Diario di Roma III
Here's a running account of my latest Avventura Italiana! Now that I have returned to the U.S. my latest Rome Diary Chronicles - Volume 3 appear here in the order that they were posted. From my first chapter of Diario di Roma III, posted in February 2017, weeks before my departure right down to my final installment, post after my return in mid-April. In addition to the prose, the completed Rome Diary includes a photo slide show of pictures taken my me and my son Michael throughout this latest journey. I'm already planning my return trip, so yes, there will be a Diario di Roma IV sometime in the near future.
NOT a Paid Political Announcement!
Diario di Roma Tre
Sunday February 6, 2017
Cloudy 73°F/23°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Cloudy 62°F/17°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00128
Come on folks, if you truly feel like that, put your grownup pants on and leave. No loss here.
That was a comment on my Facebook page from a childhood buddy of mine the other day. His family used to sit near mine in church every Sunday back in our hometown. (We even went to the Methodist Sunday School together). The words saddened me, because we have entered an unfortunate era where the mere mention of wanderlust triggers a heated political discussion. That is the farthest thing from my mind as I pen the words, I’m leaving soon for Rome. Io viaggio a Roma!
Travel has long been a way to seek escape from the humdrum of life’s routine and seek out new adventures. (The motto from Star Trek comes to mind). But, ever since Donald Trump announced that he is seeking the presidency with his pledge to build a great wall, even the most innocent plans for an overseas vacation or a domestic holiday with visiting relatives from overseas have become excruciatingly suspect. Protestors fill the streets of the world. Xenophobia pollutes our beautiful, for spacious skies! But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Any of my friends who have been following my blog, or who may have stumbled across my web site, www.mikebotula.com know that the Eternal City and I have a long history together. It began in 2005 when I first stepped off my transatlantic flight from San Franciso to Rome via Frankfurt to be greeted by my expatriate son, Michael and la bella sposa, Laura, at Fiumicino International Airport. Indeed, I was so taken by the beauty and history of Roma, that I have returned time and time again and make sure that I toss a few coins into La fontana di Trevi, to guarantee my return. That ritual has worked every time. Although, once, when the Trevi Fountain was under construction, I asked Laura to toss a coin into it when the fountain returned to service.
In late 2013, during a particularly dark time in my life, I fled to Rome to sort through my demons. My planned two week journey was extended, and I spent nearly three months there before I decided to return to the U.S. Michael and Laura found me a nice little studio apartment near them, and I settled into the woodwork as a short term resident of Rome. When I came back from Italy, I moved back from Northern California to Orange County to be near my daughter’s family and my grandchildren. It was during this time that I began posting notes about my travels on Facebook, humble scratchings that became my first Rome Diary, which begat my blog and became a permanent fixture on my website, www.mikebotula.com. As this project evolved, I began to think about a new career – as a writer – following my long years in radio and TV and my second career in government community relations. After my second major move in 2015, when I followed my daughter’s family from California to Texas to be near my grandchildren, I found the time to finish the book that I had started ten years before. So, in August of 2016, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! was published by Amazon books. I not only became a writer, but, now, I am an author. Hot diggety DANG! (as they say in this part of Texas).
It hasn’t take me long to feel the wanderlust welling up again. So now, the passport has been renewed, the reservations are made, and soon I will be winging north and east over the Atlantic in an airborne sardine can stuffed with hundreds of other travelers, destination – ROMA! But this time the normal anxieties of missed flights, bad weather, missing luggage or being clapped in irons by TSA because I forgot about the bazooka in my suitcase is being enhanced by the political storms of the moment. (In Amsterdam, my toothpaste was confiscated. But in Frankfurt, I was told to leave my shoes on because I was slowing down the line). What if, I ask myself, if one of my Facebook posts has been snared by a CIA computer, and I’m now on some “No Go” list? Then there are the fears about getting back into Texas. In the Lone Star State the federal Border Patrol and Homeland Security services are bolstered by hundreds of camo-wearing guys with guns, militia members who patrol the borders with assault rifles. Even regular Texans are armed to the teeth.
As I prepare for my upcoming journey and my forthcoming series of travel blogs, I feel that I have to clear the air for a moment to disengage my wanderlust from the current social media rages about extremists, terrorists, walls and all shades of THEM. Instead, I must prepare to face the puzzled looks and questions of the locals among the Europeans I will encounter, when they detect my ‘Murican accent and ask me, what is going on in the U.S.? The last time I was in Italy, the election campaign was just gathering momentum, and my Italian acquaintences tended to take the campaign with a grain of salt. We survived Berlusconi! You Americans will survive Trump! But, that was before Brexit and Putin and Trump’s Inauguration etc. etc, and so forth! Now, the Europeans are not so sure about that.
Old times there are not forgotten. Look away! (Daniel Decatur Emmett, composer of Dixie)
The first time I traveled overseas – to Germany in 1975 – Europe was a hodge-podge of jurisdictions, each with their own language and currency. For Americans the best form of currency was the travelers check. Fortunately, I was able to purchase my Amex travelers checks in Deutschmarks, since Germany was where I intended to spend the bulk of our holiday. But we also made jaunts into Italy and Austria, so I not only had to deal with marks, but also Austrian schillings and Italian lira. A trip to market might mean another border crossing and the resulting checkpoint hassles. Fortunately my hodge-podge collection of German words and phrases helped me negotiate the metro and the market. It would be like driving from New York to Washington, D.C. and have to go through a frontier checkpoint every time you crossed a state line. Three years later, I came back to Germany, on a news assignment, and did forays into the Netherlands, Belgium and England. Same hassles. Different language, money etc. The topper however, was our escorted tour into East Berlin. Through the wall! Through Checkpoint Charlie! Thrill a minute, dodging the mantraps in our Air Force bus while a gaggle of East German Volkspolizei with assault weapons kept a close watch on us. The Berlin Wall was the most feared and most hated public edifice in the world at that time. Eventually, it came down and Germany was reunited. Cut to 2017, and the bright lights in Washington plan to reinvite this concept on our southern border. Good luck! But, I digress. And before anyone yells at me again. (This is a travel blog. Remember?) Let’s cut back to 2005 and my return to Europe.
Italy has long since joined the European Union. Instead of having to deal with a wallet full of lira, the Euro had become the coin of the realm in 19 of the 28 countries in the EU. (As of today the Euro is worth $.92 USD). Traveling from Italy to, say, the Netherlands is a easy as driving from New York to Pennsylvania. Big improvement for traveling convenience. What’s more, your ATM card or credit card works in any Italian ATM. In goes the card, out pops the Euros you need, leaving it up to your bank to work out the currency exchange. I used the ATM at the post office across the street from my apartment in Mostacciano when I was on my extended trip in 2013. Except for the language, I found Rome as livable and as easy to get around in as San Francisco or New York. (LA is another story).
So, in a few weeks, I will toss my Sonicare in my suitcase, tuck the Euros from my bank into my travel wallet and grab the shuttle to the airport for my latest Roman holiday. I may even make a pilgrimage to the Czech Republic, from whence my grandparents set out on their Odyssey to America with their three young children. On the way, I have a stopover in New York, where I first saw the light of day and where I began my career in broadcasting. Then to Roma, where my son’s life adventure has taken him. If I had to live behind a wall, I couldn’t do that.
I’ll keep you posted along the way.
© By Mike Botula 2017
Diario di Roma III: Family Photo Album!
Check-in Opens in 24 Hours!
Rome Diary III
Date: Sunday March 5, 2017
Mostly Cloudy 54°F/12°C in Roma, Lazio, Italy 00143
Cloudy 58°F/14°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Buongiorno amici miei!
The app on my IPhone informs me that check-in for my flight to Rome is now only one day away. Months have dwindled to weeks, then to days and now – scant hours before the spell of La fontana di Trevi takes hold and it’s Buon viaggio! By Wednesday morning it will be Benvenuti a Roma! I must admit, at this point, that I haven’t worked so hard to get ready to go someplace since I uprooted my long life in California and moved to Texas a little more than a year ago. It’s been almost two years since my last trip to Italy, in August 2015. That’s a big month in Rome, for American tourists who don’t know how hot it gets there, and why all the regular Romans get the heck out of town. This trip I will see La primavera in the Eternal City. (Hmmm! I wonder if I’ll catch a glimpse of Il Papa Francisco at the new McDonald’s in Vatican City).
Yesterday, I took a Skype call on my IPad. It was my son Michael calling from Rome. He appeared on my screen in his kitchen preparing dinner for himself and Laura. I’m trying my hand at making Sushi, Pop! It’s a challenge. And so, I grabbed another cup of my own caffé americano, and settled in for one of our regular video calls. He wanted to check and make sure that I was on schedule in my preparations for the trip. Like a NASA space launch, my boy. We’re T-minus 48 hours, and counting! By the time we ended our call an hour later, he was showing me his handiwork, the most attractive platter of sushi this side of Mama Fu’s. Apparently, Junior has moved beyond his normal Roman culinary specialty, Texas chili, using Mexican seasonings and other ingredients sent to Rome by his father from ethnic food stores in East Los Angeles. Caramba!
