16) Rome, Maria, and Christmas.

“Focus looking forward the Colosseum” – Rome, Phoenix

Hi there girls and boys, I hope you’re well.

My first visit to Rome was when I was 20, a rainy experience but it set up my love affair with the city. I’ve been there five times now and will be back when this current situation goes away. I stay in different places every time, liking to visit different parts of the city and finding that changing where I stay enables me to have a different outlook on where to go. I’ve stayed in an apartment in a rougher area than you’d see as a tourist, and because of that found the best place to buy suppli. These are fried rice balls, containing cheese or other fillings and are just wonderful, but watch the calories. DON’T go to the much-loved-by-American-tourists Bonci. Three minutes walk away is Alice Pizza, shorter queues, more choice, longer opening hours, friendlier staff. On the same street and on the corner of via Cipro and via degli Ammiragli, is La Siciliana, a place locals love. Food is cheap and always good. Or go to Trionfale market and pick up some freshly carved porchetta in a sandwich, from the ever helpful Paulo.

When I took Ellie for her birthday we stayed in a top hotel..was the experience any better? I honestly can’t say it was. I almost never eat hotel food, as I like to experience the surroundings and all they have to offer. In Rome.. well, you can barely walk anywhere without finding a cafe. And as for fear of being ripped off, just look for the green police cars, they are the financial police and businesses are terrified of them. At the airport there will be people telling you the trains and buses are on strike (they aren’t) so you have to take their cab..tell them you are local, they soon go away. You can get a bus to the city centre for a few Euros, but the train is quicker and there is a nice pizza place in the station. We sat in roadside cafes, drinking coffee, watching the people, eating pasta and home-made gelato by the tonne. The Vatican museum is a must, with access to the Sistine Chapel.. oh.. my.. word. Better get there on a guided tour at 7 in the morning though, as you can’t move for bloody tourists(!) past ten o’clock. You’ll need to be up early on a Wednesday as well, if you want to be at the front of the barriers to see the Pope. He touched my face, you know! (Friends are heartily sick of me telling them this). Then there is Piazza Navona. The Fountain of the Four Rivers is spectacular, I’ve had many a happy time there, eating icecream and watching the people.

Take a walk around / get lost as I did in Trastevere as well, beautiful. In another part of town is the Trevi Fountain, a must see, even though it has thousands of people surrounding it. Go at four in the morning when it looks even better and you’ll still find a few there. Stand on the Colosseum floor, then go below to the undercroft, to see where there did actually have lions and tigers and bears, oh my. I’m not so brave as to ride a Vespa around the city, but I’ve done the Segway tour a few times. If you think that the language will be a barrier, well yes it can be, but there will always be an English speaker close by. We get everywhere. The Spanish Steps though..not really impressed!

The time before last was memorable. I had gone for lunch in a little restaurant I’d noticed near the Piazza del Popollo. And then I met Maria. She was a waitress and won me over immediately with a brilliant smile as she took my order, and as I watched her wiggle away..wow. Later I heard a commotion, looked up and saw her tip a bowl of soup, minestrone I think, into a man’s lap. She proceeded to the now-shouting manager and slapped his face as he tried to tussle with her. I learned from the patrons at the next table, an English couple, that the customer had tried to slide his hand up her thigh. She stormed out, with me thinking good for her, as I love a fiery girl.

Later that week I was on a tram going to the Olympic stadium. They have THE most ornate running track next door which I use every morning. I had left my running shoes on the side, and I was hoping security would have picked them up, (they had). I’m quite friendly with the security, who once showed me into the Olympic stadium to run around for an hour, allowing my fantasies of collecting gold for Britain flourish. “And as they round the final bend it’s the American in the lead, but here comes Durham! She’s past the French, past the Russian, and as she passes the American she flashes her arse and it’s DURHAM!!!…oh dear she’s tripped over her feet and finishes.. 6 ..7..yes, last”.

Stadio dei Marmi and some of it’s 59 marble statues

But back to the tram. I was watching Rome slide by and making notes as to where the next cafes to visit were, when on stepped Maria. She looked at me, smiled, then sat next to me. In very broken English she asked if I was the girl in the restaurant, and in my equally broken Italian I said that I was, and we both laughed as I mimed her pouring the soup. I could have dragged her of the tram and molested her, right there. Maybe it was the way the sun was slanting through the window onto her face, maybe if was her perfume, Coco Chanel I believe, but mainly it was because I was smitten with lust. Dressed as she was in shorts, transparent black top and a bra, looking at just her face was difficult. But for two people that don’t speak the other’s language, we did ok, and as it was nearing lunchtime we found a restaurant. For the next three hours time flew by. I don’t make friends easily, or rather I avoid trying to make friends, the main reason is that I have a memory which is really bad and therefore I forget names in a flash, but I’m ok with faces. I don’t want to embarrass the other person by uhming and ahhing like Chris Whitty* when I see them. “Well, I cant have made an impression on Anna, she couldn’t recall my name”. *Chris Whitty, man of many letters after his name and one of the UK’s top scientists..but can’t speak in public.

