I looked back at my blog posts from the beginning of the pandemic. Before my day that the “earth stood still.” Before.
I was hopeful about the good side of lockdown — see Lockdown Italia: Day 10 — it is there. Curiosity was there too, what would this change of lifestyle bring? What would I discover, what would I do?
Then my middle son died. Not from coronavirus, but for over a month I had worried that he would die from the virus. He instead died of complications from an ill-timed, ill-advised surgery that didn’t heal and he ended up with internal bleeding that couldn’t be stopped. He died relatively quickly, and relatively painlessly, without the agony experienced by those COVID patients who die a slow, breathless death.
Even now, I see the mercy in this event. Unfortunately, I haven’t wanted to embrace this reality. Who wants to embace a rattlesnake? This morning, no wait, two days ago, I was listening to a song with lyrics about losing someone and now everyday is a rainy day — I think Bruno Mars was singing it. And I started feeling. My denial, my emotional paralysis, my initial shock might be moving forward.
Moving forward might also be moving downwards, in fact, it has to move downwards. I have to feel sad, outraged, terrified, hollow, abandoned, and I have to wail from the loss. How have I been able to avoid this for so long? For 502 days?
The sadness, the wave of grief has been lapping at my feet for 16 months and now I have to step further into the ocean, while the ocean moves towards me.
Italians, or maybe Romans more specifically, have a way of enjoying the little things. I hear Italians sharing stories that begin with “In my little village…” that continue lovingly about the foibles of the inhabitants and the community of nonnas. Here are two more little things that I enjoy.
We, hubby and I, were riding the bus, on our way to an eye-doctor appointment, and in the middle of the pandemic, on public transportation, a robust ragazzo, I would guess aged all of nine years old, rushed to sit opposite me. This little moment in the middle of the pandemic surprised me in the space of a few seconds with these observations:
His mother didn’t wrench him back out of the seat to maintain social distancing
She sat on the other side of the bus quite patiently
His skin was the pureness of innocence with the fine pores and slight blush worthy of the oil painting masters
His eyes gazed out of the window and did (what I have only seen here in Rome); they lovingly narrowed in a micro-movement that showed his mental caress of his city
Children are a marvel. Innocence is so very precious.
Another little thing that I treasure here in Rome is the pasticcieria, a different kind of pastry shop from the other wonderful pastry shops in Europe. The light, the not-very-sweet pastry, the smooth espresso, the laughing of the people around, make the environment a cherished little thing during this time of social distancing, masks, and never-ending vigil.
I think I know now, why some people don’t like Christmas music. This year Christmas music breaks my heart, gets to the most vulnerable part of me, breaks down my emotional defenses. Christmas music reminds me of my own boulevard of broken dreams.
I see that my last post was the day before my son Tyson passed. Tyson, born on Pearl Harbor Day, brought home in a Christmas stocking, self-proclaimed King of Christmas, was one of my partners-in-crime for Christmas. So much of his enjoyment of Christmas was hoarded and owned by him — he loved to collect Christmas stockings, he was entirely jealous–for years–of his younger brother getting a “hipster” Santa hat. He wanted all Santa hats to be his.
As I cleaned our apartment here in Rome, I asked Google to play some Christmas music.
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” broke me. “You can plan on me,” and I was sobbing. “I can’t bear it, I can’t bear to decorate, I don’t wan’t to celebrate,” I felt my emotions sobbing out to my brain. But that’s not true little momma-heart. You will bear it, you will decorate another year, you will celebrate with every sip of eggnog latte, every loving glance at his brothers. The bookend brothers, oldest and youngest are even more precious to me now, with their eccentricities, rantings, and desperate fight for purchase on what brings meaning to their lives.
The grief, the memories are like broken vintage ornaments, the beautiful glass ornaments, shiny and dangerous. They can be repurposed, but they can be dangerous, they can cut. Be careful when handling.
I am experiencing my own renaissance here in lockdown. Oddly enough, I am now an early riser.
