Friday, January 29

Italian Stories: Groundhog's Day

What does an Italian Groundhog look like?     A blackbird.  

Turns out, while Americans wait and see if a groundhog will see its shadow, the Italians have their own mother nature equivalent: I giorni della merla - The blackbird's days which fall on the last three days of January and indicating the coldest days of winter. And although weathermen report that there are (often) days much more frigid, turns out that in the Old Country, Old Wives' Tales are tough to defeat. We'll just call them, Alternative Facts worthy of their staying power.

But leave it to the Italians and their gift for gab and you'll find that the legend has now morphed into a number of different tales, to be recalled by future generations, depending on your point of view. So, pick your tale:

I. During a very cold winter in Milan's Porta Nuova (I like this, my old stomping grounds)...a family of white birds took refuge in a courtyard of a palazzo.  The father could not find food due to the cover of fallen snow.  It kept right on snowing, so the father bird decided to fly out of the snowstorm looking for food.  Before he left, he settled the mother & three baby birds near a smokestack for warmth.  Able to return only after the storm had passed (3 days), he found his family black with soot.  The sun came out in February, marking the end of winter, but by then even the papa bird had turned black and from then on, blackbirds were born.

II.  ...It was so cold that the family - unable to even flap their wings - perched its nest atop the smokestack.  Finally, after three days they could fly away - but by that time the white birds had turned black, and from that point on, the blackbird came to be.

III.  This version becomes more dark (in tutti sensi):  The papa bird left his family inside the chimney, and went out to search for food.  Upon his return, finding his mate all black, he didn't recognize her and left.  She died of hunger.

IV.  Two young blackbirds return to the hometown of the young female in order to marry, situated beyond the Po River.  Afterwards, once they left for home, back over the river, it got to be too late and too cold.  So they spent two days more nearby with relatives.  On the third day, their next attempt, it was so cold that the male died -- and that's why today you can still hear the lament of the female along the Po river each end of January.

One astute blogger reported the actual temperature indications.  In fact, they found that:  
The average temperature of the three days in question is 3.6 degrees celsius, while the average of all of January is 2.8 degrees.  At nearly 1 degree more, it "proves" that legends and tall tales are just that, indeed.  

Nonetheless, be sure to throw an extra blanket on your bed just to be sure...

Sunday, May 10

Good Form

Why are you out and about? I'm out of paper and toner from printing out self-declarations...  

A fab way to get around printing the forms...
From the folks who gave us t-shirts with a
seatbelt printed on it (used in Naples!) ;)
In the time of coronavirus, the Italian 'bella figura' has taken on new significance. No, I'm not talking about those designer facemasks coming out from Gucci or Prada. But the forms that have accompanied us during the crisis. Rather than simply asking a driver, "Where are you headed?" when the crisis hit, bureaucrats from the island of Lipari to Lodi in Italy's north (and the epicenter) quickly came up with 'the form'.
I have an entire chapter in my book dedicated to the 5-dimensional one-sided chess game that is Italian bureaucracy. In it, I describe how I believe these administrative contortions actually do a better job than the BrainWell app. They keep our Italian octogenarians as sharp as tacks. 

And because Customer Service is also a challenge in the Bel Paese, every so often, out would issue an addendum to the previous form, essential to brandish should we have the temerity to exit our homes. Now that we're relatively free to roam in Rome, a new form accompanies our excursions.
I used to muse about the poor blokes in the back office of the Italian post office – the ones that took our 4 copies of receipts all duly signed for no apparent reason when we retrieved a registered letter. Who were these guys forced to match signatures with the i.d. cards that the poor clerk would take a copy of somewhere between the window and the break room (and from the time lag involved, stopping for an espresso along the way)? I'm certain they kept monks in monasteries well-employed for centuries. So who's checking your 'self-declarations'? I long for the days the cops could just pull you over and inquire, "Where are you going?" Because these forms - and, judging by the increase in traffic and pedestrians over the past week - are thankfully not putting a dent into our newfound freedoms. Just a furrow in our forests.

