Rome Travel Guide

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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Waiting Out the Coronavirus in Portuense

Waiting out the Coronavirus in Portuense
by John Preissing  (3/27/2020)

Peggy and I moved to the Portuense area of Rome in August 2019 upon our return to the city after an eight year sojourn to Latin America.  I work with United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is based in Rome. We have three adult children, two in Chicago and one currently with her finance in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific. Since Peggy had spent all those eight years in a daily commute of an hour each way, we decided we should be closer to her school, AmBrit, where she is a Fifth Grade Teacher. So, now we are just a block away on Via Pigna and Leonardo Greppi.
Portuense is a middle-class neighborhood, just south of Trastevere, with many 60s era apartment buildings.  We chose the building for two reasons -- it’s close to school and it has a nice terrace – attributes which we appreciate.  It is not very touristy at all, but has nice local restaurants, is close to the Marconi shopping district, and includes the Spallanzani Hospital, which has been the center of Rome’s response to the Coronavirus.  Daily there are helicopters in and out with critical patients. 

Life in the time of Coronavirus (with apologies to Garcia Marquez) has been stressful and at times heart-warming.  As a regular classroom teacher, Peggy’s workload has surely doubled.  As the school, parents, students, and teachers cope with online education it has been a period of growth and sacrifice.

For the large contingent of FAO people in Rome, this has also been a big change.  Of the 3,500 people in the FAO Headquarters on a daily basis, there are now under 60 people.  We are getting daily
FAO serenade, a show of solidarity
reminders from those still at HQ with a nightly trumpet serenade, the FAO building illuminated with the Italian colors and flag, in a show of solidarity.  Lik
e Peggy’s students, we have learned how to work in an online situation.  If only we didn’t have to suffer through seven Zoom meetings in a day.  I say this as someone who didn’t know what Zoom was a week ago.

Movement around the city is quite restricted.  One is supposed to go only to the grocery store, pharmacy, and the vaguely described other stores of necessity.  People should walk around with self-certification papers on their intended destination.  Failure to heed these rules now results in fines of

up to 3,000 euros. Pretty draconian for this very open city and country.  We encountered one desperate restaurant owner who said he would be providing dinners for delivery on the sly because he could not close or he would go bankrupt. Another friend, a jogger, was stopped and sent home.
Peggy and I take turns walking to our local Ma grocery store about ten blocks by foot with our grocery cart or to Tipo’s, our Bangladeshi fruit and vegetable stand a block away.  We are waiting in lines, with the required one meter of separation, to enter stores.  Actually, the stores are doing a brisk but orderly business.

Dancing nona

For the first week of lockdown, we were treated every night by an 80 year-old nona, who danced in her balcony across the street, accompanied by an accordion player.  All of us joined together by distance to enjoy her three or four nightly dances.  However, for now, the dancing has stopped as the restrictions have increased and the daily news has become more grim. Like most, we are watching the 6:00 pm news with Civil Protection where they share the daily figures on deaths, new patients, and patients cured.

Peggy's space

At home, Peggy and I have divided the house.  She has claimed the dining room, a large space where she can spread out to plan and lead all her teachings.  I’m in the bedroom.  We had to separate in order to get work done and keep the noise level down.  

Neutral staff room and Spades tourney site

We’ve agreed that the kitchen is the neutral staff room and two-handed Spades tourney site. We have also said that if coronavirus doesn’t kill us, we might kill each other.

Peggy and I have played one game, which is to pick the first five restaurants we’d like to go to once the restrictions are lifted.  Our top choices are locally, Sapori di Casa, a great pasta restaurant and MeAT, a fusion cuisine place, both  in Portuense; plus Due Sardi, a lovely seafood restaurant with good Sardinian  wines, and Ur Panonta, one of the best open garden pizzerias in Garbatella;  with perhaps Le Mani di Pasta in the Santa Cecilia area of Trastevere as our other pick.  I wonder what others would pick? 

A final point and shout out to Bill and Dianne.  We met them in a very serendipitous way years ago.  Our first landlords in Rome are their famous friends from Rome who occasionally show up in postings.  We eventually got together and have enjoyed their time and posts ever since.  A special idea we have carried from them is moving people around the table half way through dinner, so all guests mingle.  The first time was in fact at Due Sardi.  Thanks for that!
We’re looking forward to better news here.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Life in Rome under the Coronavirus, by Larry Litman

Here at RST, we are reaching out to people living in Rome who are experiencing the impact of the coronavirus on the Eternal City and on their daily lives.  We saw this Facebook post by our friend Larry Litman less than 24 hours ago and thought our readers would appreciate it.  

Larry lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, before moving to Rome in 2007.  In the early 1970s he studied at Loyola University of Chicago's Rome Center, now the John Felice Rome Center on Monte Mario. "That was when I fell in love with the city of Rome," Larry writes, "and then had the dream of making Rome my home."

Larry is a teacher librarian at AmBrit International School and is active at St. Paul's Within the Walls (the Episcopal Church on via Nazionale).  He also volunteers at the Non-Catholic Cemetery. He has two adult children and two grandchildren living in New York City.