At 5:30 a.m. I open the shades and the sliding glass door to the balcony to hear the 30-minute, a capella concert of every bird in Rome. It is so loud that it fills the neighborhood with chirping, trilling, throaty warbling, caw-ing, and that sound that seagulls make, the one that mimics sea lions only 3 octaves higher.
During this gentle half-hour, the traffic cannot be heard, and now at 6:06 a.m. I can hear the cars and trucks off on the main thoroughfare drifting up over the hill. The riotous cacophony has moved to another street.
While the concert is performed, sunrise slowly displays the perfect ombres that inspire every artist and textile designer in the world. This lighting plan is delicate and nuanced. The blues being gently overcome by pale blue, then there is almost no discernable color that moves towards the palest nude that moves to buff. The sun is coming. Soon.
This slower pace is good for me. This slower pace makes it easy to think, to heal. It is as the Psalmist wrote:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I have often noticed that when I need to rest, to slow down, and I don’t pay attention to that need– let’s say I discount that need as lazy, or listen to bad advice to “push through” or “move on” — I get sick or injured or experience one of my many migraines. I am then forced to meditate on Psalm 23, made to lie down, and in my life, it is green pastures.
Day 10 and I am accepting this new normal. I wonder if I will be changed, long-term by this slower pace. Will I start a commune or become a hermit? Or will I push forward and forget the lessons I am learning?
If it sounds like I am going into a sermonette, you’re right! You might have seen my Instagram posts with my #lockeddownItalia hashtags with meal plans and daily meal agendas — done in the eponymous whiteboard marker — not attractive, but useful, simple, and easy! Why do I plan? Because it’s in the Bible, it’s what I have learned in Sunday school — yes, folks in church. Here are three Bible stories that highlight the importance of being prepared (there are many more).
Joseph interprets the dream that God gave to Pharoah Genesis 41:15 – 40. Basically, Pharoah has a dream that disturbs him about 7 fat cows, that are then devoured by 7 lean cows. That’s a dream weird enough to call on the Almighty All-Knowing God, and the interpretation was predicting 7 years of abundant harvests with 7 years of famine following them. You see, God was preparing everyone for these lean years and provided the wisdom needed to survive those tough years. Joseph went into planning mode, saved an appropriate amount of foodstuffs, and the nation of Egypt survived the lean years.
Parable of the ten virgins Matthew 25:1. Let me caution you to not focus on the word ‘virgins,’ since this is a historical-cultural reference meant to highlight, in a situation the people of the time would easily understand, the concept of foolishness vs. wisdom, the idea of being prepared. In this time in history, it was customary to go out and wait while it was still dark for the bridegroom to come for his betrothed. So the foolish virgins took their lamps, not knowing how long they would wait, without additional oil, while the wise virgins took lamps and a spare jar of oil, just to be on the safe side. Really more of the meaning of this story is about the kingdom of heaven and practicing faithfulness. FOMO has always been the part that has stuck with me — maybe because in Sunday school, I was 7 years old and the teacher focused on being prepared as opposed to the kingdom of heaven — you don’t really want to scare little children about sudden death. Remember, those were the days when we would pray this prayer regularly:Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Please bless grandma and grandpa and make Toby, grandma’s dog, better. Amen.
The story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Nehemiah is fascinating. It is full of bad guys, being prepared, organizing people, etc. Another Sunday school lesson series that influenced me.
What can we learn from these stories? Here’s the bullet list:
Wisdom works well
Avoid bad stuff
Don’t squander your wealth — you might need it later
Manage your resources
Stories that we tell our children matter
Discipline of going to church (even if it’s online) builds character
Reading the Bible builds character and is entertaining
Expect bad guys in power and in government
Do something even though there might be bad guys in power
Relationship with God is beneficial to your health and lifespan
Be bold and do right
We don’t need to worry, we need to be obedient to God
What else have you learned from these passages of scripture?