Collect the first volume of your Self-declarations! 

Sunday, March 22

The Coronavirus Blues

As the cases rise and rise and rise some more in Italy, the tragedy that has befallen our Bell' Italia has certainly made headlines the world over. The loss of life and systemic stretching of all our healthcare resources belies comprehension. Healthcare personnel, often paid less than your average Walmart worker, are in full force working 12 or 15 hour shifts, meaning they're getting paid even less than an elementary kid's corner lemonade stand earns, hour by hour – just to be where they were trained to be in our time of need. Tirelessly trying to save the predominantly elderly of our nation, a place where nonni – often the main caregivers of the country's bambini – are as revered as the Statue of David itself. 

I count myself lucky. As a dog owner, I get to go out and about, to take in the stillness, and watch as some of my elderly neighbors brave the unknown as they make their way to the pharmacy or corner store. Ever defiant, they refuse to be stuck inside.
I cross the piazza, with ease and grace. For the first time in my nearly 30 years in Italy, I am not afraid of being run down by a distracted driver, who then gives me The Hand after nearly flattening me or my dog as they race to the red light ahead. That's because, there are almost no cars on the streets. And now, road blocks with police stops are keeping it that way.
The feeling in Rome is not unlike feeling as though you, and the handful of others who cross your path, making sure to avoid each other's gaze, are survivors of an H-bomb... which left buildings intact but disintegrating on impact most of the people. You don't know why you've been spared, but here you are, picking up your mozzarella at the corner store as if nothing had changed at all.
And while my life has been for the most part unaffected, with dog walks and remote working prior to the pandemic, there are many things I miss of my Italian existence pre-Covid19 
(with trash strewn along all the streets and sidewalks not one of them).
Please feel free to add yours.

- Gaggles of old codgers lined up on benches engaged in vibrant conversations, day in, day out. It behooves me to think what they have to talk about 362 days a year, but there you have it. 
- The old ladies, in the sun, not so far behind. This is a relatively newer trend over the last decade or so. As they were usually to market in the morning and then preparing il pranzo, cleaning up afterward. I think that between male mortality rates and women living longer have given them some liberties to afford bench sitting. 
- The contented silence of the neighborhood. When it is this quiet, it usually meant that that the Roma team was playing soccer somewhere. And then, from the quiet, would spurt the occasional geyser of cheers or groans, or mostly shouts after a ref made a bad call or the other team scored. These days, no cheers ring through the condo complexes. Just silence.
- The hair stylist guy hanging in the doorway to have a smoke. We have watched our hair color change over the years, and I can't help but think each time I pass he wants me to step inside for a treatment. He's still waiting for me to become a customer.
- The florists burst of colors in the piazza. I don't think a day has gone by when I don't wonder how, exactly, the money laundering scheme on cut flowers works. Because these guys, open 24/7 have been my cold case for 30-odd years. Gone. 
- The farmer's market, where everyone has their favorite market stalls. Where they still address me with the formal greeting, 'Lei', despite my having seen them grow from middle schoolers to vegetable sellers in their own right. A quick recipe suggestion and a handful of parsley thrown in for good measure. 
- People watching at the post office. These days, people approach with trepidation (although I must admit, some things never change...). Their 6 inch thick windows made to block any productive conversation from ever transpiring, are deemed not thick enough. We now have tape to stand back even further. Just hand over the envelope and hope you don't need a pen to sign a document (4 times over) that no one will ever return to to actually verify your signature.
- The sound of coffee grinding in coffee bars across the land. If we could stand in a line for groceries, I don't know why we couldn't for cappuccino. But certainly, fewer people at their jobs reduces the rate of infection for all. 
- And finally, grandparents escorting their grandchildren around, engaged in animated conversation, no matter how old they are (both parties, intended). Now, the kids can't see the nonno...or as one exasperated young man confessed, "If I can't even give my nonna a hug, then I'd rather just sit it out and not go over there for the duration of this lockdown." Of course, he shouldn't anyway.

