Ciao for Now

Somewhere in Apulia.

When I arrived in Rome in 2020, I started writing a monthly email about my daily life to my family and family of friends. These are some of my thoughts both from before and now, after, living in Rome.  

But, first, a repeated word about “ciao” — from my first book. Ciao means “I am your slave” from the Venetian dialect “s-ciao” which got it from the Latin “sclavus.” This term was used for servants or for those of inferior status. It eventually became a sort of “at your service.” Mainly, the reason I will try not to use ciao all the time is that it’s only used by people who are known closely to each other. And I will be a stranger, at least for a while. The best phrase to use is, “buongiorno” or “buonaserra.” An even worse, or better, reason to not use ciao is that using ciao can be interpreted as flirtatious or bad manners. It was not used until the twentieth century, and even in this century, it can be offensive to some. So, what to say? “Salve, come va?” Means “Hi, how’s it going?” And that seems a good halfway formal phrase. “Salve” comes from the verb for “to be in good health.” When you take your leave, say, “Arrivederci.” Ciao is only used for people who know each other very well or are in the same peer group. I feel like I know Rome now. I can use it for Rome.

30 minutes outside Rome.

What I expected: 

A friend asked, upon learning that I was moving to Rome, what I was most looking forward to. I’m looking forward to the artichokes, especially those that have an edible interior, the flowering zucchini, the pizza, the cheeses, and the pasta. I have to say that I’m not so excited about the fried rice balls. Don’t know why because I like fried food but I’m not sure that I like fried rice in that format. Maybe because I don’t like croquettes and these “arancini” are rice croquettes. I am looking forward to the famous fried cod place, Dar Filettaro a Santa Barbara. I’m looking forward to the fresh produce including the cucumbers, although not the squirting cucumber. This squirting cucumber, “ecballium elaterium,” is a strange fruit because when ready, the fruit which looks like a hairy testicle, squirts it’s seed in a mucilage stream at 60 miles per hour. This plant is poisonous as well as projectile. 

I will not be trying the maggot cheese. I get this question a lot. I am not a daring eater for the sake of it. I was raised to try things at least once and to be polite if offered something. But, you will have to accept my apologies ahead of time, I’m not interested in eating maggots, pigeon brains, or other things that might be delicious and give me an erection to rival a redwood. 

Life will not always be sweet. I came across the blog of someone who was leaving Italy and she explained that the main reasons were that she missed her family in Scotland, the cozy Christmas in snowy countries, and that there was no diversity in Florence. I see why she left. I usually do one or two articles per country about what I term “the realities” of daily life, and I will do that for Italy too. Mostly, on my blog, I stay on the upbeat side, and try to only show what is delightful. 

To go exploring on food adventures was one of my goals. Of the things I wrote about in the first book, I did not achieve a Ph.D. on food nor a course in culinary arts. But, I did go on a few food tours. Of the list of things I planned to do, here are my results. 

Take a Cooking with Nonna (granny) class put on by Walks Inside Rome. 

Participate in olive oil tastings, including with The Italian Foodie Sisters. — But not with them. I did it with Johnny Madge, and that day may have been the best of the year. Read about it in it’s own chapter. — Done

Pilgrimage to the villa of Bramasole. The legend that was created by Frances Mayes’ book, Under the Tuscan Sun. — Sort of. I say done because I stayed in the hotel where the main character met her lover in Positano. 

Pilgrimage to Genoa. It is one of those places I have heard so many stories about it, mainly from my Peruvian-Italian family when they tell their immigration story. — Done 

Visit the town of Levanto. From an Italian-Peruvian, I got a list of places from her hometown of Levanto. She told me: 

there is a beautiful walking/cycling route built on the old railway line that was in use between 1874 and 1971 by the sea (you can rent a bike). One of the best restaurants is L’Oasi by the main square Piazza Cavour; but there are many bars where you can have a great aperitivo, close to the beach (Casino, Piper bar, Bagni Nettuno, La Gritta). This is the official website on my town,  

Visit the island of Sardinia. As the travel show host Rudy Maxa said about Tahiti, there are not enough words to describe the blues of those waters. 

Visit the Island of Ischia. It’s tiny and right off the coast. Of course, I hope to visit many of the other islands as well. — Done 

Go on a foraging trip to pick wild greens. Or make my friends go on these while I take photos from the car.

