Thursday, December 29

Italy's Holiday Traditions

Natale con i tuoi...Pasqua con chi vuoi (Christmas with the 'rents - parents - Easter with whomever you choose) is always a nice way to look at the holidays in Italy.  Many families stay home, delaying beach or snow vacations until after the 25th of December so they can break bread with others in their oft-extended families.  The die-hards who really want a getaway, sometimes take mamma with them, in a case of killing two birds with one stone (and the benefit of free babysitting!)  So you often see multi-generations enjoying the pool during your holiday vacation.
Comparing notes this Christmas with a (German) friend, we got around to the topic of card games and Tombola! (Italy's version of Bingo!) which, after imbibing in the big meal is a hallmark of the festivities.  I remarked that the kids had won 20 euro off of me that day while playing Mercante in Fiera, a sort of bidding on cards that might turn up lucky once you've accumulated enough in your hand.
And it dawned on us ironic that the celebration of the birth of Jesus was observed by heavy duty gambling, bartering and card dealing?  I'm not sure where the tradition started...perhaps long before Alexander the Great decreed Christianity as the official religion...but, wasn't it Jesus who eventually threw the money changers out of the Temple?  After losing more and more as the day grew on, I too, found my inner Jesus and wanted to go after the ones changing my money into theirs!
According to, it was actually the Bourbon King of Naples who instigated Tombola...Reasoning that, by making it legal, they would do away with the dark underbelly of illegal gambling.  And so it was that Tombola Neapolitana entered into the homes of all Italians and those immigrants to foreign lands.  Leave it to the crafty neapolitans who love their traditions and you've got Tombola! 

Friday, December 23

Holidays are for Giving

I would like to say, first & foremost, in the spirit of Christmas or all that you celebrate, Grazie mille! to all my faithful fans, long time readers, and occasional drive-bys wherever you may be.  And while I'm thrilled that there are people out there who take time out of their day and select my blog of the 10 trillion 489 thousand blogs to choose from (and that's excluding the Chinese!), this season, I thought I'd ask for something in return.
I came across this terrific post at by author & blogger, Melissa Ford.  She suggests a few things to give your favorite blogger - which won't cost money, will seriously cheer someone up (namely, me!) and make the world of difference in someone's life [insert image of 70s star Sally Struthers and her charity here].
from - gift items for sale
Give the Gift of Comments.  And I quote:
I know you're probably thinking this gift sounds akin to receiving socks under the Christmas tree, but hear me out.  What do writers want most of all? They want eyes on their work and a response to their work.  Bloggers crave traffic because traffic equals human beings all enjoying the words they've strung together.  And they like comments because no one wants to speak into a vacuum.  We want to know that our words were heard and to know how the reader received them.
So, if any of you want a New Year's Resolution you can stick about commenting on posts every now and again?  Letting us know someone is 'out there'.  In the words of Christopher Robbin to Winnie-the-Pooh..."Are you there, Pooh?  Good. I just wanted to be sure of you."

To read the full blog post and see Melissa's 'gift certificate' list, click here.

Grazie del pensiero!  
Buone Feste - 

Wednesday, December 21

Merry Crisis!

If this is the gift the govt wanted to give,
shall we say...
You really shouldn't have!
Although we have heard rumors that pensions will go up a bit (while the age of retirees will be raised considerably), just like in the USA, it won't be the rich nor the politicians who will foot the bill for Italy's present financial woes.  The rich get to keep their money abroad, the criminals get to pocket the cash (upwards of 100 billion euro industry), and the politicos get to keep their high salaries and their black income while - according to the above Pensioners Union, it will be those left working and those low income families who will be hurting the most.
Last week alone saw Ms. Mussolini (the granddaughter of the late great Berlusconi predecessor) saying that a pay cut for the highest paid Parliament on earth would be "akin to instigating suicide".  They're all paid more than Barack Obama and I don't see him in bread lines.  She blithely ignores those that actually have killed themselves due to this financial crisis.  Nonetheless, if govt cuts = suicide, that could mean two things:

1)  Italy now embraces assisted suicide
2)  Will most of the Parliamentarians do it?
That would ease the burden on us all, pensioners or not.

