In Italy, Drowned Gypsy Girls: Opinion

Cal showed me this CNN article regarding a horrible incident “west of Naples” (huh?) in which Gypsy girls drowned and were taken away while sunbathers continued to stay at the beach.

Obviously, journalists and photographers on the scene have a more accurate description of the atmosphere at the beach in Torregaveta than I do, sitting here at my desk in Montpellier. And as the article states, it is true that there is a prevailing prejudice among Italians against Gypsies. But, don’t get me started on that topic – I’ll be here all day, and I have work to do.

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Bologna, Italy: Favorite Son Tells All

There’s a Texan in our midst here in Montpel, and he’s meeting his sister in Bologna this month. Smart boy that he is, he came straight to me with questions about what to do while he’s there.

I went to Bologna a few years ago with Jax, and we had the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten in my life. But, I suspected that the Texan probably didn’t want that kind of advice. So, smart girl that I am, I went straight to the head of the Gay Mafia – Marco, who grew up in Bologna – for answers. Let’s take a look at his list (loosely translated from our slang/private jokes, etc.):

  1. City center, obviously – the two towers, Piazza Maggiore, Neptune fountain (2:55), the seven churches of Piazza Santo Stefano and the old medieval parts of town.
  2. Shopping: Via Indipendenza, and the market on Fridays and Saturdays at Piazza VIII Agosto.
  3. No one ever does this, but they HAVE TO take via Saragozza (ed. which turns into via di San Luca), starting right outside the city center from Piazza di Porta Saragozza (vuvuvu gugòl meps) and go up to the fabulous Basilica di San Luca. It’s a long way to walk, but it offers breathtaking sights of the city. (ed.: Bus 58 goes there.)
  4. There are a ton of places to eat in Bologna, but the best is Buca di San Petronio (although it is a bit expensive, 30-40 euros). (ed.:Via de’ Musei 4, tel.: +39 051 224 589) The restaurants on this list are also very good.

“ok, spero di essere stato not so useless. ora scappo che ho thousands things to do before work. I’m working every day from 8:00 pm to 2:00 a.m. llllove it.”

Thanks, Marco!  You’re the best!

I’d also like to add two things to this list:

  1. They’re impossible to miss, but the city center architecture is dominated by porticos. Great for shelter from the elements, and great for picture-taking.
  2. This guy said it best, so I’ll just copy and paste it here: Very few visitors know it, but under Bologna there is a dense network of canals which supplied energy in the past to make silk and grind wheat. Most of these were covered in the 1900’s. To see a glimpse of these canals go to Via Piella 18. A window under the portico reveals a surprising scene.

Finalmente: Free Wifi in Rome!

It’s true! It’s just in Trastevere for now – a lovely area, to be sure, but nowhere near where I ever am when I am in Rome.

FON has decided to make the entire neighborhood a wifi hot spot, which is great news for Rome. The Internet obviously has caught on in Italy – which might seem like a strange thing to say – but the majority of Romans still have a kind of aversion to becoming completely connected. They tend to shy away from the notion that it’s a given to have a computer in one’s home, let alone one with an Internet connection.

It’s perfectly normal to see well-to-do, middle-aged Romans in sketchy fruit-stand-and-Internet-point storefronts, checking their email or reading an article on ANSA’s home page. When I worked out of an Internet point off via Cavour, kids came in with pocket change to research something online for school, but they didn’t seem to have any further interest in what those big boxes could do. This way of thinking is reflected in Internet packages from service providers – expensive connection fees and long waits for the initial set up. The demand is just there as much as it is in other world capitals.

I’ve also seen examples in many websites of Italy being behind the Internet curve. Recently I was doing research for a client who wanted extensive articles about Italian infrastructure, and this required me to visit big, official websites. They look like they were made by Star Trek fans – in 1998.

Another thing that’s interesting about FON’s “Internet neighborhood” is the cafe culture – or rather, the lack thereof. Even though the tiny streets and stunning piazzas make you want to linger, you don’t see people lounging at tables in bars and cafes like you do in France. People tend either to come in alone, slam down an espresso at the bar and leave; have a glass of wine and talk to the owner, whom they know; or come in with a friend, have a drink, and chat. But no matter what their poison, they’re pretty much in and out much more quickly than what I see over here in Frenchieland, where three students will split a Coke for two hours.

Oh, you know I’d wind up talking smack about the French at some point, didn’t you?

Anyway. I’m heading off to Rome in just under two weeks, and I’m excited to pack up my laptop for an afternoon in Trastevere. It’ll take me an hour to get there from the gay mafia headquarters in the Casilina neighborhood, but I think I’ll treat myself to a crisp Prosecco, boot up the Mac and see what FON is doing for the Romans!

Cheap flights, car rental, hotels – and now finding a place to log onto the Internet. Isn’t travel just a pain sometimes?

Non-Italian Food in Florence

Ben and Martha are American expats living in Italy.

Now, normally that wouldn’t send me into fits of camaraderie, but there’s a twist: Martha’s from my hometown, a small enough place for it to be quite a coincidence. But wait, it gets better! Not only does her family own my favorite cheesesteak shop in the whole world; I BABYSAT HER COUSIN’S KID when I was in high school.

How did I discover this unlikely bond between my fellow expats, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. I was researching Italy stats for a client when I came across Ben’s blog – an exhaustive collection of information about Italy. After I had found what I needed, I noticed they had arrived on this side of the pond via the Queen Mary II. So glamorous and old school! I read their story, which features a picture of a Voltaco’s hoagie on the fricking Queen Mary, and fell off my chair. Emails were exchanged. A friendship was born!

Ben asked me to write a guest post about Italy for his blog, because he was having trouble getting a 21st-century Internet connection at their home. I haven’t written it yet, and here’s why: Every time I think of a great topic to write about, I check his blog to see that he’s already written about it! The man is a walking encyclopedia of life in Italy.

