Tag Archives: Rome

Deca: A writer’s cooperative with one of Rome’s own

18 Jun

I am very, very excited to share this with you. Honored to have as one of my readers and friends the exceptionally great journalist Stephan Faris, who, by way of introduction in his own words: “Since April 2001, I have written from Africa, the Middle East, China and Europe for publications including Bloomberg Businessweek, Time Magazine, and The Atlantic Magazine. I have written about war in Iraq, refugees in Darfur, and Internet censorship in China, and the Eurozone crisis across the continent.” Currently we are lucky to have him based in Rome as a contributor to a variety of world-class publications.

Seriously, folks, Stephan’s reporting and writing is amazing. Literally the only reason I have a subscription to TIME is because I wanted to finish reading one of his pieces there (they only let you get so far without a subscription, just when you’re hooked). And, trust me when I say that I was totally unbiased at the time, because it was even before he and I met through mutual acquaintances and realized that we appreciated each other’s writing. But hell, don’t take my word for it; check out some of my favorites and judge for yourself:

And now, drumroll please…

Stephan and eight of his award-winning journalist colleagues have banded together to form Deca, a global writer’s cooperative, as a vehicle for reporting and writing long-form stories. Long-form, sometimes known as creative nonfiction or narrative journalism, brings forth in-depth stories that are longer than a traditional article but shorter than a full-length book.

Check out their introductory video:

Introducing Deca from Deca on Vimeo.

The exciting news is that in LESS THAN FOUR DAYS, the group reached their initial Kickstarter goal of raising $15,000 to cover the costs of reporting and producing their monthly stories.

The even more exciting news is that they still have over twenty days to continue gathering contributions to fund their project, bringing us examples of what high caliber writers can do when they’re working at the very top of their game from an innovative, collaborative model.

Just $10 gets you a subscription to their first three stories, while a contribution of $350+ is like purchasing a master class in journalism, where you can edit and work side-by-side with the writers. Aspiring journalists and accomplished writers alike should jump at this chance. The campaign is receiving such a warm reception that some of the incentives to work with the writers have “sold out,” which prompted them to add additional spots.

Understandably, Deca is getting a lot of press:

Together with Marc Herman, another Deca co-founder, Stephan spoke at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy, last month. You can view their talk here:

The only question I still have is whether or not long-form is hyphenated? (Clearly, my intuitive choice favors the hyphen. But, you see, personally I’d even hyphenate non-fiction if I could get away with it.)

I should just sign up for an editing gig with the Deca team to get the insider’s guide on journalistic style.

Actually, if we want to use most venerable The New York Times as our guide, we can go with Jonathan Mahler’s style in When Long-Form is Bad Form (hyphen!), where he finishes by saying:

What, then, is the function — the purpose — of “long-form”? To allow a writer to delve into the true complexities of a story, and also to bring readers closer to the experience of other people. Whether a long-form story is published in a magazine or on the web, its goal should be to understand and illuminate its subject, and maybe even use that subject to (subtly) explore some larger, more universal truths. Above all, that requires empathy, the real hallmark of great immersive journalism.

So now, please: run—don’t walk—to subscribe. Incredible, mind-blowing, memorable storytelling awaits. And, as Stephan recently noted, “I defy you to find a cuter editorial process than how we do things at Deca.”

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Knitting Shops in Rome: Vanità di Filati

12 Jun

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That’s one of my baby girls there in purple checking out the yarn.

I made a lovely new discovery yesterday in my on-going catalog of yarn stores here in Rome.

This one is in my very own neighborhood so my joy knows no bounds. I made friends with the owner and I am in LOVE, LOVE, LOVE with this store.

The store is well-stocked, the owners themselves have the projects they’re working on out on the counter (one of my “go-to” checkpoints when deciding whether a knitting store is legit or not—do the owners knit? Will they be able to help me with a thorny question if I need it?), and there is a range of accessories and supplies in addition to the many balls of yarn (i.e., wide wide selection of buttons, needles, etc.) Ah, one-stop-shopping!

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I went on Yelp to do a review of this place and discovered another American girl living in Rome had given it a terrible one-star review. I had an absolutely different experience. So, who knows. Let me say this: if you tell them that “Un’americana a Roma” sent you, I feel fairly confident that they’ll treat you nicely. I mean, they were nothing but spectacularly kind and helpful with me.

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The owners are Patrizia (pictured) and Maria. Both of them alternatively asked me what project I was buying for, and how they could help me find what I needed. They had an excellent range of colors and let me touch all the different yarns without any weirdness which can sometimes occur here in Rome. (Yarn shopping can sometimes feel akin to fruit shopping at the market: look but don’t touch. Which, as any knitter will tell you, is totally counterintuitive and goes against our very grain!) Patrizia has most of her yarn out in cubbies and when I said how awesome that was, because it allows the customer to get up close and examine the yarns, she just smiled. So it wasn’t like “Oh you’re not supposed to touch it.”

