Sunday, April 29

Italian Language: Creativity at Work

I often overhear debates on which language is richer:  English or Italian.  Depending on the case being made, convincing points are put forth to either side.  So much so, I'm sitting right on the fence on this one.  After all, English is made up of so many other languages; Greek roots, Latin roots, French words, slang, brand names cum nouns, you name it.  But in Italian, you can find words thick with meanings.  Get out of Google Translate and into a proper Vocabulario or Italian dictionary, and you'll see what I mean.
One of my favorite items is a dictionary of Italian idioms.  And one of my favorite words, if not very favorite practices is the application of the word, Bridge = Ponte.  I believe Italy still comes first in observing the greatest number of holidays or 'bank holidays' (for you British readers).  But what doesn't get counted are the days that count the most:  Bridge Days which help you ease in or out of your official day off, depending on what day it lands.  
Each year, Italy observes the 25th of April (Liberation Day) and the 1st of May (Labor Day).  Naturally, most of us (and especially schools) take the whole week off in between.  But even for those who don't, this year for example, May 1st falls on Tuesday.  So Mondays, everything's pretty much Closed for Business.  And this, is the Ponte.  A bridge from your fabulous Friday straight to Wednesday.  It's like Passing Go but even better.  
I think the justification is that sometimes these festivals fall over a weekend.  So, what can an extra day off on other years hurt?  I don't know, the time you read this, as they say in Italy, It's all water under the bridge.

Friday, April 27

Break a Leg! And other Italian superstitions & wellwishes

The English Theater of Rome's troupe of new actors performing their own original pieces  (which makes us all new writers to boot!) in our show of monologues, Equal & Opposite Effects brought the house down the other night.  It was a marvelous mix of young & old talent, with a full house at Rome's Teatro Arciliuto (practically an institution in Rome that should never go unmissed for an traveler for the nightly Cabaret).  
Italian wellwishers gave each of us their version of Break a Leg!  I don't know where that expression comes from, but in Italy, they wish you piles of shit:  Merda! 
I chalked it up to the usual litany of lovely idioms of the Italian lexicon:  If you get shat on by a pigeon, they say it brings good luck.  If it rains on your wedding day, they say it brings good luck.  Step in dog shit?  More good luck.  [If that last one were true, I'd have won the lottery by now].  But shit?  
This comes from the time when theater goers turned up in horse & buggy.  The more people, the more carriages = more shit.  This expression could very well be one of my favorite uses on earth for the word...

*For those in Rome, we still have three more performances, so get your tickets while they last!  For information: Click Here (or see sidebar) 

Wednesday, April 25

The Fall of Rome's Centurions

picture from
Recently, the powers behind Roma Capitale decided, in their ongoing (and totally losing) battle to reinstitute decòr and decency on the streets of Rome, to go after the hodge podge of dubious enemies in our midst:  The Centurions of Rome.
These are guys made up of Italians, Romanians, Poles, Albanians, just like in days of yore.  Except our Centurions, even with their armour, hardly look in shape to climb the steps of the Colosseum let alone defend it in battle.  To the delight of tourists everywhere, our hunky men (only because their armour shows off spectacular pecs) spend their time roaming the streets around the Colosseum and Forum posing for photo opps.
The City decided that this was a bit too close to those figures of Prince Charming and Mickey Mouse roaming the Main Street at Disney.  And so, they closed in on their ranks, sweeping them off the streets.  If they had truly wanted to get these nefarious imposters, they could have done like the Americans and Al Capone: and shake them down for undeclared tax revenues from their all-cash business. [Which also begs the obvious question:  Centurions had pockets?!]
I have had nary a houseguest whose children didn't take magnificent photos with these guys.  Yes, it's tacky.  Yes, it's touristy.  But so is taking a photo with an over-sized penguin at the Aquarium.  And I don't think the penguin colony imprisoned there find it so offensive, either.  But for some reason, Centurions - albeit ones with great paunches patrolling the Forum are an assault to our public decorum.  
I took a stroll myself recently around Piazza Navona; the tourist focal point for admiring the artists, the street performers, the Fountain of the Four Rivers by Bernini.  Instead, none of the tourists could go anywhere near the fountain for their own photo opp and moment of romance.  A place where lovers stood or sat close to each other, flashbulbs burning in the wind had now been transformed into a Bangladeshi street market.  Except in Bangladesh, they sell local works made by locals.  The dozens of vendors here peddle their Gucci knockoffs (declared illegal with tourists being forced to pay huge fines should they try to do so), cheap sunglasses, florescent headware and other such cheap Chinese bric-a-brac, including a dancing pair of mickey & donald -- (very Italianate indeed -- in the very least they could give us the Savoy Kings & Queens tripping the light fantastic). 
These guys have now formed a human shield round the fountain, right under the eyes of the people policing the square.  Buskers belt out their gypsy tunes using loudspeakers and Chinese street artists fill the air with the acrid scent of acrylic paint.
Roma Capitale is looking to restore decorum?  Maybe they should start with enforcing the rules in place and leave our Centurions well enough alone.  Hopefully, like all else in Italy, after the big bust up the story will die down and our Centurions will be reinstated in their ranks right under the Arch of Constantine.  
All they need to do is take a cue from the prostitutes whisked away from the Via Salaria (yesterday at noon I counted only 18), or the squigees washing windows at every intersection all the way down the Cristoforo Colombo.  They too, were vanquished - for the fortnight that it took our Mayor to forget that they ever were a pockmark on our pristine capital city.