It’s a gross understatement to say that I am really looking forward to my journey. I love to travel – anywhere. And, if I were to visit every place on my bucket list, I would be on the road for the next century. But that’s not going to happen to a septuagenarian like myself. So, I’ll just accept the travel horizons I’m dealt. Italy is a great place. Every time I visit Rome, I understand more about why my son moved there. Long ago I put Rome on my list of my favorite cities like New York and San Francisco. This is also the first time I’m traveling from Texas to Rome. That means an eight-hour flight across the Atlantic instead of 11 or 12 from LAX or SFO. The trip back will be longer – ten hours from Rome to New York because of the west to easterly Jetstream winds. But, I am two time zones and 1400 miles closer these days since I moved to Texas.
I will be posting my travels in my Rome Diary 3. My blogging career began back in 2013 with a few random postings on my new Facebook page. That led to a whole new interest for this old newsguy, writing. Not only did my travel musings become a blog which led to producing my own website, but I eventually authored a book, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! It’s about my dad’s navy adventures during World War 2, published by Amazon Books. So, Facebook begat Rome Diary, Rome Diary 2 and now I’ve got my laptop packed in anticipation of Diario di Roma Tre! Since my first trip, I’ve visited Pompeii and many of the legendary historical sites in Rome itself. Michael has taken me to Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance and he and Laura have taken me to Venice, a city that I instantly fell madly in love with.
So then, my passport has been renewed, my Euros are tucked in my wallet and I’m hours away from getting my boarding pass. I’ll keep you posted on this Pilgrim’s Progress!
[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com and is linked to Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus!]
©Mike Botula 2017
My Newest Roman Holiday!
Diario di Roma III
Thursday March 9, 2017
Sunny 69°F/21°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00143
It’s the first full day of my newest Roman Holiday. As you know from reading my earlier Rome Diaries, this is NOT a Rick Steves travel blog. I spend most of my time OFF the beaten path. So, you’re not going to get the latest scoop on the five star hotels or the newest “foo-foo” resort to catch the fancy of the Zagat Guide. My blogs are more of a survival guide for American travelers venturing out of their native land for the first time. And, in this time of political turmoil, it might be nice to have some alternatives in case Uncle Donald sends you a tweet cancelling your American citizenship. I can’t help but think as I make this particular trip that I am also seeing my vacation journey through the eyes of a potential refugee. Since I am writing this entire blog series from outside of the country, I won’t know for sure if anyone is government follows my blogs until I am asked for my passport a month hence at JFK International in NY. So then…..
After a three hour flight from Austin’s Bergstrom International Airport to JFK International in the Borough of Queens, New York and a five hour layover for a grilled reuben sandwich (pastrami, swiss cheese and kraut grilled on Rye) I spent the next eight hours on an Alitalia flight from NY to Rome in an end seat across the aisle from a colicky infant who screamed all the way across the Atlantic. This was somewhat offset by the kid behind me who expressed his opinion of the screaming baby by keeping time with the cries with kicks to the back of my seat. After I glowered at the tyke over the top of my seat, his mom banished him to an aisle seat at the opposite end of the row. (Most Italians talk with their hands. I don’t know what this little twerp’s ethnicity was, but his feet spoke a language all their own). So, I spent most of the flight with the headset clamped tightly over my ears with the sound off – like earmuffs – while I watched the little cartoon airplane on the video screen in front of me traverse the map of the Atlantic. After a stop at Michael and Laura’s house for coffee and the obligatory Benvenuto a Roma “selfie” with Sofia the family’s black Volpino, we drove over to a neighborhood close by to get me settled into the sixth floor apartment where I will be staying for the month. We took inventory and then headed up the street to il Mercado for a few domestic supplies. The grocery tab including a packet of Lavazza coffee came to about 28 Euros and change ($28.60 USD), which I paid for with a crisp, new 50 Euro bill ($52.87 USD). Michael headed off to work to let me get settled in. He had already unpacked my one suitcase, so all that was left for me was .to arrange the voltage adapters and plug in my laptop and my Sonicare. I awoke two hours later stiff as a board – the effects of Rome’s cool weather on my arthritis, and 14 hours sitting in a cramped Economy-class jetliner suite in my own imitation of a sardine packed into an itty-bitty can.
My first evening was spent with Michael and Laura with a delightful home-cooked meal and lots of catch-up family chatter. Since my first visit in 2005, Rome has become my second home, and I long ago decided that in spite of the language barrier, I would not mind at all becoming an expatriate and settling down for the duration, whatever that may be. Toward the end of the evening Laura and I made plans to have lunch the next day while Michael went to work, so she could show me around my new neighborhood. I returned to my vacation pad, and shortly after I got home, decided to hit the feathers so Morpheus could sooth my jet lag. When I regained consciousness it was almost noon the next day.
Sometime between my departure from JFK and my arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino International Airport, Laura’s sister, Chiara gave birth to a baby girl, a big first for Chiara and Maurizio. Little Noemi thus made Laura La Zia (aunt Laura) and Chiara and Laura’s parents, Sergio and Annamaria first time Nonno e Nonna (Nonni = grandparents). That makes Michael il zio. But he’s a veteran at being an uncle – his sister has five children – two boys and three girls. So, I am Nonno, too. Chiara had Noemi in a maternity hospital that is part of the Italian government health system. Unlike many American hospitals which seem to encourage family picnics in the delivery room to promote family togetherness, this hospital was decidedly Old School. Visiting hours are short and strictly enforced. The newborns maybe viewed by family and friends through the windows of the nursery where the tykes are on display for onlay a set time. Noemi was #41 and was five rows back in the gaggle. Nonno, Nonna and la zia are rightly proud of la nipoti.
Sergio and Laura and I left Annamaria to visit a bit longer with Chiara, so we decided to walk across the street for an espresso. As we left the hospital I asked to take Sergio and Laura’s picture in front of the graffiti which covers the façade of the hospital. This is big city graffiti with a decidedly Italian touch, and only an Italian mind would tolerate any graffiti on the front of any hospital. But, this spray art is special. Instead of LA-style gang graffiti with gang signs and slogans, these scribblings are greetings and congratulations to the newborns and their parents. If this occurred in LA, SWAT would be summoned.
It was over coffee a few minutes later that Sergio asked me the question that I most feared, but one that I fully expected, because it is a question that every European is asking every American that they run into.
SERGIO: Cosa ne pensi di TRUMP? (“How do you feel about Donald Trump as President?”)
I thought for a long time, and chose my words carefully before answering the inevitable question. After all, Sergio is family.
MIKE: Non ho imparato abbastanza parolacce in italiano per dire cosa penso di TRUMP! Io ho votato per Hillary Clinton! (I have not learned enough Italian swear words to express to you how I feel about seeing Donald Trump as President. I voted for Hillary Clinton.
SERGIO: Gli italiani hanno eletto Berlusconi. L’America sopram vviverà Donald Trump come Presidente! (Italians elected Berlusconi. America will survive Donald Trump as President).
I just know I will be asked about this many times while I’m on this trip, so I’ll have better polling to report in the near future. But I can tell you this: Italians, who had their own lapse of sanity when they elected and re-elected Silvio Berlusconi, the womanizing media mogul, take our election of Der Trumpenfuhrer as the Great American Joke. But, the Italians, who have seen some 62 governments come and go since World War 2, see our election plight as a mere blip on history’s radar screen, while many Americans believe that the end of civilization as we know it, is at hand.
It always takes a few days for me to get my land legs back after traveling for 4,000 miles through seven time zones, so I always allow myself time to adjust before any further adventures. That’s why the first few days are spent getting to know my new surroundings, especially since I’m staying in a rental apartment, and not at the Hilton or another hotel with four or five stars. I can’t simply call down and order for room service. If I am hungry and want to eat, I either have to go up the street to the market or il ristorante. So, in a way I find myself identifying with the refugees that are pouring into Italy from North Africa and the Middle East. I know only a few words of Italian. But, I have family here and I know when I’m returning to hearth and home. The refugees don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from. It’s a big story here, and I’ll be sharing some of my observations as we go along.
Next time – No Funny Stuff, LIVE at TIFF, and a visit to a famous World War 2 battle site. But, for now….
[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com ]
© By Mike Botula 2017
Diario di Roma Tre
Tuesday March 14, 2017
Cloudy 63°F/17°C back home in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Partly Cloudy 61°F/16°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00143
As Beppe Cassa drove Michael and I downtown to Roma Centro Sunday night to meet our friends for the evening, I couldn’t help thinking…If New York City and San Francisco have pot holes like Rome, then Western civilization as a whole has an infrastructure problem, and we are all doomed! Gads, what a jarring ride! It was the same in Nettuno, a port city about 30 miles south of Rome, when we were there on Saturday.