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Anyhoo, folks, this place gets my enthusiastic two thumbs up. I already started my project (thank you Ravelry and Audrey Wilson at The Design Studio) and I can’t wait to have another one to go back.

Getting here is a bit out of the way, especially if you’re on holiday and staying in the center. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, by any means. It’s just not walking distance. You can either take the Metro B Line to Basilica di San Paolo and then walk from there or take bus 769 or 766 to Via Aristide Leonori and walk from there (5 mins). Or, from the center take bus 714 (depot at Termini) to Cristoforo Colombo/Vedana and walk from there (5 mins).

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It’s approved by twin four-year-old Roman American girls. So, you know, that’s an endorsement you can trust.

Vanità di Filati – Il Fiocco di Maria e Patrizia

Via della Badia di Cava 88
00142 Roma

Tel: 06/5409883

Meet Rick Zullo of Rick’s Rome

30 May

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Today I’m pleased to introduce you to a friend and fellow blogger who I’ve been following for more than a year now, and just recently had the pleasure of finally meeting in person.

Rick Zullo is an American expat who moved to Rome in 2010 (more on his love story with a gorgeous Italian goddess in a new post from this week). I became aware of Rick when he began sharing insightful comments on my blog posts. He and I relate on a lot of levels, especially as we both blog generally about life and culture here in Rome as our main topic, and the cultural oddities, delights, and differences we continue to discover through our lives here.

Recently (in March) I was hired as the social media manager for an absolutely amazing walking tour company here in Rome called Through Eternity. They created this position due to the changing economy and the need for keeping up with their clients and prospective clients online. Needless to say, I am LOVING my new job and all the opportunities it’s giving me to connect with people locally and abroad, to share and trade knowledge about Rome and passion for this country.

[Shameless plug alert: I'd be thrilled if you'd visit Through Eternity's Facebook page by clicking here, and "Like" the page. We're also on Twitter @througheternity and I write all the blog posts over at the blog--in fact why not just go all in and subscribe right now? *bowing down in gratitude* <end of promotional message>]

So part of my job with Through Eternity is finding ways to generate online buzz and share information, stories, and experiences regarding our tours. Fun, right? When I thought about someone I’d really like to have review our tours, I immediately thought of Rick. I contacted him to see if he’d be interested in trying out one of our more unique and lesser-known tours, called Love and Death: Scandals Off the Beaten Path. Rick was enthusiastic to participate, and in fact, he wrote about his experience here: Playing Tourist in Rome.

Rick is a real asset to our blogger community here in Rome. So I wanted to share his site with you, and I also asked him a few questions that I’ll share here! Enjoy!

But, before I do that, here’s the requisite selfie from our recent coffee meet-up at the bar in front of the Palladium Theatre in Garbatella:

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Now, before you go all nuts on me about the fact that I cut off his head, allow me to share with you that our friend Rick here is SIX FOOT FOUR INCHES and so — there. I am nearly 5’11” and totally bad at the selfie phenomenon. And, he and I are extremely low maintenance in that this was our first take. So, anyhoo. You just have to imagine the top of his head here, -k-?

Take it away, Mr. Zullo!

SR: You mention on your “about” page that when you made your way to Rome on your extended vacation/sabbatical, you fell in love with the city on the first night. What was it about Rome that captured you so completely, right from the start?

RZ: That first night….it was late June, the weather was perfect, and I was down on the Isola for an aperitivo at sunset, surrounded by all of Rome’s stunning sites, the old stone, the trees lining the Lungotevere, St. Peter’s dome in the distance.  The Romans were all having so much fun, it seemed, with their fancy shoes, Campari cocktails, and animated conversation…I wanted to be part of it. Part of the city, its culture, its history.  Wow, looking back…how naive!  Of course, this was long before my first trip to the post office or transportation strike!!

SR: But it’s true. Rome is so romantic at first. That was my experience as well. I think back on that time and the phrase “Ignorance is bliss” comes to mind. Obviously had I known how difficult the day-to-day life can be in this city, it probably would have scared me away. But then again, who knows; after all, I’m still here! So, let’s talk about Italian. Did you know Italian before you came to Italy? What was your experience of learning Italian like? What advice do you have to those studying Italian?

RZ: I knew a little Italian through a course I took at the university and self-study with a software program.  It helped me order a panino, but was useless for conversation. The only way to become somewhat fluent is full immersion.  And you need several forms of input: magazines, movies, vocabulary lists, flash cards, and of course LOTS of conversation.  But sooner or later, you still have to study the grammar, too.

