Gelato wars: My five favorite gelaterias in Rome

Italy has 19,000 gelaterias. Here are my five favorite in Rome. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Italy has 19,000 gelaterias. Here are my five favorite in Rome. Photo by Marina Pascucci

It was my birthday Thursday and what’s a great way to spend your birthday week in Rome? How about eating gelato every day? You can do that here. Sure, you can do that in Nebraska, too, but soon you’ll look like most of the people around you. Here in Rome gelato is considered one of the four major food groups, along with wine, pasta and local politicians. Like everything else in Italy, gelato is all natural, as pure as the olives in olive oil and grapes in wine.

I’ve done this before. When I lived in Rome the first time from 2001-03, I wrote a major tome about gelato for SilverKris, Singapore Airlines’ inflight magazine. I roamed the city on hot summer days, tasting gelato, interviewing gelateria owners, interviewing panting customers from around the world. Hey, it beat covering Iraq.

As one English tourist told me as she ate a large tub of nocciolo (hazelnut), mirtilli (blueberry) and caramel creme, “Is gelato ice cream or a Roman god?”

Good question. So cold. So sweet. So good. Why is gelato Italy’s favorite food?

It is Italy’s lunch break, its afternoon snack, its nightcap. Softer than industrialized ice cream you find in the U.S. and harder than soft ice cream spit out from machines in restaurant chains, gelato has the perfect velvety texture. In a country built on art and driven by romance, gelato is the fuel that ignites the masses. It also unites them. Strolling the cobblestone passageways snaking off Piazza Navona or in front of the 2nd century Pantheon, romantic Romans can’t seem to hold their lover’s hand without holding a gelato in their other one.

“When you eat a cone, it is love,” said Nazzareno Giolittli, owner of Giolitti, the hugely popular gelateria near the Pantheon. “It’s not possible for American people to walk along the street because it’s too frantic. Rome, it’s more slow. It’s a tradition to walk around the city. When old people look at ice cream, they become young again.”

Gelato doesn't travel well so one must come to Italy to taste the real deal. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Gelato doesn’t travel well so one must come to Italy to taste the real deal. Photo by Marina Pascucci

And I’m old. I turned 62 Thursday. But as I licked my way across Rome this week, I felt the same as I did when I first came to Italy and had my first gelato in front of the Duomo in Milan. I was 22. I’m firmly convinced if I keep eating gelato in Rome I’ll be young forever.

I don’t have to go far to find it. According to Bloomberg Markets, Italy has 19,000 gelaterias which in 2016 sold 157 million gallons. That equates to 6.8 billion scoops. Italians eat an average of 100 scoops a year for a total annual sale of more than $1.7 billion. According to Confcommercio, the gelateria industry employs 69,000 people. Considering Italy is going through its biggest recession since World War II, the gelato industry in Italy is as important as the auto industry in Detroit, except you get more mileage out of gelato.

The key is finding the right gelateria. Gelateria owners — or gelato jockeys as I call them — I talked to and my own mouth-watering wanderings over the years estimate that only about 20 percent of the gelaterias are natural. The rest are industrialized frauds using artificial ingredients and coloring to make the flavors look more inviting. As a result, their gelato is as inviting and real as the hookers flirting behind the windows in Amsterdam.

Want a tip? It’s easy. If the gelato is big and puffy and bright, it probably has more artificial ingredients than a small jet engine. Air creates that puffiness. And if the banana flavor is bright yellow and the pistachio bright green, keep walking. Think about it. Both fruits are kind of grayish. Real gelaterias present their gelato flattened in tubs. The ingredients are concentrated, real, natural.

Even healthy.

Yes, natural gelato is not real fattening. One hundred grams of gelato, depending on whether its fruit or cream based, is between 100 and 200 calories. One hundred grams of Cherry Garcia, one of Ben & Jerry’s most popular flavors, is about 300 calories. Also, eating an American ice cream cone isn’t the same when you’re walking around a suburban strip mall.

Cream flavors consist of egg yolks, milk or cream, sugar plus whatever flavor, be it chocolate or hazelnut or whatever. Fruit flavors consist of water or milk, sugar and fresh fruit. The real gelaterias change flavors with the season. You won’t find mango in January; you won’t find pear in July. It’s spring and fragole (strawberries) and lamponi (raspberries) are starting to return.

I remember Pasquale Allongi, owner of San Crispino, which The New York Times once called the best gelateria in Rome, flew in grapes from Chile. For his coffee flavor he used Blue Mountain coffee from Kenya. For his zabaione (marsala custard), he used marsala aged 25 years.

What do the industrialized gelaterias use? Picture a gelato jockey opening a bag.

Gianluciano Mereu, owner of Old Bridge near the Vatican. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Gianluciano Mereu, owner of Old Bridge near the Vatican. Photo by Marina Pascucci

“It’s faster,” said Gianluciano Mereu, owner of Old Bridge, my first favorite gelateria dating back to 2001. “For example, to do lemon or orange gelato, I must squeeze 20 kilos of oranges and lemons to make five liters of juice. They just open a sack and pour in powder for a few seconds. That’s the problem. It’s disgusting.”

Meanwhile, American ice cream is packed with vegetable fats for longer shelf life. What results is the shelf life of Ivory soap. The vegetable fats make it so hard, you not only can serve it with a knife and fork, it’s advisable.

However, gelato does owe something to the American ice cream industry. The ice cream cone was invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. At the time, ice cream had been in the U.S. since 1851 when it came to Baltimore and stabilizers were used to freeze it faster.

By that time, gelato had been in Italy for about 2,000 years. Arabian Sarazens brought to Sicily iced fruits known as sherberts which comes from the Arabic word sharba, meaning “fresh ice.” During the height of the Roman Empire, the Roman aristocracy often relaxed with a form of gelato made from fruit puree, honey and snow. They’d pack snow from Mt. Tolfa in the nearby Anti-Apennines mountains and carry it to Rome, using fresh horses every few miles.

Consequently, it was only a winter dish. Today, gelato is the Italian food of choice all year round. Emperors and paupers, senators and actors, English teachers and retired journalists.

You can't have gelato without panna. You just CAN'T! Photo by Marina Pascucci

You can’t have gelato without panna. You just CAN’T! Photo by Marina Pascucci

Another major aspect that sets apart Italian gelato is the panna (whipped cream). They all give it free, a big fat white fluffy dollop on top and it’s mostly handmade, not the Reddi Wip for which my old faux pas gelateria in Denver charged $1.50. It adds a creamy touch to the palate, not to mention a good excuse to lick your date’s nose when she misses.

Panna, however, can get you into trouble. It once got me thrown out of a gelateria. True story. Some guys get thrown out of bars in border towns. Some get thrown out of political rallies. I get thrown out of an ice cream parlor. I was at Giolitti’s first store, in my Testaccio neighborhood. An old crusty owner served me a cone and asked me if I wanted panna.

