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Merry Christmas from Rome

24 Dec

Just in case you were worried, I want to reassure you that the Christmas spirit, Roman style, is alive and well around these parts.

How do I know this? Let me count the ways.

This morning, as I (stupidly) was entering my neighborhood supermarket, I passed by a 40-something woman getting into her car, screaming the following festive words of greeting at the top of her lungs:

“And let me tell you something, I’d beat you up right now if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s Christmas!!! And also because I respect that you’re an old lady!”

Awwwwww. Doesn’t it just warm your heart? Me too.

But wait! There’s more!

As I was waiting in the (unending ridiculously long God help us all) line to pay for my meager purchases, I observed the following holly jolly scene:

Man hands teenage cashier a 20 euro bill to pay for his groceries. The total is €4.92.

Cashier, who BTW has a santa hat stuffed into her jeans pocket (scrooge!) with air of extreme displeasure: [distinct irritated sighing noise] “Don’t you have a 5?”

***here I must interject, once and for all, that I continue to not understand the above-mentioned problem with changing money here in Rome (kindly refer to number 5). Why, oh why, must we pay for our things coming as close as humanly possible to the exact display on the register? What is this strange phenomenon, I ask you!? Are there not banks in Rome? Is this a frickin’ TV game show? Whoever has exact change wins the prize? AAARRRGH. ***

Man and wife begin to search pockets and wallets for coins. Man looks in wallet and begins counting. 1, 2… wife opens wallet, finds 50 cents.

People. It does not take a rocket scientist to deduce that this is not efficiency’s finest moment of glory.

However, it does not stop our cashier from continuing to insist. As we all wait in anxious anticipation for the aforementioned 4 euros and 92 cents to magically manifest.

Man finds total of 5 euros in coins. Presents to cashier with a pithy “I hope you’re happy now.”

When it came my turn, she turns to her friend cashier next to her and says: “Can you believe that guy? ‘I hope you’re happy.’ What nerve! He should talk! Trying to pay for a 4,92 purchase with a 20 euro bill! I mean come on!”

Apparently this is not the Christmas spirit, to pay like this. I pay with my ATM card, hand trembling, but do not receive any reprimands. Yay.

Oh, by the way? I bought a gift today in a shop that cost €8. “Can I pay with my credit card?” say I. This is what we like to call a RHETORICAL QUESTION. Or at least that is what I considered it to be, until I got the response: “For 8 euro? Um, no. No. Not for 8 euro. Sorry.”

Fa la la la la, la la la LAAAAAAA!!!!!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a pocketful of exact change!

PS A dear reader with an astute eye, who I shall refer to simply as “Big Cat” (you have a code name now! so cool!) took some photographic evidence for me last night which demonstrates that “Yankee Candles” are now available for gift-giving to one and all here in Rome. BTW, I am so loving the tagline on their website: “America’s best loved candle.[tm]” (Yes, this is a trademarked phrase. So don’t try to steal it.) Now. I understand the problems inherent in claiming to be America’s best candle; clearly this would be quite difficult to prove. But, America’s best LOVED candle? Is this substantiated? I personally do not love paying $25 a jar for scents like “Nature’s Paintbrush” or “Raindrops on Roses,” however delightful they may be. But this is because I am a cynical, cold and heartless woman. You, however, may not be like me and therefore you can be comforted by the knowledge that a vacation to Rome can also include these scents:

Grazie gattone πŸ˜‰

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Happy Holidays!

24 Dec


Photo by Zoen

Hard to believe that 2007 is already coming to a close. Grazie mille for reading and sharing your thoughts and insights with me this year. Hope you have a wonderful holiday season and that the new year finds you and yours happy and healthy.

Ci vediamo in 2008!

Holiday Light Fugliness

18 Dec

I can’t take credit for the term, that goes to my dearest pal Finny, who is now into the 2nd year running of a fugly holiday light review on her blog. If you haven’t been following the fun, then I suggest you grab a mug of eggnog and pop on over to ruthlessly ridicule some serious Clark Griswold wannabes. Nothing brings out the holiday spirit like bitterly chastising your neighbors for their over-zealous displays of Christmas cheer!

For your viewing pleasure, I have helpfully arranged some more, complete with, and I quote:
“The deer’s main food source is luminous ground squirrel droppings. And I won’t have this phenomenon of nature go unrecognized at the holidays.” See for yourself:

More Fugliness
Fugly House 2007
Fugly House 2006

I didn’t think that fugly houses existed here in Rome. Maybe namely because we just don’t have a lot of houses and/or yards here in the city, so the potential for fugliness is drastically reduced. But alas, this year my assumption was proven wrong, and on one of the most majestic houses in my neighborhood, no less. The horror.

