Innocents Abroad . . . How Two Baby Boomers Experienced a Cultural Immersion, the History of Western Art and Excellent Food on Their Way to an Extraordinary Year in Europe
by Joseph W. McGrath
Welcome to the resource page for Joseph McGrath’s newly published European travel memoir: Innocents Abroad…How Two Baby Boomers Experienced a Cultural Immersion, the History of Western Art and Excellent Food on Their Way to an Extraordinary Year in Europe. Here, you can find a variety of materials for use in relation to the book; scroll down to find them all. Included are 1) an event announcement, 2) a press release, 3) an image of the book cover, 4) an author photo, 5) a page of quotes in praise of the book, 6) selected photos from the book, 7) photos related to the event, and 8) an excerpt from the book. All may be found in that order by scrolling further down. All European images on this page were taken by Joe McGrath and may be freely used.
UPCOMING EVENT: Joseph McGrath will be reading from his new European travel memoir, followed by a Q&A session and book signing on Thursday 2/13/2020 6:30pm-8:00pm at People’s Books & Culture (the independent bookstore formerly known as the Penn Book Center), 130 S. 34th St., the SW corner of 34th and Sansom. All members of the public are invited to attend. Join Joe and his wife Lisa to celebrate the book’s publication with an assortment of complimentary cheese and charcuterie from the expert caterers of DiBruno Bros. There will be a freely available and ample supply of European wines on hand—a diverse array of varietals, red and white, selected from Italian, French, and Spanish vineyards. The photos included here are available for individual download at the bottom of this page. https://www.pennbookcenter.com/
Book Cover Images (small and large)
Official Author Photo
Book description by Joe McGrath
Our dream was to live for a year in Europe. That could be every baby boomer’s dream. In pursuing this odyssey, and traveling through Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands, Lisa and I found that we had accidentally traced the history of Western art from city to city, artist to artist, genre to genre. We had traveled from ancient Rome to the Middle Ages and on to the Gothic churches, the Renaissance, the Baroque, Neoclassicism, Impressionism, Cubism and Surrealism. We followed great writers through their cafes and restaurants. And along the way, we found ourselves, and rediscovered each other, through art, philosophy and literature. We became immersed in the culture, food and people of each country, and in doing so, we created a guide for your journey. We chronicled our breakthroughs and epiphanies as well as our screw-ups and humorous mistakes so you can take advantage of what we learned.
Download the below page of quotations as a Microsoft Word .docx file by clicking here:
Below are several photographs included in the book. Any may be freely downloaded from this site for use in promotion or otherwise, credited to Joseph W. McGrath.
Photos from the book
All the above images should be attributed to Joseph W. McGrath.
An Excerpt of the “The Communist Bar” chapter from Joseph McGrath’s Innocents Abroad…How Two Baby Boomers Experienced a Cultural Immersion, the History of Western Art and Excellent Food on Their Way to an Extraordinary Year in Europe.
Download as a word .docx file here: McGrathCommunistBarExcerptINNOCENTS ABROAD
…The bar was called II Vinaietto, and it was a bit difficult to find. And when we finally found it, we thought we were mistaken: no sign, an aging stucco exterior, and two sets of rusting green doors on either side with bright circular white lights illuminating the dark street. Inside, the room was a large horseshoe, with the bar across the front wall just inside the two doors.
We scanned the room and noticed something unusual. All of the pictures and posters on the walls were of Communist icons. A large poster of Che Guevara stared out at us from the back wall. A colorful yellow Mao Zedong watched us from another. We walked around the back perimeter to find a young Fidel Castro, and a poster of Mussolini with a big red “No” hand-painted across his face. On a far wall was a large poster that said “PCI”—Partito Comunista Italiano – and ”Vota Comunista” in big red letters.
A tough-looking older woman with long, dark, way hair was tending bar. She wore a black dress with a colorful blue scarf and scowled at the customers when they pointed to the wine list to order. We got up the courage to do the same. She scowled at us, too, pretending not to understand, and then served us what she wanted and collected our cash. We were happy to get our wine and retreated to the back to observe the scene.
It was 7 in the evening when we arrived, and the bar was very, very crowded. There was a large group of people outside drinking in the small one-way street. Several small groups stood laughing, gesturing and talking very loudly. Cars had to crawl by them, but the drinkers ignored the cars edging through.
Inside there were about five small, low, granite-topped tables surrounded by small chairs on either side of the bar that dominated the front of the room. A number of groups had pulled together empty wine crates to create their own tables and chairs. We had to slide around these groups to even get in the place. Mainly Italian wines were on offer, although a few patrons drank Italian beer out of bottles. There was a small chalkboard menu on the wall that described the eight wines available. They were all three or four euros per glass.
