Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Amongst the treasures we picked up for a mere 135 Euros (books are expensive everywhere): Gambero Rosso’s 1000 page 2007 guide to Italian wines, their 2007 guide to family run osterie and trattorie for Italy, Beppe Severgnini’s La Bella Figura – a very funny take on Italy and Italians, Ancient Rome on Five Dinarii a Day, some maps and a few guide books so we can sound moderately intelligent when giving friends the guided tour. By the time we had finished the store was closing to give the staff a lunch break – 1330-1600 – and we were getting a bit peckish ourselves.
Fortunately just around the corner in an (un-air-conditioned but trendy) arcade is Dagnino, a Sicilian purveyor of foods, wines, sweets and pastries. Two prosciutto-cheese toast, two glasses of real ice tea and two granitas (one almond-one lemon) later we felt up to seeing what goodies where on offer inside.
Aside from these incredible marzipan fruits, there were Turkish Delight of every possible flavor, mascarpone-filled cannoli, pastries, 35 types of gelato, Almond wine, a goodly supply of very expensive Sicilian wines and various preserves – sweet and savory. It was hard to resist buying, what are reputedly the best, cannoli to take home but in that heat it would have had to be eaten on the spot. Just wait until the car arrives next month - Sicilian cannoli for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Is it me or does that just seem a bit like overkill? Or maybe there’s something about the neighbourhood we don’t know!
25 agosto – San Luigi di Franschi
Tax collection and evasion has led to the creation of an incredibly large bureaucracy including a branch of the military: the Guardia di Finanza. These official looking gentlemen in their tight gray trousers, gray shirts with gold braid and smart caps are involved in customs, duty collection, and tax evasion big and small. And it often seems they go after the small with more dedication than the big. When you make a purchase in any establishment – whither it be a cappuccino or a new Lamborghini – you must be issued a receipt and when requested must present it to a member of the Guardia who may just happen to be lurking outside. If you don’t have a receipt both you and the shop owner are subject to an immediate and sizable fine.
As I was heading to the Embassy to check my e-mails yesterday – need I repeat still no Internet at home – I came across a small scene, the sort that makes life here interesting, between the G di F and a very attractive lady of a certain age. The two officers, like nuns they always come in pairs and they seem to do this stud cop-dud cop thing, are obviously challenging her on a purchase. She, well-tanned, dark-eyed, and of voluptuous figure, is wildly contesting the accusation being leveled at her. Stud Cop is just standing back surveying the scene and scenery while Dud Cop is sourly reading her the riot act. Broad gestures, much drama, rapid dialogue – Stud Guardia nods sympathetically and Dud Cop scowls. At that point I continued on my way, but I have a feeling Stud Cop’s Christian charity and love of God’s creatures would prevail and the miscreant would get of with a warning from Dud Cop. Not sure if that constitutes mixing Church and State?
23 agosto – Santa Rose di Lima
Friday, August 24, 2007
Our friend Betty Jean donated plants from her terrrace when she was moving. I've never had much luck with hibiscus but this one seems healthy and is now on its second set of blooms in a week.
23 agosto – Santa Rose di Lima
At dinner Elizabeth – who is six years old – amused herself by drawing pictures of those present. When I thanked her for not showing my gray hair she stated the obvious: That’s because I don’t have a gray pencil!
22 agosto – Santa Maria Regina
There has just been too much going on over the past few weeks. We’ve been dealing with the following, in no particular order:
- A new dwelling – a very nice apartment in a lovely area but with its problems (more about that in another post.
- A new neighborhood – where do you find what?
- A new currency – those Euro coins are confusing as is any monetary system when you’re not use to it and we really have to stop thinking that 1 Euro = 1 CAD.
- New Kitchen appliances – as silly as it sounds European washers, dryers etc are very different from their North American counterparts. You have to remember to dump the water out of the dryer when a cycle has finished or it will overflow. It takes 2 hours and 30 minutes to dry a small load and it’s often better to hang things out on the balcony to dry in the sun.
