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When it rains, it comes down in torrents. And then, like a repeated miracle, the sun comes out and the air is warm and soft. Within minutes I am soaked, drenched, slogging through huge puddles and rivulets of water that go every which way over the cobbled streets of the Via del Governo Vecchio, as I make 33 As the Romans Do my way back toward the home of the maestro.
As we step back onto the street a few minutes later, the rain has stopped again. We discuss our route home. Julian has for some time been lobbying to take the from Piazza Venezia. It goes from the train station, the Termini, to St. We ride for a few minutes before switching to the sleek, nearly empty, bend-in-half , which lets us off in Testaccio, along with the necessity of walking home.
O f all the monuments of Rome, the Colosseum is perhaps the most well known, the enduring symbol of the city. It is also in many ways the strangest, for the very reason that it is the prototype of the kind of sports stadium that stands everywhere in America, hosting the same kind of combat, albeit stripped of the gorier excesses that took place in ancient times when the arena was built. An English churchman in the Middle Ages, the Venerable Bede, said—although proof of his assertion has always been lacking—that as long as the Colosseum stands, Rome will stand, and as long as Rome stands, civilization will stand.
Each year millions engulf the place as if they were a swarm of ants about to devour the drippings of a cone of nocciola and stracciatella ice 35 As the Romans Do cream, hazelnut and chocolate chip. Until the nineteenth century, years of decay had allowed a huge hole to remain in the side of the building that faces south, and engravings of that time show people wandering freely in and out of the many arches and especially through the opening.
The outer perimeter, which generally wraps around the north side of the building, is two stories taller and considerably more spectacular, and gives the structure its fullest shape and perspective. If you look closely above the arches of the outer north wall, through the soot and grime that has accumulated—mostly in this century as exhaust from the engine emissions of cars, trucks, and buses and industrial pollutants—you can see the Roman numerals carved in the stone that indicate which gate one is entering.
Cristianus non licet est. It is not legal to be a Christian. Who ever does? These days the show at the Colosseum mostly takes place, thank God, outside the structure, where there are all kinds of souvenir stands, tour buses, Africans displaying their wares on white sheets that can be gathered up in an instant so as to avoid detention by the police, who make a halfhearted raid on the illegal sales once a week or so, locals dressed up as Roman legionnaires who offer to have their picture taken with anyone who is willing to part with three or four dollars, and ordinary tourists milling about in every direction as they try to comprehend the awesome majesty of a still-imposing building that has stood on the very same spot for nearly two thousand years.
On a given day, but mostly on the weekends, the casual observer is also treated to the sight of an assortment of brides, in full white or off-white regalia, along with their grooms and the various components of their retinues—in-laws, friends, chauffeurs, video and still photographers—taking hundreds of pictures of the most memorable day of their lives, with the Colosseum as the backdrop.
Virginity until marriage is as rare in Italy as it is elsewhere, although the fact that Roman men and women do not wait does nothing for the national birthrate, which is the lowest in the world, perhaps the lowest in all of history. Yet to top off the scene, right in the middle of the shoot, a telefonino goes off, and it turns out to be that of the bride. Who in the world could she be talking to now? Her boyfriend? Her agent? A rich Middle Eastern client? The sight of this young Japanese woman walking languidly away from the scene while talking into the phone is so disconcerting that I gently pull Diane away from our voyeuristic pleasure and insist that we move on.
There are some times when even I, a jaded Roman by this point, am still jolted into senselessness by something not quite being what it appears to be, and this is surely one of them. But what has just transpired is nothing compared to what comes next. The edge of the aforementioned north wall of the Colosseum has been draped with scaffolding for God knows how long, probably since the Middle Ages. Time is long here. Anyway, true to both its conformist nature and to the idea that everything one sees has to be adorned, the scaffolding sites all have wooden barriers at street level, all painted the same color red, presumably from the same source.
Today turns out to be a normal scaffolding day, but then I notice that something has, in fact, changed. Everyone is looking up into the mottled blue sky, and soon it is clear that an event is taking place. My stomach is dropping by the second. We come from San Francisco, where the Golden Gate Bridge has been the site of roughly a thousand suicide attempts, most of them successful.
I cannot bear the thought that from this moment on, my image of the Colosseum will be forever marred by the sight of another martyr plunging dramatically to his death, hundreds of feet below. I am American. I expect the worst. I cannot watch, but at the same time I also cannot turn away.
They are talking. They are gesticulating. My heart is still pounding, my stomach is still in knots. Then the two men begin to walk down together, and it is clear that the danger has passed. We turn away and are met by the eyes of a grizzled, middle-aged Roman with a three-day growth, 40 The Latest Martyr at the Colosseum who has also been one of the spectators.
They never jump. Our friend is more than just a fan. Verdi is his life, and this was the fourteenth such event he had hosted. By now I have come to see that party giving could have been invented by the Romans. Then there are the men. They all seem to look like they have just stepped off the pages of a glossy magazine—handsome, coiffed, and well groomed.
