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Pre-Fabricated Italian Diet

19 Jul

There are plenty of great Rome food blogs, many of which are run by people I am very proud and humbled to call friends and acquaintances.

Alas, this is not one of them.

And so it is, without a shred of indignity, that I give you my latest supermarket discoveries and thus evidence to prove that Italians love convenience just as much as the next guy. No shame in my game. Call me on it, I’ll admit it. I’m your big-box Walmart with endless parking in a sea of Nordstrom blogs about Rome. It’s all good. Hell, I nearly killed myself last night carrying my daughter to bed by tripping over a round pillow strategically left by my son in front of his door when I was carrying her out. I hardly have time to shower, for the love of God! I’m a mess! And yet—yet. I care about my readers enough to be the asshat that takes a picture of this package in the dairy section of my corner supermarket:

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Proudly proclaiming “New,” it’s the folks at Buitoni giving us another reason to abandon the joys of homemade pasta, kneaded on Sunday from scratch. You know the type, where you put the big pile of flour on your counter and crack a few eggs in a welled-out space in the middle and presto-change-o, freshly made pasta! (I do, because my Roman ex-husband used to actually do this for fun, and we loved it. I bought him a little hand-cranked Imperia to make pasta and it was good times, let me tell you. Try it, honestly it’s not that hard.)

You know, you Americans across the pond might have your “Boboli Italian Breadshell,” but hey! Over here we’ve got Buitoni’s ready-to-make ravioli. Hell yeah, people! 16 pre-cut discs just waiting for you to stuff them into delicious oblivion. [Post-script: I get that these aren’t pre-made discs of pasta all’uovo to make in water. An astute reader pointed this out to me. I call them ravioli by mistake, referring to the fact that they’re mini. They are DOUGH to STUFF for cooking in the oven, a pan, or frying in oil. Aka CALZONI or PANZAROTTI. That being said, please put all your food corrections, observations, or upturned noses in the comments, as again, this is not a food blog therefore I am not qualified to debate the merits of different types of pasta).

Now, I’ll be honest with you. My kids wouldn’t touch the things. Preschoolers with a palate, Dio mio. Which means I ate like 10 of them. Threw my diet into a tailspin, yes indeedy! I don’t think Weight Watchers has this in their points system. Let it be said that I don’t recommend you try any of this at home. That’s why I’m here.

I do so love the package. It’s very DIY.

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Here it tells us that we can either make them into mini fried ravioli (like mini calzoni, really) and fry ’em up in a hot pan of oil for 2 minutes, or, perhaps more sensibly, bake them in the oven for 10 minutes. I made mine into those little gift bag-looking shapes. Really, all that was missing was a tomato-red ribbon tied around the top. Maybe that’s why my kids didn’t eat them.

And, who said we don’t have bacon over here? Move over bacon, here’s something leaner more Italian called fette di pancetta affumicata!

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This for me is rather epic. Since when do Italians sizzle some sliced bacon and serve it up on a plate next to a pair of fried eggs? Since, um, never, as far as I know. I found this randomly placed on top of a package of gnocchi. Like, someone had it in their cart and then had a last minute change of heart and just slyly threw it back in the dairy case on top of a random bag of gnocchi. *no one saw that!*

Now, here’s a kind of a weird yet fun thing that Coca-Cola has going on right now. Don’t ask me to explain it. They just think they’re cute by printing something like “Share your Coca-Cola with…” and then a name, or some cutesy phrase like “il tuo tesoro” – your sweetheart, etc.

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Personally, if they think that’s going to make me buy more Coca-Cola (they don’t say “Coke” around here), well then, they’re sorely mistaken. Because I’ll tell you what: I turned around every damn bottle in that there fridge and none—and by that I mean NOT A ONE—had the name “Shelley” on it. Humph! (Does anyone ever really use that word/phrase in real life, or is it just written to show haughty dismay? This is clearly a completely irrelevant side question. Discuss amongst yourselves.)

But folks, let’s be honest here. When it comes to pre-packaged “Mediterranean” foods, no one does convenience—or Italian stereotyping, for that matter—like the U.S. advertising industry.

Witness “hot sexy Italian man-chef” stereotype:

Witness “grown boy-man totally dominated by overbearing Italian mamma” stereotype:

Witness “Italian before the dawn of the P.C. era” advertising strategy: (and might I add here, oh dear God)

So, you know. We Americans love our Italian imports. Then again, let’s be fair. Bet y’all Americans out there didn’t know there’s this overblown Southern good ol’ boy from Chattanooga, Tennessee who became famous in ads over here in the 80s by hawking Lipton iced tea with an unbearably thick American accent in Italian? No, seriously. Italians asking me if I know all about the mythic Dan Peterson and I’m like, WHO THE FUCK is this Dan Peterson guy, and they look at me like I’ve been living under a rock my whole entire LIFE.