- Laurent is trying to adapt to a new work environment – office set-up, colleagues, system, type of cases etc. That has put a great deal of stress on him and he is handling it well but ultimately we are here because of his work.
- A very complex but efficient, public transportation system. We don’t have the car yet – and honestly the thought of driving in Rome has me a bit scared but we’ll leave that for another time. So far we’ve been able to get most places quickly – but then it is Ferragosto.
- Ferragosto! (see almost every previous posting)
- Language – see below
- Only part of our belongings are here – Laurent’s air shipment arrived from Beijing but the two sea shipments (including most of my clothes) won’t be here until some time in late September. However we seem to be able to survive on what we have. I do a bit more laundry than normal but still have a clean shirt every day so I suppose I really don’t need a two-week supply of Land’s End Polo Shirts. And we’ve had people over for dinner twice since we arrived so it is possible to cook without that set of graduated French White casseroles!
- A minor thing but a very different television system – did you know that out of 898 possible channels 1/3 are in Arabic, at least 150 are sex related – including 15 in Arabic! And I must do a post about Italian TV at some point – it’s hilarious.
- We are trying to get to know each other and live with each other after three years apart.
But Odd Couple comedy routines aside it’s the adapting to each other’s rhythm that is creating the greatest challenge. Knowing when a silence simply means there’s nothing to say and when it means there’s a problem. I’ve lost count of the number of times either one of us has said: Everything okay? And got the reply: Yeah, Why? But fortunately those episodes are becoming fewer and fewer as the days go by. We are still able to finish each others sentences and often requests only have to be half-voiced to be met. A few more weeks and we should be into the same routine as any old married couple.
As for a honeymoon, well we have two long weekends coming up – Labour Day in September and Canadian Thanksgiving in October – and maybe a weekend at an inn in Tuscany may not be a bad idea. We are heading to Parma for the Verdi Festival at the end of October. We’re planning to stay at an Inn run by the great – now retired – tenor Carlo Bergonzi and his son. Word has it that it is comfortable and has an extremely good restaurant. So we can mix music, food and a chance to see the countryside around Parma.
22 agosto – Santa Maria Regina
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Here in Rome it has become obvious that getting by just won’t do, learning Italian is a must. In the major tourist areas English may be the lingua franca but here in Nomentana it’s Italian. Not that anyone is obnoxious about it – we’re in Italy not France – just that the average person here doesn’t speak English. I do have some vocabulary based on years of listening to opera but the chances of having to scream Ohime and faint into the arms of a fat tenor or husky barihunk (Ohime!) are extremely remote. Laurent has Spanish and there are enough similarities that he can get by for basics. But we are going to be here for four years and frankly Sunday night when we had to explain to the maid upstairs that water from her flower pots was cascading onto our balcony and soaking our guests, basic wasn’t enough.
So starting next Monday (27 agosto – Santa Monica) I will be spending four hours a day, five days a week in a classroom – Laurent will be taking a more intensive course in late September. At the moment we are five in the class – two young girls from Africa, a French chap, an Iranian woman and I. The school, Ciao Italia, has a good reputation and has come recommended by several friends and colleagues. We’ll see how good they are – if they can teach this old dog some new linguistic tricks they are good!
21 agosto – San Pio X Papa
- Saturday morning we were strolling down Via dell’Obelisco discovering the wonders of Villa Borghese when a young couple approached us and asked, in English, the way to the Borghese Palace. Thinking they wanted the Galleria Borghese we gave them directions. Misunderstanding the next question Laurent assured them that indeed this was the same Borghese family who had been the movers, shakers, Popes, Princes and Politicos of Roman history. “Yeah, kewl” said the young man “but is that the place where they filmed The Bachelor?”*
Sic Transit Gloria!
- Our friend Stephen was in an Italian hospital waiting for surgery. His Surgeon explained the procedure to him then asked him to sign the waiver prior to going under anesthetic. The good Doctor explained that he had two versions: the hospital’s version in Italian and an English version he had downloaded from an Australian website. He urged Stephen to sign the Italian one because he thought the Australian one “really too dramatic!”
