Nun Rocks Judges on The Voice of Italy

21 Mar

No, seriously!

Ok, so no one really loathes Italian television more than I, and this is the truth. However, this morning I was hit with a request on FB to “like” a fan page of a friend of mine. At first I thought it was a misread, or something, but when I clicked through I realized that OHMYGOD I know someone who just got picked up on the Italian version of a TV show akin to “American Idol.” Holy crap! More on that in a moment, though.

So when I clicked through to learn about the show, I found this video clip of a nun who performed an Alicia Keys song last night and hit it out of the park. The way they set up the auditions is that the judges have their backs to the contestant, which is cool because that way they have to just listen to the performance. Then, if they’re convinced they want the contestant on their “team,” they push a red button so their chair turns around.

YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS. 7:49 rocks my whole world and makes me think that peace on Earth could someday be possible.

At 3:00 one of the judges goes, “Are you a real nun?” And Suor Cristina responds, “I’m a super real nun!” (“Sono una suora verissima!”) God love her, for reals. The judge continues, “How in the world did you think of coming to try out for The Voice?” And she responds, “I have a gift…so I give! No?” Plus I think she has a crush on J-Ax the super-tattooed dude. He goes, “If I had had you in the church choir as a kid, I’d be Pope by now! Together we’d be unbeatable because we’d be the Devil and Holy Water.” Oh dear God.

At 6:00 the blonde judge goes, “What do you think the Vatican is going to say about you trying out here?” She responds, “I don’t know. I expect a call from Pope Francis.” Whoa.

So, there’s that.

But the real gold of the evening was Mia Schiettino, who, incredibly, is someone I have the pleasure of calling a friend. She is, in a word, unbelievable, and was also chosen to compete on the show. Check this out:

Granted, it’s a tough act to follow the wow-factor of a singing nun (!), however, here’s another video from Mia to convince you of her amazing talent, no habit necessary:

Dear God, people, you know what this means, don’t you? I might actually have to start watching TV after what, six years?

Moral of the story, folks? In life, MAI DIRE MAI – never say never.

About these ads

American Takeaway Coffee in Italy: Finalmente

18 Mar


Or so the advertisement says, “Finalmente anche in Italia!” (Finally in Italy too!) as if people have been sitting around here in the amazing coffee capital of the known world going, “But if only I could get a takeaway American coffee in a paper cup, now that would really be something though…”

When I used to work with US study abroad students, many of whom were from southern California, I’d often hear a very heavy sigh of frustration followed by, “Ugh… I miss my Starbucks.”

At this point I was torn between two avenues of possible response:

1) Calmly but firmly educate aforementioned student about the fact that he or she was actually in the actual real like for reals country where Howard Schultz actually had such an epiphany over his amazing coffee that he was inspired to create Starbucks, and yet, strangely, the chain has never entered Italy because… ? (BTW great article by one of my favorite writers and honored to call friend, Stephan Faris, here: Grounds Zero: A Starbucks-Free Italy. *Hi Mr. F! Thanks for reading! ;-*)

2) Go totally ballistic.

3) Can’t do 2, because when I left study abroad in the mid-oughts (always wanted to use that word), it was becoming a very tidy US the-customer-is-always-right business model, in which I’d have 19 year old couples in my office complaining loudly about the fact that they weren’t allowed to share an apartment together and MYPARENTSPAYGOODMONEYFORTHISPROGRAM kind of B.S. so you know… yep, got out of that game.

And so, ever mindful of lurking #3 and university provosts calling me because their kid might not be able to get a takeaway coffee at a Roman espresso bar, I would helpfully and humbly write things on little post-its like “un cappuccino da portar via” and the students would go, “But is that big? Because, like, in the States, I get a venti.” That thar, folks, is TWENTY OUNCES of coffee, the equivalent of nearly 600 ml. Just as a point of comparison, I looked up how many ml make up an Italian cappuccino, and it’s 150 ml of cappuccino and an additional 50 ml or so of frothy foam. So, folks, an Italian cappuccino is right around 5 to 6 ounces of drink. Not even an entire cup which is 8 ounces. So basically if you ask an Italian barista for a god-forsaken VENTI, what you’re really requesting is 6 cappuccini in one cup. The mind boggles.

ANYHOO, far be it from me to criticize. Call me crazy, I don’t know, come to Rome, do as the Romans do, whatever…

But all this blabbering is really about the fact that I saw this ad yesterday in front of the Bulldog Inn Pub, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. So, folks, honestly, if you need your American takeaway coffee, this company has you covered.

