Thursday, September 29

Francesca Maggi's Strange But True!

Chalk it up to this September's heat wave, but things these days appear to be veering seriously out of control...After Berlusconi's telephone musings about affairs of the State ("I'm a part time Prime Minister") and just affairs...("I did 8 women in a row!"), or maybe it's because Sept 29th is both Berlusconi's birthday (75) and the leader of the opposition, Bersani's (60), but people seem to be seriously 'losing the plot' (click here for the Berlusca Birthday Quiz by the BBC - or check out The Silvio Show on this blog)

Just slip out the back, Jack
After Rome's city govt put a ban on all advertising which degraded women, citizens were surprised to find a fashion company advertising young hotties in different grades of undress, boasting their preferred profession saying, "I'm Monika, I'm an escort and I don't come cheaply."  Too bad the ads were plastered on the backs of City buses & subway cars...

Make a new plan, Stan 
Next, the gypsy (Rom) community, living on public property and contributing nothing to their sojourn in Italy, while looting, begging and leaving their trash behind, set off protests against the city of Rome because they have no (free) hot water and the electricity keeps getting shut off.

You don't need to be coy, Roy
And of course, there's professional "dancer" (term used here quite loosely) Elisabeth Canalis who got booted off the U.S. program, Dancing with Stars.  Clearly, Americans can't judge a good thing when they see one...

Just hop off the bus, Gus
A Roman bus driver stopped his bus filled with passengers, double-parked it, and stepped out to grab some cash at a cash machine.  He would have gotten away with it if it weren't for someone's handy cellphone immortalizing him on film.  This follows a few other transgressions - like the bus driver caught on film talking on two cellphones so he was handling the steering wheel with his elbows...and another, being filmed by a passenger on his phone, stopped the bus altogether, told them the bus was broken and made everyone get off and the most audacious, the driver who used his bus as a place to do business - selling cocaine.
I love it when you mention to drivers that cellphone use whilst operating a megabus is illegal, they say 'they need their phones for work'.  Bring back the pagers and all will be forgiven.

And get yourself free
Finally, there's Erika, the young woman who, at 14 killed her mother & little brother in Novi Ligure by stabbing, telling a friend that she misses her mom "to death" and wishes she were with her upon her release...'da morire' being the operative word here.

Tuesday, September 27

Looking for Leonardo - Da Vinci

“And having climbed the stairs of the Great Hall, diligently take a look at a group of horses and men, a battle piece by Leonardo da Vinci, which will strike you as a miraculous thing.”                                                        --Anton Francesco Doni (1549)

I came across this extraordinary project by National Geographic photographer, Dave Yoder.  He's looking to fund his great venture - that of recovering Da Vinci's epic painting in Palazzo Vecchio, The Battle of Anghiari.  
Check out the video, but don't take my word for it:  Look at the entire Kickstarter Page where there is plenty more information on the protagonists, the mystery, the artwork itself, including some good FAQs for those who might want to pitch in to test the theory that the work is hidden underneath Giorgio Vasari's masterpiece.  

In the words of Queen Isabella as she turned to Christopher Columbus, 
'Hey - Ya never know'.

Sunday, September 25

Back to School

A friend in the USA recently sent me some pictures of her little 5 yr old's departure to his first day of school.  He didn't want to leave home, but there he was, at the end of the driveway, drying his tears...before long he would be a pro at taking the school bus to & from home.  What?!  Taking the bus?!  Did I hear that correctly?
I knew then and there I'd been in Europe too long.  I distinctly recall that parents tend to take their kids to school and pick them up again until they can do trigonometry!  And, on top of that, with the mammas - and sometimes more often the babysitters - dragging their backpacks for them.  Not to mention that in Europe, school starts at 6 to boot.
Granted, my friend no longer lived in New York City where I'm quite certain parents still drop off the kids at the playground.  A friend who lives outside Rome told me there are no school buses --- so the kids either have to take regular city transportation or get toted around by their live-in drivers.
In Switzerland, the public schools are positioned so close to every single neighborhood, no child need walk more than 5 blocks to get there.  And even then, parents often are the official escorts, although they sometimes work in a Pedi-Bus where the kids form a sort of human chain to walk the 3 blocks to the school yard, of course, manned by a parent or two.  Über-efficient Switzerland does have its drawbacks as another friend posted on Facebook, why does school have to start at 8:40???
As for my friend, I was still aghast that parents didn't accompany the kid on the first day of class...She said it was actually discouraged, because then you get the cling-ons and all the rest.  She then reminded me that he did have, in fact, his big sister on the bus with him -- But then again, when she first started school she made it in all on her own, and she hadn't even turned five yet--

