Archive for the ‘Rome’ Category

“Nothing is as obnoxious as other people’s luck.”― F. Scott Fitzgerald

Envy is a malicious emotion in which a miserable and narcissistic person craves the misfortune of others and begrudges their success. From the Latin word Invidia, envy is considered so nefarious it’s ranked number six among the Seven Deadly Sins. Some days I admit it – I’m a sinner…I envy the entire population of Italy.  

 “Envy is for people who don’t have the self-esteem to be jealous.”― Benson Bruno

Jealousy, similar to envy, is often defined as “resentment against a rival, suspicion or fear of losing someone or something you love.”  Hummm…

You know, I am not going to allow myself to linger any longer in these emotional black holes.  When I find myself in this unhealthy state of mind, I’ll just remember that the merry-go-round of life spins and spins and there are more than enough brass rings to go around.  I’ll wait and be patient for I am about to come around again for another grab at the prize. Negative moods are neither good for your soul nor your skin. 

Envious or jealous is just no way to be.

by Toni DeBella

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Proper Bathroom Etiquette

I put my euro into the slot at the automatic gate and a high-pitched alarm sounded. The gate wouldn’t open so I started fiddling with the coin return button in an attempt to make the buzzing stop!  Fifteen seconds of that ear-piercing noise brought out the bathroom attendant who shouted at me in Italian to move my bag. “Can’t you see that your suitcase is too close to the gate and that’s what’s causing the commotion?” he growled at me menacingly.

Big Fat Chicken

I’ve never been very good at confrontations; I get really nervous in tense situations, which usually renders me completely inarticulate. If someone is aggressive or mean to me I dummy-up, only to think of a pithy comeback later when it’s too late.

Parlo Italiano un po’

But something strange happens when I speak Italian: my personality changes and my communications become more direct and my tone tougher. Perhaps because my vocabulary is limited I don’t mince words. What finally comes out of my mouth is basic and instinctual. In Italian, I don’t pull any punches.

The change has come…

Without missing a beat or hesitating one millisecond, it came over me — a reaction as natural and spontaneous as I’ve ever had. “Eh, no, non ho capito perche’ il problema non e’ ovvio, SCUSA!” I yelled back at the attendant, adding the appropriate hand gestures for greater effect.  He backed off. Maybe this place is rubbing off on me?

by Toni DeBella

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La Barcaccia, Piazza di Spagna

Rome in late summer can have days so stiflingly and oppressively hot you can think of nothing else but the record high temperatures. Everywhere people are in a fever-induced trance, like melting zombies repeating the same phrases to whomever is within earshot: “Fa caldo!” “E’ caldo come un forno!”. With dead eyes we respond only with a weak, “Si, si”.

I find a small piece of shade near a piazza and sit down on the curb to rest for a minute. The undulating refraction of air rising from the burning pavement creates a mirage. When I stare at one spot long enough, I think I see a figure of the devil forming above a manhole. Hallucination is the first symptom of heat stroke. The soles of my shoes are melting, the mosquitoes that have been gnawing at my ankles have left large red welts on my skin and I’m so dehydrated that my mouth feels filled with cotton balls. Then, not too far in the distance I see it…a drinking fountain! If I weren’t so faint from the heat and humidity I would run toward it like a nomad to an oasis in the Sahara.

Archaeologists believe that the technology for moving water into and around a city originally came from the east, however Romans are unquestionably credited with perfecting the process (i.e., the invention of the aqueduct). This brilliant engineering feat goes unmatched in the ancient world and earned Rome the distinction of having the most available, purest, best-tasting water on the planet. You’ll find Nasone (big nose) fountains scattered throughout the Eternal City – there are about 280 inside its walls alone. On a scorching hot day like this one, all you need to do is simply bend over, stick out your tongue and take a long, cool drink from its glassy stream. L’Acqua di Roma: Liquid of the Gods!

by Toni DeBella

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During this entire month of November Bootsnall is inviting bloggers from around the world to participate in 30 Days of Indie Travel : a daily blogging effort to look back on our past travel experiences.  Trying desperately to keep up with my fellow bloggers (failing miserably), I am reposting this piece from April 2011.  My justification for the short-cut – I am being “Green” – Reduce, recycle, reuse!!!!  Today’s Topic: BUDGET.  Here is TRAVELING ON A BUDGET “ALLA TONI”…

One of my great fortunes in life is having two close friends who work as Flight Attendants for major international airlines.  These two women both collectively and single-handedly enable me to feed my addiction to Italy (or as I sometimes like to refer to it, “my crack”).  The companion fare or “buddy pass”: a way of traveling that is not for the faint of heart.  It requires nerves of steel, the patience of Job, the imagination of Sherlock Holmes, and the ingenuity and resourcefulness of MacGyver.  It also helps to have an innate ability to build alliances and form coalitions with the other “buddies” in line for the few choice “non-revenue” seats.  It’s sort of like “Survivor”, but in an airport.