I said, “Of course. Gelato without panna is like sex without an orgasm.” I thought it was funny. Most gelato jockeys laugh, especially the women. He scowled, pointed at the door and said, “VAI VIA! (GO AWAY!). I wasn’t mad. I didn’t blame him. The guy probably hadn’t had an orgasm since Mussolini was hanging from his toes.

I recalled that story this week but something else hit me. If I’ve lived here 5 ½ years and am a regular gelato junkie, I need a top five list, one I can send to friends who need recommendations. Old Bridge is the only one that survived the test of time and never left the ranking, kind of like Duke basketball or Beyonce. For help, I blasted an email on my Expats Living in Rome Meetup website and asked for everyone’s favorite gelateria. I received more than 70 responses totaling 30 different spots. While I did my best to hit each one, I came up short before I started just injecting the black cherry gelato straight into my arm.

I used the survey as a research guide but mostly used my own past and taste for my top five gelaterias of Rome. They are all small. They are all inconspicuous. They are all authentic. And they will spoil you forever:

The dark chocolate dip at Brivido. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The dark chocolate dip at Brivido. Photo by Marina Pascucci

1. Brivido, (Neighborhood: Testaccio), Via Giovanni Battista Bodoni 62, Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Living five minutes away, I’ve made Brivido my nightcap. It’s cheaper than another glass of wine and much healthier. Although purists can argue that getting the free dip into big vats of white and dark chocolate isn’t healthy or traditional, I’m not traditional, either. Biting into a hard, white-chocolate coating and sinking your tongue into soft, creamy flavors of all natural ingredients is my idea of ending the day.

My favorite flavor, amarena (black cherry), is especially good here as they use raw cherries. I loved the new flavor I tried this week, arachide (peanut). Brivido also has a whole line of vegan flavors.

Since 1986 it has occupied a quiet street corner in my Testaccio neighborhood just a block from legendary Piazza Testaccio where you can now find fathers and sons playing soccer around the giant fountain. Owner Mady Amodeo laments how the spread of industrialized gelaterias in Rome has contributed to the fall of mankind, pointing to her pasteurization machines behind the display window to show the work she puts in every day.

There's always a crowd at Old Bridge. Photo by Marina Pascucci

There’s always a crowd at Old Bridge. Photo by Marina Pascucci

2. Old Bridge, (Prati), Viale dei Bastioni di Michelangelo,, 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m.-2 a.m. Sunday.

This is extraordinarily biased as I’ve been going here for 17 years. Even between Rome habitations, I made beelines here on vacations. It’s a tiny shop with no tables or chairs just west of massive Piazza del Risorgimento. On sunny days Old Bridge is in the shadow of the Vatican wall.

I’ve always liked Old Bridge because of its portions. They’re the largest in Rome but do not sacrifice their natural ingredients.

“Since we opened 30 years ago, we try to use two components: the quality and the quantity of the product,” Mereu said. “We always thought that these two things together are fundamental for the success of our work. So we prefer to earn a little less but we give something more to our clients. It’s our philosophy to thank them.”

Like many gelaterias, Old Bridge goes to great lengths for its natural products. For its most popular flavor, pistachio, Mereu gets pistachios from Sicily near a volcano where the earth is richest. “They’re the best pistachios in the world,” he said.

Another Old Bridge has returned to Trastevere at Via della Scala 70.

Matteo Mercolini and Pietro Smarrazzo of Grezzo.

Matteo Mercolini and Pietro Smarrazzo of Grezzo.

3. Grezzo, (Monti), Via Urbana 130,, Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight, Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Matteo Mercolini, 28, became a vegan four years ago and did plenty of research on the health benefits and diet. Ironically, Grezzo opened four years ago in an inconspicuous shop in Monti, arguably Rome’s hippest, liveliest neighborhood today. It’s not so ironic that Mercolini took a job here slingin’ gelato two weeks ago.

“After I taste this my conception of gelato totally changed,” he told me. “I can not go to any other ice cream shops.”

Mine changed here, too. Grezzo is famous for its raw chocolate, and its display case is filled with tantalizing little chocolate chunks filled with everything from pralines to various nuts. Occasionally I’d drop by to buy my girlfriend, Marina Pascucci, who took most of these photos, a little gift box and a piece for myself. While I swooned in my own chocolate-infused sexual ecstasy, I never thought about trying the gelato. It has become Grezzo’s side venture, along with its cakes and cookies.

But Grezzo received some votes in my survey and a friend urged me to give it a chance. My friend was right. The chocolate, the raw chocolate gelato, was the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had. The chocolate beans are sun dried, not toasted like most places. So concentrated, the chocolate exploded in my mouth. I paired it with nocciola (hazelnut) which is 40 percent nuts compared to the usual 20 percent, Mercolini said.

“Keeping the process under 42 degrees, it allows us to maintain all the nutritional values and, of course, the flavor is more powerful,” he explained. “It’s more concentrated in the mouth.”

I look forward to this summer when they break out their mango, raspberry, blueberry and passion fruit, which match the chocolate in popularity.

Started in Turin, Grezzo will open a shop in Centro Storico near Largo Argentina at the beginning of May.

Neve di Latte gets its milk and cream from Germany. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Neve di Latte gets its milk and cream from Germany. Photo by Marina Pascucci

4. Neve di Latte, (Flaminio), Via Luigi Poletti 6, Monday-Friday noon 10 p.m., Saturday noon-11 p.m., Sunday noon-10 p.m.

Besides receiving multiple votes, it received the biggest vote from Alessandro Castellani, my sportswriter buddy and patron saint of Italian food and wine recommendations. Again, Castellani hit the bull’s eye. Sitting on a side street behind the MAXXI modern art museum in northern Rome, Neve di Latte looks anything but touristy. Its bland gray and white interior makes it look older than its eight years and there’s nothing fancy about the flavors.

But the gelato I had — pistachio and variegato (cocoa, hazelnut, cream) — was spectacular. You could actually taste the cream separate from the cocoa and hazelnut. How serious do gelaterias take their ingredients? Neve di Latte gets its milk and cream from a biodynamic producer in Germany where the cows graze at about 4,600 feet. Its Amadei chocolate and Parisi eggs are from Tuscany. La Stampa newspaper merely called the Parisi egg “the most delicious egg in the world.”

Underneath it all, the pistachio was as good as any I’ve ever had and I’ve tried it all over Italy.

Fatamorgana is one of the few chains I will frequent.

Fatamorgana is one of the few chains I will frequent.

5. Fatamorgana, (Trastevere), Via Roma Libera 11,, daily noon-1 a.m.

I had my top five set — until I came here on my birthday. It makes the list purely by its adventurous nature. Yes, as the sign says, it is also gluten free, egg free, milk free, nut free, sugar free. OK, we get it. But it’s also tradition free.

