Inconsistent Consistencies

Aurelian Walls
Aurelian Walls The Aurelian Walls were built to define the boundries of Ancient Rome.
Porte PiaMichelangelo’s last great work for Pius IV.

Every morning as I head to school through the Aurelian Wall at Porte Pia (and when did I ever think I would write a sentence like that) I am struck by how inconsistently consistent things are in Rome. From day to day things can be very much the same and yet entirely different.

The Number 36 bus at 0845 in the morning can be standing room only or half empty when it reaches my stop. Now that everyone has returned to the city bottle necks are a morning traffic given – but one morning it can be at Via Zara another at Porte Pie and a third at Santa Susanna. I can be almost alone walking down Via Nazionale at 0910 or in the middle of gaggles of tourists and Romans heading to work. My morning Cappuccino at 0920 can be a solitary enjoyment or I can be surrounded by Polizia from the station next door to the school.

Every morning an old beggar man sits on the top step at Santa Maria della Victoria – except once a week it is an old woman and it’s never the same day of the week. The beggars working Via Nazionale are always the same – and not even in the Middle East, have I seen such open displays of severed limbs and diseased bodies – but they change street corners from day to day and sometimes even during the day. And the two gypsy squeegee woman at the intersection of Via Asmara and Via Nomentana (the main intersection nearest the apartment) can be counted on to be there every morning but even they switch corners on a daily basis.

Perhaps I am just noticing these things because I come from a small government town where everything was pretty much the same from morning commute to morning commute – same people on the bus, same beggar on Lyon Street, same bus driver etc. But it does make the time go by on that fifteen or twenty or maybe forty minute stand or sometimes sit on the bus.

4 Settembre – Santa Rosalia

Sicilian Sweets

Last Sunday – Agosto 26 San Italo – we headed down to the Feltrinelli International Bookstore just near Piazza della Repubblica. There are two Feltrinelli shops – the regular, un-air-conditioned branch for hardy Italians who could stand the reportedly 43c heat and the International air-conditioned branch for wimpy foreigners. Being in the later class we did a quick run through of the former and a long visit to the later.

Amongst the treasures we picked up for a mere 135 Euros (books are expensive everywhere): Gambero Rosso’s 1000 page 2007 guide to Italian wines, their 2007 guide to family run osterie and trattorie for Italy, Beppe Severgnini’s La Bella Figura – a very funny take on Italy and Italians, Ancient Rome on Five Dinarii a Day, some maps and a few guide books so we can sound moderately intelligent when giving friends the guided tour. By the time we had finished the store was closing to give the staff a lunch break – 1330-1600 – and we were getting a bit peckish ourselves.

Fortunately just around the corner in an (un-air-conditioned but trendy) arcade is Dagnino, a Sicilian purveyor of foods, wines, sweets and pastries. Two prosciutto-cheese toast, two glasses of real ice tea and two granitas (one almond-one lemon) later we felt up to seeing what goodies where on offer inside.
Marzipan fruit
Marzipan fruit
Marzipan fruit
Marzipan Fruit
Aside from these incredible marzipan fruits, there were Turkish Delight of every possible flavor, mascarpone-filled cannoli, pastries, 35 types of gelato, Almond wine, a goodly supply of very expensive Sicilian wines and various preserves – sweet and savory. It was hard to resist buying, what are reputedly the best, cannoli to take home but in that heat it would have had to be eaten on the spot. Just wait until the car arrives next month – Sicilian cannoli for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Overkill

To get into our complex – Villa Nomentana – you have to get past the Portero, have the key for the front gate, the key for the building and two keys for the main entrance to the apartment. Should you make it that far and decide to leave by the service entrance you are faced with this:
Overkill or what?
Is it me or does that just seem a bit like overkill? Or maybe there’s something about the neighbourhood we don’t know!

25 agosto – San Luigi di Franschi

The Tax Men Cometh

Tax evasion has become a major problem for a cash strapped Italian Government though there are people who claim it’s an honorable blood sport tradition that goes back to the Etruscans. A few weeks ago Prime Minister Prodi suggested that rather than issuing Ten Commandments for Driving and involving themselves in the legal debate over common-law/same-sex marriage, Big Ben and the Boys (aka The Church of Rome) would do better to preach a few sermons on not rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. He said that tax evasion is, after all, a form of theft and forbidden in that earlier set of Commandments. For his pains he was branded anti-clerical and told that the State should stay out of the affairs of the Church – though given their activities during the same-sex marriage debate apparently the reverse does not apply. His predecessor, Mr. Berlusconi – that great upholder of all of the Commandments, except it appears that one about Adultery – accused him of attempting to introduce communist ideas into the doctrine of Holy Mother Church. My father always told me it was Christ who did that but….

Tax collection and evasion has led to the creation of an incredibly large bureaucracy including a branch of the military: the Guardia di Finanza. These official looking gentlemen in their tight gray trousers, gray shirts with gold braid and smart caps are involved in customs, duty collection, and tax evasion big and small. And it often seems they go after the small with more dedication than the big. When you make a purchase in any establishment – whither it be a cappuccino or a new Lamborghini – you must be issued a receipt and when requested must present it to a member of the Guardia who may just happen to be lurking outside. If you don’t have a receipt both you and the shop owner are subject to an immediate and sizable fine.

As I was heading to the Embassy to check my e-mails yesterday – need I repeat still no Internet at home – I came across a small scene, the sort that makes life here interesting, between the G di F and a very attractive lady of a certain age. The two officers, like nuns they always come in pairs and they seem to do this stud cop-dud cop thing, are obviously challenging her on a purchase. She, well-tanned, dark-eyed, and of voluptuous figure, is wildly contesting the accusation being leveled at her. Stud Cop is just standing back surveying the scene and scenery while Dud Cop is sourly reading her the riot act. Broad gestures, much drama, rapid dialogue – Stud Guardia nods sympathetically and Dud Cop scowls. At that point I continued on my way, but I have a feeling Stud Cop’s Christian charity and love of God’s creatures would prevail and the miscreant would get of with a warning from Dud Cop. Not sure if that constitutes mixing Church and State?

23 agosto – Santa Rose di Lima