How was your first day of school?  Your kids'?  When kids in Europe don't start driving until 18, are we just part of a long tradition of dependency?  Where does it start?  And, perhaps more importantly, where does it end?  
For one Italian family, they've gone to the courts to get their 41 yr old out of the house.  (click here for the link)  [Although they shouldn't hold their breath on this option-the courts have consistently sided with the 48 yr old kiddies-you can see some articles on this in my Notizie column on the right hand side].

Thursday, September 22

It's Showtime!

Nothing short of a miracle seems to have occurred after the summer recess of movie theaters in Rome.  Now, I don't want to ruin my luck, because it might actually just be some strange occurrence happening only during the Feast of San Gennaro or something, but I believe my prayers have finally been answered.  Prayers that date back to my first entering a movie theater in Italy in 1982.
It would appear that movie times have been slightly rearranged to take into account the fact that people would like to eat.  This, in a country where mealtimes: the food, the experience, right down to the order in which you are served what is of primary significance (and justifiably so).

Movies have traditionally started at 8pm or 10pm, and by my book, right smack in the middle of dinnertime.  This of course, is because many Italians work until 7pm (or later), and most likely cannot make it out before then.  But it also signifies that you either race to the theater and watch a movie hungry, or are forced to practically fall asleep after eating during the late show.  My simple dream?  To be able to watch a movie 'til 9pm and then eat something afterward, or, enjoy a wonderful Happy Hour buffet or a meal before 9pm showtime.
Having just recently checked out all the great fall movies, I think this idea may be catching on.  This, indeed, would be a happy ending.

Tuesday, September 20

Italians take to the streets

From the street protests against the govt austerity plan
(which left political benefits unscathed)
Countries are SHITTY if they're run by SHITHEADS 

*This in response to Berlusconi's taped conversation in which he stated he "was going to get out of this shitty country" as soon as his mandate was up.

Sunday, September 18

Love Letter from lovely Naples

On September 19th, Naples breaks out the bottles and rejoices -- it's the Feast Day of their Patron Saint, San Gennaro.  The bottles, of course, are the tiny ampules containing his blood which liquefy every so often, and only when the Saint deems it perspicacious.  

I recently had occasion to visit the Tesoro di San Gennaro, a jewel of a museum next to Naples' Duomo (Cathedral) containing some of the world's most valuable jewels.  Each piece, commissioned by kings and commoners alike, are truly something to behold.  And while most of the 20000+ items created over the last 700 years (give or take a few) are salted away in highly protected vaults, together they demonstrate the importance of this most patron of saints beloved the world over. 
Picture from Museo San Gennaro
[The current show will be up until January 6th.]

Wandering the streets of Bella Napoli for the first time in years, was Heaven on Earth.  The shops, the doorways, the courtyards, the underground ruins, the baroque palaces, the churches on every street corner, even the decay was sublime.  It is clear why the Neapolitans place so much faith in San Gennaro...He's been watching over these places for centuries, and receives his share of riches - 'protection money' without even having to ask.  Because of him, the lava from Mount Vesuvius has stopped right at the city limits.  An earthquake left the city unscathed.  And judging by the hustle and bustle of Napoli these days, it looks like he's saved the residents from being buried in waste as well.  Forget the blood, this is nothing short of a miracle.