Ah, yes. Just stick with me, kids. I’ll teach you everything you need to know.

FE-NO-MI-NALE.

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Rome Graffiti Part 2 – Graffiti romani parte secondo

12 Jun

Clicca qui per l’italiano

Anyone out there remember when I took a delve into the wild world of street graffiti about 4 years ago?

Ok, refresh. Talk amongst yourselves. I’m going to go get a coffee.

Now. Let’s regroup. First of all, here’s a little test. Look at the photo below and gauge your first reaction, quick!

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Yep, those is my babies! Aren’t they presh? But what I’m looking for are those of you who didn’t notice the lil’ ones and instead went, OH MY GAWRSH! Would ya just look at all that nastiness on the wall behind those poor, innocent babes? They must be in a (hushed tone) bad neighborhood. Poor little things. They’ll probably be shooting up heroin by the time they’re 10. (I know, that was wrong. But don’t forget I used to intern in Child Protective Services, so although my mind is a little warped, my heart is still devoted.)

Well, folks, I am here to once again report that no, we don’t live in a crack den. In fact, as I explained in my prior report, graffiti isn’t really much of an indicator of neighborhood safety, or gangs, like many in the States might think at first glance.

This time I’m going beyond that explanation though, because we’ve been there before. This time I just want to rag on graffiti I’ve found around town, as my 3 1/2 year old son would say when I ask him why he doesn’t want to do what I ask him to do, “just for fun.”

This one was just for my pal Amber, who says “balls” in English, so I taught her how to say it in Italian:

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What the heck is up with the whole crosshairs showing up constantly in street graffiti? Dude, we get it, you’re all about anarchy. Or something. I just like the whole “che palle!” thing. Like: total frustration + crosshairs. The perfect combination of angst.

Now, give a looker at this:

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As most people who have lived in Rome for even a short time could tell you, AS Roma and SS Lazio are the two local rival soccer teams. Everyone has to split down the middle somewhere. You have to identify yourself. People need to know where you stand.

Just so you know where I stand, I will tell you two things about the above-referenced piece of graffiti which is the standard insult against Lazio. (Basically like saying Lazio y’all are big fat poo-poo heads).

1) It is blasphemous.
2) It was clearly written by someone who belongs to an inferior and more ignorant race, especially given the fact that our very non-observant spray paint genius neglected to notice the graffito above his invective against Lazio, thereby conveniently negating his insult by inadvertently creating the beautiful combination of blue and white, Lazio’s team colors:

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Who’s the big, fat poo-poo head now, suckah!?!?

Wait, wait, I’m sure I have something else for you guys rolling around here somewhere.

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Nope, not graffiti, although it’s still illegal, posting political messages over paid advertisements. I just liked this one because it reads “Get your hands off our big noses!” Because that’s what the fountains all over Rome are called in local slang. “Big noses”. Good stuff. I find it amusing.

Italians are voting on a few issues tomorrow and Monday. Whether to allow nuclear power plants (will go down in flames), and whether or not to privatize public water delivery. Don’t ask me for details because I don’t go near Italian politics with a 10 foot pole. I am not ashamed of my ignorance, I gave up many years ago trying to understand.

Oh, before we part for today, want some street food porn?

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Pizza to go, they cut off a piece as big as you want, it’s sold by weight, and they wrap it all up in paper so you can eat it while you’re walking. Take that, McDonald’s! I’m lovin’ it!
(Jump to comments)

A meno che non leggevate gia’ il mio blog in inglese quattro anni fa, non vi ricorderete un mio post sui graffiti romani. Pero’ se vi viene voglia ora, andate, andate!!

