Friday, January 25, 2008
We arrived back in the bel paese very jet-lagged, seriously tired, and bearing a bit of vertigo from the flights, train, and car travel we endured in a 24-hour period. We turned in early, fell into a deep sleep immediately, and remained dead through the night until the new day was heralded by our noisy neighbors scraping their heavy furniture across the floor in their daily ritual of annoyance. I was rudely reminded of the reason we are going to be changing apartments. (We pick up the key today, in fact.)
We had a wonderful, albeit exhausting, time in Washington, DC and Ohio visiting family and eating every ethnic cuisine under the sun; all the things we cannot eat in Italy we enjoyed during our sojourn in America. Well, almost everything. I do draw the line at Mexican, having lived in New Mexico for twenty years I know there is nothing east of the state line that will satisfy my cravings. The only Italian meal we consumed was one I prepared while at my uncle’s house, not because I am tired of the stuff (I’m not) but a break now and then is nice, too. Besides, the plate of rogan josh with basmatic rice at Café Tandoor in Cleveland and the various Turkish samples at Zaytinya in Washington, DC offered up rich flavors of spices we cannot procure here. We also indulged in Afghan, Japanese, Chinese, and good ol’ American fare. They tasted oh-so good!
I would like to give a hearty thanks to Giorgio and Maria for keeping the pinon fires burning in my absence. I appreciate your help and really enjoyed checking in to read your stories. *applause*
I took along copious notes fully expecting to work on the Bloggers in Italy listing while hanging around the house, but my expectations were not fulfilled in the least, tiny bit. We kept way too busy and the notes remain tucked into my computer bag where they will remain for the next week while we pack up and move across town. But rest assured, it will get done soon!
Friday, January 18, 2008
Well, I consulted my muse for subject matter and inspiration for this second guest appearance. Alas. My muse is apparently on vacation. Next I looked to the god of blogs for a topic (he’s called Glog in cyber mythology, I believe). Likewise, no response. Finally, a dear friend suggested I post a tale from 2006. So, with a note of explanation that “the Bobster” is my husband and favorite traveling partner, I offer you “The Alitalia Escape.”
Bound for Rome, Wednesday, December 20. Major snowstorm in the Mountain West, five hours in the Albuquerque airport and finally a plane to take us to our Alitalia connection in Chicago, or so we hoped. “It’ll be tight,” the attendant said. “You might make it.” How reassuring.
The door opens and we’re out like a shot, on our way to the International Terminal. Hauling tail, we get to the ticket desk for boarding passes. Ticket agent (and soon-to-be guardian angel) Adriana DeSanto crinkles her brow and tells us the flight is now closed and in final boarding. Our seats have been sold, but she can still get us a couple of seats, although not together. She taps some information into the computer, looks at her watch, shuts off her station light and like a gazelle, leaps the baggage intake shelf, high heels and all, and shouts, “Follow me! You won’t make it without me!”
We’re on our way. Dragging our luggage behind us, we can barely keep up as Adriana darts skillfully through the crowds. She’s Ladanian Tomlinson headed for a touchdown.
Looming up ahead we see the dreaded security line, a snarl of humanity with carry-ons, gridlocked. “Don’t be scared,” Adriana shouts back over her shoulder. “I’m going to start yelling.” Now she’s running full bore along the security line booming, “Alitalia, Alitalia, Alitalia!” Suddenly she’s the Pied Piper. Several other straggling Alitalia passengers step out of the crowd and follow her to the security scanners. “Everybody strip,” she commands. “Coats, shoes, belts. Get cleared. Meet me over there. Move it!”
Adriana throws her shoes on the belt, blows through the scanner and plants herself at the nearby gate, still yelling, now waving, “Alitalia!” Breathless, we get through security without setting off alarms. Then, for some strange, crazed reason, the Bobster pulls from our duffle bags the two plastic baggies containing our liquids and gels and dangles them in front of a security agent. “Don’t you want to check our baggies?” he asks. I believe the Bobster has lost his mind. Earlier at an Albuquerque security point we were reprimanded for using gallon instead of quart bags and we had to give up a number of items with a warning that other agents may ask us to further lighten our load of liquids.
