Saturday, July 31

Driving in Italy - Street Signs & Other Driving Hazards

The other night, a friend - who has lived here longer than I have - debated what, exactly, the road sign posted actually meant.  She thought it was 'do not enter', I said it was 'no parking'. And I started wondering what do the millions of tourists think? So as one of my occasional Public Service Announcements, here is a quick guide to the country's quirkiest street signs:

This is one of my favorites, and one I recall seeing everywhere when visiting Italy at 6 yrs of age. Since there's no bar going thru it, to my mind (40 years on), I think this sign means, 'anything goes' or 'nothing prohibited.' And judging from the cars parked every which way, pedestrians & mopeds doing whatever it is they do best, well, I still believe that it's the case today.  Turns out it's a version of the 'do not enter' sign - but this one, missing the cross out bar, means that it's a one way street - not going your way.

 I had to look this one up again.  It's a sort of 'no standing'.  I say sort of, because what happens when you get a phone call and need to pull over?  Whatever it is, best not to park where this is posted (except, of course, if you're a mammoth tourist bus and then you can park - engine running - all you want).

Here, the City officials mean business.  

In fact, this sign is the European equivalent of this: 

When I first moved to Milano, this sign always struck me as such a nice way to put things.  For years, I thought it was a sign imploring the tram drivers to watch out for pedestrians, as we'd be crossing the tracks at any given point (or, if we were bike riders, we'd be caught in the tracks, falling to the point of seeing our life pass before our very eyes - always an interesting feeling to spice up your week).
It is actually a poetic way, in the land of Dante, to implore trams to 'Go Slow' or here, 'at a man's pace.'  Let's just hope by that they don't mean Schumaker or Valentino Rossi.

picture frm flikr

I have no clue if this sign means, 'No Trespassing', 'No Pedestrians allowed', or 'Attenzione! pedestrians crossing'.

But, hey, it could be worse.  You could find yourself trying to find a parking place in L.A. or NYC:

Wednesday, July 28

The Cat Lady Strikes Back

photo from

Everyone knows about the 'Cats of Rome', and how they are part of the urban landscape. I imagine that with increased traffic and decreased food outlets, there are far fewer than I recall as a young girl roaming the streets.  To get your cat fill, you have to migrate over to Largo Argentina, where a welcome cat colony exists, funded by donations, at least until they open up those ruins (of the Teatro di Pompey?) once again.
But I did not know, until I found this wonderful posting, that cats are so treasured in Rome, they are citizens to the full degree.  In my neighborhood, there are many cat outposts where little old ladies come and feed them; some are so well-cared for (as the ladies come in droves, un coordinated between them), that some cats are bigger than my little dog, Trevor. 

In bold, this reads, a stray cat in Rome is considered a citizen to the full extent of the law.  Italy is notorious for its millions of laws on the books that have never been erased since the time of Caligula, and so it is, a law for cat ladies.  The animals are entitled to food & water, you must remove the plastic dishes (except water bowls), keep the area clean.  Fines & punishments for anyone abusing cats or cat ladies in their mutual enterprise.  The sign must be posted but there must be some sort of tussle going on in the 'hood, as it has already been removed.

It's too bad that Venice didn't issue a similar law.  Almost all citizens and environmentalists alike agree that they wouldn't have a pigeon problem (not to mention rats & mice) if they hadn't disposed of all the cats -- Come to think of it, I've never seen one there.  There's a movement to redeploy them instead of the pesticides & culling the Serenissima - in a fit of obvious rage - is currently employing.

Given the number of 'cat citizens' in Rome, I'm wondering who was the first to enact this law. Clearly, they are looking for votes.  But where, I wonder, do these feline citizens stash their voter registration cards?