Even though I’ve been to Rome before and have gotten acquainted with it, it takes me some time to reacclimate myself. First hurdle is the jet lag that accompanies each of my transatlantic flights. I’ve been here almost a week, but I’m still feeling the effects of my 4,400 mile, seven time zone journey. Michael and Laura always do a great job of making me feel at home and getting me settled in. This morning after I showered and had my morning coffee, I headed up the street to the nearby market where I shopped for a few items for my apartment and checked out the neighborhood. This is a different neighborhood than the one I stayed in almost four years ago. It is just a short distance from Michael and Laura’s home, which makes it convenient for visiting, but far enough away to ensure each other’s privacy. Right next to the market is a little restaurant or bar, which dispenses sandwiches and other light fare along with caffé, vino and other bevando alcoliche. The neighborhood reminds me of a similar neighborhood in Queens when I was working in New York City, or my little corner of San Francisco when I was doing radio in The City. Everything one needs can be found in the neighborhood, and it is usually within walking distance of home. For longer distances there is the bus or the metro, Rome’s two-line subway system. The A line and B line will eventually be joined by the C line, but there have been ongoing delays in this project, which has taken on the historic delays of New York City’s effort to build a new subway line under Second Avenue.
Rome’s C Line subway construction has been frequently halted by the discovery of antiquities along its planned routed. Rome is more than 2,000 years old and built in layers piled high upon itself, like a wedding cake as my son the tour guide frequently explains to his enthralled fans. When any antiquities are spotted, work is halted while teams of archaeologists survey and evaluate and decide what the contstruction crews can do next. Rome will probably get to be 3,000 years old before the new subway line is running. There is a main boulevard that comes to an abrupt halt for no apparent reason, because some 4,000 year old Etruscan ruins were uncovered. God only knows when the construction of the boulevard will resume, if ever.
Following our visit with the other ex-pats, it was just a short walk to Piazza Repubblica and a one-stop metro ride to the Termini train station when we changed to the other metro line for the ride out to Palassport where Laura would pick us up for the short ride home.
The exchange rate – Euros to dollars is pretty good right now €1= $1.06 USD. I generally order a few hundred Euros from my bank before I even get on the plane. Then instead of cashing travelers checks along the way, I visit a local Post Office or bank ATM to get the cash I need along the way. By the way, I always let my bank or credit union and the companies that issue the credit cards I plan on using on the trip that I am going to be out of the country, so they would think that some unscrupulous hacker has purloined my credit card. Make sure, too, that all of the debit and credit cards you will be using are the new chip cards. They are the standard in Europe. Your old magnetic stripe card may not work. As an extra precaution, I replaced my pocket wallet, my travel wallet and my passport holder that I wear around my neck with RFID blocking cases, so some sly hacker/thief with a pocket scanner can’t read my credit card numbers.
If you don’t speak the language of the country you are visiting, don’t fret. Travelers are eased along their way with pictograms and multilingual signs at airports and train stations. It helps to invest in a conversational course in the language of the country you’ll be traveling to, or failing that, download a book of phrases and key words onto your Kindle. I’ve got the Google Translator App on my IPhone and IPad. The Google app even scans and translates written material. Local folks will appreciate the fact that you are trying to communicate with them and will generally try to return your effort. An attitude of America First! or Speak American! Will get you no where. That’s an attitude best left at home.
[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com , and is linkedto Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus!]
© By Mike Botula 2017
My Not So Happy Journey to Nettuno and Anzio!
Diario di Roma Tre
Friday March 17, 2017
Cloudy 66°F/ 19°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Sunny 63°F/ 17°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00128
When my folks bought the house in Riverhead, Long Island where my brother and I grew up, I started second grade at the Roanoke Avenue Elementary School. It was 1947. I was the new kid in a new school. Most of my classmates had started together in kindergarten two years before. In fact the teacher had introduced me at the start of the class, telling everybody that I had attended first grade at rural Aquebogue Elementary School, my mom was a registered nurse and my dad had served in the U.S. Navy during the war. So for the second time in a year, I was meeting new friends and classmates. Most of those getting to know you conversations focused on basic questions like, do you have any brothers and sisters?, how old are you?, where do you go to church?, does your mom work or does she stay home? and, what does your father do? Did he kill any Japs in the war? These were talking points that led, in many cases, to the formation of life-long friendships.
Eager to fit in with the other second graders, I joined in these childhood conversations, asking each new acquaintance about their families and making new friends until I happened to ask one little boy what his dad did. His smile was replaced with a very sad look, and he stammered, choking back a tear. Oh, I don’t have a dad any more. He was killed in the war! I hadn’t expected an answer like that, and I was dumbstruck. Mumbling a whispered Oh, I’m sorry, I slunk off to another corner of the playground. When I got home from school that afternoon, I told my mother what had happened. As it turned out, my mother knew the little boy’s family and the story about his father’s death. I would meet other classmates who had lost their dads in the war, but, this was my first experience with this kind of tragedy, and I was badly shaken by what the boy had told me. His father was killed at a place called Anzio, my mother told me. It’s in Italy. With that, she went over to our bookcase and brought back the globe that she had used to follow my fathers wartime journeys around the world aboard the LST 920. Anzio is right here, she explained as she pointed to a place on the coast of Italy, not far from Rome. Your friend’s father was a soldier in the U.S. Army. His unit was part of the Allied invasion force trying to liberate Italy from the Nazis. He was killed by the Germans. That’s why your new friend doesn’t have a father. You are lucky! Your dad came home safe and sound, but a lot of boys and girls weren’t so lucky. That’s why you have to work hard to be a good friend to that little boy. Some kids don’t understand, and make fun of children like him. It was an important lesson in compassion.
The Anzio beachhead is part of what Winston Churchill called the soft underbelly of Europe! Churchill had persuaded Franklin D. Roosevelt to launch an Allied invasion from North Africa through Sicily onto the Italian coast south of Rome to outflank the Germans. Following Sicily, the Allies landed at Salerno, Anzio and the nearby port of Nettuno. But as General Mark Clark, commander of the U.S. Fifth Army later commented, the soft underbelly turned out to be a tough old gut! It took Allied forces more than four months of the bloodiest fighting of the war to break the Nazis steel ring. The Allies-U.S., British and Canadian troops had selected an area of reclaimed marshland surrounded by mountains around Anzio as the invasion site, counting on the element of surprise for the success of the invasion. Allied strategy counted on quickly breaking out of the landing area, taking control of the mountains and moving forward to surprise the German forces under Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. But, the American commander, General John P. Lucas delayed the advance so he could consolidate his positions at the beach. A big mistake! When the Allied force broke out four months later, General Lucas was relieved of his command and sent home. The Germans reacted quickly to invading forces and quickly seized the high ground over the beach. For months they rained artillery fire down on Allied troops below. Both sides suffered horrendous casualties. The Germans and Italian forces suffered 40,000 casualties with 5,000 killed in action and 35,000 wounded, missing or taken prisoner. The Americans, British and Canadians sustained 43,000 casualties including 7,000 killed in action and 36,000 wounded or missing. Anzio was one of the bloodiest battles fought during World War 2.
Many years later, I have become a regular visitor to Italy. My expatriate son Michael is married to an Italian woman and has made his life in Rome, which I’ve come to consider as my second home. His job as a tourguide takes him not only to the sites of ancient cities like Pompeii and Ostia Antica, but some of the famous battle sites of both World Wars. In fact, the first time I visited Pompeii, our tour bus passed by Montecassino and Anzio. After I told the story about my friend in grade school, Laura said, Then we should go to the American Cemetery in Nettuno. Last Saturday, we did just that. And, as we toured the memorial hall at the visitors center, my childhood memory came face to face with my study of World War 2 history as an adult. During my research for my own book about my father’s Navy service (LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target, Amazon Books), I had been captivated by Bill Mauldin’s wartime cartoon saga of Willie and Joe, his typical GI’s trying to survive the war. I had read the legendary war correspondant Ernie Pyle’s book Brave Men cover to cover many times. Then, after my own move from California to Texas last year, I discovered another bit of history to weave into this story. The Lone Star State’s 36th Infantry Division which fought in this campaign and suffered very heavy losses at the Battle of the Rapido River. It wasn’t only the distant memory of a young classmate’s grief that prompted me to make this pilgrimage. My parents had friends of theirs who lost loved ones at Anzio or Salerno along the Allies road to Rome on June 5, 1944 – the day before the D-Day invasion at Normandy. And, among the thousands of troops from every state in the union were the sons of Italian immigrants who had left their homeland years before seeking new opportunities and the freedom to fulfill their dreams in America. Many of these new immigrants and children of immigrants still had close relatives here in the old country. For them, the war was personal! Members of their own families were going hungry and dying because the land they loved had fallen under the bootheels of tyrants. Now, nearly eight decades after the guns fell silent, nearly 8,000 of them rest under the white travertine crosses in the American cemetery.
One of the Texans from the 36th Infantry Division, Captain Henry T. Waskow of Belton, a small town in central Texas, was immortalized by Ernie Pyle in what came to be his most famous wartime column. Captain Waskow was idolized by his fellow Texans, and his death was a devastating blow to his comrades. Correspondant Pyle was on hand that moonlit Italian night near Anzio, when Waskow’s body was brought down the mountain on the back of a pack mule. As Pyle tells the story…..