SR: At least you could order a panino! I touched down in Rome in 2001 after nearly 3 years of classroom study and my first task in “real life” Italian was exactly that, order a panino at a bar. I ended up panicking, I clammed up and just pointed. I felt like an idiot. But that’s part of learning a foreign language; it really forces you to loosen up and you can’t be a perfectionist. What has been the hardest part or the hardest things about living in Rome, and what has been the most enjoyable or rewarding part or things?

RZ: The hardest part for me is the bureaucracy.  Nobody understands it, least of all the people whose job it is to do so.  Months can be wasted spinning around in frustrating bureaucratic circles.  So then maybe, ironically, that’s also been the most rewarding part.  Since it’s so impenetrable, you feel like you’ve defeated Goliath once you finally get your first Permesso.

SR: I totally agree. I often say that life in Rome is like living in a video game. You’re always trying to get to the “next level” and defeat the “big boss,” like some dragon throwing fireballs at you, with regards to bureaucracy! How has living in Rome changed you as a person?

RZ: I think it has “woken me up” and made me more conscious and deliberate in my daily life.  Maybe it’s not Rome specifically, but the expat experience that does that to you.  Back in the US there’s always this sense of just “going through the motions.”  Everything is so easy and predictable.  You can’t do that in Rome, because the situation is always changing and you have to learn the art of  how to arrangiarsi.

SR: Yes, arrangiarsi—that idea of having to “make do” or find a solution where there logically doesn’t seem to be one. That is a good description of life around here. In fact when you look it up in Google there are even definitions like “manage,” and “do the best one can.” So, in closing, where can people follow you online?

RZ: Oh, I’m all over the place, but I prefer to connect through my blog at rickzullo.com, or on Facebook or Twitter.  I’m also on Linked-InGoogle Plus, and recently I started Instagram.

SR: Just curious, with all these online outlets: what do you think is your most important or valuable contribution to the wide world of expat blogs and sites about life in Italy? 

RZ: People seem to appreciate my advice on the Permesso di Soggiorno.  If you ask me though, my most valuable contribution is my explanation of the bidet as a cultural phenomenon in Italy!

SR: Ah yes, the elusive bidet. I had to ask my female flatmates how to use it when I first came here. I have the requisite “bidet post” too. It was inspired by the fact that I saw in the pharmacy that they were selling special bidet soap targeted specifically for 3-12 year olds. That cracked me up. So, what do you have planned for the near future of your blog and for your community of readers? What resources do you already have available for your readers and for people who are just discovering your site?

RZ: In addition to my blog articles, I also have a few eBooks available.  There are two mini-guides that I offer for free on my blog.  One is a semi-serious guide on how to “Dress Like an Italian.”  The other one is an excellent guide for restaurants in Italy.  It’s excellent because I only edited it…the writers are actual foodie experts who offered their suggestions for my little book.  Then I also have a few books available on Amazon, including a guide to help folks who want to teach English in Italy.

For the future, I’d like to keep the blog going, but perhaps add another element such as a podcast.  I’ve still got a lot to say about Italy and the audio format would be a fun way to explore that…perhaps with a partner…Shelley?

SR: Yes! I would love to do that! I’ve been wanting to incorporate audio and video into my content for ages, but I would definitely need a partner in crime. I think we’d make a great team. Thanks, Rick!

So, there you have it folks. As always, I have too many plans and too little time. Stay tuned!

The Fall of Roman Civilization

28 Apr

I’ve been wanting to tackle this issue for quite some time, not really sure how to go about it. Last Wednesday, I took my annual birthday trip to see my best friend in Amsterdam, and as I left my neighborhood, this is what was happening, just a block from my son’s elementary school:

If those scenes of an urban war zone aren’t bad enough on their own, then this video shows the violence that later erupted, when riot police started beating activists with batons.

The police vans, first 5, then upwards of 10, came out on April 16 to remove squatters who had broken into and illegally occupied an empty government building nine days prior. My neighborhood is generally unknown to most, as it is well out of the historic center, and yet it took center stage last week as the violence broke out. By the time I had landed in Amsterdam, I had 56 messages on my phone from the mom’s group on Whatsapp that is usually used for asking questions about what homework pages have been assigned. This time it was filled with anxiety-ridden exchanges from moms deciding whether or not to take their kids out of school early, should the situation escalate. Luckily, it didn’t affect the nearby businesses or schools, other than the road blocks and general commotion. Once the squatters were removed, however, they MOVED IN to the MUNICIPAL building across the street and next door to the elementary school.

I was told that this was a move by the municipal president (Municipio VIII, ex-XI) who was hosting them. I haven’t researched that. It’s irrelevant now, because the squatters then moved to an abandoned building in nearby via di Tor Carbone once the municipal offices had to open back up to the public on April 23. According to this article from La Repubblica Roma online, there were about 200 families in all.

