Christmas gifts for 2018: The list to all those naughty and truly evil


Italians don’t give many Christmas gifts. They have this weird concept of celebrating the true meaning of Christmas, of family, religion and a lot of food thrown in. A lot of food. They don’t need Santas parading through pizzerias or Christmas lights on the Colosseum.

However, I’m still an American. Even living in Rome I still love American generosity, if not commercialism, of showering people with presents, of enjoying shopping malls and public markets. I Christmas shop all year, even when I travel. I bought my family gifts from four different countries. Italy doesn’t make a car big enough to haul all my presents to Marina’s Monday.

And being the generous capitalist that I am, I now give gifts to newsmakers around the world, both near and far. I’m a little different than Santa. I give gifts mostly to those who’ve been bad instead of good. It’s why my biggest box is headed to Washington, to the Dehydrated Orange Peel denigrating the world every day from the White House. Not that the box will get there on time. That’s another gift I’m giving in Rome.

So look at this annual edition of Dog-Eared Passport not as a blog but as a satirical, tongue-in-cheek gift bag to the evil and incompetent. Which leads us to the first gift I’m delivering …

Business Insider photo

Business Insider photo


To the Cowardly Lyin’. A cage. It only seems fair. If Donald Trump put immigrant children in cages, shouldn’t we give a cage to the most petulant child who ever served as president?

To Italian TV. HBO. The only country in the world with more boring TV is maybe — maybe — North Korea. Italian television is made up of panel discussions with people screaming at each other in studio, bad American TV shows such as the new “Hawaii Five-O” and old Italian films not made by Federico Fellini. Even if I was fluent this would be torture.

To Monteverde — A song. So many great songs have been written about places in Italy. Someone should write one about my new neighborhood. It’s the one on the hill, the one with trees always providing shade in the summer and corner cafes providing warmth in the winter. This is a special place in a special city. I have found a new home within a home.

Daily Express photo

Daily Express photo


To Atac. Fire extinguishers. Not that Rome’s buses are old, but they are developing a nasty habit of suddenly bursting into flames. At least the ones who actually show up do.

To Scandinavia — Beer loans. After visiting Norway, Sweden and Iceland over the past two years, I spent more money on beer than maybe on rent. Every bar up there should have a banker at the door offering attractive terms on 13-euro beers, including the “special” $37 craft beer I saw in the Scotsman pub in Oslo.

To Moneydiaper McStupid — A cellmate named Honey Buns. After Robert Mueller finishes with him, Trump will face so many charges ranging from illegal payments during a campaign to treason, he’ll land in jail before he’ll ever pick up another sand wedge.

To Eusebio Di Francesco — A timeshare on the Amalfi. The embattled coach of my beloved AS Roma has been about one loss away from losing his job the entire month. The papers say the owner wants him out; the sporting director wants him to stay. Roma is in seventh place, not high enough to even qualify for any continental tournament next season. Roma plays tonight at Juventus which seemingly hasn’t lost a league game in four years. The decision seems inevitable. Here’s hoping the man who led us to the Champions League semifinals and third place in Serie A last season has a soft landing.

To Bar Marcucci. A Michelin star. I have developed an unhealthy addiction to its homemade conchiglias. That’s “seashell” in Italian and the seashell-shaped pastry filled with chocolate and dusted with hard sugar, along with its killer cappuccino bencaldo (extra hot) is the perfect way to start a day in Italy.

To Willie Taggart — A bowl game against Oregon. After he ditched my Ducks after one year, he led Florida State to its worst football season in 43 years. Under first-year coach Mario Cristobal, Oregon went 8-4 and has the fifth-ranked recruiting class in America. Bring blindfolds, Seminole fans.

To PosteItaliane — A stamp showing a post office employee shrugging. That’s exactly the response I get every time I ask why a package wasn’t delivered. This year’s problem occurred when I mailed my box of Christmas presents to California on Nov. 20. On Dec. 4 I received a notice saying they couldn’t deliver it because I wrote “Regali (Gifts)” on the customs form instead of itemizing each present. I asked the drone why did they wait two weeks to notify me? He shrugged. Too bad I couldn’t translate into Italian, “Shrug this.”

ASRoma.com photo

ASRoma.com photo


To AS Roma fans — A deep Champions League run. I’m inspired by the passion of my fellow Romanisti in the face of a disappointing season. They still fill Olympic Stadium’s Curva Sud — except in an organized protest — and travel passionately to away games. They now show their frustration through whistles, not empty seats, the way it should be.

To Brett Kavanaugh. Impotence. He made himself out to be a victim during a sexual assault hearing while the woman who accused him had to quit her job and has been on the run from redneck Trump supporters ever since. A man with 83 ethics complaints against him is now serving on the highest court in the U.S.

Observer photo

Observer photo


To Ama. Cats. Lots of them. You’ll need them for the army of rats that will soon be crawling around the piles of garbage gathering on Rome streets. Lunar eclipses come around more than Ama, Rome’s sanitation service, picks up garbage. Part of the street in front of my building looks like an alley in rural India.

