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Sunday, October 20. 2019
Reposted from one year ago because I wanted to relive it, sort-of: Notes from an accidental tourist, with MAGA. What is Ostia, and what is Real Italy like?
Pic from of MAGA Caffeteria from my urban hike around Ostia outside Rome.
"Ostia" is the mouth, the area of the old Roman port. About 25 minutes from the airport, 20 by ambulance.
No foreigners visit Ostia. It's a Roman middle-class and working-class suburb south of Rome on one of the commuter trains. Its 3 miles of beach on the Med (The Lido) attract less-wealthy Romans in summer for beach getaways. It has a half-mile of spartan hotels, one of which I stayed in (Hotel Bellavista) for 5 days while Mrs. BD was in Ospidale Grassi about a 30-minute walk from my hotel. No fluffy towels.
This was an accidental visit by this accidental tourist. (Mrs. BD fainted on the plane to Rome - face plant - and fractured some facial bones. Dangerous to her eye, and she looked by post-car crash.) While stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis blues, I did spend one day hiking Ostia and getting lost and hiking the beach with my trousers rolled up like T S Eliot, took the train to Rome to urban hike one day, took train to Ostia Antica (do not miss that visit when near Rome) and had a wonderful day there until it closed.
So before I post some photos of Ostia Antica later (a truly magnificent ruin of a Roman port city, just 3 train stops from Ostia, an hour from Rome) I thought I'd post some fun observations about some aspects of the real, non-tourist Italy. Remember, Rome is sort-of on the edge of northern and southern Italy, and a blend of both cultures but more southern than northern. I've been to Rome several times. Once is enuf in my view. Fun stuff below the fold (BTW, Mrs. BD is just fine now)
- Everybody has a dog. Lots of them are mutts which is fine. None of them are trained in the least. To an American or Brit, it would be shameful. The dogs, regardless of size, tug on their leashes, ignore commands, bark, and regard strangers with paranoid suspicion. Do not try to pet somebody's dog - and if you try to, the owner will bark at you.
- Dogs are welcome in cafes. Dogs growling and barking at eachother is a basic cafe noise. There are not many kids because while Italians have lots of sex they do not reproduce much. Still, there is usually one squalling child per cafe to harmonize with the growling dogs.
- Lots of young people do not seem to have jobs. They live with parents, hang out, flirt, smoke, and drink beer. Dress like Brooklyn hipsters.
- If the temp is 60 F or below, the parkas come out.
- The hospital is a government hospital. I'll tell you just a little about it. Open wards of 10-12 beds. Cracked linoleum floors. Compared to American hospitals, very low-tech and dirty. No hosp gowns - you bring your own clothes. No a/c but they open the windows at night so skeeters and flies get in. Nobody on duty at night. One bathroom per ward, no toilet seats of course. You never know when the doctors make their rounds - could be 10 AM or 4 PM. You just wait and hope. Remember, they do not work for you. They get a gummint pay check. They seemed quite competent despite working in an Italian manner, and some spoke halting English which is why is was good that Mrs. BD's friend in the adjacent bed was polyglot - Slovenian, Croation, Russian, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese, French. I mean fluent and accentless. A wonderful gal who we will stay in touch with. We watched an elderly nun die there, surrounded by fussing sisters. Don't even ask about the hospital food. Sheesh. All carbs, no fruit, vegetables, or dairy. Gross. I had to bring in stuff from outside. Excellent espresso and cappuccino in the hospital cafe where the staff tended to hang out and chat for lengthy times.
- Suppertime is 8:30 or 9 pm. People like to gather then in their neighborhood cafes. Everybody knows everybody and all are pals with the service people. It's all Italian kissy-face in the cafes while their dogs threaten to kill eachother. Loud? Many southern Italians are loud with only one volume of speech - what we term a shout - always with hands waving like a parody of Italians. They drink mostly beer.
- Roman women are beautiful and sexy - until they aren't.