The 7 smart tips in the article referenced above are:
Create a Dedicated Workspace
Set and Maintain Your Normal Hours
Focus on Your Output
Eat Healthy Lunches
Schedule More Check-ins with Your Team
These are all basic strategies for working remotely and some are easier to implement than others. Since I have been working remotely for the past 8 years, and across many time zones, I thought I would share some other ideas that have been helpful in keeping me engaged in work and with my teams, as well as balanced my family life.
We all know to some extent that much of our daily communication at the office is non-verbal. We see a co-worker with clenched teeth, or notice an entire team disappear for 2 hours. These are non-verbal cues that help us to do some interpersonal research and interaction to ensure that we are completing our deliverable with the most relevant information available. When we return home at the end of the day, we see the non-verbals of our family members, and no doubt turn to the happiest member for some stress relief (maybe the family dog?)!
When all of our time is spent away from the office, we miss out on those non-verbal cues, so enhanced communication becomes helpful and effective. When we are suddenly available 24/7 to our household, expectations need to be set, so that everyone understands what appropriate work boundaries are during lockdown.
Here are some suggestions for teams:
If possible, use a shared app for managing projects or tasks such as Monday.com. You can use this as your virtual office, see input, comments and status
If an app is not right for your team, a daily morning email can work well
Keep it short
Include explanations, why, steps, instructions, etc.
Bullet what you can
Use meaningful subject headers, such as Status: Project #1 [date]
Encourage your team to ask questions
Provide information for next conference call or video call
End of the Day Summary to Manager
Include status of deliverables
Daily morning huddle call
Here are suggestions for families:
Family meeting to set schedule, expectations, answer questions
Clearly identify workspace and expectations surrounding this space
g. “The dining table is my workspace from 8 – 5”
“I will put everything away by 5:30”
“While I am on conference calls it’s time for you to play in your fort”
“We will eat lunch from 12 – 1 picnic style”
You get the idea and of course you will have an entirely different scenario at your home!
Collaboratively get ideas for how to manage household tasks
Meet daily for a family huddle with lots of hugs and cuddles
Gently remind family of expectations
Ask what’s working well
Ask for issues/challenges
Ask for other input
If it isn’t working well, be sure to problem solve
Make changes as appropriate
Enhanced communication works well most of the time and especially now, to be sure we don’t start losing our sanity, we need to “use it or lose it!”
I was prepared for the lockdown here in Italy. I had a meal plan and I stocked my two-shelf pantry a little at a time over January and February. There is satisfaction when you’ve anticipated a crisis or emergency and effectively moved past the first phase — avoiding a potentially crazy situation.
Now that we have lived through the first week, it’s time to do a quick review of what 1) has worked well, 2) potential holes are in the plan, and 3) other opportunities this situation provides.
Zombie Meal Plan: the rough template of what meals we would eat over the course of a 2-week lockdown, and ensuring that we had the ingredients in the cupboard or the refrigerator
Routines: we have been using a home video series for yoga stretching, apps for sermons online, prayer time every meal and every night before bed, tidying up, so these structures keep an even keel for us emotionally and physically
Introducing our love of singing into our Routine: I felt very Maria von Trapp yesterday — wait, I have to start earlier, earlier in the week when we ran out of dishwasher pods. We ran out, which is a little cloud on my sunshiny plan — it means, that I have to don my pink rubber gloves and wash dishes BY HAND! Washing dishes by hand has always been a particular hated task of mine, possibly due to a somewhat mentally traumatic event in my elementary school years, but let’s not open that jar of anchovies. So, I am washing dishes by hand, and I think I must have gotten over my little trauma, because I started remembering times my grandmother and I washed dishes, singing old-timey church hymns at the top of our lungs. I determined that the next day, I would draft Hubby as my suds helper, (which worked – because he is simply the best guy in the world™®. Then I started trying to sing an old-timey hymn and I had forgotten most of the words. Not to be deterred, I asked Hubs to choose a song. He wasn’t quite cooperative. Another night passed and I turned into Maria von Trapp or maybe Mother Superior. I warned him that I wanted to hear Folsom Prison during the next episode of ‘washing dishes.’ Then I followed up on it. He wasn’t cooperative at first, which is totally unreasonable — see Hubby has a beautiful singing voice — he has performed musical theatre! Anyway, I started the song, and we all know that I love to sing, but not everyone loves to hear me sing. I handed it off to him and like a champ, he took it and sang his best Johnny Cash! I heard all of Folsom Prison! Next, we started learning a duet — Shallow — it was incredibly fun and yes, it helps to strengthen us, remind us of who we were, who we are, and gives us hope about how we’re going to handle anxiety and stress together. As a team or at least a country duet.