Praticamente, cercavo di spiegare ai miei lettori americani una cosa. Vi faccio un test per farvi capire il problema. Voglio che guardate la foto qui sotto e ditemi la cosa che notate per primo.
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Siiii, quelle sono le mie preziose gemelle di 18 mesi. Tanti lettori in inglese avrebbero notato per prima non le bimbe, ma il muro indietro ricoperto di graffiti. Vedendo cosi’, si sarebbero subito arrivati alla conclusione che, (a voce bassa, con lo sguardo a sinistra e a destra prima di condividervi questa confidenza): “Povere bimbe, vivono in un quartiere malfamato. Cresceranno fra gli aghi buttati dai tossici, vendendo droge ai ragazzi della loro scuola elementare.” (Va bene, ametto che forse ho esagerato un pochino. Ma, non dimenticatevi che ho fatto una stage molto ma MOLTO intensa con i servizi sociali per la protezione dei bambini abusati, percio’, la mia mente ormai vaga in posti dove la gente normale non va…pero’ vi assicuro che il mio cuore e’ rimasto intatto a 100%.)

Insomma, volevo felicemente informare i miei lettori di questo genere che, no, per fortuna, io e la mia famiglia non viviamo in un “den” di oppio. Infatti, come ho spiegato anni fa, trovare i graffiti a Roma (e per la maggior parte in Europa in generale), non e’ un indice su cui uno dovrebbe giudicare la sicurezza di un certo quartiere o la presenza o assenza di violenza, ecc. In america tanti ancora associano i graffiti con le bande tipo i Crips e Bloods di Los Angeles. E va bene. Cosi’ qui non e’.

Questa volta, visto che in passato ho gia’ fatto il mio dovere sociale di illuminare questo mito sbagliato, allora, questa volta preferisco parlare un po’ dei graffiti solamente, come direbbe mio figlio di 3 anni e mezzo quando gli chiedo perche’ non fa quello che io gli chiedo di fare, “per divertimento.”

Allora, ecco la prima foto, fatta appositamente per la mia cara amica Amber in america, che una volta in macchina ha detto “balls” in inglese, cosa che non avrei mai sentito dire da nessuno in inglese, che mi ha fatto tanto ridere, e cosi’ ho insegnato a lei come dire “che palle” in italiano:

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Ma mi spiegate che cavolo c’e’ con quest’ossessione con i mirini? E la madonna! Abbiamo capito, cavolo! Anarchia totale! O qualcosa di simile. Insomma, a me piace semplicemente questa dichiarazione di “ma che palle!” Tipo come per dire: uffa, che noia/frustrazione totale + mirino. Il misto perfetto di angoscia e rassegnazione, con un pizzico di umorismo nero. Lo spirito romano, insomma.

Poi raga’, mettetevi i vostri occhi su di questa:

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Qui ho dovuto spiegare ai miei lettori non italiani e non residenti in Italia, che significano le squadre AS Roma e SS Lazio. Cioe’, che ognuno deve avere la sua squadra alla fine. Ognuno deve o acquisire o ereditare un’identita’ calcistica, ovvero tifosistica (vi piace questa nuova parola?). Che se no, senno come facciamo noi a sapere se ci troviamo in campo di battaglia con degli amici o con dei traditori?

Giusto cosi’ voi sappiate bene dove vi trovate con me, vi elenchero’ qui due cose—fatti, se volete—sulla foto qui sopra. (Che ho dovuto spiegare ai miei lettori non-parlanti di italiano che vuol dire praticamente che la Lazio fa caga’.)

1) Questo graffito e’ un’espressione di quello che la Zanichelli definise “blasfemia.”

2) Chiaramente e’ stato scritto da qualcuno che appariene a una razza di un’intelligenza inferiore, visto che il nostro “artista stradale” geniale non ha fatto caso del graffito che c’era sopra (che do’ per scontato sia stato scritto prima, non litigate con me in questa teoria mia, mi raccomando). Vedete qui:

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Cosa? Che vedo? Biancoceleste? E allora, genio, chi fa caga’ adesso, eh???

(PS Forza Roma. Mi vendo vergognosamente nella ricerca di lettori e pace mondiale.)

Allora, aspettate un attimo, so che c’e’ qualcos’altro di interessante girando qui intorno da qualche parte…

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Qui mi piaceva notare per i miei lettori in inglese che le fontanelle si chiamano “big noses.” Cosi’. Senza motivo.

Va bene, ultima cosa, giusto perche’ vi siete comportati molto bene oggi, non che vi frega minimamente di quello che io considero pornografia gastronomica, ma, eccola comunque per voi:

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Lascia a un’americana come me a fotografarsi il pranzo per strada, il vero “fast food” italiano, la bella pizza al taglio. McDonald’s, TIE’!

Why Italy is in a Slump

14 Dec


Photo I took last night at my local supermarket. Shortage of perishable goods due to this week’s trucker strike.