At this point, I grab the baggies, shove them back into the luggage, get right up in the Bobster’s face and shout, “Didn’t you learn anything at BDM? Damn it! If you don’t think you’ll like the answer, don’t ask the question.” ….a well-worn mantra at our former place of employment. Now I grab the Bobster and begin running toward the gate, all the while scolding in Dr. Phil fashion, “What in hell were you thinking?”
Finally, we’re at the gate, pulling up the rear. There stands Adriana, majestically. She’s a one-woman receiving line. She calmly takes our boarding passes, smiles and says, “Buon Viaggio.”
I love that woman!
Monday, January 14, 2008
Ciao Tutti….I’m Maria, a friend and fan of Valerie’s, vicariously enjoying life in Italy through her blog, Slow Trav articles and emails. In real life I live in her former home village of Corrales, New Mexico. We met in Italian Conversation class a few years ago, got together one day for a pilgrimage to Costco, a bottomless cup of coffee and some girl talk that goes on to this day. Even when we haven’t communicated for a couple of weeks, we pick up right where we left off in the same endless conversation. Like Valerie, I love to write and enthusiastically accepted her offer to be her guest “blogster” during her and Bryan’s brief scappata back to the States. I also love to tell stories. Many friends have, in fact, affectionately noted that I often speak in stories. Small talk is not an option. So, for this blogster’s debut in Valerie’s (cyber)space I offer a tale called “She Got Game.”
The classroom setting does little to promote or inspire friendship and bonding among students. It’s rather impersonal and, especially for the non-traditional or geezer student, stirs memories of “sit up straight, face forward, no gum chewing, pay attention!” It was in this setting that I first saw Valerie and a number of other Italophyles who signed on through UNM Continuing Education to try our hands at stringing Italian words together into sentences. By virtue of how very Italian Valerie looked (dark eyes, dark hair, olive skin) I determined that she would likely be the most vocal . Un grande sbaglio. She rarely uttered a word. “Stifled by the classroom setting,” thought I. We all were, to one extent or another.
The following semester, UNM did the class a favor. It cancelled Italian Conversation. Left to our own devices, several of us valiant Italophyles banned together with our beloved teacher, Gigliola, to form Il Gruppo. It was then, in the comfort of Gigliola’s living room, sipping Illy coffee and gnoshing biscotti, that the walls came down from around each of us. Let the bonding begin! We all grew to know and love Valerie (and to forgive her for being the best looking and youngest among us). Valerie was soft-spoken and somewhat shy about her faltering Italian, although she had excellent pronunciation and good “language rhythm.” This was our Valerie: blushing as we encouraged her to speak up, sweet, courteous, generous, mild-mannered and, well, “three times a lady.”
Keep this profile in mind . . .
We fast forward to Italy, December 2006. Hus-friend Bob and I have a much-anticipated rendesvous with Valerie and Bryan (who, by now is known as Bruno). We spend a glorious day in Assisi, shopping, exploring, laughing, eating. I am truly impressed by Valerie’s facility with the language. She understands perfectly, even when the speaker has a strange pronunciation and words pour forth at autostrada speeds. I note how easily she “fits in” and is comfortable with the entire atmosphere of life in Italy. “She’s a natural,” I thought to myself. Little did I know how right I was. The four of us waiting for the bus in Assisi, photo added by Valerie.
Following an afternoon of hoofing it, we arrive at a bus stop from whence, Bruno explains, we can catch a free ride to the top of the hill and spare ourselves one last aerobic hurrah for the day. The bus arrives. We hop on and continue chatting happily.
After a few blocks the bus driver reminds us that we haven’t given him our tickets showing that we’d paid for the ride. “No, no,” says Valerie, “This is the free bus; the same one we took last evening.” The driver informs her that there’s no such thing as a “free bus”. We’ll have to pay. Suddenly, mild mannered Valerie morphs into Jackie Chan and launches her first verbal karate chop – the Italian equivalent of “Hold the phone, Buck-o!” The argument escalates. Voices get louder. More verbal salvos. Valerie assertively holds her own with the irate driver. “Ma! Scusa! Scusa!” she intones, and affirms that we will NOT be fleeced by a driver of the free bus masquerading as the ticket police. “Punto!” I’m speechless. Bruno is proudly smiling in the direction of his wife, silently cheering her on. “You go girl!” The bus arrives at the top of the hill. The drama ends. The doors open and the four of us calmly exit, courteously thanking the driver.