18 Days Since School Closed 13th Day of Lockdown 4th Sunday of Lent 22 March, 2020 The Second Day of Spring

An Update from Rome:

Things are not getting better yet. The death toll continues to rise, not just here in Italy, but around the world. According to the Italian Ministry of Health website (updated at 5:00 pm 22 March):

Currently Testing Positive: 42,681 Recovered: 6,072 Deaths: 4,825 Total number of infected: 53,578

These are staggering numbers. In our region of Lazio there are 661 people hospitalized, 591 in recovery and 70 receiving intensive therapy. It is much worse in the north. (Just in the province/county of Rome there are a total of 893 people with Covid-19.)

So, how does one live in this environment?

My Sunday was fairly normal, with some modifications. I got up and participated in the Eucharist at St. Paul’s within the Walls Episcopal Church through ZOOM. Afterwards, most of us regathered for Coffee Hour in another Zoom meeting. It was great to interact with the

Virtual coffee hour via Zoom after online church service.
people I would usually be having conversation with on a Sunday morning. Vincenzo made a pasta carbonara & salad for lunch, we took a nap, did some reading and now I am marinating pork chops that I will cook for dinner. (I also made a carrot and raisin salad.)

We’ll watch a Netflix film after dinner. That’s almost a normal Sunday, but we never left our apartment!
Larry's condominium courtyard

This past week I went out into our condominium garden area, a small park surrounded by the five buildings of the complex. It was the first time I walked on the ground level since the lockdown started. Vincenzo has been good about going shopping every few days for the things we need. A supermarket is a short drive away and we have a butcher, small bodega and bakery just across the piazza. Amazon has delivered things like baking soda and baking powder that I like to use for baking, but are not usually found in Italian markets. (I baked banana bread yesterday.)

On Monday I return to school, via eLearning. I will “stop in” to visit a couple classes during the live sessions with their teachers and I am working to provide assistance and resources to enrich the learning experiences of our students. It looks like we will be staying out of school into May, maybe even to the end of the year. We have been learning how to do this as we go, and each week our teaching and learning are getting better.

I am enjoying more face time than usual with my kids and grandkids, as well as being in touch with friends more than usual, from California to Cincinnati, NYC and Canada.

How do I feel? Probably like a cloistered nun! I miss the church bells across the piazza. They used to ring several times a day before the Masses, but there are no more public Masses. A priest friend in Germany sent me a recording of his church bell!

I continue to be grateful for a supportive partner and good health. I am thankful for family and friends around the world with whom I can stay in touch because of 21st Century technology.

Friday, March 20, 2020

"Rome the Second Time" in the time of coronavirus

In these extraordinary times, it seems frivolous to continue to post about what to see and what to do in Rome. "Resto a casa" - I'm staying home - is THE hashtag these days (we know there are more...for a later post, perhaps).

We at RST are pulling in our horns a bit too. We plan to post less frequently than the usual once/week. And we'll focus on Rome - and Italy - now. We're thinking of writing a few book reviews and reviewing films one can watch at home - that remind one of Rome and all of Italy. And we'll pass along information and posts we think are useful over a longer period, since we can't move as quickly as this virus.

We invite readers to send us information and posts that we can consolidate, pass along, commiserate with, wonder over.  No reaction seems inappropriate now, except that of minimizing what's happening.

For our first post in this new "time of coronavirus" (with a nod to Gabriel Garcia Márquez), we offer a few photos of the Trevi Fountain.  Two of them are from Fabio Milani, and there are more on Facebook, where we shared his post on Rome the Second Time's Facebook site (thanks, Fabio!).

Trevi Fountain, 2010

The last one below is from 12 years ago - from us - the Trevi Fountain at 4:30 a.m. - much like it would be today (except I wouldn't be in the photo).

Good health to everyone as we go through this together.


Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Decorated Rome

There's a hard side to Rome, and a soft side.  The hard side is crazy traffic, failed mass transit, and a politics built on division and conflict, dating back to the Fascists and Partisans of the World War, the bitter and violent Anni di Piombo of the 1970s, and today, differences over gender, race, and immigration.

The soft side is romantic and seductive: the Trevi Fountain, Trastevere in a light drizzle, comfortable restaurants and seductive cafes.

On the soft side, but less noticeable, is a Roman fondness for informal decoration.  We've noticed this aspect of Rome many times over the years.  Here are some soft-side images from 2019, 2018, and 2017.

Monteverde Vecchio: nursery guy does this with his truck:

In Aurelia, an older woman--perhaps homeless, more likely just eccentric, but clearly a fixture in the neighborhood--had decorated this seatless bicycle more or less as a shrub, with a basket of plants and flowers off the back tire:

    Fancy paint job:

    Another fancy paint job:

   A sidewalk stairway in Trastevere, in all its crocheted glory:

Red umbrellas as driveway decoration, Prati

A small commercial truck, with an historical theme:

The scooter windshield of a Roma fan who hates Juventus (sometimes there's a hard side to the soft side):

And last, cheating a bit because it's Sicily, not Rome--a melon vendor looking back to JFK (2016):