Fatamorgana, although part of a chain that’s always a red flag, has the most interesting flavors in Rome. On my visit I saw carrot cake, baklava, Lapsong Sonchong (a Chinese smoked tea) chocolate, blackberry and grapes. I’ve read about such flavors here as cinnamon-apple-nut, tiramisu and blueberry cheesecake. One called Bacio del Principe (Kiss of the Prince) is made of gianduja (a chocolate paste made from ground hazelnuts). Panacea is almond milk, ginseng and mint.

I had its famous banana cream with sesame brittle and the sesame’s salt adds an intoxicating flair to the sweet banana. I combined that with seadas:, pecorino cheese from Sardinia, chestnuts, honey and orange peel. You could taste every ingredient, kind of like a fine wine.

The mastermind behind all this is Maria Agnese, a country girl who made gelato as a child but never followed a recipe. She once used leaves from a local orchard’s almond tree and invented almond flowers gelato cream.

There are also stores in Monti, Re di Roma, Corso and North Rome.

Keep in mind, just like basketball rankings, gelato is a matter of taste, in more ways than one. Below is my survey results (with neighborhood in parentheses). Please note the many votes for LaRomana. It’s good but it did not make my list.

Fatamorgana (numerous locations) 8
LaRomana (numerous locations) 8
Fassi (Equilino) 6
Gracchi 4 (Prati)
Neve de Latte (Flaminio) 4
Grezzo (Monti) 4
San Crispino (Centro Storico) 4
Old Bridge (Prati, Trastevere) 3
Frigidarium (Centro Storico) 3
Giolitti (Centro Storico, Testaccio) 3
Brivido (Testaccio) 2
Guttilla (Monte Sacro) 2
Pico Gelato (Piazza Bologna) 2
Angelletto (Monti) 2
Millenium (Prati) 1
Rivareno (San Giovanni) 1
Cremeria Aurelia (Aurelia) 1
Siciliana (Prati) 1
La Strega Nocciola (Spagna) 1
Vecchi (Centro Storico) 1
Olive Dolci (Manzoni) 1
Like G (Prati) 1
Otaleg (Portuense) 1
Gelateria del Teatro (Centro Storico) 1
LaPalma (Centro Storico) 1
Ping Pong (Tuscolana) 1
Cremi (Trastevere) 1
Ciuri Ciuri (Quirinale) 1
Quinto (Centro Storico) 1
Tony (Portuense) 1

Buying a home in Italy: One American expat’s struggles

Chandi Wyant in Tuscany.

Chandi Wyant in Tuscany.

Frances Mayes’ 1996 blockbuster bestseller, “Under the Tuscan Sun,” made buying a home in Tuscany the pinnacle of Italian dreams. A garden. A beautiful kitchen to cook fresh Italian dishes. And, oh, that Italian sun. But it’s not always a love story. Buying a home in Italy can be a story of disillusionment.

Like me, Chandi Wyant is an American expat, travel writer, author and one-time Colorado transplant. Her book, “Return to Glow,” about her 40-day pilgrimage walk in Italy, has become a big hit. She moved to Tuscany for a second time last spring and was hopeful about buying a small house or apartment. It’s a long process and sometimes painful. In between moving out of freezing rental that had no heat, into another temporary rental with friends, she joined me for an online Q&A about her experiences house-hunting in Italy.

Homes in central Florence can be very expensive. Photo by Chandi Wyant

Homes in central Florence can be very expensive. Photo by Chandi Wyant


The market is not liquid like the U.S. market tends to be. Flipping houses is not a thing with Italians. About 70-80 percent of Italians own the homes in which they live. Property is passed down through generations — or if Italians don’t inherit a house, they tend to buy one and one only.

Property in Italy should not be seen as an investment. It’s better to buy if you want to live there forever. Although if you’re not going to live in the property you buy and if it’s near tourist attractions, you can rent it out for income.

If you are concerned about resale, you need to know that it is usually quite difficult to sell a house that is located in the countryside. The best places for resale are the historic centers of popular cities.


I looked at about 20 places in Lucca and surrounding area, and about 20 in the center and the outskirts of Florence. Then I got burnt out and stopped.


Price range in Florence: To get a decent-looking but small two-bedroom apartment in the center or slightly on the periphery but not in a horrible area, you are looking at a minimum of 300,000 euros ($360,000) and the kitchen is likely to be barbie sized and it’s unlikely there will be a garden or a terrace. To get two bedrooms with radiant floor heat and a large garden in a great location you are looking at 550,000 Euro ($670,000).

Living in Tuscany does have its romantic side. Photo by Chandi Wyant

Living in Tuscany does have its romantic side. Photo by Chandi Wyant


The process of using a real estate agent is different in Italy than in the U.S. Americans are used to choosing a realtor based on who they feel is sympathetic to their wish list, and who they know will go to bat for them. In Italy you don’t have such a luxury. There is no central data base like Multiple Listings Services in the U.S. Realtors have their territory. They represent only some properties. And they work for the seller as well as the buyer, which doesn’t allow for the “They have my back” feeling.

In my experience I spent about a hundred hours during a two-month period, searching properties online, then requesting further info when I saw something interesting, and then I received an onslaught of calls in Italian from realtors and had to set up eight showings with eight different realtors for a two-day trip to Florence.

The amount of realtors I spoke to and met was dizzying and I couldn’t keep them clear in my head. Needless to say I find the U.S. system to be more straightforward and more pleasant.

Finally I found a realtor in Florence who seemed more competent than the others, and who I felt really was taking my criteria to heart. I asked her if I could be exclusively with her. The answer was “Yes but…”

Because of the lack of a MLS, my exclusive realtor has to ask other realtors if she can show their property to me, if I want to see one she doesn’t represent. Sometimes she’ll get a yes and sometimes a no. Even though I got burned out and stopped for a while, I will take things up with her when I resume looking again.

Lastly, regarding bureaucracy, there are numerous complex technical and legal aspects to buying property in Italy and foreigners can easily get in over their heads. My advice is to take it slowly, rent first and do a lot of research about the market and the process and the expenses, and always hire competent legal assistance when buying a property in Italy.


If you have a lot of money to spend on a property in Italy you may possibly still feel the romance of it that is encouraged by enticing photos on real estate ads and by Hollywood movies. If you are on a budget it can be a painful process if you have the romantic version in your head.

A typical kitchen in Florence.

A typical kitchen in Florence.


The kitchens. When you’re on a budget they’re awful. And even if you have $670,000 to spend on an apartment in Florence, the kitchen will likely be enclosed by walls with no window.

I viewed a new apartment in Florence (550,000 euros or $670,000). I couldn’t afford it but it had radiant floor heating and a large garden, so I just had to see it. (After going through the winter months in a rustic countryside place with no heat the thought of radiant floor heat, and new, air-tight construction sounded like heaven.) I walked into the main room, a nice big space, with large windows and a glass door at the end of it, opening to the garden. But at the back of this room where there were no windows was the kitchen with walls around it, all closed in.

While I love hundreds of things about Italy, I will never love a windowless kitchen in a closet.

(Italians think kitchens must be hidden which is why they’re typically built into windowless corners, or even literally found inside closets.)

