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A masked Mario at the wheel

As we prepared to leave for Rome, their pandemic numbers spiked, the country closed down bars and restaurants after 6 p.m., there were clashes between the police and those protesting the new restrictions. On the plus side the Ryan Air flight from Valencia landed 15 minutes early. And we know our way around.

Ciampino Airport is about 15 kilometers/9 miles from Termini, Rome’s central train station from whence you can get just about any where in Rome. You can get a bus from the airport that takes you directly to Termini. It had already left when we arrived and another was not due for over an hour, as they have reduced their frequency significantly given reduced demand. We knew what to do – get a local bus ticket which we needed to do anyway in order to get around town. Then you can take the public bus to the metro and get to Termini that way. Since public transport passes are available in weekly form, and we knew that, we ordered that at the window, which we got to after explaining to the policeman at the door why we wanted in. Apparently you now need good cause to enter. It helps to speak a least a bit of Italian.

There are two buses that take you to the metro, one takes you to the Metro A at Anagnina and the other to Laurentine on Metro B. The Laurentine was just leaving as we arrived. We waved him down. He let us in as he’d only moved a meter or two. We knew we could go to either of the metro stations. Off we went into the dark narrow streets of the countryside between Rome and Ciampino, not just an airport but a city on Rome’s southwest side.

The driver wasted no time imitating Mario Andretti, the famous Italian American race car driver who dominated the circuits over three decades. We lurched around the curves, then forward and back when he tromped on the brakes. Windows and doors rattled on the rough rode, a cacophony making conversation nearly impossible. He screeched to a stop in the middle of nowhere to pick up a lonely passenger. As we proceeded in the blackness I tried to put in our route to our apartment near the Borghese Gallery. It was quite a challenge just to hold onto the phone. I got far enough along with the task to see where we had to get off in order to ride the metro to Termini.

It was a piece of cake from then on. We even knew to take a bus from Termini to get to the flat, although our host recommended that we take a taxi or walk. We ended up with a 5 minute walk versus 20 from Termini. This gave us time to shop for dinner.

We would have to cook for ourselves without any restaurants to choose from, as we could not be sure if any offered takeout. We shopped at the Coop on the way, just two minutes from our destination. The procercy stores sell great bread, quite inexpensive and about as good as what you can get in a bakery. You get it at the meat/cheese/deli counter that almost all of them have. There are fresh pasta shops but in the grocery stores you get just a few choices. There are lots of choices for sauces in the pesto category, as tomato sauces are not the be all they are in the US. Red pepper sauces has became one of my favorites after stints in Italy.

As we were nearly ready to check out, we realized we’d forgotten garlic. I walked through the checkout line to go more directly to the vegetable section. Surprisingly there was no garlic. Or maybe not a surprise. They use it a lot. So I returned to the register where Peggy was placing items on the belt, and started messing with the bag. The woman at the register gave me such a look, like who am I to steal this bag. I laughed and told her, “Siamo insieme.” She laughed and did the rest of her job speaking English. It was a friendly “goodbye and thank you for coming.”

At our digs it was all in Italian. Anyone could figure their way through it though.

Tomorrow another visit to St Peter’s, from whence the Pope announced his support for same sex civil unions. It’s an improvement, and I could care less about what he thinks the difference is between so called sacred ceremonies and civil arrangements. Legally they are the same. Take the same ingredients and just add woo and you have a church wedding.

And that’s what it was like on our fist day in the land of Bunga Bunga – yes, Berlusconi is still holding an elected position, escaping prosecution still, as under Italian law elected officials are immune.

By Gary Kirkpatrick

Artist and travel blogger.

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