With Maria though, addresses were exchanged and she promised to take me round Rome the following day, which she did. Petite, about 5’5, such deep blue eyes, raven haired, wearing a small yellow dress that let the sun through. Where either of us couldn’t grasp the word needed, Google translate on her phone stepped in. We ended the night with a drink, an Italian kiss to each cheek and a hug, but that was it. I know when a girl is out of my league. Maybe one day she would have been girlfriend material…once I’d learned Italian and persuaded her to come over to the girl’s side.

We kept in touch and the next time I was visiting, this time with Ellie, she acted as tour guide to even more of the city for a couple of days, commenting on how beautiful we looked together. I assume she had the wrong Google translation. Ellie kept asking me why I hadn’t just molested her. Maria took a particular shine to Ellie, but then so do most people. At one point I would have been happy to see them walk off hand in hand, they just looked so natural together. We Skype every now and again and she is taking English lessons, getting better every time we chat. We’re considering bringing her over to see the UK, but I’m afraid we can’t compete with Rome.

In the Campo d’ Fiore stands a statue to one of my heroes, Giordano Bruno, executed for his defiance against the Catholic church. The market square is the last place I visit before leaving Rome, to leave flowers and kiss the statue goodbye until next time. The church burned the poor man alive after torturing him for weeks as he refused to recant on his scientific observations. The statue faces the Vatican, but I wonder why they didn’t have it facing away from there, in defiance still? His only crime ever was to write and argue, and say things like “that there are many worlds, and all the stars are worlds, and believing that this is the only world is extreme ignorance”. But this is my favourite quote ever… Knowing he would be put to death, he told his inquisitors he “neither needed nor wished to recant, that he had nothing to recant, that he did not have views to recant, and did not know about what he should recant.” What a man. Depending on who you ask, he had his fingernails pulled out repeatedly, as well as other horrible descriptions of his torture.

Giordano Bruno, Campo de’ Fiore, Rome.

The square has a market every day, whether flowers, fish, veg, clothing, and is always worth a look. On every day you’ll find people laying flowers, even Catholics. The statue has always had flowers there, at least every time I visit.

There must be a look we British have, as I can guarantee one thing.. If you approach the Vatican along the via de Porta Angelica you will be asked, by a friendly Briton now living in Rome, if you want a tour. I have had that every time. Do we have a sign over our heads? I now have my responses ready though, “Been there…yes…done that…thank you…Durham actually…bye then”.

So yes, go to Rome.

I’m not a big Christmas fan, and never have been. My local Tesco has Halloween decorations up until the 1st of November, at which point they take them down to be replaced with the Christmas versions. I asked why one year, to which the surly staff replied, “Bundle of fun you are! To get in the mood, that’s why”. It takes you two months to do that then? Like Halloween, when you’re five, Christmas is fantastic. The current lurgy situation has sparked debate in Parliament about whether the lockdown should be postponed so that people can meet… what about the 364 other days, are they not important also? #otherdaysmatter

Travel restrictions are to be lifted. The same restrictions that allowed William and Kate to travel from London to Edinburgh, stopping at Berwick to visit a school yesterday? Or Boris to visit Ellie’s part of the world, and go to a factory in Blyth?

Admittedly, I’ve just spent 30 minutes organising Ellies plane ticket and hotel for Heathrow, so we can have a night alone before she arrives here in the northeast to see her parents, but hey!

We don’t buy each other gifts, after one year where we both spent a ridiculous amount on each other, after saying we weren’t going to. Cards are another thing I don’t do, apart from mum and dad 1&2, although I reply to my neighbours if they send me one. Those that are from companies though..I have one from British Gas here, address to “the occupier”, very personal! It’s wishing me seasons greetings etc, but if you have to talk to them during the year you are on hold for a week as they don’t give a toss about you then.

I normally spend Christmas day, new years eve and day at work, as the pool is open and a surprising number attend it, treating it as just another day, as do I. The same will be happening this year, unless we’re locked down in which case I’ll go to Ellie’s parents house. I’d rather work and give those with families the time off, as it seems everyone but me that works there LOVES Christmas. The decorations are up on the 1st of December, bloody festive sounds over the speakers, the front of house staff wearing reindeer antlers. Every year the manager says “For me, Anna, just put some on, you’ll feel more festive”. Do you know how stupid I look, sitting in my chair or patrolling in the pool in antlers? I have patrons asking me what I am, I didn’t know reindeer could swim, ho ho, how did you get your tshirt on over those, ha ha, it looks like rain, dear, oh just fuck off.