I am actually very adaptable to many things. When I lived in India I had to go outside and dig a hole to go the bathroom. But I have not been able to relinquish my love of a kitchen that is the heart of the house, a place that is inviting and festive, with an island where guests can sit with their wine while the host prepares food.

My dream kitchen and my dream of living in Italy may not “marry well” (to take a phrase from Italian) and I have to find a balance.


After doing a huge push with my search through December and January, I became disheartened about what was available in my budget. And the dollar was getting lower, so I took a break. I may have to stray farther into Florence’s periphery to afford an apartment that feels attractive to me. My next task is to get to know those areas and learn how resale prospects may change for an apartment in the periphery versus in the center.

Chandi is a world traveler, photographer, writer and historian. She moved to Tuscany in the spring of 2017 after a long love affair with Italy that started in the 1980s when she first traveled there at age 19 and then returned the following year to live in Florence and learn the language. Chandi has a master’s degree in Florentine Renaissance history and has taught at colleges in the US and overseas. On her website, Paradise of Exiles, she blogs about how to move to Italy.

Chandi’s memoir about her 40-day pilgrimage walk in Italy has been featured on numerous travel websites and podcasts to rave reviews. You can get the book here.

You can find her on instagram and Facebook:
instagram @paradiseofexiles

How to pack for a holiday in Rome: Light, in a backpack but don’t forget the sport coat

For Rome, you can pack light and still be stylish. Photo by Marina Pascucci

For Rome, you can pack light and still be stylish. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The snow has melted, and you’re holding your smiling face up to the sun every day. You’ve been staring at that photo of the backlit Colosseum ever since you booked your Rome vacation for this spring. Lent is over but you’re continuing your abstinence from all Italian food until you sink your teeth into that first pizza at Pizzeria Remo. Soon, however, you’ll need to get to work. Decisions must be made. Items must be bought. The biggest question facing many travelers is a source of unnecessary stress.

What should I pack?

As a veteran traveler, I don’t sweat the small stuff. And packing is small stuff. I can pack for a month’s trip to Jupiter in about two hours, depending on if my anti-poison astro suit has been washed. The general rule of thumb I tell people is pack what you think you’ll need — then cut it in half. Don’t pack anything unless you plan on wearing it at least twice. While packing, look in the mirror. Pack what you’re wearing. That way you’ll look normal and you’re not walking around rural India in those stupid Ali Baba pants you’ll never wear again.

Rome isn’t as easy as the weather would suggest. Yes, in the ideal visiting months of April, May, September and October the average high temperature ranges from about 72-82 degrees. Rain is maybe three inches a month. But Rome can be complicated. In the capital of the most stylish country in the world, you don’t want to look like you walked out of an Iowa cornfield. Yet the 2,000-year-old cobblestones covering most of the town center can turn your feet into Norcia sausage before you climb one Spanish Step.

I’m here to help. After living here 5 ½ years and visiting many other times, I know what to pack and what not to pack for any time of year. For simplicity sake, I’ll stick here to the ideal months of spring and fall. Forget summer. If you’re crazy enough to visit Rome in July and August you won’t listen to this advice anyway.

So keep this list on your laptop while you’re packing your backpack, which brings us to my first item.

Backpack. Don’t take a roller bag or anything on wheels. Rome’s sidewalks are about as wide as your average Italian runway model. Your bag will spend most of its journey to your hotel in a gutter. Many streets are cobblestones. The rattling of the wheels will drown out your conversation and your bag will need a NASCAR pit crew to repair the wheels. Backpacks are comfortable, convenient and hip. You can walk anywhere with them, take up less space on crowded buses and subways and you’ll look like a road-wise traveler, not like you came from an American Express bus. This will earn you instant street cred with the pickpockets, which brings us to item No. 2 …

Money belt. I wear them anywhere in the world, but in Rome it’s more important. It’s No. 2 in the world in pickpockets behind Barcelona. The number reported in 2014 hit 1,848. That’s reported. Don’t try to be macho here. No reason to flash clenched fists. You won’t know you’ve been robbed until you try to pay for lunch. They’re that good. Instead, buy a thin, five-inch-wide money belt that slips inside the waistline of your pants. They’re available in any luggage store. Put everything in there you can’t afford to lose: credit card, cash card, excessive cash, passport, etc. Keep just enough cash in your wallet to get through the day. They can’t rob you unless they knock you out and strip you. Also, just in CASE, keep another credit card in your wallet or separate from your money belt. Don’t take it off except to bed or the shower. Do NOT pack a fat fanny pack you hang around your waist or money belts that hang around your neck. You might as well replace them with a sign reading, “ROB ME.”

Soletopia photo

Soletopia photo

Sport coat. Yes, it might be a pain to pack but it’s essential in Rome. You can NOT overdress here. Roman men wear sport coats all the time, particularly in the evening. Pack a dark blue, something that goes with everything and dresses up anything. The weather is mild enough where you can wear it comfortably during the day and night. For a little flair, pack a pocket kerchief that matches your shirt. You won’t look gay. You’ll look Italian. (Bonus advice: Don’t wear this outfit anywhere near Lubbock.)

Italian shoes. If you don’t have any to pack, buy them here. They’re beautiful, practical and so comfortable you could leave a shoe store and walk the Appian Way in them. (Psst, men! They’re cheaper here than in the States. Italian stores price them for Italian men on Italian budgets; they price women’s shoes for women tourists.) Call them shallow, but Italians judge you on how you dress. They start from the ground up. Women, don’t let the cobblestones intimidate you. Pack those heels you’ve been dying to wear. Centro Storico is compact. You won’t have to walk far. Besides, one of the three basic questions Italians ask each other, besides where you’re going on vacation and have you tried a new restaurant is: Where did you buy your shoes?

Merrells. During the day, you WILL walk a lot. I average four miles a day living like a local without ever “going for a walk.” Merrells, out of Rockford, Mich., are the best travel shoes I’ve ever owned. A French photographer I met in Mongolia had a pair that put my white Nikes to shame. Merrells feel like sneakers but the design makes them more dressy. I’ve worn them trekking in the High Tatras in Slovakia and out to dinner in Paris. They hide dirt well. They won’t look out of place with a nice pair of pants.

Loose pants. Rome’s humidity won’t be confused with Houston’s or St. Louis’ but it does reach 50 percent. When it’s mid-70s you don’t want your pants glued to your skin. Dockers or cargo pants are excellent for touring Rome. Don’t try buying them here. Romans wear them extra tight. My legs are hopelessly skinny and even I struggle to find them big enough. My girlfriend, Marina, suggests leggings for women. They’re light and comfortable and versatile for changes in weather.

