After a year in Rome, la dolce vita is sweeter than I ever imagined

My Life in Rome After a Year

It was one year ago yesterday when I left a life in America and dragged three bags down a narrow alley near the Roman Colosseum for a future I hoped was better than what the gladiators had. After nearly 40 years in the newspaper business, I quit, packed up and retired to Rome. I had no job and no home and my Italian sounded more like German. Moving abroad is like jumping out of an airplane. Life in Rome could be a disaster or the greatest rush of your life. But unlike parachuting, you can look back. What I see is the best year of my life, one in which the romance of living in Rome doesn’t go away after a 90-minute wait in a post office. My honeymoon with Rome is alive  and well and hopefully we’ll celebrate many more anniversaries together.

Life in Rome: Castel Sant'Angelo has a haunting history and the way the city lights adds to the mystery
Castel Sant’Angelo has a haunting history and the way the city lights adds to the mystery

In honor of that, here’s a random list of reasons why la dolce vita in Rome is sweeter than ever for me:

  • Hearing an old man in Trastevere play “Il Padrone,” the theme song of “The Godfather,” not because he wants you to put money in his cup but merely because he loves the song.
  • Having a Pinot Grigio nightcap at Caffe Oppio after the tourists have left and seeing the back-lit Colosseum towering above me across the street, one of the most magnificent views in the Western World.
Life in Rome: The famous black truffles make E Volpetti one of the top alimentaries in Italy
The famous black truffles make E Volpetti one of the top alimentaries in Italy
  • Watching Italians talk with their hands as if their words are merely background noise. I saw one man stop his Vespa while talking on his cell phone just so he could use his hands more.
Life in Rome: Places like Praiano on the Amalfi Coast are only three hours from my home in Rome
Places like Praiano on the Amalfi Coast are only three hours from my home in Rome
  • Gorgonzola and sausage pizza.
  • How Federico, my butcher in Mercato Testaccio, always wears a white hat to honor all the Italian macellaios from the past.
  • How Federico’s prosciutto and sweet Italian sausage make my terrace aperitivos and pasta salsiccia the best in Testaccio.
  • How the church bells peal on the hour. I don’t go to church, but these bells make me want to go.
Life in Rome: This is one view, of St. Peter's, that I will never tire of
This is one view, of St. Peter’s, that I will never tire of
  • How crisp Frascati wine tastes with a picnic lunch in Villa Ada, one of the most underrated parks in Italy.
  • Hearing strangers in cars yell at me, “FORZA ROMA!” (“GO ROMA!”) when I wear my A.S. Roma sweatshirt on the streets in my neighborhood of Testaccio, where soccer team was formed in 1927.
  • How the Nutella melts in my mouth as I take that first bite of the fluffy cornetto cioccolato in the morning.
  • How I can wear an Italian suit to an informal event and no one stares at me, even though I feel like a dancing bear.
  • How my market’s fishmonger covered in blood and guts and carrying a knife the size of a machete can tell me how to delicately season a salmon steak.
Life in Rome: The great Nordica pizza at 72 Ore, my favorite pizzeria in Rome
The great Nordica pizza at 72 Ore, my favorite pizzeria in Rome
  • How every Corriere dello Sport runs 26 pages of soccer every day, including 9-10 stories on A.S. Roma games.
  • How I get weepy, still, every time I hear the Stadio Olimpico crowd sing “Grazie Roma” while trying to remain stoic in the press box after an A.S. Roma soccer win.
  • How a barista will form a heart with the foam in your cappuccino if you order with a woman.
  • The packed crowd at La Fraschetta di Castel Sant’Angelo suddenly breaking into Roman songs as the smiling wait staff claps along and the owner pounds the tables in encouragement.
  • Asking the man in the pasta shop for buccatino, the round pasta perfect for amatriciana, and he takes a big slab of pasta and feeds it into a machine. In seconds, perfectly shaped, fresh pasta is wrapped up in paper and in my hand.
Life in Rome: The tomatoes in Rome's public markets are as sweet as apples
The tomatoes in Rome’s public markets are as sweet as apples
  • Walking through my tree-lined Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice and seeing old women and old men chatting on park benches, smiles still on their faces after all these decades.
  • How the clementines from Sicily taste like they were picked in my garden when I suck on their juice to wash down the fresh prosciutto and Sienese dolce cheese from my Mercato Testaccio.
  • How eating outside in a garden-ladened, candle-lit trattoria makes the food and wine taste even better, and the woman you’re with even prettier.
  • Standing on my terrace on a warm summer morning, before the intense afternoon heat arrives, in my bathrobe with foamy cappuccino in hand, looking out at the Tiber River. From that vista, the Tiber looks like the Seine in spring.
Life in Rome: Lots of expats events never allow you to get too lonely in Rome. Plus, the company is kinda cute
Lots of expats events never allow you to get too lonely in Rome. Plus, the company is kinda cute
  • The silence of my Testaccio neighborhood during the afternoon pausa when all the local merchants close for 3-3 ½ hours to catch up on their own personal business. It’s so inconvenient yet oh, so civilized.
  • Pausing in St. Peter’s Square, so late at night the only sounds are cascading waters of the fountain, and seeing Bernini’s sculptures line up like sentries leading to the spectacular back-lit basilica. If God ever surfaces on this earth, it will be here.
  • How one 10-minute train ride and a 50-minute bus ride takes me from Rome to Calcata, a tiny hilltop village of 70 artists and bohemians all escaping atop a 150-foot pile of volcanic rock.
Life in Rome: What other city in the world can you get a suntan while eating fresh cherries and fantastic Italian wine as I can on my penthouse terrace?
What other city in the world can you get a suntan while eating fresh cherries and fantastic Italian wine as I can on my penthouse terrace?

 

  • How I can go into l’Oasi della Birra, my local wine and beer shop and buy a bottle of Barolo, my favorite wine in the world (and it’d be yours if you tried it), for under 30 euros, a steal for the pride of Piedmont.
  • How the baker near my gym will tell me “Ciao, bello” when I walk by and I don’t think he’s weird.
  • How you can smell a woman’s perfume when you do the wonderfully obligatory double-cheek kiss at introductions.
Life in Rome: I'm not a great cook, but I'm a great cook when I use ingredients available in Rome
I’m not a great cook, but I’m a great cook when I use ingredients available in Rome
  • How I can walk from the Termini train station all the way to the Vatican, a walk of about an hour, and never walk down a main boulevard.
  • How the amarena gelato has big, fat, juicy chunks of black cherries floating everywhere in your cone.
  • How Italians give friends bottles of their family’s wine stash from their home in the countryside.
  • How I get choked up writing this last line of why I love spending my life in Rome.

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About John Henderson

Website: http://www.johnhendersontravel.com

John Henderson worked nearly 40 years as a sportswriter, the last 24 with The Denver Post, including eight as a traveling food columnist. Worked since 1984 as a free-lance travel writer. Traveled to 98 countries and retired to Rome in January 2014. Originally from Eugene, Ore., and also worked in Kent, Wash., and Las Vegas. Graduate of the University of Oregon in 1978. Check out my blog, Dog-Eared Passport. Twitter @JohnHendeRome

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