Saturday, July 24

Summer in Italy - The Heat's On

Ahhhh…summer in Italy – lazy days, hot nights, events, pools, fireworks almost nightly, gelato in the piazza.  Always something to celebrate.  Old men sit in the piazza in their undershirts, women stay inside, the shutters closed tight, and young girls show more skin than half of us wish they would.  Summer is filled with surprises, and yesterday, I got an eyeful. 
Walking my dog, I happened upon a totally buff guy – with his shirt off.  Although Americans think Europeans are totally ‘anything goes’, this is one taboo that has yet to be broken in Europe.  You can show off your tattoos, your ‘tramp stamps’, the supposedly sexy but totally revolting way of revealing one’s plumber butt, but shirts off?  Europeans save that for the beach – whereby the women take it all off, too.
Coming from America, where nowadays the men (even the ones who don’t look like the Pillsbury Dough-boy) could use bras, this is one tradition I wish they would take on board.  Let’s face it, unless you look like Usher – well, keep it under wraps.
So, here I was, face to face with an Olympian swimmer’s back – who needs espresso in the morning?  And it wasn’t even that hot out yet!  I was certain he could not be Italian.  The guy turned around, and there he was, a Chinese market vendor with movie star looks.   
I entertained momentarily the thought of telling him that going around bare-chested wasn’t something that was done in Italy, but then I thought of all the Signore who’d be coming to the marketplace soon – and I just passed by with a simple, Buon Giorno!

Wednesday, July 21

Right of Refusal

Anyone living in Italy usually finds out the hard way about the overall ‘No Returns’ rules-one of the few rules that actually gets enforced - with a vengeance.  Basically, a good rule of thumb is, “You buy it – you own it” – even if it’s defective [just try telling that to my mother who is notorious for picking up dozens of new outfits just to bring them home and try them on & bring most back to the store– talk about a carbon footprint - if that happened in Italy, they'd be charging 8 euro per piece just for the administrative hassle].   
There’s actually probably a very good reason for this; I often imagine that in Italy, people would pull a reverse-42nd street on the storeowners:  You bought a fabulous Bose stereo, returning it with the insides taken out.

But, along the way, the chains and multinationals finally extended a proper ‘returns policy’ to the hoi-polloi; so it’s becoming more common to do the deal. It all started with Ikea, who, back in the day, launched a huge advertising campaign touting the fact that you had 30 days to change your mind!  Regardless, you still could not get a credit card credit – and I still don’t think you can – anywhere – unless of course you have a blessing by the Pope and Saint Francis himself.

So it came as a surprise when a friend (who calls himself my wandering reporter) tried to return something at Ikea.  He was told they would do just a store credit.  Not being a store he usually frequents, he then employed the Rule No. 1 of living in Italy, “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”  He explained that he rarely comes to Ikea, couldn’t find anything to substitute (he couldn’t??!! – typical male) and, to his surprise, the guy at the counter said, “Well, you didn’t hear it from me, but maybe we can make an exception.”

He was as stunned as he was pleased.  But, like a journalist, he pressed as to the ‘why’ of their change in policy (to which I’d say, ‘don’t look a gifthorse in the mouth’).  Basically, it’s a store policy, right?  Why make an exception for me?  Because I’m a nice guy? 

And in that is one of the beauties of Living in Italy – someone is always willing to make that exception – I’ve managed many an overweight bag over the moving beltway with no charge -- just as long as the proprietor’s away from the till.

Sunday, July 18

The Red Head is Dead

Beating the heat in multicultural London, the conversation (after we've run down the archaic workings of English plumbing) inevitably turns to immigration. This and its accompanying issues (like the pros&cons of outlawing the burka) have changed the very face(s) of the country (and I don’t just mean the soccer teams).  For friends who grew up here in the day, things weren’t always so open to all and sundry.  So an Irish friend loves to quip that when he was young, signs in stores read “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish” (in that order).
To further add insult to injury, he was blessed with red hair – a sure sign of the devil if anyone ever saw one.  Red-haired villains filled the airwaves, and people were truly afraid of these Irish rogues.  I have always loved red hair, but I have never ever heard of this in American culture.  Wasn’t all-American Archie a red head?  And what about Rin Tin Tin?  And, while I’ve never liked his scary little face staring out at me on milk cartons, but even Bozo the Clown and Ronald McDonald don’t quite fit the treacherous criminal types (although they dig dig up the backyard of Gacy the clown to find all kinds of bodies).
But while in the UK this idea has somewhat dissipated with time (and the arrival of turbans), in Italy, red hair was quite the rarity.  So much so that people still think that freckled people are strange or exotic to behold like albinos and that red heads, are, simply put, nut cases.  If a red headed boy is acting wild, just because he’s a 9 year old with a lot of energy, they’ll blame it on the hair color.
While I think red headed people are generally the most stunning form of homo sapiens, I’ve always gotten a big kick out of this; but I have wondered how it affects the self-esteem of those in the Bel Paese.  Do mothers stop and think ‘where did I go wrong’?
As for my friend, he lost most of his hair by the 1980s – just when every villain in every TV show and movie was depicted as – a bald guy.