They have easy smiles and a kind of insouciance that one always associates with Marcello Mastroianni, the kind of men you have to watch out for, who seem always to be looking for a new amante, a lover, and are usually interested in women who are themselves married because they are more of a challenge, and there is less to fear, since a young ragazza might actually fall so head over heels in love with her lover that she would want them to run off together, hence breaking up the family.
She smiled and reassured me, but when we arrived at the party, and the only edibles visible were an assortment of small bowls with olives and walnut pieces and party mix, I was preparing myself for the worst. Mannaggia, I said to myself, I should have known better. I should have eaten before I came because, of course, an P.
With the latter, the message is clear: cenone, a huge, multihour dinner that probably will not start until or , after glasses of prosecco, sparkling wine, and that will go on until hours past midnight. Suddenly, we are called to order. This course will be followed by roast chicken, potatoes and green beans, then dessert and coffee. Suddenly, my mood has changed. For years, in the eighties, I was a season ticket holder at the San Francisco Opera, and I listened in gradual disappointment as the quality of the singing steadily declined, year after year, to the point where I often wondered why I was not at home in my own living room, listening to Maria Callas sing Tosca or Sherrill Milnes play Scarpia or Giuseppe di Stefano die ignominiously as Cavaradossi.
When you strip away the theatrical part of the art form, tutto sommato, the bottom line is that opera is singing. Although the costumes and scenery add much to the experience, ultimately we do not remember the beauty of the sets or the composition as much as we do the way in which the music has been rendered and infused by the voices.
As a listener, you want those notes pure, steady, clear, emotional. As soon as Alfredo let loose, I knew my wait had come to an end. His evocation was so good, so immediate, so real and unadorned by affectation or trickery, that my whole being was immediately transported to that place it goes when it is in the presence of the most astonishing beauty, the most perfect harmony. God gave us all gifts, every one of us, and this man was using his, both to express himself and entertain us at the same time.
I look to my right, up at Senator George McGovern, who is sitting on a couch. He is weeping. In the afterglow of his illustrious career, he is here in Rome, away from family and friends, once again serving his country. Is he missing the familiarity of Washington, D. Tears are rolling down his cheeks as he leans forward to remove a handkerchief from his back pocket. The arias continue with selections from other operas. The soprano and tenor are joined by an Italian mezzo whose voice is full and beautiful.
Listening to her reminds me that we came to Rome for moments just like this one, that in all my fantasies I never dreamed I would be sitting next to George McGovern 47 As the Romans Do in the salotto of a house not far from ours, as semiprofessional opera singers were regaling me with luscious fragments of the work of the Italian patriot Giuseppe Verdi—Trovatore, Aida, Falstaff, Rigoletto, to go along with the familiar Traviata.
The food is as delectable as the singing, which is no mean feat to achieve for forty people sitting around a living room. I ask for a slice that comes from his forehead, hoping that it partakes of the stuff that in real life stood inside his, wishing that by devouring a bit of his brain I will be animated by the same muse, that I, too, will be able to make music, if not with notes and scales, then at least with words.
It is the s-word, sciopero—strike. In America there are strikes of public servants, but they are different. There the strikes are usually the product of failed collective bargaining agreements, as contracts run out and workers strike for lack of new ones. As a child I remember bus and subway strikes, garbage collection strikes, and newspaper strikes, and I especially recall auto- and steelworker strikes, which only affected me insofar as they were reported in grave tones on the evening news.
Today in the United States there are strikes, but many fewer of them. When they do happen my God, in these days even sports millionaires strike , they usually go on for a long time and affect only the families of the striking workers, usually for the worse. In Rome it is different. Strikes are common.
Strikes are sudden. They are sometimes predictable, sometimes not. There are called-for, agreed-upon strikes, and there are wildcat strikes. At any moment the way in which life normally proceeds can be called into question by the sudden squall of a strike, sometimes even with comical results. In July a few years ago we had booked a trip to Sweden on the German airline Lufthansa. And then several days before our departure I saw it—the small item in the newspaper that immediately triggered fear, dread, and a sense of dislocation.
It was scheduled to begin at We are supposed to depart at I call Lufthansa. It will leave. Still, I am nervous. We have to deal with Fiumicino. At , on the plane, the captain comes on the intercom, speaking in English. He is urging us to take our seats, as we have only a few minutes to spare to taxi away or we will not be able to get out of Rome at all.
Some passengers hurry; others, mostly Italian, do not. Italians in general are averse to displaying any signs that the untoward events in life merit moving any faster than they normally would. It is rare to see a Roman quicken his pace to avoid being hit by an oncoming car in the middle of the street.
Rome Strikes Again can tell by the pace of the step. Non-Italians are eager to get where they are going, while the natives in general and Romans in particular are not. In this sense, Rome is the very opposite of New York. But now the situation aboard is grave. The captain is reporting that the strike is going to commence within minutes, and that if we do not leave now, we are for all intents and purposes not going on vacation.
Items begin to fall out of bins that have not been closed. We are moving faster now, as people scramble to sit down and the captain is telling us that even though we are the last plane cleared to leave, the job must be accomplished NOW! It is a rare event to see Germans in disarray, but this was one of them. But this is different. This is a sciopero, and Herr Kommandant in the cockpit knows that this country, this city, this airport, is as capricious as his country, his city, his airport, is not.
