7 October 2016. I have received many comments on Facebook, here, and via email about our impending departure from Italy. Some people are shocked as we are “living the dream.” Why give it up? My next few posts will address the good and not-so-good about both the U.S. and Italy, as places to live. Living somewhere and traveling there are entirely different things. First, what I will miss about Italy, i.e., the good stuff!
1. €1.00 shots of espresso and high-quality €1.20 cappuccino served in seconds at almost any bar.
Notice the cappuccino is not a Big Gulp, but a sensible size. Not so many calories so you can have cake, too.
Why does it take an American barista so long to make a coffee? An Italian has it in front of you in seconds! And it is good! No funny flavors, no 20-ounce mugs, and no paper cups! Even in the tiniest mountain hamlet, in a museum, or in a castle on a hill, you can get espresso. In a real cup. I love my coffee in a ceramic cup and a small cappuccino is just the right amount.
2. Bars on every street where you can get the aforementioned beverages and good sandwiches for under €3.00.
Fast food is a sandwich you pick up in a bar for €2.70-3.00. Many varieties on a fresh panino with the best ingredients from prosciutto and formaggio to a vegetarian’s dream combo including my favorite, cicoria, They warm it and hand it to you. Maybe you sit down if it is your neighborhood place and not a tourist zone. It’s simple, fresh, delicious, and mostly healthy.
The train we take most often, Italy’s Frecciarossa (Red Arrow).
OMG we love to travel by train. Go to Torino for a day? Sure! Venezia overnight? Why not? We have flown on only three trips in 4.5 years. Love love love the trains and the early-purchase discounts!
See Ric. Ric is happy. Ric in on a train in a sleeper compartment, How civilized!
4. The ability to go almost anywhere in Europe with little planning
Instead of mounting an expedition from the U.S., we can explore Europe so easily from Base Camp Barton in Roma. Thank you, cat sitters, for making this possible!
Luscious, tender grilled octopus.
I always hated anchovies until I had them fresh, marinated. A plateful is a perfect antipasto. Mixed into fresh pasta they are heaven; with mozzarella, a delight! I love pizza Napoletana for its simplicity. Then there is calamaro. Not deep fried little Os, but lovely, fresh, grilled squid. Or polpo (octopus), gently grilled or sliced paper-thin as carpaccio. How about a hearty bowl of mussels in wine sauce? Good reasons to come back to Italy.
6. Wood-fired pizza
One of our four favorite pizzerias, La Pratolina. Smoked salmon and arugula with perfect mozzarella and no “sauce.” Divine crust, wood-fired oven.
Yes, there are wood-fired ovens in the U.S. We will seek them out. But simple Italian pizza will be hard to replace. Especially at Italian prices. Will I seem a pig when I order my own pizza in the U.S? Here it is the norm. To not order your own pizza is boorish.
7. Fresh mozzarella available in almost every little store daily
No pre-shredded Kraft plastic, please! Fresh mozzarella, whether mozzarella di bufala or fior di latte, there is no room in our lives for anything less than fresh. Praying that Pastaworks in Portland has it!
8. Wine that does not blow the budget
We spend 75% less on wine here than we did in the U.S., and that is not because we are drinking less of it or drinking bad stuff.
9. Being greeted warmly – even with un bacio – at places we frequent. Loyal patronage is recognized and rewarded.
My buddy il Commandante (The Captain), aka Marco, and me.
Yesterday I called one of our two favorite restaurants, La Fraschetta del Pesce to make a reservation. Il Commandante (The Captain) recognized me immediately, was delighted to hear we were coming back on Saturday, and I know we will be personally welcomed as friends. From the second time we dined there, we were “regulars.” This happens at so many places: the delivery guys from DOC, the bar at Piazza Buenos Aires, the salumeria in Campo dei Fiori. You feel like you — and your business — are appreciated.
10. Our portiere. What a wonderful tradition this is! Someone to take care of the building, help the tenants, keep things safe.
There are no doubt fancy buildings in big North American cities with doormen and building supers, but we are privileged to have a portiere in even middle-class buildings in Roma. What does he — or she — do? Takes in the mail; holds packages; lets tradespeople in; ensures security by not letting solicitors in; cleans; welcomes; takes care of (our) cats for short absences; gathers intelligence. The portiere is the go-to person for neighborhood news. The portieri in both of the buildings we’ve lived in have been true blessings. They have helped me with Italian and befriended us. We shall miss them.
11. Produce that tastes like what it is and that will spoil in a few days because it isn’t treated with chemicals.
The bounty in the market in autumn.
Carrots taste like carrots, but they only last a few days, turning limp soon after purchase. Peppers are sweet and crisp and add immense flavor to anything you cook. Apples are a miracle of flavor. How can the fruit be so darn good? I bought a red pepper in San Francisco last summer. It was organic. It tasted like cardboard.
12. August in Roma
We will not miss the heat, and August is somewhat a month to be endured, but it really is fun to wander around the neighborhoods when so many people are absent. Pedestrian crossings are passable as they are not needed for parking. “Rush hour” on our main shopping street is Christmas-morning quiet. Buses are empty and we get to sit down. It is a culturally significant event, this exodus.
13. The passaggiata and the business in the street, the sociality of it all, even if you don’t talk to anyone.
Getting out for a walk every day is part of the Italian lifestyle. So smart to stroll through the neighborhood, see what is new, pick up some ingredients for dinner. Maybe have a coffee, a gelato, or un’apperitivo. See and be seen, enjoy the weather, then go home to make dinner. Eating before 20:00 is declasse.
14. So many kind people and interesting acquaintances: Our doctors, our landlords, the Embassy people.
Especially my friend Eleonora. Ele patiently tutored me in Italian until I am finally at the point where I can have a reasonable conversation. Now we are “just” friends and that is the best! We play Scarabeo (Scrabble) together and laugh a lot. She tries to explain Italy to me. I will miss her dearly!
15. Speaking Italian
Tiring as it is, I do like to speak Italian and I shall miss that daily possibility. My comprehension has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 18 months outside of the Embassy.
16. Telling people “We live in Rome!”
Piazza San Pietro at Easter. We’ve had a marvelous time in Roma!
When fellow travelers hear our English they inevitably strike up a conversation with “Where are you folks from?” We are proud to be Americans and Oregonians, but what a joy it has been to say “We live in Rome!”