Companion fares are a fraction of the cost of a regular ticket, but as the old adage goes, “You Get What You Pay For.”  Don’t misunderstand me, I am eternally grateful to my friends for sharing their privileges with me.  However, if you are planning to travel this way you must go in with your eyes wide open and accept its cruel game of “standby roulette”.  I have sat many a time at the gate testing the theory that I can telepathically compel myself onto the airplane by chanting  over and over again “please call my name, please call my name, please call my name” like some twisted mantra, in an effort to will the gate agent, (who’s forehead I have just burned a hole through) to say those seven magic words, “passenger DeBella, please come to the podium”.

Ah, the sweet glory of nabbing a seat in business class from New York to Rome! Warm nuts, champagne, fluffy socks, a blanket made of natural fiber and, the pièce de résistance, a seat that reclines almost flat.  Once you have flown business class, it’s hard to return to coach.  In the back (an airline industry term for “where the losers sit”) I feel like an immigrant crammed into steerage on the Titanic.  Should things go awry, I am convinced any real lifesaving procedures will be afforded to the platinum American Express cardholders first.  But I’m not thinking about that today – today I am one of them.  The cabin crew addresses me as Ms. DeBella.  “Ms. DeBella, what would you like as your entree?” “Ms. DeBella, would you like a warm towel?” “May I get you another pillow, Ms. DeBella?” They don’t call it business class for nothing.

But there’s a dark side to “standby, non-rev” (another airline term for “cheapskates who sponge-off their friends and family”).  I’ve been stranded in Milan for 3 days (my traveling companion was a high-strung, hot-tempered, not-so-easy-going Italian – very stressful!), Rome – 3 days (I finally resorted to tears and someone took pity on me), New York – 5 days (Icelandic volcano eruption – seven million other passengers and me marooned, so I don’t really count that one).  I have slept overnight on a bench in a food court at Frankfurt airport, aligned with 8 other rebuffed “buddies” (we filled an entire B&B in Fumicino, Italy) and naively accepted an offer from Domenico, a complete stranger I sat next to on a flight from Hahn to Campino, to drive me to Orvieto on his way to Viterbo.   He could have been an ax-murderer, but as it turned out, he was a really lovely guy.

The bottom line is I will take the opportunity to travel anyway I can get it.  I love airports – they are happy places for me.  When I am in one I’m either going somewhere far away or returning from a wonderful and unique adventure.  It’s certainly challenging to fly around the world without a structure or a guarantee.  Honestly I sort of enjoy the game – it feels like a test of my character and determination.  Over the years I have managed to overcome a lot of obstacles, so perhaps the hardships make arriving at my destination all the more satisfying.  So, like the title of this blog implies, I will beg, borrow and steal to get where I am going.  Buon Viaggio!

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For years young lovers have come to Il Ponte Milvio (Mulvian Bridge) in the north of Rome to declare their undying affection by writing their names on a lock, attaching it to a lamppost on the bridge and then throwing the key into the Fiume di Tevere (Tiber River) below. It’s a iron-clad promise to love each other until the end of time. Eternity ain’t what it used to be!

The bridge started attracting sweethearts after the publishing of Federico Moccia‘s popular book and film ““Ho Voglia di Te” (“I Want You”) in 2006.  Unfortunately the barrage of locks started to bend the lampposts and the practice had to be limited to steel posts added by the Mayor. When the posts become filled, the locks must be removed to make room for newly-passionate visitors.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times? Along with the City’s reasonable attempt to keep its infrastructure from crumbling under the weight of thousands of metal locks, the solution perhaps mirrors the devotion and commitment of modern couples these days. Happily ever after is hard to come by and having your declaration to the one you adore chopped-off by an orange suited city worker with a wire cutter seems to underscore the changing landscape of amore a Roma.

But being the hopeless romantic that I am, I like to imagine that someday an old couple will walk arm-and-arm across the Ponte Milvio and recall when they too placed a lock on this bridge to commemorate the beginning of their love story. They’ll smile because they’ll know that love can last even when the symbol of that love has long gone.

by Toni DeBella

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I have never been overly-superstitious and take great pride in my healthy cynicism.   I don’t throw salt over my shoulder or avoid black cats.  As a muralist, I walk under ladders frequently and don’t believe I have ever fallen victim to the evil eye.  Thinking or saying something out loud does not make it come true.  If it did, I’d be a size 6, rich and living in a palazzo in Orvieto.  But I digress.