Arriving in Naples, the new spiffy train station is outstanding in every way.  A far cry from the days in which you had more homeless than bag handlers to wish you a hearty Benvenuto! upon arrival.  Once the expansive Piazza Garibaldi is complete out front, I can't help but think how wonderful it will be.  Just keep in mind, while you look around to catch your bearings, you'll have to watch your pocketbook as well.  

Walk up the city streets, the town has been littered with policemen, traffic cops and tourist info kiosks right, left and center.  They're all so helpful, I watched Nigerian street vendors peddle their counterfeit bags without any worry that they'd soon have to pick up their sheets and run.  The cops passed may turn a blind eye, but you can be sure they'll be keeping an eye on you.

Take a good long look at the industrious Neapolitans from the barmen serving you (yet another) unforgettable sfogliatella, to the shopkeepers, housewives, businessmen and police of both sexes and you're reminded of the famous Neopolitan presepe (manger scenes).  The clothes have changed, but you've got the same wild and wondrous scenery. 

And as for the sparkling emeralds on show right in the thick of it?  You can rest assured that when it comes to defying San Gennaro, not even the most hardened criminals want to mess with him.

Thursday, September 15

Washed up T shirt contest

First, it started out as a seriously misplaced JC Penney t-shirt, which they thought would be so cute for little girls following in Barbie's tiny wedge-heeled footsteps.  The t-shirt that boldly proclaimed:
I'm too pretty for homework -- so my brother has to help me!
click here to see the actual shirt 
Aside from ignoring the obvious, that girls are better at school than boys and now make up 60% of college graduates in the West, let's just say, it was wise for JCPenney to pull the shirt off the shelves.

In Italy instead, where the Italians were the first to adopt rights for women, Nicole Minetti, Silvio Berlusconi's in-house hottie and hooker hooker-upper decided to don a smart shirt of her own.  Liberally translating the old phrase, "There's more to love" she came up with her own:
Without the t-shirt I'm even better        click here for photo
Ahhh...just like I want to see in my government representatives.  And considering with her lofty position in Milan's regional govt she makes more than Barack Obama, you'd think she could have afforded to have the saying cutely done up in embroidery or something, and not just hand-written in magic marker (magic being the operative word).  And people complain about Michelle Obama's bare arms.

HuffPost Comedy came up with their own series of shirts for women in the 21st century, lest people thought we were getting just a bit too sassy & savvy for the men in our midst.

Perhaps Nicole & Co. can take a look at the whole slideshow here & come up with her own line of cute sayings for well-paid escorts.

P.S. As we get geared up to host over 1000 women (and men) at the WIN Conference-Women's Int'l Networking in Rome (Oct 5-8), my professional alter-ego will be live blogging the entire 4-day event (seriously) where we'll be discussing ways to keep it real & empower women, while changing the world, and not just your clothes choices.
Just check out

Tuesday, September 13

Italy's Dogs to the Rescue

With all the talk about the euros demise and Italy's budget manoeuvers akin to a quick & dirty game of 3-card monty, you would think I made a mistake in my title...and actually meaning to say, Italy Goes to the Dogs or Italy Rescue...But no, long time readers of my blog know I try to steer clear of economic issues, and, when not overly compelled by events or yet another Berlusconi gaffe, politics as well.
Coverage of the 9/11 events in Italy were magnificent, and as someone who lived here during that trying day, there are no words to express the Italian dismay and solidarity with the entire USA.  Special programs have been hosted here marking the September 11th Anniversary, including one about those four-legged heroes who braved hot steel, mountains of dust, and all kinds of ripped up rubble to try and locate any survivors or bodies in the aftermath.
Although I usually have a lot to say about the abandonment of dogs in Italy, in some places like the USA, things could be worse if you happen to be a stray dog.  As a vet commented when we tried to bring a stray into an already over-crowded kennel, "Why don't you take him to America where he'll simply be put down?"  In fact, while Italians have a penchant for abandoning their dogs, once they're found, Italy protects the rights of animals as best it can.  So much so, that an entire container-load of ragged rescued dogs was recently shipped over from Spain, where the pooches are living in lager conditions.  From the looks of these bare-boned, starving and frightened dogs, I'm not sure if it's better to euthanize or keep them in kennels.  
[note: click here for a video, but be forewarned, the film is highly disturbing].