Take a trip to the chocolate valley of Tuscany, home of Roberto Catinari, Luca Mannori, Paul de Bondt, and Amadei chocolates houses. 

Take a gelato making lesson with Italy’s Best Rome. Again, my willing friends will probably take this class with me, while I will take photos… and taste. 

Go on gelato tasting tours… although I may be making this one up. But not really. I think my gelato-mad friends and I will go out and make this up along the way. Then I’ll blog about it. — Done 

Visit Puglia and the town of Monopoli. It looks bright and Adriatic blue like a sunny reflection of Greece across the water. — Done 

Visit Ferrero, or the town where Nutella was created. 

But, first on my list will be food tours with the mother-daughter team of Elizabeth and Sophie Minchilli. I plan to go on all of Sophie Minchilli’s six food tours. Then probably a customized one too. Plus, I’ll take classes with her mother, Elizabeth Minchilli, who started the business. — see the separate chapter on that. — Done 

Mostly, I’ll wander slowly through Rome. I have no real bucket list. I don’t like the race to check places off a list. I have been on those frenzied tours where you can’t remember half of what you saw. I will try and enjoy the slow life and the simple things of daily life. Or at least I’ll try in between frenzied visits from friends. — Done 

For my website, I will probably be trying 100 of something. Maybe cheese, maybe pasta, maybe those cream buns called maritozza. I look forward to sinking my teeth into them. — Done

The maritozzo. Several, so morritozzi.

In conclusion:

So you see, I did not do it all. Italy is an endless array of things to do. Each town is cuter than the last. It would take many lifetimes to see it all. 

But, I did learn a few things.

My favorite hack for getting milky coffee after 11 am — is to order a glass of hot milk and an espresso. Then combine them. This only works if they actually have any milk.

And, the funniest thing I learned in Italy was that all the time I thought people were telling me, “perfect/okay” = “ottimo” — they were actually saying, “a moment/wait” = “attimo.” I only realized this a few months ago and it makes me better understand all those times that I thought something was going according to MY plan, but it did not.

Ciao. For now. It was “ottimo” and a pleasure.

I’ll Miss the Picture Perfect Parts of Rome

Notice that the Fiat500’s bumper has a grille shaped like an aquaduct… and placed in front of the Pantheon… perfect!

Now that I am leaving Rome, I’m reflecting on the things I will miss. Despite the crowds (hordes arrive in June), I will miss some of the really picture perfect places in Rome. It makes it easy to show tourists around.

As I have mentioned before, Italy is a perfect place to be a tourist.

But, even the places I like to show my visitors are not always the ones with the iconic shots. Take for example, my favorite pharmacy. It is just adorable. The pharmacist is also excellent.

Santa Lucia pharmacy is on Via dei Banchi Vechi, located just down the street from a cute bakery.

Even in the rain, Rome still looks IG-ready.

This bar is possibly the most photographed in Trastevere.

Washington, DC, has many photo ops, but not sure they are as cute as Rome’s.

Captain of Our Hours

As the new year rolls around, whether one is eating grapes, lentils (As the Italians do. Apparently, they also believe that wearing red underwear will bring you good luck as it is a vibrant color.), or carrots to bring good fortune, the new year is about starting over, finding joy and prosperity. The pandemic has lead to the great resignation as more and more people, with the luxury, choose to leave their nine to five daily grind. Supposedly, most people are not happy with their jobs. I have, in my travels, been fortunate enough to meet people who love their jobs. Alessandro is one of those people.

Last summer, when we were in Positano, we wanted to go on a boat ride. With a pandemic raging, we wanted to be alone on a boat. With a captain. My friends had just arrived from the overseas. They wanted to organize a boat ride, sun and water. We set off for the beach at the appointed time. At the checkin counter, the staff showed us a photo of the boat that they had chosen. A lifeboat type with limited shade. It was 100 degrees. For 400 euro. No roof. No toilet. Possibly an invisible tiger.

I vetoed it. We opted for the bigger boat with a toilet. I didn’t want to be on a dinghy with jet-lagged friends fighting over shade and nowhere to pee.

