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.
It’s called a mille-feulle. A mille-feuille is a French tradition that dates back to the late 17th century. Also called a Napoleon, mille-feuille means “thousand leaves” in French. It’s vanilla cream in between pastry cream and sandwiched between a sugar-coated crust. Covered in fresh chantilly, France’s orgasmic whipped cream, it was absolute heaven. I never felt so good waddling out of a cafe.
I have found a new home, a new home in Rome. My dream apartment pales in comparison to what I eventually found. What do you do when reality surpasses your dreams? Here’s what I did: I got out of bed, opened my glass door and walked out on to a 350-square-foot terrace overlooking the Tiber. At my penthouse balcony five floors up, I could see joggers chugging up Lungotevere, the long street that snakes up the river from Centro Storico in the heart of the city to Rome’s gritty southern edge. If I cut down a couple of trees, I could see St. Peter’s Basilica. I asked my new landlady where I could find a chainsaw in Rome.
I’ve been to the Amalfi twice before. How much do I love it? A framed oil painting of Positano, my favorite town in Italy, hung above my TV in Denver for 11 years. Whenever I got stressed, I would lay on my couch and stare at the multi-layered rows of bed & breakfasts, pensions and villas that cascade down a steep hill toward the turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea. I could be devastated by a diagnosis of brain cancer, the ax murder of a sibling or a pending trip to Nebraska and stare at that painting. I’d smell the sweet fragrance of lemon trees from the Amalfi. Suddenly, life is sweet again.
Retired in Rome Journal: Dinner on a piazza went from a no-no to a yes-yes thanks to Obika’ and its smoked bufala mozzarella
I know Obika’. In 2006 I wrote about it in A Moveable Feast, the traveling food column I wrote for The Denver Post for eight years. Obika’ comes from the Neapolitan word “obica,” meaning, “We are here.” However, the Neapolitan alphabet has no “k.” The Neapolitan owner, Silvio Ursini, is a Bvlgari jewelry exec who started Obika’ in 2004 due to two obsessions: mozzarella and Japanese culture. He switched the “c” to a “k” to give it a Japanese bent and an accent on the end just to be hip.