Haven’t needed to go to the grocery store (might want to, but haven’t, just no need)
Not accounting for Hubby’s water and creamer needs during the day when he’s home from work (accounted for coffee, and for water, just not the extra 1,5 liter he chugs throughout the day and the 1/4 cup of cream he likes in his “coffee”–meaning he is using my-planned-for-espresso-steaming milk. Don’t worry, I have two boxes of milk in the cupboard that I can use — I am just being stingy! #curmudgeon)
Didn’t plan for a small bag of dishwasher pods, hence long story above
Possibly might run low on lemons and juice — a grocery run may be needed this week (In this ‘live’ test of my Zombie Meal Plan my goal is to be able to eat well with no grocery store runs! Even if we do sneak in a creamer and dishwasher pod purchase.)
If you liked the first post, “What can we see in one day?” which centered around some of the most popular sights & sites featured in the movie Roman Holiday, you might want to venture to another of the 7 hills in Rome, Aventino, just a stop or two past the Colosseum stop on the Blue or ‘B’ line of the metro.
Note: Don’t be afraid of taking the metro or bus.
Let’s assume you are staying somewhere near the main train station, Termini; if you aren’t, you will want to know how to get there for your other train rides. Rome only seems to have two main train lines, the ‘A’ or the ‘B’. It’s really simple and easy to use.
Take the ‘B’ towards Laurentina. This ‘B’ line or Blueline heads towards a great little shopping neighborhood, Cavour, then on to the Colosseo (Roman Colosseum), then Circo Massimo (Circus Maximus). Get off here at Circo Massimo for a lovely walk around this ancient chariot track.
Look up at the ancient ruins of the Flavian palace, which was destroyed by fire, flood, and demolition. I highly recommend taking the time to imagine chariots racing around the track 7 times while an emperor looks down from his lavish viewing area — the palace, on Palatine hill, was very grand in its day and is simply huge. Circus Maximus is in the valley, then there is Aventino hill.
On the opposite side of Circo Massimo is the monument, Roseto di Roma Capitale. There you will find a street that will take you up into the Aventino neighborhood, look for Via di Valle Murcia, and head up the hill. You will walk near the walls on your right and find the Giardino Degli Aranci, a quiet small park with an incredible view. We happened on an open-air piano performance here, with families and their children relaxing on a Sunday afternoon. This has medieval architecture and is leading to the next building, the Basilica of Saint Sabina, the mother church of the Dominicans. This church is unique because of its simplicity and selenite windows (as opposed to stained glass).
Now next to that is… the Keyhole of the Knights of Malta — a small viewing portal in a gate in the wall that aligns perfectly with a view of St. Peter’s Basilica. Read up on the Knights of Malta, the crusading knights founded in Jerusalem in the 11th century while you are waiting in line. Expect to wait in a line, donate a little, and spend a couple of minutes enjoying the view. For some, it’s underwhelming, for others, it feels like being transported back in time. For your wait, there is a snack vendor and your fellow folks waiting in line — interesting case studies in modern culture.
