FORUM OF AUGUSTUS. Photo by Marina Pascucci



Special to woodypaige.com

ROME – Three years ago on Jan. 11, 2014, I plopped down three bags at my friends’ apartment near the Colosseum, ending a 40-year newspaper career and starting a, hopefully, 40-year relationship with Rome. I’m still here. La Dolce Vita could not be any sweeter if I wrote the sequel. I have this beautiful penthouse apartment with a huge terrace overlooking the Tiber River, I have more friends than I ever had in Denver, I have a drop-dead gorgeous, talented Italian girlfriend and I eat the best food in the world every day.

Rome’s Third World public services are a hassle, corruption is rampant and I still make enough mistakes in Italian to make the locals chuckle. But the lifestyle here is paradise. I tell people that in America you learn to work; in Italy you learn to live. I am living better than I ever have and don’t plan on leaving. Ever.

But sometimes it helps to remind myself of all I have in Rome. So every year on Jan. 11 I write a list of why I love living here. Here’s apartial list:

♥Waking up to hear Italian chatter outside my window. Even if I don’t always understand what they’re saying, the Italian language is as beautiful as a love song.

♥Bencaldo is just one of a dozen ways you can order coffee. It sure beats “a triple shot one shot decaf two shots regular extra compassionate cappuccino with an add protein shot with a straw,” which someone actually ordered in the U.S. Brew that, Starbucks.


♥Federico, my butcher in Mercato Testaccio, always wears a white hat to honor all the Italian macellaios from the past.

♥The church bells peal on the hour. I don’t go to church, but these bells make me want to go.

♥Hearing an old man in the Trastevere neighborhood play “Il Padrone,” the theme song of “The Godfather,” not because he wants you to put money in his cup but merely because he loves the song.

♥Hearing strangers in cars yell at me, “FORZA ROMA!” when I walk my neighborhood streets in my A.S. Roma sweatshirt.

♥Listening to Andrea Bocelli while making pasta amatriciana in my kitchen, with the windows open and a cool breeze mixing with garlic in the air.

♥The Nutella melts in my mouth as I take that first bite of the fluffy cornetto cioccolato in the morning.

♥I can wear an Italian suit to an informal event and no one stares at me, even though I feel like a dancing bear.

♥My market’s fishmonger is covered in blood and guts and carries a knife the size of a machete yet can tell me how to delicately season a salmon steak.

♥I get choked up, still, every time I hear the Olympic Stadium crowd sing “Grazie Roma” while trying to remain stoic in the press box after an A.S. Roma soccer win.


♥Asking Alessandro in my fresh pasta shop for buccatino, the round pasta perfect for amatriciana, and he takes a big slab of pasta and feeds it into a machine. In seconds, perfectly shaped, fresh pasta is wrapped up in paper and in my hand.

♥I can sip wine all day and all night and still reach for my espresso machine in the morning instead of my Excedrin.

♥Pistachio gelato tastes just as good as you imagined it would in Italy when you tried it for the first time as a kid in America.

♥Walking through my tree-lined Piazza Santa Maria Liberatrice and seeing old men and women chatting on park benches, smiles still on their faces after all these decades.

♥Eating outside in a candle-lit, garden trattoria makes the food and wine taste even better and the woman you’re with even prettier.

♥Having a Pinot Grigio nightcap at Caffe Oppio, late at night after the tourists have left, and seeing the back-lit Colosseum towering above me across the street, one of the most magnificent views in the Western World.

♥Italian women negotiate 2,000-year-old cobblestones in stilettos. These women were made for sexy style.

♥Seeing what pair of Italian shoes my Marina wears every night.


♥Sitting on my apartment  terrace on a warm summer morning, before the intense afternoon heat arrives, in my bathrobe with foamy cappuccino in hand, looking out at the Tiber River. From that vista, the Tiber looks like the Seine in spring.

♥Pausing in St. Peter’s Square, so late at night the only sounds are cascading waters of the fountain, and seeing Bernini’s sculptures line up like sentries leading to the spectacular back-lit basilica. If God ever surfaces on this earth, it will be here.

♥Kisses hello.

♥Kisses goodbye.


♥Fascist architecture. L’EUR south of my home is Benito Mussolini’s unfinished fascist neighborhood marked by architecture that even LOOKS fascist. Strong. Bold. Big buildings. Big right angles. Big windows. Big letters. Mussolini nearly ruined Italy, but his building designs were good.

♥The warmth of  a gorgonzola pizza tastes after walking through a cool mist to Pizzeria Remo, my cozy, Roman-style pizzeria where the wait is always worth it.

♥A three-minute walk can take you from the touristy madness of Piazza Navona onto the quiet side street of Via degli Spagnoli, lined with ivy and flowers and solitude.

♥The packed crowd at La Fraschetta di Castel Sant’Angelo suddenly breaks into Roman songs as the smiling wait staff claps along and the owner pounds the tables in encouragement.


♥One 10-minute train ride and a 50-minute bus ride takes me from Rome to Calcata, a tiny hilltop village of 70 artists and bohemians all escaping atop a 150-foot pile of volcanic rock.