My grandmother was normally a very serious and solemn woman.  One day a year she would transform into a madwoman, wielding a broom and running in circles shouting and screaming like a banshee in an effort to ward off the evil spirits who had apparently taken up residence in our cellar.  It was spring cleaning run amok.  I don’t know much about the tradition that had this small, fragile and shy lady fearlessly take on a bunch of ghosts in the basement of our house.  I wonder if it was folklore passed down from her childhood in Contessa Entellina, a small Sicilian town 80km from Palermo.  I did a little research and found quite a few references to sweeping away evil spirits with a broom — a common practice especially among southern Italians, but was unable to find any mention of the “screaming and running around” part.  Perhaps that was my grandmother’s own personal stamp on the custom.

Superstitious Minds

A superstition is a belief in something that has no rational foundation in science and is most often based on the prevailing religion or culture that contains these otherworldly beliefs.  The word comes from the classical Latin superstitio, meaning “a standing over [in amazement]”.  Greek and Roman pagans were believed to have scorned men who displayed a fear of the gods and thus, the behavior came to be referred to as superstition. This could explain why Greeks and Italians are famously known for their mythology and have a common legend in the “evil eye” – Malocchio in Italian, Mati in Greek.


When I wrote earlier that I am not particularly superstitious, I wasn’t being completely honest with you.  The fact is that in the last few years I have come to believe a certain necklace I own has developed supernatural powers that, if worn daily, will someday bring me good luck.

It started out as a simple chain with a silver bar hanging from it.  One afternoon while in St. Peter’s Square I looked down to see something glittering in the sun.  I removed it from between the cobblestones to discover it was a tiny medallion of the Madonna.  Convinced this was an omen, I instinctively hung it onto my necklace.  A birthday present of a charm with the word “Friend” engraved on it followed — then a Chinese coin and a 4-leaf clover.  On one arrival in Rome I wrote the message to my friend Angelo, “Io sono in Italia…mi sento come una farfalla” (I am in Italy…I feel like a butterfly).  When he presented me with the gift of a tiny crystal butterfly dangling from a pink heart of course I had to add it to my collection.  This “chain of fortune” is getting rather heavy!

Out of the 365 days in a year, I probably wear the necklace 360 of them.  The other 5 days I just don’t feel quite right without it.  Could I have inherited from Grandma this propensity to make weak associations of cause and effect where there are none?  What can I say? I don’t like tempting fate.  Writer Judith Viorst said it very well: “Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational — but how much does it cost you to knock on wood?”
by Toni DeBella

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A picture is a poem without words.” -Horace

A revolution has been brewing for almost a decade on the Piazza Navona, one of the most famous and historic squares in Europe. Millions arrive to see Bernini’s magnificent Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (The Fountain of 4 Rivers) and to stroll along the road, hoping to acquire an original picture of a Roman scene painted and signed by the artist in front of them. Now the tensions are high: real artist are pitted against counterfeit ones.

Art is not a thing, it is a way.”- Elbert Hubbard

I can’t intelligently speak to the political or economic ramifications of the most recent decree approved by the City of Rome to regulate painters and street artists on the piazza.  What I can say with certainty is that I believe society is obligated to defend those among us who have the ability to suspend reality and, with a brush in hand, transfer it onto a canvas to make a thing more beautiful – to make l’arte. George Bernard Shaw said it best when he wrote,“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

Performance Artist

In 2005, the Mayor and Council approved a ban prohibiting any type of commercial activity in the center of Piazza Navona. It was declared that permits would no longer be issued to paint in the city. Then came a resolution to govern the artistic profession, but nothing came of it. Nearly 6 years later the absence of rules means anyone (real artists and fakers) can enter and do what they want. The result has been a dilution of creativity and a strengthening of chaos and clutter. The legitimate are at a disadvantage to the counterfeiters who defraud tourists by peddling reproductions passed-off as originals. But why should the artists, some of whom have been on the Piazza since the 1960s, pay the price for the City’s failure to control those who bring urban decay to this beautiful place? Why should the people who have promoted all that is good about the Eternal City and have contributed to its charm and mystique now be threatened with displacement? Leonardo is turning in his grave!

No heirloom of humankind captures the past as do art and language.” – Theodore Bikel

What is at stake on the Piazza Navona is the keepsake of a city. Art has defined Italy since the renaissance and just like the oxygen in our atmosphere, civilization and Rome need it to survive.

Photographs by Toni DeBella and Massimilliano Balletti

Paintings by Massimilliano Balletti

by Toni DeBella

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