Saturday, April 30

Tante Belle Cose - Rome Travel April 2011

This April, spring had finally sprung and is filling the trees with that sweet jasmine and wisteria, giving Rome it's unparalleled sweet scent.  Rome was bustling with the preparations of Liberation Day (april 25th), the huge May 1st concerts held at San Giovanni, combined with the beatification of the Saint who lived amongst us, Pope John Paul II.  Not to be outdone, unions across the country continued their organization of major events -- rolling strikes affecting trains, buses and pretty much every other mode of modern convenience.  If the Pope could perform miracles, couldn't he vanquish the devil of modern protest?  Heck - he could just copy the Wisconsin Governor's approach.

Leaving for the USA this week, I was pleasantly surprised to find Rome Airport's Terminal 5 an absolute pleasure to behold.  I breezed in, was courteously helped out by all the wonderful women with - gasp! - could it be?  green Alitalia coats on assisting with humour and grace, the thousands gathering for their N.American flights.
I waltzed through security, striking up pleasant conversations with other passengers, including with the Italians amongst us, incredibly not trying to push ahead and cut in front of the crowd.  Miracles in our midst.
Even the airport internet connection was terrific, though it took awhile to determine how to reconnect after logging out of Telecom Italia's airport.
The flight was flawless and my only glitch was not seeing my friend patiently waiting in the salon at arrivals - used to drive-by pickups, I was out on the curb - she was inside, reminding me of all those charming Italian families usually gathered to meet and greet their loved ones back home.

Back in Italy, Rome announced a few measures to protect its citizenry: scooters could use the preferential lanes to try and speed things up and keep them from getting knocked down; drivers killing their targets -errr- pedestrians would be severely prosecuted for voluntary manslaughter and get hit with more jail time-seeing that it's reached war zone proportions (begging the question, we can spend billions for planes to protect Libyans, but we can't stop the war being waged against our own citizens?); the police are cracking down on under-age drinking in bars in the city centers and the late-night openings of locales.

Not to be outdone, the local residents are doing what they can - and waging their own spring street protests.

Monday, April 25

Italy to cut their holidays?

In honor of today - Liberation Day - celebrated in Italy, I re-propose my post on the 'controversy' surrounding this great day in history.

Any Italophile knows that we in Italy love our holidays. I recently even won a bet over the number of holidays we celebrate here (or, 'bank holidays' as they're known in the UK). Yes, we outnumber, I believe, everyone even though we've cut down over the years. Add in those 'Saint's Days' and a few extras for the 'ponte' (or bridge days - when the holiday falls on a Thursday, so you get Friday off as well), and well, this is why we like it here, right?
But each year there's a full-on attack on one major holiday with revisionist secessionist politicians aiming to rewrite history. And, because it's one holiday I actually like to observe, I'm taking sides.
A town in Lega-country (the region aiming to break Italy apart), near what was once my favorite town of lovely Padua (Padova) issued a calendar in which Labor Day and the 25th of April were not listed, but a few extra Lega holidays were added in to make up for the losses. April 25th, aside from being a fairly common street name, is in fact, 'Liberation Day' - Partisans liberated Milano & Torino from the nazis while the allies cut Germany in two (1945). WWII was coming to an end. It's a day that marked Italy's march toward democracy (however filled with potholes), a day that set it on the course for vast development and the ever lovin' awesome growth that lasted decades.
Lega Politician Ugo Cassone thinks it should be abolished, saying, "It's not a day that regards all Italians, just a small political faction." Really? Can you say that in German, Ugo? Because if it weren't for that day, you'd most likely be speaking it right about now from your bunker.
So, let me go on the record and say, sure - let's get rid of the 25th of April. But, like the Lega calendar, let's add (admittedly, stemming from an ethnocentric viewpoint) a new day in its place: APRIL 3rd - the signing of the Marshall Plan.
A day that brought money, infrastructure, and so far, 65 years of peace to war torn and war hungry Europe. And while one can say that the oodles of money that oozed in "benefited only certain political parties", I'll turn a blind eye and say that, in the end, the net result helped all & sundry.  After all, we have Marshall to thank for Italian TV & radio (then again...maybe we shouldn't be celebrating...)
But does that mean, we'd have to change all the street signs as well?

