Mike Bo's Blog!
DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino! Wednesday January 29, 2020 Sunny 58°F/14°C in Cedar Park, Texas, USA Partly Cloudy 60°F/16°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia Buonagiornata, And, suddenly, it was over! My more than two months in the City of Echoes (la città degli echi) was behind me, and I was aboard a Delta jetliner headed toward New York’s JFK International Airport on the first leg of my flight home to the Austin, Texas area and my cozy apartment in Cedar Park. During 2019 I had spent more than four months as a resident of the eternal city. Actually, I hadn’t planned to return to Rome until the late Spring. But, that all changed with Michael and Laura’s announcement that their first child – a boy – would be born in November. Well now! I would HAVE to be back for THAT EVENT! So, even though I had just arrived, I had to begin making plans to come back! Alexander Botula And so, I did! After suffering along with millions of other Europeans through a heat wave of epic proportions in the early summer, I returned to my second home city on November 21, 2019 planning to stay through the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays along with my birthday on January 17th and fly back to Texas on January 22nd. The weather – which had been over 105°F/40°C at times – had turned rainy and cold since I had been gone. Our first stop after Michael picked me up at Fiumicino International Airport was to make a beeline for Michael and Laura’s to meet my new grandson, Alexander Botula. There, I met the little bundle of joy who was to play an important part in my life for the next two months. As I held him in my arms, I could visualize a similar experience 45 years before, when I held Alexander’s father in my arms for the first time. Son, grandson…it was a testimony to the continuing cycle of life! In our effort to find an apartment for me on short notice, we reached out to everyone that I had rented from in the past, starting with Stefania, my landlady on Viale Oscar Sinigaglia, but that apartment was no longer available for short-term vacation rental. My friend Mohamed’s place on Viale Cesare Pavese was also booked. Then, I called Amina whose cozy little place I had rented several times. Another strikeout – she had reserved it for her family members who were coming from Paris for the holidays. But, Amina had a friend – Maria, who had an apartment a few blocks away. She would check on my behalf as to availability. Sure enough, word came back about a week later that the apartment would be available at a special rate because I was a friend of Amina’s. Problem solved, I thought, until two weeks before my departure date, when Maria called me to say that the contactors she hired to renovate the apartment would miss their deadline and Maria’s apartment wouldn’t be available after all. Since I had purchased my non-refundable plane ticket, I was suddenly in a very big bind. Several days later, my son called to tell me that he had put a deposit on a place just off Viale Cesare Pavese – the notorious Vittorini Penthouse – whose shortcomings have been recounted in an earlier Rome Diary! And so, my adventure came full circle with my move to Via Laurentina 605. It was the ideal, if expensive, solution to the problem. The new apartment came complete with an affable pair of new landlords – Cristiano and Delia. Cristiano spoke the better English of the couple, but Delia and I soon made good use of the translators on our IPhones. Soon, we were chattering like magpies. She would come in to clean the apartment every week. The result was that the place was nearly always spotless. After all the anxiety of getting shut out of one apartment and having to flee another, I had found the perfect place. I then sent Mohamed a message asking when he would be in Rome. As it turned out, he would not be in Rome until December 24th. Marsha would be traveling back to the States in mid-December. There would be no December Rome Comedy Night this year. So three of my close friends would either be traveling during the holidays or they wouldn’t arrive for several weeks. As a result, I saw an awful lot of Michael and Laura and the baby during my first several weeks in Rome Amina in Vietnam Wasting no time after all of the anxiety of my first days in Rome, I called Amina and invited her for coffee. We met in front of my apartment and immediately adjourned to a nearby bar for caffè. She would host her family for the following week, she told me, whereupon she would follow them to Paris for Christmas and the New Year. She would return to Rome briefly, then she would be off for a holiday in Vietnam, of all places. Bottom line: we would probably not be meeting up for coffee after that evening. But, in the next breath, I agreed to be her guest for lunch the following day, at her place of employ – FAO – the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. FAO is one of the largest employers in Rome – 11,500 scattered throughout the city. Nearly 4,000 people, including my friend work in the massive complex built by Benito Mussolini during the 1930’s as his colonial headquarters. The complex overlooks the Circo Massimo! And so, the following day, I stepped aboard the bus that stops conveniently in front of my building, to be whisked to the Laurentina Metro Station and the subway ride to Circo Massimo and lunch with Amina in the rooftop cafeteria overlooking the oval track where Ben-Hur raced in an epic contest! Thanksgiving is not an Italian holiday! But, my son has brought the holiday with him. This year, Family Birthday Celebration Michael ordered two turkeys. One to smoke Texas-style in his smoker, and the other one to deep-fry. The Italian word for turkey is tacchino. Two turkeys are tacchini. We had duè tacchini at our Thanksgiving, primarily because with little Alexander’s arrival, the family has a lot to be thankful for this year! Christmas and the New Year passed in similar fashion, small, intimate gatherings with family and friends. Since Laura and I have birthdays which are two days apart, this was cause for a special celebration. And so, it was back to Tiziana and Pino’s apartment for the celebration. After a hearty Italian lunch – a special birthday cake was brought out and everyone joined together in singing Happy Birthday to Laura and me – in Italian, of course! A few days later, I would board a plane for the flight back to Texas, and my other home. Ciao, MikeBo [Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant. Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com...now with Google Translator for our international audience!] © By Mike Botula 2020
DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino! Tuesday January 14, 2020 Weather 47°F/8°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia Buonagiornata, La Famiglia The Italian phrase means All Good Things Must End! And so, as this journey to my beloved Roma enters its final week, a bit of reflection is in order. I have been coming here since 2005, and since 2013 for increasingly longer periods of time, until I feel like a true ex-patriate, living in a world not completely my own, but fascinating none the less. This is my sixth in my series of Rome Diaries, titled Il Bambino! In Alexander’s honor. My new grandson Alexander is a pure joy! I dread the flight back over the Atlantic, but some mysterious force keeps pulling me back here, and I return time after time like a moth to a flame. For Rome has become my second home. I missed Marsha Cincinnati’s Rome Comedy Club Night at the Makai. I had just arrived and was staying at The Penthouse, before my move to La Casa Grilli on Laurentina. So, with Michael and Laura preoccupied with all things Alexander, I begged Marsha’s pardon and promised her that I would catch her next show, which I presumed would be in December. But I hadn’t considered the fact that she might head back to the U.S. for the holidays. The result of our two ships passing in the night act was that I did not catch up with her until one weekend at Michael and Laura’s when I was finally able to give her the giant bottle of Melatonin Gummi Bears that I had brought all the way from the H-E-B supermarket in Cedar Park, Texas especially for her. So, we at least had a chance to catch up. And, I swore that I would be in the front row at Comedy Night the next time I came to Rome. (Which, hopefully, will be in the Spring of the year, when it is neither too hot-like last Summer; or too cold-like it is this trip). This is the second time I’ve spent the Christmas Holidays in Italy. The first time was 2013. Like every holiday this was a little different. For one thing, Alexander is here now, so that meant no winter holiday in Selci, in Sabina, at Sergio and AnnaMaria’s place in the country. So, we spent Christmas Eve at dinner at Tiziana and Pino’s apartment, a few doors down from Michael and Laura. Tiziana and Pino are part of the extended family. Tiziana can be likened to Laura’s big sister. Dina, Tiziana’s mom is a neighbor of Sergio and AnnaMaria. Following our Christmas Eve repast, we exchanged gifts. I’m happy to say most of the gifts were for Alexander, who snoozed in his stroller a few feet away. The next time the same group came together was January 6th, for La Befana, the Epiphany. This time, we were joined by Chiara, Laura’s sister, and her husband, Maurizio and their little girl – Noemi. Formal Italian meals usually run five to seven courses, and I have long-since learned NOT to take second helpings of anything! However, at the conclusion of our Befana repast, I found myself beyond stuffed! When the holiday meals falls to Michael and Laura to prepare, a blending of Italian and American cuisine is evident. Some years ago, my son introduced Thanksgiving to his Italian relatives. Not only did he introduce the concept of Thanksgiving, but he did it with a whole roast turkey! (Tacchino Arrosto) No turkey parts for him. Since his visit to Texas in 2016, Michael has been heavily influenced by the Texas style of barbecuing which includes the art of SMOKING. This year, he ordered two Turkeys. One, he smoked. The other, he deep-fried. VOILA! A star is born! Texans traditionally spend many long hours tending their smokers. Not my son. He has an “app” on his laptop that is connected somehow to a circulating fan that maintains the correct temperature as the meat smokes. It’s bound to catch on back home in Texas. My friend and onetime landlady, Amina, has left on one of her adventures – this time to Vietnam. She had just returned to Rome from hiking in Norway; and with her two sons, spent a month in Spain and Portugal. During the Christmas holidays she was visiting with her family in Paris! The gal certainly gets around! When she was planning her Vietnam adventure, I remarked that the memories of most Americans about Vietnam are not pleasant because of the war, and I mentioned my brother Packy, who flew combat missions in Vietnam with the U.S. Air Force. (How I sweated until he returned safely). But Amina was undeterred by my recollections and flew off to Hanoi on her first stop. In her first photos she sent back was a group of school children that Amina had been collecting school supplies for. So, I learned for the first time that my friend had an ulterior motive for making the trip. Amina and Friend! Last Sunday, my son invited me over to spend some time with Alexander and made it clear that I was to walk. So, at the appointed hour, I set out. Crossing Via Laurentina, I made my way to Viale Cesare Pavese, walked along for a while, turned left at the shop with the sign that reads Fiori e Pianti, and headed up the hill to the next left turn. I think you get the idea – it’s a long walk. As I took my life in crossing Viale Carlo Levi, Amina checked in on Whatsapp from Vietnam. Hi! What are you doing? She inquired. I’m hiking to Mike and Laura’s house, I replied. Good! You need the exercise! She texted. You sound like my son! I texted back. She sent me her latest pictures as if t say I’m having more fun! (I couldn’t argue with that. I was drenched in sweat and still had two kilometers before I reached my