Capt. Waskow was a company commander in the 36th Division. He had led his company since long before it left the States. He was very young, only in his middle twenties, but he carried in him a sincerity and gentleness that made people want to be guided by him.
"After my own father, he came next," a sergeant told me.
"He always looked after us," a soldier said. "He’d go to bat for us every time."
"I’ve never knowed him to do anything unfair," another one said.
I was at the foot of the mule trail the night they brought Capt. Waskow’s body down. The moon was nearly full at the time, and you could see far up the trail, and even part way across the valley below. Soldiers made shadows in the moonlight as they walked.
Dead men had been coming down the mountain all evening, lashed onto the backs of mules. They came lying belly-down across the wooden pack-saddles, their heads hanging down on the left side of the mule, their stiffened legs sticking out awkwardly from the other side, bobbing up and down as the mule walked.
Like cartoonist Bill Mauldin and the other great war correspondants, Ernie Pyle covered the war from the point of view of the individual GI’s doing the fighting and dying. He revealed moments in wartime with well chosen words that even a photograph cannot capture, like Captain Waskow’s men saying their farewells.
One soldier came and looked down, and he said out loud, "God damn it." That’s all he said, and then he walked away. Another one came. He said, "God damn it to hell anyway." He looked down for a few last moments, and then he turned and left.
Another man came; I think he was an officer. It was hard to tell officers from men in the half light, for all were bearded and grimy dirty. The man looked down into the dead captain’s face, and then he spoke directly to him, as though he were alive. He said: "I’m sorry, old man."
Then a soldier came and stood beside the officer, and bent over, and he too spoke to his dead captain, not in a whisper but awfully tenderly, and he said:
"I sure am sorry, sir."
Then the first man squatted down, and he reached down and took the dead hand, and he sat there for a full five minutes, holding the dead hand in his own and looking intently into the dead face, and he never uttered a sound all the time he sat there.
And finally he put the hand down, and then reached up and gently straightened the points of the captain’s shirt collar, and then he sort of rearranged the tattered edges of his uniform around the wound. And then he got up and walked away down the road in the moonlight, all alone.
Captain Henry T. Waskow is buried here at the American Military Cemetery at Nettuno along with 7,800 other heroes of the Sicily-Anzio-Rome Campaign. Captain Waskow is buried in Plot G, Row 6, Grave 33. I don’t where my young classmate’s father is buried, but I paid my respects to him as well. I’m sure that my friend would have done the same for me.
(Excerpts from: The Night They Brought Captain Waskow Down, from Brave Men, Ernie Pyle, University of Nebraska Press 1944.)
[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com , and is linkedto Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus!]
© By Mike Botula 2017
Flashbacks and Distant Memories!
Diario di Roma Tre
Sunday March 19, 2017
Cloudy 57°F/14°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia 00143
Mostly Clear 67°F/19°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
La chiava rossa si apre la porta d’ingresso! My son Michael was giving me a combination tour of my new apartment and another Italian lesson. (The RED key opens the entrance door). La grande chiava, piatta apre la porto corridoio dell’appartamento. E la chiave d’argento apre la porta al suo interno. (The big, flat key opens the hallway door to the apartment, and the silver key opens the inside door).
I think that one of the reasons why I enjoy my visits to Rome so much is that I am reminded of my early days in New York City. I had graduated from high school, and was going to a broadcasting school in mid-town Manhattan trying to jumpstart my career in radio. After growing up in a small town about one hundred miles east of Manhattan, I was on my own going to school in the Big Apple. Now, I am sixty-something years past that youthful experience, and once again, on my own and experiencing life in a big city, Rome!
Big cities seem to breed small apartments, and mine is no exception. Michael and Laura found this one for me through AirBnB, the internet rental. It’s in a large building along Vialle de Oceano Atlantico in the EUR district of Rome, just a few blocks from the Laurentina metro stazione, at the end of the Metro B line. EUR (roughly pronounced air) is a residential and business district south of Rome’s center. It was developed back in the 1930s as the designated site for the 1942 World’s Fair, which Benito Mussolini envisioned as a showcase for his Fascist Paradise, but World War II put an end to il Duce’s bright idea. EUR stands for Esposizione Universale Roma. (Pardon the digression into Roman trivia, but EUR has mystified me since my first visit. Laura finally explained part of my mystery. I also used Google).
Coincidentally, many years ago, I had another small apartment in an area designated as a World’s Fair site – the Flushing section of Queens, in New York City. That was the site of the 1939 New York World’s Fair (the last before WW2 captured the world’s attention) and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. My new digs are on the sixth floor of the building, which requires a ride in a tiny elevator slightly larger than the phone booth that Clark Kent used to change clothes in. My kitchen is a reflection of that European scale of living. I have a small table and two chairs along with a sink, a washing machine, and a small refrigerator topped by a small microwave, a two burner electric hot plate on the counter top shoe-horned into a room about 6 feet by 7 feet. Unlike my two bedroom Texas apartment back home, my Rome digs has no dishwasher. Dishes are handwashed and drip-dryed in a rack installed in the cabinet above the sink. Italians, as I discovered on my previous trips, do not believe in clothes dryers. Laundry is done in the washing machine and then dryed on portable drying racks like my mom used to do when she was first married in New York City. The scaled-down size of the appliances, like the fridge reflect the fact that everything has to be brought up in that tiny elevator. There are no oversize freight elevators.
There’s another thing that takes a little getting used to. The heat comes on only at certain times of the day for the comfort of the residents, and is turned off for the night around 11 p.m. or Midnight. That’s why I not only have a quilt on the bed, but an extra blanket and I’m wearing pajamas for the first time since I was a little kid. The bathroom is built on the same scale as a bathroom in an American motor home. I have to carefully my turn-arounds in the tiny doccia, or shower. But, it is a well lit, airy little apartment and I am quite comfortable in it. But, I am looking forward to my big two bedroom, two bath with living room, full kitchen and washer-dryer steps away from the dishwasher apartment in Texas.
My l andlord, Kurt, another American ex-pat lives on the top floor just above. One Friday, he and Amina invited Michael and I up for a little nosh and a little socializing to welcome me to Rome. Kurt has lived in Rome for 28 years and as we talked about life’s roads that we’ve both traveled we discovered that we both grew on Long Island within miles of each other. The charming Amina is originally from Morocco and speaks several languages, Italian and French among them. A delightful evening, even after the conversation turned to American politics. Everywhere I go – when the locals hear my American accent, I am asked what I think about the new U.S. President. Then they will tell me that Italy survived Berlusconi. America will survive Donald Trump! Emilio Berlusconi is the egotistical media mogul who was the two-term President of Italy and is now being prosecuted for corruption. Not to worry, Mike. Romans are survivors as are Americans! You’ll be OK. Well, enough of that. After all, this IS a vacation for me.
One of my British ex-pat acquaintances is also a journalist. At our ex-pat get together John invited me to a benefit concert for a group of fellow journalists who are being sued by the United Nations Food Program. Who’s being sued, I asked. Well. There’s ME, replied John, and several others. So, several days later, Michael and I and Laura, and Beppe Cassa, one of the other musicians from No Funny Stuff trooped dutifully to a Rome nightclub for dinner and an evening of vintage American Jazz and Folk Singing by Brit Simon Finn who flew in from London especially to lend his support to John, his long time friend. The evening reminded me of long-ago nights in various pubs in the heart of Greenwich Village in the late 1950s, when an as-yet-unknown folk singer named Bob Dylan was singing his heart out for tips at the Café Wha?
This is now about my fifth or sixth trip to Rome, Michael has been here for the past fourteen years, working as a teacher and tour guide. Laura was born here. So, it’s safe to say they both know the city very well. I’m getting more and more familiar with it with every visit. Most vacationers see it only once, usually on a very overcrowded travel schedule that sees them dashing from one city to the next trying to cram as much adventure as they can into two or three weeks, not counting time out to deal with jet lag. But, people like Michael who actually live here begin to experience Rome in all its nuances. That’s what I am beginning to experience as well. So instead of booking into a four or five-star hotel with all the other American tourists, I’ve settled into a small Roman apartment in a neighborhood where I can shop or walk for blocks without hearing any English spoken. I’m beginning to see Rome as it really is, and I am becoming even more enamored of it. Next time I’ll take you to a place where relatively few tourists venture because its away from the center of the city, and introduced you to an Emperor who tried to build a wall to keep out intruders. ‘Nuff said!
[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com
© By Mike Botula 2017
The Emperor’s Country Estate!
Diario di Roma Tre
Thursday March 23, 2017
Partly Cloudy 62°F/17°C in Roma, EUR, Italia 00144
Cloudy 67°F/19°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime. Mark Twain
Many first-time visitors to Italy bring with them travel plans that are simply far too ambitious. And, I’ll quickly admit that my first visit to Rome fell right into this category. Over a dinner in Trastevere on my first night in Italy, my son asked me, so what are your plans for your two weeks in Italy? I laid out my game plan which included a few days in Rome with a side trip to Pompeii, then a couple of days in Florence and a few more after that in Venice. Oh, and of course we wanted to visit Pisa to see the leaning tower. Then, if we had time, I had thought about attending the opera at La Scala in Milan! As it turned out, I didn’t even get to Pompeii that trip. In fact, I never left Rome. It has taken four or five additional trips to visit all the cities that were on my original wish list. And I still haven’t been to the opera – in Milan or anywhere else.
