Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Books

It's an adventure of books that fly across the globe, the women who send them forming a community of readers who get a variety of new novels for just the cost of postage. And you are invited to join!

A few weeks back when I wrote a review of "When in Rome" and realized how many people wanted to read it but didn't have access to it, I offered to send out my copy to whoever wanted it. A waiting list formed. An Australian reader volunteered to send out her copy as well. A longer list formed. And an idea that had been rolling around in my head, and my avid-reader bloggy buddy Jessica's as well, started to come up again after months of not discussing it: why not start an actual book swap "club"?

The idea crossed our minds because, being big bookworms but living in countries where English is not the primary language can make buying English language books an expensive proposition. We thought, there's gotta be a better way. Postage seemed cheaper to us than buying books new. Plus, it would give us a way to form a community of global readers, each of us writing notes and sharing our thoughts before passing the book on to the next person in the group. Each book would take on a "traveling heritage" and we'd all save money on buying new books in the process.

So, here it is, then: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Books. You contribute one (or more) of your books to share with the community, then you choose the books you want to receive from the community. It's that simple!

For all the information, and to sign up, please click here.

A big, big thanks to Jonathan for getting our site up and running, and Jessica for being such a fun partner in crime on this project. I enjoyed designing the logo... do you like it?

Hope you'll join us!

(And to any men interested: since all the people who signed up for "When in Rome" were women, we didn't figure there would be much interest on your part... no hard feelings?)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Alberto, We Miss You

The other night I spotted this phrase in a neighborhood in north Rome. Do you know who Alberto is?

I can only guess that they're referring to Alberto Sordi, a Roman comic actor of mythical proportions who made his most famous work in the 50s and 60s. Of the 150 films he was in, he is probably best-known and loved for "Un Americano a Roma" where he plays a Roman so enamored with American culture and all things American (wishing he had been born in Kansas City) that he tries to live an American lifestyle among the Romans and even fakes an attempted suicide leap from the top of the Colosseum to gain attention for his plea for American citizenship. Given the anti-American climate these days, it's touching that this film has had such enduring popularity. Just one year after the film's release in 1954, Sordi was even invited to Kansas City and made an honorary citizen for promoting the city through this movie.

If you've never seen or heard about the film, but you've been to Rome, chances are you've seen this still taken from the movie:

Tell me you've seen this! I mean, it's only posted in just about every down-home Roman trattoria in existence. In fact, I have this idea rolling around in my head to document every restaurant that has it. It would be simple, just take a picture of the picture, then list the name and address of the restaurant. Next time I see one, I'm starting... and you are all welcome to send me yours as well. We can start an Italy-wide list.

I'd love to be able to embed this scene in my post, but unfortunately it's been taken off of YouTube for copyright restrictions. However, the world wide web is indeed wide, and so you can still view it here.

Basically it's a battle between a plate of macaroni (maccheroni), and what Sordi's character considers an "American" meal (yogurt, jam, milk...random things he finds in his kitchen). In the end, he can't resist the pasta and utters what has arguably become one of the most famous lines in Italian cinema: "Maccheroni, m'hai provocato e io ti distruggo adesso, io me te magno." Which translates roughly to: "Macaroni, you've provoked me and now I'm going to destroy you, now I'm going to eat you up." (Much better if you can watch and understand it in the original context of the movie.)

When Alberto Sordi passed away in 2003 at age 82, his funeral was attended by Ciampi (the president at the time), Rome's current mayor Veltroni and former mayor Rutelli, as well as other important figures in the local and national government. But most touching was the outpouring of love from Rome's citizens. According to this article, on one day prior to the funeral, around 60,000 mourners filed past the open casket in front of city hall, and this continued for days. At the funeral, banners filled the square outside of the Basilica of S. Giovanni, one of the most memorable of which said: "Yesterday you were an American in Rome, today you're a Roman in heaven."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Is AYCE pasta the next step?

That's right. Take the DWARF'S CHALLENGE!

"Can you eat our Florentine steak (a.k.a. generally about 1.5-2 lbs.) in JUST 5 MINUTES??? Then YOU WON'T PAY!!!"

Well, I suppose you won't pay monetarily speaking. Gastronomically speaking is anyone's guess.

Oh, man.