Saturday, April 23

Italy's Talking Statue Speaks Up

Il Pasquino near Piazza Navona
I was pleased to pass by the Pasquino statue to find that some intelligent being posted a sleek plexiglass 'board' of sorts for people to post their musings and diatribes against our dear leaders.  Unfortunately, many of the postings were ripped apart.  Nonetheless, after many months of silence, here's what Pasquino had to say of late:

I saw fifty Popes come n'go
Then kings, dictators & presidents
I was the one who pestered these mighty men
The first of many thorns in these bosses' sides
Now they've cleaned me up & made me white
I ain't got no ink, nor even quill
I ain't got no rope 'round my neck for my placard
But remember - I don't follow the crowd

What d'ya want from me? Put me in a museum?
Closed spaces ain't my thing
I stay out in the open, just like that ol' Colosseum

Ya wanna call me Menalaus, or even Ajax?*
Da name is Pasquino
and I don't study gallantry

And to keep my trap shut surely ain't my style

King Menalaus husband of Helen of Troy
King Ajax of Salamina (Sophocles)  

Thursday, April 21

Google Translator, Dove 6?

I've always gotten a big kick out of playing, 'spot the translation goofs' on restaurant menus wherever I've traveled.  And while I'm always impressed with the ways in which the locals try to cater to their clients (unlike in the USA where you're simply left to fend for yourself - although people will speak louder & louder until you pretend to understand), it always amazes me that no one ever bothered to pick up a dictionary and just look things up.  So, you find yummy things like a 'sformato' - a sort of no-crust quichette made out of God's finest ingredients - called a 'malformed' of eggplant.  There are so many, it just tickles me pink.
In fact, the website , collecting these in Asia is a humongous success.
But, here we are, in the days of google and we still can't get a good translation out there?  Or, perhaps it's because of google...who's to say?  But, my favorite is still the lovely & dignified 'Buon Appetito' well wishes before each meal...On placemats across the country, you'll find written there, Good Appetite!  rather than what should most likely be, Enjoy your meal!  It's so prevalent, that visitors wouldn't be faulted for thinking that it's some sort of monition in case you were thinking of only ordering a primo of pasta and a side dish, rather than the 3-course full monty...
If you enlarge the above ad, you'll see that Pasqualino al Colosseo is a 'Typical Roman Trattoria with accurate service'.  This of course, signifies that your wine is poured into the glass without ending up on your lap. (translation: servizio accurato)

Feel free to post some of your favorite findings as well!

I might add that the afore-mentioned ristorante is one in which I was served the pigs truffles -vs- the real fine Umbrian variety...but the cost was as if it was the real McCoy...

Monday, April 18

Al Capone - Poster Child of an Italian Outlaw?

Over the weekend, after Berlusconi's government passed a new law so he gets another 'Get out of Jail Free Card' just like in the Monopoly game, Berlusconi continued his verbal onslaught against the institutions of Democracy, including the branch providing 'checks&balances' - the Italian judiciary and the very Constitution itself -- Both of which need serious reform since they aren't to his liking.

In his defense, he stated that with 31 cases lodged against him, even Al Capone was a novice in legal matters.  And while it may be the case that the media he doesn't control treats him like an outlaw, he's treated as Zeus by the media he does; replete with the myths surrounding his own rampant virility - which he added to over the weekend, joking that, "I'm not the most powerful man - well, that is if you don't include one respect."

He may be right, but...Al Capone?  This is the only image we have in 2011 of an outlaw with national appeal?  American Capone was born in Brooklyn in 1899.  One hundred twelve years later, there's no better substitute?  Really?!  Even after the great Pizza Connection capers and the Godfather films?  Even John Gotti got offended.
Perhaps it's because reams of paper have been used to document Capone's life, with even more on celluloid..But, still - we can't come up with our own Mafia figures -- in the birthplace of the Mafia?  'Sicily, we've got a problem.' A brand image problem.

I'd like to offer up Salvatore (Totò) Riina, head of the Corleone clan.  Is he ignored because he's so butt-ugly?  After all, Capone was much better looking, almost like singer Silvio as a young man...same hairline, in fact.  The most famous turncoat was Tommaso Buscetta - I'm sure he was up to his eyeballs in legal hassles - and think, with his entering the change of identity program, he's probably had just as many facelifts as our man Berlusca.  Then there's also Bernardo Provenzano, born in 1933 and on the lam - assuming he's still even alive.

In fact, with Berlusconi's love of double entendres, he might even like what they said about Provenzano - well, at least part of it:  Provenzano had a shot like a god - too bad he had a brain like a bird.