Two older men appeared to be in charge. One was tired-looking, a pony-tailed, gray-haired, gray-mustached and bearded hippie with wire-rimmed glasses. He was constantly carrying crates of wine, Prosecco and beer up a set of skinny stairs from the basement. We later found out his name was Giancarlo. The other was a stylish gentleman, also with longish, well-coifed salt and pepper hair, who was chatting up customers at the far end of the bar. He was talking and frequently laughing and brushing his hand through his hair. We found out that he was Marco, and that they were indeed partners and owners.
On our third visit, a guest joined us at our small table. He had a lightweight black leather jacket, brown glasses, short black hair, and a black mustache and beard, and had a sort of knapsack on his back. He placed his motorcycle helmet in the center of our table, sat down on the extra chair, and asked us in English with a thick Italian accent, “American?”
“Yes,” we replied.
“We don’t get many Americans here, mostly only locals,” he said. He initiated a long, animated discussion with us about American politics, Italian politics and a host of other subjects. He had strong opinions on each area we discussed. He made a guttural sound and tilted his head sideways every time he disagreed. We finally got around to asking him about the two owners, the bartender and the black and white photos on the wall.
“Marco and Giancarlo, yes,” he said. “In the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were two of the leaders of the Rome chapter of the Italian Communist Party. In the days after World War II, the party was the second-biggest political party in Italy, with the support of 34 percent of all voters in the mid-’70s. At one point, Italy had the largest Communist Party in the West, with over two million members.”
“And the woman bartender?” we inquired.
“Lara, she was Marco’s girlfriend in those days. They broke up years ago, but they remained friends ever since.”
“Are they still Communists?” we asked. “No. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the Italian Communist Party broke away from its affiliation with Moscow and became socialist. Marco later became a postman and Giancarlo became the leader of the Italian meat-cutters union. Marco’s father bought this bar for his older brother, who decided this life wasn’t for him. Marco was asked to take it over and he asked Giancarlo to help him run it. They have been together ever since.”
“Everyone seems to know each other here,” we said. “Everyone speaks only Italian here, and we always feel a bit lost. Is everyone here a regular?”
“Yea, essentially. That’s why I came over, to figure you two out. Welcome. My name is Diego,” he said. “I am hardly ever here.”
We thanked him for stopping by.
“You have made this place even more interesting,” we concluded. As we began to go there more often, it turned out that Diego was there every day. The next time we were there, Diego came by to introduce a friend of his, another regular, Paolo.
He wore a sweater-vest, and had a cherubic face, a receding hairline, and a pair of glasses with one arm missing. He seemed to be eternally happy and upbeat. He explained that he was part of Marco and Giancarlo’s team when they traveled across Italy to find undiscovered wines. He said his family were once the largest and most successful silversmiths in Italy. As times changed and the work went offshore, it became too expensive to compete and they had to close the business. He grew sad as he spoke. It had been in his family for years.
“Paolo, why are the wines excellent but have such reasonable prices?” we inquired.
“Because Marco and Giancarlo are still Communists at heart,” he explained. “I don’t get it,” I said.
“They believe that this is the “Roman people’s bar,” and everyone here are their friends. They fight constantly about how to price the wines. Marco says he keeps prices low to give great wine for fair prices to the common people. Giancarlo says they have to make money, because they both work so hard they deserve to be profitable.”
“Who wins?” I asked.
“No one. They have had that argument every month for the last 20 years and the prices have never changed,” he said.
“That’s why we travel all around the country to find unknown, undervalued, but great wines so we can charge these prices. I am their consultant. I was always very knowledgeable about wine and have educated them over the last few years on these trips,” he added.
“Did they become wine gurus along the way?” I inquired. “Marco has, but Giancarlo loves the trips as well. He selects the wine where the winemaker has a beautiful daughter so he can keep coming back there. He has been married quite a few times,” he added. “It is always a lot of fun for all of us. This place is our lives.”
On return visits, Paolo would open bottles of wine just for us, to show us the best of different regions (Tuscany, Piedmont, Umbria), different grapes, (Nebbiolo, Sangiovese), and different wine types (Amarone, Barolo, Montepulciano). His enthusiasm and emotion were contagious. We always made it worthwhile for them by buying a bottle or two to take home.
Over our time in Rome we met a number of other wonderful and quirky members of this crazy club. We became friends with Diego, Paolo, Marco, Giancarlo and Lara. They invited us to their Christmas Eve party, where music blasted and everyone danced. They served free Prosecco to all of their friends there. Our son Ryan had joined us for Christmas week in Rome, and he was astonished that we had all of these Roman friends. The evening ended when they turned the lights off and we all sang “Roma, Roma, Roma,” the Rome soccer team’s official song, with only a sea of cigarette lighters illuminating the room. Ryan used his iPhone to video it all. He was speechless.
They invited us again to their New Year’s Eve party, where we danced in conga lines out one door, through the street, in the other door, around the bar and out the first door, again and again. We closed out the evening with “Roma, Roma, Roma.”
Images related to the People’s Books and Culture in-store event and reading