I know I said I’d get off the ‘problems in Italy’ track for a bit, but I find this very timely so I wanted to share it. Even the New York Times has noticed that we are feeling the pain over here. A reader sent me a link to this article by Ian Fisher, and I found it to be an excellent analysis of the current, sad state of affairs here in Italy as it relates to business, economy, and general quality of life. An excerpt:

“It’s a sadness that what could be isn’t — that we are not a normal country,” said Gianluca Gamboni, 36, a financial adviser in Rome, summing up how he feels about Italy, which he loves, but which drives him insane.

Unlike the older generation, he travels and sees how much better things work elsewhere. He does not spare himself: he still lives with his parents, not because he wants to, but because only now, after seven years at his job, can he afford Rome’s high rents. He is finally considering a place of his own.

The statistics in this article are interesting as well. For example, the article states that “70 percent of Italians between 20 and 30 still live at home.” When I first moved here I thought it was a cultural phenomenon due to some kind of attitude of laziness, but since I’ve lived here I’ve found that it usually has to do with the same problem that Gianluca, quoted above, has—they simply can’t afford to move out, and it’s not only for the exorbitantly high rents in cities like Rome.

Here’s an example. I’ve been told that the average age of a graduate of La Sapienza University law school is 30 years old. The age a person graduates depends a lot on them, how they’ve stayed “on track”, since it’s totally up to each individual student to take the requisite number of exams to pass each subject required for the degree. They take the exams when they personally feel ready and when the exams are offered, and the profs (at least in the law school) are notorious for being totally unpredictable and subjective in how they grade the exams, all of which are oral interviews usually based on snippets of facts from books assigned on the course.

After graduation, he or she must then serve a two-year apprenticeship with a laywer which is usually unpaid and during which time they aren’t able to start their own law practice or build up their own client base. The Italian education system is so incredibly theory-based that apparently this is supposed to compensate for the fact that when Italian law students graduate, they often have never stepped into a courtroom before and would have no idea what to do in terms of the daily errands and tasks a lawyer might need to complete inside the courtroom’s various offices. Unfortunately, the apprenticeship is usually little more than a glorified secretarial/gofer position and although the law graduates are required to attend a certain number of hearings over a two-year period in order to qualify to take the bar exam, often the lawyers they apprentice with take advantage of the free labor and don’t cultivate a mentor/mentee relationship.

The bar exam is held only once a year and consists of a written and oral exam, spread months apart and graded independently (one must first pass the written to be later admitted to the oral). Both parts of the exam are graded/judged by commissions, usually with an extremely low passage rate across the board, which can further delay entry into the career field by a year or two.

Once a law graduate finally has a license to practice, he or she then must spend a few years finding clients and building up their own business, since it’s highly uncommon to enter a law firm as very few big firms really exist. Given the long lag time of the Italian justice system, the first years of work probably won’t bring any worthwhile dividends until the 3rd or 4th year. Those who do go to work for a lawyer with a large practice report being hideously underpaid (something around the equivalent of $5 an hour in some cases), with no real chance for advancement, unless they decide to open their own practice, at which point they’d have to start from square one because they wouldn’t be able to take clients with them, since those are clients of the lawyer whose firm they worked for. With over 16,000 lawyers in Rome, competition is fierce, and when the economy is bad, there is less work to go around.

When all is said and done, six, seven, or more years have easily passed since graduation and one can easily be well into their 30s with still little hope for financial independence or security. This is just one example of the extended adolescence that the “system” seems to promote.

I was surprised that the article didn’t touch too much on “raccommandazioni” or the “who you know” factor that is truly all-important (at least here in Rome), especially in terms of getting a job. People who don’t want to go through the work and struggle of setting up a freelance practice are often lured into the idea of getting “sistemati” (squared away?) in a government job, where they feel the security of guaranteed pay and no possibility of being fired. The problem is that most of these jobs go to people with connections, even though technically most of the positions are assigned through public exams, the exams are often just a thin veil for hiring the “raccommandati.” Until you can find someone who can get you an “in”, you may be on a fruitless job search. The job market here, at least for public sector jobs, is highly inflexible and very immobile.

