Ten years in Rome: A landmark anniversary and a new list of all the reasons I love living here

Marina and I in Rome overlooking the Roman Forum from behind Campidoglio on Christmas Eve
Marina and I overlooking the Roman Forum from behind Campidoglio on Christmas Eve

Ten years is a nice, even number. It’s such a milestone, it even has its own name. A decade of anything is a long time. A relationship. A job. Especially a home. Now think about making a home in Rome for 10 years.

That’s definitely a milestone. At least for me it is.

As my complaints (Ah, what the hell? It’s bitching.) have increased while memories of my honeymoon phase fade into the piles of garbage on Rome’s streets, I still maintain a romantic outlook on my Rome retirement.

It’s especially acute today. Exactly 10 years ago today I flew into Rome with a duffel bag, roller bag, backpack and many doubts. I crashed at my friend’s, the Blooms, in their glorious apartment in the Monti neighborhood near the Colosseum. In two days I would take an apartment, sight unseen, in rollicking Centro Storico.

It turned out to be a cave: 400 square feet (37 square meters). Third-world prisons have more windows. I did not care. A 40-year sportswriting career was behind me; a life in the world’s most beautiful city (just don’t look down) was ahead of me.   

In my apartment in the Monteverde Nuovo neighborhood.

Since that landing point, I’ve changed neighborhoods twice, kept an obviously blind girlfriend going on nine years, written a book (Pending title: “One-Way Ticket to Rome”) and written – drum roll, please – 500 blogs. 

Blog milestone, too

Yes, today marks my 500th Dog-Eared Passport. It has covered 38 countries and 18 of Italy’s 20 regions on subjects ranging from my birthday in Beirut to Italy’s battle with Covid.

But 500 blogs doesn’t top 10 years on the milestone chart. I had a friend in Oregon say before I left that I wouldn’t last a year here. I blew that out of the water, and I’m just getting started. As I wrote in my book, barring a stock market collapse or new Italian immigration laws flushing all travel writers out of the country, I’ll be here the rest of my life.

Why? Every year around Jan. 11 I list a new set of reasons. This year is no different. To wit, this is why I love living in Rome. Read it. Maybe it’ll inspire you to visit, or weep with memories of the beautiful city you once loved and left:

Atop the Spanish Steps.

Why I love living in Rome

I love the sun setting on Rome from the top of the Spanish Steps where my friends and I pull out a chilled glass of white wine in front of the 500-year-old Chiesa della Trinita dei Monti.

I love the pairing of a rich chunk of Vecchi dark chocolate with a glass of red Barbaresco after a great pasta amatriciana.

I love pouring a bag of freshly grated Pecorino Romano into my cheese container, sticking my nose to the rim and inhaling a huge whiff like the Italian cheese junkie I’ve become.

I love Stephan El Shaarawy coming off the bench and making something happen for AS Roma when we always need him.

I love C’Era Una Volta’s home delivery of gorgonzola and salsiccia (sausage) pizza, ordered off menu, and two suppli (fried mozzarella-filled rice balls) for €15.

The Colosseum (top) and Arco di Tito. Photos by Marina Pascucci

I love Marina’s professional photos of Rome which remind me how beautiful this city really is.

I love Corriere dello Sport’s five daily stories on AS Roma when the reporters have no access to a single player, coach or official.

I love taking the No. 8 tram two blocks from my home and in 10 minutes dropping me in the heart of Centro Storico.

I love the ice cold My Antonia Italian craft beer, served in its elegant, curvy bottle, in my air-conditioned Abbey Theatre Irish Pub on a hot summer day. 

I love my wine rack full of Italian wines, lined up as even and delicious as a vineyard before the fall harvest.

I love basil, and how Italian’s long list of subtle ingredients enhances the flavor of a simple dish.

I love soft white Torrone nougat filled with almonds and covered in dark chocolate.

A stray cat relaxing in Rome. Photo by Marina Pascucci

I love seeing Rome’s plethora of fat, happy stray cats sunning themselves on pieces of 2,000-year-old marble.

I love the heat lamps and subtle candlelight on Terrazza Borromini, maybe the most romantic rooftop bar in Rome.

I love mafia books.

I love pizzettes, the little mini pizzas the size of your palm, with slightly burnt crusts and covered in fresh tomato sauce.

I love new Italian leather shoes that never need to be broken in.

I love Marina – or any Italian – not scolding me if I don’t understand what the hell they’re saying. 

