Selective Anarchy in Uptown Rome

Manhattan types know all to well the Upper East and Upper West Side. These are bastions of success, wealth, and weirdness. But, what a great place to live! It’s just a stroll to Central Park or the Theatre District. And mass transit possibilities are both reliable and endless.

Welcome to Prati. It harbors Vatican City, boasts upscale living in antique condominiums, and, like NYC, is walkable from the North to Piazza del Popolo and all the goodies the Centro has to offer. And, in tandem with the Big Apple, this Eternal City neighborhood couches the noises and niceties one expects in a modern metropolis.

Photo on 5-8-16 at 11.03 AM

You can barely see the San Pietro Dome in the bottom left corner

The biggest headache is the horns. You see, Romans have no problem double parking and blocking in drivers who made the mistake of parking legally. This happens in NYC regularly as well. Yet, there is a primary difference. A double-parked Noo Yawker moves quick, has a sense that someone may be inconvenienced, and is mortified when faced with the fact that they have indeed barricaded an ill-tempered fellow citizen. Maybe it’s the thought of a 9-millimeter in the face that keeps them vigilant?

In Prati, thankfully, no one has OR WANTS a gun. Otherwise, the residency would drop 50% overnight. But, the illegal temporary squatters believe their perpetrated hassle is justified until the errand is run, the conversation completed, the café sipped (not slugged /that would be to quick), and the scornful look returned as they mosey back to their “Macchina” and casually PREPARE to leave. This, of course, involves plugging in the smartphone, adjusting the mirrors for mascara or eyebrow plucking (mostly men do this), checking 73 emails, unknotting the seatbelt, and slowly inching away with 3 stops to say ciao to buddies they see on the street. Remarkably, a gesture or harsh word is seldom offered. After all, everyone does this.

Stop signs and yield signs are nonexistent. Transport is a not-so-casual game of chicken. No one knows why mild attention (usually) is paid to the few traffic lights in the Piazza. It is anarchy pure and simple.

However, this lawless mess seems to function. There are few accidents, tire screeches, fights or angry forays in Piazza Mazzini, a residential hub of Prati. People make an eye “contract”, not contact.

“You go. I’ll cross. Next guy can zoom behind my butt as I clear with 3 centimeters to spare”.

No streets signs. No superstore marquis. No glass-lined dens of commerce or commercial enticement. Like the rest of Rome and Italy for that matter, there is a pledge to keep appearances in a warm pastel that boasts beauty while dooming desperate gringos to hopeless disorientation. So, you want to buy groceries or get a haircut or purchase some clothes or…you just have to know, ask, adventure, sojourn or, do what I do, follow a knowing Nona.

There is one exception, the Farmacia. For some reason known only to a retired Marquis somewhere, that big green pulsing pharmacy cross is a dominant glowing icon. Everywhere else, “Meet you at the McDonalds on the corner”. Here, THERE IS NO CORNER. Piazza is a pizza. Pick a meeting slice. A perpendicular intersection is as rare as the vendor who can change your 50 Euro note.

My guess is the Romans are aware of headaches produced by this marvelous mess and want victims to know where the relief options are.

This all pales when looking at the positives. The “boulevard” arteries feeding the piazza have tree-lined centers that offer shade to the stroller, a soccer field for the Ragazzi, and dog dump destination for Fido. Shops and stores and food and wine and fun and frivolity abound once you do the due diligence.

Close to the tourist and heritage sites yet quietly removed from the Pacific Rim Mosh Pit Cattle Drives, Prati is an oasis of relative peace, safety and (occasional) quiet.

The bus or the metro can get you there. But a simple trek along the river is my transportation choice. What’s the rush? Rome is to be casually surveyed and Prati ain’t going anywhere.

Porca Miseria! Someone downstairs isn’t going anywhere either. That horn has been honking during this entire blog composition.

Where’s my gun?