♥I can go into l’Oasi della Birra, my local wine and beer shop and buy a bottle of Barolo, my favorite wine in the world (and it’d be yours if you tried it), for under 30 euros, a steal for the pride of Piedmont.

♥Caffe schumato, my new coffee of choice, is a little mini cappuccino and perfectly acceptable to order in the afternoon. Order a real cappuccino after noon, the baristas will give you a hand gesture.

♥The view from atop the Atlante Star Hotel, situated in perfect proximity to see St. Peter’s on one side and Vittoriano, the massive 19th century monument called The Birthday Cake, on the other. Rome may not have a more romantic place to begin a date.

♥The smell of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese after it’s poured into a little plastic bag by Antonella in my Mercato Testaccio. I can then be found on the street outside, with the bag up to my face, sniffing it like glue.

♥Walking down Via Giulia, past its 17th century fountain and Michelangelo’s ivy-covered Arco Farnese, which was designed to connect beautiful Palazzo Farnese with Villa Farnesina on the opposite side of the Tiber but was never completed. Tourists walk down it to say they walked down perhaps Rome’s beautiful street. I walk down it to reach my sports pub.

♥The baker near my gym will tell me “Ciao, bello” when I walk by and I don’t think he’s weird.


♥The night view from behind Il Vittoriano, looking out at the illuminated temples sticking up from the Roman Forum. No spot in Rome may illustrate the glory of Ancient Rome.

La Bella Figura, the Italian concept of a healthy mind and body, is the drive that sends women like Marina to the gym four times a week.

♥You can smell a woman’s perfume when you do the wonderfully obligatory double-cheek kiss at introductions.

♥Fathers kick the soccer ball around with their sons in piazzas. It’s a custom that dates back to the invention of soccer, the Italian equivalent of American fathers throwing the baseball around with their son, a tradition we lost so long ago.


♥Marina’s exquisite photos of Rome show the city’s beauty better than my written words ever can. (See photo of the Forum of Augustus above).

♥You can walk into the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, right in the heart of Centro Storico, on any given day and stare at three priceless Caravaggio paintings. For free.

♥I can pet stray cats resting on ancient marble, their bellies full and their spirits high from all the priceless cat ladies, the gattare, who feed them around the city.


♥La Gazzetta dello Sport has 26 pages on soccer every day — in the off season.

♥Cacio e pepe at Da Felice. The best restaurant in my Testaccio neighborhood has waiters come to your table and prepare the traditional Roman dish. In the Romano dialect, “cacio e pepe” means “cheese and pepper.” That’s all it is, mixed with pasta, but the Pecorino Romano cheese makes it one of the kingpins of Italian cuisine.

♥The Romanaccio dialect. Only Rome could have a dialect devoted entirely to profanity.

♥The Italian word tranquillo.

♥The laziali at the cafe near the Vatican forms the Lazio eagle in the form of my cappuccino even if he knows I hate Lazio.

♥I can walk from the Termini train station all the way to the Vatican, a walk of about an hour, and never walk down a main boulevard.

♥How people will pull over and stop their scooters in order to use their hands more while talking on their cell phones. Italians have about 190 hand gestures. You don’t need to know Italian to know what an Italian is saying.

♥I love sunbathing on my terrace as the sun sets across the Tiber River on Trastevere and thinking back how I used to do this at my fraternity. But the pizza now is so much better.

♥I love how I get weepy eyed editing this blog about why I love living in Rome.





John Henderson has been a brilliant sports and travel writer for most of his adult life, although some would claim he never has become an adult. On Jan. 10, 2014, he retired after 23 years at The Denver Post and moved back to Rome where he lived from 2001-03 as a freelance travel during his Rome stint he also wrote a light-hearted book about starting a new life in a new country —  with a long-distance girlfriend — called “American Gladiator in Rome: Finding the Eternal Truth in the Infernal City.” Currently John writes a travel blog called Dog-Eared Passport  that chronicles his life in Rome, and his travels around the world. In 2003, he was last seen in Rome kicking and screaming as The Denver Post dragged him back to the paper he first joined in 1990. In his second stint in Denver, however, he says he  had some of the best 10 years of his career.  He covered national college football, six Tours de France, swimming and soccer in the Summer Olympics and figure skating in the Winter Olympics. Don’t laugh. Figure skating got him to Russia three times. He also wrote a traveling food column called “”A Moveable Feast” based on John eating everything from caviar in Russia to fried insects in Cambodia. The insects are still preferable to the bacon cheeseburger at the Hooters in Tuscaloosa, Ala.) he covered the Colorado Buffaloes from 1990-95, the Denver Broncos from 1995-97, the Colorado Rockies in 1997 and Major League Baseball from 1998-2001. Henderson worked at the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 1980-90 and the mercifully defunct Fournier Newspapers in suburban Seattle from 1979-80. He is a proud 1978 graduate of the University of Oregon,  which was just one mile from where he grew up in Eugene

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