Monday, December 19

Oopla! and other Exclamations...

One of the delights of living in a foreign country is finding all the words that are similar, and even getting tripped up by the 'false friends' that may come your way.  But when it comes to little-known exclamations, I always get a great big kick out of them.  

In English, when you hurt yourself, you say Ouch! or Ow!  Everyone knows, starting with your first boo-boos that that's what one must emit in order to convey pain.  In Italian, the word is Aiiah!  And to this day I still think the person means Wow! whenever I hear it uttered.  But that can't be, their word for that is Waio!  It all makes me want to thumb through some old Batman comics just to get a glimpse of the Pow! Bash! Bang! and their Italian equivalents.

When you hear a crowd sing out, Hip, hip hoorah--The über-phonetic Italians will actually shout Hoo-rah and not the American hooray...something that always brings to mind Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Furthermore, in my opinion, this is actually much more correct as I recall when first learning to read and wondering just why it was we said 'hooray'!

Disney's Oopla says Oops!
from Disney Character Central
But my personal favorite is Oopla!  And although lists it as Oh, Dear! (just about how more un-hip can you get?!) I think the true translation is Oops! just as it should be...
But looking into all this hoopla I came across Oopla who I gather is a Star Wars figure.  And then there was the guy from - someone professing to make sense out of stocks & portfolio issues.  Perhaps his name is intentional...given the huge mistake of allowing our banks to throttle the universe with their derivatives and spreads and subprime mortgages... (and to think...all this time and the world was afraid of Kim jong-il...)

Nonetheless, I still would advise an updated brand name for Mr. Braeckman and his enterprise.

Saturday, December 17

Italy: Closed for Business

In this Age of Austerity, Italians have been taking to the streets to protest the various measures which are leaving the middle class to foot the bill for the excesses of their political class (comprising some of the wealthiest in Italy & the most coddled politicians on earth).  While I'm all for protests, like sit-ins on the capital, or the SNOQ Se non ora quando marches by women across the boot,I for one cannot tolerate the endemic strikes that wreak their havoc on daily life in Italy [and moreover, the summer strikes that bring the French truckers & farmers to occupy that entire country's highway systems for weeks on end.]
Today I don't strike
In the first place, I think it's a big brand image mistake.  I cannot for the life of me comprehend just how pissing off millions who would otherwise rally your cause helps you make your case.  In the last few weeks we've seen all the buses, trams & subways shut down, thankfully operating during rush hours as they are forced by law.  Nonetheless, it still took me 6 1/2 hrs. to go to two different appointments located on polar opposite sides of Rome.  The last thing I wanted to do by the time I walked in my front door was feel warm fuzzies for the strikers.  In fact, my solution would be Ronald Reagan's:  Fire them all and hire a whole host of hard-working Bangladeshis, Poles, Libyans & Romanians who just want a job.
If you want us on your side, take your woes to the Ministry of Transport - occupy their house - throw rotten eggs - broadcast propaganda against cuts on your buses for all I care, but leave the rest of us well enough alone.
One of the most incredible things I heard over the radio was the fact that, like many other sports before it, Italy's horse racing venues are all drastically in the red.  Counting on payoffs - by the local or national governments to keep them alive, these places have also been hit by the budget cuts.  In the 1900s, horse racing was the biggest sport in the USA.  People bet on their horses by the thousands, jockeys were revered like our basketball & football players today.  But, market forces changed all that and out it went to be something that only Arab horse breeders now contend for.
Our knighted Chairman of the Ippica Foundation offered his own solution for the decline in interest in his sport - while lamenting the fact that people no longer flock to the tracks, he offered, We're planning to go on strike.
At least no one will be bothered by this audacious act of dissent.