Only when we leave the ground do we know for certain that we have 51 As the Romans Do avoided the worst. As the ruins of the ancient port of Ostia Antica and the blue, blue Mediterranean come into plain view, the inconvenience of a strike is already a distant memory. But it is amazing how easily those memories can be rekindled.
We are now in the midst of another sciopero, of public transport—buses and the two metro lines—that is scheduled to last two days, from A. With a sciopero, full-blown chaos replaces mere inconvenience. Even if one customarily takes the car, as most Romans do, the fact that everyone is taking the car makes for gridlock. I protest, but not strongly. Perhaps she feels it is not in my genes.
Rome Strikes Again Perry suddenly took off like he was shot out of a cannon, heading straight for the bulkhead separating the street from the beach, about ten feet below. Luckily, he was stopped by the wall, unhurt, but at that point the signora renting us the vehicles made us return them, insisting that we take a Land Rover instead. So much for the motorino idea. Even for those who work at home, as we do, the sciopero is a nuisance, as we often receive clients and guests who arrive frantic and out of breath, with horrendous stories to recount.
In midafternoon we receive an invitation to dinner at the home of the McGoverns, who live about a mile away. What are our options? Is Luisa, our baby-sitter, available on such short notice? Luisa in many respects represents the true international nature of the city. She is a twenty-four-year-old daughter of a Roman father and English mother, and has a brother, Stefano, who also lives a casa with his Hungarian girlfriend.
Luisa attended Italian public school but then went to St. As a single, young artist, she keeps hours completely contrary to ours and is often going to bed just before we are waking up. What do we do? Diane has an appointment in the center, which she can reschedule for later in the week.
Ironically, that very fact has induced a wave of taxi strikes, as drivers resist the liberalization of their industry, which is intended to create more taxis. We could always walk, however, and take a cab back, as at that time most of the inconvenience will be over and for a few hours Rome will once again return to its normally anarchic state, an anarchy that nevertheless functions.
Fortunately, we learn that Luisa is available, and when she arrives, she overhears Diane and me discussing the best way to get to our destination. Walk, cab, or car? The night is lovely. Perhaps a bella passeggiata? This is my preference. We suddenly remember that our battery is dead. We are now down to our last option, but Luisa is quick to interject. Not only do our two boys adore her, we do as well. Rome Strikes Again She is like the elder daughter we never had, as our twelve-year relationship would have been hard-pressed to produce a twentyfour-year-old offspring.
I look out the window. One side of our street, the side going in the opposite direction from the one in which we have to go, is completely blocked. The other side, however, is clear. Romans have lots of words for mess—casino, macello, pasticcio. Everywhere is blocked, and the street lights are out in the center. Mamma mia, che fatica! How exhausting! Suddenly, cars and motorini are everywhere.
Although we are not far from our destination, it will now probably take us at least thirty minutes to reach it. They left an hour before, a ride that under normal circumstances takes at most twenty minutes. The senator is pacing, constantly checking his watch, and his behavior reminds me of the life in America I left behind.
It does take time. Their cab ride has taken them three times longer than usual. But now, all that is in the past. The dinner table is set. It looks lovely, and within minutes, we are dining. Another exasperating situation in Rome, something you cannot help but encounter over and over again, is being overcome by the pleasures of gastronomy.
The antipasto and grilled salmon are tasty, the conversation lively, and domani we will once again face the vicissitudes. But as any romano will tell you, domani never comes. It was here that the entire enterprise was conceived. On this spot, on April 21, B. The island served to encourage the crossing of the waterway, providing access to the north, to the Etruscans and the other tribes that were spread out over the Italian peninsula in much the same manner as the native Americans who inhabited the vast open spaces of the Western Hemisphere before the Genoan Cristoforo Colombo and the other Europeans came to forever change their lives, 2, years after the city of Rome had already been born.
It is a clear, limpid, luminous day, the kind that leaves you breathless. As I ascend the long grade that leads up from the entrance at street level to the Palatine, a few steps from the Roman Forum and the Colosseum, I cannot help but think that I am walking on hallowed ground. The Monte Palatino is the ideal place to start an exploration of the Eternal City.
It is the venue that was home to the original Romans, and as such, it is the purest of the seven hills. The others—the Quirinale, Esquilino, Celio, Aventino, Campidoglio, and Viminale—originally housed rival tribes like the Sabines and Etruscans, friendly enemies or hostile friends, depending on the time of year, the state of the harvest, and the disposition of the rulers.
It was also here, on the spot that eventually became the Circus Maximus, that the infamous Rape of the Sabine Women took place, immortalized in art for centuries. An event shrouded in mist and myth, it was an early pass at the furbizia, the cleverness and trickery that Romans are still known for, when their ancestral forebears invited the Sabines from the neighboring hill to come and make peace and instead carted off their women when Romulus gave them the signal.
I wander up a little higher, passing under the spur of an aqueduct that extended from the Celian Hill across the street to provide water for the baths of Septimius Severus. Seventeen aqueducts fed the city at its height. I continue, higher, always higher, passing an assortment of Mediterranean pine trees, the famous pini romani.