- Restaurant and cafe food outside the cities and tourist areas? Terrible. I realized that the local cafe suppers of choice were rounds of antipasti and rounds of pizza. Nobody orders the secondi. It's all about jolly socializing with friends and neighbors. That's how I felt alien. In a town like Siena or Montepulciano, I fit in fine with all the visitors.
- Italian supermarkets are smallish but wonderful - full of Italian food! In Real Italy, I think the good Italian cooking is done at home. Of course, there are bakery shops and pastry shops and fruit and vegetable markets. I suspect that people cook more southern Italian there, pasta, beans, and braciole and tomato sauce and disgusting stuff like that which I hate.
- The Tabac shops are now selling marijuana in various forms. I didn't go for it, but maybe should have.
- Surprisingly to me, Halloween is a big deal. Saw no pumpkins though, other than chocolate ones.
- Streets and sidewalks are in terrible shape. Generally, lots of weeds and moderate dilapidation but not all.
- All shops except supermarkets are closed 12-2. Even the Ford dealership:
View from my charming balcony with dumpster view. The Med is out there.
The Lido in Ostia - packed in August, not much in October
Typical street scene. Every few blocks there are communal dumpsters with separated garbages. No personal garbage pick-up.
The main street of Ostia, Via Stella Polaris
Nice dog park
Nice bike parked outside hospital
A good Pistachio gelato for supper one night. I have switched from Hazelnut to Pistachio.
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Good to hear Mrs. BD is better, tell her hello and best wishes.
As for cooking, while we were in Florence, my son's best friend was there staying with a family. They went out 2 nights in a row. But he wouldn't meet us for a meal because his host "was an incredible cook" and I get the feeling that's probably a standard response for lots of Americans who get that opportunity to stay with a family.
I would guess the number of poor cooks is far fewer in Italy than it is in the US, and mainly for one reason. Americans simply don't cook that much anymore.
In fact, going out is a growth industry:
As Bird Dog may recall, my spouse developed a blocked colon while in Italy and spent ten days in the public Costanzo Ciano Hospital in Livorno having it fixed. The hospital itself was built in 1932 by Mussolini. Her huge double room had a 12 foot ceiling and overlooked a Cyprus tree-filled garden. Her roommate was a very nice Italian grandmother.
Four doctors came in on the Monday after Easter (a big holiday in Italy) to operate on my spouse to save her life. She received competent and attentive, if completely impersonal, care. The head surgeon had trained at UCLA. He alone spoke any English.
On our return to the US, our local surgeon praised the results, but remarked that her stitching, done with black silk, was quite antique (if effective). The total bill, full freight, came to US$7,000. The hospital billing department reported that it has 35,000+ unpaid bills from tourists and refugees (the latter mainly Tunisian) who just skip town. We were the exception, because we actually paid.
Livorno, being a big port, has some decent hotels. The one I stayed in, right on the harbor, was very comfortable. But my principal meal was Doner Kebab, served from a stand across the street. A full meal there, including a nice cold beer, came to 7 Euros. Observing everyday Italian life in the North of Italy was quite interesting. Many older people seemed quite stressed, and the young unemployed. There is not a happy vibe and little sign of optimism.
P.S. If one goes abroad, I recommended buying insurance from MedJetAssist. They dispatched a highly competent nurse from Rochester, NY to Italy to handle all the paperwork and accompany us home and flew us there from Milan on Emirates, Business Class, at their expense.
Of course I recall that.
Impersonal care is the right word. Competent too. Old-fashioned though by US standards.
My, those hospital descriptions bring back memories. Years ago, I was in a car accident with a Swiss family (hit and run driver from Argentina) near Novara, and we were eventually take to the hospital there. I received X-rays of my broken cheekbone by technicians in bloody coats, who seemed fascinated by my passport. On advice, I checked myself out of the hospital.
The telephone company was on strike, but the Hertz dealer took us under his wing (he had been a POW in the USA in WW II) and we were able to go to town to call to Switzerland. They couldn't read the X-rays there. My friend's mother had to stay in hospital and experienced somewhat worse care than you describe for your wife. Her stepson was able to get her flown out. Swiss insurance paid whatever fees were due in Italy.