In the video that accompanies the article, Italian pop-culture author and humorist Beppe Severgnini says that in order for change to happen, each Italian needs to start taking personal responsibility for his behavior, specifically citing “pay your taxes” or “don’t ask for favors when you’re looking for a job.” (It’s probably easy for him to say this: Severgnini comes from a wealthy notary family—notaries are the highest-paid professionals in Italy, often earning six or seven figure annual salaries—and Severgnini himself is no doubt quite well-off as well, given his job writing a popular newspaper column and the enormous success of his various humor books.) Granted, I’m not an Italian but a foreign observer; however, I find his observations to be a bit simplistic and idealistic. In my chats with Italians, I’ve been told that if they paid all the taxes levied on them, they wouldn’t have enough money to live off of. Many freelance professionals and business owners report less income in order to avoid increasing their income taxes, which can hover around 60-65%. I’ve heard many Italians say they would be more than willing to be 100% honest if they felt that the system supported them and that they were getting some value for the high level of taxes they were paying. But other Italians just shrug and say that taking advantage of the system is part of the Italian mentality.

Personally, rather than espousing a blanket statement like “play nice” such as Severgnini seems to be saying, I would tend to side with the Italian who feels betrayed by an incompentent and corrupt government and therefore tries to take whatever small advantages he can from the system. Severgnini seems to be saying that Italians like to take the easy road of blaming the government for their problems, but truly, when the government sets a blatantly corrupt and inefficient example for the entire country, using the system to their personal advantage while neglecting the day-to-day management of the business at hand and neglecting to solve the real problems that exist… it’s quite hypocritical to expect citizens to be honest just for the sake of being honest.

Racism in Italy and Soccer

11 Dec

Just today I saw this article in which Manchester United player Louis Saha says he expects racist taunts from Rome soccer fans when Manchester plays Roma tomorrow. In the article he is quoted as saying, “We are traveling to Italy and in those kind of places it seems like they are used to it.” And also, “They don’t fight it like we have done in England,” he stated.

I’ve never talked about this on my blog because it’s a touchy subject but I have to say that I agree with Saha on both points: 1) Yes, I’d agree that here they are used to it (ie, it’s considered normal) and 2) No, I don’t think they fight it like they do in England (or the States for that matter, although racial taunts aren’t really a part of sporting events there in my experience).

I was shocked the first time I heard a chant that I think some Lazio fans (Rome rivals) sing, in which they name four black Rome players, making a rhyme out of the name that rhymes with “This here team, looks like Africa…”

When I first heard it, I said, isn’t that kind of racist? And every Italian I spoke to was totally surprised I would think that was racist. “How?” they asked. “It’s true.”

There’s another chant that goes something like, “You came over on a raft, you came over on a raft…” and only goes for foreigners, not Italian players. Boh.

The logic here regarding racist statements and PC statements is kind of bizarre. I’m almost always met with this kind of response: “We’re not being racist, we don’t mean any harm by it, it’s just the truth. Racism is when people have some kind of malice or hate behind it. If I make fun of a Chinese accent or call a Chinese person ‘almond eyes’ it’s because it’s true. Anyways, we Italians are ‘racist’ even among ourselves, we criticize Neapolitans, Calabrians, you name it, we don’t make distinctions. All in good fun. We’re not so uptight like you Americans.”

You see some of this in TV commercials as well. Recently there was a spot for Lavazza Qualità Oro where they have a famous Italian actor dressed up in “Chinese” garb with an exaggerated Chinese accent, promoting “Qualità Olo” (because the Chinese accent in Italian changes the R to L). When the Chinese man serves the coffee, another actor says to him, “Listen, straight from China in a van, you drink that crap!” then they go on to enlighten him about the authentic Italian coffee. Is this offensive or humorous? (Click through feed reader post to see video).

Jessica in Rome brought up a similar topic and commercial on her blog a while back, and sparked a good discussion.

In terms of the justifications some Italians give, I’ve heard all of the above when asking about the topic of racism here in Italy. I suppose it depends how you define racism. And maybe we are overly sensitive in the States. But I suppose I’d prefer to err on the side of caution rather than needlessly offend someone, because how am I to know how they might personally interpret something I might think is harmless, when it singles them out for their race or ethnic origins?

The article about the soccer match says that: “It is suggested that there will be some representatives from England to help the Italians deal with the situation more appropriately.”

Um, ok. That should be interesting. What do they plan to do? Throw out any fans caught chanting racial slurs? I think this is a cultural topic we’re touching on, and isn’t just in soccer. My two-second analysis leads me to think that since Italy hasn’t ever really been much of a melting pot like England or the US, they’ve never really had to frankly deal with these kinds of issues. There just doesn’t seem to be the sensitivity here to racist remarks or jokes as I’m used to back in the States. I hear broad generalizations and racist stereotypes batted around frequently about Jews, blacks, and other racial/religious/ethnic groups all the time. I suppose I’d have to say that when I’ve heard these comments, no, it didn’t seem that there was an undercurrent of malice or hate, but certainly a bit of intolerance or insensitivity, yes, just by definition.