If anything, if it is possible, the sky is even bluer now than it was before. The ruins are extensive. Here and there a workman is making minor repairs to make sure that what still stands remains standing, and overhead two masons are topping off a wall to prevent water from seeping in and destroying it. All the world enjoys the splendor and richness of the city, yet Italians are the ones who have to pay for it.
Not only is it a sight that the ancient Romans never saw from atop their perch on the founding hill overlooking the Tiber, it is one they could never have even imagined. It would have been inconceivable that the scruffy, destitute, yet enraptured and determined converts to a mystical cult that came from that hardscrabble, inhospitable province called Palestine, the place the barbarian Jews called home, would one day—a day not too far in the historical future—not only subvert the mighty Roman Empire from within, but would also sustain the vision, the strength, the capacity, and the chutzpah to build St.
The Romans succeeded only in sending them into the hereafter as martyrs whose example of serenity in the face of agonizing death by the most unconscionable means inspired thousands, and then millions, to follow the Gospel, resulting in an institution that is the most successful idea—in the sense of longevity and loyalty—the species has ever produced.
Behind me, in another of the ruins, stand the remains of the large platform that served as the dining area for the Emperor Domitian. I imagine his spirit becoming incredulous, knowing that the Latin language, the tongue he employed to command, to execute, to dominate, was carried into the future, into history, only by the Roman Catholic Church, by that banned sect of wild Christians. What irony history brings. I descend into the Forum to join the crowds. I pass the many evanescent items and T-shirts being sold for a few thousand lire 61 As the Romans Do to anyone who shows the slightest interest in buying them.
Just outside the entrance of the ruins, business and commerce abound. In the crisp, brisk autumn air, it is clear that nothing much has changed in the past two thousand or three thousand years. There is buying and selling, good deals and bad, people with whom you enjoy doing business and those with whom you would rather not.
The cast of characters is different, but the story stays the same. I was glum and depressed that the pleasure of being in this country was about to end once again. A group of Americans hovered in the aisle, eager to catch up on all the news they had missed while they had been immersed in their Italian adventures. Each bit of information was met with barely disguised indifference, as if the death of the ex—British prime minister Harold Wilson, the paralyzing injury to Christopher Reeve, or the breakup of CBS were nothing about which to raise an eyebrow.
Every people has its priorities, and I was once again reminded, microcosmically, what those of my countrymen are. You learn quickly that the American way of life—based on buying and selling—is not a universal, but a value, and a relatively recent one at that. But the things Romans will do for money, the lengths to which a romano will go, to get or earn it, the level at which life is organized in the pursuit of ambition and career and the climbing of the corporate ladder—the rat race, as it is customarily called—is completely foreign to what we Americans are used to.
It is a level that puts much less emphasis on pecuniary activity and much more on the work itself. To Romans the connection between enterprise and monetary reward is much less apparent than it is for Americans, who seem to regard money as the natural end result of effort. He looked at me as if I had been mistaken, as if I had not understood that I was supposed to be listing the things that made living in the United States worthwhile.
The fact that a sale could be lost, a customer not served, an opportunity to open the cash register to deposit lire in exchange for an item leaving the store not taken, is beside the point. Chi se ne frega? Who cares? Life is just not organized around the principle that doing business and making money are the reasons why we were put here.
Changing jobs in Rome is rare; changing careers is almost unheard of. The outdoor market in Testaccio is about to close. We are looking for a new bathroom rug and have not yet found something that pleases us. Suddenly, we see something in the back of a van not yet fully packed. It had just been removed from the tables on the street that minutes before had displayed an endless variety of choices.
It is the perfect color, perhaps the one we are looking for. We ask to examine it. In fact, we are so close we can touch it. But the proprietor has other plans. We wish him Buon pranzo and continue on. Romans are philosophical about such things, and they regret very little. Most of Rome still closes every day at one in the afternoon in order to take lunch con calma, in peace.
Exploring Rome as a neophyte, I wandered into the extensive expanse of the verdant Villa Borghese and did not emerge until well past the beginning of the ora di pranzo, the lunch hour. The concept of the daily afternoon siesta had never registered. One marries for family reasons, takes a lover in the same way as one would form a close friendship, and has a scappatella purely for sexual pleasure. All the energy Americans devote to the accumulation and management of money, the hours spent thinking about how to amass it, organize it, invest it, will it, spend it, keep it, share it or not share it, Romans instead devote to other things—to looking well, eating well, loving well, and spending time with their families.
Simple transactions that one gives not a second thought to in the United States are fraught with peril in Rome. The only thing, really, that is easy to take care of in Rome is getting a coffee at the local bar, which are plentiful and thankfully uniform. Ironically, once you get the hang of it, making a phone call is also a breeze.
There are even international cards. Among the worst epithets a Roman can utter in your face is that you are acting like a Milanese, which means that you have devoted your life to the pursuit of money, the inference being that your general values and behavior must be less than genteel.