You see, in a piazza near my house (apartment of course, although we all call them “casa”), there is a grand old building that dates, well, I don’t know exactly when it was built. I do know that it was restored in the 1200s. So that tells you something. It shows up in some watercolor paintings of my neighborhood from the mid-1800s as well. Behold:

Nevermind the arch on the right, what I’m talking about is the grand old villa on the left, as it is in the watercolor painting and as it is today. It was abandoned up until about two or three years ago, when some mega-millionaire came in and did a gorgeous restoration job and rents out apartments inside (not for holiday stays but for residents). Love this building.

So, you can imagine my shock when I was walking home the other night and spotted a circus variety of holiday lights strung haphazardly from various windows in the building. Oh, for the love!

http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-5732499564360234449&hl=it

In the 4-second video above (click through to post if you’re in a feed reader), I encourage you to note not only the blinking mess in the upper right corner balcony (which, when not defiled by said lights, looks as dignified and beautiful as something out of Romeo and Juliet), or the “I’m so artistic” Christmas tree design in the middle, but also the blue nonsense below it and the flashing madness on the left side (the front of the building as seen in the previous images).

I know, they’re just trying to spread a little Christmas cheer. Fine, fine. I don’t mean to be the Grinch here. Just doing my part to showcase that the Fugly Holiday House knows no geographical or historical boundaries.

Shall we extend Finny’s Fugly House 2007 to international proportions? Submit your photos for her perusal and sarcastic commentary.

Ho, ho, ho!

It’s Looking A Lot Like Christmas in Rome

17 Dec

A couple signs you know it’s Natale around these parts…

Panettone, anyone? Pandoro? Christmas cakes lining the sidewalk outside an enoteca… they’ll throw in a bottle of spumante for less than €5 total. Not a bad deal!

I think this is one of the most common Christmas decorations in all of Italy. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that these little Santas trying to get into windows are hung on apartment buildings all over the city, and the country for that matter.

Apparently a cold front is coming in and it could even snow in Lazio. It snowed here in Rome for about 10-20 minutes about four years ago. Seeing the snow come through the oculus in the Pantheon is a pretty rare event!

Christmas Shopping at an Italian Pharmacy

5 Dec

The gift for that person who has everything? An Italian pharmacy has just the solution. Santa Claus is bringing lots of goodies and toys…

wait… scratch that.

He’s bringing lots of

blood pressure monitors!

What better way to say “Ti voglio bene” for the holidays?

The ad text reads: “A Pic blood pressure monitor for Christmas has all the warmth of a gift given with the heart.”

Who knew Santa was so health-conscious? Do you think the pharmacy has special gift wrap? Will they throw in some free blood pressure meds?

Ah, the holidays. Let the shopping games begin!

Torrone: Typical Italian Christmas Treat

28 Nov

When it comes to the Christmas season here in Italy, there are three sweet
treats that you’ll find popping up in every supermarket in town: Panettone, Pandoro, and Torrone. Panettone and Pandoro are typical Christmas cakes, while Torrone (tor-ROH-nay) is a nougat bar made with egg whites, honey and sugar, and usually with hazelnuts or almonds as well. It generally comes out only around Christmas time and has both a crunchy and soft version, and can be white or chocolate, or other flavors, and sometimes is also covered in chocolate.

Different regions have different types of torrone, but the one I’m most familiar with and the one I like best is the one from L’Aquila made by the Sorelle Nurzia factory (the Nurzia sisters). I’ve recently found out that the Nurzia brothers have a factory too (what is this, family rivalry?) and have been told their torrone is better, but I’ve never seen it for sale anywhere. I tried to access their webpage here, but it wouldn’t load. But I can tell you for sure that the Sorelle Nurzia torrone we have in the house right now tastes like the inside of Milky Way bar with hazelnuts instead of caramel, and much, much better. (Speaking of Milky Way, I must admit that I am just the slightest bit disturbed by the advertising tagline on their homepage: “Comfort in every bar.” Yikes.) Well, Sorelle Nurzia’s chocolate torrone is certainly more than comfort in every bar… it is simply buono da morire… to die for!

Here is an assortment of torrone artigianale (homemade/artisan torrone) that was on display at a Christmas market near Biella, up in the north of Italy, last weekend.

From the photo I can see two types of soft torrone on offer, referred to as “morbido” or “tenero.” The crunchy version might be referred to as “duro” and has a higher content of hazelnuts or almonds, although in the photo above there is even a torrone that has peanuts.

(On an almost completely unrelated note, while I was surfing around doing a bit of research for this post, I stumbled upon Candy Blog. OMG. Someone reviews candy for their blog—I love it. I am definitely going here for a periodic virtual sugar rush.)

