To blog or not to blog…

Apart from a couple of posts, I stopped writing here at the end of last summer.

I believe in positive thinking, and when things go pear-shaped the only way to go is humour. But finding things funny when they’ve got into a serious rut has become energy-draining. So should one just be in denial and write in a vacuum?

We just had national elections here in Italy last Sunday. One person out of six voted for the hard right – I shall demurely call them anti-immigration. A third voted for the grassroots populist party that’s making such a mess of trying to run Rome.

(thinking positive)

Here’s a short, very conservative overview of real life in The Eternal City – as opposed to tourist life: haphazard garbage pickup we’ve got used to, all things considered. Water shortage is under control, at least till the summer. We deal pretty well with bus and metro breakdowns you can rely on when there are no strikes, though the city transport agency will probably go bankrupt before the end of the year. Real estate laws were modified years ago, the municipal administration departments never adapted and have been hibernating ever since the populist Junta took over, so tens of thousands of would-be buyers/sellers are stuck in limbo, presumably for at least another couple of years.

Since our historic ten-centimeter snowfall two weeks ago, our cracked asphalt streets and roads have been in a state of even more dangerous disrepair in the whole city. They’re literally riddled with potholes often bordering on ravines. Statistics are one every fifteen meters, leading to over two-thousand car and moped accidents just in the last couple of weeks. Some three hundred trees have either given up the ghost right onto the roads, cars and pedestrians, or simply dropped their heavier branches on them. Either way, they haven’t been removed and are adding to the chaos.

(more positive thinking)

Tweets and FB posts are rife with hilarious jokes about it all – Romans have seen it all. After all, their 2000 year history should serve some kind of purpose: it helps them react with a mix of cynical but usually very funny sense of humour. Check them out if you can navigate Italian.

Angst is running high, as the political party running this city are now claiming the right to run the country.

I want to stay sane, so I think I’ll take the high road (pun intended). I’ll go for the “writer in an ivory tower” view, and try to find other subjects to blog about from now on.

Any suggestions?

Photos: all irrelevant  – 14thcountry

Posted in Blogging, Elections, Humour, Italy, Opinion | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

Snowbound in Rome

There were pleasant whiffs of mountain air for the last few days…

… and we finally woke up this morning to a snow-covered city, with blurry snowflakes that kept falling till about 10 am.

Beautiful scenery, except that Rome is the most climate-challenged capital in Europe. Last night, considering the weather forecast, the Municipality ordered all schools to remain closed today. It sounded rather ridiculous and excessive at the time but was the right call, as the total snowfall of about 10 centimeters has completely blocked Rome this morning!

The City has no salt reserves to sprinkle on roads, no snowplows, only a few buses have snow-tires and most private cars don’t. Besides, by daybreak all tram lines but one were at a standstill because of fallen tree branches obstructing the rails, or in various cases simply (badly) parked cars.

Flights from Fiumicino resumed by late morning, but forget the train stations.

Little kids were having a ball sledding down the city’s great many hills and parks, and the only people who made it to work were those a short walk away from their offices, or those with a nearby metro station.

The official line is “don’t go anywhere” unless you really really have to.

Oh, and Ms. Mayor’s in Mexico… attending a Climate Change conference.

No worries though, mid-morning  the army was called in to start cleaning up the roads. And yes, they’re bringing their own shovels.

Tomorrow should be interesting too, when all this freezes over.

Photos Rome Feb. 26 2018

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Water rationing in Rome?

Back in Rome. The heat’s bearable, after weeks of tropical mugginess when most daytime hours could only be spent indoors. Many Romans are still on summer holidays, a godsend in terms of traffic and parking, but it won’t last long. September back-to-normal is fraught with a number of city-wide emergencies, and headlines are already bracing us for more upcoming public transportation upheavals. Garbage disposal blues seem to have melted into the back pages.

And strange to say, water rationing issues have disappeared from all and any pages.

Yet our water problems haven’t gone away. A huge panic was on in the second half of July, with talk of a drastic water-rationing plan set up by the municipally-controlled public utility: 8 hour rotating water-shifts across the various city zones. In a nutshell, because of an uncommonly dry year so far, Rome has been slowly draining away lake Bracciano, the large lake 50 km north of the city it depends on for part of its water. Levels dangerous for the survival of the plant and fish ecosystem and surrounding lake wildlife were apparently reached in July, and so Regional authorities decreed the capital had to stop getting part of its running water from the lake. Starting a week later.