What are you missing? Maybe tomorrow I'll give a tidy list of the things I hope and dream will never come back. 

*If you would like to help out the medical personnel fighting on the front lines of the Coronavirus pandemic, here is a fundraiser for the hospital in Italy's northern town of Bergmao to go toward buying masks and ventilators. GOFUNDME BERGAMO HOSPITAL ASSOC.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Patellani, Federico (1911/ 1977), fotografo principale - Roma (RM), Italia, 18/04/1943

Meet Italo - Italy's Other Train Line

I have long preferred Italy's sleek train line, TrenoItalo or Italo Treno (depending on their web master's viewpoint) to Italy's Trenitalia FrecciaRossa service. I still stand by this rave review (below), although I *wish* they would add to their groovy announcements to shoo people away from the doorways when they come into the station. The smokers stand - even on the steps - to cop a quick smoke, making you walk through their disgusting nicotine haze just to find your seat.

Back in the day, I had given it the white glove treatment, and on the whole, it came out in flying colors, namely red, like the Ferrari it purports to be.  Only time will tell if it's the hullaboo of a big opening, or if their idea of putting service back into the train system will work [still going strong!]  We can monitor their five-star opening, and see if the star eventually falls out of the sky, piece by piece, like the
Red Arrow before them, or see, unlike Trenitalia, they're able to keep up the promise of You deserve better when you travel.
So, let's take my experience on the spanking new Italo train from the top:  
Anyone who's lived in Italy knows that Italians love to have two wholly different brand names for any major thing -- like Fiumicino/Leonardo Da Vinci airport, or the Mona Lisa/La Giaconda.  I'm not sure where this practice started, perhaps with Popes taking new names when they became the Big Formaggio.  So with Italo TrainsThe website says Italo, the trains are called Italo, the trains, company and other communications shout out NTV (which always makes me think that they're competing with MTV - Music Television and not Trenitalia/Ferrovie dello Stato).  
Note: They *finally* got the memo and stopped with the NTV nonsense. So now up on the board you will see ITALO, as it should be.
The website reaches near-nirvana, with its easy-on-the-eye graphics, fun things to see and do, pages that actually go where they say they will, and the ease of making a ticket purchase without having to have a PhD in deciphering hieroglyphics just to see your options.  I got two low-cost tickets for about 20 euro each to my destinations (Rome-Florence/Florence-Milan), half price on most fares.  The English website, while needing some touch-ups, is pretty much as good as it gets.
At the Rome Tiburtina railway station, a greeter welcomed us in the bowels of the station and sent us seekers of all good things to the lovely waiting room up in the piazza. Open to all travelers - not just those who have paid an annual Club Card fee.  Their friendly, informative staff helped all and sundry - and the best part was, dogs were welcome!  I would imagine that if we still had luggage carts, they would have allowed them in as well, unlike the competition.  Huge clocks right in the doorways made everyone's life easier as did the setup for laptops and recharge stations. 
[A note about the new redesign of Rome's Tiburtina train station:  Someone finally made the connection, only after 160+ years, that people traveling by train actually carry luggage.  They have built RAMPS up to the platforms. Traveling with a huge bag, doggy bag, computer bag & and other sundry items, there are no words to express my gratitude.]
On board the train, it thankfully had none of the features of the miserable Eurostar.  Seats were comfortable, made for real people under 6' 1", and bathrooms were clean.  I'll update this in a year's time (still fairly clean, especially in a Covid world). Internet on board works well, and you still don't need an internet connection, four aliases and a papal decree in order to log in and run it (see: Trenitalia).
We arrived in Milan about 20 minutes behind schedule.  Which made me wonder about the NTV logo sporting a speedy hare.  After all, even Italians grow up with the fable of the tortoise and the hare...But, I've said it before and will say it again, Italy is nothing if not brand image-challenged.  Nonetheless, even if NTV did use a tortoise logo, I will look forward to never having to venture into a Trenitalia website nor on board a Trenitalia train again.  Now, if NTV could just open up in the USA, offering hey - MTV videos as well on board, life would be a dream.

