As all the Embassy apartments come equipped with these ingenious devices they have become, along with where to find the best gelato, a hot topic of conversation amongst the new arrivals. One colleague’s solution has been to put the toilet paper roll on top and buy an ordinary toilet brush. Seems the most practical solution.
We still don’t have Internet at home and with Ferragosto (see below) in full swing it may be another two to three weeks before that happens.
That means that I can only post if I go to a “hot spot” or one of the very expensive Internet cafes. Since the apartment has to be cleaned, clothes washed and ironed, Reese attended to, shopping done and meals prepared (oh my God I should have entered Italy as a member of Laurent’s household staff!) I often just don’t have the time so postings may be erratic for the next little while.
As I’ll probably be putting up several posts written on different days all at once I’ll identify the day it was written; and because its Italy, because its Rome and because Big Ben, Father George and the Boys live just the other side of the river, I’ll include the Saint’s Day – and god knows there’s a Saint, sometimes two, for every day.
Sadly the lack of Internet means that I haven’t been able to keep up with my favourite blogs and I miss them. Once Fastweb comes through I’ll have a lot to catch upon.
15 agosto – San Alfredo
We’ve arrived in Rome at “the best of times …the worst of times”: Ferragosto.
At least a third of the population have already left on their annual vacation and by the 15th the only people left in town will be tourists, us expats and the odd Roman whose work demands that they stick around while their friends bask in the sun at country retreats and resorts.
Only in August – Via Nomentana almost empty!
The best of times? The normal snarl of traffic is absent, parking spots are easy to find, the buses are empty and the stores (the few remaining open) are almost deserted.
Our local shopping drag – barred and lock for August
The worst of times? Almost everything is closed – the local fruit, vegetable and flower stalls are barred, store front grills are locked and signs indicate that, as an example, the local gelatoria (sob!) will not be serving double chocolate and black pepper ice cream again until 27 agosto. And except when budding Grand Prix drivers use them as practice courses those empty streets give the new arrival a false sense of tranquility. But soothsayer-like, more experienced hands have warned us: beware the 1st of September.
We’ve also been warned to stock up supplies for the coming week – everything will be closed August 15th – the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and the real start of Ferragosto. And just so this miraculous event can be celebrated in an appropriate fashion most things will be closed the 14th and chances are, to allow for recovery from the wonder of it all the 16th too.
13 agosto – S. Ippolito
- I’m in the check- out line at Standa (our local supermarket) and a Gorgeous Cashier – so beautiful she even looked stunning in her dowdy Standa uniform – opens up to accommodate the line (they do that here!) She calls me over and as I approach two boxes of Pampers come flying over my head and land on the belt in front of me. A respectable Roman Matron, Mouse-Spouse in tow, pushes her way in front of me; Matron chimes “Scuzi” and proceeds to pay for her purchase. I glare; several people behind mutter; Matron concludes her transaction, strides off; Mouse-Spouse grabs the Pampers and dutifully follows. Gorgeous Cashier shrugs her lovely shoulders, says “Scuzi” and smiles. What could I do? I smiled backed! Hey, I’m gay not dead!
- At an Overseas University Recruitment Fair in Calabria, my friend Betty Jean is explaining the benefits of studying abroad to a very attentive nineteen-year old boy. When she finishes her spiel, he thinks for a minute, and then says – in total disbelief that anyone would think he should do such a thing: But that means I would have to leave my mother!
- Our address is Via Asmara 9B; unfortunately the Tunisian Embassy is 9Bis and cab drivers often confuse the two. Our driver the other night was most offended that he had waited for a full minute before realizing his mistake and proceeded to chastise us for the poor numbering system on our street. Since he’s paid from the time he leaves the taxi stand I’m not sure what his problem was, other than he was getting additional fare for going nowhere.
*Speaking of this and that
12 agosto – San Ercolano
As I mentioned in an earlier post, we headed to the Terme di Caracalla (CE 215) to see Turandot on our first Friday night in Rome (August 3rd – Santa Lidia) The Teatro dell’Opera has been presenting a summer season there since 1937 – with a break in the eighties when it was discovered that Radames’ charging horses were weakening the already fragile foundations of the remains of the calidarium. Now rather than on the ruins, performances take place on a vast temporary stage and auditorium in front of them.
Given that several thousand of us had headed out the Appian Way on a warm summer evening, things seemed well organized – the performance started on time, concessions and WC facilities were plentiful, staff beautifully dressed, smiling and helpful and the taxi system at the end of the evening efficient and speedy. And this is Rome???
The people-watching was incredible. Even at their most flamboyant – above-the-knee red bugle-beaded number, killer stilettos, peacock blue silk wrap, enough gold on display to pay the national debt and Farrah Fawcett premature-blond locks – Roman woman are stylish. And the Roman men have a certain indolent charm that Laurent insists comes from their mothers constantly assuring them they are the most handsome boys in the world. And though cell phones (telefino) were much in evidence during the intermissions not one sounded during the performance itself.
And the performance? An interesting production concept – an itinerant theatre troupe present Turandot in a village square in 1926 and involve the locals in the performance. At its best it worked beautifully – I’ve never been more poignantly aware of the point at which death stilled Puccini’s pen. At its worst? Is there anything less funny than European clowns or more embarrassing than faux-Martha Graham choreography?
With the exception of the Turandot (Giovanna Casolla) and the Emperor (Fernando Cordeiro Opa) none of the singers were of international standard. La Casolla has the big steely sound needed for In questa Reggia but managed the tender passages as well and made the melting of the Ice Princess believable. I can see why she is the Turandot of choice in Italy these days. Frankly I wish the Liu (Mina Tasca-Yamazaki) had died after her breathy Signor Ascolta in Act 1 and spared us her pinched Act 3 aria though when curtain calls came around she seemed rather pleased with herself. Antonello Palombi (and the large gentleman sitting next to me) sang a lovely Nessun Dorma, but for the rest he was content with loud, louder and, occasionally, loudest. The chorus made the big moments what they should be and Alain Lombard led a nicely-judged and at times almost jazzy-sounding performance. I’m not sure if it was the subtle amplification that brought out details I have never heard before but at one point I swore Benny Goodman was on clarinet.
Not a great evening at the Opera; but then how often does that happen? But it was definitely a damn good evening out our first week in Rome.
11 agosto – Santa Chiara