Yes, I'll admit, I laughed out loud before whipping out my ever-present camera, but frankly, seeing something like this in Rome makes me just a little queasy. Whatever happened to the Slow Food movement? I'm now having flashbacks of huge billboards on Interstate 40 (former Route 66) from the Big Texan Steak Ranch. And I quote:
The FREE 72oz. STEAK dinner is still flourishing at the Big Texan. More than 40,000 people have attempted to consume the Free 72oz. Steak dinner since 1960. About 7,000 have succeeded. People from all over the world continue to visit us to take the challenge and claim the bragging rights.
Just in case you can't visualize in ounces, that's four and a half juicy pounds, or about 2 kilos. But at least at the BTS you get a whole hour to consume your steak...

Babs Says "Arrivederci Roma"

Remember how I told you that Barbra was charging a mere €850 for a seat at her concert/tour kick-off here in Rome?

Well, apparently that was just a bit steep for some people, and now the concert is off. Although "her people" are saying it was due to production difficulties, reports I've seen in the Italian press claim that they just couldn't sell enough tickets. Hmm...I wonder why?

So, let's translate. Production difficulties=you can't have a production without a public.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Vespa Parking Only

3:10 pm, Via Montefiore, Trastevere

Friday, May 25, 2007

3rd Annual Roman Neighbor Day

Yes, folks, Mr. Rogers would be quite proud. This is the third year running that someone in the bowels of Rome's public administration has decided that it would be fun to ask all of Rome to have a lovey, huggy, can't we all just get along? kind of day among neighbors.

In 2005, when this "Festa dei Vicini di Casa" first appeared, my cynical side laughed it off completely. But that was not before imagining lively scenes between Roman neighbors, all of which involved a good variety of local swear words and random insults, captioned with something like: Finally! A city-sponsored event that brings you closer to the ones who make your homelife a living nightmare.

Here's the thing. As you probably know, when we talk "neighbor" in Rome, we're not talking about let's chat over the fence while watering our oh-so-lovely green lawns.


It's more like, "so THAT'S who's been cooking all that onion and garlic goodness from morning to night!" Or, "what the HECK are you DOING up there?" I swear... I once lived in an apartment in Garbatella where there must have been an army of kids rolling marbles across the floor upstairs all day long.

My first encounter with a Roman neighbor was when I had only been in Rome for a few days and didn't know you had to close the multiple elevator doors behind you for it to work (and get back to the 6th floor where someone was calling it). I know, that was dumb of me. But let me tell you, there was definitely no neighborly love going on when one of the people in the building caught me red-handed. Non lo so, sono americana!! My all-purpose excuse.

But, back to the point of my tale. Tomorrow is "Vicini Vicini," round 3. Cutesy little play on words there. Vicini being neighbors (vicini di casa) but ALSO, looky here--"close." Close neighbors. Aren't we clever? Since I am finally realizing that this little happy fest doesn't seem to be going anywhere, having firmly taken root sometime during May each year, I decided to take a look at their website to see if I could glean anything from it (read: maybe find something good to make fun of).

Well, let's just get the cheap shot out of the way right off the bat. Totti endorses Vicini Vicini. You know, Totti of the public wedding registry? He reminisces about his childhood apartment building and just wants to wish everyone a happy neighbors day. Thanks, Franceso. Same to you. And wait! Don't you live on the top floor of a really exclusive building with your own private pool on the roof? Perfetto! I imagine you're planning to invite all your neighbors over for a swim, no?

Back to the website, though: there's an entire party kit available for download. (Well, they're calling it a kit but it's really just a flyer and a one-page list of instructions.) Actually though, they're so completely organized, enthusiastic, and well-meaning about the whole thing, and those smiling windows in their logo are just so darn cute... aw shucks, I think the idea is starting to grow on me. The only problem is that in my building I don't have any neighbors except for the tourist guests who stay in the two apartments we rent below ours. Should I start including a "vicini vicini" party in the rental rate? (Rhetorical question, answer: no.)

Things like this have set the tone of the Veltroni government (he's Rome's mayor) and he is often criticized by opposing political parties for sponsoring what are seen as "fluff" events like La Notte Bianca, but not taking care of more pressing issues. Say, for example, like cleaning up the Tiber River. Ask any Roman if he or she would be willing to touch its waters, and you're likely to hear a tirade on the biohazards that would be involved in such a reckless act.