Now, Martha has alerted me to yet another gastronomic treat in Florence – Asian fusion. Although the restaurant’s website is hilariously unhelpful, Martha gave us the skinny:

Found this one, Buddakan at Largo Bargellini 7/8 near Santa Croce. The interior is very nicely done and food presentation was outstanding. The dishes were not authentic preparations, but the menu never says they are. All of them were very tasty and we will go back.

We started with spring rolls and calamari toast which was two spring roll wrappers with thin slices of calamari sandwiched in between and the fried. [Ed.: OMG YES PLEASE.] Ben had a seafood risotto which wasn’t really a risotto but was full of seafood. I had a duck curry and Ben had a shrimp curry.

It was all good. We never made it into the church.

I love when a meal is so outstanding it changes your itinerary. Thanks, Martha!

Palermo, Sicily: “What if they ask us for the pizzo?”

You’ve heard of duty-free airport stores and sweatshop-free clothing. How about Mafia-free shopping?

That’s the idea behind Addiopizzo – a group that believes “an entire people that pays the pizzo is a people without dignity”:

There’s now a store in Palermo in which “all products and staff are 100 percent guaranteed Mafia-free, supplied only by shops and producers which have stood up to Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and refused to pay protection money.”

I like that graphic, which was used in stickers plastered all over Palermo as the introduction to the idea of Addiopizzo. It looks like a public death notice, which you can still see posted in older neighborhoods, particularly in the south. To me it represents the rest of that logic, unspoken – that without dignity, the world those people live in will eventually cease to exist.

The mafia is a fact of life in Italy. It’s not the music of wistful mandolins, or machine guns in violin cases; it’s a tangible threat to everyday life. It’s being passed over for a job that’s filled by A Friend. It’s a sudden three-day closure of a small shop because the Owner Is Ill. It’s half-finished construction sites abandoned for years because The Money Ran Out. And it’s what’s holding Italy back.

So I say, good on you, Addiopizzo. Keep it up. Italy, and especially Sicily, needs to breathe free once again.

Where to Eat in Florence – Another Reader Weighs In

OK, OK, OK – I get it. Florence is awesome.

This is the overwhelming response to my recent post, in which I had to recruit an honorary member of the Gay Mafia to school my readers on the joys of Florence – in particular, the cuisine – to stave off the legions of readers asking for information about this (apparently) charming city.

Who knew this would garner even more chastising emails? Jeez, people; I get it: FLORENCE IS AWESOME.

I’d like to add to the previously given Florentine advice with one of the few printable responses to that post – and you gotta take this one seriously, as it was submitted by a family friend with the following surname: Maccaroni. I mean, come on. You know she’s got the good information. Anyway, here it is:

We highly recommend a place called Il Latini on the Via del Palchetti. Being our first time in Florence, we were novices when it came to finding good places to eat. It was recommended to us by the bartender in our hotel. It was rather crowded and it took a while to get a table, but they served wine and cheese while we waited outside [Ed.: Yes please! Also, check out that site - they've posted recipes!] – food was fab, the wait staff were very funny and extremely capable – we chose the fixed menu (they frown on using the menus) – they kept bringing food, food and more food – one of the most delicious meals we ever had. Maybe you can pass this along to your readers – or check it out yourself!

I’ll be in Rome again in April – oh, how your Miss Expatria suffers to bring her readers the best! – and this time, I believe a mini trip to Florence is in order to sample these choice gastronomic tidbits. I’ll be sure to issue a full report upon waking from what will no doubt be a heavenly food coma.

If anyone else has excellent Florence advice – WITHOUT THE YELLING AT ME FOR HATING FLORENCE PLEASE – feel free to send them in. I’ll post them, lest we further disrespect this lovely town on the Arno.

Florence, Italy: A Kindred Soul Tells All

In which an honorary member of the Gay Mafia (West Coast, represent) reveals what I am unable to about Florence, a city he adores and I really just can’t seem to get into. However, after reading this I might have to give it another try!

When I was doing my research for places to stay in Florence, I came across two websites run by the same people: Sleeping in Florence and Florence Apartment Rentals. We rented the Medici Apartment on via della Pergola. Their prices were really good, my questions were answered promptly and the friendly service was fantastic. The property manager’s name is Gabriella and she never let us down, including helping us find a dentist when one of our group needed one. Later, I discovered that the Frommer’s Guide also mentions her specifically.

In Florence, there is a huge flea market that is not to be missed. Seriously, it’s worth building a trip around it. The Mercato delle Pulci on Piazza dei Ciompi, has all sorts of great stuff. Books, jewelry, cameras, art, antiques, furniture, wood and metal artifacts, everything you could imagine all sprawled out over several streets.

A nice half-day trip is to take the bus to Fiesole, in the hills north of the city. You can take bus #7 and it’s only 1 Euro each way. The views over the valley are stunning, the town is quiet and cool, and there’s a great museum with an ancient Roman amphitheater. We bought some meat and cheese at the Coop grocery store in town and had a nice picnic in the piazza.

For gelato, we loved Corona’s Café, between the Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Republica (via dei Calzaiuoli). [Ed.: Google maps spells the name of this street without the u, which is incorrect.] It’s easy to get to, and while we ate a lot of gelato in a lot of different cafes, this is the one we kept coming back to. They also have great espresso and cappuccino. I tried gelato at Vivoli, which you read about in all the guidebooks; it was good, but I thought it was really overpriced.

When you’re out shopping at the San Lorenzo Market (I keep dreaming about that place!), go into the Mercato Centrale food market and try Pork’s Café. The food was inexpensive, simple, fresh and really good. You eat at long tables seated with other diners and the family running it is really friendly. We had some great house wine there, too, and we bought a bottle to bring home. And the last time we went, we got a wink from mamma!

I also highly recommend checking out the grocery stores. They’ve got lots of cool stuff, usually for pretty good prices. You can pick up things for a snack or picnic, buy water cheaper than almost anywhere else, and you can find some pretty cool presents for people at home (jams, sauces, packages of pasta, dried soups, etc.). It’s also a little adventure to try and figure out what everything is. Be sure either to bring your own bag for your purchases, or you’ll need to buy a bag from the checker.

