Seven years in Rome: My anniversary in a pandemic provides another list for reasons why I love living here

Marina Pascucci and I at the Pantheon during a magazine assignment to see Centro Storico during the lockdown.

I’m very thankful I survived one year of the Covid pandemic. I’m even more thankful I made it seven years in Rome. That anniversary is today. Yes, on Jan. 11, 2014 I landed in Rome on a one-way ticket with three bags and many dreams. 

The dreams have been fulfilled and the nightmare that is Covid-19 has been avoided — so far.

I told myself when I arrived seven years ago that I’d never take this city for granted. I do occasionally. I grouse when the bus never shows up. I cringe when I pass an overflowing garbage bin.

But in the midst of the world’s worst health crisis in 100 years, I realize the true value of living in Rome. Without tourists and with early closing hours, the city finally exhaled. It became cleaner, slower. Yet the restaurants — when they are open — had the same food people around the world dream about.

Covid-19 made me appreciate Rome so much more. As the virus continues its full-scale assault on the human race, it’s appropriate my anniversary arrives and I can put into words what living in the city means to me. Around every Jan. 11, I write a list of all the reasons I love living here. From the restaurants to the architecture to the people, Rome’s list of wonders never runs dry.

So if you want to escape from your own lockdown, read my annual list and think of rich pasta amatriciana and Raphael masterpieces, of quiet piazzas and cappuccino covered in creamy foam. And if this list isn’t enough, here are my others from 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015, all with different reasons why I love living in the Eternal City:  

Renato e Luisa.

I love how Renato e Luisa, my favorite restaurant in Rome, pours honey over goat cheese and tops it with walnuts for my favorite antipasto in the city.

I love discussing our A.S. Roma’s exploits with Claudio, my watch repairman while he replaces batteries in his old, cramped shop with A.S. Roma posters and clocks everywhere.

I love the red and yellow walls in the classic Roman trattoria, La Fraschetta di Sant’Angelo, covered in sayings and messages in Roman dialect.

I love laying on my couch reading books on Italian history then taking a bus to my soccer pub while passing all the historical places I just read about.

I love sharing bottles of wine with a buddy at Bar del Fico, at its outdoor tables on quiet Piazza del Fico, with nowhere to go and nothing to do.

                                                                                    Doria Pamphilj

I love seeing the reflections of the pine trees ringing the lake when the sun is high above Doria Pamphilj, Rome’s biggest park and just a 15-minute walk from my flat.

I love being 5,000 miles away from Donald Trump.

I love the spinach and ricotta-stuffed ravioli at my neighborhood’s Osteria dal 1931 while looking at framed pictures of past guests such as Anthony Bourdain. Looking at the date and knowing fascists helped build my Monteverde ‘hood, I often wonder if I’m sitting at the same table where Mussolini once sat.

I love the smell of fresh garlic roasting in my pan, the first step in all my pasta dishes. 

I love taking my glorious homemade cappuccino on my balcony in the early morning and saying hi to my neighbor wearing the white sleeveless Italian wife-beater shirt on his balcony across our narrow street.

AS Roma jersey 2020-21. Photo by Marina Pascucci

I love Roma’s red, rainbow-striped jersey, the most beautiful jersey in world soccer. 

I love Romans all wearing masks.  

I love going into Sensi di Vini, my tiny enoteca around my corner and telling the staff what I’m cooking and letting them pick the perfect wine for it.

The Colosseum. Photo by Marina Pascucci

I love Marina Pascucci’s photos.

I love the chocolate fagottino, a flat, square, flaky pastry filled with chocolate, at my corner Romagnani Caffe’ but I don’t love having to explain to my smirking American friends that it’s spelled with only one “g.”

I love Pecorino white wine with fresh, grilled swordfish on my balcony.

I love the word, “CAZZO!” It’s so versatile and always in all caps and always with an exclamation point. 

I love flattened Covid curves in the summer and dining al fresco while my old country has fistfights in department stores.