Matteo Salvini. A Donald Trump statue. Why not? He’s following in his racist footsteps over immigration. Italy’s deputy prime minister backed a program in the Northern Italian city of Lodi, ordered by mayor and fellow League party member Sara Casanova, in which immigrant parents must show proof of financial hardship from their native countries in order for their children to eat in the school lunch program. Otherwise they pay 5 euros, not to mention 210 for the school bus every quarter. Salvini, however, to his credit, heard the cries of 300 children and dropped his support.

To Juventus. A match-fixing scandal. It seems that’s the only thing that has ever stopped it from winning the Serie A title. It’s a record seven straight scudettos and counting and it has already almost lapped the field. It has 15 wins, 1 draw, 0 defeats. It’s eight points up on Napoli, 14 on Inter Milan. Italian soccer has gotten as boring as the Scottish League.

To the Man of Steal. Mandarin lessons. Trump needs to communicate with the Chinese, not threaten them. His mangling of the trade talks with China has been a huge contributor to the market losing 15 percent this year, mostly in the last 2 ½ months. It’s why I’m wondering if my fifth floor apartment balcony is high enough to do the job if it gets much worse.

Crux Now photo

Crux Now photo


Genoa. A bridge. In fact, Mayor Marco Bucci promised a new bridge by Christmas 2019 after the Morandi bridge collapsed in August, killing 43 people and injuring dozens.

Italian public transportation. Engineers. That way they won’t build bridges that collapse, killing 43 people and injuring dozens.

To Silvio Berlusconi. A seat in the European Parliament. Yes, he’s thinking about running for office again, at age 82. Why not? Compared to Salvini and Fuckface von Clownstick, Berlusconi looks like Caesar Augustus.

To the National Rifle Association. A scoreboard. That way, it can keep a yearly tally of all the people in America who die in mass shootings. The 2018 tally, according to the Gun Violence Archive, is 334 mass shootings (defined by four people shot or killed in the same incident) with 14,080 dead and 27,119 wounded. That’s one mass shooting nearly every day. Take a bow, NRA.

To Marina Pascucci. Vatican sainthood. For having the Job-like patience with my lousy comprehension of her crazy language, for her understanding of the oft-difficult life of the American expat, for her putting up with my anti-Trump rages. May I fly to every corner of the earth with you. May I share every bottle of wine with you. May you continue to bend my passport. Ti amo, dea.

Buon natale, everyone. Try not to get shot, torched or go broke.

Christmas in Rome: Lighter on the lights but heavy on the meaning

Christmas has special meaning in the center of Christendom, but even St. Peter's Square is understated. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Christmas has special meaning in the center of Christendom, but even St. Peter’s Square is understated. Photo by Marina Pascucci


I grew up in the capital of the commercial world and now live in the capital of the Catholic world. It is Christmas time, a time when capitalism and religion merge into a big, sparkling Christmas ball — a green Christmas ball. Comparing Christmas in Rome to Christmas anywhere in the U.S. is like staring at the moon compared to staring at a spotlight. I never get tired of staring at the moon in Rome. Every night it sits above the Tiber River across the street from my terrace, like a big wheel of mozzarella cheese. Stare at a spotlight long enough and you’ll go blind, kind of like looking at Christmas lights that have been up since before Thanksgiving.

Christmas in Rome is one of my favorite times of year. Keep in mind, my nearest family member is 8,000 miles away. I have no family ties. I have no religious ties. It also isn’t because this is the slowest month for tourism in Rome and I love the emptier streets and seats on public transportation. I can’t remember the last time I saw a tourist in a white fedora walk bewildered onto a bus with a map in his hand.

The Colosseum is always beautiful at night, but even more so at Christmas.

The Colosseum is always beautiful at night, but even more so at Christmas.


It’s because Rome has a much subtler approach to Christmas. Christmas here has meaning. It goes beyond the dollars people make and the gifts people receive. It goes back to Christmas’ roots, where the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated and not the birth of iPhone 7.

It’s a remarkable focus considering Italy and the modern church. Outsiders don’t know this, but Romans are not terribly religious. As a whole, neither are Italians. The Catholic Church’s grasp on its world is much tighter in places like Brazil and the Philippines than its own neighborhood around the Vatican. In the most recent survey, according to the global research project, World Values Surveys, only 31 percent of all Italians go to church regularly. I have only one Italian friend who goes to church every Sunday. Italians fought the church for faster divorce and got it in 1987. This year the time needed has dropped from three years to six months. Abortion became legal in 1978. You can buy condoms in every pharmacy in the country.

The perfume shop in my Testaccio neighborhood.

The perfume shop in my Testaccio neighborhood.


Yet in December, Christmas is treated like a religious holiday and not a commercial one. I never had problems with commercializing Christmas. I love to give. In my family, which over the past 40 years only gathers during Christmas, we had so many presents under the tree you could barely enter the living room. We’d take a break halfway through to eat coffee cake left over from breakfast three hours before. By the time the last present opened, the afternoon Aloha Bowl football game in Honolulu was half over.

However, I became jaded in America over hearing “Jingle Bells” while shopping for the usual Cornish game hen I made myself every Thanksgiving. I tired of watching neighbors one-upping each other with Christmas lights that made Caesars Palace look like the Bates Motel. And hanging a mistletoe over your ass was funny the first time. Not anymore.