We had dinner a couple of times at Le Giubbe Rosse on the south side of Piazza della Repubblica. The food was reasonably priced and tasted pretty good. Huge pizzas and great wine. We bought some to bring home. We also had great cappuccino at a little cafe called “Paolo e Francesca” on one of the little streets near Piazza della Signoria, but I neglected to write down the address. Our last night in town we ate a pizza place called Yellow Bar on via del Proconsolo and while it looked a little American, the pizzas were enormous and wonderful.

One of the most interesting places we found by accident. We came around a corner and there was a big crowd of Italians ordering sandwiches from the tiny doorway of a building. We learned early on if there was a line of Italians waiting for something, it was worth it, and your best bet is to get in line and find out what everyone is waiting for. The entire shop was about the size of a closet, seriously; you shouted your order to one guy and picked up your food from the other. Most people had a glass of wine as well, and there was a little rack on the wall of the building where you put your glasses while you were eating. I had an awesome pork sandwich and some red wine. The place is called i Fratellini and it’s located on via dei Cimatori, very near the Piazza del Duomo.

In the evenings, there was always a gypsy band playing in Piazza della Republica, and some of our best memories are of those nights. Lots of people out walking with a gelato, some dancing in the piazza. Just a lovely place for live music.

Florence is a walking city, so you rarely need to use public transportation. We only rented a taxi once, and that was because we weren’t sure how to find the apartment. The buses are on time and really cheap, and we probably could have used them more but it was more fun to walk all over the place. Bring some good shoes.

Our favorite museum was the Bargello; we practically had the place to ourselves. There were hundreds of marble and bronze sculptures and it turned out to be a highlight of the trip. So many things to see – and no crowds!

I’m sure I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out, but we saw lots and lots of beautiful things. It surpassed my expectations.

Quick Tip: Where to Stay and Eat in Siena, Italy

I totally forget who was asking for this information, but here is the skinny on Siena, Italy from my stay there:

This restaurant is one of my favorites in all of Italy, which is saying something:

Taverna San Giuseppe

I seem to remember an antipasto that we seriously considered ordering again and just canceling our main dishes. Luckily, we didn’t do that, because the rest of the meal was ecstasy.

And this hotel is AMAZING and not hella expensive:

Palazzo Ravizza

We stayed in an INSANE room there. INSANE. Ridiculously high beamed ceilings, winsome writing desk by the window, bathroom bigger than most kitchens and tiled within an inch of its life.

Greenways Italia: Nothing But Flowers

Don’t you just LOVE IT when a public works project actually benefits the people, and they also do it right when it comes to informing the people about it? I do. That’s why I want to discuss Greenways Italia.

That website has an adorable English language icon at the top corner, but apparently it’s just for show – so I’ll fill you in via this description from moleskinecity.com:

March 2 marked the first national day of the abandoned railways, a cultural initiative to recover the abandoned infrastructure, and promote more environmentally friendly tourism. There are more than 5000 kilometers of abandoned railroad, and many of them are being transformed into Greenways, bike paths, and hiking trails. This initiative aims to increase public awareness, and protect the cultural heritage of these forgotten railways. It highlights the importance of promoting tourism consistent with environmental standards and sustainable mobility.

Which is awesome. And there’s a great overall map on that moleskine link showing Greenways locations throughout Italy. But the thing I really love about Greenways is its website – specifically, the itineraries. The organization has chosen five distinct routes of varying lengths, and have given you pretty much all the information you’d ever want to know about them:

  • The technical stuff – distance, time on bike and by foot, type of surface, best times of year for the location, types of users (rollerbladers, bikes, etc.), suggested sites along the way.
  • Description - a delightful tour through the entire trail’s historic sites, flora and fauna, information about the abandoned stops along the way.
  • Map – by Google, of course, darlings.
  • “A little history” - telling the tale of the building, life, and ultimate demise of the route as a railway. Fascinating, poetic, better than Cats.
  • I just spent 20 minutes trying to find the old ad that phrase came from – “better than Cats” – if I am remembering correctly, it was a New York local ad for a musical, the kind they used to do where they’d interview people coming out of the theater. That’s where that phrase came from; the full one, I believe, is: “I loved it. It was better than Cats. I’d see it again and again.” Either that, or it was an SNL parody of those ads. God, those ads were always so awesomely lame. I miss my Dinkins-era New York!
  • Useful information - how to get to the beginning of the Greenways route by car or by train + bike.

It looks like they’re still updating the site with other routes, and I’ll keep checking back to the site and will let you know when it’s in English. But if you’re going to Italy and you’re interested in biking, blading or walking trails, Greenways Italia is definitely the site for you!

Group Therapy: Renting a Villa in Italy

When I’m feeling lonely for my friends back home, I get the urge to (first, become rich) and (then) rent a villa in Italy for an entire summer, and invite them all to stay with me. I imagine long days in golden sunlight, cooking experiments with fresh food, lazy afternoons chatting and cocktailing by the pool, and at least one crazy night out and about in the nearest major city.

I’m pretty lucky in this regard – no, I am not rich; but I must admit that of my closest friends, not one of them would be annoying during this imaginary summer of love. As for as my criteria go, they would be my ideal villa mates:

1. No picky eaters. We use real butter, we eat meat, and carbs are our friend. No one in my gang sits at the end of the table nursing a bowl of weeds.

2. No camp counselors. Everyone enjoys sleeping as little or as much as they want, and doing whatever they want in their waking hours. I will not be awakened and recruited into mandatory sunrise yoga.

3. No slobs. If someone thinks it’s alright to leave food on the floor and underwear on the couch, then they’re springing for the daily housekeeping service.

4. No cheapskates. If we’ve worked out a group budget, we’re sticking to it. No one is going to only drink one bottle of wine the whole week or complain that Katie ate all the cheese. United we stand, and all.

5. No whiners. We are all incredibly fortunate to have the time, the means and the motive to commit this crime of sybaritic luxury. There is no boredom in paradise.