Merchants, moreover, almost never have change, and are loath to part with it even when they do. The Roman cash register—or cassa— is pathetic by comparison. Because merchants want to avoid going every day to the bank, where they must endlessly wait on line, they have little or no change, perhaps a few 1, and 5,lire notes to accompany the lone 10, If you are unfortunate enough to have to buy something at the beginning of the business day, you had better have close to the exact amount, or you will not be able to obtain what your heart desires.
All I have to do is pay with the exact amount. The cashier dismissed me immediately. I said I would wait until she made a few more sales, but it was clear that the feature was not going to be well attended Romans do not, by and large, watch movies in the afternoon. Finally, she told me to go across the street to the bar and get change.
In other words, problem not solved. I asked for a ten-thousand-lire phone card instead, something one can always use. The movie was called Matrimoni. When I 69 As the Romans Do tell the shirt merchant in the camiceria that in the United States you can buy shirts that have sleeves the same length as your arm, he stares back at me with incredulity.
The shirts had been promised the week before but were still not ready, another occurrence you get used to here. It was summer, oh so hot, hot hot, city summer heat with humidity, and we were leaving for the States for six weeks the next day and I needed the shirts. Diane offered to retrieve them. Diane arrives. If you wait ten minutes, she says, my sister will come with spiccie.
Your ten minutes, Diane knows, is my hour. Said sister could very easily not show up at all. But the real point is apparent. This establishment does business only with people it knows. For their regular customers, the shirts would be tendered and the money paid another time, maybe even months later. She goes next door to the supermercato to buy a few items and cash the hundred.
She waits on line, but even there, the till is empty. The bar is the same. This is a country without money, or rather, you realize in moments just like this one how plentiful currency is in America. She is busy chatting away at warp speed on the telephone with her sister, who will come, she says, subito. Wonder of wonders. Miracle of miracles. In ten minutes she is there. The situation is resolved.
But I do know this. They pass by at every turn, at every moment, at any age. When the light is red, she will pull up on a motorino. Looking from the bottom up is like beholding a female who is half angel, half hooker. Gold jewelry glitters in the sunlight—earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings. All eyes are on her.
But the ache is short-lived. Within minutes, another ragazza appears. She looks nothing like her predecessor, yet she is just as beautiful, her tinted blond hair blowing sensuously around her shoulders. She laughs delightedly as the ragazzo behind her on the bike squeezes tighter and nuzzles her cheek and neck before it is again time to depart. In Rome, there is sempre, sempre, always, the show. Everyone has the fever.
Everyone plays the game. I go to the shoemaker to pick up a small repair, and his mother is there, in her eighties if she is a day, and she is all dolled up as if it were and she had to do whatever she can to attract a suitor.
Her 73 As the Romans Do blouse and skirt are pressed, and over her wrinkled face her eyeglasses are something one would see in a magazine. In Rome images of women are everywhere. Statues and paintings of the Madonna are more plentiful than street signs. In Rome, to go along with the full range of artistic patrimony, images of nude or seminude women are ubiquitous, especially in advertising, and the way in which average women display their bodies as a matter of course would be considered indecent, perhaps even offensive, in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Topless is common on beaches. In a print ad, a woman is jumping out of a bath, covered everywhere in soapsuds, her perfect breasts and erect nipples fully exposed, a smile on her face a mile wide, showing us the marvelous feeling that comes from immersing ourselves in water with no clothes on. Cleavage is everywhere— on television programs and commercials that are seeking to gain your attention, on billboards as you are in transit, and in the photos that greet you as you pass on foot by the many lingerie shops that adorn the streets.
The Roman woman has spent a lot of time thinking about how to put herself together, how to please, to attract, to allure, to intrigue, even perhaps to seduce. They are always ready to receive a special but unexpected invitation to dine in elegant splendor in a seventeenth-century palazzo without having to change clothes.
Here, I am the best-dressed woman. The roots go way, way back. Visit the Etruscan museum at the Villa Giulia in Rome and you will see their civilization, taken whole from the many burial grounds they left behind. The one no longer had anything to do with the other. But try telling that to a modern-day romana. Her beauty lies not in what God has given her, but in what she does with it.
Anyone who wants to can be una bella donna in Rome, as long as one is willing to pay the price, or play the game, depending on your point of view. Make yourself beautiful. Use clothes, makeup, jewelry, accessories, whatever you can to accentuate your beauty, your femininity. Rome is still a place where men look like men and look at women, and women look like women and look at men. Their hair is thick, clean, lustrous, cut, permed, tinted blond or red or auburn, straight, wavy, but usually long, as that is what the picture of feminine beauty calls for.
The women are shapely, and have large, oversize features, big faces with large brown, occasionally green, eyes, and strong noses and chins, large hoop earrings sticking through their ears and dangling along their jawlines. They wear sunglasses, the modernday chador, to create the illusion of allure, of mystery, to make you wonder what kind of sguardo they are giving you, and what it would be like to look into their eyes, if only they were to let 76 La Bella Figura: The Flesh and Flash of Roman Women you into their most intimate thoughts and feelings.