I’ve gotten used to this phenomenon in Italian culture, and of course not everyone I know is completely oblivious to the issues surrounding these kinds of statements; in my experience some Italians are actually quite aware of the implications of these soccer stadium chants and everyday jokes and don’t take part in them. But I do sometimes wonder if “PC” will ever come to Italy.

Going to the Movies in Italy

12 Nov

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If you’ve ever been to a movie here in Italy, then you’ve probably noticed a few unique traditions or customs that come along as part of the Italian movie-going experience. By now I’m used to them, and in fact most of them I actually have grown to like… but in the beginning, it took a bit of getting used to.

1. Doppiaggio (do-pee-AH-joe)

As you may know, most foreign movies shown in Italy aren’t shown in original language with subtitles, but are dubbed over. This is kind of a bummer if you’re an English speaker living here and don’t speak Italian, since most of the movies we’re talking about have English as their original language. (Granted, there are a few cinemas that show movies in English but I’m not going to touch on those today).

Most foreigners I know living here actually don’t like the dub-over effect, while most Italians I know adore it. One thing to know is that the same voice actor always dubs the same foreign actor. Here’s something I found while researching:

Films are dubbed so well and so consistently in Italy, that it is common for a single dubber to shadow the career of a foreign actor for years. For example, with your back turned to the screen, even if the film is in Italian, you know that Woody Allen is speaking, because his dubber is always Italian comic Oreste Lionello. As noted, however, some dubbers are well known as the voices of more than one actor. Emilio Cigoli does both John Wayne and Clark Gable, so you may actually have to turn around and look at the screen to find out if you’re watching Stagecoach or Gone With the Wind.

And just in case this conjures up images in your mind of poorly dubbed kung-fu movies, I have to say that surprisingly, the words and mouth movements are incredibly synchronized, to the point where you really almost forget that the movie is dubbed. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s pretty high quality.

I even have a little claim to fame in this area. Once when I was getting my hair cut, I was sitting at the sink next to Pino Insegno, who I vaguely recognized at the time as some comic or actor, but didn’t know his name. We got to chatting (he was super hyper and was “on” the entire time) and he told me that he dubs Will Farrell here in Italy.

Most Italians I’ve talked to have been disappointed if they’ve had the chance to hear the real voices of the original actors. That’s because the Italian voice actors are actually so good, that the movies are often better with the voice overs. I can personally attest to this… I bought the first season set of the HBO Rome mini-series, and started out watching it in English. Then Ale joined me and we switched over to Italian, and I didn’t want to go back to the English… I thought the acting improved when it was in Italian. Incredible but true.

2. Intervallo (een-tehr-VAHL-lo)

Or, what it must have been like to see Gone With the Wind in the cinema. In Italy, most cinemas still have an intermission about half-way through the movie. The funniest part to me, besides the fact that it was just odd having the lights come up half-way through the movie and people talking, etc., is that sometimes the place where they cut the movie off is literally right in the middle of someone’s line, or an important scene. It often seems like there’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to where they decide to stick the intervallo. You’re into the movie, then, out of nowhere, it just stops and a big screen that says INTERVALLO comes up, the lights come on, and the person with you usually says something like, “Ti piace?” and you start talking about if you like the movie so far, etc. It usually lasts about five minutes.

At first I have to say that I thought the intervallo was a totally unneccessary interruption, but now I admit that I actually enjoy it. I like the ritual of turning to the people with me and discussing the movie so far. It can also make for a convenient bathroom break without having to come back and ask what you missed. So now, when I go to a cinema without an intervallo, I actually kind of miss it.

3. Assigned seating

I always get a kick out of this one when I go to Warner Village in Piazza Repubblica, one of the cinemas that shows movies in original language and is right downtown around a lot of hotels, thus has a lot of tourists. Watch their puzzled looks as they, comfortable in their seats, are confronted by other movie-goers who tell them “That’s my seat you’re in,” as if they were on an airplane.

Italian cinemas usually have assigned seating. I don’t really know why this is, especially given the fact that I’ve never been to a movie where the theater was full. And, strangely enough, despite the fact that here in Rome things like lane-lines on the roads and checkout lines in supermarkets go largely ignored, I have to say that at the cinema, people are pretty stuck on sitting exactly in their assigned seat. The worst part is when you get to the movie late and have to go searching around for the row letter and seat number in the dark.