In terms of the actual villa – I’d say these would be the most important criteria:

1. Bedrooms for everyone. You don’t want to have to tiptoe around bodies in the living room.

2. Lots of kitchen space. I personally have visions of a huge stone cook’s kitchen, but I’d settle for lots of counter space for food prep and bottles, and an open plan so whomever’s cooking isn’t stuck away from the fun.

3. Outdoor areas. A large table with plenty of chairs is key – as is that area being covered. You don’t want to be cooped up in the house, and you don’t want to have to run inside with all the plates and bottles if it it starts raining.

4. Check out the possibility for a cook and/or maid during your stay. Many villas offer it, and it’s worth it to work this into your group budget for at least half the time you’re there. You don’t want to experience the chores of a home just because you’re staying in one.

5. Your location. As I’ve said before, sea trumps all – but that’s just me. And the further south you go, the easier it will be to take advantage of their off-season rates while still having nice weather. Many people love the rolling hills of Tuscany, and it is lovely; but I get antsy if I’m not near water. Also, being near the sea can mean foregoing a pool within the villa grounds.

Now that the bitching is over, let’s take a look at this paradise of which I speak:

This gem of a place in Montepulciano has plenty of room for 10 people, a pool, and an open kitchen plan. And at $4758 per week, that’s $67 per person per day. Not bad!

I’m hyperventilating about this place on Ischia. For nine people, it works out to $82 per person per day in the off season. But, their high seasons are very narrow, so it’s entirely possible that this one is very doable.

Cinque Terre boasts this lovely perch, for six people only $70 per person per day. I’ll see you there on that magenta sofa, where I’ll be gazing at the sea.

I’ve actually stayed here. I had the poolside apartment to myself and had one of the ten best sleeps of my life. I don’t want to know how much it is, because I wasn’t paying for it – but here’s a picture to prove it!

The Slow Movement: You Move Too Fast

I’ve been on a kick recently where I make notes on topics I’d like to write about during the week, and then on Sunday I write them all, so I simply have to go online every day and post one.

However, yesterday Cal and I got off to a very lazy start and kind of eased off; we got a lot of movie watching and Internet surfing done, but none of my pieces got written.

And now I’m coming up on several deadlines, so it isn’t going to happen today, either. But! I shall not disappoint Miss Expatria’s fans! One of my topics for this week – and a favorite of mine for a while – is the slow movement. From the world’s informer, Wikipedia:

“The Slow Movement first began when a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome sparked the creation of the Slow Food organization, as well as developing into a subculture in various other areas, Slow Travel, Slow Shopping, and Slow Design, just to name a few.”

I love this idea. I love seeing it in action, as I have in several places here in Europe – some intentional, some having never changed because “slow living” has always just been called “living.”

So, for your perusal, take a Slow Monday to check out the following links on slow living – and then try to put some of it into action!

“Slow Food is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”

“The World Institute of Slowness was created entirely as a medium for those that wish to communicate with others together learning the slow way of life.”

This article talks about Italy’s well over 40 Slow Cities. Inspired by the Slow Food movement, Cittaslow‘s page on Wikipedia lists slow cities in several EU countries.

Slow Food USA! Go get ‘em!

“In the tradition of such trailblazing books as No Logo and The Tipping Point, In Praise of Slow heralds a growing international movement of people dedicated to slowing down the pace of our contemporary times and enjoying a richer, fuller life as a result.” (There seems to be another version here, so check out both, I guess. No matter which version you choose, any book that starts with the sentence, “On a sun-bleached afternoon in the summer of 1985, my teenage tour of Europe grinds to a halt in a square on the outskirts of Rome” can’t be all bad.)

“Slow Cities must comply with a 54-point Charter that outlines the goals of the movement,” says this interesting article.

You can live the slow life, no matter where you are. Start today – pick up the freshest foods you can find, turn off the computer and the news and the TV, and make yourself a slow meal tonight with someone you love!

Craving Bagels: A Love Story

Bleeding Espresso is a blog I have come across, and I love love love reading it. Sognatrice is her name, Italy is her game, and she writes with a passion for that country that gives me goosebumps – like this recent one about Calabrianfolk music.

It was this post that took my breath away, as it reminded me so much of my own post on the same subject. And here I am, thinking I’m all by myself in this life!

However, it was her bagel recipe that ensured her a spot in my heart. You see, bagels are pretty much non-existent here, and when you do find them, they tend to be very expensive and not really like you want them to be. But, as she says, sometimes you really crave something to smear cream cheese on – especially in Italy, where one can find the worlds only real cream cheese.

Visiting friends from New York have known to not cross my threshold unless bearing at least six Ess-a-Bagels. I have taught my gay mafia about the joys of these plump little balls of doughy love, and they now crave them too. I am the devil.

My first experience with bagels on this side of the pond was in a coffee shop in London whose name I forget. I grabbed one before flying home to Montpel. It cost me more in sterling than my phone bill that month, but it was worth every chewy, doughy bite.

Next was The Bagel Shop in Barcelona. These are heavenly, and come with a variety of toppings. I eat a bagel every single morning I am in Barcelona, without fail. YUM.

Viola, the only girl I know in Italy and my former roommate, has a carrot cake obsession that has taken her to New York twice, and keeps her ever vigilant for this tasty treat. She breathlessly called me one day to report that not only had she found carrot cake – she had found bagels. In Rome. At the cleverly named Jospehine’s Bakery, in the fittingly named Piazza del Paradiso. Their bagels are teensy tinsy, hellatiously expensive, and absolutely perfect.

Then – like manna from heaven – came the news that our very own chichi patisserie here in Montpel – Louis, it’s called – was carrying bagels. I immediately ran over, and sure enough – there they were, a gleaming fresh stack of bagel sandwiches. I breathlessly asked if I could buy a half dozen of the bagels plain, not in sandwich form.

The girl looked at me like I had half a dozen heads. Then came the answer I have come to hear all too often in this ridiculous country: “C’est pas possible.” This is not possible.

I said I could come back in the morning, before they made them into sandwiches. “C’est pas possible.”