“Why they even talk about death,” he said with some astonishment! Stephen figured why tempt fate and signed the Italian one.
- Many of the streets in the centre of the city are still paved with cobblestone which looks romantic but is hell on suspension systems – of the automotive variety and those supported by high- heeled shoes. In wet weather those smooth black stones become slick, slippery and treacherous for anyone to walk on and bloody dangerous for moto drivers. In the more heavily traveled areas they are being removed – by machines that peel them off the surface in a matter of minutes – and replaced by asphalt. As cobblestone is becoming impossible to find these days the old cobblestones are being recycled in the more historic, pedestrian areas of the city. When new cobblestone is needed it is being brought in from…… China!
*And before anybody jumps to conclusions they were, I blush to admit, Canadians.
19 agosto – San Italo
Le Limoncini is just a block away from the apartment, has pleasant sidewalk tables shielded from the street by lattice work and hedges, an interesting menu, and, for Rome, reasonable prices. The owner – large with an equally large moustache – mans the kitchen and his son – affable and as cute as a button – looks after the service. The waiters are professionals not never-been singers/actors/models/dancers between jobs and take their craft seriously.
We wandered over around 1945 – a bit early for the normal Roman to dine so we had a choice of tables. The obligatory bread and olives were set on the table – don’t think for a minute they’re a gift from the management, they show up on the bill at the end of the evening as a “cover.” We ordered a bottle of mineral water and began the serious business of deciphering the menu (Italian only in our neighbourhood.) We managed to put together a decent enough meal and ordered a really good Sardinian white to go with it.
Antipasto: Salmon in lemon and olive oil
Primi: Scampi Risotto
Secondi: Lemon Scaloppini
Dolce: Lemon Sorbet
Antipasto: Fried Zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy
Primi: Gnocchi in gorgonzola and radicchio sauce
Secondi: Veal Milanese smothered in tomato and rocket lettuce
Dolce: Panna Cotta with strawberries
Espresso and amaro
The gnocchi were amongst the lightest I’ve ever tasted and Laurent wants me to try the Risotto the next time.* I hadn’t eaten stuffed zucchini flower since we lived in Mexico in 1987 and they were as delicious as I remember. All in all a fine meal – though next time I think I’ll do either a Primi or a Secondi not both.
The food was good but as the evening progressed people-watching became half the fun. The restaurant filled up with couples – young and old, male-female and male-male, – family groups, a single male diner and several ladies out with friends – including at least one sister with her Sister from the Ursuline Convent down the street. At one point a black sedan pulled up and out stepped a sinister-looking, tattooed, all-in-black Guido with a shaved head and a full-figured female companion on either well-muscled arm. They strode into the restaurant and reappeared several minutes later having done nothing more nefarious than pick up their take-out pizzas. Around 2200 a young couple strolled up with a baby in one of those carriages that puts a Smart Car to shame. They were greeted with great joy by a table of friends and family. The bambina was passed from person to person, smothered in kisses and hugs, proudly held by a gentleman we took to be grandpa, squealed her approval at being the centre of attention then promptly fell asleep as the adults went about the serious business of ordering food. When we left at 2300 the place was still full and a young couple slid quickly into our vacated table.
*We went back with some friends who are visiting from the UK on Sunday night and were greeted like regulars. A few very tasty antipasti were suggested, Elizabeth, the 6 year old, was treated as the equal to any of the other diners and Laurent was right, the Risotto was wonderful. I have a feeling its going to become a bit of a Friday night haunt.
18 agosto – Sant’Elena
Friday, August 17, 2007
We’re still having problems with the accidents in the house – and we’re not sure if it’s just the break in routine, an infection or the effect of advancing age.We find that we’re taking him out at almost 4 hour intervals. And as to the accidents, well as Laurent says: Its only water.