destination). When I reached Michael and Laura’s house, I found the smoker giving off the smoky aroma of ribs and discovered that I was in for another family gathering, which is what Italians do on a Sunday - La Famiglia! Alexander, it seems, is a very popular little fellow. Until the novelty of a new baby wears thin, everyone wants to spend time with Alexander. Including me. I love the little guy, but at that moment I am a soggy, sweaty mess from my hike. (Especially that last hill – which is a killer). So, before I knew it, the doorbell was ringing. Marsha was already there, so I finally was able to give her Gummi’s to her. The doorbell delivered (In no particular order), Beppe; Chiara and Nöemi; Sergio and AnnaMaria. The whole gang! The little guy was brought into the living room to all the Oohs! And Ahhss! That only a family and close friends can muster and passed around like a new toy – which he is. When we finally sat down for dinner, it was apparent that Michael had worked his magic again. The meat was falling away from the rib bones and the aroma of wood smoke wafted through the air. After dinner, Beppe grabbed his guitar and Michael got his Ukulele and the two stars of No Funny Stuff treated us all to a sample of the songs that have made NFS famous all over Italy. The serenade was the climactic moment of another perfect Roman Day. Ciao, MikeBo [Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a former broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant. Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com] © By Mike Botula 2020
DIARIO DI ROMA VI – Il Bambino! Sunday January 5, 2020 Sunny 56°F/13°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia Buonagiornata, As midnight approached, it got louder and louder in Rome! At the stroke of Twelve, the sound offireworks was absolutely deafening! Italians, it seems, love the sound of fireworks as they usher in the New Year! They must be going absolutely NUTS in Napoli! My son had observed earlier in the evening. Apart from the fireworks, the evening had passed quietly for Michael, Laura and Alexander and I. The big Christmas gathering at Laura’s sister’s house had been cancelled because of the illness of her daughter, Noemi. And now Laura’s mom had come down with the flu, and a priceless component in little Alexander’s childcare had been lost. Michael and Laura were left on their own to care for a colicky infant. Suddenly, the revelry associated with ushering in the New Year disappeared. We spent a very quiet New Year’s Eve. I was back at my flat shortly before Midnight. With the fireworks exploding all around me! Alexander and Michael Rome has been spared the kind of terrorist attacks that have been visited upon London and Paris and some other European capitals, but the sound of fireworks is especially unnerving to a bloke like me who hails from a quiet suburb of Austin, Texas. Especially THESE fireworks, whose loud explosions sound like heavy artillery punctuated by small arms fire. Bear in mind, a nation that backs up the police with heavily armed soldiers at subway stations and historical sites and other public places must be expecting trouble. Yes, New Year’s Eve in Rome can be a little unnerving. By the next morning, all was calm and bright in my beloved eternal city. My son, bless his heart, is of a mind that the perfect activity for his dear old dad, who is officially Pushing Eighty…is plenty of walking. Never mind that I am possessed of a bad back, with enough slipped or bulging disks that would make a xylophone weep in envy. Or, two chronically flat feet, And, my beloved Roma, which is over two-thousand years old, ABOUNDS in cobblestones and potholes! This, however, is no reason to allow me a plea of physical frailty when I should be out strolling. And, so it was that I set out from my apartment on Via Laurentina last week for his home in Colle Parnasso. Against my son’s advice, I decided against the most direct route along Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico, in favor of a path off Viale Cesare Pavese. This was my mistake, and I wound up at the foot of Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico anyway, a considerable distance out of my way. Fortunately, my grandson Alexander’s smile made the detour worthwhile. The next day, after consulting my Google Maps, and confirming the route with my son, I retraced my steps successfully. Alexander Botula are the envy of pancakes everywhere. Add to that collection of infirmities, a pair of hammer toes and a missing digit on my right foot, and it’s small wonder that I bring a walking stick or that bastone every time I come to Rome to negotiate its cobble stones and potholes. My grandson has thrived in his first two months. Michael and Laura visit his pediatrician every week for a checkup, but even my unskilled eyes tell me that young Alexander is blossoming into a healthy young lad. Every time I visit, he seems bigger. And when I can’t for one reason or another, Michael and Laura keep me well supplied with photos, many of which I immediately post on Facebook, much to the delight of my friends there. The pictures of my newest grandchild are designed as a respite from the election year politics back home. Michael has returned to work as a tour guide. I have taken the Metro several times to meet him at the Coliseum for lunch during a break in his schedule or he has dropped by my apartment and father and son have gone for coffee at a local bistro. Many of my friends have either returned to the States to visit their families or have returned to their countries of origin here in Europe. Since my birthday is this month, my son has promised a special performance by his band, No Funny Stuff! Next time, more of my Roman Holiday adventures Ciao, MikeBo [Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! is a former broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant. Mike’s book is available from Amazon Books. You can read more about Mike Botula at www.mikebotula.com] © By Mike Botula 2020
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