Postscript:  While I love all the creature comforts, I pray that little by little they don't whittle down all these features as their TrenItalia brethren did.  Back in the day, we were offered a banquet of customer perks from private meeting rooms to welcome drinks and free luggage check; only to see them all removed, one by one, once the customers came on board.
A 2020 Update: Well, they took away the waiting rooms and fab outlets in all the more greeters either. Their staff still remains friendly as always, and the smokers still perch in the doorways...

Pictures of my train experience can be found at Irreverent Italy Facebook page.

Sunday, October 28

Mussolini comes to Washington

Propaganda • Politics • Public Works • the Bully Pulpit

Four Trump plays from the Mussolini handbook

At his mass rallies, President Trump likes to quip that maybe President for Life is a pretty good deal. From where I sit in Rome, it’s hard to tell on some days, who said it better? Trump or Mussolini? 

Although little Benito started out in abject poverty, the differences between the two end there. As a child, he was considered unruly, aggressive and moody.  
Mussolini grew up to become a media man who understood how much power properly placed propaganda held to prop him up. As he carried out his mission to establish a one-party state, fortunately, he would not achieve totalitarian rule because the monarchy and the papacy acted as a sort of check on his ambitions and power; not to mention the allies later running offense up and down the Italian peninsula, Africa and elsewhere to resoundingly put him and his fascist ways asunder.
But first, about that monarchy: The House of Savoy was beloved by the people – it's said that even the Margherita pizza was named after a Queen. Mussolini's Fascist party would eventually march on Rome forcing King Vittorio Emanuele III to dissolve parliament and make Mussolini not only Prime Minister, but Minister of the Interior and Foreign Affairs to boot. Mussolini, a great proponent of public works, quickly set off to clear the way for a massive avenue - the Via dei Fori Imperiali - so he might hold tributes in front of the huge white monument erected for Italy's kings. 
But by the time the war ended, the Savoia’s would be run out of the country into exile in Egypt; their palaces and properties confiscated, and no male heirs or royal consorts permitted ever to return. This held up until 2003, when Parliament figured that by then, they were quite toothless, only to discover that the former Prince had used his idle time to start up a prostitution ring in the northern gambling town of Campione d’Italia. His son recently set up a street food stand in LA. I guess they could use the dough.
But why did popular sentiment turn on them so quickly? Italians, after the war, realized that the monarchy had not defended its own people – pretty much its only real job description, other than that of opening bottles of champagne for visiting dignitaries. Mussolini had enacted the racial laws and before anyone knew it, Italian citizens, Jews, were being rounded up from the ghettos, eventually to be hauled off to death camps to the North, most never to return. This was too much for the peaceful people of Italy – even for those who had so blindly supported Mussolini and his muscling in on their basic liberties

At rallies—surrounded by supporters wearing black shirts—Mussolini caught the imagination of the crowds shouting, 'Viva l’italia!' Many Italians, especially among the middle class, welcomed his authority. They were tired of strikes and riots, responsive to the flamboyant trappings of fascism, and ready to submit to dictatorship, provided the national economy was stabilized and their country restored to its dignity. It would be declared:
“Either the government will be given to us, or we will seize it by marching on Rome.” 
[source: Brittanica]

So how did Mussolini rise to wield such power over a people and get away with it…that is, up until he was hanging by his feet from a lamppost in Milan, marking the end of WWII? At least in Italy. And especially for him? When elected Prime Minister in 1922, his Fascist party held only 32 of 535 seats. This guy, who many considered a blowhard, and far too young and unprepared for high office, swiftly obtained ‘emergency powers’, garnering control over parliament. In his defense, he remarked, “It is really easier to give orders myself instead of having to send for the Minister concerned and convince him about what I have done.” Just one year later, he would introduce a law to gain absolute majority in parliament. By the next election, the Fascists would secure 66% of the vote.

