Tag Archives: Rome

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:


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?


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!


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.)


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.


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.

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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


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!”


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:


That is all.

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]

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! GoChokes.com

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.