Wednesday, May 30

America...Land of the Free?

It's more like America…Land of the free refills and home of the brazed chicken burgers.

It’s not enough to land in the USA and be met with an army of people straight out of central casting for Wall-E.  America does its very best to tell you straight up that it is an unapologetic Land of Plenty.  Nor more the land of Milk & Honey, it is now the home of 400-calorie milk lattes and honey mustard on your two-patty chili burger. 
As if the weeble-wobbles in your midst weren’t advertising enough, nowadays landing in America is pretty much the closest thing to being one of the flock at KFC’s.  At every airport across the country, you’ll find spiffy food courts where Americans are led to graze 24/7 before being corralled onto planes where they’re plied with peanuts and beverages and yet a few more meals before landing.  Perhaps they're actually being prepped for faux-gras instead.
- Welcome to the USA -
At Detroit Metro airport, I was unable to find my way to the baggage claim, until after I worked my way thru the maze of food vendors.  Dozens of shops crowded out the gates just in case I didn’t have enough to eat on the plane ride over.  Arriving in DC, the unmistakable and impermeable odor of fried fill-in-the-blank greets you in both arrivals and check-in.  Making your way to your gate, you now can enjoy a host of scents from fried Chinese rice to fried burgers and - ah – fries.  They used to study scents to make you want to linger in the shopping malls.  In Supersized America, these have been swapped out for the natural scents of deep-fry peanut oil, char-broiled burgers and oriental-spiced dishes.
Just in case you already imbibed in your third meal of the day before lunch, deep-fried donuts and other less noxious items like ice cream and lattes await you.  By the time I reached my hotel, and in the 90 degree heat, my hair and clothing stunk to the point that I felt I had been dipped in batter and deep-fried myself.  I imagine it won’t be long until Americans are sporting eau de chicken nuggets perfume – just to turn your fast-food guy on.
It didn’t used to be this way (and I’m not talking about the intro of poly-unsaturated fats in almost everything we eat).  When I first tried convincing airports across the country to allow me to place manicure stations near the gates, I was told repeatedly that “The gateways and gate areas were for moving passengers - and only that.”  Little did I know that it would be less than a decade before that meant moving passengers into food courts and moving bellies so far out they block your view and crowd you out of the very gateways you were trying so in vein to reach in the first place.  Not to mention your seats once you board the plane.