Alessandro was our captain. The boat was immaculate and Alessandro was absolutely the sweetest guy. He pointed out good swimming spots, Saracen forts, historical locations, homes of famous people, and other points of interest along the coast. He was happy to share his knowledge of the area (where to stay on Capri, etc.) and to chat about whatever you felt like asking him. Even if you ask him about his life as an Italian. Or why he commutes on a dangerous mountain road. Also, as an added bonus, he plays good music and will even take requests. Alessandro has another life as a music producer so ask him about that!

If you are interested in celebrity yacht spotting, he can name almost all the famous yachts you will see (and play along with you in guessing how many millions they cost). He has been a boat captain for seven years so he can drive the boat with the merest touch of a finger. To add to his charm, Alessandro also served us Prosecco in a dramatic and environmentally friendly way (take the tour to find out about that — it will make you see why Alessandro is the sexiest man alive). He will serve you but, of course, does not drink himself. After your swim, he will even hose you off in a manner that is so bashful and gentlemanly. He is adorable. Another thing about Alessandro. He loves his job. He really does.

Lucibello is the company that rents boats.

Back to the boat review. It may seem expensive. I think it cost 700 euro for four hours (with the toilet, Prosecco, towels, captain, etc.). But on the other hand, it’s really really private. There are ferries, but I recommend a private boat tour.

The boat company was nice and even waited thirty minutes to start our tour when my friends needed to go back to the hotel for their sunglasses. I waited at the yacht club on the beach and chatted with a club member (I laugh because the club was a bunch of chairs under umbrellas and the club member explained that even though he has a tiny boat, he has to be a member of the yacht club to moor at the beach. He drank a Corona and smoked while chatting. That seems a metaphor for pandemic clubbing.)

Lolling about on the padded front of the boat is wonderful.

We had an hour off the boat, in Amalfi, but next time, I would forego that and stay on the boat with Alessandro. It is a lovely way to pass the hours.

Not pictured is the rubber dinghy.

All in all, worth the price. Date of experience: July 2021. No tigers seen.

The toilet is below deck, under the brown wood cover.
The “yacht” club and our boat.

I’ll admit that when we got to the dock, I initially wanted the bald pirate for a captain (in the photo, you can just see him in the orange shorts). He looked like he would be full of trouble and lore (but I am not sure he spoke English). But, in the end, I am glad that we met Alessandro. He steered us well.

M’s Adventures Food Valley Tour

The valley of Bologna-Modena-Parma is known as food valley. (It’s also known as motor valley because Ferrari and other luxury cars companies are located there.) Most of these recommendations were from Joyce of Vinotalia and Carmelita of Cook Italy. Plus some from my cousin and Google.

The aging room at Red Cow Creamery in Reggio Emlia.

Where to stay:

Locanda del Feudo, in Castelvetro, near Modena: Recommended by Vinotalia, this is an all-in-one place with hotel, gourmet restaurant, and foodie experience. Without having to drive home. Also, where La Vecchia Dispensa is located for a balsamic tasting and lesson.

Sotto I Sasso, a farm stay south of Modena. You will be out in the countryside but it’s peaceful and the restaurant onsite is delicious. The host is so personable that you will feel like you are a personal guest. It’s hard to find but worth the search (left of the parking lot! When you go, you will know what I mean).

Il Terrazzo Di San Colombano, in the center of Bologna (Via Parigi 13). They are on Booking but send a whatsapp message to +393470581371 and the owner will respond (you will get a better price too). Located on a quiet side street, includes paid parking, and a terrace. You can enjoy not driving as you wander the streets of Bologna. Don’t be wigged out by the maid.

Towns to visit aside from Modena, Parma, and Bologna:

Castelvetro, but you will be there anyway. Joyce recommends this town. And now, I believe that Elizabeth Minchilli and the Pasta Grannies went there. Who’s next? Stanley Tucci?

Volta Mantovana: not actually in Emilia Romagna but just north in Lombardy. It was a wonderful discovery recommended to us by a fruit seller on the side of the road.

The garden at the enoteca in Volta Montaovano.

Parmesan tour: Red Cow dairy in Emilia Reggia. The tour costs 5 euro. Call to arrange. It is only in Italian. Red Cow is a unique dairy in a world of unique dairies. They only use milk from the local red cows.