I suppose I could buy a sandwich, scrape the shit off it and rebuild it with my own treats. But it’s just not the same.

The Bureaucracy of Baby Names

Every Wednesday, several of us get together for what I call “Girls and Gays Night,” and what Fiona calls “Tapas Anonymous Meetings.” Whatever they are, no heterosexual men are allowed. We meet at our favorite wine bar, order plates of tapas and drink Tempranillo wine.

One of the weekly participants is Vik – she is a Liverpool scouser who has lived and worked all over the world – from a madame at a brothel in Australia to a waitress at a Tokyo hostess bar to the manager of a five-star ski resort in Switzerland. She is a living legend, and at the moment she is very, very pregnant. She goes out exactly once a week – to see us – and she has exactly one glass of wine. She treasures this one glass of wine like one would a diamond tiara, or a fleeting glimpse of a unicorn.

Inevitably, the subject arises of the fact that she and her husband have not yet chosen a name for son number two. And inevitably, among each week’s newest choices, up crop our favorites. Fiona has decided no matter what the baby is named, she will christen him Otto. I joke that with the first son being named Hugo, they sound like a German vaudeville act.

My suggestions are all jokes on her married surname – Capon. I’ve suggested Pan Fried, Honey Glazed, and Boneless. She laments that her husband’s surname is a delicious food, and insists she would have kept her maiden name if she had known beforehand. But, she says, she couldn’t name him a joke name even if she wanted – French law prohibits it. Her husband must go to city hall and ask for approval of their son’s name – and until 15 years ago, could be turned down if the name wasn’t French, let alone a cooking technique.

At this point our discussion dissolves into rants about the French, although it’s well-known that the law has benefited many children whose fathers, after several rounds of congratulatory pastis from their friends while on their way to City Hall, would have named them after famous footballers regardless of the sex of said child.

This morning, I saw this article about Italian authorities refusing to allow a baby christened Venerdi – Friday – to keep the name. Apparently, these bureaucrats are worried that the boy will have a life of misery because he’ll be unfavorably compared to a character by the same name in Robinson Crusoe.

I forwarded the article to Vik. She replied, “Well, at least they’re well read over there.”

Italian Pronunciation – Cities

Hello dear hearts. I’ve been getting a lot of queries lately about how to pronounce the names of Italian cities – so, without further ado, let’s pronounce them correctly!

As explained in previous pronunciation guides, my pronunciation spelling overcompensates for the American pronunciation of the letter “e.”

Rome = Roma = ROAM-ah

Milan = Milano = meal-AH-no

Venice = Venezia = vain-AITZ-ya

Padua = Padova = PAH-dove-ah

Naples = Napoli = NAH-pole-ee

Bologna = Bologna = bowl-OWN-ya

Florence = Firenze = fear-ENZ-ay

Sicily = Sicilia = see-TCHEEL-ya

Turin = Torino = tor-EEN-oh (Olympics flashbacks)

Assisi = Assisi = ahs-SEE-see

Capri = Capri = COP-ree (Yes. Really.)

Ischia = Ischia = EESS-kya

Cinque Terre = TCHEEN-quay TAIR-ay

And, as an added bonus, other places we know and love:

Paris = Parigi = Pahr-EE-gee

London = Londra = LOANED-rah

Nice = Nizza = rhymes with pizza

Barcelona = Barcelona = Bahr-tchail-OWN-ah

United States = gli Stati Uniti = let me just say something here about “gli.” It is the WORST SOUND EVER to try to pronounce if Italian is not your native language. The closest I can come to is this: make your tongue go into position like you’re going to say “yes.” Keep it in that position, but instead say, “lee.” I know. It sucks.

Anyway. Just say, “America” and you’ll be fine.

Italian Pronunciation – How to Pronounce the Harder Words

Blessed cherubs! No doubt you’ve passed with flying colors my other lessons – now, let’s get cracking on some of the harder words you’ll come across in the course of your delightful stay in Italy.

(A note about the vowel, “e” – in my pronunciation guides, I write it more like “ay” than the “eh” it might sound like to your ears. That is because we as American English speakers tend to make the soft “e” sound like “ih” as in “hit” to Italian ears. So, I’m giving you the automatic overcompensation.)

gnocchi = nyaw-key
A hearty pasta, also known as “belly bombs” in my circle; best eaten in winter.

sfogliatella = sfole-ya-tell-ah
A pastry from Napoli, crunchy yet flaky with cream inside. Do not eat when wearing black, as the powdered sugar will be your demise.

Termini = TAIR-mee-nee
Rome’s train station. The emphasis is on the first syllable. Yes, really.

un’uovo = oon-wo-vo
Egg.
le uova = lay-wo-va
Eggs, plural. This is one of those words that does not follow the usual singular/plural agreement in terms of the vowels on the end of the word.

olio = ohl-yo
Oil. As I learned to my dismay during a particularly heated political discussion, this is not the same as war-causing oil – that’s petrolio (pay-troll-yo).
aglio = ahl-yo
Garlic. Aglio e olio? Best pasta dish ever. (And no, people from my family: not pronounced “eye-yoy” unless you’re in our great-grandfather’s town.)

pesce = pay-shay
Fish, singular. Plural is pesci (pay-shee).
pesca = pay-scah
Peach. Plural is pesche (pay-skay). Do not confuse fish and peaches when ordering juice – the waiter will look at you funny. Trust me on this one.

ceci = tchay-tchee
Chickpeas. You’ll see this word more than you expect.

stazione = stahtz-YO-nay
Station. In Rome, if you pronounce the “z” as in fizz instead of as in “pizza” they will think you are from up north and give you wrong directions.

tiramisu = teer-ah-mee-SOO
The dessert we all know and love. Yes, the emphasis is on the last syllable.

cena = tchay-na
Dinner.

lo sci = low-shee
Skiing. No, you will never get used to saying this word. It just plain sounds weird.

Il Papa = eel-PAH-pa
The pope.
Papa = pa-PAH
Dad.
pappa = pohp-ah
Baby food.