Saturday, May 26

Rome's Airport - Still Dead on Arrivals

I was pleased to hear that London's dreaded Terminal 5 received the world's accolades for being 'The Best Airport on Earth', especially after its missteps on opening (and even more unthinkable closings due to a few inches of snow this winter).  Nonetheless, people love it.
I was tickled pink when just a few days after that disastrous opening, Rome's airport crowned their own international terminal, Terminal 5.  Simply put, it's a holding pen for people going to the USA where they can go thru U.S. "security", one of the biggest jokes in the age of aviation. [But that's another story - although as a serious frequent flyer who works for our govt put it to me on the plane over to the USA, 'the TSA is terrific about going after yesterday's perpetrators...']
Anyway, my Rome airport experience last week reminded me just how unfathomable it is to witness how we can shuttle people in a tube through the air, but can't get them in and around airports.
It started with the (much lauded, by yours truly) new signage over at Rome's airport. The ADR (Rome Airport Authority) has really made progress in devising ways to streamline traffic so you don't feel so much like a rat in a maze by the time you get to security.  Upon our approach, we were thrilled to find a sort of 'short cut' posted to Terminal 5.  Naturally, the TERMINAL 5: NEXT RIGHT arrow led over to the Cargo Terminal; the correct language being, SECOND RIGHT: but hey, who's counting?!
Rejoicing in our agility in averting the cement outpost while quickly averting that first exit and careening back into oncoming traffic, I started to think better of it.  I suspected there'd be another 8-way roundabout and we'd probably be left hanging as to which way to go.  But before I could finish my "Rome Auditorium theory of sign-posting" , there we were.  We went round and round the roundabout a few times, before determining that the Terminal would not be where one might think it should be.  And Eureka! we followed that hunch right up to the front door.
a case for false advertising:  travel as it was 
and the reality of travel today
First, it was security screening. Where well-dressed greeters simply asked if I was checking or carrying my luggage.  So much for ferreting out shoe bombers.  Line two was an approach to automated check-in terminals, manned by 4 employees for the 12 videos; half of which did not work.  So much for technology saving on salaries.
Finally, I made my way to the third line: x-ray screening. It was my lucky day, because just as I passed through those pearly gates; barefoot and my tablet carefully held against my torso (and feeling an awful lot like Moses), the power went out in the entire terminal.  I looked back to find in my wake ever-growing lines and elevators and escalators ground to a halt.  People in wheelchairs sat gathering like ducks in a pond, wondering just how they would make it up to the shuttle that would take them to the real airport.  I gave a little skip of delight at my good fortune and headed straight for the terminal gates.
I was astounded to think that there was no back-up generator to allow the airport to carry on with their business.  That is, the business of pushing people through to their destinations.  But once inside the real terminal, I found that business was brisk: it just had nothing to do with the travel industry.  All of the shops, despite the black-out, were lit up, cash registers ringing like Las Vegas slot machines.  Travelers may be stuck down in security, but up here, the cash was flowing freely. 
Little by little, hundreds of flyers made their way in, to now wait out the delays due to the black-out.  In waiting rooms that seated 24 people per gate.  The immense transfer desk takes up enough room for 200, and I've only ever seen it staffed by two (with two people queued up for assistance as well).  The crowding just to get down your gangway was nothing short of a run on banks in modern Greece.  
Finally elbowing my way onto the plane, people joked how boarding in Rome was not unlike driving through Italy.  Perhaps when it comes to transportation, it's the only way we've been accustomed to doing things.

Sunday, May 20

Caveat Emptor - not for Italians

For many people living abroad, swapping words and their rich histories are a fun part of learning through exchanging...In fact, Come si dice? is one of the first phrases people learn when studying Italian...but, for inquisitive minds, it becomes an oft-occuring conversation piece.  Every once in awhile, you find you've stumped someone with English...but I always get a kick when I stump them with my 'Italian'.
English uses phrases from many other roots than Latin, and sometimes these in turn are appropriated by the Italian language (warning: this practice is not for the French: they make sure they come up with their own words for everything).  So, I had no problem throwing out, however, a phrase that I have known to live by:  Caveat Emptor.  It's a phrase that anyone who lives in Italy or purchases electronics on 42nd Street in NYC will come to know.  Not putting it into practice comes with it's own risks for consumers.
But, I was stunned by the raised eyebrows and puzzled looks in the all-Italian room.  They had never heard the expression before.  
Really? And I have been using it for years...thinking everyone knew what I was on about.  Instead, I chirped, "Well, it's Latin!".  One of the Latin students in the room defiantly shook his head, "No. It's not."
Vignette from my book, Burnt by the Tuscan Sun
by Gianni Falcone, cartoonist -
Now it was my turn for puzzled looks.  If it means Beware, he continued...then it'd be Cave Emptor, much in the same way as Cave Canem means Beware of the Dog.  Still trying to figure out what happened when the phrase went from Latin to English...I looked it up.
The Encyclopedia Brittanica calls it New Latin: the phrase originating in Anglo common law back in 1523.  Slightly later than Cicero by my calculations.
And, it has to do with no warranties, which have since been put into place but in print so fine that they are worthless, or, with so many tricks "Send us the last four digits of the Pope's Social Security number combined with a boxtop from a box of Cheerios purchased in 1982."
Of course, when it comes to returns and exchanges (and I have a whole chapter in my book on this), we can always do it the Italian way:  Just don't offer them.  Keeps things fairly clear.  Go with the personal relationship instead (basically, you'll get further if you frequent my business -- often)...
Come to think of it, it's no wonder that modern-day Italians never had heard of this most modern of Warning Labels.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Now there's an expression for you!