Take the Via di Porta Lavernale, all of the way down the hill to catch the tram, the number 8, heading across the river over into Trastevere. Since I can’t tell what time you began this day, I am hoping that it’s lunchtime — so here is one of my tips for a great restaurant for lunch in Trastevere. It opens at noon and it doesn’t have an Italian name, but it is great for those who love Carbonara done several different ways, and done better than anything you can get near the Spanish steps.
The restaurant is called ‘Eggs’ and you will have to use your map to find it — it’s close to the Trastevere Mastai stop (first stop across the river).
Have lunch, wander around, then head back on the tram and get off at Marmoratta and walk toward the ancient Pyramid of Caius Cestius. There is also an old protestant cemetery if you are in the mood for wandering around, looking at headstones. This is right in the walls of Rome. After exploring, head to the metro station. This is the Pyramide stop, which is the stop just after the Circo Massimo stop you got off to see Circus Maximus. Keep heading towards Laurentina for two stops and get off at the San Paolo stop. Cross a street or two to get to the Basilica Papale San Paolo Fuori le Mura, the Papal Basilica of St Paul outside the walls. This church burned down and has been restored. Some of the most amazing alabaster windows can be found here as well as a stunning mosaic. Part of the old, original doors are still there, inside and the folk art feeling of the ornamentation is informative of the period.
Head back to the station and decide if you are ready to go back to your room for some rest before a late Italian dinner. Now that you know how to get to Travetere you can make reservations or add a little more to this itinerary to stay over on this side of town.
Back near the tram is the Testaccio neighborhood, with a farmers market, two piazzas that are mostly used by locals and a church that isn’t always open, Santa Maria Liberatrice.
A local Roman has recommended a restaurant in the Testaccio neighborhood, Felice, as having the best Caccio e Pepe — the Roman pasta dish that is simple and eponymous.
I hope you enjoy this sample itinerary of seeing some other Roman spots!
Perhaps you are traveling to Rome and only have a couple of days to wander around. Perhaps you don’t want to rush, plan too much, and stand in too many lines.
Here is one walk that is relaxed and very easy to accomplish in one day, an evening if you don’t go inside the Pantheon [go inside the Pantheon though, really].
Take a hotel room on Via Veneto. Walk to Via Vittorio Veneto past the Hard Rock cafe and down to Piazza Barberini — where you will see a beautiful, but smallish by Roman standards, fountain, Fontana del Tritone.
Wind your way to Via Sistina, just the street further off the front of the fountain. Turn towards a tall Obelisk, Via Sistina and walk through the charming street, along with 57 other people to see the view, the Roman-made obelisk, the beautiful church. If you head towards the other Obelisk, you will be on Via delle Quattro Fontane which goes up a hill, then you see an intersection with a small fountain on each corner. Head back the other way.
Quattro Fontane – 4
Quattro Fontane – 3
Quattro Fontane – 2
Quattro Fontane – 1
Next, walk into the beautiful church. Then after you say a prayer for world peace, head back to the view, then down the Spanish Steps and see the fountain at the base, look up in awe at the steps themselves. When it is raining, you might have most of the steps to yourself, except for those guys who sell umbrellas, self sticks, etc.
Once you have taken lots of pictures of yourself near the fountain — be sure you don’t get into the fountain, the police will blow whistles at you and admonish you in Italian. Continue forward [West] on Via dei Condotti past several luxury shops and when you get to the Fendi flagship store, look around for another column — this one is an intricately carved memorial to Marco Aurelio [Marcus Aurelius] commemorating his victories. Continue on around the bend to see another obelisk, Obelisk of Montecitorio. Then wind your way around — following the crowd to the Pantheon, where there is another fountain, a Salumeria, and restaurants with outdoor seating.