Yes, I learned that the hard way.

spiaggia = spee-YA-jah
Beach!

I think I’ve given you enough for today. Check back soon for more! And remember, if you’ve forgotten the basics, simply go to my earlier posts for more pronunciation fun!

Italian Pronunciation – It’s All In The Vowels

It seems that my cheeky language guides are by far my most-viewed posts! You might remember such great hits as:

How To Sound Like An Italian: Pronunciation Guide For Tourists

How To Sound Like An Italian, Miss Expatria Style

and the ever-popular Italian For Tourists: Advanced Guide.

Well, this next section we might call the super-advanced guide for tourists who want to speak Italian when they go to Italy. And better yet – you’ll hear all about the mistakes Miss Expatria herself has made, to everyone’s amusement and to my abject humiliation. Ready?

Just beware – a great many of my language follies resulted in the most embarrassing double entendres – so keep the kiddies at home for this one. OK, here we go.

A popular cheese in Italy is called pecorino romano, made from sheep’s or goat’s milk and most frequently used in my favorite dish, cacio e pepe. Say it with me: pay-co-ree-no row-mah-no. Most Italians will just call it pecorino. Easy enough, no? Well, not if you’re me.

I once was trapped in a small mountain cabin with five Napoletani and my friend Vincenzo, the only one of the group who understood both me and them when we spoke. Vincenzo was cooking in the kitchen one evening – a delightful saffron risotto, if you must know – and I was watching him while I slowly carved my way through a block of pecorino romano. As I gazed lovingly at the piece I had just hacked off, I mused, “Adoro pecorina.”

Vincenzo’s head snapped around, his eyes as big as saucers. What did you say, he asked me.

“Adoro…pecorina?” I held up the cheese to illustrate.

He started laughing. He ran out of the kitchen, and after a moment’s silence, there came the distinct sound of the Napoletani laughing. I remained in the kitchen, confused.

It appears that while pecorino is a delicious cheese, pecorina means to have sex doggie-style. Needless to say, I was very popular among the Napoletani for the rest of the weekend.

For this next lesson, please take a moment to watch this video. It is an example of the Italian version of peek-a-boo, which is known as “Bu-bu… settete.”

At my friend Luca’s house, I noticed a postcard of a garden gnome peeking around a corner, and the caption to the photo was “Bu-bu… settete.” I didn’t know what it meant, so I called Luca over to ask him.

“Luca, che significa, ‘Bu-bu sette tette?'” I pointed to the postcard to indicate why I was asking.

Once again, I found myself in a kitchen with an Italian who was looking at me wide-eyed and shocked after I had said something I thought to be perfectly innocent. Once again, an Italian ran from the room and hysterical laughter followed a few seconds later. This did not bode well.

It appears that while “Bu-bu… settete” means “Peek-a-boo,” “Bu-bu… sette tette” means “Peek-a-boo, seven tits.”

Which brings me to my third but by no means final gaffe, and your last lesson for today.

This summer I attended a chic and wonderful party in Rome, on a rooftop on via Urbana. It had a beautiful view of the neighborhoods rooftops, which I noted to my friend Leo as we munched on tiny tramezzini sandwiches.

Cue the shocked look, the repeating of my perfectly innocent statement, the ensuing laughter.

It appears that while we had “una bella vista dei tetti,” a beautiful view of the roofs, we did not have “una bella vista delle tette,” or a beautiful view of the tits. (At least, not from where we were standing.)

Like I said – it’s all in the vowels.

The Majesty of the Italian Judicial System

From The New York Times:

Tweety, Donald Duck Summoned to Court

ROME (AP) — Tweety may get a chance to take the witness stand and sing like a canary. An Italian court ordered the animated bird, along with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and his girlfriend Daisy, to testify in a counterfeiting case.

In what lawyers believe was a clerical error worthy of a Looney Tunes cartoon, a court in Naples sent a summons to the characters ordering them to appear Friday in a trial in the southern Italian city, officials said.

The court summons cites Titti, Paperino, Paperina, Topolino — the Italian names for the characters — as damaged parties in the criminal trial of a Chinese man accused of counterfeiting products of Disney and Warner Bros.

Instead of naming only the companies and their legal representatives, clerks also wrote in the witness list the names of the cartoons that decorated the toys and gadgets the man had reproduced, said Fiorenza Sorotto, vice president of Disney Company Italia.

”Unfortunately they cannot show up, as they are residents of Disneyland,” Sorotto joked in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. ”It certainly pleased us that the characters were considered real, because that’s what we try to do.”

The Naples court will have to rewrite the summons, although this will probably delay the trial, said Disney lawyer Cristina Ravelli.

”Let’s hope the characters will not be prosecuted for failing to appear,” Ravelli quipped.

Calls seeking comment from Warner Bros. in Milan were not immediately returned. Phones at the Naples court were not answered Tuesday.

Classic.

In Rome With Miss Expatria – Monday Morning Coffee Stories

Gentlest reader Jeremy’s first trip to Europe was to visit me in Rome in the spring of 2004. He is now spoiled for life, as you will read below. Jeremy is a union man, a grip in the film industry, a musician, an artist and, at 2.30 in the morning in a dive bar in Brooklyn, the devil.

Read his observations, and a LOT of food descriptions, below. I know it’s only Monday morning, but you might want to start to think about lunch – and dinner.

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C wakes me up and we make our grocery list and head down to the supermarket. We pick up a ton of stuff. The cheese aisle in the supermarket makes me want to pass out, as does the wine aisle. Yeah, there’s a wine aisle – just like there ought to be. We buy six bottles of vino rosso and lots of other goodies.

After the supermarket we have a leisurely breakfast of: fresh pecorino romano and gorgonzola cheeses, hard salami, fresh bread and red wine. It’s 1pm. That rocks.

I then venture a bit further into Rome than the day before and just wander for hours. It’s totally cool. I see the Pantheon. Holy crap. How the hell did they build that thing? Unreal. I take a lot more photographs, have a beer at a pub and have the most delicious cappuccino flavored gelato I’ve ever tasted. I also learn the difference between how to say “good evening,” and “have a good evening.” I feel smart.

