Maine’s Decadent Coast: Art, seafood and witches brew up an inviting corner of America

My girlfriend, Marina, had visited the U.S. four times but never New England; I’d never been to small towns on the Maine Coast. With Norwegian Airlines’ bargain-basement 500-euro round trip ticket from Rome to Providence, R.I., (an unheard of price from Rome in August), it was a tailor-made for her August break.
We started in Portland, Maine’s major city, where we met my good friend, Hal, a fellow refugee from the Las Vegas Review-Journal in the ‘80s.
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Rome in August is when Romans flee and Rome is your own personal trattoria

But in Rome, one month is hugely underrated: August. I recently ripped Rome in July. It’s hot, crowded, touristy. Everyone is sweating. An empty bus seat is a rumor. However, when I turned my calendar page from Il Vittoriano to Piazza Navona, Rome changed. Half of it emptied. I’m actually sitting on buses. I’m sitting on the subway. I’m no longer twisting my body in yoga positions to avoid roller bags and gypsies’ lightning-fast hands. I’m walking down the middle of streets downtown not worried about runaway Fiats passing idling cars stuck in traffic.
Rome, in August, is fabulous.
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My transition from sportswriter to sports fan becomes a half-empty glass as I dread start of soccer season

After 40 years of objectivity choking me of all subjectiveness, I now comprehend the fans’ anxiety, their depression, their anger. It hasn’t been easy being an A.S. Roma fan since I’ve arrived. Roma is a perennial second-tier club in Serie A, Italy’s top league. I take little solace knowing that only one club is first tier. Juventus’ six straight league titles, known as scudettos, kill my optimism by Halloween when Juve starts pulling away from the pack.
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Mussolini — yes, Mussolini — to thank for Lazio’s beautiful beaches

I’m pretty sure no one has ever written thank you to Mussolini, at least not in the last 70 years or so. Yes, he is a big reason Marina and I don’t have to board a plane or boat to relax on some of the best beaches in Europe. Papardo’ Beach is 85 miles south of Rome in an underrated part of the Lazio region that is sprinkled with cute towns and beaches that get more gorgeous with every kilometer you drive. Foreigners don’t come here much. Italians do. They know the convenience and pleasure of this area known as Agro Pontino, particularly now during Rome’s driest summer in the last 60 years. Where else in Europe can you get a tan and swim in a crystal-blue sea then eat a seafood feast for two with a bottle of local white wine for under 70 euros? Italians also appreciate this area for another reason.
They know in the 1930s this whole area was a swamp.
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Rome’s historic water shortage plugging the noses of some of city’s famed cisterns

As Rome melts into its cobblestones and my water intake skyrockets, everyone in Rome is facing a crisis: water shortage. More than 400 of our beloved nasoni have been turned off. The city has about 2,500 nasoni, meaning 16 percent of these cute, ingenious, thirst-quenching little piles or iron are now dry. We barely avoided water rationing which would’ve turned off water for eight hours a day all over the city. The Vatican turned off 100 of its fountains, including the famous Bernini fountain in the middle of St. Peter’s Square. Excuse all 1.5 million of us Rome residents if we’re sweating this summer for more reasons than one.
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Rome Mysteries tour reveals city’s strangest secrets

I’m starting to get more heavily into guided tours. Many aren’t very good. A good guidebook is a cheaper substitute and you don’t feel like a geek following someone holding up a flag. But one guide I always follow is Massimiliano Francia (guideromax@virgilio.it). Rome Explorers, an excellent Meetup group that does everything from urban tours to mountain hikes, hires “Max” out for English-speaking tours. He’s a Rome native with a library of history books that could fill one side of the Pantheon. What sets apart Francia is his voluminous knowledge of historical tidbits, oddities you won’t find in any guidebook or mainstream tour.
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Growing old and blind in Rome: My venture into Italy’s No. 2-ranked public health care system

As the United States free falls into Donald Trump’s Let-Them-Eat-Cake healthcare plan, I am learning first hand the benefits of the healthcare American progressives dream about. It’s not by choice. It’s not by journalistic research. Instead, for the past two months I have had an inside look at Italy’s public healthcare through my own misfortune.
I am now half blind.
My right eye has gone from near 20-20 to non functioning. If I close my left eye, it’s like a steel door covers my right eye with slits to let in some light. I’m a prisoner in my own skull. My depth perception is shot. Most everything is blurry as if scuba diving without a mask. This didn’t happen gradually. It happened nearly overnight. And it’s frightening.
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Paris vs. Rome: Which is better? Here’s some pizza and escargot for thought — then weigh in

Rome and Paris are the two loveliest ladies of all the world’s capitals. Rome has my heart. I’ve lived there twice for nearly five years. But Paris is my mistress. Every so often, I must steal away to the banks of the Seine and have a weekend fling. I’ve been to Paris more than any other world capital. I always return to Rome, but my days in Paris always leave a lusty smile on my face.
Many ask which city I prefer. It’s like asking which Caravaggio I prefer. It’s a valid question. I just can’t decide. So when I went to Paris on assignment last weekend with my true love of my life, photographer Marina Pascucci, I did a comparison.
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Berlin: “Silicon Valley on the Spree” heading toward a very bright future with eye still on a very dark past

all over Berlin you can find chilling, haunting memorials to Germany’s ugly involvement in the Holocaust and communism. A four-story museum is dedicated entirely to the evils of Stasi, East Germany’s secret police. The Stasi prison still stands, as is, giving tours four times a day to show what they did to prisoners who merely had a negative thought about their lovely lives in East Germany. A Holocaust Memorial was erected as recently as 2005 and covers a space the size of a football field. A DDR Museum shows what life was like under communism, a system that strives for mediocrity, a quest that undermines all human emotion and drive.
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