In addition to teaching English and playing in a popular band in Rome, my son is a professional tour guide with the City Wonders company. So, I have tagged along with him on City Wonders tours all around Rome, Pompeii, Florence and Venice. In Rome, everyone wants to see the Coliseum, the Forum, the Pantheon, Hadrian’s Castle, Trevi Fountain and St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican. Now, with a few trips to Italy under my belt, I’m able to branch out. So, this past weekend, Michael called a friend of his to ask a favor, and off we went on another adventure to an ancient wonder.
Now, every tour guide in Rome has their own favorite places, where they take their friends when they are not on the clock for their employer. Rebecca Bright’s favorite place is La Villa Adriana. This was her day off, but since Michael’s Dear old Dad was in town, Rebecca offered to show us around Hadrian’s country estate. So, off we went on a 29 kilometer (18 mile) jaunt to the countryside near Tivoli.
The grandeur that was Rome is visible througout the Eternal City. The images that come most readily to mind are the Coliseum and the triumphal arch alongside. There’s the Forum, the Pantheon and Castel San Angelo, tomb of the Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian, who reigned from AD 117 to AD 138 was a builder who left his imprint throughout Rome and the Empire beyond. Under his reign, Rome consolidated its empire and the glory days began to recede. In order to preserve Roman territories in Brittania, Hadrian built his famous wall across northern England near the present day border wth Scotland. An early wall, like the 20th century Berlin Wall that never lived up to its expectations.
Considered to be the third of the Five Good Emperors by historians, Hadrian actually ruled his empire from Villa Adriana, during the later years of his reign. The villa sprawled over 350 acres and had a permanent population of about a thousand people who helped Hadrian tend to the business of empire since the Emperor did not feel comfortable at the Imperial palace on Palatine Hill. The villa is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a soft spot in Rebecca’s heart. Visitors to the villa usually stop at the visitors center at the entrance. On display is a model of Villa Adriana as it was when Hadrian ruled. The structures and the gardens are breath-taking. At the center is a large reflecting pool reminiscent of the one on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There are the ruins of a huge bathhouse, an ancient fitness center available at no cost to all citizens and operated by hundreds of slaves. Within the city, the Emperor had several places reserved for his exclusive use, either when he preferred solitude or when he wished to entertain a few special guests.
Villa Adriana is definitely worth seeing, if your schedule allows. We made it a full day’s outing with a leisurely drive to the country, a delightful lunch at a local ristorante in Tivoli and several hours of prowling through the ruins of Villa Adriana. It was a busman’s holiday for Rebecca, but a whole new experience for the rest of us. I would strongly suggest that the next time you travel to new places, that you ask your guide where he or she takes their friends on their day off.
[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com
© By Mike Botula 2017
Diario di Roma Tre
Wednesday March 29, 2017
Sunny 71°F/22°C in Roma, EUR, Italia 00144
Partly Cloudy 79°F/26°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
I’m past the halfway point in my current Roman Holiday, but there is still a lot to see and do before I board the big bird and wing my way back over the Atlantic. I had bailed on my Italian class at Austin Community College in order to make the trip, but I hope to convince il mia insegnante, Patrizia, that it was a worthwhile trade-off. Michael has arranged for one of his students to meet with me several times a week in a language exchange. My new co-learner is una bella donna Italiana named Monica who wants to learn English in time for her U.S. vacation later this year. I, of course am il signore americano who is trying to learn Italian. Michael has hosted our first two classes, but is leaving us on our own when next we meet over lunch. I have given Monica my Kindle with the same English-Italian dictionary and phrase book that I have on my IPad. My fail-safe is Google Translator, which I have on both my IPhone and IPad. But basically we are on our own. You might have noticed my inclusion of Italian words and phrases in more of my blogs lately. That’s intentional on my part. It’s not because I’m a show-off, but, if these Rome Diary blogs are going to have any value in helping a future traveler, it’s always nice to know some of the local language, and besides, I need the practice.
The language exchange scheduled for Monday had to be postponed because Monica had to travel to Milano for work. I walked around my neighborhood to hit the Bancomat and catch up on a bit of grocery shopping at the Elite Supermercato. It’s a daily trip for me, because, unlike back home in Texas where I go shopping only once or twice a week, but put all the stuff in the back of my pick-up, I am limited to what I can carry with me on the walk back to the apartment. One night after Laura dropped me off, I discovered to my absolute shock, that the front entryway lock had been broken. I was locked out of the building. My efforts to ring up my landlady via the apartment intercom, proved fruitless. She had also been locked out and had gone to a friend’s house for the evening. I was in a predicament that I couldn’t talk my way out of because I couldn’t speak Italian well enough. Fortunately, one of the neighbors appeared with two big bags of groceries. She saved the day by using the intercom to call upstairs to her husband, who buzzed us both into the building. This was a lock myself out scenario that I had definitely NOT anticipated. All was well again by the next day after the lock had been replaced and new keys issued to the tenants.
My son has kept himself busy showing me around with new adventures mixed in to the tried and true. One afternoon, we went for a stroll along la via appia, the first paved highway in the ancient world, straight as a die from Rome to Brindisi. The Appian Way was built way before highway e gineers discovered freeway hypnosis, and built curves into their roadways to keep drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. The ancient roadway is a favorite of walkers and bicyclists, and an occasional farm vehicle or resident’s car heading home to one of the villas along the route.
Another afternoon, Michael picked me up and we headed downtown for a visit to the Musei Capitolini, the Capitoline Museum, which abuts what is now Rome’s City Hall. The museum dates back to Rome’s Imperial days and is Europe’s oldest museum, just chock full of artifacts and statuary including the famous bronze statue of the she-wolf nursing the infant boys Remus and Romulus. Just before closing time Michael took me to the terrace for a fabulous view of the Forum below and explained the path that triumphal path the Roman Legions would take on their return from victories on far-flung battle fields, passing through a series of triumphal arches en route to being welcomed home by the Emperor. Later, as we retraced our steps downward along what seemed to me to be the longest staircase on Earth, I made another wisecrack about the ancient Romans and their lack of concern for anyone with a physical disability. Dad! Said my son, with no small amount of disdain in his voice, in ancient times, the penitents would go UP these stairs on their KNEES! As I’ve noted previously, the Romans are bred from hardy stock.
As we proceeded down Capitoline Hill, Michael suggested we walk through Rome’s ancient Jewish Ghetto. As anti-semitism welled up in the Middle Ages, Rome’s Jews were herded into this narrow area along the Tiber. Here they lived in spite of the severe restrictions imposed on them. One example is the multi-storied synagogue at the center. Since the Jews were allowed to build only one synagogue, and there were several denominations among them, my son told me, they built ONE synagogue with several floors. By then it was after 7:30 p.m., the Roman dinner hour and the various restaurants were beginning to serve. Anyone of these places appeal to you, dad? Michael asked. One sign caught my eye, Bellacarne Kosher Grill, cucina ebraica! Our Kosher meal in the heart of one of Europe’s oldest ghettoes was delicious. Later, as we walked back to our car, we strolled by the spot were hundreds of people were massacred during World War 2 by the Nazis. The shadows of a dark past are always present in modern Rome. In one afternoon, we had strolled through a thousand years of Roman History.
[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com
© By Mike Botula 2017
Napoli e Ercolano!
Diario di Roma Tre
Tuesday April 4, 2017
Cloudy, chance of rain 59°F/15°C in Napoli, Italia
Cloudy and breezy 65°F/18°C in Roma, EUR, Italia 00144
Partly Cloudy, Tornado Alert 75°F/24°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
With Mount Vesuvius’ ancient, truncated peak watching over us, we headed off the autostrada and merged into Naples’ maddening mish-mosh of very narrow city streets and a very special breed of crazed Italian drivers. Laura was driving, but Laura is a native Roman, and as zany as Rome drivers may seem to a tourist like me, Romans don’t have driver’s licenses – they are still using learner’s permits compared to their Neapolitan brothers and sisters. I Napolitani are the real rocket scientists among the legions of Italian drivers. As Laura negotiated Naples’ teeming, narrow streets, careening among throngs of tour buses, taxis, other auto drivers and scores of pedestrians with death wishes, I became convinced that Naples is host to all of Italy’s driving schools. And every Italian driver, be they Milanese, Genovese or Romani are all wanna-be Neapolitan taxi drivers. Laura was aiming us toward the bed and breakfast she had found for us on the internet. We were plunging onward through a neighborhood straight out of Godfather II and turn-of-the-century Little Italy in New York, and I was feeling as apprehensive as Sherman McCoy did in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities when he took the wrong turn that dropped him into the bowels of the post-nuclear South Bronx of the 1970s! Tall buildings lined the narrow street we careened along. Michael and Laura consulted their IPhone GPS screens and gave each other directions in Italian. I couldn’t see an inch of empty curb that might offer us a place to park. Finally, we screeched to a stop in front of a sign reading Parcheggio! It was the garage where our car would be safe for the night. But, what about us, I wondered.
