This entry is not a mistake as much as it may appear to be one. It is deliberately dated about a month after the last entry and the simple fact is that I did precious little of note during that time and yet achieved so much.
I spent most of my days hanging about in Mauro’s lovely little gastronomia, drinking beer, chatting to the sports journalists of the Gazetta della Sport which was just round the corner and whose employees used to frequent there a lot. I did get some very tasty information about breaking sporting news that way. Amazing what you can find out if you are in the right place and know the right people.
I shall just trawl through the images and post whatever I think may be of interest with a small explanatory note and the date.
From the image above, which was the only one I took on this day, it appears that I was still living on a diet consisting primarily of bar snacks provided in Guiliani’s but I do have to say that they were every but as good as they looked and just kept coming as long as you were drinking. The ingredients were brilliant, just look at the mozzarella in the further roll.
I went for a bit of a walk on the 16th and came upon the Yellow Hostel which was no more than ten minutes walk from my hostel and which looked infinitely better with a superb old-fashioned bar (expensive for a hostel but most everything was in that area) and which seemed to have some form of entertainment on just about every night. I really should have moved there. As is the way with hostels, the staff were nearly all backpackers themselves getting a bit of money together to pay for their next move and were very friendly.
With my wallet groaning in protest at the appalling prices in what is supposedly a hostel bar, I retired back round the corner to Mauro’s which I include a couple of images of here and I also note that he carried on with what he seemed to have made his life’s mission which was to fatten me up. I am not even sure what this plate of loveliness was but all I can tell you is that it was delicious and I say this by virtue of the fact that I did not eat a single thing in there that wasn’t. Again, he refused all offers of payment and I did not pay for a single item of food I either ate in there or took back to the hostel. I don’t know how the guy makes a profit. I suppose he must have seen me as a charity case or something.
Precious little must have happened on the 17th and 18th as I do not have a single image which is unusual for me and why, you may justifiably ask, have I chosen one of a manhole cover as the sole offering for the 19th? I was walking along a backstreet near where I was staying and trying to avoid the numerous vehicles parked on the pavement and keeping my eyes down so I didn’t break my ankle on the appalling pavement surfaces there when I spotted this.
As one of a certain age when we were taught about the Roman Empire at school and subsequently through the novels of such addictive writers as the excellent Simon Scarrow and others like Manda Scott I know that it was the initials of something that the Romans had emblazoned just about everywhere when they were what was then the mightiest Empire the world had ever seen. I have no doubt that what it stood for was drilled into my thick skull at the time although I must confess I had to look it up whilst writing this piece. It stands for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus or “The Roman Senate and People”. I am not sure if Italian politics still includes a Senate but I am sure that Caesar, Nero, Caligula et al, not to mention Romulus and Remus would be rotating in their graves at the thought of people walking daily over the acronym that once terrorized the Western world.
The images for the 20th show that I spent the day back in Mauro’s so no surprise there then.
They also show that I had taken to shopping at the local supermarket which sold not only the cheapest beer around (even cheaper than Mauro’s at about 90c. a can) but also some excellent cheese which I seem to have overdosed on a bit.
Guess what, the 21st was spent in Mauro’s so I will not bore you with yet another image of that excellent establishment so let’s move on to the 22nd.
Despite my apparently doing nothing of note, I did still keep my eyes open on my daily peregrinations around the local area and amongst the dross of hideous modern shop fronts etc. I did manage to find the rather pleasant door you can see here.
After that? Guess what. You’ve got it, back to Mauro’s.
At the end of the day he would load me up to the gunwales with all the food he had not sold during the day like beautiful sandwiches (often made on fairly psychedelic looking bread as you can see in one of the images), cold pasta salads and a myriad other things. He buys in fresh every morning and it would have been in the bin otherwise. The amounts of food he was giving me would have fed a regiment and that is almost what it did. Every evening I would eventually wander back to the hostel and distribute it amongst the supposedly impecunious backpackers of the place. Strange how they all seemed to have mobile ‘phones (which they were never off) that would have cost me a month’s pension to buy. The days of spending your last pennies on a local loaf and a tin of the cheapest meat paste available are apparently long gone.
On the 24th I decided to walk up around the main station and the Piazza della Repubblica which is very much the Trafalgar Square / Times Square or whatever in Rome. It was not far and made for a pleasant amble although the heat was really starting to mount by this point. I must say that I do rather like Terminii station which has a fascinating history.
The heat of the day was making me thirsty (doesn’t everything?) and so I decided on a beer overlooking the square. I knew it was going to be expensive and so it proved to be as the image of the bill attests.
