Gli Stranieri

A Foreigner in Rome

The Cemetery of Strangers [Cimiteri Acatollico]

Word of the Day: Scarpetta

The literal meaning of una scarpetta is nothing special – a little shoe.

All well and good, but what is better is fare la scarpetta (do the little shoe). In this sense it means to clean your plate with a bit of bread: sinking it into leftover sauce – presumably like a little shoe disappearing in the mud.

Not the most saliva-inducing imagery, nor is bread what I immediately think of having after a massive pasta dinner. But the sauce is always worth bloating a bit more for and it feels criminal to waste even a dribble.

It is fun, too, to traipse around one’s plate with child-like abandon. Like jumping in puddles, but at the comfort of the dining table.


When in Rome… Do as the Senegalese Do.

Though not Roman in the ancient sense, there is a thriving Senegalese community in Rome. And they know how to spend their Fridays.

It started with some ceebu jën (cheb-o-djin) a one-pot stew of rice and fish, which we ate in the typical fashion – from one big platter, with just a spoon. I am not sure I am a convert to the spoon method (there was one anonymous vegetable that defied my best efforts to spoon-slice it) but there is something weirdly nice about sharing the same plate. The meal itself seemed to be entirely comprised of ingredients that I recognised, but could not quite identify; so it proved both delicious and stubbornly enigmatic.

Eventually, after a long period of post-dinner relaxation (a requirement the Italians and the Senegalese seem to have in common) we went into San Lorenzo. It is cheap, cheerful and somewhere between a down-trodden Paris and a cobbled Berlin. On entry to a club there, I was greeted by a victim of Rome’s pressures: he had his own headphones in, drank sherry from a schooner clumsily due to his thick leather gloves, and had no sense of spacial awareness. He informed me that the club was his house, and that we had met the night before. Neither were true, of course. Why is that the insane abroad can always speak English? He was politely (then non-politely) asked to leave not long after, and I was free from his awkward goggle-eyed conversation.

A semi-traditional band was playing who mixed their Senegalese vocals and instruments with a not-so traditional bass guitar and drum kit. The music and the atmosphere were great, but it proved too funky for one woman, who proceeded to flail non-stop for three hours; fanning herself questioningly, as if it was the temperature of the club and not the heat from her bizarre dislocated movements that was making her sweat.

Fair play to her though, I definitely had not had enough to drink for the amount of audience participation going on, and she was dancing hard enough for everybody.

I didn’t take a camera out with me, so here’s a video of some guy going for it on the kora (traditional Senegalese lute):

Television [La Televisione/Il TiVo]

I am (was) quite the expert on British television, devoting many hours to the pursuit of academic enlightenment that it offers. Partly true. With regards to the hours devoted anyway. But, Italian TV makes my poor TV taste look positively erudite.

Unfortunately for me, out of the two no-go programmes in my viewing repertoire, one of them, Deal or no Deal, is in Italy. And it has been Italianised. Affari Tuoi [Your Business] is complete with animations, sound effects, music and a bigger – 500,000 euro – prize. It puts our deranged, symbol-drawing cultist Noel to shame. If you are interested, my other no-go programme is Coronation Street; I can feel the insidious theme tune depleting my serotonin levels. Woe betide me if I get a view of the Rovers. (Yes I know what it’s called. No, I don’t know how).

Topping the leaderboard of craziest programme I have come across so far is Le Iene [The Hyenas]. Half hard-hitting investigative journalism and half comedy, with intermittent dancing throughout. It seems to be on quite regularly and the first show I watched had an actress pretending to be a destitute mother who – with the pretence of having a young daughter she wished to profit from – lured a paedophile from a chatroom. There then followed some truly repugnant conversation, during which the actress (testament to her) sat feigning nonchalance as the man informed her of the various ‘methods’ he used. I know there is a similar American programme, but this one was so, so dark – until at the end the TV presenter just struts in casually (whilst the paedophile is waiting for the ‘daughter’ to appear). Game Over. There wasn’t even a dramatic arrest, the guy, after defeatedly saying “no, no, we’re just friends”, just handed himself in.

Weirder, though, was the fact that without even a fleeting outro the viewers were greeted with this on return to the studio:

For better or worse, it does make compelling viewing, and Le Iene do have some serious balls. One of their shows, for example, was cancelled because they had someone masquerade as a TV make-up artist who, whilst pampering, took DNA samples from 50 Italian deputies and secretly tested them for drugs. A third of them, incidentally, had taken drugs in the previous 36 hours.

Watching this will really make your eyes go square.

P.S. I forgot to mention that post-rebelling against paying for the Italian version of a TV license, because of all the adverts (there are a lot), the government decided to tax everyone per television. I will not ever complain about paying my UK TV license bill again.

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.