We grabbed our bags and headed off down the .narrow street, dodging cars and people until the street widened into a piazza in front of a church where a wedding was taking place. There were so many blue and white police cars jammed into the piazza that I thought for a moment that we had stumbled across a Neapolitan taxi stand. Then I saw all the police, and the soldiers who patrolled in front of the church carrying assault rifles. Finally, we came to a boarded-up archway with a slab door in the center and a modest sign that read Casa del Monacone, Bed and Breakfast. No doorman, no front entrance, just a sheet of paper with Laura’s name imprinted along with a telephone number for her to call. Laura dialed her phone, said a few words into it, and moments later, a plywood panel at the center of the archway opened up to reveal the smiling face of the manager. We stepped through the improvised entrance and back in time about a thousand years. Our hotel for the night was once the cloister for the immediately adjoining San Gennaro Church. As he escorted us to our newly renovated rooms, we passed by a window that gave us a pigeon’s-eye view of the church sanctuary where the wedding was still underway.
We settled in to our rooms to rest for a bit and freshen for the night’s adventure. Mine was a small room with twin beds, a window that overlooked the narrow, noisy street below. I had my own tiny bathroom with modern fixtures and a shower stall about the size of a coffin in the corner. The room did have a TV and an airconditioner, and it was cozy enough. But, as I took in my new surroundings, my first thought was, Well, Botula, it’s a first! You’ve NEVER spent the night in a church!
At 5:30, Michael knocked at the door to say that he had a cab waiting down stairs to take to the inaugural City Wonders Walking Tour of the Heart of Naples. Not to worry about dinner, our food would be served to us by local vendors as we walked along. This would be the tour’s kickoff and we had a total of ten people along with our guide. It was a Saturday night and the heart of Naples was jam-packed with a mixture of humanity and motorini, the swarms of the ubiquitous motorscooters that make being a pedestrian such a hair-raising adventures. Add a few autos to this mix of people and machines on the ancient, narrow, cobblestone streets and you have all the elements of a life-hanging experience. The heart of this particular tour, apart from the colorful history of Naples is the Neapolitan street food, which has been eaten by generations of people over the centuries. Along our path and between the munching, our guide, Cesare, points out points of historical interest along the way and regales us with historical tidbits about a city that was founded by the Greeks hundreds of years before the she-wolf ever found Romulus and Remus wandering around in the hills and took them in so they could found Rome. Naples was Rome’s first colony in its rise to Imperial greatness, and the two cities have long enjoyed a special relationship. Naples, with its huge port complex was for a long time the gateway from the known world to the seat of Imperial power in Rome.
Our final stop along the snack trail was the shop that specializes in the unique, citrus-based liqueur Limoncello, a beverage built around lemon rinds and clear grain, pure alcohol which is aged appropriately and served in tiny glasses lest it cause irreparable brain damage to the imbiber. At the end of our walk, our guide continued to hold court for another half an hour continuing to chat about the history of the city and asking for input from his customers about future tours of this type. This was the inaugural tour of this type for the Naples guides and City Wonders was keenly interested in the reaction to this type of tour. So our inaugural tour group included several company representatives, and within a few days, I received an email with a customer satisfaction attached. Personally, I think this type of tour is well worth the time and effort.
After a restful night at our converted convent we indulged in la colazione (breakfast) and then checked out so we could retrieve our car from the garage and headed to Ercolano, the ancient city of Herculaneum, which was destroyed in the same volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii in 79 AD. Michael had hired a private guide named Marcello to show us the OTHER Pompeii! To show its appreciation of culture, the government of Italy has decreed that all state-run museums and historic sites will be open to the public at no charge on the first Sunday of every month. All other times, there is an admission charge. But not today. Marcello received his fee and a generous gratuity from us, but there was no charge for admission. I will just skim the highlights of our visit to Ercolano, and save the juicy details for another blog.
Herculaneum was destroyed in the same eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that buried nearby Pompeii, but there are some significant differences in the fate of the two cities. Archaeologists have made plaster casts of the victims of Pompeii, which were made by filling the gaps in the hardened volcanic ash. Today you can see ghostly forms of men, women, children and even the pets of Pompeii residents in museums and displayed at the site of the tragedy. At Herculaneum, archaeologists have un oncovered hundreds of skeletons, some of which still occupy the places where people died along the wa terfront as they tried to escaped. The ancient dock area now faces a ninety foot cliff instead of the open sea. The city was buried under one hundred feet of lava and volcanic ash. When I commented on Marcello’s love and enthusiasm for this ancient city, he told me that he is not only a native Napolitano, but his mother belonged to one of Naples oldest families. It is not unusual, he told me, to find Napolitani who are descended from families who perished here at Ercolano! At the end of our two hour tour we settled up with Marcello and, again bestowed a generous gratuity. The City Wonders guides are paid emplyees, but, many of the free-lance guide work only for the tips they receive at the end of their tours. As a one-time bartender, I know how much people in service industries depend on the tips they receive.
Just as I was beginning to think that our weekend in Naples was at and end, Glauco Messina invited all of us to join him for lunch at his brother’s restaurant in the center of the city. So, with Laura still at the wheel we followed Glauco and Marcello along on another wild drive through the center of Napoli, ricocheting from side to side along the city’s narrow streets. Finally Glauco gestured for us to park in the garage of a Carrefour Supermercato, so we could make the short walk (he said) to il Ristorante. Now, if Rome is built on seven hills, Naples must be built on fifty. Our walk began with a descent down a long stairwell built right into the street, a not-uncommon sight in Napoli. But, as it turned out, this would be my shortest walk of the day. However, it was definitely worth the effort. As we entered the tiny establishment, the aroma of fresh seafood filled the room. Glauco introduced us to his brother, who have each one of us a menu with pages of items to choose from. But, Glauco suggested that we pay particular attention to what his fratello described as his recommendation as the fresh food of the day. I chose a beef dish cooked in a sweet onions sauce over pasta a la Genovese! The antipasti was made up of deep-fried seafoods. Delizioso! After settling the bill for our Sunday repast, I really thought our weekend in Naples was over and we would be heading back to Rome, finally. But, NO! Glauco had one more thing for us to see – a view of the Bay of Naples from the highest point in the great port city, the top of Castel San Elmo, which has protected the port and the city for many long centuries. On this leg of our walk the long, upward staircases were augmented by a series of long escalators built into the streets. Finally, we reached the very top of the hill and entered the castle. Admission was free, in accordance with Italian custom. Another ride upward, this time in an elevator, brought us to the top of the citadel’s thick wall. What awaited us at our destinations was a breathtaking view of the Bay of Naples, and in the distance, at 4,400 feet, the truncated peak of Monte Vesuvius. In ancient times, Vesuvius was three times as high, but it literally blew its stack in 79 AD when it buried Pompeii and Herculaneum under many feet of molten lava and superheated volcanic ash.
Along the I way to this spectacular view I complimented Glauco on his consideration for older, arthritic clients like me. Many of our first-timer visitors to Italy tend to be older travelers, he said, plus, I know that most Americans don’t walk as much as we Italians. So, I do my very best as a guide to show my customers the utmost consideration towards their mobility. Smart for business, as any first time traveler who is just back on his feet following a hip replacement can attest. Finally the long day and its dazzling sights were at an end and after a short walk back to the car (another considerate touch by Glauco Messina) we said our arrivedercis and Caio’s, and headed back through the narrow, hyper-active streets of Naples to the autostrada and our ultimate destination – Roma! It had been una bella giornata, a beautiful day!
© By Mike Botula 2017
Now, THAT is the Way to Learn Italian!
Diario di Roma Tre
Saturday April 8, 2017
Mostly Sunny 60°F/16°C in Roma, EUR, Italia 00144
Partly Cloudy 80°F/27°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Fluency in a language not my own has always been an elusive goal for me! I took two years of Latin and one year of French at dear old Riverhead High before I graduated back in 1958. I also took a year of Spanish in college, and I picked up some random words and phrases of German on several trips to Deutschland. Then there were the Czech words and sentences that I picked up during our family visits to Pittsburgh and listening to my dad talk to his parents in Bohemian. Add to that the fact that a lot of the last names in my home town end in ski, or wicz or even ska, and you can figure that I also got started on Polish! So while I can dine in most any European restaurant and order anything from les legumes, pommes de terre, kielbasa, schnitzel mit sauerkraut, spaghetti Bolognese or huevos rancheros, I am hard pressed to be able to hold a conversation in any of the French, Spanish, German, Polish or Czech that I’ve picked up over the years. So, when my son Michael met his future wife, Laura in London (where another foreign language is spoken) and eventually followed her back to her native Rome, I finally had all the incentive to learn another foreign language - ITALIAN.