Wednesday, July 14

Italian Cooking - Don't say 'Cheese'

There are so many amazing food blogs about Italian food in particular out there, that I tend to avoid the topic.  But every so often, an occasion introduces itself and I feel compelled to address one of my favorite topics: food and eating.
An American friend called while I was immersed in the preparation of one of my absolutely favorite dishes – stuffed zucchini flowers.   

A dish so heavenly that you never forget the first time…I was hot and hungry in Milan, and came across a deep dark ristorante.  I entered, and found true love. I still also recall the price tag of that experience, but let’s just say, the ride with this great dish was truly worth the fall.
So he asked, “What are you stuffing them with?” 
-- “My favorite – fresh mozzarella and anchovies.” 
“Hang on a minute – you emphatically told me that Italians never – never ever – combine cheese & fish.” 

And, as my thoughts stretched back to the innumerable plates of shrimp dishes, clam sauteés, and untold ‘frutta di mare’ all peppered with grated cheese – the wait staff too aghast to even look at the rape…I ventured forth:  
“Well, I think it’s this dish and like one other one that it’s okay to combine the cheese with the fish. But no others.”
He was unconvinced.  And as we debated the anchovies-on-pizza tradition, I know for sure this is one dish that the two flavours combined make for the most mouthwatering marvel.

I still can’t think of the other one, but I know it’s out there.  But, as far as ‘La Cucina Italiana’ is concerned, it’s one rule followed by everyone – everyone – north to south.  A rule so carved in stone, that you’d think it was the predecessor of the muslim/pork law: 

Just because it’s pasta, never grate that parmigiano on that dish with fish.  A gastronomical no-no to the nth degree. 
And one I think might have some health and taste value.

Now back to deep-frying my zucchini flowers. Buonissimi.

Friday, July 9

Could It be...? Berlusca DJ?!

I recently came across this WobblyHead picture of DJ Pauly D from Jersey Shore. And I realized that I'd seen that face somewhere before.  I did a doubletake so fast, it wasn't just Pauly D's head that was bobbing...


 The his lounge lizard days, 
and in the days of keeping his cronies happy.

Thursday, July 8

Letter from Aquila

Yesterday, the disheartened - and hardening - citizens of earthquake-ravaged Aquila, took to the streets; this time, not to shovel out in wheelbarrows the detritus of their homes, but to protest in Rome about the slow pace (some would say a stock-still  pace) of reconstruction.  And while about 16000 citizens have returned to makeshift habitats there, it seems the only one who got a fabulous apartment in a pre-war building was the head of the buildings projects - but his swanky place 'gifted' by builders was on Rome's haughty via Giulia.
And so, I bring a guest post from the daughter of one Joshua Lawrence* who generally muses about great eats, myriad experiences, and other issues of our times -- including drawing attention to the Aquilani's plight.

Sofia’s Letter – A Year After L’Aquila’s Earthquake
My daughter’s letter to Davide, the classmate who the Earthquake took away. As we near April 6th, the one-year anniversary of the earthquake that drove us from our home in L’Aquila’s historical center, I’d like to break with the normal subject of food-experiences in Italy and instead share the letter that Sofia, my daughter, wrote to a classmate she lost to the disaster. It was part of a school project and she was asked to read it aloud in front of Giustino Parisse, a journalist from L’Aquila who had lost both his children that night. He published it the next day in Il Centro, Abruzzo’s largest daily newspaper, and Sammy from Life In Abruzzo, an excellent English language website on this region of Italy where I live.
I’m only publishing Sofia’s letter here. For the rest of the article, to find out how you can help, and to just leave a note there too, please visit .