Enjoy the Pantheon, then take a side street back, winding past the Trevi Fountain, then back up to Barberini then up to Via Veneto. Use Maps to ease some of your anxiety about getting to Trevi fountain, although most likely, you will follow the crowd past Hadrian’s columns from his temple, Il Tempio di Adriano in the Piazza di Pietra …
Trevi fountain by night
Trevi Fountain by day
and right over to Fontana di Trevi [Trevi Fountain of movie fame]. The scene over at Trevi fountain is amazing and there is a lot of police whistles going on to keep the crowd under control. Trevi is beautiful by day and beautifully lit by night, and worth seeing under both conditions.
As far as I can tell, Italians are warm, friendly, and open generally speaking. The cultural behaviors that we love so much– the hand gestures, the emotional outbursts– are in evidence daily. Here is my list of differences that were new to me:
Fish and steak are charged by the 100 gram — so if you see €20 on the menu, that is not the price you will pay at the end — but rather you will pay €20 per 100 gram — so that piece of fresh fish might cost €40.
Toilet seats — or rather the lack thereof. Be prepared with disinfectant wipes and portable toilet seat covers, which are also not available. If you can manage not to sit — even better!
Grilled vegetables — listed as Miste Verdue griglia do not arrive at your table hot, or even warm. They come room temperature or even cool. That often goes for the side potatoes too!
Espresso is cheaper at the bar and costs around €3 more at Tavola or table. Go ahead, order it, watch it being made, and drink it right there standing up! When in Rome, do as the Romans do,
Don’t order a latte, rather order a Caffellatte. Latte just means milk in Italian and you get some funny looks when you order a milk.
Buona sera (Bonah Sayrah) happens right about noon and lasts until about the time you leave a late dinner at the restaurant. First thing in the morning is Buongiorno.
Old men and their shoe shops. So far, I have seen a few shoe shops that sell only Italian made shoes and each of these has an octogenarian greeting and running the money. These guys are over-the-top charming, one joking with us, flattering us, and kissing my hand even though he knew we didn’t speak Italian. The younger workers, I like to think that they are the great-grandchildren, make apologies, translate, and overall this creates the charming family environment that moviegoers expect.
Italian maids are amazing, don’t understand English and have full access to your room to tidy it up; once late morning and once while you are supposed to be out to dinner, plus someone else brings water, someone else checks the minibar, someone else checks to see if the maids did a good job…it’s like grand central station.
Roman water is good, unless you have a tendency to kidney stones. It has calcium — not the good bone-building kind, so one drinks a lot of bottled water. Frizzante is the most bubbly–the waiter will ask if you want gas, there is natural slightly sparkling mineral water, and there is still water. You are able to purchase water in glass bottles to avoid single-use plastic.
Birkenstocks have a tendency to get “side-eye” from Italian men. Women simply ignore them.
Skip the line by purchasing tickets and vouchers in advance from the hotel — you can even purchase from a hotel if you aren’t staying there, making impulse tours easy! There are always folks on the street selling tickets too — they are well marked so you don’t accidentally buy from the wrong guy.
Metro ticket machines — look at the pictures of the money it is taking — sometimes it quits taking bills and you can tell that by the picture of coins.
Don’t accept roses from the guys on the Spanish Steps — unless you want to donate.
Eat the roasted chestnuts. Look for evenly roasted chestnuts, the vendors paying attention to even roasting have the chestnuts arranged in a single layer. Wait until after 6 to ensure enough roasting has happened. Then walk around with 600 other people looking at the luxury shop windows and Roman landmarks.
Don’t get into the fountains. These are national treasures and meant to be enjoyed visually by everyone.
Be respectful of the churches — turn off your phone notifications and sound, wear pants not shorts, or skirts/dresses that aren’t classified as mini. Talk in a quiet voice, take in the art, make a small donation, and feel free to pray for world peace and contemplate.
Buy local. Italians make some of the best shoes — so look for “made in Italy” try them on because some are designed better than others, and in small shops sometimes you can make an offer. Italians have access to wonderful produce, so get as much fresh fruit juice (spremute) and fresh room temperature vegetables as you can get!
Learn some Italian — it’s really easy to get the hang of it! Grazie!