Well, check this out. Thanks to my pal Latta (a.k.a. Fabio) for bringing this to my attention. I'm thinking Veltroni might be just a wee bit out of touch. His quote is:
Il Tevere è così pulito che c'è un eccesso di pesci rispetto alla portata d'acqua.
Now, allow me to translate:

The Tiber is so clean that there are more fish than the water can handle.

Right, Veltrons. They're just jumping up begging to be caught for tonight's dinner. try eating it first.

What was he thinking? Probably too distracted drawing up plans for his apartment block party.

If you live in Rome, have you ever participated in the "Vicini Vicini" initiative?
If your city or town sponsored an event like this, would you organize one with your neighbors?
Do you know your neighbors, or ever have neighborhood get-togethers?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

See Naples and Die (...of the stench)

Look, I'll be honest here. I make my living working with tourists, so it's really not in my best interest to highlight when things get shameful in this country. Not so good for business, you know? And my blog is about Rome, after all, not Naples. But...but...

Yesterday I was wasting time, ahem, thoughtfully browsing the blogosphere, and I ran across this little gem. I thought, what the heck, let's make it international and submitted the sign from this post that you might remember if you were with us on our day trip to Naples back in November. You know, a little ha-ha over a Neopolitan's passive-aggressive reaction to finding dog poo at her front door.

Well folks, quite apropos. Because there's a lot more than dog poo going on there right now.

But this is nothing to joke about. I find it so incomprehensible that poking fun is far from appropriate. Can anyone explain this to me?

It pains me to ask you to click on this link, some of the photos from which are above.

I had heard stories of Naples' periodic garbage epidemics, even so far as having heard that some years back there was an outbreak of the bubonic plague caused by the refuse in the streets. You kind of hear these stories and think, right, they must be exaggerating. I'm not naive enough to pretend that this is something new or even unusual, but I still can't bring myself to accept that it's anywhere near normal or acceptable, and what's more, how is it possible that no one is able to get the situation under control? And is this a problem that many citizens in Naples live with on a daily basis, or is it limited to small, outlying areas? Judging by the news over the last couple days, it appears to be a full-on crisis throughout the urban area.

I've never lived in Naples and I don't know anyone who lives there, and I haven't read enough articles about the current crisis to feel qualified to say anything more on this topic. A quick scan of some Naples bloggers didn't help much, although I did find an editorial and analysis by one here (in Italian), from two days ago. The news isn't good; here's an excerpt:
Un incendio di rifiuti ogni dieci minuti. Un appello del prefetto caduto nel vuoto. 7000 tonnellate rimaste in strada, destinate ad aumentare, 13 nuovi casi di epatite A (ma l'ASL si è affrettata a dare la colpa ad una partita di cozze venduta nei mercatini, e potrebbe anche avere ragione), un allarme meningite latente, e topi grandi quanto conigli. Ecco la provincia di Napoli come l'ho vista ieri.

A garbage fire every 10 minutes. An appeal from the prefect that fell on deaf ears. 7,000 tons of garbage left in the streets, destined to grow, 13 new cases of hepatitis A (but the health department was quick to point the finger at some mussels sold in the outdoor markets, and they could be right), a meningitis scare, and rats as big as rabbits. This is the province of Naples as I saw it yesterday.
This blogger went on to say how the institutions that should be helping citizens in a situation like this are all in denial that there is a real problem.

You know what everyone tells me when I ask them how something like this is possible?

They just shrug their shoulders and say it's the Naples mafia.

Could it possibly be that simple, and yet that complicated at the same time? Is it for fear that the problem doesn't get taken care of? Apathy? Incompetence?

I am open to hear any of your thoughts, reactions, personal experiences, or additional information.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bar S. Callisto - Tour del Gelato

Lest we forget that the "Tour del Gelato" is an indefinite tour, and lately I have been slacking on my tour guide duties, I give you what I affectionately call "Gelateria Zozza," a.k.a. The Filthy Gelateria. Mind you, it's not really filthy in the literal sense. But in Roman dialect, sometimes when we want to indicate something so incredibly down-home and no-frills that there's just no other way to express it, well, I've heard people use the word "zozzo" before, and here I feel it's appropriate.