How ironic that you see nothing of a woman in the Islamic culture but her eyes, and almost everything of a woman in Rome but hers. Their clothes are impeccable. They, like a portrait of Louis XIV I saw recently, have great legs and know how to show them off with stockings of every pattern imaginable.
It is hard to imagine a more visually stimulating people. So elegant and perfect and yet down to earth at the same time. How could women so beautiful be so accessible? Their grooming, their scent, their clothes, their telefonini, and their awareness of themselves as women is so high, so exalted, so solid, that you realize that their whole existence is based on being noticed.
And as if by evolution, through some sense of the natural order of things, these people decided long ago that since they had no choice but to look at each other, to see each other, to 78 La Bella Figura: The Flesh and Flash of Roman Women pass by a thousand times a day and say ciao, that it made sense to give the other something to please his or her eyes.
But they also think about what it means to be beautiful. By this time they take that part of life for granted. They are no more inclined to stroll down the street in a sweatsuit and white socks and tennis shoes than they are to be seen naked. I take that back. Less inclined. In Rome classic, feminine beauty still counts. Because crime against person is extremely rare and women feel safe, the streets 79 As the Romans Do are populated, wherever you go, with the chic, the swank, the high gloss, and the elegant, a veritable feast for the eyes, which gained prominence over the nose eons ago.
We have been treated ever since to sights that make us thank God we can appreciate beauty, and the feminine form—the Roman variety— is certainly among the most beautiful. Food is everywhere. No wonder Italy has always been referred to as the Garden of Europe. Suddenly, Rome seems empty. Most stores close. People vanish. And the only sounds you hear as you pass through the nearly silent streets are the particular rhythms of plates clacking, silverware clinking, and linen snapping on the tables outside the many restaurants and trattorie that line the strade e vicoli of the city, or coming from the open windows of the palazzi, where families have gathered as they have for more than two millennia to break bread before resuming the business of the day later in the afternoon.
Then, refreshed, recharged, rejuvenated after a meal, a rest, perhaps more, they are ready to navigate the second part of the daily adventure, until to in the evening, when the next cycle of eating begins anew. I am almost always asked, when I return to the States and friends and relatives want to know what kind of food I would like to eat—Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, seafood, Indian, Greek never Italian; by this time they know not to mention it —how it is that we can eat Italian food every day.
I smile, chuckle, and sigh, not knowing how to answer, not knowing how to make them understand. And yet when it comes to food, the Romans lack for nothing. In fact, the simple cucina of the city—its fresh, seasonal ingredients, perfectly prepared with techniques that have taken centuries to develop—is more satisfying on a day-to-day basis than the miscellaneous cooking that passes for the American variety at this point, or the vaunted, saucy French kind.
The carpaccio of octopus and the zuppa di pesce at Pierluigi are also divine. Of course, you can at this point still turn over a new leaf and order a macedonia—a fruit salad, or a slice of pineapple or melon 84 Buon Appetito: The Tasty Trattoria in the summer, but it is easy to reject the temptation to withdraw from the ranks of the sinners and take up with the much less interesting saints, and so you order the panna cotta, cooked cream, with hot bittersweet chocolate poured over it, and swear you will never so much as think about food again.
The coffee in Italy is much less caffeinated than its American counterpart, but most places now have decaf, ordered only by foreigners. And if your host is a clever man, which he probably is, he will come over to your table carrying a bottle of grappa or amaro with which to wash your palate and help digest the food.
You wave him off, but he pours a thimbleful in a small, elegant glass anyway and lets you know that the digestivo is on the house. When you are ready, you must ask for the conto. You swear that they have prepared it for you in advance, that they have mental telepathy and knew what you were going to order even before you did. In Rome you can sit at the table till the cows come home, and they will never present the check until you ask for it, not even on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon when every place is taken and others are waiting to get in.
The statistics are incontrovertible—34 percent of men and 25 percent of women still smoke. Beware of tourist traps—bad food and higher prices. You can usually spot them by the fact that the menu is in four languages.
You go for the food. Trattorie are simple, unadorned places, looking much the same as they did in No one will come to your table, introduce himself, and tell you that he will be your waiter that evening. Carlo will saunter over, not having shaven for two days, his ample belly stretching the fabric of his cotton polo shirt, a stained white towel slung over his shoulder, and ask what you want. When he asks you what you want to drink, you only have to say two things—naturale or frizzante, referring to the bottled water, and rosso or bianco, referring to the wine.
The vino will arrive in a glass or ceramic carafe, corked. No one will pour a mouthful into your glass, put one hand behind his back while the other holds the bottle, and lean forward while you taste it and give your imprimatur, except perhaps at more upscale establishments like Alberto Ciarla and Checchino dal Romans eat out to duplicate the experience of eating in, not to experience something new, exotic, or foreign. They have no need to try curried chicken or even something from some other part of Italy, like pasta al pesto, which comes from Liguria, or seppie and peas, which is a Venetian seafood dish.
We are always 87 As the Romans Do amazed at the communal way in which Romans eat in the restaurant, as if one of their own clan was doing the cooking in a familiar kitchen and had carefully chosen what was about to be served. Six, eight, ten people will arrive together and greet the host as if he were their cousin. They are all dressed to the nines, the women in hose and heels and dresses and scarves and makeup.
