Monday, August 30

The mouthwatering legal battle: Mickey D's -vs- McPuddu's??

I used to love eating at a place in Trastevere called Da Carlone - they still have the best 'cacio & pepe' in Rome (until it ended up in the guide books and the prices rose to American tourista levels); the 'da' signifying the English 's to turn it into Big Carl's Place.  It could very well be that the whole name was also, simply put, the proprietor's name.
So last week's news of the Sardinian take away place, McPuddu's, getting served a 'cease & desist' order by noneother than McDonalds brought upon more than a few chuckles. A quick read through the Italian press and you learn that:

- the ballsy Mr. Puddu is a simple proprietor of a very traditional Sardinian delicacy, culurgiones (which to this writer sounds a lot like cogliones, but, that's another story...) made in back rooms by little old signore dressed in black [which then provokes the query...are the tax police aware of his supply chain antics?]
- that culurgiones have been around a lot longer than the cheeseburger
- and that McDonalds seems to reserve the right to their prefix -- no matter what you're serving

Now I think McDonald's is ridiculous and should have no right to that prefix.  Think of all the poor blokes in Scotland who just want to open up a pub for their mates to hang out in - but can't.  But the rationale behind Mr. Puddu's right of use is derisible, at best. 

By claiming he is upholding a long-standing gastronomic tradition, why then, use the Mc at all?  It has nothing to do with Italy, traditions, culurgiones, or anything else.  It'd be like taking the best and darkest Italian Barolo and adding Coca in front, just so people know you can drink it.  Or, how about the Big Pasta al Pesto (you could call it the Big Maccheroni) or Milan's famed Veal Cutlet...Vittello alla McMilanese.

But my favorite defense that's been put forth is that the Mc (of Mickey D's) is akin to Da or Di -- basically showing the ownership as in, Leonardo Da Vinci (Leo from the town of Vinci).  Just think, if we applied this logic, Leonardo Di Caprio would never have become famous (or maybe so, due to copyright expiration).
This assertion is plain ludicrous for two reasons:  Mc is not proprietary (unless of course, you are Ronald McDonald) and if he wanted to mean "of" or "by" he could have more simply called his place, Puddu's or Di Puddu...Or, taking from the Guardian, Puddy's...

The papers are reporting that Puddu has since put up a censored sign over the Mc part while he prepares his legal battle.  But I suggest if he wants international success over satire, to stick with Sardinian and leave the Burger Kings alone.

Friday, August 27

Racing Stripes

I now know for sure that Zebras are black with white stripes and not the other way around.  And I figured it out from the pedestrian crosswalk conundrum currently stumping the greatest thinkers of our modern Roman times.
I remember a time both in Italy and in the USA, when it seemed they painted the stripes on the asphalt, never to be seen or heard from again.  Ten years or so would pass, and there they'd be, those crews out there, making their indelible marks, vigilantly guarding the fresh paint so it would not be overrun by black tires.  And there they'd stay.
the freshly painted stripes
The last couple of years, it looked as though Rome was going through a major renovation; those crews, often working at night, seemed to appear every so often; like once or twice a year in my mind.  No sooner had they left than those white lines would fade into the asphalt horizon, like a tumbleweed in the desert.
It seems that this very 'Italian job' did not go unnoticed.
Take a look at the other pictures displayed on Roma Fa Schiffo (Rome sucks) and the problem isn't just limited to my little quarter of the world.
Turns out, someone on the City commission started to notice.  According to the law, each citizen has a right to have well-marked crosswalks in their neighborhood (ours meanwhile are just a thing of the past). So he pushed the issue. He found that the Company responsible for paint was using simple wax; which with the first rays of sunshine and tire tracks, just faded away like a candle in the wind.
Complaining all the louder, he then found in his mailbox - not white street paint powder in an envelope - but two bullets. He also found a crew repainting the stripes just outside his door. But only his.  I don't know what will be the outcome of this ruse, but his post has since been removed and the crews are still painting away - again & again.
As for the zebra, colors clearly dissipate in the hot summer sun, but since the animals don't turn all white, they surely must be black underneath.

