Leslie and I will be moving to our permanent home just a few days from now. You’ll get to see it soon!
But first, an update on the coronavirus here in our little corner of México. Officially, there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Lakeside community (as of 19 May). Good news: Our favorite liquor stores are open again, as is the dry cleaners. But we’re still doing church via Zoom, and we still can’t get our hair done — or for Leslie, get nails done. Soon, we hope.
Grocery stores are mostly open, but going there is not a very good idea. And you definitely don’t want to go to Guadalajara (where Costco and Home Depot are). So some of the locals with entrepreneurial spirit are offering food delivery. They bring groceries right to our door and Leslie can disinfect them as needed. Our new friend and taxi driver Paulino shops for us at Costco in Guadalajara. No problem getting toilet paper. And when the liquor stores in Ajijic were closed, Paulino could get wine from Costco — our favorite Apothic Red. Gracias, Paulino!
Locally, one food delivery group is called “Bogo (buy one, get one) Box.” If you buy a box of vegetables from them, they donate a similar box to a local family. We like that. The virus has hit this area hard, economically at least. Operation Feed, a local charity that gets food to the needy, has seen its client base more than double recently.
Also, Leslie’s Mexican friend Hana has started a food delivery service. We’re getting things we never heard of before, all grown locally. Have you ever seen a “watermelon radish”? We’ve got ’em, and they’re terrific on salads. We have a big salad for lunch just about every day. No, they don’t taste like watermelon — they just look like watermelon. They taste like a radish. Very crunchy. They’re colorful and huge, just like regular radishes here. Local radishes at the tianguis (street market) can be as big as golf balls!
I may have said before that one of the few downsides to our local paradise is the condition of the Lakeside streets. But over the past few months, the Jalisco (state) government has pumped lots of money into restructuring the carretera, which is the primary east-west Lakeside road. It’s been fully resurfaced and the bicicleta (or ciclopista) (bike lane) has been upgraded to the point that I’m thinking of buying a bike!
Before, the road was full of potholes and the bike/pedestrian lane was not well marked and potentially dangerous. The road has been resurfaced with asphalt from Chapala west to Jocotepec, and the bike lane now has a concrete barrier to protect bike riders and pedestrians. There are also street lights, new plants and crosswalks that didn’t exist a few months ago. Gracias, Gobernador Alfaro (thank you, Governor Alfaro).
Of course, most streets in the village are still cobblestone. And that’s not going to change anytime soon.
Shortly after arriving in Italy’s capital, Leslie and I climbed the Spanish Steps and gazed out across the city. “We’re in Rome,” she beamed as she grabbed my arm. Okay, we’ve been to many of the major cities in Western Europe by now, so a new town really shouldn’t be making us giddy. But there really is something special about this place. After all, we’re walking in the steps of Julius Caesar and Sophia Loren. Lots of other folks, too.
There’s a lot going on in this town. More tourists than downtown Chicago in July! We’ve seen ancient wonders like the Colosseum, the Roman Forum and the Pantheon, as well as more recent tourist sites like the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain, both of which were an easy walk from our hotel.
We started with the Colosseum. Our outstanding guide Roberta explained that the world’s largest amphitheater was built by Emperor Vespasian to get rid of a lake and some buildings put up by Nero after he burned Rome. Construction started in 70 C.E., just after the Empire destroyed Jerusalem. Jewish slaves got the whole thing done in just nine years. Impressive. Vespasian got it started, his son Titus finished the amazing arena.
Events in the Colosseum were free, part of the empire’s way of keeping the populace in check — give them free bread and free sports. There were exotic animals fighting each other, simple executions and gladiatorial contests — the main event. Gladiators fought for three years. If they survived, they won their freedom. That doesn’t mean they went at it every day. Roberta said gladiators only had to fight four or five times a year.
The Colosseum could hold more than 50,000 people — some say as many as 80,000. Even though it was free, you had to have a ticket that provided a reserved seat in the proper section.
The best seats were reserved for the emperor, top government officials and wealthy citizens. The good seats were for the middle class, while ordinary folks were higher up. Slaves and women — because they really didn’t count — got the nose-bleed seats (women of wealthy families could sit with their husbands in the better seats, of course).
Roberta then took us through the Roman Forum, where we saw several temples to pagan gods and a massive victory arch celebrating the Empire’s destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.
We also saw the Capitaline Hill, where the Roman Senate once met and which is still home to one of the most important Italian national government buildings. The Forum was a marketplace for ideas as well as consumer goods.
We finished the day at The Pantheon, which was originally built “to honor all gods” but now it’s part tourist trap and part Christian church. Originally built in the first century B.C.E., it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the second century C.E. Parts of it, though, are over 2,000 years old, including the marble floor, the stunning facade and the beautiful dome, which is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. (Yeah, the Romans had concrete.) The dome really is an architectural masterpiece. If you can tear your eyes away from it for a moment, you’ll notice lots of other people looking up and gaping. Great design.
Finally, a bit about Rome itself. Many of the streets are tiny, almost alley-like. But cars and scooters use them at will, meaning pedestrians do not always have the right-of-way. We sat down in the outside seating at one little restaurant and had cars going by less than a foot away from our table. We moved inside, but only because it started to rain. Drivers are stunningly aggressive. The only time they back off is for pedestrians in a crosswalk. Drivers have to stop — it’s the law. If you’re not in a crosswalk, though, stay alert or get run over.
Our hotel is in an area where there are lots of restaurants; one on nearly every corner — sometimes three in one block. The menus are much the same everywhere: antipasti, first course pasta, second course meat or fish. And pizza, of course. No, Roman pizza is not better than Neopolitan pizza. They both taste really good, but I still need to check the pizza quality in Florence. So far, we have not had a bad meal in Italy. And Rick Steves is right about one thing — in Italian restaurants, the pasta is always perfectly al dente.
The downside to Italy in general, in my humble opinion, is that pretty much everybody smokes. There are limits, such as no smoking in restaurants or public buildings, and not on trains. But just about every restaurant has outdoor seating, and smoking outside is OK. Well, not if your table is right next to mine. Also, while waiting for a train one day in Naples, we looked down at the track and saw that it was littered with butts. It’s hard to walk down a street and not smell smoke. Big downside.
I’ll leave you with a few additional photos and this short movie of the Colosseum. Leslie shot this with her phone. It may go into your “downloads” and you’ll have to look for it there.