliefs — or lack thereof — and threw tomato sauce on the church’s otherwise pristine canvas.
Retired in Rome Journal: May Day celebration in Abruzzo a slice of rural life in a country of turmoil
I have returned from two days in Abruzzo, the widely overlooked region east of Rome’s Lazio. Abruzzo is where rural Italian life mirrors my life-long image of Italy: good friends drinking Chianti from wide, wicker-bottomed bottles under grapevines, of accordion music playing old Italian love songs.
Some cities in Italy have reputations as tourist traps and for good reason. They’re fabulous. Take San Gimignano. It’s one of those Tuscan jewels you read about it and HEAR about, ad nauseam, from your friends who once visited. It’s a walled city constructed during medieval times to ward off invasions from everyone taking revenge on the old barbarian Roman Empire.
I’ve been to Florence numerous times. In my continuing tour of Italian tourist spots before the mobs arrive, I came to Tuscany for three days. To go through Tuscany, one must go through Florence. It’s inevitable. I’d like to avoid it, like a high school reunion you must attend before branching off with old buddies to a dive bar. But here I am back in Florence, along with about 500,000 of my closest fellow tourists.
The Catholic Church has passed on its prehistoric dogma from one pope to another for nearly 2,000 years, with none — until now — having the foresight to modernize enough to attract a new generation. How were young urban Italians going to react when John Paul II went to Tanzania in 1990, on a continent where, according to AVERT, a United Kingdom-based HIV and AIDS charity, 5.5 million people suffered from AIDS, and told them using condoms was “evil”?
Back 2,000 years ago, Rome had 1 million people. Another city in Europe didn’t reach that mark until London — in the 1850s. But the Romans living in Testaccio weren’t wearing togas and drinking wine in gold goblets near the Roman Forum. Since well before Spartacus first laid down his hammer and picked up his sword instead (See: Slave Revolts That End Badly), Testaccio has been the living quarters of the working class.
This part of Lazio could be turned into a golf course by just digging 18 small holes and building a stand selling Polyester shirts. The grass is that nice.
The Terme dei Papi are thermal baths located in the charming walled city of Viterbo, about 40 miles north of Rome. Actually, the baths were once on the beaten path. The difference is those beating that path were the likes of Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri (who wrote about them in his “Divine Comedy”) and, as the term “Papi” indicates, many sitting popes. They’ve been around since the 3rd century, just after the height of the Roman Empire.
Pickpocketing in Rome has a thousand stories. In actuality, you have at least 300 a day. According to Bob Arno, the self-proclaimed “Pickpocket King” who has gone from thief to victims advocate, that’s the number that is allegedly reported to police in Rome. According to the Huffington Post, Rome has the second most pickpocket incidents in the world, just behind Barcelona and just ahead of Prague.
The lifestyle in Rome, however, has built-in safeguards. Like Romans, I walk everywhere. When I lived in Centro Storico, I didn’t need public transportation for two months. Rome is one of the world’s great walking cities and I would walk four to six miles a day. Even when I wasn’t going anywhere, I’d just wander.
I’ve had a weird fascination with Benito Mussolini ever since I read about him during my first stint here from 2001-03. He was fierce nationalist who tried to make his country a player on the world stage. He had some leadership qualities that any general in the U.S. could admire. The son of a socialist blacksmith in the small Emilia-Romagna town of Dovia di Predappio, Mussolini fought against growing communist factions and did a lot of good in his early years. He helped nationalize a language in a country fractured by dialects and millenium-long regional rivalries. He turned the swamps outside of Rome into commerce centers and charming, livable villages. And, as his legacy still states, he got the trains to run on time. He did nothing with the bus system, which still sucks, but that’s Rome’s problem now. His problem was he had this weird crush on Adolph Hitler, which, obviously, became the ultimate fatal attraction.