Gli Stranieri

A Foreigner in Rome

Month: February, 2012

Doing it the Appian Way

The Keyhole View of Rome [Il Buco di Roma]

When I was thinking about the things I meant to do in my first trip to Rome, and did not have time for, I recalled this little tourist gem.

Nestled at the top of Aventine Hill is the Piazza of the Knights of Malta, an area that houses a lesser-known third sovereign state of Rome (the second being the Vatican). The Knights of Malta are a celibate, powder-blue-uniform-wearing order; one of the last remaining groups of knights left from before the crusades.

Adding to the curious nature of this setting is one of Rome’s real (free) treasures: if you look through the keyhole of the gates of the Knights of Malta HQ, the view lines up perfectly with a garden path that points directly to the dome of St Peter’s in Vatican city. My hosts assured me that the view was most beautiful at night, which I reckon it is, but it prevented me taking a good photo. Here is a view in the daytime, that I’ve robbed of this site.

Il Buco di Roma


A warning: this is a bit of a walk, and even though I went to the site at midnight there was still a bit of a queue (in February). Not an attraction for the non-leisurely tourist.



Word(s) of the Day: Genitori vs Genitali

I was wising up on my falso amici [fake friends], when I discovered this confusing state of affairs:

Genitori means parents. Genitali  means genitals.

As there’s not much chance of having one without the other, I suppose the similarity does make sense…

Maybe I am getting ahead myself, with my inability to even form simple sentences yet, but what if I accidentally ask someone how their genitali are doing?

An imminent self-fulfilling prophecy, I fear.

Vocabolario 2

Same drill as last time, except I’m attaching common nouns to weekdays. After my food shopping debacle, no prizes for guessing where I’m focussing my next set of vocabulary. I’ve gone for the harder-to-guess ones (mainly for my own benefit):

Lunedì – una mela [an apple]

Martedì – un’arancia [an orange]

Mercoledì – un pomodoro [a tomato]

Giovedì – formaggio [cheese]

Venerdì – acciughe [anchovies]

Sabato – uova [eggs]

Dominico – una cippola [an onion]

My host is taking me to the Saturday market this weekend, where the Romans get their week’s shopping at discounted prices. I’m very fed up of being the point-and-nod consumer, so I’m determined to be a confident grocery-purchaser by then. Here’s hoping!

The Office [L’Ufficio]

I am pretty sure that my new office is not a typical Italian place of work. Everyone shouts at each other/talks to themselves in multiple languages, and I regularly have to ask someone whether a name is a first name or a last name (one of them turned out to be a foreign job title). How am I meant to know whether  Давид  is animal, vegetable or mineral? Then there’s alphabetising and typing euro-style… the mind boggles.

The environment itself is fresh out of the seventies; I can actually hear typewriters clacking and the bathroom is overly-tiled and overly-beige. I’m not sure a bathroom should make you feel nostalgic, or whether you can even feel nostalgic about an era you weren’t alive in. But regardless, the people are great, and the person who sits opposite me has a never-ending string of entertaining continental interjections; regular sounds of ‘bah’, ‘pah’, ‘boo’ coming from her corner, accompanied by vigorous fist-shaking, do make for light work. ‘Crash’, ‘Bang’, ‘Wallop’ are definitely just a few stressful phone calls away.

On a slightly different note, check out these heavily-laden shelves (phwoar):

Word of the Day: Uno Struzzo

Ever discover a word that changed your perception of something?

Well I, thrill-seeker that I am, was preparing for a trip to the zoo by playing an Italian animal wordsearch, and I came across this little delight.

Uno Struzzo is an ostrich.

Now I just can’t shake the image of them strutting down imaginary catwalks like feathered-Amazonians.

Roman Carnival [Carnevale Romano]

Whoops, forgot to post about this. It was the carnevale romano on Saturday, and I am pretty confused by the whole thing. Despite the huge amounts of confetti and odd person dressed as the pope or a gladiator, it was much more civilised than I was expecting. Instead of raucous drinking and vomiting (I’m starting to miss Britain), it seems more an excuse to dress one’s children in ridiculous fancy dress. And these are no half-arsed fancy dress attempts; highlights included a very realistic (terrifying) clown baby, a dinosaur in a pram and a miniature princess Leia – complete with R2D2 clutch bag.

Whilst its religious beginnings are definitely well and truly out of sight, there is something rather nostalgic about Rome’s carnival. People are content just to wander around, soaking up the atmosphere – either dressed in costume, or parading a bewildered-looking child about – simply enjoying being in a crowd and having a bit of a dance.

Although, in a reassuringly carefree manner, they did suddenly decide that a dense crowd [see below] was the perfect place to release a procession of agitated horses.

Belen’s Butterfly [La Farfalla di Belen]

This is really the talk of the town. So purely for cultural reasons, here is the debut of the butterfly that has sent the Italian nation aflutter:

The Supermarket [Il Supermercato]

I finally took the plunge and went food shopping. What a disaster. After walking right into the shop on Sunday at 1.30pm and the staff being too polite/embarrassed to tell me that it was shut (I noticed eventually), I was reluctant to go back there; but it is the only supermarket nearby. With head slightly-hung, I picked up my peculiar two-tiered shopping basket and tried in vain to keep the costs down.

I wanted to stock up on fruit and veg (conversations at the local stalls are still a bit too awkward for my liking) but they have a very foreigner-unfriendly method of buying these. There are plastic gloves provided (silently required), which I missed completely (more awkwardness), then you have to bag up as much of whatever it is you want, take a note of its number and weigh it. After pressing the corresponding number on the machine, a sticker prints out for you to stick on your fruit or veg. The obstacle created here is that if you do not know what something is called, you cannot be sure you are pressing the right button. Maybe I was a little too worried at the thought of buying a melon and paying for an aubergine, but my attempts to look as local as possible keep seeming to result in these simple things becoming a big issue.

I went home, tail betwixt legs, without either melons or aubergines.

N.B Melon [Melone], Aubergine [Melanzana].


I tried this tactic when learning some Hungarian from a friend; attach a noun to a number for a double-speed vocabulary-building exercise. This is the extent of my limited vocabulary so far:

1. Uno. Un letto (a bed)

2. Due. Una sedia (a chair)

3. Tre. Un tavolo (a table)

4. Quattro. Una lampada (a lamp)

5. Cinque. Un piatto (a plate)

6. Sei. Un coltello (a knife)

7. Sette. Una forchetta (a fork)

8. Otto. Un bicchiere (a glass)

9. Nove. Un armadio (a cupboard)

10. Dieci. Una scrivania (a desk)

It’s all very bedroom-focused, but at least I can sit in my room, point at things and shout their name in Italian now. My hosts must think so much of me.