T-shirts. This might be an easy assumption. Everyone packs T-shirts. The important point in Rome is what to have on it. To fit in, wear something plain. No wording. No “I’M WITH STUPID” or an Eiffel Tower. You look like a tourist already. No reason to further advertise it. And no one cares if you went to Michigan State. Italians think it’s just the state of Michigan. Leave your school colors at home. Wear dark colors. They hide sweat stains from any creeping humidity. Many Italians wear T-shirts of major brands: Abercrombie & Fitch, Dolce & Gabbana, Kappa. Those words are accepted. Also popular in Italy are solid-color v-neck T-shirts.

Collared long-sleeved shirts. Italian men wear long-sleeve shirts untucked often with their sleeves slightly rolled up and two top buttons unbuttoned. Cotton is very comfortable. Growing in popularity and taking more space in my closet are long-sleeve un-collared shirts. They’re more casual and cool. For women, Marina says silk blouses are practical and stylish. For 2018, green is IN.

Hat. I’m not a big weather guy. Weather never affects my mood. It only affects what I drink and what I wear. I do wear hats here. You’ll be in the sun a lot and may want to cover your face. Wear a fedora of black, straw or gray. They’re cooling, practical and look good with a sport coat or stylish shirt. Do NOT wear the white fedora that every tourist seems to receive when going through Rome’s airport customs. No matter where you go, even the bathroom, you’ll look like you’ve strayed from a tour group. Also popular are the short-billed, flat-topped fisherman’s hats. They’re not great for the sun but excellent in a flash rainstorm. They also fit in the inside pocket of your sport coat. Women can wear wide-billed hats of enormous variety.

Shorts. When I lived in Rome the first time in 2001-03, no one wore shorts, even in July. That has changed. When it’s hot Rome men often wear shorts — but stylish. They’re long, to the knee or beyond, and in bright colors that go well with matching shoes. Do not wear cargo shorts. This is Rome, not the Amazon.

Lightweight jacket. At night it can cool into the mid-50s, low 60s. It’s comfortable but a waistcoat or leather jacket is perfect for nocturnal excursions in case a sport coat isn’t warm enough. Also, pack a hooded windbreaker that stuffs into a corner of your backpack. They’re good also for the occasional rainstorm.

Coin purse. The euro has changed the way Italians carry money. With 2- and 1-euro coins, you can’t afford to lose any. Find a little four-sided leather pouch that snaps shut. It’s perfect for holding loose change while you’re in a long line buying a gelato. It also won’t fall out of your pocket when you’re reclining in a hotel lobby easy chair.

Daypack. In the bottom of your backpack, put a smaller pack to take with you while sightseeing during the day. In it put your camera, guidebook, map and snacks. You don’t want to have your camera exposed on Rome’s public transportation or trains in Italy. You don’t want to be seen staring at your guidebook. Hide it. Women should bring a small handbag at night. And bring it from the States. Yes, women come from all corners of the globe for Italian purses but they’re expensive. What would you rather do, ladies, have an Italian handbag or eat well? Never mind. I know the answer.

That’s it for now. Use this as a guide, not a bible. You all have your own needs. Just pack light. Leave just enough room for style. And remember: Rome isn’t just a destination. It’s an attitude.

Caravaggio: Your city guide to see all works of Rome’s greatest Baroque painter and famous all-around rebel

Caravaggio came to Rome in 1592. Today nine sites hold more than two dozen of his paintings. Port Mobility photo

Caravaggio came to Rome in 1592. Today nine sites hold more than two dozen of his paintings. Port Mobility photo

My hero is a murderer.

He’s also dead, along with Wilt Chamberlain, my childhood idol. However, like Chamberlain, this man inspired me with his fierce independence as much as his enormous talent and an image bigger than life. His fame dwarfs the 7-foot-1 Wilt’s and gets bigger with each passing year.

It’s 408 years and counting.

I’ve admired Caravaggio, Italy’s greatest Baroque painter, ever since I first lived in Rome in 2001. An old baseball writer colleague, Mark Saxon, lived here then and raved about him like he raved about some major league slugger. Caravaggio was different. Even in an era and a country where artists were the rock stars and athletes of their day, Caravaggio was an all-star, a future hall of famer who advanced an art already at its height.

Today he transcends society. Even to an untrained eye such as mine, from the first Caravaggio painting I saw I was transfixed. Was this a painting or a fantastic photo from a photographer who really knew how to use a light meter? Before living here, art was a look into a country’s history. I’d stroll national art galleries to get a sense of their conflicts and passions. The quality of the paintings themselves? After a while they all blended together, like spilled paints onto a floor. I knew nothing.

In a museum, I was a pair of white Nikes on a tuxedo.

Caravaggio changed that. So did Rome. Caravaggio is everywhere here. I can escape the rain into a church and find myself under three Caravaggio masterpieces. It won’t cost one centesimo. It recently rained in Rome for more than a week, a perfect time to revisit my favorite artist. In Ireland they say it doesn’t rain in pubs. Here we say it doesn’t rain in museums.

Caravaggio, born Michelangelo Merisi in the town of Caravaggio near Milan, was a brawler, a womanizer and, indeed, a murderer. You can walk down the street and see the site of the murder that sent him fleeing from church authorities all over the Mediterranean.

What stands out for me was his rebellious nature. A genius to whom the Catholic Church gave numerous commissions, he painted religious figures with a realism that often grated at the snooty authorities. Jesus was sometimes seen with a gut and 5 o’clock shadow. Occasionally Mary didn’t look all that pretty. Violence and blood jumped from his paintings. They not only depicted his violent nature but also reflected a part of a Italian society around the turn of the 17th century that many didn’t want to see. He stood up to the church, at the time one of the most powerful, vicious forces in Europe.

The Calling of St. Matthew shows his mastery of light and shadow. WebMuseum photo

The Calling of St. Matthew shows his mastery of light and shadow. WebMuseum photo

His mastery of shadow and light made him worth the trouble. Look at his work and see how light through a window casts delicate shadows on faces, forearms, even swords. No one in the Renaissance could match that. No one could since.

Rome has nine places to view more than two dozen of Caravaggio’s works. If you idolize him as I do, are just a casual admirer or can’t even pronounce his name (car-a-VAGG-io), use this blog as a guide to explore. Some works are free. Some require a reservation. All can be seen by walking. When you’re finished you’ll see most of the important sites in the most important art city in the world.

Even if you put strolling art museums on a level with shopping, give Caravaggio a try. He may bring out the inner artist in you.

These are in a rough order if you wanted to walk to all of them. If you do, take three days. These museums and churches have more than Caravaggio, and the Vatican Museums are a voyage all their own.

Piazza del Campidoglio. OMNIA Vatican photo

Piazza del Campidoglio. OMNIA Vatican photo

Capitoline Museums, Piazza del Campidoglio 1, open daily 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m., 15 euros. Piazza Venezia bus stop. Warning: Campidoglio is a bit of a tourist trap. You may have to weave your way through cell-snapping tourists to negotiate your way up the long, wide, elegant staircase known as the Cordonata. It’s on Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome on which the city was founded. It’s worth the effort and you’ll see why tourists flock here. At the top of the staircase is a beautiful piazza designed by the Michelangelo of Renaissance fame and anchored by a statue of Marcus Aurelius, Rome’s emperor during part of its height of power from 161-180 AD (Psst! It’s a copy. The original is in the museum.)