Usually, pleas by Ale to go here fall on deaf ears--mine. I have a bit of an aversion to this place. Maybe it's because it lacks the neon pizzazz of Blue Ice, or the embarassment of choice provided by Della Palma. In all fairness, Bar S. Callisto isn't even really a gelateria, but rather a bar that happens to serve homemade gelato. Let me just get to the honest point here: I don't mix well with the crowd that congregates in front of the bar. It reminds me of a grittier version of Campo de' Fiori when it's past dark and beer bottles start breaking on the pavement. Getting inside this bar always makes me feel like I've just crashed a meeting of Trastevere's secret grunge and alternative society. Let's face it...I just don't fit in around here...far too few piercings and tattoos to be accepted.

Truth be told, in the light of making this a stop on the Tour del Gelato after Ale insisted on it this weekend, I have re-evaluated my former assessment. Also because our trip there allowed me to bring closure to a blogging mystery I presented to you a few months back. And because I have to be honest, the gelato there IS pretty good, after all.

So, prepare yourself as I lead you into the dark underbelly of the secret gelateria bar.
Enter, and face the list:

No, people, there are no shiny glass cases overflowing with mounds of colorful gelato here. I mean, please, would you just look at this sign? One can only wonder what ever became of the flavors now shrouded in wrinkled bits of scotch-taped paper. Frankly though, the prices are excellent: from €1 to €2.

Oh...did I forget to mention that this is a strictly Romanisti bar?

By that I mean, major Rome soccer team memorabilia OVUNQUE, that is, everywhere. Ms., I know that must be the real reason Sante comes here when you guys visit Rome. Strangely, my Lazio-crazed husband doesn't seem to mind. That tells you how much he adores this place's gelato. And I once again have to confess, I hold a soft spot in my heart for these down-home bars with autographed photos of local soccer heros from the early-to-mid 80s. I'm not being sarcastic--trust me, I find it strangely charming.

This is where the gelato comes from--mysterious silver vats. If you catch the scooper on a busy day, you'll see the covers literally flying all over the place. They are FAST, and I mean it. Also note the coveted homemade whipped cream topping.

Bits of local wisdom and advice can be had at every turn:

Who am I to partake in the un-hygienic practice of refusing the little spoon? Oh, no, indeed!

This, friends, was my final selection, for €2 (actually a bit much for me). Chocolate and strawberry, a combination that never fails me when I can't find the strange concoctions I prefer at other places, filled with all number of cookies, fruits and random additives. No, you will find no chunks here, I assure you.

Well, our tour ended, I must say that my snobbish attitude regarding this place has softened into a quiet admiration for the simple art of gelato the way it was intended to be. And I give my stamp of approval to Bar S. Callisto for upholding the art of traditional, no-frills gelato.

And, about that blogger mystery I mentioned to you. Remember how I swore I couldn't ever manage to find a clever enough ploy to disguise the shameless act of capturing the pupazzaro on film? Well, folks, let's all give a round of applause to S. Calisto and its alternative club, which, who knew, our friend the pupazzaro is a member of. Not surprising in the least. In a thinly-disguised attempt to appear tourist-like, snapping a photo of the many happy customers enjoying their drinks in the sun, I zoomed in on said pupazzaro, and here, for the first time in blogdom (I think), I give you:

It's your turn to figure out which one he is. And I'll give you a little hint: it's not the guy in the white shirt.

Bar S. Callisto
Piazza S. Callisto, just off Piazza S. Maria in Trastevere (the road to the left when you're facing the church)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some Observations

How's THAT for a boring title? Oh well. Here's what's on the minds of those in the know around these parts...

1) Soccer superstar (plays for Rome) Francesco Totti and his wife Ilary Blasi welcomed their second child this week. The bambina's name? Chanel Totti. That's right, I said CHANEL. A brand-name baby. What will they think of next? Gucci Totti? Armani Totti? Prada Totti? Their family could easily turn into an entire cat-walking team. Needless to say, the Romans are snickering about the ridiculously tacky turn. However, I've got one thing to say for the Tottis. They are a perfect example of what I would call shameless tackiness. It's like they take pride in it. No embarrassment here, folks. When they were getting married, they posted their wedding registry online so any devoted fans who felt like it could buy them gifts. And I'm thinking, see, why didn't I ask for one of these doo-dads instead of putting just the honeymoon on the registry? Doh! But, see what I'm saying? Pride in tackiness, people. Tacky. It's the new cool.