Two days prior to the police raid, I took the photo below and posted it on Twitter. In retrospect, it’s embarrassing to me to think that I sent out a plea to Rome’s mayor via social media. In fact, Marino has been battling with the AMA (waste collection company) problems for a while now, especially brutal during the holidays, when a photo of a pig eating garbage in the Boccea neighborhood (inside the ring road, not in the middle of nowhere) showed unequivocally just how bad the situation had become. But you see, the question is, who in the world can citizens turn to when their city is becoming a toxic waste zone and seems to be quickly sliding more and more into total chaos?

As those of you who follow my blog know, I truly love this city, and in my writing I do my best to try to make light of the difficult situations around here. But lately, even I am reaching my limit. I thought maybe I was just imagining things, or having a particularly difficult “culture shock” coming back after a week in Amsterdam, where things are so civilized, but it’s not just me.

This article by Der Spiegel‘s Walter Mayr is absolutely, positively, a must-read for anyone who cares about Rome at all. It’s excellently written and covers this topic from a number of perspectives.

Mayr’s piece also helped me to understand the person behind one of the sites that I have been wondering about for quite some time now: Roma Fa Schifo, translated loosely as “Rome Sucks.” The blog, founded in 2008, is a hub for sharing everything that is filthy, corrupt, and shameful about daily life in Rome. The corresponding Facebook page has a following of nearly 34,000 at the time of writing.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Roma Fa Schifo for some time, because I thought it was simply another way to collectively complain about this city. But after reading Mr. Mayr’s article, I came away with the understanding that the blogger behind the page, 35-year-old Massimiliano Tonelli, is aiming to create awareness as a catalyst for change. Tonelli manages another blog called Cartellopoli, which documents the illegal sign-posting that goes on and creates untold mountains of litter throughout the city.

A bit more research on Tonelli revealed this recent interview with the free daily Leggo, in which he describes a new type of citizen referred to as “Roman 2.0,” a social activist who documents the problems of the city online. In fact, Mayr’s article says that Mayor Ignazio Marino keeps a file of certain posts from Roma Fa Schifo, so in that sense it certainly is working as a vehicle for awareness.

The Roma Fa Schifo blog inspired a bit of an online movement that’s sprung up in recent years, with a network of sites loosely known as the “Coordination of Anti-Deterioration Blogs.” These sites, such as Degrado Esquilino and Riprendiamoci Roma (Let’s Take Back Rome), document the current deterioration of Rome.

The question Mayr poses in his article: “Can a New Mayor Stop the City’s Decline?” is left unanswered. He mentions that Marino bikes to work, and Marino himself explains that his personal wealth and outsider status (he’s not a Rome native) mean that he can make unpopular decisions.

Perhaps it’s true what Marino, a surgeon by trade, says in the article: “Removing the abscess is the easiest part. After that you need to get everything patched up and then get the organism going again. I was left with a city full of potholes, a school system that is falling apart and poverty that is rising dramatically. Add to that €14 billion in existing debt, some of which is still left over from Rome’s preparations for hosting the Summer Olympic Games in 1960.”

Rome is not in a good way right now. As much as I try to show this city in its most positive light, the fact of the matter is that things are definitely going downhill, as far as I see it, especially when I have to walk my 6-year-old son past riot police to take him to his 1st grade classroom. I’m not complaining or trying to play the victim, but I’m starting to seriously question what kind of activism a citizen of this city can take part in, to try to make a system that is so profoundly broken, get up and working again. We are lucky to have a tourism economy that keeps things moving, and tourists who continue to come and enjoy the open-air museum that is the Eternal City. But for those of us who choose to live here for any length of time, the situation continues to become more trying. As Mayr says in his article, “Seasoned Romans are heroic when it comes to getting through daily life,” and as he quotes 91-year-old Roman novelist Raffaelle La Capria, “We’re all disappointed and a little depressed to see Italy’s decline before our very eyes.”

Indeed.

Italian Postal Logic

10 Apr

Poor Poste Italiane. No one likes them.

Every time I write anything about the good ol’ PT, I inevitably get a random Italian commenter who hasn’t ever read my blog before (and thus has no idea how adoring I truly am of my adopted country), but somehow landed on that one post where I get all complainy, and tries to defend the PT in the comments by suggesting in some creative and colorful form that if I don’t like it I can go back to my own damn country.

Ok, maybe not every time. But lots of times, anyways.

Maybe it was calling this post “Italian Postal Service I Hate You With All My Heart” that made some readers think I’m bitter and cynical. A bit over the top? I dunno. Perhaps.

Maybe it was the one called No stamps, this is the post office.

Maybe people just don’t appreciate quality sarcasm anymore. We’ve become so jaded, haven’t we? It’s too bad all our days can’t be filled with delightful post office banter like this.