Monday, August 23

Unlocking the Secret of Italian Olive Oil

While vacationing in the Sabine hills, we canvassed the caretaker of the olive grove so we can bring home bottles of the outstanding oil they produce.  We were led into what was once the cloister of the monastery to 'the olive oil room' - a room filled with humongous terracotta urns dated to 1875 and filled with the dark green drink of the gods - Tuscan Tea (or in this case, Lazio liquid).
He had two tiny samples of last year's production, sealed with wax and a strange seal and labelled accordingly.  He then related his remarkable story:
Last year, they ended up with a rather large overrun.  After testing the quality, they contacted one of the large olive oil branding companies to come and purchase the overstock. 
Company lab scientists turned up with white coats.  He showed them his antique testing kit and told them that the quality level was a very high '17'.  They asked for more samples to test them themselves so he gave them a few bottles, with a seal.  He pulled out the 1ft. long iron skeleton key from the huge wooden doors.  This key is the only one that can remove that seal, so anyone who checked would know that that olive oil came from this farm.
Upon their return, they learned that the quality was even better: a distinguished '18' and so the deal was done. The price offered (and gained) for this King of olive oils was, in his words, 'disgraceful'.
Next day, Company technicians showed up on the doorstep of the monastery with a huge tanker in tow.  There were three men, dressed in white laboratory coats and sterile gloves.  Naturally, the truck couldn't make it up to the actual monastery so they had to use a big long hose to pull the oil out of the urns. One man manned the truck entry, the other the hose, the third posted in the urn room.  The truck could carry 150 quintals (a ton of tons...) and they were only picking up 20 so no problems expected there.
Incredibly, and much to the astonishment of the caretaker, at about 17 quintals, the guy in the truck starting shouting his head off.  Basta! Basta! Enough! Stop!
The - presumably - empty truck, picking up the finest quality oil around, was by now about to overflow. 
And off they went, their lab samples in tow, signed - sealed - delivered for whomever may ask -- all of the oil in their tanker to be bottled and sold to the public came from the lovely fattoria in the hills...

Tuesday, August 17

You can take the woman out of New York…

...but you can’t take the New York out of the woman.  While on holiday this past week, I’ve been hosting a friend from New York. It just so happens she hasn’t been to Italy since 1990, so some things are say, a blur.  But even then, she was busy touring around, visiting sites, and not ‘doing as the Sabine Women do’ (when they were not being absconded with by the Romans).

I must admit, my friends and I have had quite a few laughs at her expense.  For starters, she comes from an internet culture 24/7.  Nothing happens in our olive grove before she starts to chirp happily, “We’ll just look it up on the web!” I tell her that many sites, especially in this time period, are simply not kept that up to date. She did manage to find an excellent APT (Tourism Ofc) site for the Rieti area, filled with excellent information, but then again, she also discovered ‘tourism offices’ like in our town, whereupon calling, actually did not exist.

We called an Olive Oil place run by the monks – we had to wait until the Erboristeria (natural herb specialist) opened at 4pm, to make an appointment to see it.  This was in Farfa, and certainly part of the charm.  For a New Yorker, it was almost imaginary in its otherworldliness.  I kept reminding her we were in a place more like the Catskills than Coney Island.

She then asked if there was a mega-store nearby to buy sundry items, like say a mattress.  She couldn’t understand why we couldn’t go to a store on the 15th of August; “If everyone’s here on holiday, shouldn’t they be open?”  Or, “We’ll just take the stuff to a Laundromat, it’ll take just a few minutes to find one -- who needs to do washing (it is the August 14th – and, even if one were to be found, it’d probably cost 12 euro in gas just to get there).

But my favorite is when she decided to wash the dog.  She didn’t know which shampoo would be the best for this type of dog, that type of hair, anti-pest, non-anti-pest, whatever.  “No worries! I’ll just ask the guy in the pet supplies aisle!” -- at the discount grocers.  I rest my case.

Thursday, August 12

Better Late than Never?

I always get a big kick out of looking at the metropolitan ads for events around town.  Each time I go to Milan, inevitably I run into a mega-concert or event in which the date is missing or the address, or both.  Near my little countryside town, tomorrow night is a Blues Concert - I have no idea where as the only visible address on the entire poster was the printer's.
A friend is always passing me brochures for events large and small - the last an international finance conference - that arrive in her mailbox a week after the event has already taken place.  No matter, the date wasn't posted nor the contact info so it's almost as if it hadn't taken place in the first place. 
And so,  I got a big kick out of seeing a 1/4 page ad in the Rome edition of Sunday's paper for the event of the summer:  the Palio delle Barche on Lake Trasimeno [let's hope it ends better than other Palio's...without having to sacrifice a rower at the end - see entry following].
This Palio is a magnificent display and race that commemorates an event in 1495; today it is a contest between four towns, each represented by a fish.  The event lasts 1 week, and I got a big chuckle that the ad stated, from 18 to 25 July.  I assumed they simply recycled the ad from the year before, and so it was to take place in August.  But logical reasoning will only go so far.
Checking their website, I clicked on the program.  Granted, it's not available in English (and I have no idea how I got there), this is what I found:

In lacinia, tortor at malesuada volutpat, turpis felis iaculis erat, quis laoreet est sapien nec lorem. Curabitur molestie hendrerit nisl sit amet porta. Mauris eleifend felis vitae elit tempor a vulputate risus imperdiet. Mauris vel porttitor ligula. Cras elit dolor, commodo in imperdiet id, malesuada sit amet tellus? Nunc et eros massa. Integer mi turpis; scelerisque sit amet sollicitudin metus.
I know we're marketing challenged here but, perhaps NOT AVAILABLE and a link to the Italian would have made more sense.  Digging further around, it turned out that the event had already taken place - last July!  Obviously, upholding traditions and using mass media do not go hand in hand.

Maybe it's because I grew up with all those birthday party invitations, that showed

Perhaps the entire country can do an Evite tutorial so people know in the future what information to include, and whether or not it's BYOB.  
Of course, it means you still have to remember to hit SEND prior to the date of your event.