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Tom was born Thomas James Shaker on August 13, 1952, to Mary Katherine Christopher Shaker (daughter of Italian immigrants) and Mitchell Francis Shaker (son of Lebanese immigrants) in the town of Niles, Ohio. He is the fifth of eight children. He scored the lead role in his kindergarten play Frosty the Snowman and never looked back. Throughout his 12-year parochial education, Tom mixed high academic marks with countless arts, sports, and student government activities. This culminated with his becoming a participant, then counselor and finally consultant to the National Association of Student Councils (NASC) and its affiliates in Ohio (OASC) and Pennsylvania (PASC). Tom also was selected and participated in the Buckeye Boys State leadership conference sponsored by the State of Ohio. He continued these activities as he prepared for undergraduate school. Entering Kent State University in September 1970, Tom immediately became involved with activities surrounding the tragic campus shootings the previous May 4. He was a founding member of the Candlelight Vigil Committee and continued to work with the Centre for Peaceful Change. From 1970-74, Tom produced many theatrical works off campus while performing in university theatre department plays. He was inducted into three honoraria and given the Senior Service Award. Tom graduated with countless student activity, government and Arts credits highlighted by his work as the publisher for the Chestnut Burr Yearbook and Kent Stater Campus Newspaper. Tom earned his AEA Actors' Equity Association Card (the union for professional stage actors) in the summer of 1974 as the third cowboy from the left in Oklahoma and fourth Buddhist from the right in The King and I. He was accepted to Akron University Law School, attending in the fall of 1974. But, the draw to the arts was too strong and he left law school to continue his main pursuit, the stage. Tom spent 1975 as a teaching consultant for the Portage County Schools, filming and coaching teachers on classroom presentation and speaking techniques. He began his Masters Degree program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, autumn, 1976. Again Tom graduated with high marks and a series of honors in spring, 1978, most notably serving as President of the Michigan Union. He also worked on a graduate school scholarship as a counselor in the University Admissions Office. Tom simultaneously spent those years in Ann Arbor battling Hodgkin's Disease, a form of lymphatic cancer that warranted his regular sessions of MOPP Chemotherapy throughout his academic tenure at the U of M. With diploma in hand and a clean bill of health, Tom moved to Detroit and spent twelve years distinguishing himself as an actor, director, producer and Edu-Tainer. He earned union membership in Screens Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Announcers (AFTRA). His countless commercial, industrial and film credits included national spots for General Motors, the voice for Cadillac and a role in Beverly Hills Cop with Eddie Murphy. He also formed his production company, staging dozens of musicals including Fiddler on The Roof, West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Oklahoma…and touring schools with creative interpretations of classic works from Shakespeare to Aesop to Dickens. His Edu-Tainment company created an improvisational concept called Storybuilding where student stories and ideas were brought to life before the entire school assembly of their peers, thus building creative writing interest, literacy skills, and self-esteem. He even developed a school outreach program for McDonalds Corporation and actually portrayed the character Ronald McDonald for the dozen years he spent in Detroit. He also served as a board member for The Ronald McDonald Houses (RMC) in both Ann Arbor and Detroit and was a consultant to Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities (RMCC) at Hamburger University in Oakbrook, Illinois. Broadway had always been beckoning. In 1991, Tom moved to NYC and spent another decade in countless film, television, theatre and Edu-Tainment projects. Productions included Law and Order, Ransom, 15 Minutes, Die Hard III and a critically acclaimed showcase of his original musical Birdsville ,(adapted from the Aristophanes farce), staged at the Kauffman Theatre on 42nd Street. In 2000, Tom travelled to Rome, Italy in search of his Italian heritage. A two-week vacation turned into a change of continents and he is now a dual citizen commuting between The Eternal City and The Big Apple. He is Dottore Shaker in Italy, Director of Performing and Visual Arts Education, consulting at Sapienza Roma I University and Link Campus University. He is also a member of the USO committee in Rome, serves as a volunteer warden for the American Embassy, and is a past president of the American International Club of Rome (AICR). He has spent countless hours on various sets and sound stages including Cinecitta, “Hollywood on the Tiber”. Mel Gibson selected Tom for the role of Eyepatch in The Passion of the Christ. Then, the Cinecitta Jerusalem of Gibson became the Roman Forum for HBO and Tom was cast for recurring appearances in the drama mini-series, Rome. He is the Court Lictor in the episode titled Spoils. In Italy, Tom is writing his books, At Home in Rome, 24 Hours in… and Italy with Tom Shaker. He is scouting for his documentary Film "Kissa Grandpa" and producing/singing an album of new jazz standards with his band, "Tom and the Cats", featuring his original tunes, Bella Roma and Italiano-Americano. He has produced and recorded the album, Giggin’ with God, in the Vatican City studios. Tom has completed principal photography for the first fifteen episodes of his International media project, Where in the World with Tom Shaker, Rome 360º, the Churches. He has completed the pilot for his wine series, In Vino Veritas, as well. In Paris, France, Tom co-wrote, shot and starred in the TV series, Forget About It (Fugedaboudit), the story of a bar/diner owner and his screwy clientele. The show was accepted and showcased at the Hollywood Film Festival in December 2012. Works in Progress include: • In Vino Veritas / 30-minute episode series about wines of the world • 24 hours in… / a look at Piazza, Square and Centers around the Globe • Post Production, Rome 360º, Season I • Pre-Production, Season II, Rome 360º, March 2013 • Episode and distribution development for Forget About It 2016 will see the completion of his latest screenplays, The Siege of Malta and Roma Rewrite. Finally, Tom keeps busy in Italy lecture-guiding friends, colleagues, and referrals around the entire boot and islands.

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