Well, as you might already know, the Italian postal service (and here I use the term “service” very loosely) is a never-ending font of things to both ridicule and belittle.

And yet, today I don’t have any complaints to add, but rather a quiz (or as they say here in Italy, “queets”) question for you.

I need your help, as a matter of fact, because no matter how I try to wrap my brain around this one, it just keeps getting tied up in knots.

Please observe Exhibit A:

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Besides the fact that this is an exceedingly rare moment in that there seems to be NO ONE in the post office (I promise you there were 10 people just a couple minutes later), have a look at “What’s Wrong in This Picture?”

Well, frankly, I hadn’t noticed it. But as I was waiting in line, the one line that was formed because the number machine was broken, I overheard a woman loudly say to an elderly lady approaching the counter: “You see?! There was a reason why they turned the chairs around!”

At which point, obviously, I look at the row of chairs and discover, in fact, that they are all facing with their backs to the “service” windows, when usually they are facing the windows. The usual chair configuration does actually make sense, really, when you take into consideration that if you have your back to the NUMERICAL DISPLAY you won’t be very likely to see YOUR NUMBER when it’s called. So, you know, number machine broken, maybe chairs must be turned around? Unless, well, ok, perhaps it could stay that way even when the number machine works, maybe if you were to hold up a compact mirror over your shoulder, and/or you are a single mom of three children under age ten like I am, at which point you would certainly have at least two, if not more, eyes in the back of your head like I do.

Anyways, herefore cometh O Wise Explanation to aforementioned conundrum, according to postal patron number one. However, before the big reveal, I’d like you to take a moment and try to guess why, using your own common sense and logic, according to postal patron number one (who I assumed received this pearl of wisdom directly from the postal clerk), the postal people decided it was a good idea to turn all those chairs around.

You got it? You got your guess ready? OK. So here’s what the woman said:

“You see, since there aren’t any numbers because the number machine is broken, and since we all have to form one line starting over there, well, the chairs are turned around so that way, if the line gets long, people can sit down in these chairs, like so.”

The old woman nodded, as if that somehow made perfect sense to her.

Perfect sense.

In my mind, a comment like that deserves only one thing, and that one thing is known in my world as the hashtag #WTF.

But, this is not my world, you see. Oh no, make no mistake about it: this is the Italian postal “service’s” world. I only live in it, occasionally stand in it for long periods of time, and most certainly never sit in it with my back to the service windows, even if they do make the effort to helpfully position the chairs in a way in which I could comfortably do so.

But why stop there, I ask myself. No, dear reader, bonus: I’d also like to let you know, that if you so desire, you can get dental insurance through the post office. Will you just look at how happy that toothpaste smiley-face man is about this proposition?

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Dental Postalprotection: Smiling has never been so simple. (I want to kiss the copywriter who came up with that one, really, I do.)

But wait! There’s more!

There’s an entire CATALOG of randomness that you can buy through your post office. It’s even seasonal. This one is Spring 2014. That means there are four a year, people! YAY! Look how happy the family is, sitting as they are in front of a soccer match! You can even buy a flag! Weee!

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Stamps? Pshaw, you silly! But a “Dual Motor Relax Recliner”? Oh now hellll yes. Now that we have, at the low, low price of just €449,90. (Postal geniuses, you’re not fooling anyone by taking 10 cents off. We’re totally onto you and your reclining chair scheming.)

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That is, unless you prefer the collar massager for 10 cents short of €55.

We’ll even make it super easy for you with a loan on one of our pre-paid debit cards: “The loan that recharges your desire for shopping.” Yes. Because we’re the post office. That’s what we do, you see.

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You know what though? Shit. I’m usually not one of those “Americans Do It Better” kind of girls, but in this particular instance, I just have to get on out there and say it loud, say it proud: when it comes to useless products, AIN’T NOBODY like us here Americans.

Don’t believe it? Just try me:

(If I had been drinking milk I am fairly certain it would have come out of my nostrils from laughter at 2:15. Nice perm, BTW.)

Ok, fine. I hear you though. You’re saying, “Oh Shelley, PT is such an easy target. Move on already.” Which makes me think of an Italian phrase that I simply adore. It goes like this: “E’ come sparare sulla Croce Rossa.” We Americans say something like, “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” (naturally, of course, because all Americans carry at least one gun on their person at ALL TIMES), but the Italians say, “It’s like shooting at the Red Cross.” God I love that phrase. [And, by the way and just so you know, Mythbusters confirmed that shooting fish in a barrel is, in fact, easy to do.]