Balsamic tasting (if you can’t go, learn some of what I learned by reading my article about balsamic here):

La Vecchia Dispensa: Recommended by Joyce. 30 for the deluxe tour, shop is great. In English. An excellent way to learn about the process.

Also, Acetaia Matteo, is delightful family run business, but the tour is only in Italian.

Bologna is famous for it’s covered walkways.

Wine tasting:

Lambrusco at Fattoria Morretti. Ask Joyce from Vinotalia or the host of where you are staying. Most can arrange the tour for you. Many vineyards have a shop where you can just show up and taste.

In Volta Mantovana, do a wine tasting at the Enoteca Gonzaga. It’s in a beautiful castle. The sommelier actually knows his stuff and is not just a bartender. I think his name was Paolo but when tasting wine before noon, the names all blend together…

Lasagne at Aldina in Modena.

Food to eat: Emilia Romagna is famous for their mortadella (bologna), tortellini, ragu (meat sauce) on tagliatelle (never spaghetti), and lasagne. Almost anywhere will serve all these dishes. Plus, gelato. They also think they invented here in Emilia Romagna. Go to Sable in Bologna.

The Aldina market in Modena.

Restaurants/Food places:

Trattoria Aldina, Modena. A low-key casual place. Nothing touristy here. Right across from a great market.

Salumeria Simoni deli, Bologna. High quality items to buy as snacks or for a bite.

Enoteca Italiana, Via Marsala 2, Bologna. They have wine tastings and light lunch items.

Sable Gelato, Via dei Mille 3/a, Bologna. Hard to find, located behind a newspaper stand. Worth finding. The owner things nothing is more beautiful that fresh made gelato…

Bruno e Franco, La Salumeria, Via Guglielmo Oberdan 16, Bologna. Buy food to make at home.

Tiramisu from Locanda del Feudo.

Best Secret in Plain Site:

This shop called Aguzzeria del Cavallo, Via Drapperie 12, Bologna. Thanks to Cook Italy for showing us this emporium. It’s ostensibly a kitchen and knife store. But, so much more! We just called it the “horse” store and we were determined to go back.

Fines: A final note. It is hard to visit the smaller town without a car. It’s hard, impossible, to drive in the scenic towns of Modena, Parma, and Bologna, without getting a traffic ticket months later — so many of the streets are restricted to even drive on if you are in a personal vehicle. Sigh. There are cameras everywhere and they will capture your car as you look frantically for how to get out or find parking in the historic centers. But, enjoy it while you are there. Just know that months later, you will get to relive it. (also, if you rent from Hertz, you get a copy emailed to you ahead of time so you can scrutinize the Italian text trying to figure out where you incurred the infraction. It will take many months for the actual paper fine to reach your mailbox). So, advice: park outside the bigger towns of Modena, Parma, and Bologna.

Listening to Grupo 5 on the Way to the Forum

Sitting in traffic, as one does, I was delighted to be distracted from the viral news of the day by my taxi driver’s choice of cumbia (he remembered that I like to listen to cumbia). A certain song with special verve came up on youtube (due to some glitch in his car stereo, this taxi driver plays songs off his phone), and I discovered a secret in plain sight — Grupo 5. This is a Peruvian cumbia band that has been around for decades. The young singer has such style and stage presence that for a few minutes I was fully into the cumbia schwang.

Also, while in traffic, I finally saw a “vanity plate” for this dog moving company. I’m not sure why this isn’t a bigger deal here.


Think Ink – Black Food in Lima

Think Ink. Black food seems to be trending in Lima. There seems to be at least one black item on every menu. Most black dishes are made with squid ink. But a few are not. Here are a few restaurants and the black dish that shows some of the diversity in the black food.

Statera: Delicious aguaje butter made black and slick with caramelization that goes to the limit. Aguaje is a jungle fruit that looks like an armadillo egg. (I was told that since it’s high in estrogen transexuals eat this fruit in lieu of pills.)

Don Doh: They have a black burger where the bun is black. In this preparation, the squid ink seems to help keep the bread moist (also because it’s a “bao” style bun).

El Jefe: This is a barbecue place that serves burger buns with the meat, and some of the buns are black.

Food Rockers: This is one of the most unique dishes on this list. Their bourbon black ice cream is served with bacon and maple syrup on fries (yes, you read it right.)