Still no Starbucks, though. Tough luck on that one. You’ll just have to content yourself with a 5-6 oz. cappuccino. [heavy sigh]

Italians, Kids, and This Nasty Little Habit Called Sweating

13 Mar

Subtitled: One Reason I Will Not Be Going Back to Oklahoma, Where I Never Came From In The First Place

Hey, before I start talking about sweat—which, yes, does merit its very own post, thankyouforasking—I want to tell you something. Come in real close. No closer, come here. Pssst… I’ve missed you!

It’s been a while since I’ve gone an entire month between posts. Here at Casa Ruelle, things have been a wee bit hectic, what with Italian bureaucratic hassles (don’t ever have children because then you have to sign them up for public school, unless of course you’re rich, but if you’re not, like me, then, just don’t) and with multiple jobs (yes, I work) and trying to maintain my very fragile and tenuous grasp on stable mental health while also eating, sleeping, and occasionally even having a day of peace and quiet…well, let’s just say that yours truly hasn’t had all the time she’s wanted to share her silly and totally nonsensical observations with y’all.

And when I say y’all, I mean Y’ALL. Because today is the day folks. Not only did I get to delete a whole crapload of spammy comments from my blog, I also got to go through the non-spammy comments from February and reply, and Y’ALL is how I’m feeling because one frisky little commenter asked me why I don’t, quote—go back to Oklahoma and get lost—end quote. Now, seriously, how fun is that? Usually I don’t feature my haters because, you know, don’t give attention and what not (once I was asked if I ate a lot of paintchips as a child—such an amateurish attempt to attack my overzealous egotisical bombasticness! Of course I did! I sprinkled them on my Cheerios!), but this one charmed me because not only was it written with no H (so cute! In Italian the H is silent, so, you know, just throw it out when it appears in foreign languages and you don’t pronounce it, right?) but I’ve actually only driven through Oklahoma and so wouldn’t really have any logical reason to “go back there,” although, come to think of it, I could probably very easily get lost there. Because, one wonders: is that the state with the panhandle? Or is it just shaped like a pan? Did y’all know that the state name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning “red people”? Serious! Wiki said it so it must be true! Oh, the good times never end around here. Big sloppy kisses to my NUMBER ONE fan! This one here’s special just for you. All Americans sing like this at dinner. Then we pass around our handguns for comparison about whose is biggest (size matters) before we go off and start wars for no reason.

Oh, but folks! Enough of the jibber jabber! Let’s talk SWEAT and I mean it!

So here’s the thing. Italians have a sort of very not comfortable relationship with sweating, especially when it occurs in children and it occurs away from the home and might also be followed by exposure to air, most especially cold air. (My hands are shaking just typing this, in fear of a lightning bolt coming down directly from the hand of God Himself to strike me down where I stand sit.)

I have heard parents say to their children “Don’t sweat!” and that is the honest-to-God truth.

I’ve been told by other adults to change my own clothes if I’ve sweated, and that I’ll “catch cold” and God only knows what else.

Recently my son had his birthday party with another kid in his class at a sort of kids’ play place where they have those inflatable bouncing houses and slides and the kids sort of run around for 3 hours like wildebeests (do they run?) and do what kids will do when this sort of nefarious activity happens: they sweat.


Like, to the level of becoming red-faced Oklahummas. (I live in Italy so I don’t have to be PC.)

So the mom of this child almost didn’t want to have the party there because, and I quote, “The other moms have told me they aren’t sure if they want to take their kids to birthday parties there anymore, because, well, you know… they get all sweaty.

The mind boggles.

So, I was at a birthday party at this kiddy play place the other day (this one for a friend of my twin 4-year old daughters though) and I have no idea why I didn’t spot the anti-sweat containment area until now. Well, it isn’t actually called that, silly me! But, it should be. Because it’s sort of like a hazmat decontamination zone. Come to think of it, it should have had all sort of fun signs like this posted:


But, alas, it didn’t.

Anyhoo, here’s the thing. It’s this:


So basically, if your child sweats, you can take him into this area and dry his or her hair (shirt, clothes, soul).

I don’t know, people. Maybe it’s just me. I enjoy these cultural paradoxes and differences. I mean, you know, it’s the whole tomato tomahta thing:

Yes, calling the whole thing off would have been an option. Years and years ago. But no! I’m the paintchip-eating-not-going-back-to-Oklaoma-freak who actually loves living in a place where hair dryers are provided so that my children don’t … well, what happens if they sweat and then don’t dry themselves off? You see? So much for me still to learn. Oh Italy, mwah!