15 agosto – Azzensione Maria Virgine
As all the Embassy apartments come equipped with these ingenious devices they have become, along with where to find the best gelato, a hot topic of conversation amongst the new arrivals. One colleague’s solution has been to put the toilet paper roll on top and buy an ordinary toilet brush. Seems the most practical solution.
And Tater, exactly how would you use this as a sex toy? We found that you can put it.... never mind!
16 agosto – Saint Rocco
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
That means that I can only post if I go to a “hot spot” or one of the very expensive Internet cafes. Since the apartment has to be cleaned, clothes washed and ironed, Reese attended to, shopping done and meals prepared (oh my God I should have entered Italy as a member of Laurent’s household staff!) I often just don’t have the time so postings may be erratic for the next little while.
As I’ll probably be putting up several posts written on different days all at once I’ll identify the day it was written; and because its Italy, because its Rome and because Big Ben, Father George and the Boys live just the other side of the river, I’ll include the Saint’s Day – and god knows there’s a Saint, sometimes two, for every day.
Sadly the lack of Internet means that I haven’t been able to keep up with my favourite blogs and I miss them. Once Fastweb comes through I’ll have a lot to catch upon.
15 agosto – San Alfredo
At least a third of the population have already left on their annual vacation and by the 15th the only people left in town will be tourists, us expats and the odd Roman whose work demands that they stick around while their friends bask in the sun at country retreats and resorts.
Only in August - Via Nomentana almost empty!
The best of times? The normal snarl of traffic is absent, parking spots are easy to find, the buses are empty and the stores (the few remaining open) are almost deserted.
Our local shopping drag - barred and lock for AugustThe worst of times? Almost everything is closed – the local fruit, vegetable and flower stalls are barred, store front grills are locked and signs indicate that, as an example, the local gelatoria (sob!) will not be serving double chocolate and black pepper ice cream again until 27 agosto. And except when budding Grand Prix drivers use them as practice courses those empty streets give the new arrival a false sense of tranquility. But soothsayer-like, more experienced hands have warned us: beware the 1st of September.
We’ve also been warned to stock up supplies for the coming week – everything will be closed August 15th – the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin and the real start of Ferragosto. And just so this miraculous event can be celebrated in an appropriate fashion most things will be closed the 14th and chances are, to allow for recovery from the wonder of it all the 16th too.
13 agosto – S. Ippolito
- I’m in the check- out line at Standa (our local supermarket) and a Gorgeous Cashier – so beautiful she even looked stunning in her dowdy Standa uniform – opens up to accommodate the line (they do that here!) She calls me over and as I approach two boxes of Pampers come flying over my head and land on the belt in front of me. A respectable Roman Matron, Mouse-Spouse in tow, pushes her way in front of me; Matron chimes “Scuzi” and proceeds to pay for her purchase. I glare; several people behind mutter; Matron concludes her transaction, strides off; Mouse-Spouse grabs the Pampers and dutifully follows. Gorgeous Cashier shrugs her lovely shoulders, says “Scuzi” and smiles. What could I do? I smiled backed! Hey, I’m gay not dead!
- At an Overseas University Recruitment Fair in Calabria, my friend Betty Jean is explaining the benefits of studying abroad to a very attentive nineteen-year old boy. When she finishes her spiel, he thinks for a minute, and then says – in total disbelief that anyone would think he should do such a thing: But that means I would have to leave my mother!
- Our address is Via Asmara 9B; unfortunately the Tunisian Embassy is 9Bis and cab drivers often confuse the two. Our driver the other night was most offended that he had waited for a full minute before realizing his mistake and proceeded to chastise us for the poor numbering system on our street. Since he’s paid from the time he leaves the taxi stand I’m not sure what his problem was, other than he was getting additional fare for going nowhere.
*Speaking of this and that
12 agosto – San Ercolano
Given that several thousand of us had headed out the Appian Way on a warm summer evening, things seemed well organized – the performance started on time, concessions and WC facilities were plentiful, staff beautifully dressed, smiling and helpful and the taxi system at the end of the evening efficient and speedy. And this is Rome???