The palaces on the left and right, Palazzo Nuova and Palazzo dei Conservatori, respectively, house the museums, the oldest national museums in Italy. They hold two Caravaggios:

The Gypsy Fortune Teller (1594): More than 400 years ago, gypsies were the lowest form of human life, much as they’re viewed today in Rome. But Caravaggio identified with the gypsies’ desperate nature. The gypsy he paints is attractive, not a vagrant off the street, and wins the customer’s heart before stealing his ring.

St. John the Baptist: Youth with a Ram (1602). Caravaggio did eight paintings of John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus. The ram symbolizes lust, and the boy’s smirky grin fits in well with Caravaggio’s own libido.

Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Italian Ways photo

Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Italian Ways photo

Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Via del Corso 305, daily 9 a.m.-7 p.m., 12 euros. Piazza Venezia bus stop. Via del Corso is on any Rome shopping street list. It’s lined with such high-end haberdashers as Ralph Lauren, Elisabetta Franchi and Yamamay. It’s closed to cars on Sunday, turning it into one long pedestrian zone commandeered by shopping bag-wielding warriors. In the middle of the mob is an early 16th century palace with Doric columns framing the tall doorway. Inside is total tranquility where you can escape amongst orange trees and a bubbling fountain.

The collection is from the Doria and Pamphilj families and is considered the largest privately owned gallery in Rome. They include three Caravaggios:

Mary Magdalene (1595): Most artists pictured Mary Magdalene nude as the prostitute she was, or innocently reading a book as the repentant she became. Caravaggio, instead, had her seated low, in the dark, in sorrow. Note the tear near her nose.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1597): This comes from the Bible story in which the Holy Family is fleeing to Egypt after hearing Herod the Great, the Roman client king of Judea, was seeking to kill baby Jesus.

Young St. John the Baptist (1602): This is a copy of the one in the Capitoline Museums. But don’t be disappointed. Caravaggio copied many of his paintings.

Three Caravaggios can be seen in one chapel in Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi. Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi photo

Three Caravaggios can be seen in one chapel in Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi. Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi photo

Chiesa di San Luigi dei Francesi, Piazza di San Luigi dei Francesi, Monday-Friday 9:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m., 2:30-6:30 p.m., Saturday 2:30-6:45 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m., 2:30-6:45 p.m., free, Senato bus stop. Welcome to THE best bargain in Rome. It’s better than free limoncello from your overly friendly trattoria owner. Here you can find three Caravaggios in a corner of a church, absolutely free. All you need is a 50 centesimi, 1 euro or 2 euro coin to plunk in the box that illuminates the paintings.

This 16th century church was dedicated to, among others, St. Louis IX, the king of France, and is France’s national church in Rome. The Archbishop of Paris is the resident priest. Any francophobes are warned to stay away. You’ll see tons of French tourists.

They’ll be occupied, maybe breathless. So will you. In the far left corner of the church, in the Contarelli Chapel, are three Caravaggio masterpieces:

The Calling of St. Matthew (1600): This is one of Caravaggio’s best illustration of his use of shadow and light. Note how the light from the window illuminates Jesus’ face and the men looking at him as he calls for Matthew to follow him.

The Martyrdom of St. Matthew (1600): This violent painting shows a soldier about to kill Matthew for standing up against an Ethiopian king for sexually harassing his own niece. How much do I like this painting? A print is framed and hanging over my couch.

St. Matthew and the Angel (1602): Caravaggio did eight paintings of St. Matthew. This one is a replacement that was rejected and later destroyed. An angel is beckoning Matthew who seems bothered and in a hurry as you can see by his stool teetering on two legs.

Basilica di Sant'Agostino. Reid's Italy photo

Basilica di Sant’Agostino. Reid’s Italy photo

Basilica di Sant’Agostino, Via di Sant’Eustachio 19, daily 7:45 a.m.-noon, 4-8 p.m., free, three-minute walk from Chiesa di San Luigi. This is one of the first churches built in Rome during the Renaissance, in 1483. The travertine rock used in construction was taken from the Colosseum. It houses only one Caravaggio and it is currently on loan to Chiesa Santa Domenica in Northern Italian town of Forno. It returns at the end of June.

Madonna del Loreto (1606): Another Caravaggio painting gets under the church’s skin. He shows Mary barefoot and not very pretty, just like a normal Mary.

Palazzo Barberini. Wikipedia photo

Palazzo Barberini. Wikipedia photo

Palazzo Barberini, Via delle Quattro Fontane 13, Tuesday-Saturday 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m., 12 euros, Barberini Metro stop. The Barberini name is all over Rome, particularly in this neighborhood north of Termini train station. This spectacular palace was built in 1893 by Pope Urban VIII to celebrate the Barberini family’s rise to power. Bernini and his rival, Borromini, worked on the design. Besides the three Caravaggios, check out the gorgeous painted ceilings.

Narcissus (1599): This is one of two paintings Caravaggio did from mythology. It shows a handsome boy who can’t stop staring at his reflection. According to the Greek myth, even as he is carted off to hell, he still stares at his reflection in the River Styx. It’s where we get the term “narcissism.” We all have a family member who could use this print, don’t we?

Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620): Caravaggio often used prostitutes as models and in this one, a famous courtesan named Fillide Melandroni, is beheading a tyrant.

St. Francis in Prayer (1606): St. Francis’ humility and poverty were a popular theme for Caravaggio who could relate with his troubled life.

Borghese Museum. Borghese Gallery photo

Borghese Museum. Borghese Gallery photo

Borghese Museum, Piazzale del Museo Borghese 5, Tuesday-Sunday 9 a.m.-7 p.m., by reservation only,, 39-06-32810, entries 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m., 15 euros, Pinciana/Museo Borghese bus stop. This is my favorite museum in Rome. It has all the great Italian masters from Bernini to Raphael to Botticelli. Cardinal Scipione built it in the early 17th century to house his art collection and Prince Marcantonio Borghese did a renovation a century later. It’s not too big that you’ll get exhausted. It’s just big enough to take in leisurely in the two-hour viewing sessions. Also, the 198-acre Villa Borghese park where it sits is a great place to have a pre-museum picnic.

The Borghese has the most Caravaggios in Rome. Here are the three main ones:

Young Sick Bacchus (1594): Caravaggio painted this shortly after he arrived in Rome from Milan in 1592. He painted it using a mirror to illustrate his own horrific ailment, probably malaria, that put him in the hospital for six months.

Madonna and Child with St. Anne (1606): The child kills the snake representing Satan. St. Peter’s rejected it because of Caravaggio painting Madonna with huge breasts. I had this copy on my wall in Denver. (I’m not a breast man. I just loved the satanic imagery.)

