Sunday, June 30

DIY POSTAL SERVICE...Is this what it's come to?

I guess once people started emailing each other, Post Offices worldwide thought it might make a great re-branding initiative.  You know, where you can start delivering the mail yourself, much like bringing home an Ikea piece of furniture or going to a Home Depot.  And heck, they're such successful businesses...Why not?
And so, while the U.S. & Italy start slowing down the service, even the strange gets stranger...
A friend in Milan kept finding mail for other buildings up and down the block in his mailbox.  Considering the volume they now transport, you'd think they'd at least get the address right.  No matter, every so often, he'd drop the envelopes at the right address and not think about it any further.  Until he went away for awhile.  Upon return, he had quite a number of letters that needed forwarding to the correct address.
Seeing that he lives just across the street from the Post Office, he thought he'd inform them of the lapse in correct mailbox delivery, while bringing them the stack of envelopes.  You can imagine what transpired next:

- You want to post these letters?  Well, no, not exactly.
- I'm trying to tell you that the person from this very office and up & down this very street isn't very keen on looking at address, here, go ahead & re-deliver them.

Instead of a Grazie, or even a lowly, We'll take care of it...or, any other host of intelligent responses, he was met with the most outlandish:

- If you're so concerned, why don't you just go & deliver them yourself?  Because, if you leave them here, you'll have to pay the postage to have them sent to the correct address.

Naturally, he turned and simply walked away.

** I dedicate an entire chapter in my book to the Post Office:  The postman never rings even once 
Who'da thunk I would have been so spot-on?   
 Book available thru paypal on my official blog page / Amazon & Kindle

Sunday, June 23

Culture Shock - What to Expect when you're an Expat

The longer I live in Italy, the more I feel like an alien setting foot in the USA.  I don't know the TV shows, picking up a People magazine boggles my brain, I watch with envy as kids' friends blithely open the fridge - in other people's houses.  And everyone goes barefoot, as soon as they walk in (or out of) the house.  So, after my mini-vacation in the USA, a few things made me laugh (or wince) upon the rientro (re-entry).  Here's a short list:

- Driving around the Colosseum.   Still gives me goosebumps.  But the drive to get there just isn't the same.  You realize that you risk getting rear-ended whenever you stop for pedestrians since no one but no one is expecting that.  But, coming from the suburbs, you are thrilled to even see human beings out and about (tho' you see them in any big city).  But here, pedestrians always have a concerned look in their eyes, some flee by your car, terror in their eyes, and I regularly see little old ladies make three or four attempts as if landing a plane in a tornado before they muster up the courage to cross.

Naturally, driving in Italy is the thing that strikes you most.  You let a car in front of you, three more dart in before you have time to move along.  Or, the fact that Romans gave up on indicating lanes, since no one stayed within the white lines anyway.  And, I don't know what they teach in Driver's Ed here about making left hand turns in intersections, but it's not unlike a game of 'capture the flag', using cars as the flags.  Sadly, this involves the pedestrians as well, with the cars skirting up the pedestrian walks in order to get through their turn. When I deign to do it correctly, I'm met with honks and epithets that I cannot publish here.

- Mealtimes.  We all know that mealtimes are big in Italy, and much of life revolves around them.  In the USA as well.  Except there, mealtimes start at a nebulous four or five and don't ever really seem to end.  Everything is about food in the USA.  It's a place that started with ice cream socials back in the day, and now has food eating contests for everything from a new furniture store opening to a church party.  The food fixation starts upon landing when you're smothered in deep-fried everything - while still in the airport.  I'm surprised they still use the word for breakfast there, because by my calculations, Americans never let the fast begin.

- The Mercato.  Buying my food from the little corner mercato always makes me feel like I've gone back in time.  The only thing that brings you into the present are the prices and the use of plastic bags.  Who needs Trader Joe's when you can get fresh peaches picked off the branch by the farmers?

- Bicyclists without helmets, and kids sitting in the front seat, in mamma's arms.  No further comment.

- Bringing my dog pretty much anywhere is fantastic.  The US may have as many dogs as people, but you'd never know it.  There, dogs are like those cement lawn ornaments, frozen stiff on the front lawn lest they get shocked after chasing a squirrel off the property.

- Purchasing a cappuccino at "normal" prices, round about $1.50 makes you never want to drink coffee anywhere else again.  Americans toting those huge cups full of everything everywhere begins to look like they carry baby bottles sized up for adults.  You realize how nice it is that Italians haven't totally bought into the 'walkie cup' food phase.

- Men sitting on park benches.  I've never seen it in the USA, although in NYC the men play checkers or cards (although I'm sure in Brooklyn or Queens they're a common sight).  I love it when I see them there, chatting away, wondering always what it is they talk about for hours on end, day after day.

Sunday, June 2

Eating out in Italy: Diner Dash

While scanning TripAdvisor for some restaurant recommendations in Rome (I was cross-referencing places on a link I posted on my Travel Trips page to gluten-free restaurants around town), I came across a comment from a frustrated patron.  He complained that at a certain place, everyone got their meal served at a different time instead of all at once.  This came as quite a shocker.  A shock, because, the author was Italian.  As long as I can remember, food in Italy, like sweet revenge, is always best served hot -- regardless of who or what else was ordered at your table.  I'm not quite sure when restaurants started serving everyone all at once, but I know it slowly, but surely, must have seeped into the serving practices of ristoranti everywhere when I wasn't looking.
The reason I'm not quite sure is because, not one to imbibe on too much pasta, I often  order a slew of scrumptious appetizers for my meal.  And then I beg, plead and cajole to receive those appetizers when everyone else got their primo (first pasta dish course) or secondo (their entrée).  This simplest of requests has yet to transpire in actual fact, but no matter.  And that's because, generally speaking, I had grown accustomed to plates being served willy-nilly, no matter if our entire table had ordered a primo or not.
Picture from* 
I remember the very first time I noticed what I thought was tantamount to abetting a food fight. Having grown up in a family that made eating out its family pasttime, I knew the routine.  But it was 1982 and I was visiting family friends in Florence.  We all sat down, we all ordered.  And then I was left, mouth agape -- and not from plying it with tasty Tuscan pane (well, maybe that, too) -- at seeing some in our party happily indulging while the rest of us were left to longingly look on.  I soon found myself salivating like one of Pavlov's pets.  To a restaurant aficionado like me, it was blasphemy on the highest order.
From that point onward, however, I started to notice the trend.  Every so often I would venture to put forth a request that we all get our meal at the same time, but when my fancy was entertained in this way, inevitably someone's meal would be served cold or clammy.  And so it was that I happily took up my place as the dinner theater entertainment while someone else carried on chewing, and then, like in a game of table tennis, got my turn to receive the same treatment in return.
Now that the Italians are complaining about this funny turn of events, I'm wondering...when did everything start coming out of the cucina all at once and when, exactly, did I go wrong? 

*check out the article on Italian Chefs wanting to throw a proverbial pie in the face of a Junior Minister in Italy's new govt at