So now, after about half a dozen trips to Italy, I am mulling over a retirement plan that involves living part of the year in Texas where I am already near my daughter and my five grandchildren, AND, spending part of the year near my son and his family. If that happens I will need to be more conversant in Italian than I am now. I do possess a nodding acquaintance with some of the basics. At least I can say hello and goodbye, which is Caio! either way, and grazie! (Thank you), and the all-important Dove il bagno? (Where is the bathroom?) I even signed up for a class in Conversational Italian at Austin Community College. At least, I’ve gotten started. But, Cara mia, I have a long way to go before I’m taken as a real Italiano!
When I arrived back in Rome last month, Michael told me that he had arranged to pair me up with a local student who is trying to learn English. We would be able to help each other learn the other’s language. Michael, who teaches Business English to Italian business people professionally at a Rome school, explained the process to me. It’s the least expensive way to learn the language, he told me. The two of you schedule a time during several days a week and you teach your partner English for half an hour. Then, the other person teaches you Italian for half an hour. It’s a language exchange. And, in Roma, it’s a popular and inexpensive way to learn another language. And so, two days later Michael and I met a Rome career woman named Monica Manganiello for lunch at a local Trattoria. Interpreting for both of us, Michael walked us both through the first lesson and gave us each some written material to work with, and then told us, I will be present only for the first lesson to get you started. Then, you will be on your own. Monica and I looked at each other, panicked. Then we persuaded him to help us out at least once more.
By the next lesson, we were better organized. Michael had given us a lesson plan, and I had given Monica my Kindle reader with a phrase book and an Italian-English dictionary to match the ones I had on my IPad. In addition, we both had a Google Translator on each of our IPhones. Then, it was sink or swim. We were to meet for our luncheon lessons by ourselves. That we did the following Tuesday at the trattoria near Michael’s school. Over the next several lessons we became better acaquainted. Using my dictionary and translator I was able to tell her that – Sono nato a New York. Io sono di California. Abita in Texas. ( I was born in New York, from California and now living in Texas). She in turn told me that she lived in Rome and worked for a Chinese owned company and had been to New York on a vacation. Ah! I exclaimed. Since we were both thinking of Manhattan when we mentioned New York, I asked her, Dove hai alloggiato a New York, (where did you stay in New York?) She replied, Ho alloggiato in una zona chiamata “cucina dell’inferno.” (I stayed in an area called Hell’s Kitchen!) I laughed out loud at that. Hell’s Kitchen is a gentrified former slum area on Manhattan’s west side that was once the fiefdom of Irish gangs. I asked her what street her hotel had been on. It was in the west 50s and she could see the Hudson River. I told her that when Mike and Laura came to New York to get married, I had rented an apartment just ten blocks north of where she was. From that experience Monica learned she needed to learn better English for her next vacation in America. Dove vuoi visitare durante la vostra prossima vacazione gli Stati Uniti, I asked. (Where will you visit on your next vacation in the U.S.?) Without hesitation, she replied, Mi piacerebbe visitare in California! I don’t think that needs a translation.
After our lunch time lessons we both check in with our instructor, Michael, via the chat room he has set up for our little class. We have agreed to continue this after my return to the states via Skype or Facetime or one of the other internet services and we can stay in touch with our teacher. I plan on returning to Austin Community College in the Fall, so I will have new lessons to share with Monica. For our last lesson, we shifted our class across the street to the gelateria across from the trattoria where we had met the previous time. Do you like ice cream? She asked. When I said yes, she pointed to the Gelateria across the street across the street. I don’t feel like lunch. I would just like an ice cream. Would you like one? And, that, gentle reader is how my Italian class came to be located where it is now.
© By Mike Botula 2017
Siamo arrivati a casa mia!
Rome Diary III
Friday April 14, 2017
Partly Cloudy 70°F/21°C in Roma, EUR, Italy 00144
Partly Cloudy 80°F/27°C in Cedar Park, Texas 78613
Buongiorno amici miei!
Or to put my tortured Italian grammar another way – We’re back home! Dang, the month flew by and before I knew it, I was back on another Delta flight trekking eastward, following the sun home to Texas. Although, truth be known, I’ve begun to think of Rome as my true home. That’s where my heart is! But, reality being what IT is, home is really the place where I happen to be at the moment. I quit acting like a tourist after my first trip to Italy. At the time, I had a two-week vacation in which to see the world, and I was going to see as much of it as I possibly could. My wish list for that trip included Rome and Pompeii. Maybe Naples. Oh, and Florence for a couple of days, and of course Venice, with a side trip to Pisa, to see the leaning tower. And, then, during any left-over time, I’d plunge on to Paris and fly back to San Francisco from London. So, guess what happened? I never left Rome! Since that first trip, it has taken the ensuing twelve years just to cover Italy. Paris and London are still unexplored.
This time I had ambitions to visit the Czech Republic in an attempt to explore the Botula family tree, and return to Amsterdam to see an old flame. But, reality and budgets being what they are, I never left Italy. Oh, we did go to Naples and ancient Ercolano. And we did get out of the city on two exciting outings, both hosted by Rebecca Bright, my other favorite City Wonders tour guide. (The first being my son, Michael). Rebecca took us on a tour of Imperial Rome’s equivalent of Mar-a-Lago, the Emperor Hadrian’s personal Camp David, now known as La Villa Adriana. Located near Tivoli, less than an hour’s drive from the Capitoline Hill and the Forum, Hadrian’s power center occupies nearly 350 acres of prime Italian real estate. According to Rebecca, the ruins were still so grand in scale that early archaeologists thought they were unearthing Rome itself.
With my book about WW2, LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! prodding me forward, I set out to visit some of the great battlefields of la seconda guerra mondiale, as the Italians call World War 2. The liberation of Rome, on June 5th, 1944, was quickly overshadowed by the massive Allied invasion at Normandy, which began on June 6th, 1944. The commander of the Italian invasion, General Mark Clark, was eclipsed in the history books by General Dwight Eisenhower, commander of Operation Overlord and future U.S. President. My own family ties to the liberation of Rome are rooted in the knowledge that friends of my parents lost their lives at places like Anzio, and classmates of mine from my hometown on eastern Long Island had family members who fought and died at Montecassino, 30 miles south of Rome. Indeed, as I looked at the roster of the honored dead at the Polish military cemetery at Montecassino, I saw many familiar family names enshrined there. As we looked at the gravestones, I remarked to my son. I see a lot of names here that I know, Michael. In fact, it’s like reading the pages of the Riverhead telephone book. Polish names ending in -ski and -wicz and -ska. I grew up with kids with the same names as these soldiers! A number of my childhood friends and classmates belong to families who came to the United States after the war as refugees. My new classmates didn’t even speak English when they started going to school in Riverhead. They were D.P.’s, I told my son and his wife. Displaced Persons. That was the official Red Cross designation for refugees who had lost everything in the war, and came to the U.S. as refugees. The green hills of Italy are drenched in the blood of people who have fought and died here for thousands of years.
History! If you live in Rome, history is all around you, and beneath your feet. Modern Romans travel along streets designed and built in ancient times. The world’s first paved road, La via Appia, still runs, straight as a die from Rome to Naples. Parts of it are still in use. The grooves worn in the black basalt paving stones by wagons and chariots so long ago are still visible. The ancient aqueducts still slake the thirst of modern day Romans, and the offal of society is still carried away by the ancient sewer system. The expansion of Rome’s subway system, the Metro, has been stymied time and again by the discovery of ancient ruins and artifacts now in the path of Linea “C”, the “C” line. With each discovery, archaeologists are called in to consult with the engineers, and the new path of the Metro will hinge on their assessment.
I stayed in a small apartment in the EUR district, a ten-minute walk from the Laurentina Metro station. EUR stands for Esposizione Universale Roma, an area of Rome developed by Mussolini back in the 1930s as the site for the 1942 World’s Fair. But, the 1939 New York World’s Fair was the last such event before WW2 interrupted such international events. EUR is one of the more newer areas of the ancient city. I was closer to Fiumicino International Airport than the Coliseum, about a 45-minute Metro ride to Roma Centro. So, I was more like an ex-pat, another foreigner living in Rome, rather than a typical tourist. Daily life in Rome reminded a lot of my days living in New York City or San Francisco. Within a short walk of my sixth floor flat on Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico was the Elite Supermercato, where I did my grocery shopping. A little farther down Viale Cesare Pavese was another shopping center which housed the UniCredit Bancomat, where I used my debit card to tap into my own bank account to obtain the Euros I needed to live on. Along the way to the Metro, I could shop at the convenience store run by a Chinese family, snack at a falafel stand, visit a Pharmacia for all of my medicines, or mail a letter or visit the bancomat at Poste Italiane. It was also in this neighborhood where I would meet my new friend, Monica for our twice weekly language exchange.