Tuesday, August 10

Another one bites the dust

This summer something surprising took place -- so unusual that it took even the Spaniards by surprise.  Catalonia, seemingly in step while Spain marches toward modernity, disbanded its corrida, or the tradition of bullfighting. This bold step was forced upon legislators through a referendum, and while the corrida is seen as part of the very fabric of Spain, out it went.  Of course, it will remain to be seen if the practice then goes the way of cock fights or dog fights, to back room deals done under cover with blood spilled out of sight.  I'm wondering what the matador union had to say about the whole thing and what they're torreros will do for new employment.  Become showmen in a sort of Espana amusement park where they fight mechanical bulls?  It worked for the cowboys of America. Or will they take to the streets to convince people that slowly killing animals in public is truly an art form.  Next thing we know, arenas will be built for all those hunters out there, asking for stadiums filled with game...perhaps that's the real ploy here -- a return to the Colosseum games.

As a result of this historic vote, the emboldened animal rights activists in Italy launched their annual appeal to stop the slaughter in Siena.  Siena's Palio, taking place almost continuously since 1590 (naturally, the day I arrived it was cancelled due to one jittery = overdosed horse jumping the gun too many times) is considered a tradition which should be upheld no matter what.  In 90 seconds, horses round that central piazza with jockeys vying for first place, or, holding back (if they can rein in their scared horses) due to the backroom deals struck the night before. By 2004, 48 horses had died in 34 years.
picture from

This year, Italy's Minister of Tourism chimed in saying it was a medieval game (she got that right) that has run its course.  Mayor Cenni responded with a bold attack; saying that it was an insult to all of Italy not to uphold such a tradition, that'd he'd take legal action (on what premise?) and that it promoted tourism.  With that rationale, I think after they've restored the Colosseum, we might as well restore the ancient games and gladiators -- it would certainly attract tourists, and it seriously is a tradition from days gone by.

It will be interesting to find what might happen; not so much in Siena as in Rome - I'm looking forward to booking my tickets to the gladiator games as soon as they're on the program.

Thursday, August 5

What's Wrong with this Picture?

Our main man, Silvio, has lent his voice to a nice ad promoting 'Visit Italy' -- to the Italians.  It's fairly well done (save for a few transitions...but I won't talk 'shop') -- after all, he's a showman first & foremost.  But a few people have complained about it.  See why for yourself.  LOL

Tuesday, August 3

Tante Belle Cose - July10 New Rules for Living in Italy

In the spirit of writing about the good things that go on each month's end, I will try (desperately, a bit like Dobby resisting to inform Harry Potter of impending danger "Bad Dobby, Bad Dobby!" to ignore the fact that Rome's tourist tax is taking effect. Not only that, the city's museums along with the State-run Colosseum&Forum will be levying an extra charge on the people who bring them income.
(Gulp: there I go again..."Dobby will have to shut his ears in the oven door for this." 

But in the lazy days of July, the City Officials were clearly running on double espressos and drumming out new laws to bring some order into our world - and much of it is to be applauded: 
  • Wild-card tables -- No more cafè society. Proprietors are to pay for the privilege of occupying the sidewalk (as if the passersby would get a windfall since they're the ones being inconvenienced) or they're shut down.  One day alone, 4 bars in Trastevere/Piazza Navona were closed for 10 days and fined.

  • Documents/i.d. cards -- It took 'til 2010, but they've finally figured out how to process papers in under 40 days.  By allowing city officials on one side of town to look into a database at your original docs in the State Archives and give you the i.d. card within 4 days. In 110 b.c., the process involved slaves going from building to building, but in modern times, you were slave to the process -- repeatedly waiting hours in infernal lines at each of the buildings in question. Now I know why it's called the Eternal City.

  • Skype lines -- The City is touting this as the new wave of the future, swapping out their land lines. Anyone who has ever used skype will know that the service is less than ideal -- just when we stopped the "line from falling", we can dust off that expression and put it back into use.  But, the switch, while not great for customer service will save the city millions.

  • Microcars -- And finally, even the state has gotten into the regulation act and are requiring seatbelts and anti-suped up models of the teeny-bopper cars.  Too bad, you still don't need a regular driver's license (and accompanying driver ed course) to drive 'em.
  • Movies -- Italy is starting a ratings system like in the US or UK [X, R, 12+ etc.]. While this is a good thing, the chorus of voices chimed in as to the sacrosanct practice of allowing young kids to still enjoy naked women in cages, S&M imagery, and all sorts of violence all day long on TV. 
Having just taken a number of trips up&down the Via Salaria, where the City had finally ousted the prostitutes and levied laws against stopping, I was treated (along with the 9 year old boy in my car) to a parade of almost-naked women lining the streets once again, and cars stopping right, left & center causing many of the fender benders that plague that path...One wonders, 'how long will the enforcement last before it all goes back as it was'.  

Get me away from this keyboard..."...Dobby has to iron his hands...")

Quotes and picture posted on