November 2nd

Yesterday was All Saints Day here in Italy. Everything except cafes and restaurants was closed. Well, everything except the Indian barbers in the more or less Chinese area around Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II near the main train and bus station. I liked my 7 Euro haircut but Sueann isnít very pleased with her 8 Euro cut. I think barbers in other parts of town charge about 10 to 15 Euros for a manís haircut so these fellows were definitely a bargain Ö if you like their work. These were the first cuts weíve had since leaving California on the 24th of August. We really needed haircuts.

Weíve been in Rome since September 8th. We have spent most of that time exploring the city on foot. We have been in only a few museums and no Palaces or galleries. We thought we had been all over, at least all over the touristy part of town. So the other day when we passed by the Porta Maggiore we were surprised. This ancient gate to Rome was built in the first century AD and includes an enclosed stretch of aqueduct running across its top level. The gate is one of the largest and most impressive we have seen. It was constructed of large roughly hewn blocks of white Travertine rather than being made of brick and surfaced with white slabs as many ports and buildings were. Because of its size and its solid white stone construction the Porta Maggiore is very impressive - even from under an umbrella. The Porta is still attached on both sides to the Aurelian wall that was constructed in the third century AD to surround Rome. Well preserved remains of the wall are seen all around Rome.

Today we were again surprised when we came upon Palazzo del Quirinale. We have seen the Palazzo on maps and in our tour books but we had never passed by it before. The Palazzo was built in the 16th century as the residence for the Pope due to a high incidence of malaria at the Vatican. It is situated on the highest of Romeís seven hills and has been since 1947 the residence of the president of Italy. The photos left and right show the Quirinal fountain in the Piazza del Quirinale which fronts the Palazzo. The statues on the fountain are early Roman copies of fifth century BC Greek originals.

These "surprises" confirm our suspicions that we could stay in Rome for a long time without seeing all that would excite and eyes and our minds.

Things are changing a bit for us as we begin the third of our three months in Rome. Today we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. The food was quite good but we would never have missed a chance to enjoy an Italian restaurant before. A recent visit from our friend Colette helped me to appreciate the charms of the typical Roman street. Of course I enjoyed walking around the streets of Rome but now my eyes are opened just a bit wider to the sculptures that adorn many buildings and the orange and yellow colors in which buildings are painted.

Since we arrived here, Sueann and I have been very happy. Rome is a charming city and if you have a chance to spend a few weeks or more here I am sure you would enjoy those days. In September and October when the weather is warm and sunny Rome is superb as it is, I imagine, in May and June. There will be huge crowds of tourists during these times but it is easy to avoid the worst of the tourists crowds simply by avoiding the most popular tourist sites including the Vatican, Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Fountains of Trevi, the Colosseum and the Castelo Sant'Angelo. Believe me, there is much much more to Rome than these places.

Roma Film Fest    The second annual Roma Film Fest took place from the 18th of October through the 28th of October. I thought you might like to hear about the Festival but in the end most of the information including descriptions of the films, festival events and reviews were only in Italian so we really donít know much about the festival. The films, however, were all either sub-titled in English or were English language films so Sueann and I managed to see nine films. The best of the bunch were

Of course you need to hear the names of familiar stars appearing. The photo on the right shows anxious people waiting for Cloris Leachman, Jane Fonda and Shirley Knight to walk down the red carpet and be interviewed. Some of the other celebrities present at the festival included film stars Gerard Depardieu, Robert Redford, Tom Cruise and directors Bernardo Bertolucci and Francis Ford Coppola.

The Italians    Now letís talk about the Italians. Itís a two-sided coin. If you ask the man on the street a question or ask for directions he is likely to go to the end of the earth to help you. Sometimes when we ask for directions people have just said "follow us" and have led us to our destination. Same thing in shops. If you ask for help the clerks are generally very helpful and friendly. However, if you are just another person on the street, or on a bus the Romans can be quite rude.

The other day on a very crowded bus I was part of a conversation between several English speaking tourists and an Italian university professor. As the professor was getting ready to get off the bus I told him how wonderful I thought Rome was. His response was: "Rome is wonderful itís just the Italians. Here itís all personal. If you donít have a personal relationship with someone, you are nothing." Thatís the way it seems to me.

I have noted an exception to all this. Very often on buses or on the metro, a Roman will give up his or her seat to an elderly person or a woman with a baby. Usually it is young people, teenagers, who do this but even middle age people will give up their seats occasionally. Sometimes on crowded buses Sueann and I have taken advantage of this kindness. Recently on a crowded bus I had a seat and saw an elderly man who seemed to have trouble balancing himself. I gave him my seat and moved to the rear of the bus. When I looked toward the front of the bus I was amazed to see a young woman sitting in "my" seat and the elderly man standing. From now on I will have to do better diligence on anyone to whom I give my seat.

Here are a couple of random notes about Romans.

  1. Romans are great drivers. They are courteous and allow other vehicles to change lanes etc. when necessary. They avoid hitting pedestrians who are crossing the street in the midst of large flows of traffic. They do not honk their horns. It is rare to hear a horn here.
  2. When the weather is decent, many many Romans ride scooters Ė small scooters, big scooters and luxurious scooters. Aside from safety issues, scooters seem like a very practical mode of transport in a town where the weather is good a large part of the year, gasoline is very expensive ($6 or $7 per gallon) and parking is extremely tight.
  3. They smoke like crazy. It seems to me that Romans smoke more than any other people I have ever seen which includes the Chinese.
  4. Romans like to talk a great deal. Many people go on for 10 or 15 minutes without thinking about a pause. Often the talk is loud and women seem most guilty of this habit. They can be very loud and sometimes quite aggressive with their voices.
  5. Cell phones are very big here, as I suppose they are in most large cities. On buses it seems like every third person is carrying on a cell phone conversation and many are not talking softly so one side of the cell phone conversation becomes a public testament.
  6. Romans are very sloppy when it comes to trash. Trash containers sometimes look more like targets for trash than receptacles. And the streets and sidewalks are littered with trash. Cigarette butts are everywhere.

Let me know if you are reading this "blog". Maybe Iím writing into the void. Even if I am, I will probably keep writing the blog but might focus on void issues a bit more.

Yours truly,

Jeff


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