2) Some women can't reign in their spending when it comes to shoes and clothing, and here in Rome that's an easy thing to go overboard on. But no. For me, it's a big, nerdy inability to resist when it comes to reading material. Today I caved in and bought The New Yorker, recklessly not even inquiring as to the price (which was only listed on the cover as "Foreign: $5.99" -- not helpful). Set me back €9. That's like what, just over $12 USD? Man. I'll have to read one page a day to make it last.

3) I read in the May 11 edition of the commuter paper Metro that there has been a sharp increase in dog and cat abandonment here in Lazio, the state where Rome is located. I am always horrified by this. It happens before every vacation season: people abandon their animals because they go away. Estimates are between 50,000-100,000 abandoned dogs and 300,000 abandoned cats in Rome alone. Four years ago we adopted two abandoned cats at Largo Argentina shelter (the only shelter in the world located where Julius Caesar was assassinated). They are run entirely by volunteers and receive absolutely no support, monetary or otherwise, from the city. When the cats are abandoned to the shelter (lots of people just drop them off there), the staff covers costs to have them vaccinated and spayed or neutered by a wonderful, wonderful veterinarian named Stefano Baldi. If you need a vet in Rome, he is a saint. (via Cisterna 15, Tel. 065896650) You can help the Roman cats by adopting one at a distance or buying something from the cat shop. Stop by and see the cats for yourself.

4) May has been strike central here in Rome. We have seen strikes by just about everyone, from taxi drivers, to public transport workers, air traffic controllers, and even gas station attendants. Gas station attendants?

5) This year's Culture Week (9th annual) started on May 12 and ends May 20. All state-operated museums and archeological sites are free.

6) Had a lovely Canadian college student staying in one of my apartments this week with her parents, and she asked for a recommendation for a place to get her hair done. My Italian hair guru, Alberto, was booked, so I sent her to a place I had only heard about but never been to myself. Noi Salon is, to my knowledge, the only salon in Rome with native English speaking stylists. My guest was very pleased with her cut and color and tells me it's a great place to recommend, so... I pass the tip on to you. I have also heard that that they do manis and pedis.

7) Barbra Streisand tix went on sale in Rome on May 11. Guess she decided to open her world tour here on June 15 and this will be her first-ever live performance in Italy. The nosebleeds are going for €135, and the good seats are €850. That's right folks, the equivalent of about $1,150 USD. OnethousandonehundredfiftyUSdollars.

I'm getting a little verklempt... talk amongst yourselves... I'll give you a topic... Barbra is neither a bar nor a bra ... Discuss.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Ever tried Gassosa?

The only possible way I can think of to translate the name of this beverage is to call it "Gassy." Which is just a fun name for a drink, wouldn't you say?

Gassosa Neri, in my experience, is a drink of mythical proportions here in Rome. There are many devotees to the Neri family of beverages, not the least of which is called Chinotto (kee-NOTE-toh). Chinotto has inspired entire websites that gush over it, explaining the origins of the fruit from the citrus family known as chinotto and why everyone loves it so. (Personally I think it's weird and bitter-tasting. S. Pelligrino makes it as well, but true devotees will probably tell you that Neri is the only true Chinotto). In fact, the website actually has a FAN CLUB called "Amici del Chinotto" (Friends of Chinotto) complete with membership cards. I am tempted to join just to get one for my wallet, but it wouldn't fit with all the stupid grocery store loyalty cards I am forced to carry around with me. They also have a list of pro-Chinotto bars throughout Italy (and one in Livonia, Michigan--hello, random!) where you can get Chinotto.

But, what of gassosa? It's like Roman Sprite. The ingredients are: water, sugar, carbonation. That's right folks, gassosa is carbonated sugar water. How's that for simplicity? No secret recipes here.

First of all, it's pretty hard to find. But if you do locate it, it comes in these little 20 cl glass bottles, sold in shrink-wrapped flats of six.

The best place to go gassosa-hunting is at a really traditional Roman pizzeria. For example, I know they have it at Cassa Mortaro on Viale Trastevere. Marked outside simply "Pizzeria" and in fact its real name being "Ai Marmi", this place is known as Cassa Mortaro (a.k.a. "The Mortuary") by locals because it has marble-topped tables---just like---you guessed it! It's the only place I can think of that has Gassosa Neri on the menu. A friend of mine always orders one and mixes it with beer. Some people mix it with wine.