Matria: The starter plate of bread is some of the most delicious I’ve had here. They make a black bread that uses a tuber. The bread is warm and sweet reminiscent of Kings Hawaiian rolls.

Jeronimo: Black rice with grilled octopus.

Central: one of the dishes is river snail foam. It’s black. Another dish was made of tuber flour.

Plus, lots of places make black pasta. At San Ceferino, the black spaghetti dishes look like writhing bowls of serpents.

Kumo: They have black sesame seed soft serve. It’s actually gray, but gray is a shade of black.

“Turron” Cake for the Lord of Miracles

IMG_0450In Peru, in October, the Lord of Miracles (el Señor de los Milagros) is celebrated with a cake called a “turrón de Doña Pepa” which is a type of shortcake, with hints of anise and sticky with honey, covered in color sprinkles and stars. In the 17th century, during an earthquake which leveled Lima, one painting of Jesus remained intact. Other miracles were attributed to this painting and people began to venerate it. Every year, during October, this painting is taken on processions (with the faithful wearing purple and asking for miracles) in the streets of Lima.

And people eat turrón. It is available all year round but look for this heavy weight to make its appearance everywhere in October.

J’ouvert in July – Carnival in Trinidad – Lime and Wine

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r2w6RIMsIbuEvg-hgjcDEujCLWkUSvNvf2UqHVlL9PnbcBP1qjmpT79LfVSbRvPIz_YcZWwjdMObb4b1vooatRwF_EmwFTSXefWSFGPBVR-615xFTFdS9ChWCMENJl-mJDut5s8l5uCwtgh4iAWf_ugHymPT4QCcxoRDbXlYW02Jl1ssZ6znKhZeD2The truck/float/group called Cocoa Devils have a party in July called “J’ouvert in July” to celebrate their trucks. It cost 650 Trini dollars ($100 U.S.) for one-night party that starts at midnight and lasts till daylight. For that price, you get a t-shirt and a drinking cup. Plus endless beer, tequila, wine, and food.

Pbc91PmFactFrFmRoViUEQaOGEttZKyXxAVumL3wT7pOKKxDUDfHEF5PP2_3VP48eK8eRNxFgo1RLv8zqR1ENdJl37E9y65mSzprso0DBP5r69wSOptBn08PWQqHeNWVzYQl0PjOMSuppVdwrGkHM8XzPZCz5wqwI6iQfdseIxEn45qpUVysjn_951Aside from the main DJ truck, there are drinks trucks, supplemental speaker trucks to blast out the music, and food trucks. At one point, the trucks drive around the stadium providing a drunken parade for revelers to follow.

FhY8-Si5eidOEwNpzz5hRMVxrJg8AaBh0sg7w102Akkf4sbgQkRIJwvXctIuYhjBWQb-MJKoVuJw8HWOQBP34tvTkxU_Tzu_DsQ_OSlB1N7ycW04huE4GsUOzznomhyx6hs1zkteV6lHTgrOMZigid0-phPbnzpvccLb90jH_v1ya0PzGJNJwa5FelThe food is hotdogs, beef pies, and “doubles.” Good drunk food to sop up the alcohol.

cTZBC9nuR7tKVOJz9TbNKnsRVoOZKOwAfb8Ut5TcH2HP8x0A1iDoxufX90WE275wOt6Ztf49H1UQ7m8ozsa8rmojVYQzOYWOB-3EyEj6cTfcg2B4O4XCAjddSamb_CgqD8ntZoBSaMJFrPVGez50Utmv_Oxo7lCZpHtTaA_CSs8pSgoCyi5paqTeFZBy 2 a.m., the party was well under way. Apparently, Trinis like to “wine” and “lime” which are to twerk and to drink. Actually, they like to do it in reverse: lime’n and wine’n.

JQ-_ZuMNLMazgo84FXS73vqNSmIMwI33azWSrSRkP8douy03-IF3cswLx4laT-8tCsFzO1rhDi_zqiQogwT1npIH2qKeccr6OZI1JyQvbCPtbA2_5W9xtjg0UtiJI0TAncDfi2fBGr6ycMu6bfeM-l9BNJTmxNwVesVMbJoRvzHAJ8oXkmKPs_eO2uWhat amazed me was the creative ways that people (mostly women) had altered their t-shirts into outfits with various forms of holes and tailoring.

