Thursday, April 26, 2007

La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita...

Or, how many ways can you get your sugar high? Despite the Italians’ insistence that they do not like things troppo dolce, the country is filled with sweet treats – from gelato to tempting pastries, the sugary stuff is everywhere. Especially in the caffes. As previously mentioned, coffee is a national pastime and no self-respecting Italian drinks their caffe straight, but always sweetened…sometimes with three packets of sugar to one little, teensy espresso cup. Last week I watched while one guy tipped the pre-measured sugar dispenser over his cup five times. Yep, that’s five teaspoons to one cup. Obviously that dude didn’t get the memo that Italians don’t like things troppo dolce.

In our neighborhood pasticceria there is a buffet of sugar options. There is the ususal dispenser, but then there are overflowing bowls offering an assortment of packets. The disgusting chemical “diet” sweetener is available, but an array of others: honey; zucchero di cana (raw sugar); and regular sugar in pacchetti. Plus the flavored sugars…amaretto, cocoa, cinnamon, hazelnut essences in the packets. And sachets of fructose, too.

This display rests atop the glass case wherein is the bounty of pastries that is a feast for the eyes and a snare for the dieter. Cookies, little tortes with fruit or cream fillings, and cake-like confections. Croissants filled with nutella, whipped cream, marmalade or pastry cream (or any combination of those that you would choose.

The nearby chocolate shop is a beckoning temptation that I can rarely resist. Their candies are chocolate perfection, and their gelato flavors…well, they are oh-my-gawd good.

It’s true that la dolce vita really is sweet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Spring Cleaning

Excuse the dust, folks. Here in the Pinon Tree we're in the midst of sprucing up the nest.

Several months ago Blogger made some changes and encouraged us to make the switch to the Newer, Improved Blogger! I saw the claims that it would be Better, Easier and offered Amazing Features! I duly ignored all such claims and blogged along merrily in old dependable Blogger.

But, at long last, they got the best of me and I was basically forced to update. I picked a new template that looks cleaner and brighter. I began to wonder why I'd not done this sooner.

Until I started having problems getting things reinstalled. I lost my link list and a few other sidebar items. I couldn't access the promised back-up copy of my old blog. Being the techno-idiot that I am, it's all taking me a lot longer to rebuild than I'd expected. I'll get there. Someday! I think all my archives are working now and I was, after much adieu, able to get my Amazon book recommendations back up and functioning.

Meanwhile, like all spring cleaning, I am tired and have some aches and pains from the exertion, but it feels good to undertake a good cleaning-out now and then. We'll get everything properly rearranged again soon.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Italian Hours

Italy has a rather laid-back attitude toward business hours, at least outside the main cities and the industrial areas. Here in the provinces, everything comes to a halt from about 1:00 p.m. until 4:30 or 5:00, when they again roll up the shutters for a couple of hours. We’ve come to enjoy the afternoon siesta, and look at it as a long lunch break: a nice way to rest, catch up on email, or study. An afternoon coffee wakes you back up for the remainder of the day.

Sometimes the hours can be downright quirky, though. For instance, a nearby bank opens from 8:25 a.m. until 1:25 p.m., shuts down for lunch, then reopens from 2:40 p.m. and closes at 4:10 p.m.

Now, I ask you…would knocking it back to nice, half-hour increments really kill them?

For reasons unexplainable all the food shops in the centro storico close on Thursday afternoons. Unless there is a holiday on Friday, in which case they’ll remain open on Thursday, signaling to us that something is amuck that we should find out about. They are then closed on the Friday holiday, instead. Ditto if a holiday falls on a Monday. Stores that are normally closed on Sunday will open that morning so everyone can procure their meal fixings.

We tried to discover the reason behind some of these odd hours, but we were answered with blinks. When our friends don’t know the answer to such inquiries they shrug and say, “Boh. E cosi.” Who knows? That’s how it is.

Easter was Sunday. In Italy, Monday is also a holiday, and everyone took advantage of it to create a long weekend. Tuesday would be the start of the work week, right? In any other land, maybe.

On Wednesday I tried to visit our contemporary art museum. The hours are posted on a bronze plaque, and I happen to know from previous trial-and-error that Monday is a normal closure. Now remember, folks, I went on Wednesday. Naturally, the gate was locked. I looked closer at the sign which said, “Closed Mondays and days after holidays.” Tuesday wasn’t a holiday, but it was the day after a holiday, meaning the museum would have been closed Tuesday. But because so many people take long-weekend mini-vacations to include Monday, they figure Tuesday is their travel-back-home day, and consider that a holiday as well. Still with me?

Monday – holiday. Tuesday – not a true holiday, but everyone counts it to be one. Wednesday, - the day after the non-holiday meant that the museum was closed.


The weird thing is, that is starting to make perfect sense to me. I think I’m getting the hang of these Italian hours, after all.
copyright 2007 Valerie Schneider

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Merry Easter?

Easter week brought beautiful weather to southern Marche. We grabbed an outside table at the Caffe Meletti for cappuccini and cornetti on Easter morning, and Bryan got a little whiney about how hot he was becoming and how brightly the sun assaulted his eyes. We strolled about the centro storico without jackets. Yesterday, Pasquetta, we followed Italian tradition and went for a country drive down a narrow, little used road and had a picnic in a field. It was a gorgeous day and we munched our lunch with views of three mountain ranges.

My sister, on the other hand, awoke to this Easter wonderland.

Apparently Cleveland didn't get the memo that spring has arrived.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Buona Pasqua

Easter Day. Today marks the first moment since arriving in Italy that I have felt a little displaced. While everyone asked us if we were homesick over Christmas, it is on this day that we miss our traditions. I miss celebrating Passover with our Hebrew-Christian friends. I miss rising early and meeting the dawn, singing in celebration with our church family as the sun makes its brilliant appearance over the Sandia Mountains. It feels a little strange to not have that experience for the first time in many, many years.

Not that Italy is lacking in tradition. While we didn’t have the colorful, soulful processions I’ve hear are the norm in the southern regions, there was a solemn evening, torch-lit via crucis on Good Friday that wound its way through the centro storico and the streets were literally filled with thousands of people following the stations of the cross, ending up at the Cathedral. Church bells have peeled triumphantly throughout the day and we opened the windows to hear them. We made the traditional Easter lasagna, which I must admit was the best I’ve ever produced, having procured the freshest of sheep’s milk ricotta and the famed mozzarella di bufala, washed down with a fizzy but dry Lambrusco. We even tried to go to mass but each church we encountered was emptying, our timing was just all wrong.

Since becoming a Christian in 1989, Easter has been my favored holiday. Contrary to popular belief, Christmas isn’t the most important day; the highest holy day in the Christian calendar is Easter. Christmas is nice, but Easter is significant. It marks the very foundation for our faith – an atoning death and an empty tomb. It means that the earth trembled, sin was conquered, heaven opened, and everlasting love was bestowed.

Chocolate bunnies, surprised-filled eggs, and traditional foods like lasagna are good; but the promise of forgiveness and life eternal, those are the real treasures of Easter.

Wherever you are and whatever your Easter traditions, Buona Pasqua a voi.