Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Et tu, Brussels?

October 23, 2018

Of course everybody who goes to Rome brings home mucho pictures. People travel there from all over the world to tour the originating sites of the ancient Empire; then they take a little chunk of early European history home, in the form of photographs.

When we were there, yes, we certainly did do the obligatory tourist ritual of snapping photos of the so-called Imperial City. You’ve probably seen classic images of the Roman ruins, which commemorate the Empire period of two thousand years ago.

But I was most fascinated with a relatively new structure there, Il Vittoriano.

Designed in 1885, inaugurated in 1911, and completed in 1925, this incredible monument makes an absolutely grandiose visual impression when you first catch sight of it.


You can see from this grand edifice that the Italians have never forsaken their proudly imperial self-image.

This morning, however, a Roman venue of a grittier sort—the Circus Maximus— was brought to my attention. In his Seeking Alpha post,

Mark J. Grant used that  ancient racetrack as a metaphor for the  fiscal contest that is now heating up over in Europe.

Here’s what Mark wrote about the presently escalating Continental showdown:

“The new “Circus Maximus” will include all of the European Union and their population of 512 million people. Sit back and enjoy the grand spectacle as Italy has now presented its budget and the European Commission has sent it back. Rome then reacted to Brussels and stood steadfast on the banks of the Tiber and now the overmasters in Brussels and Berlin will hand down judgment, and likely some form of bureaucratic justice, that was not fashioned in Italy, but which Italy is expected to obey.”

The original Circus Maximus, however is just a dirt racetrack.

If you’re a boomer geezer like me, you may remember, from a classic race scene in the 1959 MGM movie, Ben Hur, Charlton Heston heroically outmaneuvering a less-than-honorable competing charioteer, to win the great chariot race.


That scene may or may not have taken place in the Circus Maximus of olden times.

The real Circus Maximus, where those famous chariot races usually took place, wasn’t conducted in the Colosseum. The actual site was really a huge dirt track, located near the Tiber River, beneath Palatine Hill, where Roman emperors and their hobnobbing hoodoo entourages could view the spectacle from an elevated, privileged position. Here’s what the real Circus Maximus looks like now:


Seeking Alpha blogger Mark J. Grant speculates figuratively on how the present European budgetary shootout at the Circus corral may turn out:

“The European Commission will likely wield the big stick. This is initiating its so-called ‘Excessive Deficit Procedure.’ This process has never been used before and will likely be tortuous for both Italy and the European Union. Fines have never been applied to any country, with previous breaches by France and Germany overlooked, and yet, there is always a first time.”

If Mark J Grant’s racetrack metaphor is indeed indicative of the present European Contest, we’ll see in the days ahead whether Italy’s impudent leaders can prevail in their fiscal rebellion, or whether they will go down with classic mutterings of “. . . et tu, Brussels?”


A Clarinet Finish in Rome

February 6, 2015

After a week in Rome, this Friday afternoon was the beginning of the end for our sojourn here.

I was sitting at a table in a narrow cobblestone lane, Via Uffici del Vicario, enjoying an afternoon vino rosso. Pat was inside the Giolitto purchasing a few treats for later. My resting point was just a stone’s throw past Piazza di Montecitorio, where the Italian Parliament had selected Sergio Mattarella as their new Presidente a few days ago.


People from all over the world were ambling by me as I sat sipping. They were garbed in dark, protective warmth because the day was damp and cool. After a while, my eyes focused on a wall plaque that was mounted on a building across the lane.  It looked like this:


I was squinting to read the plaque, which was a dedication to Altioro Spinelli, a leader in Italian politics after the Big War in the 1940s. To understand any of this text was a challenge for me, although an interesting one, on this last afternoon in Rome. My only clue about the dedication on the plaque was a dim memory of Catholic high school Latin back in the day (1960s).

As I was studying this scene, and nurturing a smidgen of a the retrospective melancholia that would accompany our imminent departure from Italy, I heard the faint strains of a clarinet. At first I thought it was my imagination.

But a careful listening confirmed that it was true. Someone was playing a clarinet in the vicinity. As I tuned my ears to the vaguely familiar cadenza. . .it was. . . Rhapsody in Blue.

One of my favorites. How appropriate for this moment, I felt. The American traveler far from home in the Old World.

I savored the moment for a while, as the musician was projecting his tuneful magic upon the nearby world. What a moment.

It would be a long travel back home to the USA, and I was so thankful that Pat had been able to work this jaunt into our 35-year journey together.

Soon, Pat emerged from the Gialotteria. She took charge of the backpack while I walked around the corner to find the clarinetist who was crooning out Gershwin and  few other snippets of woodwind ambrosia. I followed the sound; it didn’t take long to locate the source. I turned a corner and there he was:


Grazia for the Gershwin, I mumbled and smiled;  he was a few Euros richer as walked away.