The people-watching was incredible. Even at their most flamboyant – above-the-knee red bugle-beaded number, killer stilettos, peacock blue silk wrap, enough gold on display to pay the national debt and Farrah Fawcett premature-blond locks – Roman woman are stylish. And the Roman men have a certain indolent charm that Laurent insists comes from their mothers constantly assuring them they are the most handsome boys in the world. And though cell phones (telefino) were much in evidence during the intermissions not one sounded during the performance itself.
And the performance? An interesting production concept – an itinerant theatre troupe present Turandot in a village square in 1926 and involve the locals in the performance. At its best it worked beautifully – I’ve never been more poignantly aware of the point at which death stilled Puccini’s pen. At its worst? Is there anything less funny than European clowns or more embarrassing than faux-Martha Graham choreography?
With the exception of the Turandot (Giovanna Casolla) and the Emperor (Fernando Cordeiro Opa) none of the singers were of international standard. La Casolla has the big steely sound needed for In questa Reggia but managed the tender passages as well and made the melting of the Ice Princess believable. I can see why she is the Turandot of choice in Italy these days. Frankly I wish the Liu (Mina Tasca-Yamazaki) had died after her breathy Signor Ascolta in Act 1 and spared us her pinched Act 3 aria though when curtain calls came around she seemed rather pleased with herself. Antonello Palombi (and the large gentleman sitting next to me) sang a lovely Nessun Dorma, but for the rest he was content with loud, louder and, occasionally, loudest. The chorus made the big moments what they should be and Alain Lombard led a nicely-judged and at times almost jazzy-sounding performance. I’m not sure if it was the subtle amplification that brought out details I have never heard before but at one point I swore Benny Goodman was on clarinet.
Not a great evening at the Opera; but then how often does that happen? But it was definitely a damn good evening out our first week in Rome.
11 agosto – Santa Chiara
Thursday, August 09, 2007
I've been heading out with my little net bag food shopping every day - and no contrary to popular belief I do not wear a black kerchief and rolled down stockings! Being Ferragosto most of the small shops and stands are closed - in fact most of the city is closed down - but we do have a local supermarket which has a good selection of everything including wines.
Here’s some of the fixin’s for last night’s dinner:
Grilled Garlic and parsley Hamburgers patties
Radicchio, Fennel and Cucumber Salad
Peaches and Grapes
All washed down with a nice little red wine from Friuli and a bottle of mineral water. And that’s a fairly standard evening meal at our place. And both of us have lost a bit of weight – go figure.
9 Agosto - ss. Fermo e Rustico
The process of bring him into Italy was a complicated one, we had to:
- Have a microchip implanted.
- Have his rabies vaccination up-dated.
- Have our Vet complete – in block letters, blue ink only, no erasures or overwrites – an EU entry form.
- Have that form validated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (?) Vet, who did not like the way it was completed by our Vet and made us get another one.
- Have a Vet in Montreal do a final health check 24 hours before our departure.
But it’s been a hard two weeks for him – moving from place to place, boxes all over the place, strange people, strange smells and a complete change of routine. And suddenly at 14 he has to be re-trained to apartment living. Unusually for him there have been accidents and his embarrassment has been visible. But no matter where he goes, Reese is always resourceful at finding someplace to burrow – even if it’s just a pile of dirty laundry.
9 Agosto - ss. Fermo e Rustico
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
As to the displeased dog - Reese is still not a very happy puppy. Four homes in 1 week, boxes all over, strange people plus the journey in an elevator down three floors to pee do not make for happiness warm puppy or not. But like the rest of us I'm sure he'll adjust.
Aside from a few problems we have had a good week - the opera Friday night, dinner with our old friend Robert and a great group of people on Saturday, a Sunday afternoon spent at Villa Ada, Sunday dinner with our friend Betty Jean and Stephen and an extremely helpful group of people at the Embassy. And its Rome.
Will try and get a more detailed update going later in the week - have lots to show and tell. Take care all.