The men are in jackets, sometimes suits and ties. The children look like they are models for Benetton. They all eat the same thing. They are the opposite of Americans, who are individuals and want to be different from each other. Italians are conformists and want to be just like the next person. Until very recently, this family meal ritual was performed two times a day, every day, at lunch and dinner. If it is consumed out of the house, as it often is, it is eaten in a coffee bar and consists of a cappuccino and cornetto, a small sweet roll in the shape of a croissant, only smaller and not as buttery.
I have a friend named Mats Carlsson, from Stockholm, who came here to work for a time and had a theory that in Europe, breakfast as we know it is eaten north of Brussels and skipped in all points to the south. How can you eat at all at A. Not that everyone still eats a big meal two times a day. The trattoria was for serious dining, not as expensive or upscale as a ristorante where you can today easily spend twice what a meal costs in a trattoria , but, still, there were linen napkins and tablecloths, and serious, delectable, well-cooked food.
Now, alas, those expectations are gone, thanks to the invasion over the years of foreign tourists with varying tastes and to the interest even on the part of the Italians not to eat as much as their parents do and their grandparents did. We always wondered why Romans are not obese, why they can eat like they do and not show it although they are not skinny, either. Now, having lived here, we know. Thank God eating is something you do every day, for in the temple of the Roman god of food, everyone is blessed, and no one walks away hungry.
The reason is simple. In this respect, the United States and Italy are at opposite poles. Why rent? Better leave the space free for the day—even years in the future—when it will be put to family use. The apartment in which we live, now a condominium, is owned by the original padrona of the entire palazzo, a principessa, from a venerable Roman family. In our case, the daughter of our landlady has just moved to the Tuscan countryside near Siena, but wants to hold on to the option of returning to Rome when her sons are of high school age.
Since Italians might not want ever to leave, renting to them is dangerous. We, on the other hand, are safe, i. In fact, Romans have such a strong attachment to family and 92 La Famiglia: Ties That Bind place that they end up owning property everywhere. The buying and selling of real estate in America is a vital part of the economy, and its sudden collapse would bring about an economic nightmare.
In Rome property transfer is rare, as families seek to hold on to their familial patrimony and make it available as needed. Our friend Pino, who organizes events every summer at the Spoleto Music Festival, is the son of a now-retired bus driver. When we decided to sell our house in Marin, which we had owned for all of eight years, our Roman friends thought we were getting rid of a place in which one of our family had resided for generations. They looked at us with total, uncomprehending incredulity.
Their incredulity had also to do with the buyers. Who would want to move into our place, become part of our identity, our past, and therefore our future? Finally, the romani also imagined that the result of the transaction would make us fabulously rich, that we would get to pocket the entire selling price, rather than the small fraction of that sum that actually accrued to us after the formidable mortgage was paid. Family in Rome is the cosa sacra, the sacred thing, the bottom 93 As the Romans Do line.
It trumps everything, even patriarchy. In a country notorious for its male chauvinism, which, when dissected, pertains by now to the work world, women keep their family names after marriage. No hyphens, no compounds, no legal changes. Thus, when Massimo Brozzi marries Susanna Negroni, both names appear on the intercom. Rome, unlike America, is no melting pot.
There are few people from elsewhere who come in and lend their particular ethnicity in ways that slowly but inevitably change the landscape. We are much closer to premodern here, where the tribe that lived on the hill yards away lived in a world all its own. Take our friends Massimo and Susanna. The fact that we are friends at all is testimony to their unusual openness, at least for Romans. They travel. They have been to India—several times.
They have in many ways broken the mold—Susanna, in fact, attended a French school here in Rome—but their living arrangement has romano written all over it. They live in a villa that sits at the very beginning of the ancient Via Appia, the Appian Way, opened in B. On the grounds, in a parklike setting with ancient Roman ruins mounted on the stone walls, are two other villas, available for weddings and corporate parties. There they take their vacations, usually with her family.
One day, as we were sitting on the terrace of the villa, overlooking the mountains and the sea, colorful tulips all around, Susanna was musing about spending the summer elsewhere to avoid the constant, inevitable enmeshment.
Family is tied to casa, which is tied to place. Marriage is not only the union of two individuals, but above all of two families, who come together to hopefully produce a bond that is greater than the sum of the two parts. For most Americans this ideal is something toward which to strive and aspire, and they feel bad and guilty when they inevitably fall short of the mark. The expectations of 95 As the Romans Do the Italians tend to be different. The males want to be pampered, well fed, and given free rein to play.
The women expect to be the capo della casa, to run the household, and be able to express their emotions without restraint. Romans do not have a vision of marriage and family that was nourished at the cinematic breast of Hollywood. Theirs is rather closer to the European reality of not so long ago, when marriage was arranged and two people were lucky if they fell in love with each other. King Ferdinand of Naples, a member of the Bourbon family, did not see his betrothed, Princess Carolina of Austria, a Hapsburg, until the day of his wedding.
Although it is perfectly legal, divorce is lower here than in any other country in Europe, to say nothing of the stratospheric levels in the United States and the U. It is because, to them, marriage is truly a vow, a contract, a commitment. Having more than one husband is like having more than one mother.