“I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department."

To gain support of the people, Mussolini operated a binary system: employing intimidation or threats to suppress his opponents, while at the same time pretending to be a moderate when it came to crafting deals. He would be the lone warrior against that ultimate evil, socialism: “Italy… wants peace, wants quiet, wants work, wants calm; we will give it with love, if that be possible. Or with strength if that be necessary.” But who said it best?

It should be a bill of love,” Mr Trump said, but “it also has to be a bill where we’re able to secure our border. Drugs are pouring into our country at a record pace. A lot of people coming in that we can’t have.”

That split message, part conciliatory and part unyielding…

[Independent • Jan 9, 2018]

Mussolini set out to ban opposition parties and non-fascist unions; not unlike corporate America’s decades-long battle against labor and teacher unions – perhaps starting with Ronald Reagan’s mass firing of the air traffic controllers in 1981, and ending with Walmart’s utter disregard for workers, up to Wisconsin’s banning of teacher unions altogether. Mussolini picked off opposition Senators one by one with those finding themselves like a few Dems who today are on the wrong side of the NRA, or publicly humiliated after a particularly cogent grilling of one’s Attorney General.
Pocahantas…Flakey…Flunkey…”Except for one senator, who came into a room at 3 o'clock in the morning and went like that [gesturing thumbs down, ndr] we would have had health care too, think of that.”

But one of the most effective tactics was Mussolini’s private security detail; basically arresting people for any anti-party activity. In the USA, peaceful demonstrators get arrested, others intimidated or frozen out for their ‘anti-patriotic’ stance while drivers are encouraged to plow through demonstrations. And ICE – well, we know which party those families would belong to, if they could vote. Mussolini reintroduced the death penalty in 1926, with scores of ‘traitors’ in line for execution, declaring, “…It will be less and less easy to threaten the government’s existence and tranquillity of the Italian people.” I imagine hordes chanting at his rallies, “Lock them up!” Eventually, 12000 prisoners would be held captive on a remote island, picked up by the private military police and Mussolini’s personal ‘bodyguards’.

“We are going to take a strong look at our country’s libel laws, so that when somebody says something that is false and defamatory about someone, that person will have meaningful recourse in our courts,” adding,

“Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness.”

President-elect Donald Trump doesn’t seem to tire of setting new precedents. Despite being provided with a newly bolstered Secret Service detail
after the election,
the president-elect has retained his own private security and intelligence force, breaking with tradition and creating operational and potentially legal problems.

Mussolini knew that another pillar to take down would be opposition newspapers, so he started censoring them, harassing editors or forcing them into exile. He ultimately proclaimed that one could only report within the confines of the State – his State – and no one would be permitted to muddy its name or actions. While obstructing the opposition press, he used his own newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia (People of Italy) to spread his State propaganda. Even military defeats would be portrayed as a win.

President Trump kicked CNN reporter Jim Acosta out of the Oval Office after the reporter badgered him with questions. “Out!” 

While speaking about or tweeting about “fake news!” 153 times 
in his first 11 months in office. 

Enter Matteotti – who denounced this despot as early as 1924 -– “You want to hurl the country backwards, towards absolutism… We will defend by demanding that light be shed on elections” he challenged, culminating his impassioned speech with, “Now you can prepare my funeral oration.” Matteotti would be assassinated in short order, allegedly by Mussolini’s own private security force. In protest, 150 opposition members left the Chamber during one of Mussolini’s speeches. He quickly proclaimed that anyone leaving would not be allowed back into the House.

“The true believers who pulverize the search for truth are a fixture of American life. Their attachment to their heroes is absolute and impregnable. They have built themselves a big, beautiful wall. They have laid the cornerstones of absolutism.  [source: The American Prospect]

On the Democratic Black Caucus:
“They were like death, un-American. Somebody said treasonous. Yeah, I guess, why not?

Can we call that treason? Why not? 
I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.” 

