Sparks of hope

italian italy t shirts

Sparks of hope, but thank goodness the neighborhood’s cautious. There are definitely more people around, also some kids, strollers and joggers. The two bars (=coffee shops) have sort of opened, in the sense their entrances are barred by a table, and you go up and order your coffee and cornetti, which are then placed on the table where you’ve supposedly placed your payment. Some people who pay with their cellphones hold them up to be photographed before moving off to enjoy their loot, standing in the middle of the piazza.

Not ideal but at least it’s a beginning. The pizza place which had just opened when the shutdowns clamped down has timidly reopened too, with the same table-blocking-the-entrance system, not ideal as they had started off with a huge variety of pizzas to oogle and choose from: for the moment they only offer 4 or 5 basic types.

The tobacconist is behaving pretty strangely, he keeps clients outside his shop, you have to hand-signal what you want, and wave your payment at him so he sees if he has to give you any change. When it’s ready he puts it on the counter, tells you to wait and disappears into his back-office. At that point you can enter and grab whatever you’ve asked for and your change. I don’t smoke, my partner does. Maybe he’d stop if I made him go through the rigmarole himself instead of buying his cigarettes for him.

The newspaper stand right on the street never closed, and seems to have stricter distance spacing rules for clients now. People used to just love spending time in there giving the owner all the latest gossip, which he only put up with for business. He looks much happier now. There’s also a flower vendor on the road who reopened yesterday, and as they’re Muslim, I imagine they’re happy they had been able to close – for once – as it’s been Ramadam for the past 3 weeks.

I don’t pay too much attention to the news, except that a big number of businesses are meant to re-open next Monday, shops with strict masks-one person every 40 meters-rules, offices with complicated distancing and stay-at-home rules too. No canteens are reopening, so bring your own lunchbox. Somehow it doesn’t sound very reassuring, as most offices in the center are pretty cramped. Not to mention buses to get into town.

We’ll see.

I’m probably off buying clothes and shoes for quite some time in the future: what’s wrong with my whole stash of stuff? Nothing. I’m even trying to Mary Kondo it. For books, amazon e-books will just have to do for the moment: I can’t bear the idea of being regimented in a bookshop. But most important, it’s on/off if hairdressers will reopen next Monday or only June 1st. I do know hordes of women are raring to go back. First chance I get, I’ve decided to have most of my hair chopped off, just in case we have to backtrack and the coronavirus rules get out of hand again in the fall…





Posted in Blogging, Cultural, Italy, Sociology | 12 Comments

Almost there …


Weather’s glorious today, and we’re still all cooped in. It’s Sunday so no excuses to go out today, supermarkets big and small are closed, as well as tobacconist’s – though I really don’t understand why tobacconists are allowed to open on weekdays anyway. The neighborhood “real market” I’ve kept out of since going a fortnight ago, and seeing just about everybody disregarding social distancing and standing around in little groups, talking together. No masks. A few days ago some 4 or 5 carabinieri cars swooped down on the market. In fact, the Rome municipality has made quite a bit of money from all the (stiff) fines since all this began.

I did get something good out of it last time I went: a paperback in French, which I found in the special box at the entrance of the market. I used to get quite a kick out of looking at the books and magazines people just leave there. It actually looks like a good book, but it’s been on my terrace in the sunshine since, I turn it around every day, they say sunshine kills germs, except I don’t know how long before I can trust it?

There have been two deaths in the immediate surroundings, one of which was in our building, but it seemed like a “normal” passing away: the area has a lot of elderly people living here. The other one I saw in front of – not inside – the neighborhood church, with the priest blessing the coffin in the pallbearer’s car, and people praying along… spread around in the street in social distancing mode.

We’ll find out in a few days what’s going to happen on May 4th, when the country is meant to relax a lot of measures. I think we’ll be able to move around the city without the auto-certification document which makes me feel like an ex-con on parole, but apparently face-masks might be compulsory everywhere outside the home.

They say bookstores are reopening, but with only one client at a time for each 40 square meters, and no dawdling. It doesn’t sound great, so I guess Jeff Bezos will go on to be a trillionaire thanks to my ever-increasing stash of e-books. I’d discovered the joys of a chain of great second-hand shops where you also could buy anything under the sun including books, except they aren’t under the sun, they’re huge underground shops. So even if they reopen soon, I don’t see myself going back there for quite some time.

Do I sound obsessed?  I’m starting to be.