And before you dismiss my humble blog as pulp fodder for the ignorant masses, I’ll have you know that this dude at Yahoo questions wanted to know “Why do they say it’s like shooting at the Red Cross?” and some benevolent soul took the time to respond that the GENEVA CONVENTION prevents shooting at health workers in war zones, so it’s like attacking someone who’s defenseless and can’t fight back. Another helpful know-it-all says that it was common to bomb Red Cross encampments in war zones in all the wars post-1864 (when the Red Cross was founded). In any case, if you need a real-life, in-context textual/visual demonstration of this expression, I direct you here. I will not, can not, put a picture of Britney Spears’s buttocks on my blog. Not gan do it, not at this juncture, wun’t be prudent…

Today I had to go to the post office to pay a bill (naturally) so I decided it would also be a good occasion to mail a letter I needed to mail. A real, honest-to-God, thank you card, from a box of US stationery I had sent over from Papyrus via my ex-husband’s luggage with a real, honest-to-God stamp on it. I kid you not when I tell you that I went to the tobacconist before the post office, so I could purchase a real stamp. As I hand over the card, I am careful to bring to the clerk’s attention: “It already has a stamp on it.”

The guy behind the counter takes my letter, stares at it, turns it over a few times in his hands, marveling. (He was marveling, I swear to you, it was unmistakable.)

I was like: “What? It’s a letter.”

And he goes: “That’s a beautiful thing.”

Indeed, my friend, it is. Indeed it is.

Interview with Gabriele Camelo

9 Apr

If you want to dig right into the interview, click above. I’ll give you a heads-up that it’s all in Italian. Otherwise, if you only speak English, read on!

A couple weeks ago, I ran across a video that made me smile, showing people dancing in the streets of Rome to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.” Little did I know (as I am completely devoid of most pop culture references post-2008) that this was a sort of trend that had started after the original music video was released. Here in Rome, the video was made by Gabriele Camelo, who in fact also made a similar video in Palermo that went viral.

I got so intrigued by someone who tried to show a positive side to Rome, a city that takes quite a beating on a daily basis by people who complain about all the endless problems around here, that I absolutely had to find out more about who this person was.

Luckily I found a Facebook page (you can find it here and “Like” it right now… go ahead, click! LIKE! … I’ll wait!) and was able to get in touch directly with Gabriele and ask him if he was up for an interview. He was game, and so this morning we had a Skype video chat that I recorded. Only thing, folks: it’s in Italian. (For those of you who don’t speak Italian, cue epic fail horn, and I’m sorry, truly I am. But my life the way it is absolutely doesn’t permit me the budget of time or money for subtitling or transcripting in English. Find me minions, then we’ll talk. Stephen Faris has first dibs on the minions though because he already asked on Twitter a while back.)

What I will say is that I was pleased and delighted to have found a kindred spirit, someone who tries to find the beauty in all things and in all people, even those who are marginalized by society. Let me tell y’all, it warmed my little social worker’s heart, yes it did.

Gabriele is 32, Roman, and as you’ll see on his Facebook page (which I know you’ve already Liked by now), he is a man who wears many hats: videographer, television producer, documentary filmmaker, entertainer, street artist, tour leader, psychologist, elementary school teacher, and might I add: hello, Renaissance man!

During our interview, Gabriele explained how he sees Rome with a quote: “Rome is like a beautiful woman, sensual, seductive — but with a shitty personality.” Well. Yes. I can see that. The “personality” could be worked on a bit. So he said that the “Happy” Rome video was his way of trying to challenge himself to find the positive side of this city.

Gabriele is now living in Palermo. He had been working at RAI, the state television network (in fact on one of the few programs I actually like on Italian TV, Report) but recently his contract wasn’t renewed. So, as we chat about in the interview, he’s moved down to Palermo to live at his mom’s house (where he Skyped from) and is trying to find a foothold financially. [Aside: This is just one example of why we can't generalize about that old tired stereotype of "Italian men who live with their moms until they're 40, 50." If I have to explain one more time about the highly motivated and very non-lazy Italian men I know who live at home or have had to move back home because of financial difficulties that are often part of a profoundly broken system...Anyhoo. That's a story for another day.]

He told me the story that recently his entire video equipment collection was stolen, a value of over €2,000, and now he is without a camera and can’t even do what he loves to do as a passion, without his equipment. At a certain point in the interview he shows us a box with a camera painted on it, and money inside. He explains that in response to the theft, he decided that he’d try the “crowdfunding” model to get back the money he needs to buy his equipment again, but in addition to an online site like Kickstarter (an Italian site called Kapipal), he is also taking to the street, giving himself a deadline of one month in which to get the money to buy the equipment. He goes around Palermo with a friend who films him, approaches people with the box, explaining what happened to him, and in this way he hopes to get the money back to buy his equipment again. And then in the future there will also be the video to document his challenge.