Nonetheless, Italy gets another feather in its cap for its rescue dogs.  And I mean, dogs who rescue, not dogs that have been rescued (although sometimes the line is blurred)...I came across this terrific slideshow where Italy is clearly the leader of the pack in saving lives (click on link below photo).
Now, if we could just train these pups to get the rest of Italy rescued as well...

Sunday, September 11

Italians don't drink tea

Well, that's not entirely true, but we know that espresso & cappuccino is the favorite wakeup beverage.  But anyone who has ever tried cooking an American recipe in Italy knows one thing: you better have your own set of standard teaspoons handy for that bit of salt that can make or break the dish.
guzzini posate - place setting
Of course, if you're a chef truly worth your salt, you can eyeball your teaspoons of this and that.  Recently, I held a mini brownie-making session with a roomful of Italian friends (actually unveiling my secret recipe given the difference in ingredients & ovens), but when we got to the teaspoon & tablespoon parts, things got seriously messy.  That's because the teaspoons that we Americans grew up with and that are rarely used to stir tea but are for wolfing down your Frosted Flakes, and the tablespoons you almost never use at the table are of a totally different standard than European sizes.  
The teaspoons are actually small enough to fit handily into a cup of espresso, but you can barely get three corn flakes to sit firmly on them for the time it takes you to raise your spoon from your bowl to your mouth.  
Try the tablespoon, and you realize it is only good as an assist for twirling pasta on the back of it, because going in frontwise is a wholly difficult proposition.  So, you learn to either bring what you're used to (from Italy to the USA or vice versa) so you can get it right, or, you learn to wing it on proportions when it comes to your muffin fix.
After you've got your dry ingredients down pat, you can then move up the scale to translating sticks of butter into grams and finding 'self-rising' flour, something that is new to pasta-making Italy, but now available almost everywhere (farina per torte).
These slight differences in national ingredients is what makes American-made gnocchi stick to the roof of your mouth, and makes your Italian-made corn bread (should you ever be so desperate as to try & use polenta) come out tasting like you've just eaten a bag of broken marbles.
And let's not even think about the UK Imperial-vs-American weights and measures.  I recall being thrown off by the very idea that a foot was the length of the king's actual foot (and I don't even want to think what the inch might have been based upon).  
I have however found this terrific conversion table by what's cooking america for any industrious chefs out there.

Thursday, September 8

Back to Business (as usual)

Ahhhh...summer travels - you visit new places, some exotic, some chaotic...For me, spending summers in Italy is always a treat. The cities empty, the drivers are psychotic, but thankfully fewer, the season's events always spectacular.  But for others, lulled by the non-stop hospitality of faraway places, or just being coddled in places so exotic they forget how going back to reality might just feel...But upon your return, there's always one instance that reminds you that the summer lovin' has been called to an abrupt halt.  And in Italy, that usually has something to do with the Post Office, the supermarket, or calling a toll number customer (dis)service line.
A friend who travels back and forth to New York relayed his very own 'Bentornato in Italia' moment.  It happened at the swanky Feltrinelli store in Milan's fashionable Galleria.  Innocently enough, he breezed in to buy a few cds.  The clerk, upon ringing up the sale informed him there were no plastic bags for his purchase.  Clearly a laureate of five-star customer service training, indeed, she informed him that he "could just put them in his pockets or something."  A look of dismay crossed his face, and after he stated he might have wanted to look around, but perhaps he should only limit his browsing to pocket-sized items, she offered another type of bag for 20 cents.
Clearly not thinking like a local, he said, "If you're out of the regular bags, perhaps you should be giving me that bag for free..."  Thinking exactly like a local, she didn't budge.
Refusing to pay for a plastic bag, he then proceeded to try and put items in his jacket pockets without getting stopped by security.  As he went on his way, he happened across another cashier.  There, he found umpteen bags for the taking. 
His American side wanted to perhaps mention to the first cashier that it might be a good idea to ask a manager or a fellow cashier for bags when one went dry, but then, his Italian side kicked in and he just grabbed a bag, shrugged his shoulders and went on home. 