Tree in Piazza Magnanelli. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Tree in Piazza Magnanelli. Photo by Marina Pascucci


In Rome, the only way I knew Christmas approached was the simply decorated Christmas tree in front of my neighborhood church, Chiesa di Santa Maria Liberatrice. Saturday night, however, I took a tour of Christmas lights in what I believe is the most beautiful city in the world. Guess what, folks. At Christmas, Rome is even prettier.
Via dei Condotti. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Via dei Condotti. Photo by Marina Pascucci


On a crisp but pleasant night in the high 40s, I started at the Spanish Steps. It is closed off for renovation but the Palazzo Valentini in nearby Piazza Mignanelli is doing a nice job filling in. The palace, built in 1873, is covered in white Christmas lights, making the yellow building look even softer. With the two-story high Christmas tree in front, the piazza is the perfect spot to hold hands with a loved one.

Running perpendicular to the piazza is Via dei Condotti, Rome’s Fifth Avenue, Rodeo Drive and Avenue Montaigne. Name an Italian clothes store you can’t afford and it’s on Condotti. Prada. Gucci. Bulgari. They’re all there, as well as most other name brands from around the world. Sets of white lights spanned, like little bridges, the narrow pedestrian street to the end four blocks away. Dior filled its display window with purple, green and yellow Christmas balls. Moncler, the French boutique clothes store, sported a small ski display. In front of Fendi, the Italian luxury fashion house, is a tree entirely decorated with ornaments resembling red, green and yellow purses.
Moncler

Tree of purses in front of Fendi. Photos by Marina Pascucci

Tree of purses in front of Fendi. Photos by Marina Pascucci


Rome may be the world’s best city for walking and it’s even better during Christmas. The busy shopping streets are closed to traffic and the city’s masses hoof it seemingly all night. On the way down Condotti, I passed Bangladeshis huddled against the cold selling roasted chestnuts which filled the air with that smoky aroma. I turned down Via del Corso, one of the busiest streets in Rome but half of it is closed to traffic. The entire length of the street reaching all the way to the giant white monument honoring Italian unification, Vittoriano, is lined with big white Christmas balls. It wasn’t ostentatious. It wasn’t colorful. It was just simple and bright.
This trio of Bulgarians played "Jingle Bells" on Via del Corso. Photo by Marina Pascucci

This trio of Bulgarians played “Jingle Bells” on Via del Corso. Photo by Marina Pascucci


The lights basked a nice glow on the Bulgarian trio playing “Jingle Bells” and other Christmas carols on their bass and guitars. Outside the Galleria Alberto Sordi stood a replica of a giant Christmas present made of red and yellow Christmas lights.
Busy Piazza Venezia and Il Vittoriano. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Busy Piazza Venezia and Il Vittoriano. Photo by Marina Pascucci


At the end of the street, the gargantuan Vittoriano is louder than anything in Rome. Called the Birthday Cake and Mussolini’s Typewriter, it towers over Piazza Venezia like the gates to heaven. In front of it, standing in the middle of the massive piazza like the Little Drummer Boy before Jesus is a Christmas tree decorated entirely in white lights with a star atop it. It’s beautiful in its simplicity.
The nativity scene with St. Peter's in the background. Photo by Marina Pascucci

The nativity scene with St. Peter’s in the background. Photo by Marina Pascucci


A bus ride across the river, St. Peter’s is already the most beautiful church in the world. Perpetually back lit at night and lined with a semicircle of Bernini sculptures and fountains, St. Peter’s is a must stop for any night stroll in Rome. Over Christmas, the Vatican, already the epicenter of Christendom, does not overdo it. It follows the long-honored Italian tradition of building a nativity scene, or presepe in Italian. In the middle of the piazza, in front of the 80-foot obelisk placed there by Caligula in the 1st century A.D., is a two-story dwelling from old Bethlehem, complete with people and animals going about their day. The Vatican doesn’t awe me. But its art does.

The next night I got into the Christmas spirit a little more. I attended a classical Christmas concert. I’m into music almost as little as I’m into religion but when an Italian choir plays Christmas carols with classical music, I must listen. It was in the beautifully underrated Parrocchia di Santa Maria in Via, just off Via del Corso. Built in the 15th century, it is lined with chandeliers. High candles lit up the nave behind the finely dressed chorus. I joined a standing-room only crowd as they played Handel and Bach and Mozart. But along the way, we heard, “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Little Town of Bethlehem.” Only Bing Crosby could’ve sang them better.

Christmas concert by the Associazione Corale Lorenzo Perosi di Cave at Cappella Musicale di Santa Maria in Via. Photo by Marina Pascucci

Christmas concert by the Associazione Corale Lorenzo Perosi di Cave at Cappella Musicale di Santa Maria in Via. Photo by Marina Pascucci


I won’t be in Rome Christmas Day. I’m going to Paris. Many American expats with no family here get away. But I’ve experienced many a Rome Christmas and even alone I know what it means.

It’s a joy to the world.