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The Child Voice Birds

Here in Caracas, every morning, I hear the voices of children. Or so I thought. In actual fact, the cries are those of a parrot. These wild birds can make a cry that sounds exactly like children calling out in some make believe language. I keep forgetting that I’m in the tropics.

The photo is just here for entertainment value. It’s from Chacao market.

Danish Strawberries

Once upon a year, in a little tiny land, at the top of Europe, there are strawberries so ruby and sweet. They arrive just after the sweet pea season. Visit Denmark in late August and you may may be able to get both. The strawberries are red like claret in the sun. Eat them fresh or covered in fresh cream. img_3802

Then, if you can find sweet peas in the pod, enjoy them as they are as succulent as crisp morning dew. But nuttier.img_3834

Oh, and they are healthy for you. How sweet is that!

Big City Bogota – The Realities of Daily Life

Just as I wrote about the realities of life in Dhaka, I thought I’d post about Bogota.

Bogota is a big city with nine million inhabitants. The traffic is that of a big city. Muggings and robberies are normal here. Again, it’s not going to happen every day. I’m not sure what the crime rate is compared to New York, but Bogota doesn’t “feel” dangerous. It’s best to not go out alone after dark (male or female) and take the usual precautions that one would take in a big city. The rich neighborhoods are not free of muggings, sadly. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere really safe. That’s the main difference, I think, between, here and there (where ever that might be).

The people are big city people so they are not always perceived as the friendliest in the world. Outside Bogota, the people of Colombia are very friendly. Also, the friendliness level may change depending on if you are visiting a strata six or strata two neighborhood (six is the rich area). I find the people friendlier, the lower the strata…

And then there’s “scope,” scopelamine. Actually, on the walk up to Guatavita Lagoon, we saw the beautiful flower from which the “scariest drug” in the world is made. Read up about this online. Don’t get scoped. Watch your drinks when you go out.

Also, never let the waiter take your credit card out of your sight. Watch your wallet at all times. And, if you get mugged, don’t fight (at least that the advice I’ve been given). Unfortunately, some of the muggings have ended in murder which seems to exemplify how dangerous it is here.

But, again, I know people who have lived here for years and don’t feel that Bogota is dangerous at all. They walk outside at night by themselves and are fearless.

Some of the other downsides to life here in Bogota is the pollution. Also, to many, the fact that the weather is always 65 F, every single day, every day, for 365 days of the year… well, some consider it to be cold. This is not the tropics. It’s not Panama. I think that the biggest misconception that people have about Bogota is that they think this is a Mexico with warm weather, corn tortillas, beans, and sand. It’s not. It’s a cool, temperate climate with overcast days and rain on a daily basis. It’s also sunny every day. There is no heating or air conditioning in the apartments. Most people live in apartments. So, if you want a house with a large yard, then this is not the city for you.

On the other hand, if you like dogs, this is the place for you. If you like having a nanny (for your kids…), a dog walker, etc. then this is the place for you. Also, exercise, gyms, and plastic surgery are normal parts of life here. But, the sidewalks are cracked, the traffic can be awful, the drivers aggressive, and the politeness can drive you mad! In traffic, the drivers take out their aggression but in other ways, people are very polite, even when they keep telling you that you can’t pay there, or that you have to go to the next counter, or that the line is busy, or the till just closed, etc. It can drive you bonkers!

Mainly, for me personally, the lack of diversity and lack of quality Vietnamese, Lao, and Thai food is the biggest downside. But, give it 40 years.

The photo below is from one of my adventures when I went looking for a multi-pocketed “chaleca” vest like what the workers wear (and photographers and tour guides).


Small Pyramids in El Salvador

IMG_0448One of the nice things about the small pyramids in El Salvador is that not that many people visit them so you don’t get run over by camel (or llama) salesmen trying to get you to buy a ride or a photo. Getting out to the pyramids, and there are many, is relatively easy from San Salvador. It can all be done in a few hours along with other touristy things. Some of the pyramids still have sacrificial areas (chopping blocks for cutting off heads?) and walking alone around them allows one’s imagination to fill in the story.IMG_0507

I recommend it. Another nice thing about El Salvador is that the weather is so pleasant. I guess I’d never contemplated the weather in El Salvador. IMG_0539