Fountain in St.Peter’s square

The Vatican promptly turned off all its public fountain taps. The City of Rome did not (what would the tourists say?). All the fountains in Rome – the monumental ones, the decorative ones, the commemorative ones, in public piazzas, inside courtyards, immersed in the parks, on sidewalks – 2,000 odd, are still joyfully gushing forth, though now, a month later, there are rumours the Municipality is finally starting to turn some spigots off…

As the Regional governor and the Municipal Mayor are from opposite parties, the ensuing July political warfare was no surprise, and café and street-level comments were simply in denial anything would happen. Nobody gave water conservation a thought. As is so often the case in Italy, the cynics turned out to be right: a last-minute decision from the Lazio Regional Administrative Court acknowledged that the lake was in fact being very dangerously depleted, but not just by the Rome water utility, also by the protracted heat. So it decreed that the city could simply continue pumping water out of lake Bracciano.  Logical?

I’ve over-simplified very complex issues. Factor in decades of systems disrepair and lack of maintenance, 40% wasted water, a national record – though a good part of these “pipe leaks” could well be due to the farms around the lake that tap into the system illegally.

The August holiday exodus put some pressure off the utility, with a drastic decrease in household water usage, but now we’re all coming back. Suffice it to say that with autumn rains, most people expect the situation to just “normalize” … painlessly.

Aqueduct of Segovia rebuilt in 15th century

Rains?  Most reliable forecasts don’t see hide nor hair of any for weeks to come: Climate Change is not going away. Yet most Romans echo Ms. Mayor’s “Rome just can’t be left without water!”. Can’t, why? Apart from its vaunted 2,000 years of history, which do include having engineered the first comprehensive aqueducts, baths and water distribution systems throughout the Roman Empire, nowadays Rome sounds just like any of a plethora of cities all over the world in denial of the need to invest in and innovate their water utilities … until severe droughts actually strike. It’s a universal problem because it’s political, because it’s expensive and now there’s Climate Change*.

Political or not, I’ve lived in countries where water rationing and energy cuts were a seasonal hazard. So looking to September, I’ve got my water containers lined up. I’m not buying into the local entitled hubris of “Rome just can’t have its water rationed” just because we’ve lined up 2,000 years of history, ruins and fountains behind us.

*”Water 4.0 – The Past, Present, and Future of the World’s Most Vital Resourse” by David Sedlack (Yale University Press 2014)

photos: Lake Bracciano 13.3.17; Fountain in St. Peter’s square 24.7.17; Aqueduct of Segovia 

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Terracina’s long beach

When you go out-of-town on a job, you normally don’t pay much attention to whatever city or town you’re in. It’s in and out.

But last week I had a couple of days of work in a seaside town I’d never been to, and planning to stay on an extra day turned out to be a great idea.  Thursday and Friday were miserably cold, windy and rainy but manageable, as most of the time I spent working indoors.

Besides, walking to and from my lodgings along the dark greyish coast was better than fighting my way through metal-gridlocked Rome traffic jams.

In fact, I was staying in a perfectly comfortable B&B* with all possible amenities and delightfully friendly and helpful staff, with an excellent pizzeria-restaurant just around the corner.  I puddle-skipped my way there on both evenings…

… but didn’t think to take photographs of the delicious food –   spaghetti with the tastiest clams ever, and next day vegetarian pizza with freshly picked veggies. I just remembered to immortalize the aesthetic craft beer bottle.

So I stayed on after finishing the job, and on Saturday morning my partner drove down from Rome to join me.  We were lucky and rewarded with the most perfect early spring weather possible. Deep blue wind-swept sky and warmish sun, ideal for leisurely walks all along the wide sandy beach that’s about 4 km long. There’s also a well-maintained bicycle path that runs from end to end.

Anywhere you go in Italy you usually find a mix of history, culture, nature and food. Terracina does have a rich history that goes back to ancient times and the Etruscans. It was heavily damaged in WW II, but there are still some Roman remains and a number of medieval churches and buildings.