Tuesday, December 13

Italy: the Grapes of Wrath

The fruit of the spirit by Magnolia Heartbeats
One of my good friends and loyal blog fan, Carolinrome held a warm holiday evening so I could present my book to a group of women readers & expats...We all enjoyed a few good laughs doing what women do best: Tell incredible stories.
Using the book chapters as a launch pad, it wasn't long before everyone was telling one of their own...These ran the gamut from post office woes (where one woman actually called the toll free number pondering exactly, why, people didn't 'go postal' in Italy given the services were so much worse) to toilet flushers (from my brief run-down in the book called Royal Flush).
We also discussed some of the other unique features to Italian living, such as never ever touching one's food with one's hands.  In my book (Peel me a grape, Beulah - click here for entry), I imagined this was for pesticides but then again, I decided it was just germs combined with the impeccable table-training at the apron skirts of mammas everywhere, in order to exhibit one's exceptional Bella Figura. 
Turns out, I may be wrong.  A woman stated that her own (Italian) husband, will not let her peel his mandarin oranges or clementines for him...She discovered that it upset his bodily harmony...Again, I immediately assumed this was due to the perceived onslaught of germs perhaps from her handling her fork prior that might be lurking around just waiting to get under that orange peel and onto a juicy slice.  I was wrong. 
In what might lead to a certain revision in the book, she was told in no uncertain terms that the way she peeled the tiny oranges released acidic juices so as to upset his stomach.
As I stated in the book, In Italy, stomach upsets out-trump all other existential conditions.  Therefore she was left with no other choice than to simply serve the oranges as nature intended them and let him sort out his own gastric juices accordingly.  
As a postscript, I found these warning labels for grape eating on the website The Perfect 

Although it seems that grapes can have a huge positive effect on the human body, there are some RESTRICTIONS/ WARNINGS regarding their consumption. Here are some of them:
1. Neither grapes, nor grapes juice are recommended for persons suffering from stomach ulcers, diabetes and obesity;
2. Eating grapes or drinking grapes juice can cause dental problems. If you have a cavity in a tooth, it is not recommended to consume grapes, as they will intensify the destruction process of the tooth;
3. Grapes cannot be consumed along with a relatively large number of food products, like: milkfish, beer, mineral water, melons, etc. The combination of these kinds of food products with grapes can cause serious stomach problems.
Perhaps we should all wisen up and take our cue from the Granmammas whose health precautions are probably the soundest advice one could ever have gotten prior to the internet (and even afterwards)!

Saturday, December 10

Italian Post Office Blues

I have been sending out copies of my book recently to places far and wide.  And incredibly, books were delivered to the person intended in under four days - and these were to places as disparate as outside Milan, the Siena hillside, London, and Calabria.  So much so, I thought maybe I'd have to eventually eliminate the chapter in my book, The Postman Never Rings (even) Once.  
In fact, with all the talk these days of the U.S. Postal service eliminating saturday delivery, it looks like I might have to republish the chapter in a book on the USA.
While discussing the post office and all the terrific things one can do inside this update of the Ancient Forum main square, one newcomer to Italy remarked to a colleague that he'd never set foot inside an American post office in his life but after moving to Italy, he'd already been there five times in under 2 months!  
Another Italian friend was totally bummed out because he had to step inside the post office  to make some transactions.  He was worried about the wait.  I had never thought of it, but that's because it was the first of the month.  The elderly would be mobbing the joint to collect their pension checks.  So that's why I sometimes found that I was the youngest one at the post office!  Certainly - the young immigrants now use call centers or Western Union outposts to wire their money home...
And while it looks like these days money might buy efficiency (it's now €5.50 just to send my light book outside Italy), I'll stick by my comment under the book entry entitled, Going Postal:
For any expatriate or any Italian who has lived abroad                                          Post Office horror stories are legend:  true legends.
 Feel free to post yours!

Wednesday, December 7

Rome's Mayor is really the Grinch?