David with the Head of Goliath (1610): Look at the inscription on David’s sword: “H-AS OS.” It stands for the Latin phrase, “Humilitas occidit superbiam.” (Humility kills pride.) Note the humble look on David’s face.

Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo. Pro Loco Roma photo

Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo. Pro Loco Roma photo

Chiesa di Santa Maria del Popolo 12, Piazza del Popolo daily 7 a.m.-noon, 4-7 p.m., free, Flaminio Metro stop. In one of the most famous piazzas in Rome, near the gate where triumphant Roman armies re-entered the city, the church was built in 1477. It was one of the first churches Rome visitors saw. On the wall facing the church, see the plaque depicting the church’s last beheading, which took place in the piazza in 1825.

The Conversion of St. Paul (1601): Like the accompanying Crucifixion of St. Peter, this was first rejected for reasons that remain unclear. But it depicts Saul of Tarsus who’s blinded by brilliant light while on his way to Damascus to slaughter its Christian community.

The Crucifixion of St. Peter (1601): Peter did not want to imitate Jesus’ crucifixion. Thus Caravaggio had him crucified upside down.

Vatican Museums. Best Tour in Italy photo

Vatican Museums. Best Tour in Italy photo

Vatican Museums, Viale Vaticano, daily 9 a.m.-6 p.m., last Sunday of month 9 a.m.-2 p.m., 17 euros without online booking, 21 euros with Skip the Line online booking,, free last Sunday of month, Ottiviano Metro stop. You’ll need a whole day to see this. It has 13 ½ acres of art, making it what’s considered the largest art collection in the world. Hint: To see the Sistine Chapel, head straight for it and work your way back. If you see every painting between the entrance and the chapel, you’ll be too dead to look up.

However, the Vatican has only one Caravaggio which tells you something about how he alienated the church. It’s in the Pinacoteca museum, an underrated papal picture gallery.

Deposition from the Cross (1604): Considered one of his greatest masterpieces, this is one of the only works depicting Jesus getting placed on the stone upon which he’ll be entombed. Rubens and Cezanne later copied the work.

Galleria Corsini. Reid's Italy photo

Galleria Corsini. Reid’s Italy photo

Galleria Corsini, Via della Lungara 10, Wednesday-Monday 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m., 12 euros, Lungotevere Vallati/Pettinari bus stop. Located in the once-Bohemian-now-trendy neighborhood of Trastevere, Corsini doesn’t get much foot traffic. The Corsini family built the Baroque palace in 1740 a dead carp’s throw from the Tiber River.

St. John the Baptist (1606): Caravaggio strength in realism shows through more than anywhere here. It shows the famous saint as a young man, looking disheveled with “boy band hair” as if he just woke from a bender.

(Bonus tip: Caravaggio’s old apartment and the street where he murdered his rival are one minute apart. His apartment, marked by his giant portrait, is on Vicolo del Divino Amore near Piazza Navona. Around two short corners on Via di Pallacorda is the site of an old tennis court where he killed an enraged Ranuccio Tomassoni in 1606, which sent Caravaggio running from the law until his death in 1610.)

Caravaggio's old apartment near Piazza Navona.

Caravaggio’s old apartment near Piazza Navona.

Italian election: An entire nation scratches its head as threat of fascism looms and economy teeters

Supporters of Matteo Salvini, leader of The League, Italy's ultra-right party, campaign ahead of Sunday's election. Photo by The Nation

Supporters of Matteo Salvini, leader of The League, Italy’s ultra-right party, campaign ahead of Sunday’s election. Photo by The Nation

Italian politics for retired expats has always been an amusing sideshow too complicated to worry about. Italy changes governments faster than soccer teams change managers. With 65 since World War II, you can’t tell the prime minister without a scorecard. They’re in office not even long enough to write a bio. (“You’re WHO again?”)

Sunday’s national elections, however, are way up the gonzo meter. I’ve done informal surveys — usually with a glass of wine or cup of espresso in hand — and have met only one Italian who knows who’ll get their vote. That includes my girlfriend, a driven, professional college graduate. It includes the coffee jockeys in my bar. It includes my other learned Italian friends, even my Italian instructor.

The election is in three days.

The selection of candidates is so dismal, I learned a new Italian phrase, often dragged through the streets at election time: Meno dei peggiori. (Least of the worst.) If a cartoonist drew a group picture of the candidates, it’d resemble a food fight at Mickey Mouse’s clubhouse. Italy has more parties than Florida State’s Theta Chi house, and not one candidate Sunday will ever be mentioned in the same sentence as Caesar Augustus.

They include an 81-year-old three-time prime minister convicted of tax fraud with a runaway libido, a 31-year-old college dropout backed by a former stand-up comic, a neo-fascist who has declared war on immigrants, the previous prime minister who resigned just 15 months ago, a hot (Hey, it’s Italy) former female journalist just to the left of Eva Braun, one guilty of corruption and the crooner who sings “O Sole Mio” to tourists in Trastevere.

I made up that last one. But the rest are real. And Americans thought their selection two years ago was bad. This is why as of Tuesday 30 percent of Italian voters were undecided. It’s why 80 percent said they don’t trust any of the campaign promises. It’s also why the world is paying more attention than usual to Italy’s election. It’s anyone’s prize with polls so close no one is a solid favorite.

The outcome also may lead Italy down a path of fascism fueled by racism and nationalism, a scary prospect for a country once welcoming of immigrants.

Sound familiar?

Yes, I can’t imagine a worse world leader than the Mango Mussolini tweeting naked in Washington but Sunday’s election has candidates who seemingly crawled out of the same tarpit. Italy has enough problems already. The unemployment rate for Italians under 25 is 32 percent. It’s 11 percent overall. In all of Europe, Italy is one of the last to pull out of the recession from 2008. People lost jobs and their life savings. The public debt of Europe’s third largest economy is 133 percent of its gross domestic product. The European Union fears Italy will be the next Greece. Corruption in poverty-stricken local governments is massive which is one reason Rome has become the filthiest capital in Europe. But what is the No. 1 issue in Sunday’s election? What else when it includes a right wing growing around the world?


In the last four years, 600,000 immigrants have moved to Italy. Matteo Salvini, the leader of The League, Italy’s far right party, told ANSA, Italy’s wire service, “I’m waiting for elections so that Italy can defend its borders again. Give me the interior ministry for three months and you’ll see what order and cleanliness I bring back from north to south all over Italy.”

Paolo Grimoldi, The League’s regional leader in Lombardy where Milan is the capital, told the BBC, “It’s better to take immigrants from Ukraine … They are Christians or from Belarus. They are not Muslim and they can not be terrorists.”

Giorgia Meloni, head of the ultra-right Brothers of Italy whose campaign posters near my gym make me think Meg Ryan could be leading the country, blamed Italy’s failure to make this summer’s soccer World Cup on the national league having too many foreigners.