To further consolidate his power, he turned a blind eye to tax evasion by big business and introduced religious education in public schools. He brought the men of the cloth to his side by increasing pay for the clergy and banning contraception, while at the same time, locking his own former mistress and her child in a lunatic asylum, lest they speak out.
Trump signs new budget deal giving taxpayer money to churches 
in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution.

It seems a swathe of people were still more inclined to protect the unborn than their own freedoms. Mussolini chirped from his balcony in Rome’s Piazza Venezia for every decree: “The truth is, the people are tired of liberty.” Once he determined he could govern by decree, he would hand down a dizzying 100,000 of them. 
Trump issued more Executive Orders in his first 100 days in office than any president since Harry Truman.

By 1928, just 6 years after taking power, all new newspapers would be banned. Thankfully, in a digital age this is impossible, but terming any opposition article, “fake news” or insisting that journalists are the “Enemy of the People” while muddying the waters with real fake news, comes as close as you can to mirroring the nefarious deeds of the past in the new millennium. Soon, Italians would be ‘educated’ with pro-fascist viewpoints alone – resistance outlawed entirely.

More than 200 protesters arrested on Inauguration Day will face felony rioting charges

In just under a year, by restricting the freedom of the press, the Fascists were fully in control of the people of Italy. The result? Mussolini became ever more popular, convincing the populace that extensive public works projects put people to work while educating the masses in civic virtue. It was not long for people to see that a strong single governing body would create an even stronger, united Italy.

"I hope they arrest these people because they're really violating all of us," Trump said.

His fervor to ‘go it alone’ (up until joining Hitler) was legend. But who said it better? We become strongest, I feel, when we have no friends upon whom to lean, or to look for moral guidance”.

“'America First' - we won’t be lectured by corrupt countries on the Palestinian and Israeli issue."
"I am a Nationalist."

This ushered in the attack on the Deep State or the Cucks, or both – purging them until a fervent 300,000 followers would swear personal alliance to Mussolini, alone. He needed to make sure that the most radical ones who wanted a revolution – say, the Bannon’s of the group – were not allowed near the halls of power. A former (socialist) colleague of his would provide the perfect metaphor for Mussolini: “He is a rabbit, a phenomenal rabbit. He roars – observes those who do not know him – and mistake him for a lion.” Of course – Mussolini was once a socialist. But it would not take long to hear him call out Socialism as “A fraud, a comedy, a phantom, a blackmail.“ 

“Based on the fact that the very unfair and unpopular Individual Mandate has been terminated as part of our Tax Cut Bill”

In the end, it was this trumped up fear of socialism that allowed Mussolini to cling to power. And even as he gained control over most parts of government, he continued his shenanigans, playing with propaganda, day in and day out, in order to garner more recognition and tributes. His mantra, “The people must accept obedience. They must and they will believe what I tell them…” would soon securely establish his influence over a people. It was, effectively, a one-party state.
“Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.”

More propaganda tools were set into motion, including the publication, ostentatiously called, The Cult of Il Duce. Mussolini would be the first to appear in a talkie movie. Posters would be printed, and State control over businesses following the crash of 1929 were deemed ‘necessary’ to help prop up the banks. The Corporate takeover of Italy was well-established at this point. Mussolini himself, the ex-socialist, put it this way: Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Just ask Tillerson. Or the Koch Bros. Or the Waltons, or virtually every cabinet member tied to a major corporation.
“You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor. 

