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Parasol Party and Hats

24 Jul

So, here’s the thing. This summer I’ve spotted a new trend. Chinese parasols.

You read me right. I said: Chinese. Parasols. Basically a larger version of the paper thingies that come in your tropical cocktail.

Don’t ask me to explain the trends, I just report ’em.

So this summer, in lieu of the ubiquitous bubble guns and red-eyed pscyho cats (please see #2), our street vendor friends have changed their inventory and substituted aforementioned useless items with highly practical (except when it rains) florescent-colored Chinese paper umbrellas. And the tourists are buying them up. And using them.

BOH. (If you’re just joining us, this slang term means “who knows” in Italian, and I use it all the time. You should too.)

Anyhoo, so where was I? Oh yes, parasols. I’m thinking, personally, I can’t be bothered to walk around holding a paper umbrella to protect my delicate skin from the sun. I much prefer what I think is an easier solution, and doesn’t require any florescent colors. Hats.


Not to be confused with capelli (note: one p), which means hair. See, I don’t get along with double consonants AT ALL in the Italian language, which is why I have been known to call cream “pana” (something that doesn’t exist) and known to call penne pasta “pene,” something which certainly DOES exist, albeit not in a restaurant dish, pleaseconsultyourItaliandictionarybecauseI’mnotgoingtotypeitonmyG-ratedblog.

Hats are an essential item for me in the Roman summer sun. Remember my trip to Amarena Chic last year?

Well, this year I upgraded. I went to an ACTUAL HAT SHOP. On Viale Trastevere there’s this hat shop that I’ve always been so intrigued by, and finally I just took the plunge and went in to ask about a hat in the window.

The sweetest lady in the world runs the shop. (What? You didn’t know that’s an official title? Sweetest Lady in the World? She works at this shop, I’m telling you.) She explained to me that her father-in-law ran the shop starting back in 1920-something—I forget the exact year; please, forgive me, I know not what I do. They sell Borsalino hats, which are so incredibly vintage and wonderful.

I asked about said hat in window and the sweetest lady in the world asked me what size hat I wear.

What size hat?


Since she is the SLITW, she helped me out by asking, “Well honey, what size does your dad wear? Usually kids wear the same size as their dads.”

Um, my dad? A hat? Not exactly. It would have fallen off while he was parachuting, piloting, running off to work in the Middle East, or some other such nonsense (currently in Kabul, hi dad, please come home in August as promised).

“Ok, well then, let’s try this. 57. It’s a medium size.”

Perfect. 57 it is. As in the Three Little Bears. Not too big, not too small. Just right.

I found an article here that talks about the shop, called Gagliardi e Mari, and revealing that the SLITW’s name is actually Adolfa, and her daughter Velia helps out. Not only is it a hat shop but they also have an entire hat repair hospital of sorts, where you can have your hat washed, ironed, re-shaped, and basically put back good as new. Now tell me, do you know of a shop where you can have this done? I love Rome for these things.

I got to prance around Rome for like two weeks with my new size 57 hat from Signora Adolfa before my total clutziness took over and I got this incredible black ink stain on the hat. Don’t ask me how it happened. It just did. The hat was sitting on the dining room table, the pen jumped it, and the rest is history. I was born with the clutzy gene, I accept it as in: “Dear God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” I am serene. Note the half-moon shaped scar around my eye. I got into a fight with the corner of a table in 11th grade and, obviously, nine stitches later, lost. The Navy hospital doctor, as he stitched my eye up, said, “Well, there goes your modeling career….har-de-har-har.” Not so fast, buddy! Little did you know that 15 years later I would have a blog! MUUUUHAHAHAHAHA!

Am I so very retro in my new hat? Despite the big black ink stain which I tried to conceal here?

So, that’s when I found out that Alessandro’s grandfather used to buy hats from the SAME store. What? Well thanks for telling me! And so, Nonno Vincenzo had given a hat to Ale and he never wore it. Double what?? So I said, pass that baby down to me, would you please?

Turns out, Nonno Vincenzo was a 56.

The realization is that I have a bigger head than my son’s great-grandfather. Oh my.

Little Vincenzo decided he needed to get in on this action (he is oh-so “please mommy don’t forget that I am the center of the universe therefore you must include me in everything you do”) so in honor of Bis-nonno Vincenzo, we tried to do a mini photo shoot with “the hat.”