“Wow! What was THAT all about?” I asked.
“Just all part of the game,” Valerie explained. The game?
And then it all came back to me…my favorite chapter in Luigi Barzini’s The Italians,
“The Importance of Spectacle.” Everyday Italian life is a show, full of characters, full of drama, plots and subplots. It’s noisey. It’s animated. It’s a game. And it becomes even more elaborate when there is an audience. It’s what makes Italy fascinating. It’s what makes Italy one of the best places on the planet for people-watching and for having adventures. Nothing is ordinary or boring, not even, in this case, a bus ride up the hill.
I couldn’t wait to return and share the news with Il Gruppo. Valerie is indeed a natural, AND she got game!
Friday, January 11, 2008
Giorgio is a bright, fun, talented, good kid. I know you'll enjoy his views.
My name is Giorgio and today I'll be writing an article on this blog.
First of all I would like to thank Valerie for giving me the opportunity to write on her blog.
As you can read in the introduction, I first met Valerie and Brian on the internet while I was spending an year in the United States of America. Their blogs were very interestesting to me because they talked about my country and, in particular, about my hometown of Ascoli Piceno, where they now live. It may sound weird to say but, every time I read an article on their blogs, I understand more about the American culture, even know they talk about Italians and Italy.
The year that I spent in the United States was great for me, not only because I learned English, but because it was a very good life experience. I can't list how many things I understood about people, life, cultures, and so on while I was there. Here in Italy you hear a lot about America, especially on TV, and everybody knows what the so called American dream is! Many movies and songs are from America and that's how many people learn about this country. But here in Italy things don't usually work in the same way; people think differently, act differently and have different priorities in life. If you are a reader of this blog you probably already know that. But I'm also pretty sure that Valerie and Brian's articles made you want to come here the same.
I have to say that travel is great but living in a foreign country for awhile is even better because you can learn so much and have opportunities that can change your life. Going outside my country for an year changed my life and I can't wait to have a similar experience again.
Now I want to show you a video that explains how Italians are different from Europeans in general so that you can have a better understanding of my country. This is a funny video and I hope you will enjoy it. But remeber, we're not always like this... Italy is a beautiful country and you should come here to visit.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Now to tie up a few other loose ends before our departure. Despite the not so wonderful timing (I mean, why did we choose to go to northern Ohio in January??) we’re excited about visiting our family, this marking our first time “back home” since we moved here in May, 2006. I know I’m getting old when I look at that date and muse, where did the time go? It has truly passed by so quickly.
We’re hauling back a suitcase full of goodies for family and friends – which will in turn be refilled with gifts and purchases for the trip back to Italy. We’ve already had requests from friends here (“can you bring me some peanut butter?” and this from an Italian friend, no less!) We’re heading to Rome today to spend the evening at our friends’ home; Giorgio the chef wants to make sure we’ll be well-fed before our long international flight. When they made a trip to the US in October they reported that the airline fare wasn’t edible so it was a good thing they’d packed a lot of munchies. They also entered the US with items like fruit and salami, big no-no’s that they claim ignorance to.
While I’m gone I’ll be checking in here, as I hope you will too, because I’ve invited some friends to come roost in the Piňon Tree in my absence. A couple of guest bloggers will keep things humming and keep you entertained so be sure to stop by and say hi.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
The "upside" of being sick in bed is that while drowsing away yesterday afternoon I had my first dream in Italian. I started speaking English and then remembered that I lived in Italy and should be therefore speaking Italian, in which the rest of the dream was conducted. Finalmente! I've actually not dreamed very much while living here, a marked drop from my nocturnal state in NM, partly because my sleep is constantly disturbed by the psycho neighbors. I hope this will change when we pack up and change houses after our return from the US Tour.