For a photo gallery of the epic battle between the Law & Order and our Lawless Rogue Centurions, click here.

Saturday, April 21

Italy: A snapshot into the past

I decided to start an occasional new column discussing some of the ways we were in Italy, in our recent (and...with the years passing...still memorable) past.  Living in Italy these 20-odd years, we've all seen many things improve for the better, while growing wistful for the past, especially after passing our favorite trattoria with the red & white checkered tablecloth and discovering it's been transformed into an uber-cool nightclub, replete with capirinhas and pole-dancing. So, here it is...a look to the past - but not the ancient kind which usually comes with life in Italy:
I asked a friend out to lunch the other day but in reply, he said he couldn't really make it.  He went on to say that it wasn't for being over-worked or out-of-town.  Instead, he told me he had 30 minutes lunch break.  I nearly lost my breath.
I have long held that Italians work a whole heck of a lot.  And, a lot more than even their European counterparts.  Clearly, government employees and parliamentarians excepted -- here's an article showing one of our public officials looking for an escort while on duty.  But at least he's in the halls - most (just like in the U.S. Congress) are absent and others use their time (paid at four times the European average) for siestas. But I digress.
Perhaps they're taking naps on the job, just because those afternoon Siestas are a thing of the past.  And this practice of short lunch hours I believe came flying in on the coattails of the panini or McDonald's revolution.  I was in Rome the day they inaugurated the very first Italian McDonalds.  It was 1986, and it was so spiffy with it's faux Pompeiian fixtures, ceramic tiles and fountains, I was tempted to hang a sign out from the top of Trinità di Monti reading, Real McDonalds don't look like this.  I mean, coming from wasn't an everyday sight.
Panini Recipes from Squidoo
Up in Milan, the Burghy became the local hangout for kids and future Milanese yuppies  after high class, garnering the term, paninari.  As for me, I abhorred this intrusion into my Italian experience...but found an amazing panino joint making every type of sandwich known to man - it was a feast for the senses.  Still today, no one beats the Milanese for creative panino fixings.  Working in Milan at the time, it wasn't long before the colleagues would go out and grab a panino - and eat standing at the bar counter.  Of course, it would be another 20 years before you'd see them drinking their coke straight from the bottle, but that story will come in a future excerpt.
Little by little, it was bound to be.  The 1 hr lunches became a fixture in Milanese life styles.  But in hard-working Milan, we'd still get out of work between 7 & 8 pm.  Unfortunately for us time-pressed souls, the store owners still took - up til 2012 - the siestas; leaving an entire country with pent-up demand and no internet & postal service to make up for the slack thru online sales.
These seemingly inconsequential events are the things that, in retrospect, reveal more than anything the change of the face of what it meant to be "Italian".  But since it's now part & parcel of the way we are today, shouldn't we at least change the name from lunch hour (ora di pranzo) to something else? 

Sunday, April 15

April in Rome

In Rome in April? Want some English Theater? 
Come hear a terrific series of monologues right near Piazza Navona! 
[full disclosure: yours truly will be performing Scenes from an Italian Ristorante with excerpts from my book!]
What do an optimistic psychopath, a wannabe Frigidaire & a milk-obsessed expat have in common? EQUAL & OPPOSITE REACTIONS coming soon to the English Theatre of Rome -- a fun night of comedy, tragedy and the absurd featuring new material & new faces onstage. 
Thurs April 26 8pm - Sun April 29 5pm & 8pm - Mon April 30 8pm 

Directed by Matthew T. Reynolds and devised with Caterina Bertone, Chiara Giuliani, Veejay Kaur, Adrian Moore, Rita Neveckaite, Sarah Tighe, Francesca Maggi, Savis Joze Sadeghian & Theodora Voutsa
Reservations recommended
The English Theatre of Rome @ Teatro l'Arciluto 
Piazza Montevecchio 5 (zona Pace - Piazza Navona) 