[If you'd like to support his crowdfunding initiative, please click here to learn more and contribute. Just click "Contribuisci" and then "Invia Denaro" and it will take you to a Paypal payment page where you can pay securely with Paypal.]

He showed me the Palermo sun from his window, and told me that he works right now as a teacher in what I think would be the equivalent in English of a group home (they’re called casa famiglia here in Italy) and his students are boys between the ages of 16-18, and that yesterday instead of doing their work indoors, he told them, grab chairs, we’re going to do our work on the beach. Wow. Can’t say I ever had that experience. God bless him and his positive spirit.

Gabriele for me is really an inspiration, because he’s taking what the average person sits around here and complains endlessly about, and he makes an effort not only to put a positive spin on it, a bit of “leggerezza” which if you know me you know is a concept near and dear to my heart, but also, he’s out there connecting with people. It’s that human connection that seems so lost nowadays. I love that he has the courage to go out, approach people, provoke people to discourse, involvement, and as he said in the interview as one of his key concepts in life: “condivisione,” sharing. Awesome. I love this and I think there are so many people in this country like this, that deserve to be highlighted and supported, especially when the majority of the news coming out is just more of the same old Italy-bashing. He says one of his favorite quotes is Dostoyevsky [via Prince Myshkin in The Idiot]: “Beauty will save the world.”

Speaking of his other video initiatives along these lines, he also did a “free hugs” video both in Palermo and Rome, which I found rather fascinating to watch, especially from a social sciences perspective. Takes a lot of guts and a certain kind of person to go out and approach people holding up a sign that says “Free Hugs.” Granted he admits this wasn’t his original idea as it was an idea that has been done in other cities, but still, I think he’s the only one doing these types of things here in Italy, at least that I know of at the moment.

I always say about Rome: we know this city has problems, but complaining about it is for amateurs. Rome is a cheap shot, so easy to knock because there’s so much here that truly and fundamentally doesn’t work and is possibly irreparably broken. In my opinion the above-average approach is the one that tries to find the hope in the despair, or tries to make a positive contribution using whatever means they have at their disposal. For Gabriele, (and I’d like to think for myself as well), this mode of creative expression comes through video, through writing, through communication. For others it might be a different vehicle. But in the end, what matters is that we can show our shared humanity and take pride in knowing that, as Gabriele says in the interview, “Life is to be enjoyed.”

Amen to that!

(Oh and PS, ladies? Um, yeah, don’t think I wasn’t swooning. It’s super obvious. I mean, hello, major hubba hubba, right? Doesn’t he have like a Robert Downey Jr. sort of thing going? Jaysus. Looks like I need to find me a man with Palermitano blood, eh? *fans self*)

To subscribe to Gabriele’s Youtube channel, click here

To “Like” his Facebook page, click here

Car2Go Car Sharing in Rome

2 Apr

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Subtitled: Quite Possibly the Easiest Thing I’ve Ever Done in This City

Alternately Subtitled: I Think This Means Pigs Have Wings and The Devil is Shivering

Or if you prefer, simply repeat after me: OH MY GOD.

No, seriously.

So a few weeks back, I started to see these blue and white billboards all across town. CIAO ROMA! with a cute little Smart car. I ignored them for a while, until they hit effective frequency (thank you Media Buying class at Northern Arizona University for my BS in Advertising, no pun intended) and started sinking in.

What’s that, you say? Smart cars all around Rome?

But frankly it hit critical mass when one of them was parked in front of my son’s elementary school. Just like that: on the side of the street, in front of a school, in my neighborhood which is absolutely NOT “centro storico.”

It was my six-year-old, who just recently learned the fine skill of reading, who tapped my arm and said, “Look mom! You can find that car everywhere!”

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Indeed, the car itself is proclaiming just that: “Mi trovi ovunque.” You find me everywhere.

But the best part of this story is the part where everything is super efficient, super easy, and super fast. (Super unbelievable.)

So, this is a private venture. There are already Car2Go car sharing networks set up in various US cities (Austin, Seattle, DC, Portland, and others) as well as various European cities (lots of the biggies in Germany, no surprise there, plus Vienna, Amsterdam, London). Frankly, Rome is a real non sequitur here. You mean a company that actually works, makes my life easier, and helps the environment, and did I mention really, truly works, is active right now in Rome? [mind, go for it: you may now begin to boggle]

Let’s do a little point of comparison, just to put things in Roman-style perspective. Now, y’all know I lurve my adopted city, but let’s not be coy: this is not known as the most bureaucratically efficient and functional place in the world. (Italy ranks 69 on the World Corruption Perception Index, tied for the honor with Kuwait and Romania, and I’m pretty sure that’s mainly due to Rome and Naples, but hey, maybe there are some corrupt people in Bolzano, too–stranger things have happened). So when something like this amazing service happens here, I think the collective excitement level (or maybe just my personal excitement level) is off the charts. Believe me, I had my doubts. Mainly because all I have to compare it to thus far is the service offered by Rome’s public transport company, ATAC, which, we all know has had a *wee* bit of iffy behavior in the past, as well as possibly being the most inefficient public transport service in, like, the whole wide world [this is called tongue-in-cheek so don't comment and be like, I rode a bullock cart in rural India, that's worse than Rome, you ignorant ingrate, etc., etc.]