Because I've been too stuffy- and foggy-headed to compose decent prose I'll refer you to the December article in my monthly column, Living Slow in Italy, The Three Ps of Natale. What's that you say? You didn't know I have been penning a column for Slow Travel for more than a year? Well, you've been missing out! You can catch up by reading the archives.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
If you have (or know of) a blogger residing in Italy, shoot me an email so I can add it to the list!
The Flavors of Abruzzo. Mary in Palmioli (Chieti province)
An American living in Italy enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors of Abruzzo.
Il Terrazzo Italiano. Doug and Di in Calabria
An American couple and a dog move to a village in beautiful Calabria.
Bleeding Espresso. Michelle in Badolato
An American girl moves to her family's ancestral village in southern Italy, falls in love, gets a dog (edit: two!), writes to her heart's content, and begins bleeding espresso. No, really.
My Bella Vita. Cherrye in Catanzaro.
Texan turned innkeeper tells about life in sunny, southern Italia.
Niente di Nuovo Sotto il Cielo. KC in Campania.
A 30-something American falls in love with a tall, dark Italian and decides to follow her heart for the very first time.
South of Rome. Karen Landes in Santa Maria Capua Vetere. (Karen returned to the US in August, 2009)
Cookbook author, mother and Italophile dispels the myth that "there is nothing south of Rome".
Finding Italy. Dominique in Napoli.
28-year old optimist experiencing life through rose-colored glasses in Naples.
Living In The Boot. Amanda in Napoli.
Food, travel, cooking, children, books, and more from a military wife in Naples.
Ciao Amalfi. Laura on the Amalfi Coast.
Sharing the beauty, history, tradition, and way of life on the gorgeous Amalfi Coast.
Reboot: A New Life in Italy. Cynthia Rae in Ravenna
The adventures of an American girl who quits her job, packs her cats, and heads to Italy to "restart" life.
Cat Naps in Italy. Opus and Roscoe.
A pair of short-haired domestic felines who moved to a small Italian town and spend their sunny afternoons on the terrace.
Under an Olive Tree. Diane in Veroli near Frosinone.
So what do you *do* all day? The blog by a New York suburbanite answers that question.
Cross Cultural Moments. Elizabeth Abbott
Through cross-cultural moments, we not only learn about another culture, but also finally understand something of our own.
Soliloquy in an International Cloister. Brother Lawrence in Rome
Brother Lawrence gives you a peek into the inner workings of a male religious order’s international headquarters. It’s like an upskirt with habits.
I Heart Rome? Romerican in Rome.
"Not for the faint of heart." Life in Rome when the honeymoon is over.
Stranitalia. Sari Gilbert in Rome.
Reports in English and Italian on strange happenings and political affairs around Italy.
Burnt by the Tuscan Sun. Francesca Maggi writing from Rome.
The true story of living in Italy.
From Australia to Italy. Leanne in Rome.
Australian girl re-emigrates back to the country her family left behind.
NYC/Caribbean Ragazza. A Ragazza in Rome.
A former Hollywood film exec turned broke writer moves to Rome.
2 Kids and a Dog. Mom, Dad, kids and pup in Rome.
Take one American Mom, a Sicilian husband. Add 2 kids and a dog and a video camera and this is the funny result you get.
Bella Vita Italiana. Megan in Lerici.
American girl marries Italian boyh and settles in a Ligurian seaside village.
An Expatriate in Rapallo. Louise in Liguria.
The title sums it up.
Suitcase Contents. Beatriz in Azzate Varese
Notes about culture shock, language mutation, carried baggage, and all things nomadic.
My Life in Italy. Ann in Busto Arsizio near Milano.
An American from Sioux Falls, SD blogs about life and her love/hate relationship with Italy.
Ms. Adventures in Italy. by Sara
Food, Recipes and Travel in the Bel Paese and beyond
MichellaneaRandom thoughts of an American journalist on life in Italy and reflections on America as seen from abroad.
2 ITALY. Bryan in Ascoli Piceno.
The 2 of us fulfilling our dream by moving 2 Italy. (My husband's blog on everyday life.)