4. Concessions stand

While a lot of cinemas have popcorn machines, there are also still quite a few here in Rome that sell pre-popped popcorn in bags, which I always thought was kind of funny. There isn’t usually a really wide range of candy, and with the exception of the Warner Village Cinemas, I’d say that portion sizes are still quite humble in comparison with their American cousins. The best part is when the man or woman comes into the theater during the intervallo with a box strapped around his or her neck, selling everything from bottles of Coke to bags of pre-popped popcorn and pre-packaged ice cream cones. Kind of like being at a sporting event.

5. Wednesday is discount day

I’m not sure if this is true throughout Italy, but I learned that in Rome, the movies are cheaper if you go on Wednesdays. I have no idea why, but it is so.

Right now the average price of a movie ticket here in Rome is about €7-€7.50 (the equivalent of $10 or $11 US). Some cinemas have reduced matinee pricing. On Wednesdays the price for all shows usually drops to around €5 or €5.50. I guess Wednesday must have been the slowest day for movies, so at some point in history the powers that be decided that they’d offer a mid-week discount.


6. Summer closures

While this is becoming less common (especially as US summer blockbusters are big money-makers), some cinemas still close for the summer for lack of A/C in the theaters. The nice flip side to this is that in Rome during the summer you can often catch lots of outdoor movie showings. My favorite outdoor cinema is on Tiber Island.

And, speaking of movies, the photo at the beginning of this post is from the movie “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso” (also known simply as “Cinema Paradiso“), which won the Oscar in 1989 for best foreign-language film. If you’re in the mood for a great Italian movie, go out and rent that one, or one of my other favorites, Io Non Ho Paura (“I’m Not Scared“).

I know we’ve made a list of favorite Italian movies before, but any new entries to add? Do you have any Italian movie-going experiences to share?

Surviving Stomach Flu in Italy

4 Nov

There was a pretty nasty stomach flu going around Italy towards the end of September and most of October. Pretty much everyone I know came down with it for a few days, including my husband. I, on the other hand, managed to sail through without any problems. Until last night… when it decided to rear its ugly head just when I thought it was gone for good. I haven’t had a bad stomach flu for probably like 8-10 years or so—I suppose it was time. Therefore, I bring you today’s post propped up on pillows from my sick bed… my hand placed dramatically against my forehead… OH, WOE IS ME… and what dedication to NaBloPoMo, I might add.

In any case, having the stomach flu made me think about something that I found interesting after I moved here. It seems obvious to say, but I just hadn’t ever thought about it before. The thing is this: remedies for the stomach flu vary not only from country to country, but even from family to family. And when faced with having to use “someone else’s” tried and true remedy once you get sick…giving up your own can be a hard habit to break.

Whenever I got the stomach flu as a kid in the United States, my mom would give me ginger ale, using a straw to blow bubbles in it to force out all the carbonation. To this day I have no idea why that was necessary (can someone explain this to me?) but it was always what she did. I got to sip that, and eat Saltine crackers. Those were always my two companions next to me on the couch as I watched Scooby Doo and waited to puke again. My aunt used to recommend hot tea with lemon and Saltine crackers (I think the crackers are a recurring theme in my family). That was it…and you didn’t dare go near anything greasy, oily, or dairy until you knew you were over it.

Well, come to Italy, and I learn that the never-fail remedy that my husband’s family swears by is a bowl of white rice with a small dollop of olive oil on top.

GASP! Olive oil?! That breaks one of my mom’s cardinal rules—no greasy or oily foods. And frankly, for me the idea of eating a bowl of white rice after having thrown up just doesn’t sit well.

But see, the idea for many Italians I’ve spoken to of having something like Sprite (no ginger ale here in Italy as far as I know) and crackers when they’re sick with a stomach bug… those I’ve talked to just can’t imagine anything but their plate of white rice.

So I guess we get pretty attached to these things, and fortunately Ale went out to get me my Sprite and crackers. I don’t have anything against white rice with olive oil, mind you, but old habits are hard to break, and this is one I just can’t stomach. (I guess bad puns come with my flu as well.)

Anyhoo, now I’m curious: what were your family’s home remedies for the stomach flu? Do you think it’s a cultural thing or a family thing? Do you know of any other stomach flu remedies here in Italy?

PS I’ve also heard that for an upset stomach, here in Italy you drink an espresso with lemon squeezed in it. I can assure you that you won’t catch me doing that anytime soon, but I know people who swear by it.