Tuesday, May 15

Italy-Themed Books & Italian Expat Writers - Great Reads

As I mentioned in the Dove Sono? section of my blog page (right hand column), this past weekend I had the great fortune to be invited to a wonderful literary event to showcase my book.  It was hosted in the garden of Rome's cozy Beehive Hotel (whose owners, Linda&Steve also run the website Cross-Pollinate & proffer excellent information about places to & fro on their blogs.  Our other hostess with the mostest was the inimitable Michelle Fabio, (blogger of Bleeding Espresso & house mother to many kids - goats, that is, whose antics are featured on her site Goat Berries and co-founder of World Nutella Day!) now co-editor & chief marketeer of Gemelli Press, a boutique publishing company based in Seattle, Washington / Calabria, Italy that combines the dual passions of literature & all things Italian.  
Note:  all of the aforementioned sites (click on the names above) sport pages and cool things on Facebook.
Michelle regaled us with brief synopses of many of their titles, and I was particularly intrigued by Wrestling with the Devil the story of a boy put on an ocean liner with nothing but provolone cheese in his pockets departing from the Naples Bay and heading for a new life in America. He was only 10. But soon found the art of wrestling...
Throughout the day, I was finally able to put faces to familiar names.  It seemed so many of us had exchanged comments on each other's blogs, read each other's works, seen the movie, tried the app.  
So here is a 2012 Who's Who in Italy Expat Writers:

Arlene Gibbs is a writer & interior decorator based in Rome.  She moved to Italy four years ago after working in Hollywood as a film executive and producer for ten years. Arlene recently co-wrote the hit American movie, JUMPING THE BROOM and self published her novel THE REBIRTH OF MRS. TRACEY HIGGINS.  

Eleonora Baldwin is an American-born, Roman-bred food & lifestyle writer.  She hung up her showbiz boots and stopwatch in 2010 after 15 years in the industry, and has since been relying on her pen, curiosity and appetite for guidance in the gastronomic bounty of the (Eternal) City she calls home. Eleonora is Chief Editor for a restaurant content company Cibando, and she offers personalized gourmet tours of the city, contributes to several online webzines, and indulges her newfound passion for photography.

Sara Rosso is an American digital strategist, writer, & photographer living in Milan, Italy. She writes about food at Ms. Adventures in Italy, about technology and growing your business at When I Have, and about healthy living at Food Blogger on a Diet.  Her photography has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and La Cucina Italiana, and her writing can be found all over the Internet as well as in Fodor's & Zagat guides. She has two books on Amazon, How to order an Italian coffee in Italy [basically, they're not called 'lattes' or ventis and you seriously don't leave with your cup in hand - considered blasphemous in these parts] and The Unofficial Guide to Nutella.  Check out her Amazon page here.

Gillian McGuire – app author, information curator, and Rome expert – has been living as an expatriate, in various countries in Africa and now in Rome since 1991. Gillian has put her insatiable curiosity and knowledge to create a great new app called Rome for Expats which  is filled with information for both newcomers and oldtimers alike.

A native of Trinidad and Tobago, author Terry H. Bhola surely never stays in one place. After an academic stint, a career in New York's sizeable publishing industry Terry ended up in Umbria, where he has published a book of his experiences there, Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria. One critic wondered if he wasn't an alcoholic, since the book discusses a great deal of wines - but Terry adamantly refutes the charge.  And as a fellow pet lover, I loved Terry's claim to fame to have "named all the dogs in my village in Umbria."  That's a big deal since although they are kept, dogs are not considered pets.

Flaminia Chapman was born in Texas to an Italian mother who refused to let her kids speak English until the age of 5.  That was a good thing, because at the age of 10, her family moved to Rome permanently. At school, she had to learn about dettati and pizza bianca at snacktime. Her last few years of high school and college were spent in Texas, studying abroad, and traveling as much as possible.  Flaminia moved back to Rome to work as a tour guide and Italian travel consultant.  Six years later, she decided to put all the knowledge she had accumulated over the years of working with incoming travelers into the Rome Insider's Guide app.