Had one of the best cappuccinos of my entire life at the TRAIN STATION of all places! I could’ve had a gallon of them.

Then, it’s off to Giovanni’s for dinner and an Italian TV show called Music Farm.

Music Farm is hilarious. It’s like Survivor crossed with American Idol starring a panel of Italian pop music has-beens. They all perform super melodramatic songs – poorly. The host takes comments from the guest panel – which includes people who have already been kicked off the show as well as other contestants parents, girlfriends, dogs, etc. It’s amazingly bad, and funny. The gay mafia assembled at Giovanni’s all sing along, yell insults at the TV, give singers the finger, classic. Afterwards we finish off all of the wine and then watch our favorite parts of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. You heard me.

Notes on Italian Music:

Ana Oxa – Vincenzo loves her. No one else does.

Loredana Berte – Everyone likes her because she’s a total bitch with balls of steel who dresses like Mohammad Ali.

Giorgia – Christine loves her. We all hate her – especially me and Vincenzo.

Scisma – We all think they are cool as can be.

Any male vocalist – We all pretty much hate all of them.

Everyone sleeps in on Saturday. While C gets ready I go next door and have some coffees and catch up the journal. I return to Marco cooking up ingredients for one (!) of tonight’s pasta dishes, which smells so good I think I might pass out.

After MUCH procrastination C and I go to what she describes as the “Dinkins-era NYC grocery.” She seems to be dead-on. Our shopping list: five bottles of wine, two bottles of milk. Yeah.

O.K., dinner:

Gio brings some appetizers – cheese in a spicy jelly sauce, an egg fritatta cut into small pieces, baby octopus marinated in whiskey, onion and garlic. Yeah, you read that right.

Vin brings marinated mushrooms that his mother grows, picks, prepares and preserves at her country house in southern Italy. They are unbelievable. Vin smiles and giggles, happy that we all like them so much.

Then it’s time to eat what Marco has been preparing all day. Two pasta dishes: The first is a baked macaroni with mozzarella, gorgonzola and parmesan cheese! The second is penne in a béchamel cream sauce with baby zucchini, mushrooms, etc. Both are unreal and sinful.

Then, out come the pastries that C and I bought that afternoon. The one I choose is called a chocolate ‘bomb’ which is so rich and delicious that I almost pass out. Note: chocolate + red wine = perfect combo.

After all of the pastries have been devoured Viola brings out a gigantic cold pastry dessert that she made for us. It’s a chocolate and ricotta mixture surrounded by lady fingers soaked in Amaretto. Are you kidding me? Though we can barely sit up straight, let alone form sentences, from being so full – we dig in. Viola is disappointed in it. We are NOT.

Jeremy Party Happiness, the following evening:

Vincenzo lives right on what (1000’s of years ago) was the Roman Aqueduct in an apartment that C refers to as a “total pile.” We arrive to kisses all around. I am immediately handed a glass of wine and we go sit on the terrace. The table is all set up and looks great. We then sit down for appetizers: rolled crepes with spinach inside and cheese on top. Also, marinated green tomatoes that V’s mom jarred ! Amazing – tangy goodness with breadsticks on the side. We also drink wine that his mom MADE!

Then, Vin (who wears his apron all night) brings out the first course: pasta (that he made from scratch) with meat sauce. Earlier he had shown me a table covered in home-made pasta that he had prepared that day just for the party. The pasta totally kills, and Vin jokes that he is serving “American portions” in my honor.

We sit and catch our breath for a few minutes and then V brings out plates of roasted veggies surrounded by little meatballs made from his mom’s recipe. Not surprisingly, they are as delish as everything else. 3/4 of the way through the meat course I need to rest. I then rally, and finish them off. I comment that I am hallucinating from eating so much.

After what seems like a very short break, V brings out a dessert cake that you can smell from like six feet away! We groan, but dig in. It’s a moist white custard-filled cake with chocolate on top and it RULES. Afterwards I feel that I may expire, but don’t seem to care.

Just when you think it’s over, V (still donning his apron) brings out a plate of hunks of dark chocolate and a bottle of after dinner liquor. Giovanni pours out cups for all of us and without asking or thinking, C and I dig in. The stuff is so strong that it about stops both of our hearts! We both cough and laugh, and everyone begins razzing us for being wimps. We then pour both of cups into Gio’s glass and he gulps it down for the rest of the night. That guy is tough.

Next night: I head down to Marco’s shop and meet C. We go to the seafood place near her old neighborhood in a place that everyone refers to as “piazza del dogshit.” It’s full of gigantic old mansions that are amazing and beautiful. The restaurant is really cool and packed with nicely dressed older folks. And us.

We start with spaghetti with cockles in olive oil – EXCELLENT! We are drinking white wine tonight because you’re not allowed to drink red with seafood. No cheese either! The food rules are pretty serious, and you could seriously offend someone by doing the wrong thing. C orders me the mixed seafood plate for secondi, she has calamari and prawns.

My plate consists of: calamari, prawns, 2 small grey fish, 1 small, flat white fish and 1 small red fish – all with heads still attached. We don’t what they are, but they are all delicious, as are the prawns. Salty, buttery and totally great.

The best of the night however are the calamari! Soooooo fresh, and cooked absolutely perfectly. EASILY the best I’ve EVER EVER had. We agree, they are unbelievable. We joke about ordering another plate of them. Then, we order another plate of them. Oh yeah.

Venice:

For the first hour or so of the day it rains off and on. Each time it starts, we duck in somewhere. We go to this little wine bar that C knows and have Prosecco – a dry, sparkling white wine that is absolutely delicious! I had never had it or heard of it, but I really like it. All white wine should be like this. The rain persists and we hang out under and overpass and watch the little old men with their umbrellas. We then decide to give up and go to lunch early to stay out of the rain. Hopefully it will pass by the afternoon.