It was supposed to be just a relaxing daylong break for us, and more “serious” tourism wasn’t what we had in mind,  so we concentrated on nature and food. The long beach and panorama along it were a delight, and lunch in one of the many beach restaurants was excellent.

Overall, Terracina turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. It’s not a particularly well-known summer location, but its beach is perfect if that’s your type of thing, and foreigners after the famed Italian sunshine have started to discover it. Hospitality here is comparably more affordable than better-known resort towns, and with all the competing eateries and restaurants you’re assured of authentically fresh seafood, especially right along the beach.

It’s easy to reach, approximately 50 km south of Rome. Either a 90-minute car drive, or you can get there cheaply and comfortably from Rome by coach.  It’s probably a good place for a family seaside holiday, or also if you just want a laid-back day or two on a beach, away from intense sight-seeing “duties”, having seen the Coliseum or when touring main Italian sights and cities.

*this is not an advertisement, but the B&B I stayed in, “Il Giardino di Adriana“,  was just too good not to share: that’s its private garden up there.

All photos

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Cold snap in Rome

It looked like a warm early spring and most Romans have put away their winter clothes. Yet now we have a cold snap, and many are looking pale, chilled and unhappy. But Roman “cold” is rather relative. Cold snaps I read about in many international blogposts involve storms, hurricanes and more often than not, taking out the snow shovels just to manage getting out of the house.

I just saw great pictures of the coast somewhere up in Newfoundland where it’s really cold, with a huge, gorgeous iceberg flowing by.

That’s not exactly what we have here. Here we had perfect sunshine on a clear blue sky today, though a coldish (6°C) wind’s blowing moderately hard, and in some places in Rome you find your windshield frozen over mornings when you’re already late for work. That’s just about it. Besides, in the sun, it warms up to about 15°C around lunchtime, then evening temperatures drop again. You snow-shovel people are probably laughing.

The point is, complaining about the weather is a typical Roman pastime, which is absurd when you think we’re one of the European capitals with the reputation for having the most clement weather of all. True, though it’s also an exaggeration that leads tourists to flock here all-year-long expecting to bask in the sunshine in T-shirts and shorts. Which, apart from being uncouth when visiting art-filled churches, is often unwise: many catch their deaths of a cold.

Locals’ weather complaints also involve serious week-long study of upcoming weekends and feeling victimized whenever it’s forecast to get even just a bit cloudy.  Weekend rain rates as a tragedy. In fact, Romans typically tend to start off the year with a calendar to study the logistics of all the possible “official” long weekend holidays, together with long-range weather forecasts.

2017 is a pretty good year:  we just had a three-day Easter break, this next weekend will probably see many people going off for a good four days as Tuesday’s a national holiday and Monday is considered an automatic no-work “bridge” (“ponte”, the Italian word for it). The weekend after that will stretch too, as Italy celebrates International Workers’ Day on a Monday.

Lots of bridges, so life is good despite … the cold.

photos:  : bridge; :  iceberg; : calendar

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Football, fountains and blossoms

Rome tends to chaos, but it’s beautiful. Early spring has sneaked up on us overnight this year, and the trees aligned along many streets in the city are in full white, pink and fuscsia bloom.

Footbal is very much part of the city life. It’s the lingua franca of the early morning required stop for a quick cappuccino at the local bar, especially on Mondays. I learned early on that a knowledge of the weekend games is a godsend to navigate the social small-talk fug of Monday blues.

So it wasn’t such a surprise that the municipal anti-establishment junta finally capitulated and decided that the Roma AS football club would be allowed to build its own stadium in the city. The party are staunchly anti-cement and anti-any-new-development projects and had stubbornly nixed the whole idea from day one. They were brought to their political senses last month when the whole Roma cheering section engaged in heated chants and insults against them during a match, and the Roma radio station started attacking their party.

Dan Meis Roma stadium project

A good three quarters of the powerful taxi lobby runs on Roma radio frequency, and the drivers were incensed that Ms Mayor – who supported their anti-Über seven-day strike – was denying them a stadium.

So thanks to football, we have at least one new city project creeping forward, which should create some very needed  new jobs.