Writer and historian Mary Jane Cryan has the claim to fame of living in Italy since 1965, yet still considers herself an 'expat'. She celebrates her longevity with her terrific blog filled with all kinds of inside secrets:  She sets up study abroad programs and works with tour operators and adult learners.  She is a contributor to scholarly journals, guidebooks (such as Eyewitness Guide to Rome and Fodor’s), print and online magazines, and she also lectures on luxury cruise ships plying the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Black Seas.  From her palazzo near Rome, she publishes history and travel books about central Italy and has received numerous awards for her website, books and conferences.  Her latest book is Etruria travel, history & itineraries.  You can read more about it off her website, Elegant Etruria.  

Erica Firpo - writer, consultant and secret baker. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Hufffington Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, LA Times, Oryx Magazine, and The American Magazine, and she has also been editor to Luxe Guide Rome and Nile Guide Rome.   Erica authored Insight Guide's Rome Select, a cultural guidebook to Rome, and authored/self-published the Little Black Book Rome (English/Danish) and Little Black Book Copenhagen.  She is also a contributor to Fodors and when Erica isn't writing, she experiments in cookies.

Pamela Sheldon Johns is the author of 16 cookbooks, primarily focused on traditional, regional Italian cuisine. She has been leading culinary workshops in Italy since 1992 and has lived here full-time since 2001.  Pamela is the owner/farmer of Poggio Etrusco, a certified-organic agriturismo in Montepulciano where she hosts cooking classes and produces a high quality organic extra-virgin olive oil.
Pamela has been featured in Travel + Leisure, on (Tuscan food tour),  Wall Street Journal (one of the top 10 culinary guides in Europe),  Cooking Light, and Food & Wine magazine (Top Cooking Schools in Italy).  Although calm by nature, her 15-year-old daughter has now brought a lot of drama into her life right now!
Her latest book is Cucina Povera - Tuscan Peasant Cooking and you can usually catch Pamela at her Poggio Etrusco B&B (either online & off!)   

Originally from Tennessee, Linda Lappin has lived in Rome since 1978, when she first came to Italy on a Fulbright grant.  She is a novelist, poet,  travel writer, and literary translator as well as a lecturer at University of Rome La Sapienza.  She is international prose editor for the WebdelSol Review and associate editor of Serving House Books. She conducts writing workshops and retreats in Vitorchiano, at the Centro Pokkoli.  
Linda's first novel, The Etruscan, won second place in the 2010 New York Festival of Books. 
Her second novel, Katherine’s Wish, about the life of Katherine Mansfield, was a finalist for the Foreword Book of the Year Award.  And she is now busy penning her third novel, Signatures in Stone, a mystery story set in Bomarzo. Her recent travel essay, Pane & Pecorino, about the simple life in Tuscany, won the bronze medal in travel memoir from Travelers Tales. 

p.s. We have since created our own Italy Expat Writer's page on Facebook. Stop in some time!

Friday, May 11

An Expat Roster - Why Italians think we're Strange...

In Italy, foreigners are called stranieri. And the word for 'strange' is 'strano', so, much like English-speakers refer to immigrants as 'aliens', it's no wonder that in Italy, we're truly the out-of-town 'strangers'.  For anyone living anywhere abroad, our different ways of approaching pretty much everything than the locals becomes a real-life Twilight Zone for any observer.  It's a wonderful mix which always makes you wonder how life was back in ancient Rome, when people flocked to Rome from across the entire Empire.
So I was tickled pink to come across this terrific posting by a relatively new blogger (who takes breathtaking photos around her Italy), listing 10 Reasons Why Italians Think I'm Weird.  Here is Michelle's post below, but click on her link to get more from Michelle in Torino:

Why Italians Think I’m Weird

The intermingling of people from different cultures is bound to result in some raised eyebrows. Italians do some things that seem strange to me, and it works the other way around as well. Here are ten reasons why Italians think I’m weird:

