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January 6, 2012     Post-Gazette
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POST-GAZETTE, JANUARY 6, 2012 Page 9 Before the holidays, I was talking about a trip to Italy that I made in 1972. Sal Meli, a fellow East Bostonian whom I had grown up with, had gone to visit his parents who had retired and moved back to their point of origin, southern Sicily. I joined them just before the end of June and Sal and I toured Sicily, headed to the main- land, visited a friend in Calabria, headed up the west coast to Naples, picked up friends from Medford at the Naples airport, and then aimed the car northward to- ward Rome. One of the things I wanted to do after visiting the towns on the Amalfi coast was to stop at Anzio. Like Salerno, it was the site of a major World War II battle and I wanted to visit the American cemetery and pay my re- spects to our servicemen that had lost their lives in that part of Italy. The Ameri- can Anzio-Nettuno cemetery was gigantic, filled with white crosses and Stars of David. The names of the men interred were carved into the white marble mark- ers as well as the battles they fought in. Just outside the cemetery, a Frenchman, possibly a tourist, heard us tal',t,,g about the men bur- ied there. He walked over,to us and sarcastically asked what was so important about the dead American soldiers. Sal was ready to confront him physically. I stepped in front of Sal and answered, "The importance is this, if it wasn't for those dead Ameri- can soldiers, you would be speaking German today." The Frenchman said noth- ing and just walked away: We drove northward and arrived in Rome around lunchtime. Knowing that Rome is like any other big city, I had made reserva- tions for accommodations ahead of time. Sum- mertime in Rome is tourist time and I didn't want to take any chances. We checked in at the Hotel Cristina on Via Nazionale, near the center of Rome. The only problem was parking. Everywhere I looked there were no parking signs and the hotel didn't have a ga- rage. The desk clerk advised us to return the car to the rental agency and rebook it for the day we were going to leave Rome. He told us that the public transportation was excellent and easy to use. As it turned out, the main train terminal for Rome was just a few blocks away from the hotel at the Piazza Indipendenza. Sal, Jose and I unloaded the car and I drove it toward the train station where there were Hertz and Maggiore car rental agencies. Just as I was making the arrangements to re-book the car two weeks down the road, I heard someone call me by my professional name (Johnny Christy). I turned and saw two people I recog- nized, Bill Leavett and his wife Ruki Surkano. Bill was a character actor I had known from my Hollywood days. Ruki, his wife, also an actor, was the daughter of the then president of Indo- nesia. I had run into them in Venezuela the year be- fore when they were there working on an ill-fated ver- sion of the film Papillon at the same time I was taking a winter's vacation in Caracas. I finished the paperwork returning the car and rent- ing another for a point two weeks in the futur.e. They were there renting a car for a drive to the French Riviera. Ruki was to appear in a couple of commercials being shot there and they were going to make it a work- ing holiday experience. Bill mentioned that they had a friend, a character actor who had a full size American Chevrolet, and when he wasn't working as an actor, he rented his car and his services as a chauffeur to people who dfdn't want to take public transportation. Like Hollywood, the movie studios in Rome are on a break during the summer and Bill indicated that his frlend might be 'interested in driving us around. I liked the idea and Bill called the man who had no bookings. We agreed on a price and planned to sit with the man the next day to work out a schedule. Bill and Ruki drove me back to my hotel and said goodbye. I told Sal, Jose and Franny of my find and they were happy we would not have to worry about travel- ing around Rome. I next checked Out the room Sal and I were going to share: two beds, private bath room, a TV and a telephone. What more could I ask for. After unpacking, I decided to call home and let my folks know we had arrived in Rome. It was late morning in Boston when Babbononno answered the phone, "Allo." I yelled out, "Babbononno, it's John." My grandfather im- mediately asked me about my trip and I spent the next ten minutes detailing our travels. When my mom fi- nally was given the phone, I went through the same story. She then gave me the phone number of the only sister Nanna had that did not immigrate to America. She was widowed and lived in Rome with her son who worked in security at Rome's DaVinci Airport. I promised I would call and hung up. My gang was hungry and it was time for dinner. Dinner in Italy is in the middle of the afternoon, not at 6:00 pm or so, as it is in the states. We asked the man at the front desk if he knew of a restau- rant that wasn't a tourist trap. He explained that most Italians eat at places called trattorias. The upscale res- taurants were for tourists and Romans who were cel- ebrating special occasions. Seeing we were now walk- ing, we took his advice and headed for a trattoria on a side street off Via Nazionale where the hotel was located. Ten minutes later we were at the place, an unassuming restaurant. The diners were all speaking Italian and the aroma coming from the food was definitely Italian. We knew the desk clerk hadn't given us bad information and we entered and were brought to a table. The waitress brought the menus, and hearing us speaking English, tried her hand at it. I explained to her that we had just arrived in Rome and were given the name of her restaurant from the hotel. We ordered and were not disappointed. The food was fantastic and not expensive at all. The wine was homemade and arrived at the table in carafes with no labels. Just before we finished, the owner came over to the table and introduced himself. It seems that the restaurant was a family operation and that they were originally from Sardinia. He asked