More positive football news. We get invaded from time to time by hordes of drunken fans from other countries (getting drunk is not part of mainstream Italian culture), and in 2015 the fans of a Dutch club went on a rampage. They fought police for hours in the historical center, destroyed storefronts and smashed hundreds of bottles on a number of priceless monuments, including the beautiful Barcaccia fountain in Piazza di Spagna.

Viale Tiziano Bernini fountain

Bernini Fontana delle Api

Now the good news: a Dutch group of individuals and associations set up a special fund and recently donated the sum of € 100,000 to the city of Rome to try to make amends for the disgrace. The Barcaccia had already been repaired, but the symbolism is strong and welcome anyway. The city will use the funds to restore two other Bernini fountains, one that sits in the center of Piazza Barberini – the fountain of the “Bees”, and the other in the central verdant section of viale Tiziano, in a mainly residential quarter of the city.

Spring is looking good.

Photos: blossoms:; cappuccino:; Roma AS stadium project :; Viale Tiziano Bernini fountain:; Bernini Fontana delle Api:  

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Bloggers meet in Piazza Farnese


Unlike this picture, it was a grey and windy day … and I met blogging-friends in person for the very first time. Dona and Peter are enthusiastic foodies, seasoned hikers, curious travelers who have been to many countries, and out-of-the-way places too.

So it was rather bizarre that meeting up in the heart of Rome turned out to be more difficult than expected:  knowing they were nearby, I texted them to meet in Piazza Farnese, one of the historical center’s largest, impossible-to-miss squares, where the sparse crowds make it easy to see each other. GPSs are often hard to follow in the labyrinth of narrow, crooked streets, but they got lost simply because some passersby gave them the wrong indications.

Rome center

Rome center

Indeed, in Rome, stay wary when asking locals how to get anywhere. If you’re really lucky they’ll they send you off in the right direction. But don’t count on it: they would never admit to not knowing a place, especially if it sounds like somewhere famous they “should” know, in which case just flipping a coin would be better than asking them. Besides, many Romans get a kick out of sending tourists off on wild-goose chases. The humour of it escapes me, but we all know that sense of humour is culture-specific.


Anyway, we did finally meet up on a grey and windy afternoon. I’d seen their picture on some of their posts, and they just had to look out for my pink wollen scarf and pussy-hat-light (no ears).

By then, it was almost sundown and we only had time to wander through some of the ancient streets flanked by artisan’s workshops and tiny boutiques . Which was probably best for them, as I’m not your star tourist guide: like most long-time slightly blasé inhabitants of this city, we’re so used to all the art and sights we don’t bother much about the history… unless someone visits.


The subsequent conversation in a discreet street level restaurant terrace – around a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio –  was a delight. It felt like meeting old friends.

You follow someone’s blog* for a couple of years, and find out so much about them, how they think and see the world. On one hand it’s a only a partial form of knowing each other, but on the other, if it’s a life blog, you catch the essence of what they’re about, and the details you don’t know are areas to discover and surprise you in the future, as you develop your newly-found connection further. And maybe in some other part of the world.


All roads lead to Rome. So sooner or later, I might get a chance to meet some other special blogger-friends from distant shores. Be sure you let me know when you do come to Roma Caput Mundi!

 Livingtheqlife is a rich blog based on photos, travels and food, plus personal notes, anecdotes and comments that bring it all to life. The posts are always a pleasure to read. Do check them out!

Photos: Piazza Farnese: Wikimedia Commons; central Rome; white wine:;bloggers:

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Potatoes and peas lost in translation


This is not about food, it’s about language.

Potatoes are served as a side dish just about anywhere in Italy, but they’re not typically part of the vaunted regional cuisines. Pasta, rice and polenta are more like it.

Last week’s municipal kerfuffle had me stymied, when I read that all of Ms Mayor’s local and national supporters had reacted with “distaste”, “disbelief”, “shock”, “horror” to the subtitle of an article that proclaimed she was a “Patata Bollente”.

A Hot Potato?

Her party took over the government of Rome last summer, and the least you can say is that the Municipality has been flailing around ever since in its incompetence, inner squabbles, formal accusations of corruption, assessors being named and dropped and so on, while strike-happy sectors continue to baffle tourists and disrupt their holidays. I’ve lost track. Like most Romans, I’ve lost interest in the unending series of mini-scandals and am simply resigned to another few years of plummeting city management. As long as they keep picking up the garbage more or less regularly and public transportation doesn’t totally collapse, we’ll just have to all look forward to having to buy a 4×4 in the near future, given the speed at which the expanses of dangerous potholes are spawning all over town.