Thursday, April 14

Italian Design - Cross-Cultural Style

This week, Milan's fab Salone del Mobile Trade Show opened, to great fanfare and zillions of visitors looking for the next 'hot' thing they can knock off back in their home countries. But, seriously, it's lots of fun - terrific eye appeal - and seriously takes your mind off the economic crunch while you fantasize over that uber-cool eco sofa which would cost you nearly one year's pay just to perch on your pavement.
So, as I was preparing my morning cup of Giovanni, my mind wandered toward Italian design.  That's because I use this funky Alessi 'accendigas' to light my stovetop.

Pick from
Not far away, and right next to my milk in the fridge, is another bizarre household item - clearly thought up by an American (note it reads, CHEESE) as I'm pretty certain no Italian worth their Parmigiano Reggiano would deign to keep pre-grated cheese (at all), let alone in one of these, ready for shaking on the kitchen table.

But, what's funny about these two items is that, whenever a guest comes to visit, the Americans - once they catch on to Alessi's giving new meaning to 'light my fire', usually suddenly grow wary of getting near the stove.  I've yet to meet an Italian who has so much as given it scant attention.
But open the fridge, the Americans fully expect to find a Leaning Tower on my shelf.  Houses in America are filled to the brim with bobbles & bangles, of untold items looking differently from what they actually are.  And so, you find a football helmet as a toaster, little animals for ear muffs, clock radios disguised as fish tanks...
Italians, not yet fully committed to the Made in China onslaught of useless items to crowd into your homes, in their usual understated approach to controversy, simply pose a question: 
"Did you know you have a leaning tower of Pisa inside your refrigerator?" 

Once I explain its use, I've found however, that they no longer will take meals in my home altogether and they start viewing me with some suspicion, as if they ended up in the protagonist's home in Misery. (And wait til they catch my bread knife, hidden in a faux French baguette!)
Either way, between the two, I seem to get out of doing a lot of cooking & cleaning.

Tuesday, April 12

The Silvio Show - Berlusconi coming soon to a city near you!

These days, our leader of our great nostalgic country seems to be reliving his Lounge Lizard days - Open shirt & Microphone in hand, he's traipsing cross country in a solo act -- piling on the jokes like the beloved Totó - The Prince of Laughter - so people won't notice the holes in his performance as Prime Minister.  For those of you who may have missed his sold-out performances (after all, the Italians love Silvio), here are some of the show highlights:

Lampedusa - once a pristine paradise, now home to thousands of immigrants pouring in from N. Africa
- Silvio, a sound businessman at heart (never mind he's being / has been investigated for his creative finance for years on end) took one look at the island and did what any other tycoon would do:  He tried to purchase a home online.  Obviously taken by the surroundings, he probably figures he needs a new island outpost far from Arcore.  After all, I'm sure there are dozens of pretty young things in amongst the poor throngs just waiting to be 'discovered' at his parties.  
- He has the eye:  Silvio built in the outskirts of Milan, MilanDue & MilanoTre - both wonderful places to live, replete with pools, clubhouses, lots of greenery, large terraces, families.  So, when he went on to say that Lampedusa needed a golf course & casino, you can bet it will probably happen.  The Mayor now says 'No' to the casino, but, seeing that Silvio uses his pads to host the hookers  fine young women he is single-handedly trying to get off the streets and into new positions in government, perhaps the City Officials can come around to his reasoning.  Or, as America's The Daily Beast put it well over a year ago, when Silvio spotted a real political animal in Milano - Nicole Minetti is a sex worker politician...Of course, they got the story wrong - she was his dental hygienist, not his dentist.  See the full gallery here.

Milano - At the awards ceremony honoring the top students working as trainees in the Campus Mentis program

- To the two women: "You've done so well, I feel like inviting you for some Bunga Bunga!"
- To the young man there: "Well, you're cute too, so you can come along as well!"

Fully acknowledging their achievements, in a country experiencing a massive brain drain, and nearly 30% unemployment among students, he said he was at a veritable loss for words -- "Because there isn't time to tell you all my jokes!!!  I even have one on McDonald's!"  After some prodding by the Host (ma perchè mai??!!), he acquiesced, saying he would tell his most "caste joke": 

"An Italian was explaining to a German, how to really 'get' the girl...'First, you take a bottle of champagne, pour it down her front, then suck it off her 'down there', if you get my drift -- To which the German says, 'Sounds great! Will it work with beer too?!!"
Berlusconi then apologized for his stupid joke, saying "It was much better if I had delivered it as it was originally intended."  No one laughed - See for yourself here.