RSVP T: 06.6879419, SMS: 348.935.5626
TICKETS: 15€, Reduced (students, clubs) 12€, Large Groups 10€

Friday, April 13

Francesca Maggi's Strange But True! Life in Italy

In Italy (as elsewhere around the world), the newscasters and comedians get a big kick out of bringing us the ripoff of the day; whereby they run a candid camera on a fake dentist, or a soothsayer who tells an unsuspecting client they will come down with a terrible malady, or worse.  I sometimes get a big kick out of these stories, and am especially tickled pink by the craftier crimes of our times.  In my book, I point out a few of the genius crimes committed around the Bel Paese.
This story isn't so recent, but I loved it so much I saved it for a rainy day (and today, as all week in Rome, we're going to be met with those April Showers).  Basically, four nefarious masterminds founded their own University, right in the fair town of Verona.  Identified by, the halls of learning sported a likewise lofty name:  Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne).  They even went so far as to publish names of professors and course syllabus'.  For only 7000 euro you could sign up to study management & finance, the arts and theater management as well.  
Perhaps the would-be sophomores could take a course in basic library science instead, to hone in their fact-finding skills like looking for a book under the Dewey Decimal System.
Then we have another genius, this time, a street vendor who sells his fruits & vegetables in the no-traffic zone of Rome.  The cameras caught him entering the 'no entry' zone without a pass over 8000 times, racking up €140.000 in tickets in the process.  Of course, reading the article shed no light on the guy, who was driving someone else's truck, which one source claimed was stolen, another in cahoots, who knows.  My suggestion?  A simple course in civics.  As someone who needs to enter the zone for work, he could even get a ZTL pass nowadays online.

Speaking of passes, I was amused to discover only recently that when taking your driver's education exam in Italy, you are not allowed to use your own car for the deed.  I'm actually not sure why this is the case; you need to prove you can handle any type of car and not the one you might be driving the most?  Or perhaps you & the car cut a deal and the car might drive better for you?  
And finally, back to our great institutions of learning, I discovered that...School kids get sent home periodically from school.  To parents out there, this should come as no surprise due to myriad strikes, assemblies, field trips, and a host of other important reasons.  But the last one I heard was the best: The school needed to exterminate the school.  On a Monday.   I thought that stuff was toxic at best, so...Wouldn't it make more sense to do so on a Friday eve or Saturday when no one will be in the place for two whole days after?  Oh - and of course, there is that no one would miss out on school days in the process.  

Italians have a great word for utter confusion:  Boh?!  

Friday, April 6

Women in Italy - is there a race for the cure?

Italy boasts the largest and most successful Komen Race for the Cure committee outside the USA, and I believe also the longest-running international organization.  That comes as no surprise -- it was Italian women who first spearheaded women's rights in Europe.  So as we prepare to Race for the Cure in Rome (come May), the event attracts national attention.  It's a wonderful way for everyone, racing or not, to spend the day in the party atmosphere and in a traffic-free Rome, for a very good cause.
But while Italy's women athletes still bring in the lion's share of the awards in international sports arenas worldwide, the men back at home and at the helm still can't seem to get it through their bosoms (because they're too busy checking out the hooters at the office) that women have moved ahead.  If they would just let the ladies step up to the plate, women would knock it out of the park as well.  Maybe because women don't play baseball here that that cliché simply doesn't work...
So, I was pleased to come across some promotional materials from some of the sponsors of the Komen Race.  This one, in particular, makes it clear where the ladies are headed:  On their hands and knees to scrub the floors.  

Implicit is the message that, once you're through scrubbing away, you'll be ready to put out with that 'Come Hither' look as well.
As I once heard a popular (male) sociologist claim,
"Gentlemen - if you helped out around the the end, the women will be less tired out and ... you'll get more sex!"  
Cari Italiani -- perhaps it's high time to dedicate some rubber gloves to the guys...

Tuesday, April 3

Which Pasta Sauce Are You?

Charming Italy has once again produced one of their charming infographics on all things Italian...Seeing that one of my favorite cookbooks is Roman resident Diane Seed's 101 Pasta Sauces (which come to think of it, I'll be adding to my Irreverent Italy listing of favorite Italian books and things on my blog tab above), I thought you'd appreciate this mashup.  
I'd love to hear what your favorite pasta dishes are.

Just click on the picture & then choose your pasta sauce to get the recipe.  Buon Appetito!

Click image to open interactive version (via CharmingItaly).