NM 2 Italia. Bryan in Ascoli Piceno.
Bryan's photo blog comparing and contrasting the scenery and cultures of New Mexico and Italy.
La Tavola Marche. Ashley and Jason in Sant'Angelo in Vado.
Crazy stories, pictures, recipes and all things Italian.
Bella Baita View. Pasticcera in Pinasca.
Tales of a pastry chef living "off the beaten path" in Italian Alps.
Jeff in Puglia. Jeff in Brindisi.
The chronicles of a crazy midwestern guy's life on the heel of Italy.
Rambles With Reese. Reese in Puglia.
Diving into the deep end. Live. Love. Create. Inspire. Awaken. Engage.
How To Italy. Emma Bird in Costa Smeralda
Everything you need to know about living and working in the Bel Paese.
Via Ritiro n. 7 Diary. Katie and Ronald in Ispica.
Diary about the food, wine, culture, architecture and people of Southeast Sicily.
Lost in Sicilia.
Getting a life in Sicily *and* having fun with a toddler.
Sicilian Simplicity. Jill in Sicilia.
Enjoying the simple pleasures of Sicily between Mount Etna and the Mediterranean.
Baroque Sicily. Jann Huizenga in Ragusa Ibla.
Living in Southeast Sicily. (A fellow New Mexican in Italy! Hola.)
Eurobimbo’s Journey to Enlightenment. Tania von Barkenhagen in Cortona
The continuing adventures and misadventures of a couple who left behind their fast, past life and moved to southern Tuscany.
Have Dogs, Will Travel. Robyn Sinclair in Castiglion Fiorentino
Two Australians enjoying a new life cooking and painting in Tuscany.
Friends and Family in Italy. Martha and Ben in the heart of Tuscany.
Read about the ordinary things in an extraordinary setting.
Living in Florence. Melinda Gallo
My days of living, adapting, enjoying, working, and thriving in Florence.
Art by Kelly. Kelly Borsheim in Florence.
A sculptor's blog about art and life in Florence.
Olio di Oliva e Sogni di Vino Katie in Florence
Katie is always exploring the ancient cobblestones of Florence, one step at a time.
Art & Barb Live in Italy. Barbara in San Venanzo
What started as a chronicle of our move to Italy, the blog now also includes recipes and random thoughts.
A Tuscan View…from Umbria. Amanda and Julian Hyzler in Chiusi
An optimistic blog about our move to Italy, renovating our house and starting a painting holiday business - art, food and angle-grinding...
Think On It. Judith Greenwood in Citta di Castello
Food, fashion and life in Italy
Italian Simplicity. Anne in Verona.
A food blog about things in Italy and the simple, delicious foods the country has to offer.
An American in Padua. Irene in Padova.
Colorful thoughts about Italy and her adopted city from a decade-long expat.
Living Venice. Nan in Venezia.
Broad strokes, instructions, and the occasional rant by author and Venice inhabitant, Nan McElroy.
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Bryan drew the winner's name out of a hat today and while I'd orginally planned on photographing him doing so, our current water-less state has left us both extremely un-photogenic at the moment. But the entries were each carefully inserted and the winner is...
Sognatrice of Bleeding Espresso who comes to us from Badolato, Calabria!
Congrats! Your goodies will be in the mail to you soon.
Buon Anno a tutti!
The main pipe that brings water from the Sibilline Mountains to the Tronto Valley, in which Ascoli rests, ruptured, leaving us and about 150,000 other people high and dry. Friday night they said that water would be restored by Sunday. This being Italy, and knowing the pipes to be extremely aged, I figured if we had it flowing again by Monday we’d be doing good but tried to be hopeful. My main concern was for the toilets. Two days of this and things were bound to get a little ripe.
Fortunately, fortuitously Bryan had not taken the load of empty plastic water bottles down to the recycling yet. On Saturday we had an appointment northeast of Ascoli, so we loaded up the 1 ½ liter bottles and headed for the hills where water comes in from a different line system. Ripatransone’s fountains were spouting forth and we tapped up seven bottles. Bryan is a handyman kind of guy, so when we got home he managed to get the plastic flush cover off the wall in order to fill the toilet tank. Phew. One disaster averted, at least for the time being.