Why is this relevant? It's not, really. But it just crossed my mind that some beverages have taken on mysterious and mythical proportions here in Rome, and not everyone knows about Gassosa. It's not that it's this incredibly great drink. But I think the fact that it's so hard to find makes it kind of popular among those "in the know." Another of these is Tassoni Cedrata.

Has anyone tried these? Anyone a big fan? What other "strange" or local drinks do you have where you live?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Roman Spirit for the Internet Age:

I probably shouldn't post this, lest I offend someone's delicate sensibilities, ma parliamoci chiaro, let's be frank: Roman culture is embraced, shrouded, and engulfed in vulgarity. I think it would be safe to say that vulgarity, in fact, can easily be considered part and parcel of the true "spirito romano," the Roman spirit, the "anima romana," the Roman soul. I'm not making a judgement call, just stating the facts, ma'am. I call it as I see it.

Romans don't really have a distinct dialect, per se, but they do have a heavy accent and specific sayings that other regions and areas don't have. In my experience, Italians look down on the Roman way of speaking and when I was learning Italian, most Italians and even many Romans I encountered warned me not to "pick up the Roman accent" or "learn to speak from Romans." Well, too late for that. I've become a strange hybrid creature who sounds remotely foreign yet kind of Roman at the same time. The Romans find this quite amusing and very strange.

Hand in hand with the verbal vulgarity of the Roman culture (formally known as "romanaccio") goes a certain sense of humor that I haven't encountered anywhere else. The spirito romano, in my experience, is completely and totally irreverent, and at times can be incredibly quick-witted. Take, for example, a random sampling of stories of Romans behaving as Romans do, found simply by typing "battute Romane" or "Roman jokes" into Google:

Realmente accaduto a Roma a bordo della Metro A
Una signora espone il biglietto integrato giornaliero al controllore. Signora: "Mi scusi, con questo posso viaggiare tutto il giorno?". Controllore: "Si nun c'hai 'n cazzo da fa'... Sì".

True story from the Metro A Line
A woman shows her all-day bus pass to the inspector. Woman: "Excuse me, but with this pass can I ride all day?" Inspector: "If you don't have a f***ing thing to do... yes."

Realmente accaduto in via Nomentana
Un signore alquanto anziano resta immobile con la sua macchina allo scattare del verde e il ragazzo di dietro con una macchinetta alquanto sportiva abbassa il finestrino, si sporge e esclama: "A nonno, guarda che più verde de così nun diventa!".

Really happened in via Nomentana
A rather elderly gentleman remains stopped in his car when the light turns green, and the guy behind him in a rather sporty car rolls down his window, sticks his head out and exclaims: "Look here grampa, it's not going to get any greener than that!"

Sentita sulla Boccea
Un tizio di mezza età a bordo di una 156 rivolgendosi al vecchietto a bordo di una vecchia 600 ferma al semaforo: "Che aspettamo che se mette 'n moto l'asfarto pe' annassene da 'sto 'ncrocio!?".

Overheard on Boccea St.
A middle-aged guy in a 156, to an elderly man in an old 600 stopped at a traffic light: "What, are you waiting for the asphalt to start moving to get you out of this intersection?"

And then there's the never-ending lists of Roman one-liners, kind of like an Italian version of the dozens. (By the way, I find it hilarious that there's a Wikipedia article on that phenomenon. But I digress...) Here's what I'm talking about:

"Quanno ride pare 'n cruciverba"
When you laugh, it looks like a crossword puzzle.

"Sei tarmente zozzo che quanno entri dentro casa mia er cane se va a mette er collare antipulci!"
You're so filthy that when you come over to my house, my dog goes and puts on a flea collar.

"Sei tarmente brutto che tu' padre ar firmino de quanno facevi n'anno c'ha messo a colonna sonora de X-Files"
You're so ugly that when your dad made a video of your first birthday party, he put the X-Files as the soundtrack.

"C'hai er naso tarmente lungo che pare che te sei pippato er Viagra!"
Your nose is so long it's like you've been sniffing Viagra.

And those are just some of the (very few) PG-rated ones. Most Roman battute really know no bounds of good taste and delve into areas of verbal vulgarity that I did not know existed, and yet still, I laugh. Looks like I have become Roman after all. Granted, I've never really heard anyone use any insults like this in "real life," but they do get traded around at times, like, I heard this one, did you hear this one? I can already see the cultural heritage that will be passed down to my kids.