And if you think it’s just me making this observation—well, think again. Rossella Boriosi’s got my back over at How can you not love her when her “about” bio simply says “Banned from the best mother’s forums”? This article in Italian translates as The Eleventh Commandment: Don’t Sweat.

See? I told you it’s not just me! Even people who aren’t from Oklaoma know that you’re not supposed to sweat. Or something. We even have this old saying, passed down from generation to generation:


You see? Deep down, folks, we’re all the same. Now, can’t we just sit around a campfire and sing kumbaya? (Not too close to the fire, though. Because, well—you know.)

Vino Sfuso a.k.a. Bulk Wine

17 Feb

Today I had the pleasurable horrifying experience that all of us here in Rome dread: having to go to the Italian post office. (If you’re new around these parts, see this, this, this, and this, in no particular order.)

There was a package that a friend of mine sent, that I had to pick up personally from the post office, because I mistakenly forgot to instruct him to write “no value” on the US customs label, thereby avoiding any sort of random customs charges getting slapped on over on this side of the pond. The post office where they left the package was a neighborhood a couple blocks over from my own. Arbitrarily enough, for this package the PT gods decided that €15,10 plus €0,53 as a “holding charge” for holding the package at the post office for me for two weeks, was the sufficient amount.

Wine! Yes, I’m getting there.

So, I took my number at the post office and had fifteen people in front of me. Once I saw that the average time for the “P” numbers (ie, “pacchi”) was about 5 minutes per turn, I decided to wait outside like the other sage postal customers. And next door to the post office, what do I see? This:


That there folks is what we call “Vino Sfuso,” aka “unbottled wine.” So I’m sitting on my little bench out in front of the post office and I think to myself, yes, unbottled wine. I might as well.

So here’s the thing: vino sfuso is a really nice way to save a bit of money on your daily table wine. You see, here in Italy, as you probably already know, wine isn’t seen as something we drink just for special occasions, but rather something we can indulge in on a daily basis with lunch, dinner, or both. (No, I have not tried putting wine on my breakfast cereal. I still use milk for that.) Vino sfuso is a nice way to get a simple “table wine” without spending a lot.

Before you go thinking I’ve discovered the wheel here, many other bloggers have sung the praises of vino sfuso before me. Girl in Florence Why I Love Vino Sfuso, i-Italy Wine from the Pump, Studentsville Florence Blog A 10-Point Introduction to Vino Sfuso: Your Solution to Good, Cheap Wine in Italy. (Leave it to the students to know what they’re talking about!)

It’s just that in all my years, I’ve never written for y’all about vino sfuso. So, now is as good a time as any!

Strangely, the owner’s wife in this store (the owner wasn’t there) told me I couldn’t take pictures inside because “we had someone ask us to do something like that before and it didn’t turn out well.” She didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t push. I mean, come on. My blog is free and I do it as a hobby. So, rather than take her suggestion to come back a few days later to talk to her husband about the possibility of taking in-store photos for my blog (as if!) I just took an outside shot, and the shot you’re about to see, of the bottle I bought.

There were about 5 big stainless steel tanks with a tap for whites, and about 5 for reds. Then, underneath all the tanks, there were clean 5-liter plastic jugs and 1.5-liter plastic bottles with caps. I chose a Sicilian wine, “nero d’avola,” for €1,90 per liter. The lady took out a clean 1.5-liter plastic bottle and it was all “fill ‘er up!”

Let me tell you something: I am no frills when it comes to wine in this house. I am raising three little children by myself, I am single, and I work. I need my adult beverage liquid sanity. And yet, my ex-husband is a sommelier. That being said, I’ve been treated to some pretty fancy schmancy wines in my day. And yet, give me a good, old-fashioned red table wine and I’m happy as a clam. (Aside: who determined that clams are so damn happy?)

So, here you have it, folks. No label. We don’t need labels around here! No siree bob! Just give us some drinkable red that goes down like a charm, and we (royal we) have the perfect accompaniment to a lunch that is suitable for a wine with no label: fresh-baked “ciabatta” roll, prosciutto di parma, ricotta di pecora, and–wait for it–potato chips.

That’s right. We drink wine with potato chips around here. Got a problem with that?


I strategically placed my humble bottle of vino sfuso on my kitchen counter next to the pasta jars and the lighters that almost every Italian household needs for their gas burners.

My verdict? Fantastic. This shows you where priorities lie. In the US, we have the “bulk foods” section of the supermarket. The more food you buy, the more you save. Here in Italy we have the “bulk wine” mini-market. The more wine you buy, the more you save.