How does this thing work??

Yes, people. This is the face that makes him smile. If you see me around, this is probably the expression I will have. There is no shame here. I have a five-month old.

Folks, if you find yourself in Trastevere and in need of a hat (and who isn’t in need of a hat, honestly?), I highly recommend you go see the sweetest lady in the world. She doesn’t even have a credit card machine (“too much of that new-fangled technology…” Ok. She didn’t really say “new-fangled.” I don’t even know how you’d say “new-fangled” in Italian. But I’m sure that’s what she meant.) But there’s an ATM right next door so you should be fine.

GAGLIARDI E MARI, viale Trastevere 109, tel. 06.58333206


The Biggest Shopping Mall in Europe

23 Jul

Or so they say. I heard that basically through the grapevine…it’s not like anyone has come out and scientifically proven it. But I’m about as gullible as they come, so I’ll believe it.

Yesterday was my virgin voyage to EUROMA 2. Why 2? I have no idea. No one seems to know. I suppose it’s the long-awaited sequel to EUROMA 1 which probably got stuck in a ton of bureaucratic red tape and never got built.

So, here’s my first clue that the place is on the large side:

Parking. 1800 spots. Keep right.

Um, ok.

Then, just seconds later, an entire lane for parking traffic:

1,730 additional spots. That there’s a lot of parking.

So, armed with two of my best girlfriends, I venture in to the mammoth structure.

Let me just confess right off the bat that I am quite the oddball here in that I don’t like shopping. That’s right. Don’t like it. Never have. I think it goes back to some episode of me hiding in clothes racks while desperately waiting for my mom to choose towels and sheets in Sears. Or something. Anyways. Wasn’t too excited about the whole “shopping” part, but had to get my eyes on the BIGGEST SHOPPING MALL IN EUROPE! (Read: [cue monster truck voice] Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!)

Well, it be big. That’s for sure. Lots of stores. But in the end, it was a bit anti-climactic. I felt like a big, ugly American when I proclaimed to my friends, “Yep. It’s just like an American mall.” I don’t know if that was supposed to be a compliment or an insult. Mainly it was just an observation. Nothing too exciting. The only difference was that there was no Gap and no Orange Julius. But there was a cool store called Oysho in which, I am proud to announce…


I managed to find a pair of really cute SIZE 41 shoes for the low, low price of just €9,95.

Yes, pigs are now gracefully flying through the air.

In addition to finding myself actually enjoying shopping (cute sleep shirt for €4, incredible pair of jeans for €50), I had my first venture to a sushi bar. The fun never ends. I love any restaurant concept that uses a conveyor belt to bring food to its patrons. That, my friends, is sheer genius!

Alas, due to my lack of desire for the raw fish variety of food, however, I took the easy way out and got myself a lovely tempura plate… I love me some fried veggies and Japanese beer, yes indeedy!

My more adventurous friends Veronica and Roberta ordered all number of things even remotely related to what is known in these parts as temaki. Such as californiamaki.

The only thumbs down is my disappointment in reporting that the universal “no toilet paper in the women’s restroom” dilemma is alive and kicking at EUROMA 2. Yes, I was compelled to provide photographic evidence:

My only defense in taking a photo of an empty toilet paper dispenser inside a bathroom stall is that perhaps I had one sake too many.

So, what can I say? All’s well that ends well. Just do not, I repeat, DO NOT, choose the wrong exit. You may end up wandering for days in search of food and water. In our quest to find the car, we passed the following:


Mysterious sinister-looking edifices.

After 20 minutes of walking: yes, we are still in the vicinity of the mall.

The Ministry of Health? What in God’s name….??

Eventually we found the car, after about 30 minutes of traversing the property like three lost sheep. Luckily there is a hotel on the premises. I think the majority of people lodging there are still holding out hope of eventually finding their cars.

Shopping experience completed. I can now sleep at night.

EUROMA 2, Via Cristoforo Colombo angolo V.le dell’Oceano Pacifico

Stores in Rome That Sell Only One Thing

10 Nov

Forget the Walmart Superstores… you won’t find them around here. Look what I spotted just the other day:



That’s right: a slipper store. Since it was closed I couldn’t verify if they sold just slippers, or a few other slipper-related items, like perhaps pajamas or linens. My guess is probably, but a part of me kind of hopes not, because the idea of a store devoted entirely to just slippers is something that I find quite charming and quaint. I’d have to question how they manage to stay in business, but that’s another story.