I was going to post today about the truly bizarre Christmas tree I happened to pass last night in Rome's main Piazza Venezia.  At first, I thought it was a promotion of a water company, launching their eco paper drinking cups in place of the plastic.  As someone twittered about the "tree", it looked like a gigantic cone decorated with the Mayor's sash.  Fortunately for Italy, the red-white-green color of our flag happens to match that of Christmas.  Which could be actually deliberate when you come to think that it was good ol' Saint Nick whose bones were stolen out of Turkey back in the day & laid to rest in Bari who started the whole affair in the first place...

In fact, when I took a good look at it, it appeared that the tree was made out of white turkish carpets and topped with a minaret.  Perhaps as a nod to all of the new Italian residents who have shown up on our beaches from Libia and in the recent census?  
Needless to say, by the time I went back to Piazza Venezia to take a photo of the monstrosity, it was gone. Out of sight.
Mayor Alemanno gets into the Christmas spirit
Turns out our Mayor of Do-Overs (search Ara Pacis & you'll see the lively debate which touches on elevators, parking lots, & even a statue of the pope or click for one excerpt here) simply "Didn't like the look."  Errrrr...if he can wield veto powers over city decór, perhaps someone could have let him have a peek at the design to begin with?  
Of course, in these days of austerity, people are asking the question, How much did this new fiasco just cost the people of Rome?  Actually, since it's in eye-shot of tourists in the popular Piazza Venezia, I'd say, How much did this just cost the tourists from the ever-burgeoning 'tourist tax' budget?  Consider it our little Christmas present.  You'd think with all our generosity they'd let us at least step up onto the grass if not to sing a song hand in hand like in the Grinch, to photograph the lovely nativity scene when the do-over is set into place.
But my question is, Did the guy who pocketed the bribe for the "Holiday Decoration Contract" have to return his portion of the fee?  Or, does he get double the money now that they're doing a makeover?
Regardless, I think the Mayor should have done nothing.  With a papier mache tree, it would only have lasted up til the first rain storm anyway.
To see the mirage tree, click here.

Monday, December 5

Italian Lessons from Life in Italy

Life in is an excellent online publication of all good things Italian.  For some time, and through the words of able writer Elisa Bressan, they offer mean, lean mini-courses in Italian also available by mp3 download, for any of you who want to brush up on your Italian conversations.
Her most recent posting is, "How to say you're sorry in Italian" (click on title for link) Bellissima.  It's always nice to know how to show a sign of grace when up against the odds.  To her - exhaustive - and highly accurate list of expressions, I would also add one more:  
Permesso?  or, Con Permesso?  
Although this is more like an Excuse Me versus an I'm Sorry.  
Nonetheless, it comes in very handy.  One should use it when entering a room, any room, even if it's someone you know very well (like a boyfriend's house and especially his parents' place).  It's asking permission to enter, or like an 'Excuse Me' when spoken on a bus, in a crowded area, or even before barging into a meeting.
picture from Cliff Robbins speaks business blog
My only doubt in all of this formality, however comes from a line in my book, Sorry is for Sissies:
Say you're sorry and you'll be going down as fast as the Titanic.  
In fact in Italy, you will be hard-pressed to ever hear the words spoken by anyone - in any given situation. It's as if, as related by TV personality & business blog commentator Cliff Robbins, people followed John Wayne's advice that apologizing is a sign of weakness.  In fact, just the opposite is true but this is a cultural difference worth noting for future reference.
In any case, as I conclude in my book:
The old adage that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” must have been born in Italy, the country of Amore.

*all links in grey are live 

Cliff Robbins has been doing a television show called Fox Robbins since 2009. 
To view past episodes visit: Fox Robbins and visit Fox Robbins Business Blog on Cape Cod Today.

Friday, December 2

Lost Luggage? What (not) to do in Italy!

