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.