But of course you might have guessed I go to midnight mass. Of course I do, being a good Catholic… Some of these aren’t actually held at midnight, as our Christmas eve public transport stops at 6pm at the latest. Why is this? If you want to attend the big services in Durham or Newcastle, and you live in the sticks, there is no way you can return home. A sort of reverse Mary and Joseph thing. “Sorry, our buses are off for the night”. “But my wife is pregnant” “Well there might be a horse and cart going your way”. Even finding a church for mass is difficult, there being so few that have priests attached.

Then there the thousands for which it’s just an excuse to get pissed, as is new year, or new years, as it has become known. The news channels love new year don’t they, images of it being celebrated by letting off thousand of pounds/dollars/yens worth of fireworks, ignoring that country’s CO2 emissions policy, and for what? Do you feel any different on the moment one year ticks over to the next 1st of January? Have the troubles you had suddenly gone away? What’s that? I’m a miserable woman? Let people have their fun? They can have all the fun they want, but please don’t try to tell me I should be happier over the period. Many people feel suicidal over that time of year. After a stint at the pool I usually head out with the mobile soup kitchen, which is infinitely better than being cooped up with colleagues at the dreaded office Christmas party. We do a small turkey dinner at that time, and it’s all great quality food. We know this as non-homeless people always queue up as well. Police, paramedics, all sorts.

You know how there’s always one in your workplace that seems to be the main organiser of office activities? Well we have Susie. I like Susie, I really do. You can have an adult conversation with her one day, the next talk about absolute shite. Being a gym bunny, she is always checking out her looks in those mirrors, but not obsessed as the rest of them seem to be. We’ve been out dancing. We had a merry time getting lost while orienteering for charity and having to be rescued by the Fell Rescue service thingy, (oh the embarrassment). I was asked to be godmother to her firstborn, but explained that the church would explode if I were to be. However, at this time of year we don’t speak. This is because she is the OCP. Like OCP in Robocop, when she becomes the Organiser of the Christmas Party it turns her into something bad. Imagine Father Noel Furlong from the BBC’s Father Ted, but louder. I have even been know to rota myself off on the days she’s at work, leading up to this time of year. Being the lead lifeguard can have a perk or two. Having said all that, the actual nights out are fun, usually just a meal and then a club, (What, there’s dancing? Put me down for that) with only minimal shenanigans between staff..as theres only fifteen of us then any hanky panky wouldn’t go unnoticed.

Three years ago, and how time flies dear reader, we were allowed to take along your spouses, other halves, and “significant others”. What a terrible thing to call a person that should be your best friend.. The aforementioned hanky panky did indeed take place, a gym bunny’s girlfriend and a front of house staff’s husband, being caught in flagrante delicto in the toilets of the club. Such fun, watching the bunny and the receptionist avoid each other at work for the next weeks. Others are banned from nights out now, and we have a better time for it.

Still as much as you may hate the parties, there is now something even worse. Due to COVID, the office party has moved online. Reading Reddit there are people that are asking how to escape this. Could there be a worse thing that enforced attendance by Skype? I imagine Susie would in her element, having a captive audience. Of course there is a way around it, and thats to hold your party on the same server as a certain chat site. Then you will have the perfect excuse, as nobody will be able to log on..

I hope that your version of Christmas is as good as you want it to be and that you don’t get offended by my attitude towards it. If you’ve family over at this time, hug them tight, tell them you love them, and then hug them again. Remember, Christmas is not cancelled. Rather we are showing our love and care for our families in a way that is most appropriate in a pandemic. We are putting their well-being first despite our disappointment at not seeing them.

As ever, thanks for reading.



14th of December, 2020


3 thoughts on “16) Rome, Maria, and Christmas.”

  1. Grazie Anna per le tue belle storie e per aver condiviso parti della tua vita con noi. Divertiti a Natale con il tuo adorabile amico. con amore (platonico) Alex 19x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] 16) A few questions about Rome, and Maria. A number of folk think I can speak Italian, I can’t, but Google can. Is it a romantic city? I can’t be sure. People can find romance in anything, a painting, a book, and yes a city, but I’m not that person. If you want a quiet place away from traffic then don’t visit Rome. The ambulances make a sound like no other, rubbish collections are every day at 2 or 3 in the morning, and the cars seem to think that the pedestrian signals are there for decoration. But for food, culture, history..wonderful. Maria is doing well, still single, and from what I can gather in our conversations, maybe willing to have an experience with a girl. I can but hope. […]


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