And you continue to ask me why I decided to settle here? Pshaw!

BTW, in case you were wondering (and I’m sure you weren’t, so I’ll help you along) why I was at the post office in the first place, it’s because I needed to pick up a very special shipment from Arizona that contained this T-shirt:


What? You didn’t know about the Fighting Artichokes? Shame on you!

A Great Italian Pastry Chef Needs Your Help

11 Feb


Hi friends,

A special appeal today on behalf of Mario Batali, who was my friend Gina DePalma’s employer at Babbo for more than 10 years. Gina helped Mario open Babbo as his executive pastry chef. She is battling ovarian cancer and needs support covering the costs of her care.

Gina is a good friend of mine who I met when she rented an apartment from me and my ex-husband in 2008, when we still rented properties in Trastevere. Gina was in Rome working on her second cookbook. (Her first, Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen, is a gorgeous collection of recipes and photography, and we even tried a bunch of them out in the blogosphere; I made Chocolate and Tangerine Semifreddo.) Gina became ill while she was working here in Rome and returned in summer 2008 to NYC, where she was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer. She had a major operation to remove the cancer and has been bravely fighting the disease since then. The cancer has gone into remission and returned three times and the situation now is very critical.

The event on Monday, February 24 will be held at Otto Enoteca/Pizzeria in NYC. If you can’t attend, you can also make a donation at the Event Brite Page, click here. Your donation will go directly to Gina to support the costs of her care.

For more about Gina, read my 3-part interview series from 2007:

Interview with Gina DePalma, Executive Pastry Chef at Babbo Ristorante (Part One)

Part Two

Part Three

Thanks in advance for donations of any amount that you can send to support my dear friend!

About That Rain

1 Feb


Yesterday Rome received between 90-150 mm of rain, depending on what source you read, and Rome’s average rainfall for the month of February is 20.5 mm. I’m no math major, but if you figure that’s less than 1 mm per day on average in a month, well, um, that’s like more than 100 times more rain than usual in one day. Right?

So, yes—it rained yesterday.

Here are some pictures of the flooding.

And, in other news: while I was looking for a slideshow for you guys with pictures of the rainfall, a teensy-weensy hyperlink caught my eye. “ATAC driver with woman.” Oh, no. I had to find out more.  I drifted over to grainy snapshots. Grainy snapshots are even better, right?

This has nothing to do with the rain. Consider it a bonus gift with your free purchase.

So, apparently the other night a driver of our fine public transport company here in Rome was driving a night bus line with only his left hand on the wheel. That’s because his right hand was caressing his “female companion” who was sitting on the dashboard of the bus. Of course the article described her appearance: “tall, blond, short skirt and heeled boots.” (I was a bit disappointed as I was really rooting for it to be “short, dumpy, ankle-length sack dress and sensible shoes.”) Passengers reported that he was driving purposely slow to catch all the red lights so that he’d be free to make his moves. The headline on this one says “Scandal and Fear on the N2 line.” Scandal! Fear!

File in the “only in Rome” category. They quote a German exchange student saying he’s never seen anything like it. (You mean in Germany they don’t do these things?) A mom was riding the bus with her 9- and 10-year-old children and said, “Only in Italy do things like this happen.

Well, I can’t speak for all of Italy, but, ATAC is definitely one-of-a-kind, that is for damn sure. With the magical power of the Interwebs, I was easily led to other recent ATAC misadventures. Like the driver who was driving with his elbows while talking on his cell phone, also reportedly dodging pedestrians while he zoomed through crosswalks and ran red lights. (The elbows is a bit much, but the dodging pedestrians is really part of the hiring test, I think.) Apparently in that case a 19-year-old student asked him if he could get off of his cell phone to concentrate on his driving, and his cordial response was, and I quote: “Rinse your mouth out before you speak.” -?!?- Um? Is that supposed to be an insult? Bad breath? Witty? You’ve got me there.

In any case, at least he wasn’t in a heated lovers quarrel. Did you hear the one about the driver of the 44 who was fighting with someone (the article says “presumably a woman”) on his cell phone in broad daylight at 8 am on Via Dandolo in Trastevere, and stopped the bus, got off to argue some more, and then got back on the bus and told all the passengers to get off? After which point he turned off the bus “in service” sign, changing it to “Depot” and then simply drove away, leaving his bewildered passengers on the sidewalk? Yep. It happened.