Luca Traini. Photo by La Repubblica

Luca Traini. Photo by La Repubblica

The rhetoric has sifted through Italy’s friendly cobblestones into whatever caves and sewers the racist right dwell. On Feb. 3 in the Le Marche town of Macerata, Luca Traini, a 28-year-old neo-fascist, shot and injured six African immigrants. The incident was apparent retaliation for the murder of Pamela Mastropietro, an 18-year-old Roman woman found dismembered in two suitcases in the Le Marche countryside Jan. 31. Three Nigerians seeking asylum were arrested. Traini was later seen in photographs wrapped in an Italian flag and giving a fascist salute.

The reaction was absolutely Trumpian. Salvini said Mastropietro’s blood is on the hands of the current center-left government for allowing immigrants into the country. Meloni responded to Traini’s arrest with, “Uncontrolled immigration must be regulated.”

Italy does have a liberal side. It’s here in the south where I’ve lived 5 ½ years and yet to encounter a single racist. Then again, I wasn’t near Rome’s mosque Oct. 5 when CasaPound, one of the smaller right-wing splinter parties, rallied in front of it holding a huge banner reading, “BASTA DEGRADO. CHIUDERE LA MOSCHERA!” (ENOUGH URBAN DECLINE. CLOSE THE MOSQUE!).

Be thankful you don’t have to choose between this collection of has beens, clowns, wannabes and quasi Nazis. Below is the list. Keep in mind in Italy, people vote for parties and the winning party chooses its prime minister. The list below includes all parties, with their leanings and listed leaders, that received at least 4 percent of the vote in the last national election.

Matteo Renzi

Matteo Renzi

Democratic Party, center-left, Matteo Renzi, 43. He’s the former fair-haired, media savvy liberal who was elected in February 2014 and lasted less than two years. He simplified civil trials, recognized gay marriage and abolished several minor taxes. He was bashed for Italy’s high immigration but his Waterloo was constitutional reform. His recommendations for reforming the political system were approved by the Parliament but rejected in a constitutional referendum, 59 percent to 41. He immediately resigned, handing the job to Paolo Gentiloni, his Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is like Hillary Clinton running again in 2020 10 fold.
Luigi Di Maio. Photo by Il Post

Luigi Di Maio. Photo by Il Post

5-Star Movement, populism, Luigi Di Maio, 31. His father was counsel for the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement in Naples. Luigi organized student unions in the two universities he attended but didn’t graduate from either of them. The 5-Star Movement was founded by Beppe Grillo, a 69-year-old former stand-up comic who wants Italy to leave the European Union and drop the euro. Di Maio isn’t as radical but it’s difficult for a nation of 60 million people to follow a guy who still looks like the steward he once was at Naples’ San Paolo Stadium. As former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said, “To think that a 31-year-old kid who’s never worked could take charge of the government of this country is a joke.”
Silvio Berlusconi. Photo by

Silvio Berlusconi. Photo by

Forza Italia, center right, Silvio Berlusconi, 81. He has been back in the news the last two years for two reasons, neither of them good: He is making a political comeback and he was the unfortunate punching bag for comparisons with Donald Trump (See 2016 blog here). Berlusconi wasn’t as bad. He never once filed bankruptcy, let alone three times, and never pissed off North Korea, China, India, the NFL … OK, I’m getting carried away, again. But the former media tycoon’s three-time reign has been permanently stained with allegations of not only tax fraud but sex with underaged girls, hard lines on immigration and racist and sexist comments. No, he’s not a Republican. He founded Forza Italia in 1994 but his 2013 tax fraud conviction banned him from public office until next year. He has vowed to remain as party leader and no one doubts his influence on the country if his party wins. He could. Would Americans take George Bush back right now?
Giorgia Meloni

Giorgia Meloni

Brothers of Italy, right, Giorgia Meloni, 41. She’s a former Berlusconi appointee as his Minister of Youth. The ex-journalist from Rome heads a party that’s a descendent of the post-fascist Italian social movement. She believes in preserving the traditional Italian family (Read: No gays.), and campaigned for mayor while heavily pregnant. She is against granting citizenship to children born in Italy to foreigners. She is scoring well in Southern Italy and not just because of her campaign posters.
Matteo Salvini. Photo by Terzo Binario News

Matteo Salvini. Photo by Terzo Binario News

The League, right, Matteo Salvini, 44. Another college dropout, Salvini is big buddies with Marine Le Pen, France’s resident right-winger, and is an admirer of Vladimir Putin. Salvini is against gay marriage, the EU, the euro, immigration, Inter Milan and probably Roman-style pizza. He is a vision of hate. His public rallies need only a balcony and jack boots. He does, however, support family values and Donald Trump (fill in your own one-liner). He’d like Italy to adopt the same travel ban of some Muslim countries as Vanilla ISIS did. Salvini called the euro, “a crime against humanity.” While even many Italian liberals hate the euro, returning to the lire isn’t getting any support, either. Salvini is, however. He has a huge following in the north although he dropped the word “Northern” from the original Northern League title.
Nicola Fratoianni. Photo by Daily Express

Nicola Fratoianni. Photo by Daily Express

Italian Left, democratic socialism, Nicola Fratoianni, 45. He formed this new party in early 2017, basing it on Keynesian economics behind the principles of Joseph Sliglitz, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for economics who said the key to short-term economic output is the total spending in the economy. Good luck with that policy when most Southern Italians can barely make rent.
Denis Verdini. Photo by

Denis Verdini. Photo by

Liberal Popular Alliance, center, Denis Verdini, 66. The ex-Berlusconi aid was found guilty of corruption last year in a contract for building a military academy in Florence.
Roberto Speranza. Photo by Twitter

Roberto Speranza. Photo by Twitter

Democratic and Progressive Movement, center, Roberto Speranza, 39. Resigned from the Chamber of Deputies after clashes with Renzi then left the Democratic Party.

Who’s leading in the polls? Italy has a 15-day polling ban before elections but according to the last Milan-based EMG poll, Di Maio’s 5-Star Movement led with 27 percent and Renzi’s Democratic Party had 24 percent. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia had 16 percent but is forming a coalition with Salvini’s The League (14 percent) and Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (5.5 percent). If that coalition wins, whichever party has the most votes will choose the prime minister.

However, considering they must win 40 percent of the vote, it’s unlikely a winner will be determined Sunday. If that happens, the current president will press for a different formula and Italy will remain in limbo.

Paolo Gentiloni. Photo by Daily Express

Paolo Gentiloni. Photo by Daily Express

Not that it would spell disaster. Under Gentiloni, there has been an increase in family welfare from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent of the GDP. Through working with Libya to curb migration, “only,” ahem, 2,832 immigrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2017, the lowest total in four years. Gentiloni, 63, is not running but, in lieu of a 40-percent majority, he will likely hang on while Italy’s mulberry bush of an electoral system plays itself out.

In the meantime, I may spend election day reading an old book, one that helped me learn Italian in my early years in Rome. It’s not only good practice but symbolic on the biggest day of Italian politics.

Mickey Mouse.