Public works projects guaranteed full employment, with Mussolini summoning the ghost of Caesar to make his case. “A nation of spaghetti eaters cannot restore Roman civilization.” In other words, Make Rome Great Again. All told, it was the propaganda machine that gave him a comfortable, uncontested seat at the top. Britain’s Times observed, “Italy has never been seen so united as she is today. Fascism…abolished the game of parliamentary chess… it has given… national respect.”
According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, "Mussolini might have remained a hero until his death, had not his callous xenophobia and arrogance, his misapprehension of Italy's fundamental necessities, and his dreams of empire led him to seek foreign conquests.".
But what about that monarchy or the church as a check on his power? Although the Pope publicly upbraided Mussolini for his anti-semitism and his cozying up to Hitler in 1938, it was not soon enough nor emphatic enough; merely a slight tear in his iron-clad glove. It would seem that the Church still preferred a dictator over a socialist. And the die was cast.
As for the King, Mussolini would simply ignore advice doled out in their weekly meetings, limiting his interaction with the monarch. The King, in an effort to reestablish his position, welcomed the Führer to Rome instead of letting him meet with Mussolini. While still in control of the military, the King made his bed. He would eventually have to sleep in it – in exile.
Mussolini, in a rare moment of frankness, would concede he had had to share power, stating, “There were three of us: me, the King and the Pope.”
Alas, the United States cannot count on either of the latter two.

Blogger & Author, Francesca Maggi
Has been commenting on Italy’s State of Affairs since 2007
Burnt by the Tuscan Sun • Irreverent Italy on Facebook


Monday, January 16

Italian Espresso vs American Coffee...What not to order on your next trip to Italy

I grew up watching those Hogan's Heroes episodes ... they'd stand around...wishing for something hot and then spit out whatever it was they'd be served, usually coffee. BC Comics called it swill. With all that bad press, it's a wonder how any of us grew up to be coffee drinkers. And while I'll take an Illy Caffè Italian cappuccino over any coffee in all 50 states (okay...well maybe excluding New Orleans), when you happen upon a good's really not so bad.

But ask any Italian, and for as long as I can remember...they would wince at the mere thought of taking a sip from that horrid cup of "extra long" used bathwater...And this, I believe, is the true reason why Starbucks didn't make such a swift move into the Bel Paese. In all these years, I never really got into the down and murky convince Italians otherwise. Who was I to explain that the real reason they were disgusted by Caffè Americano had nothing to do with American coffee? At all.

But then, I was talking to a friend's teenage son who had just come back from NYC. When I asked him what he liked about his trip he said..with a note of surprise in his voice, "I thought the coffee was amazing." While I also think his tastebuds were distracted from the idea of camping out on a plush sofa with freewifi at a a local Starbucks...versus downing a 1 inch high sip standing at a bar counter...I could see his point. Up til now, his version of Caffè Americano was basically the water that is left at the bottom of my Bialetti coffee pot -- after I've already bubbled up the contents and poured it into my cappuccino.

So after 25-odd years, I'm going to finally come clean for the Italian people, and...for all the unsuspecting American tourists who come to Italy - begging for a super long Caffè Americano:

No...An American Coffee is NOT the end result of an espresso machine that's forced to urinate all the leftover water, calcium deposits and murky espresso bean slime until it's a faint yellowish piddle flowing into your cup.
Baristas still seem to think that that's what we do in America. Just add water. Instead, American coffees are left to soak up their Burnt Sienna grounds...percolate, so to speak. [We actually get a bigger hit of caffeine than from a standard espresso because of that.] try an American Coffee at your peril. You begin to beg for something that represents prehistoric swill.

Recently, an American couple breezed into one of the bars on the Appian Way and asked for a big ol' cuppa Joe to Go. They grabbed their Monster-sized cups (by espresso standards, anyway) and took off before I could warn them that what they ordered...wasn't quite an American brew. I found their (full) cups in a bin not much further along.

And so I've now come full circle on the Starbucks in Italy idea...Because, if you could actually serve up real American coffee...who knows? It might just catch on.

POSTSCRIPT:  It's 2018 & I just had the experience of ordering a 4.80 "Latte" -- Starbucks has only opened in Milano...and, as I predicted on my Facebook Page @IrreverentItaly , prices were going to be on the up & up -- It's started.

In any case, if you would like to make your own cuppa espresso –– check out the selection of the best of the best! Their
team ground, tamped and frothed their way through market leaders to find which machines delivered expert results through an intuitive and user-friendly design. Check it out here
But, do the planet a favor...and stay away from the pods...per favore..