Milano - In court under accusation for 'creative' accounting, including hidden funds, payoffs, and so forth
- To the judge:  "You're the bad guy here."
- To his followers: "Today was a total waste of time."
- Adding his preemptive comment on the upcoming trial for abetting underage prostitutes:  "I'm not paying prostitutes for their services, I'm trying to get them off the streets!  In fact, the €60000 paid to Ruby (he confesses) was so she could open a beauty salon."

Aside from the small detail that Ruby would need to be a licensed practitioner to do so, as one brilliant contributor stated on L'AltroQuotidiano:

"Yeah - just like the poor parish priest, Don Benzi, who made it his life's mission to get the prostitutes off the streets - except that he looked for them himself, and didn't rely on recs from a kind nun, he didn't bring them to his home, but to his qualified institute, and he certainly didn't have Bunga Bunga parties with them, either."

Sunday, April 10

Spring Fever Italian Style

All throughout Italy, spring is in the air.  70 degree weather, families taking their afternoon walks in the parks, rainbows of gelato held aloft, male tourists in sandals – with socks.  No sooner are you enjoying the end of inclement weather, then your eyes go watery and your head starts to feel groggy…Hayfever? Fine particle pollution as more people take their cars to the streets to get outside? No.
Spring is the time of year that puts multi-cultural relationships to the ultimate test.  How to handle the changes in attire and other habits that we Americans hold true to our heart (only because these habits don’t hold true for Brits), while your Italian heartthrobs anguish over those very same issues – but inversely.
The first sign of spring, and it starts out mildly – like a small drip leaking through the cracks of a dam that before long will give way, wiping out the village below.  Wandering around the house barefooted, you hear some variation of, “Why don’t you have your slippers on?”  You, in earnest merrily chirp, ‘Because it’s Spring!’ – but you soon come to realize they don’t share your light-hearted bewilderment for seasonal changes.  In fact, from the look on their face, not only don’t they get the connection, they’re busy cruising the internet to see if those nefarious diseases picked up around the house are contagious through skin contact.
At home in the evening, you strategically open all the windows to get that breeze up and running at a good pace all through the evening – if not all night.  Your partner walks in, and before you know it, you feel like you’ve been transported to a gym locker room after the game.  It takes awhile to figure out why, but you finally realize – all the windows have been closed. Tight. In the car, you roll them down, better to feel the warm sun on your face, he/she shoots them back up – and then puts on the child safety lock to ward off any further tampering.
You don’t go so far as to let them see you with wet hair, you decide it’s better to pace the cross-culturalisms throughout the summer in small doses.  Of course, by summer, the car windows do get rolled up, but the playing field moves to the A/C settings [the Americans, jet frost / Italians, the minimum setting possible so as to relieve the shock of leaving the car in 90 degree heat – and not feel any difference in temperature.
My father liked to quip that it was the little things that gnawed away at once-terrific relationships: who leaves the toilet seat up, or pushes out the toothpaste from the middle of the tube.  But then again, he never lived in a foreign country.

Wednesday, April 6

Advertising Age - Banking Edition

Italians since ancient times have always paid close attention to the care of their bodies - after all, it's the Romans that made virtual palaces of their 'bath houses' replete with all the rituals that made you come out smelling - if not like a rose - at least olive oil & laurel.
So bankers, in their multi-century glut of good advertising gimmicks, have decided to appeal to the beautiful people of the Bel PaeseCredem's ad agency, Republic, who actually admits to having created this pathetic campaign, has peppered Italy's train stations with profiles like hers in a sorry attempt at witticism.  It reads, "My nose knows it's the bank for me."  With the check-up line posted above, I was actually tempted to call the number to see where I could get a nose job and free checkup ('zero spese') along with it.   
Advertising Age:  about a 6 yr. old attempt

Not to be outdone, the Poste Italiane, that beacon of brilliance, has come out with a whole line of (financial) products to entice you to live a beautiful and harmonious life.  Their image?  A line of beauty care creams.  Seeing that at the Post Office you can buy recipe books, pots & pans, and every other service (except actual stamps) known to man, I simply thought they were coming out with their own anti-aging creams - to ward off the effects of time you spend in line there.    
Advertising Age:  23 yrs old / Effectiveness: 0

And, speaking of the Italian Postal Service, here's a little trick to avoid it altogether:  
In Rome, I have discovered right near the Colosseum (on via S. Giovanni in Laterano) a Swiss Post Office.  Years ago, those savvy Swiss spotted a nice opportunity, and opened their first office in Milano (on viale Jenner) as well.  Take your letters & packages there - you'll pay less and you can rest assured your package will arrive.
[click on Swiss Post for link to their facilities].