So, we go to Cucina Casalinga and take a table under the awning so we can still be outside. We have a fish appetizer that’s a lot like sardines and is crispy and delish. C has pasta in a black ink and cuddle fish sauce which is totally rich and amazing. I get the seafood platter which consists of fried prawns and calamari. The calamari is great, but the prawns are absolutely ridiculous. We pass out numerous times while sharing these delicacies. They are so good in fact that, once again, we order up another plate of them along with another carafe of vino rosso.

So, lunch lasts for well over 2 hours – such luxury, this is how it should be. Plus, our evil plan has worked perfectly, and the sun is now shining brightly. We still plenty of time so we decide to wander more. More photos, more photos. Venice is so beautiful, it’s hard to believe it’s real.

The Cost of Things in (My) Europe

This article proposes the unthinkable – skipping a trip to Venice because of the decline of the U.S. dollar.

My advice, in a word? DON’T. Venice is just too amazing to pass up.

But, this article got me thinking about the cost of being in Europe, whether on vacation or living here. As I mentioned in a previous post, it now costs roughly double for me to live here as it did when I first moved here five years ago.

(Aside: HOLY CRAP HAS IT BEEN FIVE YEARS? I love me.)

But, it all depends on where you are and what you’re doing there. For example, Cal’s daily vices – a pack of Gauloises and one extremely dry martini – now cost as much here in Montpel as they would in New York. But, going to the doctor and prescription drugs costs much, much less than in New York. So do most foods, with the notable exception of Old El Paso enchiladas, which are fancy exported items and therefore a rare treat.

When I’m in Rome, I can still get a pack of Fortunas, a bus ticket and a piece of pizza for under $8. And I drink house wines, so I rarely spend more than $4 a glass (or, from the supermarket, $4 a BOTTLE).

My point is, it can be expensive or cheap to be anywhere, at any time – it all depends on how you choose to spend your money.

Cal likes his daily martini because for years, he couldn’t find one in this town and used to have to go to the Hard Rock in Barcelona to get one. When we move to Italy, he’ll revel in a Peroni at the end of the day, which is distinctly cheaper. Our cigarettes will be cheaper. Our food, while not that bad here, will be MUCH cheaper. But, our rent will be higher.

The same thing can be said for vacations. If you don’t have a bunch of money to throw around on vacation in Venice, don’t! You can buy a 3-day boat pass for less than the cost of one gondola ride. You can feast on cicchetti for cheap or even free during cocktail hours. You can order a carafe of house wine instead of a fraction of the cost of a bottle from the menu. You can do any one of a thousand things that will still make your trip an adventure without feeling like you’ve skimped at all.

Italian For Tourists: Advanced Guide

We’ve already had the pronunciation guide and the basic phrases you’ll need to get by. The following will show you how to be taken more seriously.

Never say “ciao” to anyone unless they say it to you first. Ever.

If you’re looking to get off a train or bus, and someone is standing in the doorway, and you want them to know you’re getting off, you have to instead ask them if they are getting off: Scendi? shen-dee? Say it to as many people as you need to until you get to the exit.

OH, which reminds me – remember the c and g rule?  Here’s an additional tip:

When it’s sci or sce, the “sc” sounds like “sh.”  When it’s any other vowel, it sounds like “sk.”

I’ve often found that when I approach a stranger to ask them for directions, I usually say, “Hello, I’m a stupid American” and then the rest of what I want to say with a big knowing smile, and they immediately love me: Buon giorno, sono una scema Americana… bwon-joor-no, so-noon-a-shay-ma-meh-dee-gan (say it exactly like this and you’ll sound like you’re Roman!). If you’re the kind of person who can pull this off, it will get you far.

If you’re invited to someone’s home, ALWAYS say “permesso” before entering
, as you cross the threshold. This also works if you enter a store and it appears to be empty.

When in doubt of a word, say it in English with a heavy Italian accent. No kidding. You can test this out by saying “computer.” Say it like you normally do, and watch them glaze over. Say it, comb-poo-tair (not “pyou,” “poo”), and they’ll light up like a Christmas tree.

The “@” sign on their computer keyboard IS NOT IN THE SAME PLACE. Find it on the keyboard – it’s over on the right hand side, next to the L or somewhere around there, then push it and “alt gr” and you’ve got it.

LEARN HOW TO LOG ONTO YOUR EMAIL BEFORE YOU GET THERE. I know your grown kids set up your computer for you, but those kids are not with you now. Find someone who will teach you about the Internets BEFORE you leave for Italy.

Italians are not fond of lines, but they know exactly who is next. You’re going to have to go with the flow on this one, because you’re not going to change them. If you feel that someone is jostling you, look around you for a sympathetic person and roll your eyes with them, so they will come to your aid if someone gets really out of hand.

A good phrase for when someone cuts in line is, simply, and spelled as they would spell it if it was a word, “aho.” This is pronounced almost like “ohw,” but how Tony Soprano would say it. You’re going to feel like you’re imitating a mobster, but Italians really do say this.

This will be a hard one to explain, because there are no words. But this is a secret I learned and it’s done wonders for my relaxation and comfort.

If you’re approached by someone selling something and you don’t want what they’re hawking, shake your head “no,” make a “tisk” sound, and shake your finger. Like you’re telling a four year-old not to throw their Cheerios on the floor. If you say, “no, grazie,” they will still offer their wares. If you do exactly what I said, they will walk away.

Don’t ask me why. It just works.

If you’re swarmed by a pack of gypsy children and their breastfeeding mothers, a hearty NO with a wide backhand motion will make them scatter.

When you’re on a sweltering bus that’s going nowhere and more and more people crowd on, a quiet “che palle” (kay-pahl-ay) will suffice. Italians have no problem piling in like sardines, and no one will give you the normal American-size personal space bubble you desire. Deal with it and know your stop will come soon.

If you’re speaking to someone your age or younger and you have no idea what they’re saying, you can say, “non capisco un cazz’.” (known-cah-peesk-oon-cahtz) This is crude, but if you can pull it off with a self-deprecating smile, you’re in like Flynn.

Who is Flynn, anyway?