Service was abysmal (table service only as usual) and I was constantly being hassled by beggars and African sellers of complete tat.
It was a most unpleasant experience at the Re Artu (King Arthur if I have got it right although what relevance that had to Rome I have no idea) and moved on sharpish. Despite the stifling heat I did quite enjoy walking around there as there is some superb architecture in the area.
I headed for the Twins Bar which I have mentioned before and which is right opposite the station. OK, it is not cheap but it is not quite as ludicrously expensive as some other places in the area and at least I knew it was friendly and the beer was well-kept. Apart from that, I also know that they did an excellent selection of the wonderful beer snacks I have mentioned above and even serve them up on a little wooden platter. Again, these were extremely tasty and free, gratis and for nothing!
Somewhat knocked out of my rather idle routine by my admittedly limited ramble the previous day I decided to repeat the process, again nothing too strenuous bit I fancied a look round the Piazza dei Cinquecento where I had seen an interesting looking park area.
I have since found out that the Piazza is named not for the diminutive Fiat car currently so popular amongst the urban chattering classes but for the 500 Italian soldiers who perished in battle in 1887 in the Battle of Dogali which was one of many attempts by the Italians to occupy Ethiopia, a country they seem to have somewhat of an obsession with. Mussolini had a go at prior to the Second World War and managed it briefly in 1936 before he got kicked out by the locals backed up by the British.
Again, I have learned so much whilst researching my little pieces here. The gardens were part of the area surrounding the historic site of the Baths of Di
Diocletian, named for the Emperor of that name who is chiefly remembered for his persecution of Christians, many of whom died as forced labour in the building of the baths. Today it is a delightful and peaceful space and remarkably quiet given it’s proximity to several of central Rome’s busier thoroughfares.
I know they are not in situ but there is a very impressive collection of tombstones gathered from various sites around ancient Rome. Interestingly, many of them give the dimensions of the graves which must have been some indication of status, I suppose. Here are a small selection.
Apart from the tombstones there is an equally impressive collection of sarcophagi which I have only recently discovered literally translates as “flesh-eating”, how very gruesome. ow ever gruesome the translation may be, I did find them very attractive.
The 26th June yields nothing more interesting from my meagre photographic attempts than what had become a fairly standard breakfast for me – coffee, water, beer and cigarettes. I know, hardly what the Chief Panicking (sorry, Medical) Officer would recommend but at least there is liquid other than beer being taken on board. In the same way as I had become “Frenchified” (if that is even a word), I was coming over all Italian now.
If the 26th had provided what was for me a pretty normal Roman breakfast the 27th turned up something completely different on the culinary radar and at the opposite end of the day. I can only assume I did nothing of interest as I have no images to support such a suggestion but in the evening I found myself hungry.
OK, I know what is going to follow is going to have the self-proclaimed epicureans weeping into their caviar froth decorated bluefin tuna but I fancied a Chinese, probably because I had seen what looked like a decent little place just round the corner from where I was staying and, best of all, anyone I had seen dining in there was obviously Asian. Good sign for me. I believe it is called “Risorgimento” but the main signage is all in Chinese, another good sign. Do not be put off by the hideously vandalised (i.e. grafittied) exterior as it is really pleasant inside and the welcome could not be warmer. Despite struggling for a common language there were English translations on the menu so it was a matter of “point and press”.
As I tend to do in Chinese restaurants I over-ordered but what was put in front of me was excellent and turned out to be insanely cheap for such an expensive area. I paid far less than I would have done for an equivalent takeaway in suburban London. Needless to say, this was going to be my haunt if Mauro did not manage to fatten me up with his excellent offerings.
Again, apologies for some of the images but I really do not like firing off flash when people are eating their food. It is fairly obvious from the images above what I had and I must have ordered a set meal as I certainly would not have ordered a sweet after singularly failing to finish the previous courses but it was apple fritter for dessert. That is fine by me as I love fruit fritters in the Chinese style and was expecting a couple of peeled and cored slices battered and deep-fried.
Not a chance as the image above shows. It was nothing less than a complete apple cooked in the appropriate manner and, despite all the odds, I managed to finish it off, it was just that tasty. I am not quite sure how I managed to walk home I was so full but it was not far and I did it. Straight to bed to sleep it off.