I love the yearly public transportation pass for 250 euros.

My daily espresso machine.

I love serving Marina Pascucci espresso in bed, made from my A.S. Roma espresso maker.

I love my A.S. Roma espresso maker.

I love looking at my wine rack filled with wines I’ve never tried, knowing I’ve never had a wine in Italy that disappointed.

I love Cesare, Lazio’s growingly popular red wine, with my own pasta amatriciana.

I love star striker Edin Dzeko turning down Juventus to stay at A.S. Roma.

I love dining outdoors in February.

I love Marina Pascucci’s farfalle al salmone (butterfly pasta with smoked salmon and cream) with a Pinot Grigio from Veneto.

I love My Antonia and Reale, two brilliant Italian craft beers, at Abbey Theatre Irish Pub.

I love how Mike or Darren ask me as I walk in, “My Antonia or Reale, John?” as I enter Abbey Theatre Irish Pub.

Sistine Chapel. Apollo Magazine photo

I love looking at the Sistine Chapel knowing Michelangelo didn’t even want to paint the damn thing but wound up with one of the greatest artworks in man’s history.

I love the porchetta, the sizzling suckling pig they slice off for me into fresh homemade bread at Nuovo Mercato San Giovanni di Dio, my open-air public market three tram stops up the hill from me.

I love deciding which charming village to have lunch in as we drive into the Alban Hills southeast of Rome.

I love half liters of house Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine for 3 euros.

I love the view of Via Marmorata, the main drag in my old Testaccio neighborhood, from a balcony table at romantic Ristorante Consolini.

Panna: Italy’s whipped cream.

I love panna, Italian whipped cream.

I love being stuck in Rome during a global pandemic.

I love not having Fox News.

I love the Italian TV series “Suburra” and seeing the soft underbelly of Roman culture.

I love the amatriciana pizza at La Gatta Mangiona (The Cat Eats) with tomato sauce, guanciale (pig’s cheek) and covered in grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Piazza Navona during the summer lockdown. Photo by Marina Pascucci

I love walking through a deserted Centro Storico, one of the most visited neighborhoods in the world, even though I had to wait for a global pandemic to experience it.

I love walking down tony Via del Corso and seeing Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister’s residence, lit up in green, white and red, just like the Italian flag.

I love the homemade fettuccine at Alumentari Ariston, my local meat, cheese and wine store that sells it so cheap, you’d be wasting your time by ever making it by hand.

I love Romans’ response when I ask them about what they think of Donald Trump: “Che CAZZO! (What the FUCK!)”

I love the Trevi Fountain just after dawn, before the tourists arrive, when all you can hear is the gushing water.

Marina and I at Fregene.

I love 30 minutes to Fregene beach.

I love Dante Alighieri and my favorite quote, “The path to paradise begins in hell.”

Wiska. Photo by Marina Pascucci

I love Wiska, the stray cat who lives around Marina’s apartment house where four people feed her every day and support Rome’s reputation as a city that reveres and protects cats.

I love Raphael and his exhibit at the Scuderie del Quirinale, not only for art that rivaled Michelangelo’s during the Renaissance but also the view of the sunset from beautiful Piazza del Quirinale.

I love the garden-like terrace at Angelina, an off-the-charts romantic restaurant in my old Testaccio neighborhood.

I love two-year visa extensions.

Etruscan-style jewelry by Eleonora Cecconi.

I love Eleanora Cecconi’s homemade jewelry (Whatsapp: 39-328-582-9626) all with symbols of the Etruscans, Rome’s first settlers.

I love Romans filling Piazza del Popolo to support the Black Lives Matter movement a continent and an ocean way.

I love drinking a bottle of Barolo on my birthday.

I love soaking in Jacuzzis and sweating in Turkish baths with Marina Pascucci at QC Termeroma, the spa near the airport, then sitting down for dinner at its five-star Domus Iris then gorging on the massive breakfast buffet the next morning.

Marina Pascucci

I love Marina Pascucci.