Michael, who teaches business English at a Rome school which serves multinational companies, had arranged for a language class for me. The other student is an Italian lady who is learning English, while I am the typical American trying to learn Italian. Language exchanges are very popular in Rome, and they are usually held at no cost to either party. It’s like a college study group, but with just two people. I had been taking an Italian class through Austin Community College near my home in Texas. But those classes numbered more than a dozen students. Meeting Monica for lunch was a lot more personal. After our first meeting, with Michael present to help us better communicate, we were on our own. Every Tuesday and Thursday we would meet at the little bar near my son’s school, have lunch and then, over caffé, dive into our language studies. I brought some of my lessons from Texas, along with my IPad with my Kindle app, with the Italian text book and English/Italian dictionary. I gave Monica my other Kindle reader with the same resources. And for back-up we both had an IPhone with the Google Translator app. As time drew near for my return to the U.S., we agreed to continue our language classes via Skype and Facetime. Sometimes we would skip lunch to hold our midday language exchange at the gelatería across the street.
Another highlight of my stay was hanging with my son and his buddies from their band, No Funny Stuff! I had barely unpacked from my transatlantic flight when we headed off to a club called Biff! They played several other gigs during my time in Rome. Michael even brought the band along on a family outing in Sabina, at Laura’s parents place in Selci. Giuseppe Cassa, the guitarist-mandoline-watering can and musical saw virtuoso and Giuseppe Petti, the washboard percussionist-drummer are the mainstays along with Michael, the lead vocalist-kazoo playing-ukulele virtuoso. During my recent stay their bass player was Fabio, although Leonardo sat in with them in Selci. A down-home jug band in Italy! They’re the toast of Roma! Check ‘em out on Facebook and You Tube. No Funny Stuff!
Now, I’m trying to reacclimate myself to the domestic life, coming up for air after four days of catching up on sleep, grocery shopping, getting my truck washed and all the other little chores that come up after a month away. Lola remembered me. Next time, I may take her to Italy with me, but she enjoyed her time with the grandkids, so that’s undecided. I seem to be bi-polar in my old-age. Half of my life is in Texas with my daughter and grandkids, and the other half is in Roma, with my son and his bride and her family and a lot of my friends. So, there will be a next trip to Italy. I don’t even have to toss another coin into Trevi Fountain.
[Mike Botula is the author of the wannabe best-seller LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com , and is linked to Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus!]
La Città di Echi – The City of Echoes
Rome Diary III
Sunday April 23, 2017
Sunny 64°F/18°C in Roma EUR, Italia
Cloudy 65°F/18°C in Cedar Park, Texas
Buongiorno amici miei!
"Roma è la città di echi, la città delle illusioni e la città di desiderio". “Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of desire.”
Giotto di Bondone, the great Renaissance painter and architect said that about Rome back in 1337. Giotto was from Firenze, or Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance. And, in 1297, was seeing Roma for the very first time. 700 years after Giotto observed thusly, I find myself in complete agreement. The city celebrates its birthday every April 21st. So, this marks Rome’s 2,770th anniversary. According to the legend, Rome was founded by the brothers Romulus and Remus in 753 BC following their rescue from the wilderness by a she-wolf who nursed the tykes and kept them safe. The date was set arbitrarily in 1 BC by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro. Considering the amount of time passed and the volume of Tiber River water that has flowed under its bridges, Rome is carrying its years very well.
Contrary to what you may have heard about Italian drivers, Romans DO occasionally stop when the traffic light turns red. As Laura drove along via Cristoforo Colombo toward Roma Centro, the historic center of Rome one evening, the traffic light changed from verde to giallo and finally all the way to rosso. Thus, was presented a business opportunity for the local street people, which might help to explain why Rome drivers don’t like to stop for traffic lights or stop signs. To the right of our car, Squeegee Man approached us gesturing to our crystal-clear windshield. He was followed by Tissue Guy with his bundles of Kleenex. Meanwhile on our left side l’uomo di fiori (Flower Guy) approached the car. Instead of waving him off, like Michael and I had done with Squeegee Man and Tissue Guy, Laura engaged in a rather animated conversation with Flower Guy in sign language. The moment took me back to my student days in New York’s Greenwich Village when the occasional vendors would come into the tavern and pass out trinkets and pens and notes explaining that they were deaf-mutes trying to earn a living. As the light turned green, Laura signed Ciao! and gave him a coin before driving on. He’s one of our neighbors, Laura explained, I’ve been talking to him since I was a little girl. Suddenly, I began to see my new neighbors in a new light.
The next day, as I walked toward the intersection of Viale dell’Oceano Atlantico and Via Laurentina, on my way to meet Monica for our twice-weekly language exchange, I spotted the old man with his tin cup approaching the stopped cars in the intersection hoping that the passersby would drop a coin in his cup. The elderly fellow was neatly dressed and he displayed a big smile as he approached the cars. On previous occasions, I had been a passenger in Mike or Laura’s car, so it was easier to send the beggar on his way. But now, I was a pedestrian and an easy mark for the panhandler. Recalling the conversation between Laura and the flower vendor the previous evening, I thought, Okay, this guy is my neighbor. I can’t be rude. He’s got me! With that, I reached into my pocket, fished out a coin, and dropped a Euro into his cup. You would have thought he had just won the lottery. Grazie, mille! Signore! Grazie mille! This was followed up by a steady stream of Italian that I could not understand. But, my take-away was that I had just made the old guy’s day. I wished him a good day and went on my way to meet Monica for lunch.
Two hours later as I returned to my apartment, the old fellow was still there with his little tin cup walking through the stopped cars at the intersection. Instinctively, I reached into my pocket as I approached him. Ciao! Come va! I greeted him. Hi, how’s it going. Seeing me reach into my pocket, he waved me off, indicating that my previous contribution was sufficient. That’s when I realized that he considered me one of HIS neighbors, and was not going to wear out his welcome. And so, it went, until the day I left Rome to return to the States. I would pass through that intersection on my way to the Metro, or to meet Monica for our language exchange, or to meet Michael at the Falafel place for lunch. It was part of my neighborhood routine to drop a coin in the little tin cup on my way out, and receive a greeting and a Grazie on my way home.
On the Saturday before I left to return to Texas, I passed him on my way to the Laurentina Metro station on my way to Piazza Barberini to meet my friend Alba for lunch. Following our usual ritual, I greeted him and dropped some coins in his cup to a flurry of Ciao’s and Grazie mille’s, and walked along to catch the Metro for the subway trip downtown. A few hours later, I took the Metro back to the Laurentina station, which is at one end of the Metro “B” line. As I walked up the long hill along Via Laurentina, I saw a familiar fellow approaching. It was the elderly panhandler. He was on his way home after a successful day on his chosen corner. So many Romans travel the Metro to work. Panhandlers, it seems are no exception.
©Mike Botula 2017
[Mike Botula is the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target! (Amazon Books) MikeBo’s Blog is a wholly owned subsidiary of his web site www.mikebotula.com , and is linked to Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus!]
June 5, 1944: The Forgotten Day!
Rome Diary III
Monday June 5, 2017
Partly Cloudy 85°F/30°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Buongiorno amici miei!
“The first of the Axis capitals is now in our hands. One up and two to go!” Franklin D. Roosevelt
The whole world remembers what took place on 6 June 1944! What took place the day before was eclipsed by the Allies’ invasion at Normandy. If 6 June 1944 is The Longest Day, as author Cornelius Ryan called it, the day before – il giorno prima- has become Il giorno dimenticato - The Forgotten Day! While everyone remembers General Dwight Eisenhower as the commanding general of Allied forces at Normandy, the American commander of the forces that liberated Rome has been overshadowed as well. In leading the U.S. Fifth Army in the liberation of Rome, General Mark Clark had disobeyed his orders to cut off retreating German forces and instead marched into Rome. Ask what happened on 5 June 1944 and who was in charge and you will draw a blank. But, if you ask any Roman, or any Italian, for that matter, 5 June 1944 was the day that freedom returned to the Eternal City.
In persuading FDR to launch an offensive from North Africa, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred repeatedly called Italy The Soft Underbelly of Europe. But, as U.S. Fifth Army Commander Mark Clark would write in his memoirs that “soft underbelly” turned into a tough, old gut! The Allies launched their first Italian invasion, Sicily in July 1943. When they landed on the Italian mainland at Salerno in September, the Italian Army surrendered, but the hard-fought battles between Allied and German forces continued. Both the Allies and German forces suffered heavy casualties along the roads to Rome, and it took the Allies four major offensives between January and May 1944 before Rome was in their sights.
After the fall of Mussolini, Italy came under the complete control of Nazi forces and any Italian resistance to German control was ruthlessly dealt with by the forces of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. Numerous atrocities were committed by Nazi troops against Italian civilians, and it was feared by many that the Germans would destroy the historic city rather than surrender it intact. Field Marshal Kesselring had earned his reputation as being a ruthless soldier, but he had displayed a sense of history, and he seemed to understand the historical importance of Rome. By the time that American forces under General Clark had reached the outskirts of Rome on June 4th, 1944, Kesselring had declared it an Open City. Beginning on the fourth of June 1944, Allied troops were pouring into Rome for a victory celebration before continuing northward for the bloody battles that would lead to the liberation of all of Europe.
While June 5th, 1944 is forever etched into the memories of every Italian, General March Clark’s moment of glory was soon overwhelmed by the events of the following day when General Dwight Eisenhower gave the order and initiated the largest seaborne invasion of human history at Normandy.
© 2017 Mike Botula
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