1. I eat potato skins and the skins of fruits (apples, pears, etc.) Seriously. I’ve been met with horror-struck stares as I bring a forkful of with-skin potatoes to my mouth, spurring the starer to blurt out “It still has the skin on!” to try and save me from culinary disaster. It’s called fiber, people!
2. I eat risotto and pasta with a spoon instead of with a fork.
3. I don’t like or drink coffee. I’ve yet to meet an Italian who isn’t shocked by this revelation. Once in Salerno when I declined a coffee after dinner, my host’s sister remarked, “Tu non prendi caffè?” Questo è grave!” (You don’t drink coffee? This is serious!)
4. I like to walk around the house in just my socks, instead of wearing house shoes too. This comes from growing up in houses with rugs. I haven’t yet seen a carpet grace the floors of an Italian apartment.
5. I never saw the movie Rocky until I came to Italy. They’re crazy about him here.
6. I tend to forget and refer to black tea, green tea, raspberry tea, fennel seed tea, etc. all with the name té (tea.) People adamantly correct me, since herbal teas have another name (tisana) and the two cannot be (gasp!) lumped into the same group.
7. I’ve asked people for their sauce recipe after eating a tasty tomato sauce with pasta. This resulted in a combination of pitying looks mixed with poorly-disguised laughter. “There is no recipe!” they insist, but what they’re really thinking is, “this poor foreigner needs a road map in order to throw together oil, garlic, tomatoes, and basil!” Apparently, Italian babies are born with red sauce-making knowledge running through their veins.
8. Sometimes I cook pasta or eat dinner leftovers for breakfast.
9. I usually just drink water (also see #3.)
10. I want to live in Italy.
And while I won't eat dinner leftovers for breakfast, some of my own eyebrow-raising traits include:  
  • I laugh heartily in public
  • I don't pack bathrobes in my suitcase
  • I used to rollerblade -- and used all the padding I could put on (trust me, a 40-something on skates is a sight to see, but one decked out in a helmet, etc. is about as alien as one could get).
  • I put cheese on my salad (which I also like to eat with the meal, when I have the choice - seeing that I have given up on before the meal)...
If you're an expat, what are yours?

Tuesday, May 8

Italian language: not for the faint of tongue

Anyone who has ever tried to learn English will instantly regale you with their trials and tribulations of wading through the synonym minefield of read, read, reed and red.  They'll trip over the pronunciation of words beginning with 'th', or they'll soon implode over the differences in British English that they learned (or is it learnt) in school, versus what might be expressing from your very lips to say the same thing (like parking lot or car park, boot or trunk).
For those of us who recall those heady days of elementary school grammar and spelling bees (quick -- here's a little party ice breaker for you:  If you want to make an Italian crack up, just mention spelling bees), it would seem that landing in all-phonetic all-the-time Italy would be a cakewalk.  Italians never have to spell except over the phone, in which case they use cities to call out the letters.  Just when you have your cities down pat, up come the double consonants.
For another party conversation piece, try splitting hairs over the difference between capello and cappello (a strand of hair and a hat) Or, between tutta and tuta (everything and a sweatsuit).  You'll have the guests heaving in peels of laughter at your sheer inability to hear the difference at all, let alone pronounce it.
[hint: just try to keep that consonant longer on the lips - I never can].
But little did I consider (and I've been here quite awhile) that the Italian language also had its own share of homonyms, just when I thought it was safe to deliver Aqua as Acqua.  I was astounded when, over dinner recently with friends, we came across the topic of - yes, pronunciation.  I was baffled to hear how, in phonetic Italy, we've become lazy over the years, and now say Quattordici (14) as if it were written, Quatordici 
[Note: not that any of us foreigners would have heard the difference in the first place, but play along just to amuse me].
To add insult to my sheer ignorance, I discovered that pesca (a peach) is a totally different word than pesca (fishing). It's all in the way that 'e' rolls off your tongue.  [Not that I'd know which way is which].