Then we headed for our rented apartment; this was as far as our trip would take us away from home– the end point of our Athens/Rome adventure. From this moment on it was just return trip, all the way back to the good ole USA.

Twenty or so minutes later, the sun was peeping out as we came upon Piazza Venezia for the last time.


Then we bid a final farewell to Vittorio Emanuele and all the Italians and other adventurers (even the immigrants hawking selfie-rods) from around the world who had come here. We trudged on to the apartment for our final evening in Italy. Time to pack, have a last dinner, and get ready from an early departure.


I certainly hope that ISIS is not able to disrupt all this.


How We Get Lost (Italian style)

February 1, 2015

Last night, our first night in Rome, we got lost for a couple of hours.

I have to say that, for me–the husband half of our team–it was kind of exciting. And maybe I even enjoyed the thrill of it for a little while. As for the thrill that the other half of our team, the wife, experienced: . . .not so much.

Wandering in unfamiliar, dark neighborhoods in the rain, at night . . . getting further and further away from our accomodation, no speaka de language, off the map . . .

It wasn’t so bard, really. Like I said, kind of exciting.

Not for everybody.

As we woke up this morning, warm and rested in the perfect rented apartment, I found myself wondering: how can such a thing happen?

Just how is it that we get lost? What happens that causes us to lose our way?

After pondering last night’s unanticipated events, I figured it out. The whole debacle happened because of this:


No, wait.

That wasn’t the first thing that happened to make us get lost. This unexpected event was indeed the main reason we got off course. But the reason we found ourselves in such a wet, confusing environment, obstructed by a long parade of protesters was because we had made an earlier serendipitous choice we had made just before dark.

Up to that little choice, everything had gone without a hitch.

We had made, for instance, an incredibly smooth transition at the airport. Pat had wisely made, in advance (actually months ago) arrangements for us to pick up pre-purchased bus tickets that would get us into the city. Picking up the tickets was easy because the setup that RyanAir had at Ciampino Airport was easy and quick.

Almost immediately after walking off the plane, we entered the concourse and, after one or two turns, suddenly we were at baggage claim! Sweet.

Then, to add amazement to incredularity, we went through a door and we were in line for the bus tickets, didn’t even have to hunt around for it. After the pre-purchased tickets were in hand, we’re going through a nearby door and out into the freshly temperate Italian air on a partly sunny afternoon and there’s a bus and after a little wait with all the other good travelers we were on the bus and it was moving and then we were tooling along looking out the window like the goose-necking American tourists that we are and I’m discovering that the road we are on going into Rome is the ancient Appian Way. Hot dang! We’re on our way to the eternal city, without a hitch.

After the bus trip we did have a little wrong turn, easily corrected. It happened in this area of classic tourist stupifecation:


But no big deal. We were enjoying the afternoon, moving along steadily through this grandiose city which is all about power and empire and magnificent splendor. Not like Athens, from whence we had just flown. Athens is like a small town compared to this place. All legends about Romulus and Remus aside, I perceive this City was born by Ceasarian section, and that’s why it has turned out this way.

Everything was hunky-dory. We got to our apartment–the one for which Pat had made arrangements months ago–and got set up there.

Our host, Cristiano, was very friendly, speaka de English, and very thorough in his 45-minute explanation and orientation for our very clean, modern apartment.

After Cristiano’s excellent spiel, Pat and I were very comfortable with his Rome-born leadership and helpful demeanor.

He suggested we might want to allow him to drop us off at an excellent vantage point to begin our first evening in Rome. This we accepted. Since his home was near the viewpoint, a area called Gianicolo, it was on his way.

This was an excellent choice; the day was darkening and the lights of Rome were beginning to sparkle far below us. It was lovely. Cristiano dropped us there and we were on our own. Awesome!

After taking in the big picture, we walked down the hill to Trastevere, the district which Cristiano had called the “Old Rome”.

It was lovely, perfect. Our evening meal was taken at a trattoria  called Dar Poeta; it was the best pizza I’ve ever tasted. I do not believe the claim of some Americans that pizza was invented in America. These Italians can do pizza better than any yankee could ever dream of.

After dinner we wandered through the narrow curvy adobe streets down to the Tiber River. We crossed the river on Ponte Cisto, then proceeded to walk, umbrellas in hand, along the east side of the river toward the Colosseum and our flat, which was only a few blocks from that ancient stadium.


While we were strolling throughout the light rain, feeling very good about life, thoroughly entertained and well-fed, we came across a large group of people:


I had planned to take a left turn toward our destination at a certain point, but the long group of demonstrators (I still don’t know what they were marching for) seemed to prevent it. So I made a snap decision to alter our course a little bit. . .

Don’t ask.

About 45 minutes later, that’s the repeated thought I was having as Pat was making “comments” about where we were.

Life’s an adventure, right?

Glass half-Full