However, it’s hard to miss some of the glaring headlines: her right-hand man is sitting in jail, the assessor in charge of urbanization resigned after criticizing her for days, and it surfaced that she’s the beneficiary of three life insurance policies of another of her aides, whose Municipal salary she had upped threefold. Funnily enough, his name’s Romeo. Ha!

Her mismanagement of the capital is undeniably a huge embarrassment to her inexperienced party: their only claim to existence is that they’re here to clean up corruption. Therefore, in English as in standard Italian, one could very safely say that she’s a “Hot Potato” for her party.

(mashed potatoes: not really relevant)

(mashed potatoes: not really relevant)

So why was the country up in arms? Not just her staunch supporters in steadfast denial, but all her in-house enemies too, her political adversaries and their parties all over the political spectrum, feminist associations, the offices of Speaker of the House and President of the Senate … and others I might have overlooked.

Well, I found out that “patatina” – little potato –  is the euphemism used when talking to little children to describe what has of late been bandied around in world headlines as the part of a woman’s anatomy that you can grab if you move in certain circles.

So it turns out the headline had meanings and sub-meanings. Considering Romeo and all, I thought it was a bit osé yet pretty witty. But my Italian friends say the fact I’m still laughing is very un-politically correct. 

Which goes to prove that if you’re not mother-tongue, you can be quite fluent in a language and still miss out on some of its subtleties and no-no’s.


Side-note: in Italian, the potato’s male counterpart for little boys is “little pea”. I knew that one, as male anatomies are mentioned with much less modesty – if not outright hubris. But I’d never figured out the imagery. A friend helpfully explained that you were meant to visualize the pea-pod and not the tiny veggie. Ah, mystery solved.

Anyway, how interesting that in the end, everything seems to revolve around food in Italy. 

Posted in Blogging, Humour, Italy, Languages | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

Turin to rewind in the Year of the Rooster

img_20161228_163414Happy New Year!

Chinese New Year, that is. Any opportunity’s a good opportunity to start the year all over again, after a month of January that’s offered most of us a rather bleak – if not dark – view of the future.  Chinese Year of the Rooster as a new opportunity to rewind on optimism, sense of purpose and possibly as-yet poorly defined personal targets.

Anyway, to clear out mentally, I’ve decided to go escapist today, back to a short holiday in Turin a month ago.


Turin in the north of Italy is an elegant city. Its early Roman origins and history as the seat of the House of Savoy explain the neat grid of boulevards and streets that run at perfect right-angles in the city center. We all expect NYC and other modern cities to look somewhat like that, but it’s rather unexpected in Italy, where most people visualize narrow cobbled streets and bends winding around traffic-challenging ancient ruins. Turin is different, it’s well-run, boasts a lot of Neo-Classical architecture, and a great many inner parks and squares with Continental-type flora.

In winter it can come off as grey and borderline staid, but then you discover corners of very original façades, roofs and Rococo toppings worthy of more exuberant climes. If you’re lucky, it’ll be crisp and sunny, with the surrounding snow-capped Alps sparkling off an impossibly blue sky.


As a tourist destination, it’s gained a lot of traction in the last few years, thanks to good city planning and targeting of its cultural heritage. The rich offer of museums, exhibitions and cultural events is such that unless you plan to stay more than two-three days, you’ll have to choose and miss out on many things.

In the city itself, a couple of museums are pretty unmissable.

Colourful crafts in Turin shop-window

Colourful crafts in Turin shop-window

The Egyptian Museum is meant to be the largest one outside of Cairo. Its breadth and scope are impressive, but also its impeccable organization on par with any other museum in the world.  Italy has always had a wealth of art and artifacts on show in all corners of the country, but if you visited Italy up to the 1990s, chances are most of what you saw was put forth with barely a title, no explanations and definitely no explanations in any foreign language. This museum was recently refurbished and is now state-of-the-art: it does an excellent educational job on all fronts, with attractive features for all ages.