I’m keeping an eye on hairdressers’ re-openings. For the first time ever, I ended up with some do-it-yourself hair-dyeing a week ago, which all things considered went off ok. That is, ok at least on the front, as I have no idea what I look like from the back where I couldn’t reach anyway. I must have become more like typical Italian women than I thought: as soon as possible, I think I’ll react to all of this with a drastic change in hairstyle. The first big change in over two decades: off with what’s become a very long shapeless mass, maybe short short hair with something left un-dyed. If I don’t chicken out…


Posted in Blogging, Cultural, Environment, Italy | 6 Comments

Coronavirus in Rome

IMG-20200320-WA0000Looks like people have finally started realizing just how serious the situation is, the numbers of people who’ve caught the coronavirus are rather horrifying. We’re not allowed to leave our cities or towns at this point, yet people are still trying to leave the north to go back to their hometowns in the south… and apparently bringing the virus down with them.

Yesterday was Sunday, and the municipal police and Carabinieri stopped some 40.000 people in the country, most trying to behave as if there wasn’t the strictest of curfews on. Some of the excuses were actually funny, like the runner with his dog: he was stopped in full runner gear with his dog plopped down on the ground and refusing to budge. He’d been out with him for far more than the quarter of an hour doggy needs are meant to take, and the dog just couldn’t take it anymore. Also, social media are full of clips of irate mayors shouting to their people to STAY INDOORS!

We’re now in our third week of being cooped indoors here in Rome, and some two or three weeks longer up north in Milan, Brescia, Venice etc. The news from Bergamo up in the north is ghoulish, so many dead they literally don’t know where to put them… and their relatives are not allowed to accompany the corpses wherever the army trucks are taking them.

I’ve lost track of it all, and people in the know seem to think it won’t let up until mid-May. At this point the only places you can still go to are the nearest supermarket, pharmacy and the doctor’s – though only for “serious and really necessary reasons”.  I had check-ups programed, which I hate, and am happy to have had to postpone them for another month or two …

You have to have a declaration ready on you (with all your ID information and specifying why you’re in the street) should you be stopped.

I’ve taken to walking around the block each time I go down for something. My partner managed to beg a couple of pretty flimsy orange-colored paper face masks off his doctor, apparently not very good ones, but at least we look like we’re covering our faces. We can’t go down together, or rather, it would be irritating to have to walk two meters away from each other, so we take turns.

The news is meant to get better next week or at the most in a couple of weeks’ time, I’m looking forward to having better things to write about…


Posted in Blogging, Environment, Italy | 24 Comments


rome Vatican fountain

Weather’s great, at least that, because everything else is out of kilter. The news from the north has been on TV non-stop for a couple of weeks now, with ghostly pictures of Milan, Brescia, Venice et al, but we somehow thought it wouldn’t touch us here in Rome.

Then last weekend came a mix of government declarations, and no less than some 20.000 people rushed down south on Sunday, to be “home” when the worst of the restrictions would hit. Trains, buses full, even someone apparently took a taxi all the way to Rome and it cost her some 1.200 euros.

What all these people didn’t realize was that, apart from apparently “bringing” the virus down to the rest of the country, they would be placed in automatic self-quarantine for 14 days. Anyway.

Reaction locally hadn’t been very noticeable until today. Yesterday you still had people crammed into coffee bars, hogging space, pushing to get served their cappuccinos and cornetti. Today people have started to pay attention to signs, which go from general information, to notices to keep at least a meter between people, to other ones saying the place could get closed down if rules aren’t respected.

As all bars and restaurants have to close by 6 pm, the pizzerias in the area have put up signs saying you can order take-out later, go by to pick it up or have it sent home … on condition you don’t touch the person delivering. Yes, don’t touch.

As I said, good thing the weather’s nice. The local supermarket is open, but only lets about 10 people inside at a time, so there’s the longest queue outside. Pharmacies are open too, but there, only 2 clients can get in at a time: the area around the closest one looks more like a football crowd waiting outside the stadium. And old-fashioned habits are back, not new-fangled modern push-buttons: when you get there, you holler “who’s the last person?”  and take it from there…

Everyone I know is working online. Some behavior I find strange, like the friends who decided to go back up north for the next 3 weeks. North? Yes, because that’s where their relatives are. Others I heard about left Milan last week (the northern quarantine was already ongoing) for Lecce in the deep south, just to attend a family First Communion, and then calmly drove back home. Their relatives were livid.

Apparently it’s now officially a world pandemic.

Haven’t managed to find a protective “mask” yet, but today maybe one person every twenty did have one. I’ve been given the address of a pharmacy where I might (maybe) find one. I’m setting off at daybreak tomorrow. Wish me luck.


Posted in Blogging, Cultural, Environment | 27 Comments

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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