Bart Och - Travel Journalist

An urban legend says that if you toss a coin over your left shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, you will be guaranteed to return to the Italian capital. More than 1,000 people visit the landmark every hour to join in the wish-making ritual.

A little over a decade ago I too tipped the nautical god Neptune with some pocket change, and now I am living in Rome.

To say that I am actually living here may be a little bit of an exaggeration. A month certainly sounds like more than just a quick city break, but it isn’t long enough to make lasting, if any, friendships and learn the language. Nonetheless, to the undiscerning crowd, I am a resident of Rome – I do my own shopping and cooking, water the plants, and even take out the trash. What people don’t know is that behind closed doors I feed on copious amounts of thin crust pizza and ricotta ravioli with green pesto, drink a lot of cheap (my palette really isn’t that sophisticated) red wine, and mull over all the gelato I have tried and yet aim to try. All that in the company of Ludovico Einaudi, my favourite Italian pianist and composer, who lives on my phone right beside Billie Eilish and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Located just a short walk from the Vatican City – which interestingly also happens to be the smallest country in the world – the apartment I am staying at is, for the most part, home to a lovely French cat lady and her three lazy cats. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, Marine had to go back to Paris and she had asked me if I would like to look after her clowder while she is away. Needless to say, I accepted at once, booked my flight, and packed my bag – not necessarily in that order.

Italy makes me happy. And if happiness really is as strong a factor in contributing to longevity as I like to believe it is, then this would go a long way in explaining why Italians count themselves amongst those with one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Above all, they enjoy all of their quintessential foods and drinks without guilt or hesitation. They live to relish the flavours of their culinary traditions; freshly picked vine tomatoes, handmade pasta, doughy salted bread, perfectly cured meats, mouthwatering mozzarella, sharp shots of coffee, and delicious gelato, to name a few. And they spend a lot of time on it. For most Italians, it would seem, meal time is for prayer, conversation, camaraderie, and tradition. If in France food is an art form, in Italy it is more like a religion. Despite the relaxed nature of eating and drinking in Italy, the people do have rules when it comes to how, where, when, why, and what they do or don’t consume. As an example, most Italians agree that the ONLY way to eat spaghetti is by twirling it with a fork, and a fork alone. I have read somewhere that “eating the spaghetti in with a spoon is only for children, amateurs, and those who don’t possess good table manners.” And if you want to be declared “persona non grata” and deported, try putting ketchup on pizza – DON’T!

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