Tuesday, September 6

Letter from London

After weeks of 99+ degrees in Italy, London is always a breath of fresh air.  With its über-friendly postings of every little thing governing your outdoor experience (from "we are working on planting new grass" to "we ask that you kindly don't smoke here") to its always-genius ad campaigns, it seems the English can do no wrong.  Ask an Englishman, however, and you're quite apt to get an entirely different story: the trains are slow, nothing works, and of course, with the miles & miles of construction around town in preparation of the Olympics, well, the traffic jams are certainly somewhat of a sore spot for all and sundry.
But with all of their organization, we foreigners still got caught out here and there while buzzing around town.  Perhaps it's because you're lulled into a feeling of greased wheels blithely turning.  A trip over to Wimbledon and you think you should 'alight here for the Wimbledon station'.  Actually, to see the courts you need to get out a stop early - but nobody is the wiser.
Ditto for Greenwich.  Except in that case, alight a stop later. 
Boats leaving Greenwich are said to run until late, but the ticket offices simply shuttered up at 5pm.  Turns out, you can purchase your tickets in the queue - but you won't find that posted on their closed doors.
Boat rides from around Kew come and go with the tides, and not according to the printed schedules.  And while our Captain (from Richmond pier) actually pulled back to the pier to let a few more passengers on, the usual treatment from Kew boat trips is dodgy service and prices greater than what's posted.
At the airports, you never know which airlines leave from which terminal - something I thought that every airport worth its salt freely indicated -- just to be helpful for all the curbside pickups & deliveries. 
My Easyjet boarding info fell into my spam box, so we were not privy to knowing if we left from the South or North terminal.  Incredibly, it goes by the initial letters in your booking but once in the long line, it goes by city [Rome=South Terminal]. Why they just couldn't fill us in on that dark little secret prior is beyond me (I have actually missed my plane in the past for this very same reason).  And while our luggage into Heathrow arrived in mere minutes, you're stuck in customs seemingly forever. 
Back in Rome, passport control was a breeze, while the wait for the luggage, was a 40 minute experience.  And although we didn't get rained on in London, we arrived in a tempest...Nonetheless, it still felt good to get back to casa dolce casa.

Saturday, September 3

Placing a Square in a Circle

Roaming around London with my handy Roman, always provokes amazing conversations and ultimately, cross-cultural comparisons.  To think that underneath Londontown and much of the UK are hidden ancient Roman settlements, well, one tends to wonder how the Brits got their over-the-top perfect public gardens and walkways to be so entirely litter-free, especially considering that garbage cans are few and far between.
But then we got on the subject of Piazzas.  A piazza, as an Italy traveler or resident will know, is a lovely plaza - which for translation's sake, is probably the best word choice around. Most of us, however, use the more vernacular, square.  But, take a look at the lovely piazzas of Italy, and usually, they're quite round.  So, how did the piazza get squared?  Maybe it's the English love of orderly things (except their wild and wildly lovely gardens) that did it.  But, one look into the etymology of our lovely word piazza, and we find it's all Greek to me:  it actually derives the Latin or Greek word for place (platea or plateia).  So our Monopoly boards were infinitely correct all along...
picture from Getaway in London Blog
In fact, one step into the chaos and curved buildings surrounding Piccadilly Circus, and we find that the English did leave room for that circular piazza formation after all.  Filled with people, bustling with activity, shops and billboards, close your eyes so you don't see the double-decker buses and you could be in the heart of Rome.  Open them again, and you might feel you're in Times Square. Except that's triangular in shape.
Sigh.  We think it may be high time for coining some new architectural terminology...