Sunday, April 3

Tante Belle Cose: April in Rome & Italy

March may herald in gorgeous spring weather, but the best part about March is the preview it gives us on April events across the boot. March means we are treated to an onslaught of information about what’s in store once the trees are in full bloom and the wisteria & jasmine scents make you feel as though you're in a lovely perfume shop.  But once you've gotten your head out of the clouds and around the mis-marketing of those events, and maybe figure out how – if ever – to reserve a place online, you’re really good to get there, if not good to go in and enjoy them firsthand.

In Rome, April truly kicks off the tourist season – especially with so many making their pilgrimage to Vatican City for Easter. This month, a whole host of events surrounding Pope John Paul II’s ‘Santo Subito’ Sainthood – on May 1st are planned.  And, to make things easier, they’ve even devised a ‘Pope Pass’.  Fittingly called the PJPII PASS (and not the Italian, PGP...) it entitles you to unlimited transport on buses, a city tour on the ORP's yellow guided tour bus (just ignore the crummy audio) and other treats. Check out for more information.*

April 4-10 marks the ‘We’ve Named it in English so it Must be Good’ Week…or rather, ‘Restaurant Week’ [actually, I've been informed that it's an int'l organization thus the name]. You can enjoy 3-course gourmet meals provided by select restaurants for a fraction of the cost.  You can find info on participating ristoranti – errrr restaurants  – make that dining establishments at or .

**But, since I spent 40 minutes trying to make a reservation on, save yourself the time&energy, & and simply follow my instructions-for-use posted in the comments below.

April is also the month we get a Week of Culture at Italy’s State-Owned Museums (usually, the Biggies – like the Colosseum or the Uffizi). Enjoy Free Entrance to the – WTF?! – most popular museums April 7-10th – A welcome event, sure, but one of those obtuse non-marketing practices whereby we don’t get enticed to discover the treasure troves of the little-known places filled with great works, but rather get to join the already-obscene crowds at the mobbed-on-a-slow-day-in-midwinter mass market houses of art.

As for me, I’ll try my luck taking in Agri-Culture that same week at the Fiera dei Cavalli, a showcase of thousands of horses, equestrian events, and all things ippo-related…Note to self: take an anti-histamine before leaving the house!

April wraps up with Rome's Birthday Celebrations (April 21st) and the Nation's Liberation Day festivities (April 25th) - see my blog entry about the tempest in a tatsa over this now-controversial festa.

But as for Belle Cose this past March, we were treated to Chocolate Festivals across the country. Hard to explain this right smack dab during lent, when probably everyone you know (well, at least women) has given it up. Yet another indication of the marketing prowess of my paesani. It's just one more sign from above as to how far astray the flock has in fact, strayed.
And so this March we were treated to the Cioccolatò Festival in Torino, featuring an entire country of monuments created in pure dark ambrosia, and in the spirit of equal time, another in the South – held in Vulcano Buono di Nola. And for those (most likely men) who gave up alcohol for lent, never fear – the devil awaits to tempt you at the 45th edition of Verona’s VinItaly held before Easter as well.

Perhaps it’s actually some sort of test of your willpower or a way to pay for indulgences – As for me, as I indulge in my umpteenth chocolate truffle, it certainly makes me think of the Divine...

* And for those of you daring enough to descend on Vatican City this April, don't forget to download my Audioguide narrated by the inimitable Art Historian Nun, Sister Wendy Beckett - for a complete tour of St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums & Sistine Chapel

Friday, April 1

The Spaghetti Harvest - A BBC Special Report

Anyone who has ever received an incendiary email supposedly penned by one famous figure or another knows by now that you shouldn't trust what you get in your inbox.  It's what Urban Legend bashers Snopes makes its living on.  But what if it is 1957, and everything you see on the tube must be truthful, especially if produced by the BBC? (Clearly, well before Fox News).  After all, it had been nearly 20 years since Orson Welle's infamous War of the Worlds.
You get a Swiss Spaghetti Harvest, well below the volume produced by the Italians.
Be sure to read the brilliant description of the entire event as posted by the Alexandra Palace Television Society archives.

Click Here for link to youtube posting

And, to viewers who wanted to grow their own Spaghetti Tree?  
They replied with that purely British humour:  Simply stick a sprig of spaghetti in a can of tomato sauce and hope for the best.

Buon Pesce d'Aprile!  (April Fish, not Fools in Italy)