But Saturday’s newspaper brought gloomy news. Water “may” be restored again on January 2. Or maybe the 3rd. Pazienza, the mayor requested. It is an unpredictable occurrence to have a rockslide take out the above-ground water pipe. What’s that? Did I read it correctly? Above ground? Yes, indeed. In the piazza we heard snippets of grumbling among the old men who gather to talk, especially when there is something big to really get grumbling about. “Just shows how vulnerable we are,” said one. “Yes, terrorists could easily bring us down and it’s our own fault with stupid infrastructure like this,” groaned another. A water tanker pulled into the piazza and drew an immediate crowd shoving to get their bottles filled. It was for show, pulling into the piazza. After that first load, the future filling stations would be set up in three locales less conveniently located.
Some of the coffee bars were not serving caffe (gasp!) because they don’t possess storage tanks and the machines require water to create steam to operate as well as for the actual coffee brew. Others cleverly rigged the machines up utilizing bottled water; at least we wouldn’t have to be caffeine-less.
On Sunday morning it was announced that they would tap into another line temporarily, one that services another sector of the province, in order to provide some water for a daily two-hour period to the Tronto Valley. Flow would be much reduced, at 1/8 the normal flow rate but people could at least clean up, cook something, and flush. At our apartment, located on the second floor (American third) and up a hill, the water was about 1/20 the normal flow…just a thin stream, actually. It took more than 40 minutes after the “turn-on” time to start trickling through our lines. Then we spent more than an hour slowly filling up every bottle, pan, large bowl, and bucket we possessed. We filled the laundry sink, tea kettle, and pitchers. I tried to turn on the shower, but it was no use. Not enough pressure.
We were truly in need of a good cleaning. Both of us had horrid hair and felt icky. Bryan was looking scruffy with three days’ beard growth. Then I remembered having once noticed shower facilities at a newer Autogrill, the roadside rest areas found throughout the nation where you can get good caffe, a panino or salad, and find generally clean bathrooms. We packed a small toiletries bag and set off on the autostrada, stopping at each one until we hit on one with the coveted facilities. It was a smaller one, so there was only one shower stall, but we went in turn and felt great relief at being clean again. You know, ready to face the world and the water crisis again.
Then we saw the aforementioned headline. A dry New Year’s. The caffe and restaurant owners were lamenting what to do with reservations out the wazoo for the biggest big-ticket night of the year. No problem, said the mayor. We’ll deal with it. Water will be brought in. Porta-potties will be brought in. It will be fine. Yeah; fine for those with large water tanks to be filled. As for the porta potties…I counted six in all for the entire centro storico, which does not seem much like party preparedness to me. And those six, you should know, had the padlocks affixed through the outer ring so that the doors could not be securely closed once you were inside. Brilliant planning, no?
The end result was a much smaller crowd than last year, many having opted to escape to wetter locales. Still, it turned out to be a fun party. We went out to the piazza after dining with friends. A so-so band cranked it up and the mayor took the stage only a couple minutes until midnight, instead of giving a droll speech for 15 minutes like last year. He is no fool; he knew he would not be well-received. And indeed, as soon as he made his entrance those around us started screaming, “eh (bleep) accende l’acqua!” (Turn on the water, dude!) Then they started lighting off their loudest fireworks to drown him out, some even aiming Roman candle-type pyrotechnics in his general direction. They settled down only when the countdown from 10 began. At “one” a volley of prosecco corks buzzed through the air and more fireworks started being lit. We opened our own half-bottle, toasted and kissed in the new year.
Firecrackers here are some of the loudest we’ve ever experienced. Bangs that sound like bombs and reverberate off the stone walls made us jump. I knew from last year that we’d be hearing them for hours. With the thunderous booms and the water rationing, not to the mention the fact that the little piazza near our apartment is currently in rubble, we got a little taste of what Ascoli must have been like during the war. We ran into some friends who had made the same observation.
We dragged ourselves home, not accustomed to being out and about until after 1:00 a.m. We poured water into the toilet tank and called it a good, albeit dry, night.