No sooner had I posted that TrenItalia was finally going to search for your left luggage or lost objects, than I lost my cellphone aboard an Italian train.  I decided to test drive their new service and see how I fared:

- The announcement was made on 18 Nov stating that people like me ("the distracted traveler") can now report their lost objects to the Ufficio Assistenza Clienti at the main rail station where they have disembarked.
Unfortunately for me, I did not read the fine print with the operative word, "subito" (immediately).  Although I had noticed my cellphone was missing right away, and even re-boarded to look for it, I could not find it.  It could be that it had been stolen off the little table in my distraction disembarking the train.

- Checking the Trenitalia website, however, this announcement has not made it to the computer screens of their online web content person, most likely the son of a manager's lover, hired to keep him out of trouble.  I began the Italian internot series of surfing the web (which generally feels like the surfer has actually been drowned by a massive wave).  
Clicking on:  
- Lost Luggage = Contact the City of Rome then trying
- Assistenza Clienti (Customer Assistance) Contact the City of Rome then on to
- Lost Objects under the Station Services Tab = Contact the City of Rome
and finally, looking under 
- FAQs / Oggetti Smarriti (Lost Objects) you will find the Civil Code detailing why, in fact, you must Contact the City of Rome.
Each of these options boldly promised "For more information, click on Trenitalia website", of course with a live link redirecting you to ticket purchases only.
All of which provoked the question, Does the Mayor's office get involved?

- I of course was still operating under the assumption that should my cellphone have slipped and fallen, perhaps the Cleaning Crew might bring it in.  After all, my train was the last one in that night, and perhaps by morning it'd be found and handed in the next day to Customer Service.  So off it was to that very place.

- I was given the typical customer service song & dance that one commonly receives when faced with any dilemma: "No can do."  Followed quickly with, "You should have come in immediately, we don't hold objects, we can't help you..." and soon thereafter by the agent just getting up and walking away from her desk.  A forlorn soul behind her took pity on me, flicked some pages in a log book of lost objects (I am assuming, but it was probably their bets on the day's soccer match), and shrugged her shoulders.  I asked if they might at least list what I was missing and my contact info...but to no avail.  I offered that perhaps the cleaning crew might turn it in, and then how would they reach me?  In response, I was given a tiny over-copied slip of paper.  On it, the Magic Words:  Contact the City of Rome.  At least this time it was specified "Lost Objects Office", emails & other contact info.

- I was then told to file the "Police Report" in order to assure that my tel number would be cancelled by my operator.  The dept was located nearby, right in front of Track 13.
Going there, I was sent to Track 1 - about 1 mile away.  

- Thankfully, the police dept was actually on Track 2, so I only walked about 1/2 a mile.  Once inside, I began the wait - but after 40 minutes the same 3 people were still ahead of me.  So I up & left with the knowledge that my cellphone was now in use by some lucky chap who boarded the train that very morning.  So off I went directly over to a Vodafone store.

- Turns out, I no longer need a police report for them to cancel the SIM card & issue a new one.  New card in hand, I started receiving messages from the fellow that had my phone.  With a sense of humor, he asked if I might not top it up with funds.  

- I had an appointment at the Carabinieri later that day, so I filed a report - saying this guy clearly had my phone.  That "denuncia" (complaint) only took about 40 mins. to complete-they didn't ask for my first born, just my father's name. I would like to think that they'll track this guy down thru his cellphone that now appeared on my screen (as the Italians like to quip, La mamma of the idiots is always pregnant...). 

In short, the new TrenItalia fab "lost & found" service:  
(0) in communications
(Sub-Zero) if you only notice your missing item much later 
and in terms of efficiency (-25) Contact the City of Rome's lost & found office 
Once there, I can assure you, you will be sent to the police station taking hours to file a complaint, and, only in the unlikely event that your bag or object should ever turn up (assuming the gypsies haven't pulled it out of the rubbish bin first), you would need a return trip to Italy just to check on it and retrieve it.  (-100).

Oh - and to Contact the City of Rome?  
Try email:
Address:  Circonvallazione Ostiense 191
opening hrs:  
Mon-Wed-Fri 8:30 - 13.00 / Tues 8:30 - 13.00 & 15.00-17.00 / Thurs 8:30-17.00