Members of Rome’s gladiator school march to the Colosseum.

I love July 12, Julius Caesar’s birthday, when fellow graduates of La Scuola dei Gladiatori, Rome’s gladiator school, march from its headquarters near the Appian Way to the Colosseum, reminding us all of the power this city once had.

I love writing on my balcony on warm Sunday mornings and hear the church bells peal at Parrocchia San Damaso on my corner.

I love how the staff at my corner bar, Caffe Camerino, always ask “Sachertorte?” when I walk in, knowing I like buying the little mini Austrian cakes for Marina.

I love walking through the massive piazzas of Centro Storico, early on a winter morning before the shops have opened and the tourists have awakened, and seeing the fog fill the historic grounds. 

I love Seadas gelato: pecorino cheese from Sardinia, chestnuts, honey and orange peel, at Fatamorgana, the Trastevere gelateria with the weirdest gelato flavors in town. 

Rome can actually be a quiet, peaceful city as this photo outside the Colosseum proves,

I love walking across Rome and never walking down a busy street.

I love ITA, Italy’s new national airline, and its free bags policy.

I love Rome-Algiers for €200 round trip.

I love Lazio fans who don’t judge me for being a Roma fan.

I love not judging Lazio fans since we’ve done a few despicable acts ourselves.

Marina’s farfalle alle salmone. Photo by Marina Pascucci

I love Marina’s farfalle al salmone affumicato, butterfly shaped pasta with smoked salmon in a cream sauce.

I love prime minister Giorgia Meloni dumping her live-in boyfriend and father of her child for making sexually laced comments to women, caught on a hot mike in his TV studio. As I’ve said, Only in Rome.

I love the prize pasta carbonara made at my table at Da Enzo al 29 in Trastevere.

I love Termini train station’s new massive dining hall upstairs where you can get everything from homemade pasta to fine Italian wine.

I love the string of open-air bars in Ponte Milvio across the bridge from Stadio Olimpico after soccer games when it’s hopping with sober Roman teetotalers.

I love the view of the gloriously lit Temple of Saturn in the Roman Forum, late at night from high above at the back of Campidoglio. No more romantic spot in Rome exists.

I love 270 sunny days a year. (Actually, I don’t care about weather but I know readers do.)

I love the bottle of unlabeled, fresh wine Marina’s father gets at his local public market, just like when he was a boy in Rome.

The Colosseum Underground. Photo by Marina Pascucci

I love the Colosseum Underground, where they kept the gladiators and animals and was once labeled the most terrifying place on Earth.

I love getting dupuytren surgery on my right pinkie – for free. Average cost in the U.S: $6,220. 

I love fresh fish ravioli in my old Mercato Testaccio where ravioli stands have an entire bank filled with a dozen varieties of Italy’s favorite stuffed pasta.

I love local Cesanese red wine at my local supermarket for €5.

I love that our prime minister is hot, smart and lucid and not 81 years old.

I love Italian shoe shopping with Marina.

I love Italian shoes on Marina.

I love shopping in Rome’s saldi (sales) where for most of January and July Italian designer clothes are marked down as much as 60 percent.

A Barolo wine tasting in Rome.

I love going to Rome’s wine tastings and having sommeliers tell me if they were going to die the next morning, the wine they would drink that night costs less than the wine I was tasting.

I love the smell of freshly baked, warm cornettos in coffee bars when they first open before dawn.

I love the string of tall, majestic Mediterranean pine trees lining the Appian Way, Ancient Rome’s original road to the sea.

I love wearing a pinstriped suit to an aperitivo and not feeling overdressed.

I love fresh spada (swordfish) with lemon and a glass of Lazio’s Frascati white wine on my balcony on a warm summer night.

I love hearing 60,000 fans singing “Roma Roma Roma” before opening kickoff at Roma games with the lyric, “Gialla come er sole. Rossa come er core mio. (Yellow like my soul. Red like my heart.)

I love living in Rome for 10 years and never seeing an Italian drunk in public.

I love the grilled polpo (octopus) at Terrazza Barromino looking down at Piazza Navona.

Olympic Stadium’s Curva Sud during a Roma game.

I love red and yellow.

I love drinking fine wine at an Internations event in a ritzy hotel and in 30 minutes talking to people from seven countries.

I love that after visiting 110 countries and 10 years in Rome, Italy is still the place I want to live the rest of my life.

I love having Marina with me all along the way.

Marina and John in Rome.