Joshua Lawrence
Dear Davide,
Almost a year has passed since that night. You know, I was really scared. Everything was trembling: our house, the beds, the furniture, my heart, everything. I made my way out of my house, hurting my feet as I walked over fragments of plaster from our walls and glass from the picture frames and lamps. A boom, a deafening roar filled the air, making it heavy, unbearable.
Every other sound seemed to reach my ears through cotton, distant, far away. Everything was falling: the buildings crumbled, people were jumping from their windows looking – in those crazed moments – for a way to escape from the invincible force that was selfishly dragging my city into the deepest of darkness.
I perceived these things so strangely, I knew what was happening but all the same a remote part of me refused to believe it was real. I jumped into our car with my sister. I didn’t know why, but I hoped that after I got in, it would all be over. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as I had hoped.
The earth kept on shaking, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but trembling always. The night seemed endless and when the day reappeared from behind the mountains I could hardly believe it. I had no idea what was going on beyond our car, but I was sure that it was something horrible.
After we picked up Grandma and drove to Navelli, the news arrived. That news, the news that would make me cry every day that followed and when the tears stopped wetting my cheeks I would still feel that same heavy emptiness, ever present deep in my soul. The phone rang for thirty unending seconds before my Mum answered. She stayed silent as she listened. It was something bad, because the expression on her face changed suddenly, from distraught to terrible suffering. When she hung up, I listened to her. I didn’t want to believe what she was saying; I didn’t want to believe that voice that kept telling me that you were gone, that you had flown to Heaven, that you had left us forever. I didn’t want to believe it, I couldn’t.
As my Mum hugged me and we cried, I played back all the moments I passed with you. School, class trips, the oral tests in class, the handball games, the playground in Piazza Pasquale Paoli and the games in Piazza Duomo, the walks along the Corso, the afternoons at the ice skating pavilion. Now that I think back on it, the two of us were not all that similar: you were a little arrogant and sometimes overbearing, I was so proud and independent, but the time we spent arguing seems to me now so terribly sweet, so strangely beautiful.
When you were here I never fully noticed you strengths: you were sweet and sensitive, even though it was rarely seen at just a first glance; you were also cheerful and carefree, you didn’t care what others thought of you, you were simple in spirit and sincere in your feelings. I have your smile printed in my mind, your laughter fills my ears when things are difficult for me and they help me make it through.
I’m sorry you’re not here, close to me. I’m sorry to have to give you the bad news. All of the places that hosted times we spent together are no longer there. It’s painful for me to say our Piazza Duomo is now occupied by large white tents, our Piazza Paoli is now full of holes and our porticoes are fenced off, our school is broken. The historical centre was closed for a long time and when they opened up part of it the scene was chilling. They are slowly opening the center, piece by piece, but there was rubble everywhere.
A month ago the people of L’Aquila began to complain, and these complaints lead to the “Wheelbarrow Revolt” and slowly they are freeing the city of the rubble. It’s important to me to tell you all this because I know how much you cared about this city, and I’m sure that you would be happier knowing that it has not been abandoned or forgotten.
Before I sign off, I want to tell you that the times we spent together have helped make me a person who reflects more on things and tries to help others. In a certain sense I’ve grown more mature. Thank you, because with you I spent some beautiful moments, enjoyed some really fun days and played wonderful games, Thank you for being part of my life and thank you for staying on the heart, soul and mind of those of us who experienced life with you. Thank you for your laughter which raises our spirits when the pain fills our souls. Thank you for everything. Please remember the people who loved you and who keep on loving you forever. Many hugs and kisses to your mamma and your little brother too.
With enormous affection,
Sofia Lawrence
March 21st, 2010

*You can find Joshua's musings on Facebook, or on Carbonara Wordpress (whose link is on left hand column)

Monday, July 5

Silenzio Stampa - No more Italian furniture ads

While there's so much (justifiable) talk going on across the country of the draconian law that would totally inhibit freedom of the press (including bloggers) to the point that writing about democracy in Burma or Iran would be less threatening, I'm for making a specific clause against all Furniture advertisements - forever.  In a democracy, one could say that they are offensive to the entire population, except the proprietor of course, who generally features in the ad.