Kids in Italy: Bambini with Cell Phones

25 Oct

Yesterday I was walking down Via del Corso and I ran into a group of school kids on a field trip—probably about 7 or 8 years old. While distractedly following his classmates and teachers down this busy tourist street, the kid in front of me was furiously searching for something on his Motorola flip phone. You can see him here holding it in his right hand.

Maybe I’m just a big prude; maybe I’m totally behind the times. But this “kids with cell phones” thing has never gone over very well with me.

Alessandro has two cousins who are school-age, one who is now 11 and the other who is 13. Back when the 11-year old was only about 7, at Christmas, we were talking with Ale’s uncle about the fact that his cousin had already gone through two or three cell phones (not because they had broken, but just because newer models had come out). We said, “Kids that age don’t need cell phones.”

His uncle’s response? “Oh, there’s no harm done. They just use them for sending SMS text messages back and forth during class. Anyhow, think about it: you wouldn’t want your kid to be the only one in the class without one, now would you?”

Wow. I was opposed to this response on so many levels.

But perhaps I’m the only one. Actually maybe Ale and I are the only ones. He agrees with me that kids don’t need cell phones, at least not until they’re of the age where they’re going out on their own. But here in Italy I have seen so many kids with them. I don’t know if I’d say that a majority of Italian kids have their own cell phone, but I definitely think it is a big trend.

Back to Alessandro’s cousin, flash forward to earlier this year. We’re out to lunch at a restaurant and his cousin pulls out his umpteenth cell phone since age 7 (remember, he’s now 11, a ripe old age in terms of cell technology). He’s totally focused on the screen, which is definitely larger than your average, and much more high-tech looking than my cheap but super-efficient €47 Nokia. We start talking about a soccer game coming on TV later that afternoon, and his cousin starts laughing and says, “Look!”

He flips his cell phone around and proudly shows us how it’s not just a cell phone, but also a TV. “I can watch the game on my phone!”

Mamma mia.

I’m really curious to know if this is really the wave of the future… am I going to be the only parent whose kid doesn’t have a cell phone in 1st grade?

So back to the bambino on Via del Corso…when his school group sat down in front of Parliament to take a breather, our kid took a call on his mobile.

What could possibly be so urgent during a school field trip that a kid needs to take a call?

In this blog post (I’m assuming written by a teacher) from a blog about scholastic life here in Italy, regarding the use of cell phones in class, it says: “I ragazzi si alzano con la scusa di aver bisogno del bagno, in realtà lo fanno per rispondere alla chiamata della mamma.”

The kids get up with the excuse that they have to go to the bathroom, when they’re actually leaving the room so they can respond to a call from their mom.

Hmmm, maybe cell-kid’s mom was just calling to ask how he was enjoying Rome. The post goes on to say: “…i cellulari creano una infinità di problemi, i genitori lo sanno, ma sono i primi a difenderne l’uso.”

…cell phones create infinite problems, parents know this, but they’re the first to defend their use.

I’ve actually read this in several places—that whenever the proposal is brought up to ban cell phones from use in class, the parents tend to send up a protest.

Apparently there’s a directive from the Minister of Public Instruction Giuseppe Fioroni that bans cell phones in class, and gives teachers the right to take the cell phone from the student if used during lessons. To have the cell phone back, the parents theoretically would have to see the school principal. I have no idea how much this is actually enforced, but my gut feeling is that this probably doesn’t go over too well with parents here, and thus, I’d be curious to see just how many Italian teachers actually enforce it. I usually make a point to try not to generalize, but in my observation it seems that many parents here are a lot less disciplinarian in general with their kids than what I’m used to seeing back in the States. Actually, I could write an entire post about “Italian kids behaving badly in public”, but that will have to be for another time.

In any case, I’m thinking that most (if not all) people reading this post grew up just fine without ever having a cell phone. Is that now a thing of the past?

I’m curious to know what you think…is this just an Italian cultural phenomenon? In your opinion, is it appropriate for kids to have cell phones? If so, at what age should they get their first cell phone? If not, at what age would they be able to get one?

What about the model? Do you think it’s ok for them to have one of those special kid cell phones that only has buttons to call mom, dad, home, and emergency? Or is it ok to always have the latest model, changing whenever a cooler one comes out?

If you’re a parent, have you faced pressure from your kid to buy a cell phone? Or, have you done so and do you find it useful? Are they allowed to have cell phones at school?

And, last but not least, how do you think the Italian public would react if an elementary school teacher did something like THIS?