Or, how about this shop?

Tessuti per camicie.

Fabric for shirts.

And it looks like that’s exactly what you’ll find…

…if you need to make a shirt.

The only thing I’ve ever seen in the States that comes close to these one-item shops is the One Book Bookstore in Bisbee, Arizona. Walter Swan couldn’t find a publisher for his book, so he self-published and opened a store to sell his book. Just that one book. When he wrote another book, he opened a shop next door called The Other Book Bookstore. I’m not making this up…for four years in the early 1990s I lived about 30 minutes from Bisbee.

But that was more of a publicity stunt, while shops like “Pantofole” and “Tessuti per Camicie” surely have loyal neighborhood customers who know just where to go when they find themselves in urgent need of a pair of slippers or fabric to make a dress shirt.

Does your city or town have any shops like this?

Buying Fake Designer Goods in Rome

8 Oct

One of the things that my study abroad students used to ask me every so often was, “Where can we go to get the fake purses?”

There are a few places that are almost like established stores by now, so well-known are they for selling counterfeit luxury goods like Prada, Chanel and Louis Vuitton bags. I had students who had become experts not only in bartering for the best price (“Don’t ever spend more than €25…”) to knowing exactly how to identify the crappy knock-offs from the more authentic-looking ones (“The Gucci bags where the G’s look like 69’s instead of G’s? Avoid them. Way too fake-looking.”)

Personally, I’ve never bought a fake bag and I never intend to. It’s not some sort of statement or snobbery. It’s just that I think I would feel silly carrying one around, when nearly my entire wardrobe consists of Old Navy clothing and Payless shoes. I mean, come on. I pay $16 for a pair of shoes but then I want to try to make people believe that I spent $600 on a handbag? Who are we kidding here?

But lots of people buy them. This article from the International Herald Tribune says that 20% of Italians buy fake goods. Actually, I don’t think that it’s really accurate to examine how many Italians buy the fake goods. My guess is that the majority of the bags are sold to tourists.

I’ve accepted these street vendors without complaint, because they are as much as part of the city as the people who beg for money or the street performers. But I have to say that despite what the article above (from January 2006) says, just recently I’ve seen a marked increase in street vendors selling fake designer purses, sunglasses, and the like. This summer on the more touristy end of my street in Trastevere, madness truly descended. There were so many street vendors with their blankets spread out on both sides of the street, that there was literally only room for people to walk almost single-file. It was becoming like the Vegas Strip, and I found myself searching for alternate routes to avoid the traffic. Luckily I don’t live near that part of the street so I don’t have to bother with the chaos when I come in and out of my apartment, but I have to wonder how the residents who live on that side of the street must feel when they have to maneuver around all these bags and people just to get to their front doors.

A phenomenon you might see when in Rome is a sudden mass exodus of the street vendors packing everything up and getting the hell out of Dodge. That’s because they’ve heard that police are on the beat and so they need to move. Now, I really question whether these street vendors actually ever get ticketed. I think they more likely just find new spots to set up shop, or come back the next day.

For example, towards the end of the summer I saw a sudden disappearance of the street vendors on that busy end of my street, which directly coincided with a marked increase in police cars patroling that particular area. However, around the exact same time, I saw a huge increase in vendors setting up shop in front of the Pantheon (where the photos for this post were taken). It had gotten to the point where one could barely move in the area surrounding the outside of the Pantheon, for fear of tripping over a handbag or pair of sunglasses displayed on the ground or on makeshift tables fashioned from cardboard boxes.

The last I heard, the law was that the person who purchases the fake goods is the one commiting the crime. In fact, the same IHT article says that a Philippine woman living in Florence was fined €3,333 for buying fake sunglasses for €11. While I think that’s entirely possible, I also have to say that I think the chances of a tourist actually getting fined for purchasing fake goods sold in broad daylight in high-traffic tourist zones is just about as likely as the street vendors getting fined or arrested, which I think probably never happens. In my view, there’s an unacceptably high level of tolerance that goes on.