how we liked the food and we praised it to highest levels. The owner then told us to try other places to make com- parisons and then return to his place for the best. We would take his advice and did just that. When we re- turned a couple of days later, the owner greeted us and asked how long we were go- ing to stay in Rome. We gave him our itinerary and we told him that we decided to return each day for dinner. He asked if we minded if he picked out the specialties of the day for us and we told him to go ahead, letting him know what time we would arrive for dinner. As a result, we had the best authentic Italian food Rome could offer. That night, we began a walking tour of that part of Rome which was near the Piazza Venezia, the geo- graphical center of the city where the tomb of Victor Emmanuel is located. When we became tired, we found a sidewalk caf6, sipped espresso and sambuca and watched the people walking the streets of Rome. Before we called it a night, I called the man Bill Leavett had spoken to and made arrange- ments for him to pick us up in the morning to begin our sightseeing of Rome. To be continued ... GOD BLESS AMERICA f DIAMONDS " ROLEX ESTATE JEWELRY Bought & Sold Jewelers Exch. Bldg. Jim (617) 263-7766 j J!il r oV...EoWSo..:more than ::s. :he:Y:o. 1 BRATZ: 3-DVD MOVIE COLLECTION + FASHION BRACELETS (DVD) Lionsgate The Girls with a Passion for Fashion are back and ready to strut their stuff on Bratz: 3 Movie Collection + Fashion Bracelets. The first ever Bratz gift set to include three animated movies that arrive with bonus Fashion Bracelets, a favorite col- lector's item for young girls. Enjoy Yasmin, Cloe, Sasha and Jade as they enter the mysterious and exciting world of Genie Magic. On Rock Angelz they attempt to steal the show with their band to save their magazine. Starrin' & Stylin' features the foursome creating a high-fashion-hit and saving the prom with hard work and far out -- flash 'n' dash! PACKERS: ROAD TO XLV (4-DVD) NFIVivendi Entertainment NFL fans can relive the experience of the Lombardi Trophy/s return to Title- town, USA, as the Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl champions for the fourth time. The 4-disc set relives the Packers' remarkable championship run with the original network broadcasts of their thrilling four-game post-season run over Phila- delphia, Atlanta, Chicago and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. It was a season to be savored for all of Packers Nation as Green Bay captured the imagina- tion of an entire nation cre- ating NFL legacy. LEAPFROG: PHONICS FARM (DVD) Lionsgate Join Scout and his friends as they learn letter sounds with the help of some amaz- ing animals. Scout, along with Violet, Eli ad Penny long to learn about new animals. When their magical toy car, Axle, whisks them away to a farm, they discover a re- markable alphabet collection and ABC antics ensuel As the friends get in shape with an athletic alligator, console a sad seal, converse with 'a high-pitched horse and more, they make their way through the entire alphabet! THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN (Blu-ray) HBO Home Entertainment The Tuskegee Airmen is based on the true story of the 332 nd Fight Squadron. It is 1943 and the Germans are winning the Second World War as the U.S. suffers huge losses on the ground and in the air. Four newly recruited pilots are united by a desire to serve their country at a time when black flyers are not welcomed in the Air Force. Now, through the bru- tal demands of their train- ing, to the perils of flying over nations at war, the men must undertake the riskiest mission of their lives. An all- star cast includes Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Malcolm,Jamal Warner. Celebrate "Black History Month" with this thrilling adventure! COP LAND: COLLECTOR'S SERIES (Blu-ray) Lionsgate Action hero extraordin- aire, Sylvester Stallone headlines this edgy crime thriller that explodes with an all-star cast of Robert DeNiro, Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta. Freddy Heflin (Stallone) is the sheriff of a small and seem- ingly peaceful town populated by the big-city police officers he's long admired. When he uncovers a massive con- spiracy that could turn deadly, he must choose be- tween protecting his idols and upholding the law. ED SULLIVAN SHOWS: THE ROLLLING STONES (2-DVD) UME-SOFA Entertainment Considered as "the world's greatest rock 'n roll band," The Rolling Stones per- formed 17 of their greatest hits while appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show six times. They delivered eye-popping, musical gems that show- cased them as young, edgy and electrifying, all while on their way to conquering the world! Also includes perfor- mances by Dusty Spring- field, Petula Clark, Tom Jones, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Joan Rivers, Rodney Dangerfield, Topo Gigio, The Muppets, plus original commercials. SPY KIDS TRIPLE FEATURE SET (3-Blu-ray) Li.onsgate Spy Kids fans can enjoy a trio of fun action films for the whole family on Blu-ray -- Spy Kids, Spy Kids 2: The Is- land of Lost Dreams and Spy Kids 3: Game Over. The 'hat- trick' of films has star-stud- ded casts that include Anto- nio Banderas, Alexa Vega and Carla Gugino. Gregorio (Banderas) and Ingrid (Gugino) are the best secret agents on Earth. Nine years after retiring, they are called back to duty. When they dis- appear, there are only two people who can rescue them -- their kids! The pint-sized spy siblings sprang into ac- tion, all leading up to Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World -- in stores nowl COMPOSING OUTSIDE THE BEATLES: LENNON & McCARTNEY 1973-1980 (DVD) MVDvisual Recently overlooked is this independent documentary that reviews Lennon & McCartney's '70s output. In the early 1970s both artists carved out highly successful solo careers -- both critically and commercially. By the end of 1972 both hit the low- est points in their respective careers. 1973's output, how- ever, put both men back on the musical map, beginning the final period during which John and Paul were record- ing and releasing music si- multaneously. MemoriesH