His taste in women might be questioned, as the Romans could not help but do, but never his right to have sentimental relations with whomever he chose, wherever he chose, under any circumstances, since it is his right to do whatever with whomever he chooses. These are strictly private matters. You heard it constantly. The statistics, which are as vivid and indisputable as the persimmon Roman ruins against the brilliant azure sky, back up the argument.
How can it be criminal behavior, and whose business is it but that of the individuals involved? Even for those who do choose to separate, the man almost always spends important holidays at home with his wife and kids. Why deny the pleasure, if it is conducted sotto voce, with discretion, tact, and, of course, taste?
Strange things happen when an institution—in this case, the institution of marriage—rises up to dominate the life of a city, a country, a people, to such an extent that it forms the basis of society. The famous ability of the Romans to make the best of any situation—arrangiarsi—pops through like a wild, pale green weed that grows madly out of a crack in the stone wall of a twothousand-year-old ruin.
This is, in fact, what the Roman couple of today has apparently chosen, for Italy has the lowest birthrate of any country in the Western world, and perhaps in history: 1. And it is dropping. In some places, like prosperous Bologna, it has dipped below one.
Nothing is working. It goes something like this. Danilo Manto is from Palermo and sort of resembles our son—diminutive, adorable, lively, cuddly. He is a natural. But now comes the work. Elliott must practice, and, of course, he needs a book. Danilo gives me the information as Martin and Julian take out their violini. As I walk in the particularly cold air toward the geographical center of the city, the atmosphere on the streets is palpable.
The pulse is unmistakable. It throbs, breathes, pumps life into the otherwise dead building materials that date back to the Iron Age. There is one hour remaining in the daily evening shopping routine, before the shutters and metal grates will be drawn and all of Rome will retreat behind closed doors—their own and those of the trattorie e pizzerie—for cena, dinner.
By now I have reached Ricordi, the formidable music store at Piazza Venezia. The songs inside are elementary enough, but I am unsure. He says that eventually Elliott will have use for it, but still our son is without what he needs. Perhaps I can get it the next morning, as there are other music stores near the Vatican. Diane and I place our order with the gracious barista Gianni. The rich brew goes down easily, as it nearly always does. We scan the patrons for the latest winter fashions.
The 23 bus will drop me off near the Vatican directly in front of MusicArte, the store that is my destination. I run to catch it as everyone already on board watches me, knowing beyond any doubt that I am not romano. To them, being late is the better option. I get a seat on the right side and gaze at the receding palazzi, piled up on one another like so many pastel-colored stucco Legos—the rusty pinks, sun-cracked yellows, rich corals— coming alive against the celeste winter sky.
Every alley, every winding passageway that moves away from the river and disappears into the tangled maze of the centro storico greets me as I pass. The burnt orange rooftop terrazze whiz by, and now and then a woman—some old, some young, some with a cigarette, As the Romans Do some talking, some silent—is leaning out her open shutters to take in the action on the street below.
But I am not far. I check my watch: I reach the store. The grate is down. I check the hours. Bernardo, Jason Tisi, Jon Wagner. Ridley, John Hoogenakker, Mathilde Dehaye. Macy, Jessica Biel, Eric chris tian Olsen. McQueen, Miranda Rae Mayo. Payne, Lydia Kay. Grant, Dolly Wells, Joanna P. Yang, chris Pang, Sonoya Mizuno.
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Ecco una nuova clip da La Principessa e il Ranocchio! Guardiamo insieme questa nuova, incantevole animazione dedicata al celebre racconto popolare nordico "Il Re Ranocchio ", reso Il Principe Ranocchio Woka Lenomusic. Il principe ranocchio Pantagruele Teatro. Il ranocchio principe agata russello.
Il Principe Ranocchio Fabulando Fairitaly. Quando la principessa perde la sua palla d'oro nella fonte, un ranocchietto emerge dall'acqua per riportargliela, chiedendole in Ecco la scena del bacio che non fa trasformare il ranocchio in principe, ma la principessa in ranocchio! Guarda che urlo che Ciao amici, oggi vi proponiamo questo fantastico video cartoon Buon divertimento!
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In questa clip, la lucciola Ray Lo Straniero — Mercenari e mendicanti Lo Straniero feat. Sick Tamburo — Psicosogno Acquaragia Drom feat. Mimmo Epifani — Lo straniero Angelo Branduardi — Lo straniero Sara Gerosa — Lo Straniero Cantiniero — Lo straniero Yantra — Lo straniero Sangue Misto — Lo straniero Lo Straniero — Speed al mattino In stile con stile — Lo straniero Lo Straniero, Micle-B — Blu Complesso Drim — Lo straniero Nicola Di Bari — Lo straniero Joe Callier — Lo Straniero Lo Straniero — Matematica e aspirina Georges Moustaki — Le m t que Bruno Lauzi — Lo straniero Sambene — Erich, lo straniero Lo Straniero — Cavalli di carta Lo Straniero — Il quinto piano John Callegher — Lo Straniero
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