The Royal Palace of Turin and its surrounding buildings always host a number of exhibits, both historic and modern, including vast collections put together by members of the Ducal dynasty. In terms of European Royal dynasties, it’s considered a minor one, but they intermarried over the centuries with more prestigious ones, and developed a flair for international trends.

"Nest" - contemporary outdoor art

“Nest” – contemporary outdoor art

As for the very many other museums, it depends on your interests. Many are niche (National Museum of Automobiles) some unique (Sports Museum). If you can bear the queues, the Museum of Cinema is in the iconic and futuristic Mole Antonelliana where you can go all the way up its famous spire that dominates the city with a bird’s eye view.

The largest out-of-town venue is the Palace of Venaria, and we were told there were always big crowds there, so we chose to go to the less-visited Palazzina Stupinigi instead. It’s an easy 40 minute public bus ride from the city center. Stupinigi is in the open countryside, and the palace architecture and grounds are delightfully elegant. It was used as a summer residence and royal hunting lodge, and is flanked by an arc of red brick former stables.

Animal designs in Palazzina Stupinigi

Animal designs in Palazzina Stupinigi

Oriental art in Palazzina Stupinigi

Oriental art in Palazzina Stupinigi

A closing nod to restaurants. Many Art Nouveau cafés are famous for their chocolates and pastries. Food in Turin and its region is generally excellent, with a strong influence from French cuisine. Winter dishes with sauces were refined, and I also had the best ratatouille in years in a cozy book-lined bar-restaurant that served us even though it was too late for lunch by local standards*.

*El Puig d’Estelles – this is not an advertisement 🙂  

Photos: ©

Posted in Blogging, Cultural, Food, Italy | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

The Three Kings or flying back into the past?


It’s taking me a while to adjust to the idea we’re into a New Year. The best advice I’ve come across is probably from Queen Elisabeth II in her Xmas message to our Brexiting friends:

”…take a deep breath…”.

Very apt. We got off to a decent enough start here in Rome, despite Ms Mayor’s last minute ukase banning all fireworks for the traditional celebrations. The legal wording was dubious so happily it was struck down by a Regional higher court. One of the aims of her diktat was “to protect animals”, with no regard whatsoever for the high percentage of our local multicultural citizenship – including Neapolitans- who know that starting off the year without bothering to  scare off evils spirits is a very bad idea.


In any case, Roman New Year’s Eve did happen, a bland and much tamer version than in the past. It was downright boring according to most first-hand accounts. Yet the comedian turned head of grassroots party claimed it was a success, and posted a triumphant photo of lovely fireworks next to the Coliseum on Facebook. It was almost immediately debunked as a photo of the previous year’s celebrations – on the very same day he ranted against government sources who want to combat fake information on social websites!

The general mood is glum, with most Romans passively resigned to the blunders, inexperience, immobility and lack of projects of this municipal junta. Not to mention collapsing infrastructure and basic services. “No” is the municipal all-round motto, rather than risk failure by attempting anything. No to our Olympic Games candidature, no to fireworks, no to the AS Roma new stadium complex…

Roman ad humour: "We deal with wrinkles like the Olympics. We cancel them"

Roman ad humour: “We deal with wrinkles like the Olympics. We cancel them”

What’s more worrying is that on a national level, vote-getting populism has inspired the comedian-head of party to veer towards a mix of positions dangerously close to the extremes of the political spectrum: on one hand against immigrants, on the other with anti-EU and pro-Putin declarations. And some are pining to reinstate the labour laws of … 1970. I’m not joking.

Ancient times

Ancient times

The nature of the Universe is change, just not counter-clockwise, so the zeitgeist is disturbing. Whatsmore, you vote for change only when you have a clear idea of where/how to proceed, and know that the skills to do so are there. Too many people would love to simply wind back the clock.

On a positive note, tomorrow January 6 is the Christian celebration of the Three Kings, a timely reminder that our civilization is the product of multiple ethnic and cultural ancestries. The big hitch is that here the Three Kings are totally disregarded, as Italians chose to celebrate the pagan “Befana” instead!

A witch-like old lady on her broom to fly us back into the past?   

photos: ©

Posted in Blogging, Cultural, Humour, Italy, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 24 Comments