This must have been another day hanging out in Mauro’s as I have only two images and the only reason I am bothering to include them is that one of them shows that I had taken to reading the La Repubblica newspaper in addition to whatever English language paper Mauro used to so thoughtfully provide me with. I find reading newspapers to be a great way at making a start on a language as you can put things in context by the associated images. When the gastronomia was quiet in the afternoon I would try to struggle my way through some of the headline stories, asking Mauro for help with the difficult words. Bless him, he was so very patient and I did start to amass a little vocabulary even if I had no sense of grammar, sentence structure or anything else.
Apart from trying to learn a little basic Italian I did get some sort of an idea of what was interesting ordinary Romans and which again brings me back to my much discussed notion that sitting in a random backstreet bar, even in one of the tourist centres of the world, is not wasted time. Nothing is wasted time if you are prepared to learn.
It quickly became evident that the main topics of journalism and discussion (outside the usual sport about which Italians are passionate) were interlinked as they were immigration and politics. Being the summer it was prime season for the influx of economic migrants and some genuine refugees travelling from North Africa to the Southernmost outposts of Europe with Lampedusa being a magnet for such people as it is very close to the Tunisian coast although it is Italian. Get there and you have reached the “promised land” of Europe and it was driving the Italians mad. I am not talking about rabid xenophobes here but people who apparently were just fed up with being a dumping ground for every scrounger not fleeing any persecution but merely seeking a better economic situation through means legal or illegal. There were almost daily in the media very distressing images of police officers pulling bodies off beaches, coastguard boats picking up dozens of migrants who had been deserted by the traffickers (often not even putting enough fuel in the unseaworthy craft for the journey knowing the Italians or some of the well-meaning “charity” boats patrolling locally and thus encouraging this vile trade in human misery, would step in.
I mentioned that there were two interlinked themes of great interest and I do not think it is any coincidence that the far-Right were rising rapidly in the political spectrum in Italy on the back of a manifesto promise (amongst others) to clamp down on immigration. I mentioned in a previous entry in this series that when I passed through from Austria to Italy, there was a presence of border guards at Brennero station but withing a few weeks of me being in Italy the Austrian government (at time of writing in September 2018 controlled by the far right on the back of an anti immigration policy) had closed that border off and manned it with troops n armoured vehicles.
Whilst I undoubtedly should have done more sightseeing and much earlier I would never have had such an insight into the thinking of ordinary Romans had I been trekking around the Colisseum in the wake of a thousand other tourists.
OK, enough of all this and let’s pass on.
The 29th apparently yielded nothing of interest as I have not a single image for it and the 30th frankly is not much better except for a slightly amusing little aside. When I was in Rome, Birra Moretti were running a promotion which featured a large capital letter on the front label. Mauro had decided that he wanted to spell out his name and that of his girlfriend in the bottles which he eventually achieved with a little help from your humble narrator. He was dependent on what bottles the supplier sent and which were totally random in what letters they bore. He was missing one (the G as I recall) and one day I was walking to the Terminii station to get the papers as he had been running late that morning and I had seen the missing consonant (consonant please, Carol, a reference that only us Brits will get!) on a little wheeled refrigerated stall on the way. The problem was that it was right at the front of the display i.e. furthest away from the vendor and there was no way I could have explained that I wanted the particular bottle of beer with the letter G on it so I went back, papers in hand and told him the happy news. He immediately handed Alicia, the utterly charming young waitress, a few € and dispatcehd us back to get the elusive letter. I am not sure what the conversation was but the guy on the stall looked at the two of us were completely barmy (reasonable assumption I thought) before digging out the necessary bottle and we returned in triumph (imagine Roman triumphs in the Imperial days) where Mauro completed his mission with a grin n him that would have made a Cheshire cat look like a sourpuss (OK, I know that was poor, I’ll try harder).
You can see the results of my diligence above, and there is a further twist in the story of the bottles to come so look out for that.
Later that evening it was back to my favourite little Chinese.
Yet again it was every bit as good as it looked although it appears the fritters were the more traditional banana on this occasion. I suppose I should tell you where the restaurant is in case you ever want to visit which I suggest you do. It is at 6, Via Vicenza which is literally five minutes walk from Terminii station and I do recommend it. A quick scan on the internet as I was writing this shows some pretty negative reviews but a lot of them appear to have been written by the same person which always rings alarm bells with me. Over a period of writing travel reviews spanning nearly 15 years
As always, the huge Chinese meal finished me and so it was back to my appalling hostel to try and catch what sleep I could in that awful place.
I am conscious that this particular entry has gone on a bit and so I shall break here as the next entry goes into another month. I know I am a bit mad when it comes to travelling but July in Rome on the back of a four-day trip in April to Southern Netherlands was a bit lunatic even by my crazy standards.
More of Rome to come so stay tuned and spread the word.