Of course, counterfeit goods are sold in most of the big cities of the world. For three days on my honeymoon I had the opportunity to be in Hong Kong, a simply fascinating and enchanting city, but on certain streets you couldn’t walk two feet without being asked to buy fake electronics or watches. In New York you hear about mysterious secret back rooms where the goods are sold (such as the one mentioned in this article). So I know it’s a problem that doesn’t just concern Rome.

I personally wouldn’t mind if the street vendors were completely wiped off the Rome landscape … to me their improvised street “shops” are annoying and an eyesore, especially in front of such great cultural landmarks, but I know it’s a complicated issue. I haven’t even touched the points surrounding the street vendors themselves, who are most likely all illegal immigrants who certainly have found refuge and a better life here in Italy, or the arguments from the luxury goods companies, who say that these sales not only lower the overall value of their brand, but cause massive job loss in their industries.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever bought one of the bags? (It’s ok to admit it, I doubt the tax police will come hunt you down.) I’m curious to know if you see these vendors as annoyances or as providing some kind of valuable service, allowing people to purchase fake goods at a fraction of the price they cost when they are real.

It’s come to the point where even if I had the money to buy a real designer bag, I probably wouldn’t do it now… I’d be too embarassed thinking that everyone would look at it and think it was a fake.

One-Stop Religious Shopping

19 Sep

I’ve never highlighted Via de’ Cestari before, and to think that for nearly four years I worked in a historic palazzo right on the corner. That building is one of a few throughout Rome classified as “zona extraterritoriale” — meaning that once you cross through the entry gates, you’re officially on Vatican soil. This is where the study abroad programs I managed used to be housed (offices and classrooms), and it was quite an interesting situation since we were the only non-religious group in the building. Despite a few snafus once in a while with some “wardrobe malfunctions” witnessed by shocked elderly nuns (transparent dress with black thong underwear, anyone?), the corresponding phone calls from the head honcho Monsignore (just a few steps down the hierarchy from the Pope) to my office, and my little chit chats with the college-age folk about the appropriateness of dress in a Vatican palazzo… we got by without too many hiccups.

I suppose I grew accustomed then to the myriad of religious shops surrounding the palazzo. Lately, especially since I don’t work there anymore and so when I pass by I’ve become more observant, I’ve noticed how tourists often stop and marvel at the window displays. And I thought, you know, I guess this is kind of out-of-the-ordinary.

So if you’ve ever wondered where the churches get their gear, look no further! This is where nuns and priests can go on big-time shopping sprees.

Like you saw in the first photo of this post, the windows of the numerous shops that line Via de’ Cestari (just before you reach the Pantheon coming from Largo Argentina) display lots and lots of shiny gold church stuff. I was raised Catholic so I grew up seeing many of these things on Sundays, albeit perhaps not always quite as extravagant, but I never really thought much about where they came from. I guess I figured they must all come from a catalog or something. But when in Rome, if you’re the acquisitions person for your church, you can do serious window shopping.

Love this. The latest in nun fashion.

Ah! The choices! Gray? Or black? I just can’t decide!!

Trendy outerwear for the ski vacation in Aspen.

These are truly works of art in their intricate embroidery. Unfortunately there aren’t any price lists in the window like you see in other apparel shops, but I think it’s easy to surmise that they must easily cost thousands of euros.

And, last but not least, what have we here? Like a traditional black housecall doctor’s bag, we have what I can only think to call the “priest to go” kit:

Everything you’d need to perform a mass on the run.

When Pope Benedict was elected, a few articles popped up about “the pope’s tailor.” Apparently, just around the corner from Via de’ Cestari, steps from the Pantheon in Piazza Minerva, is Gammarelli. I haven’t ever taken specific notice of Gammarelli among the other shops, but there’s a charming article here written by a BBC reporter who tried to buy a pair of cardinal’s socks there. Gammarelli is also highlighted in another BBC article from a year later here.

Something I do find very unique about Rome is the “marriage” so to speak between Rome and the Vatican, and how you shouldn’t be surprised to find your path cross with groups of priests, nuns, and monks going about their daily affairs in the city. So now, if you too would like a pair of cardinal’s socks, you know where to go.

Slabbinck, Via de’ Cestari 35-37
De Ritis, Via de’ Cestari 48
Gammarelli, Via Santa Chiara 34

Shopping at Amarena Chic

19 Jun


As you may know I’m not big on shopping, which is why there aren’t many posts in my “Shop til you drop” category. But this little place merits a mention.