But back to torrone…I’d say it’s a staple in most Italian homes at Christmas time, along with the cakes I mentioned and assorted dried fruits, especially dates and figs. Have you ever tried torrone? Do you have a favorite kind?

Fourth of July in Rome

5 Jul

July 4

Yesterday was the very first time (in six years) that I’ve celebrated Fourth of July in Rome. This year Alessandro and I were invited as guests to the US Ambassador’s annual shindig at his “humble home,” Villa Taverna. The residence, at seven walled acres, covers an entire city block, and it contains the largest private park/garden in the city. While I’d love to pretend that we have some bigwig insider connections, the truth is that some dear friends of ours work for the embassy and were gracious enough to extend their guest passes to us. So, basically this is your typical July 4 BBQ, except the guest list was around 2,800 people (that’s a lot of hamburgers and hot dogs, people!) and you definitely do NOT wear shorts and your Old Navy flag t-shirt.

Luckily we arrived quite early with our friends, in order to avoid the rush of people and enjoy the grounds of the residence in all its glory. The gardens, as I’m sure you can imagine, are nothing short of majestic.

Garden 1

Garden 2

I particularly liked this little tidbit of Roman history lodged in the outer wall of the cinema. (Yes, I said cinema, as in, movie theater. It wasn’t open, but just the fact that it exists on the grounds in its own separate building is … well … like I said, “humble home.”)

Cinema

The barbeque aspect of the celebration was heaven for an expat like me. I have to admit that the 4th of July is second only to Thanksgiving on my list of holidays I miss most now that I live abroad. When we arrived at the back part of the grounds where the hamburgers and hotdogs were being grilled, the smell of BBQ smoke wafting lazily in the summer breeze… I started to feel that much closer to home.

Grill

What’s that, you say? Those are Lay’s potato chips? Hamburgers and hotdogs shipped in from the US of A? Heinz ketchup? French’s mustard? Vlasic hamburger dills? Man, oh, man. Pinch me. You see, many an expat living abroad does a strange value-shifting in which American brand names that can’t be had in Italy suddenly become delicacies. I think I might have actually shed a tear or two. (Of course, I told people it was just the smoke from the BBQ grill).

Condiments

The popcorn machine and the cute red and blue bags of “Delicious POPCORN, Fresh and Crisp” were charming, and the promises made by the bag didn’t disappoint. It was indeed delicious, fresh, and crisp. Alessandro declared it “real American popcorn.” This meaning that it had that uniquely US combination of imitation butter with super salty salt. Now that I think of it, if I had brought a bigger purse I could have hoarded a few bags for later. But I was too busy scarfing from the platter upon silver platter of homemade chocolate chip cookies and brownies.

Popcorn

Remember my article about confetti when I was in the throes of planning my Roman wedding? Well, here, my friends, is a lovely marriage of Italian and American traditions. Fourth of July confetti, Italian-style.

Confetti 1

Confetti 2

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the sheer delight I had in people watching and taking part in one of my favorite Roman pastimes, celebrity-sighting.

After the party got into full swing, we caught a glimpse of a couple politicians famous on a national level (Gianfranco Fini and Massimo D’Alema). For the record, they looked much tanner in person. I think I *might* have seen Jeff Israely, TIME magazine’s Rome correspondent, who I met once during an event organized by one of my former study abroad colleagues (she also being a journalist, with a monthly column in The American). Do hop over to check out Jeff Israely’s article on the phenomenon of Italian espresso in this week’s TIME—he’s an excellent journalist and writer capturing aspects of political and cultural life in Rome and Italy. And then of all people, I saw good ol’ Pino Insegno again. Man, that guy is everywhere. (A proposito, funny article by an Italian blogger about his ubiquitous presence in local advertising here.) Last time I saw him in person, he was getting his hair washed at the sink next to me. You see, apparently we share the same hairstylist, and we chatted about his job dubbing Will Ferrell in Italian. (All English-language movies are dubbed into Italian). Now that I think of it, I wonder how he managed Ricky Bobby’s accent?

So, all in all, a very fun Independence Day bash. And, at the risk of sounding a little too nostalgic, I must say that one of the best parts for me, besides eating my monster hamburger, was when the military band played the Star Spangled Banner. Moments like that remind me how proud I am and how lucky I feel to be an American, and how great it is that we are taught and celebrate national patriotism. While I love living in Italy, I have never been one of those expats who moved abroad to escape my home culture.

So, to all you other Americans out there, expats and non: how did you celebrate? To non-Americans, does your country have a day out of the year that it celebrates its independence or birth as a nation? When is it and what do you do to celebrate?