I signed up for ATAC’s Carsharing program. I had to print out like eight pages of contract, sign them, scan them, send them back VIA REGISTERED SNAIL MAIL, along with a PASSPORT PHOTO, and I think a urine sample, although don’t quote me on that last part.

It took over a month. I had to wait for them to send me back VIA SNAIL MAIL a plastic card with my photo on it (despite the fact that I already have THE EXACT SAME CARD for my annual bus pass; they told me they couldn’t make it so that one card works for both services). Anyhow, you get the picture. All told, I think it took me nearly 6 weeks or so to get my card in hand; possibly more. That doesn’t mean the service is active. For that you have to do more stuff via email that involves passwords and secret handshakes.

With Car2Go, I went on their website, filled out a super brief online form, entered in a credit card, and then was helpfully told I was all signed up and just had to visit one of their various info. points throughout the city to pick up my card. (No faxing, no scanning, no photo shoots). Total time thus far: approximately 10 minutes.

Today I went to one of the many info. points, which was located conveniently in my neighborhood where nothing seems to be conveniently located, and I found a bright white and blue tent set up with two white and blue windbreaker-clad girls with laptops (Imagine! A company using wifi! Outdoors!). I told the girl I’d signed up online and needed to get my card. After approximately 1 minute and :02 seconds, I was given my card and a lovely little instruction manual that a monkey could understand it was so beautifully laid out and simple, and told, “If you’d like to provide your email address, you can have a free week of all-access here at our pool and gym, to try it out.” [Piscina delle Rose, if it interests. You know I'm all about that.]

I walked away a very, very happy camper, and decided to put the service to the ULTIMATE test: immediate pick-up. The big boon about this service is that you can literally pick up any parked Car2Go car you see in the city, so long as it isn’t already booked, and drive away immediately. No need to book in advance, although you can do that too if you prefer. Other best part is that when you get to wherever you’re going, you can end the rental and leave the car. RIGHT THERE. As in, not having to take it back to the parking lot where you found it. Also, you get free parking in the public parking spots throughout Rome, and you can drive where all the buses and taxis drive, right downtown (in the ZTL).

I looked up on my phone where the nearest cars were. There were three of them within a 10 minute walk. I approached the first one: it was available. I put my card up to the reader, the door clicked open, and when I opened it, after I recovered from the bliss of the new car smell (!), I realized that a manly voice had just pleasantly told me in Italian something akin to “Welcome to your personal chariot, my name is Fabio and your wish is my command.” (Actually it was like “Hello, welcome on board,” but a girl can dream.)

SMART CARS ARE SO EASY TO PARK. And: they are automatic transmission. This is so bizarre in Rome. Nothing is automatic transmission here. Granted, it feels a little like driving a go-cart, throttle response is slim to none, but hey, you’re not going to get above around 45 mph that often around here anyways. It automatically starts up in “ECO mode” which is for fuel economy, and so it shuts off every time you stop. Really kind of bizarre. Also I looked up online, and in one article it said ECO mode makes you “feel like you’re pulling an Airstream trailer” so that must explain the whole throttle response issue. Just call it the Smart-car-pulling-Airstream-trailer issue.

Anyhoo, I drove that puppy home and parked right in front of my house. And because I have to go somewhere tonight, and I really don’t like coming home late by myself because I have to walk by the prostitute who has recently set up shop a few blocks from my front door, which is a bit awkward, and we all know how efficient ATAC is … and now I have a car! Downstairs waiting! Just so long as no one else stops by and picks it up. It’s all very democratic. (Anyways: doubt that! I live in Rome’s equivalent of BFE! And yet it’s still in their operative zone! This is … I’ll stop gushing now.)

I can see real potential here for tourists too, if it’s just two people. SO EASY. You could sign up from your home country online and pick up your card when you arrive. There’s even a website in English. It says: EASY. ALWAYS. EVERYWHERE.

Swoon. I may never take a taxi again.

Technical deets: It costs 0.29 cents a minute, all inclusive (gas, insurance, etc.). There’s no deposit required, no annual fee. If you sign up by April 15 you get 30 free minutes. There are 301 in the city right now, with plans to reach 501 total. If you want more details than these, go here.

In closing, allow me to add just one thing:

WEEEEEEE!

That is all.