And, of course those of you who have visited Rome for any length of time will have most likely encountered one of the transport workers’ long weekends Friday union strikes, conveniently interrupted for a few hours in the morning and evening ostensibly to bring people to and from their places of employment (where they aren’t striking).

Oh, the fun, the odyssey of it all!

So, you know. It should come as no surprise that a torrential day of rainfall shuts this city down. We can barely get around this place on normal days, after all.

Don’t Let Your Kids See These Pictures

22 Jan

Wow, how’s that for a newspaper marketing ploy? This is what I saw at the newsstand (hallowed source of many of my cultural observations) this morning, after taking my son to school:


It’s a poster for the right-wing newspaper “Il Tempo” and says: Shocking Photos. Don’t Let Your Children Read Il Tempo Today

Ok. So, I didn’t feel shameless enough to actually fork over money to see what they were hawking talking about. So I went online, and discovered that you can actually browse the front page of Il Tempo online for a total of, like, THIRTY WHOLE SECONDS  before they cut you off and a pop-up tells you to pay for the digital version. Isn’t that fun? I thought it was sort of fun. You can do it too! This story, incidentally, was also covered by right-wing daily Il Giornale (not winning any awards for creativity in the naming department). I, however, am 100% Swiss (cheese) when it comes to Italian politics.

Anyhoo, here’s the deal. Today on the top fold, just below the ol’ masthead proclaiming IL TEMPO loud and proud, there are these “foto choc.” And, there’s the rub, people. I done found myself smack dab in the middle of a political maelstrom, when all I really wanted to do this morning was walk home in peace, to my makeshift Bialetti moka cappuccino and store-bought, overprocessed cornetto. But, such is life.

So here’s the deal. Ever heard of foibe? Yeah, don’t worry, you don’t have to feel ashamed or ignorant. I hadn’t either. Unless, you have. In which case: you get a gold star—yes, you—right there in the middle of your smarty pants forehead. Now, go on outside and play now, while the rest of us suffer inside this here blog.

Foibe, friends, comes to me by way of the hallowed Treccani encyclopedia people and their 2010 Historical Dictionary. Just to make me feel even more historically ignorant, I found this article on Wikipedia, entitled Foibe killings. (Shame on me for not knowing this, but then again, you learn something new everyday.)

The foibe killings or foibe massacres refers to the killings that took place mainly in Venezia Giulia, Istria and Dalmatia during and after World War II from 1943 to 1949, perpetrated mainly by Yugoslav Partisans,[1] against the local Italian population. In Italy the term foibe has, for some authors and scholars,[4] taken on a symbolic meaning; for them it refers in a broader sense to all the disappearances or killings of Italian people in the territories occupied by Yugoslav forces.

Apparently, our Rome mayor Ignazio Marino (I know! Can you imagine? Ignazio! That would be Ignatius to you and me. Like someone straight outta Harry Potter, am I right?) announced that Italian students would no longer have funding for taking field trips to the foibe on the annual Day of Remembrance (February 10) to commemorate and honor the tragedy of the massacres, established by law (apparently it goes by Law 92) in 2004. This has caused a stir among right and center-right politicians who think it’s offensive that Italian students will no longer be able to take the trips to commemorate the historical event.

To quote Wiki, the day “has received some criticism from the Italian radical left and in Croatia claiming it was an “attempt at neofascist revisionism”.[8

So, the shocking photos were not of scantily clad women after all, as I had hoped and could have had a good ha-ha about. They are actually photographic documentation of the tragedy (kind of a shady way to market your newspaper, frankly), and Il Tempo reports that the photos make up part of keeping the public conscious of honoring the tragedy, and the online version has a digital slideshow “dedicated to Mayor Ignazio Marino to remind him of the horror and compel him to not cut funding for the Day of Remembrance trips.”

Also interesting is that the only response from Marino that I can seem to come up with thus far is from his Twitter feed (!), in which he states that his office is “in contact” with the Società di Studi Fiumani, which from what I can gather, is an association that manages the history museum and archives in south Rome (EUR) dedicated to Fiume, Dalmatia, and Istria, about recognition of this year’s Day of Remembrance with Roman schools.


So, there you have it folks. A little history and current political controversy for you. Never let it be said that Rome is all just espresso, old stuff, and pasta! It’s also using bold, ALL CAPS signs to sell newspapers with “shocking photos” that turn out to be victims of a WWII tragedy. What’s that, you say? Propaganda? Nonsense. Let’s all go have a coffee, shall we?

Back to the trenches, folks. Have a good one. Oh yeah, Ignatius can be followed here. No idea who Gloria is; can’t help you there.