Having gone down a list of such words, some with double consonants, some without...all I can say to you, dear readers is, Do as I say, not as I do.

and for real Italian tongue here!

Thursday, May 3

Tante Belle Cose: Rome Healthcare Edition or Need a Doctor in Rome?

This month, I'd like to focus on getting good healthcare in the Bel Paese.  I often get calls from frantic parents whose kids are studying abroad, to friends who need a dentist, to fellow expats who just want a checkup and don't want to wait 9 months to do so.  So, in my April Edition of Tante Belle Cose in Italy, here's my healthcare checkup on Italy which is filled with fairly good things.

First and foremost, my friend and fellow author, Fabrizio Blini, brilliant wordsmith and sadistic satirist when it comes to all things Italian, launched his new book lambasting the Italian Hospital System: Storie di ordinaria corsia (in Italian).  After a motorino accident, he was in & out of hospital for months on end.  With his incredible  wit and indefatigable plays on words, you'll be assured a good laugh at his expense.  But, hey, Laughter is the best medicine...
Fabrizio's previous book - a scientific breakdown of the types of Italian mammas - will have you ROFL: “Mamma Mia! La mamma as a deterrent in the cultural, social & economic development of modern Italy” (in Italian only).  My alter ego edited a bilingual edition of the book for language learners (with only some of the words highlighted) for a U.S. company called Linguality.  
CAVEAT EMPTOR:  Do not purchase online from Linguality or you will never see your money nor your book again!  But editions are out there for sale on the web if you want to give it a go.
If you can read in Italian, buy both books in Italian on or and, for more fun reading, check out the Irreverent Italy tab (and Amazon bookstore) on my blog page.
For those traveling in Rome and find you're in a mishap and need some fast medical attention, my advice (if you have a choice in the matter and are not rushed to a nearby hospital, where in any case, the care is usually hit or miss), would be to head over to the Aventino Medical Group right near the Circus Maximus.  They speak English, although you will still need to go round to other public hospitals or places to try your hand at getting x-rays. For a complete list of int'l doctors in Rome, check out this site: .  
CAVEAT EMPTOR:  Do not bother your Embassy unless there's a body to bring home.  Seriously.  Our public offices are not American Express Travel centers (which wouldn't help you either).  I mean, would you knock on the White House door if you broke a leg in Washington, DC? [of course, with ObamaCare maybe you can do just that - but in 2014 and only if the Supreme Court doesn't rule against it in the interim].  But your Embassy or Consulate offices may be able to provide a list of English-speaking professionals just to get you out of their hair.
You will further note that Adore Rome's list doesn't include the Rome American Hospital, a joint venture with a Nashville institute.  I recall on a visit there that neither info nor personnel was in English, although most hospitals in Rome do their best to provide English-speaking medical assistance.  Unfortunately, by my GPS, this prestigious place seems to be located closer to Nashville than to Rome.  
I might also add that I sauntered into the public Eastman Dentistry Institute in Rome once, founded by one George Eastman (of Kodak fame).  They wouldn't take my kind (errr...Americans), even as a paying patient.  However, if you happen to be of any other extraction on earth rather than North American, they have an international receiving center for patients (esp for those from developing countries).  George is still rolling over in his grave over this one.
And finally, if you're an expat and simply want a checkup, I have come across an excellent and thorough service being provided by Rome's Red Cross (Croce Rosso).  Called Progetto Donna or Progetto Uomo, you spend a half-day there getting every type of exam known to man.  Depending on the day you go, they also throw in specialist exams such as Endocrinology (Thyroid), Dermatology, or Eye exams.  
CAVEAT EMPTOR:  Their website is useless, their telephone rings off the hook (best to call at 8am sharp for an appt), you can't reserve via email, and the info you need prior to your visit you will find only on the day of your appt (like don't eat b'fast, etc. etc.). So, you might want to stop in first and pick up an overcopied flyer for the full scoop.

And of course, to avoid the doctor altogether...try an apple a day which, according to the Italians:  Una mela al giorno leva il medico di torno.