Tucked away on Campo Marzio 9 (near the middle of Via del Corso), this tiny shop with one window has always caught my eye, kind of like Joseph Debach. There are always people looking at the shoes in this window.

I, on the other hand, big foot (size 10 US, size 41 Italian) that I am, have long since given up hope of ever being able to buy shoes in Italy. Yes, size 41 does exist, but after years of getting my hopes up to buy a particular shoe only to find that it wasn’t in stock in my size, or after having to endure the strange looks that said without words: “OH! So there actually ARE people who take size 41!” — I’ve given up.

However, the other day while walking by this shop, I spotted a denim hat in the window with a ribbon band and a huge button. It was an impulse, but I went in the shop for the first time ever and asked to try on the hat. I liked it, the price was €35 (which was OK with me because it was a fun, nonsense purchase, something I very rarely do), and that was that. Friendly salesgirls, quick service, and the next thing I knew, I was walking out of the shop with their trademark pink and red bag covered in cherries. Oh man, I was now officially CHIC!

I had to go meet a friend at Galleria Colonna on Via del Corso, and I was sporting my new hat. What do you think?

Me with my hat

Hey, check this out! Typical Italian style, you’ll see these signs on shop windows all over the place.

Ragazza Simpatica

They’re looking for help. They want a guy or gal who is “nice.” Well, simpatico/a I suppose means more than just nice, as the Italians can convey worlds of meaning with just one word. Such as “bella figura” or “bella presenza,” which is also often requested of job applicants (nice appearance?). Lots of times you’ll also see “max età 23” or thereabouts (no one over 23 should apply). We could get off on a tangent here about Italian hiring practices, but we won’t, not today. We’re having too much fun enjoying my new hat!

People, summer has arrived in Rome. That means, IT BE HOT. Very, very hot. If you are sun-sensitive like I am… you will probably need a hat in Rome from mid-June to early September, anytime you plan to set foot outside the house. That sun will beat down on you, hard.

So, here’s the famous Amarena Chic window. You can see my hat’s cousin in the lower right corner:

Shoes in Window

They have what could be described as “whimsical” shoes… little girl shoes for grown-ups. I would buy many pairs. That is, if I wasn’t 5 ft. 11 barefoot (180 cm) with my size 41 feet! Managgia!

Amarena Chic Window
Amarena Chic

Campo Marzio 9

The Devil Wears Joseph Debach

26 Nov

In looking over my new categories, and going through my posts to label them, I realized that there was a glaring void. Shopping. In my nearly 3 months of blogging, I haven’t written one post about anything having to do with shopping here in the capital. I guess that’s kind of shameful, but here’s the thing: I don’t like shopping. Now, don’t get me wrong–it’s not that I don’t like buying things. In fact, I was definitely one of the early adopters of shopping online. I just have never particularly enjoyed that ritual of going into stores, trying stuff on. I have flashbacks of me as a kid during the yearly back to school blitz, hiding in the racks of Sears trying to avoid corduroy pants, velour shirts, and velcro shoes. But, I digress. The point is, I’m going to make more of an effort for voi. But in order for it to end up here, it’s really gotta catch my eye.

That’s why, to inaugurate my new category, I would like to introduce you to Joseph Debach. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of him, because I found his store in the evening after it was closed, and chances are he doesn’t even work there but has his own secret workshop somewhere else, but you can see him on his website. Which, incidentally, has a little wooden puppet and sound effects that made me realize just how easily I am amused.

So, that shoe photo up there? It was in his window and stopped me dead in my tracks. Now, I took my photo in the name of blogging, but let me tell you people that his window had no fewer than six women gaping at it, one of whom was also taking photos. I had to kind of elbow my way up to get the shots. This guy’s stuff is really something.

Just one question, however: who wears these? Wait, don’t answer that. Maybe the better question to ask is: where do you buy the shoelaces?

Well, what can I say–this tiny shop is definitely worth its weight in pitchforks. Whatever that means. And just in case you have no idea where Mr. Debach got his inspiration for that shoe, in case perhaps you’ve been spending some extra time under a rock lately, or you just aren’t as much of a victim of advertising as I am, click here.

Joseph Debach
Vicolo del Cinque 19 (Trastevere)
Tel./Fax: +39 06 5562756