Or, in the very least, until they actually paid for a proper ad agency to come up with their ads, to be submitted to a blind panel for voting -- very simply - like / dislike, just like on Facebook.

That way, we would avoid some of the worst eye pollution this world has ever seen.


This ad is so appalling on so many levels that my camera lens broke when I took the shot.  But, as a sort of Case Study for all you students out there of marketing communications, we can list the ADVERT DON'TS for you:
  • DON'T Use the proprietor of the store in any ad - ever - unless George Clooney happens to go into retailing [and even then, Sly Stallone & Co. didn't mug for the Planet Hollywood franchise].
  • If you're going to go to Ancient Rome, perhaps you might want to show positive images of improving Rome, not burning it down to the ground. If I were selling furniture, I'm thinking reclining couches with Caligula & Co. and then - hey - you can even use semi-nude showgirls; much more eye-appealing than a guy dressed in a Roman Emperor costume.
  • If you're going to draw from history, at least get your facts straight: Nero did not let Rome burn - he was in Anzio at the time. Dan Brown would be well-advised to take particular note of this recommendation for future publications.
  • If your point is Tax Free - you might want to use a tie-in like some Emperor who reduced or cut taxes - not the ones who used the treasury to finance their Golden Palaces, just like Saddam Hussein.  

For more incredibly outlandish bad ads - in the furniture industry, go here.
I rest my case.

Advertising Age of this Ad:  6 1/2 (out of 45 years)

    Thursday, July 1

    Tante Belle Cose - June10 What's going on in Italy

    Well, June went out with a bang - the spectacular spettacolo of the Festival of Saints Peter & Paul, Rome's patron saints (ha ha - we get two - na na na na naaahh) and, despite the month in crazy [what with Italy being ousted from the World Cup, Berlusconi complaining that the constitution is an impediment to his reign, the expanding pedophile web, the mozzarella cheese coming in from Germany - you read that right - talk about ice to eskimos - turning a shiny florescent blue], there's plenty of good things going on.

    First & foremost, Earth's first Blogger is Back!  After Rome's most famous 'Talking Statue', Pasquino, was restored, people were reverent enough not to paper their paper blog entries all over him.  So, someone put a board up there, but it was taken down.  Now, they've posted a huge piece of cardboard so we can all return to reading about the scandals of the day - in rhyme.  Hopefully this will stay put.  In the meantime, you can get my select translations over on the Vox Populi section in the left hand column.

    Italy's World Cup performance -- The whole country seems to have fallen into a funk over the Azzurri, with wacko politicians saying that Coach Lippi shouldn't cash his paycheck.  No one has picked up on the concept that, if we were to apply a pay-for-performance rule throughout the country, there'd be no money left for anyone to bribe politicians with.  So, what can be good about this?  I'm hoping that, by osmosis, the loud calls for fresh young blood will be transferred to every other industry spanning the boot.

    The crackdown on Pub Crawls, counterfeit purses, and illegal parking 'attendants'.  Rome is actually busy enforcing these issues with huge fines in an effort to restore some order especially in the city center.  Anyone who has happened across a pub crawl - teeming with 60+ sloppy drunken teenagers will know that this is a very good thing.

    Outdoor Cinemas - June means large screens and a wonderful mix of movies from all over the world, often in the original languages.  Piazza Vittorio (near the station), L'isola Tiberina (where you can relax on huge sofas before & after the show), even in my little neighborhood of GarbatellaNow, if we could actually find what, exactly is playing and when, well, it'd be a great day for movie goers.

    Vatican Museum nights  - June saw the reprise of the Friday midnight madness amidst the statues of the Vatican Museums.  Not sure how long it will last, but it's a wonderful experience for any museum buff.

    And, the best find yet -- a new popsicle treat of Ananas - Pineapple.  With bits of fresh pineapple pulp all the way through.  Not for you pulp free American juice drinkers, but hey, just leaves more for the rest of us.