But the real inspiration for this post is the ubiquitous phrase "li mortacci" and the fact that it has spawned its very own website. Li mortacci is basically a vulgar Roman way of saying, well, I guess something like "may your dead relatives die again," although I really don't know for sure. Let's just say it's an all-purpose curse on your dead loved ones, or the dead loved ones of anyone or anything you care to insult. You say it when you're ticked about what something or someone did, does, has, is, etc. And for a true Roman flourish, go ahead and pronounce the "L" like an "R" 'cuz that's just what they do around here. (All together now: "ree-more-TAH-chee") I know, I shouldn't be teaching you how to swear in Roman dialect, but, it's fun. Avery had a post on Roman slang not too long ago as well, and there were bad's impossible to avoid, I'm telling you.

Now, for a very recent example. Ale and I were trying to install a showerhead set in our bathroom this weekend, one that turned out to be ridiculously complicated and cryptic, missing parts, and totally frustrating for something that should be stupidly easy. So, here we have "li mortacci loro." Curse their dead ancestors. "Them" being all those even remotely involved with planning, designing, and/or building, packaging or selling aforementioned showerhead.

What is all this nonsense leading up to? A website that I found while innocently checking my Gmail. No idea how the Google ad-matching algorithm decided that an ad for a site called had anything to do with my email. For that matter, no idea why a site like this is investing in Google Adwords. But, the world is full of mysteries. Curious as I am, I clicked on it, and lo and behold I discovered an entire forum and virtual world where you can vent your frustrations and tensions, using the phrase to curse the dead ancestors of pretty much whoever you feel like. Clicking on the forum I found li mortacci my alarm clock, my math teacher, my neighbors... even illegible online nicknames (the example given being udsjhf69vdsi0op5465467, which I think we can all agree is quite illegible and perhaps even deserving of a li mortacci or two). The forum is subdivided into a few specific categories so you can send a hearty "li mortacci" to the government, your love life problems, and hospitals as well. (I am very troubled, but unfortunately not surprised, that "hospitals" has its very own category on the forum.)

In short, if you ever decide to move to Rome, and you really want to understand the local culture, you're going to have to learn not only Italian, but "Roman," or rather "bad Roman," ie, Romanaccio. I am not ashamed to say that I love it, no matter how much the Italians wrinkle their noses at me. Complain as I might about how rude and crude Romans can be, I still heart 'em for it.

First-Ever AHIR Raffle

Last week, my pal African Kelli brought to my attention Jessica's blog, "Something Nice to Talk About." Jessica splits her time between the US and Brazil and is sponsoring a raffle to help the people of Cascalheira, a small village of about 70 homes. Take a look at the village and its residents here.

Jessica will be going back in July/August and is looking for a way to raise funds to help the village, so she decided to hold a raffle on her blog. I wanted to give her a hand so I am holding a raffle to help her out as well.

The picture above shows my homemade care package of what's up for grabs if you enter the raffle:
  • Six blank greeting cards with photos of Rome that I've taken on my wanderings about the city
  • One teeny-tiny bottle of our homemade limoncello, which came out REALLY good this year
  • One CD compilation of some of my favorite Italian tunes
If you want a shot at winning, here are the instructions:
  • Each raffle ticket costs $1 USD. I know that kind of limits who can participate, but maybe those of you outside of the States, US expats in particular, have a few extra dollars laying around from a trip you might have taken in the past. I also know that some of us (me) aren't too trustworthy of our local postal service, but I hope to hide a few of my dollars well enough so they don't get ripped off in transit (fingers crossed). If you think that sounds paranoid, you haven't ever received a box of four Godiva chocolates with just one missing.
  • For each dollar you send, put your name and contact information on a slip of paper or index card. Each one counts as an entry. Also write AHIR so Jessica knows you are entering to win the prize shown here.
  • Send your entry to: Jessica Torok, P.O. Box 249, Mill Neck, NY 11765 USA
Jessica will let me know who wins the prize, and I'll send it out as soon as she gives me the contact info.

Lots of other great projects going on around the blogosphere lately...there is definitely a spirit of giving and sharing in the air! I mentioned my pal Kelli before. Very proud to call this superwoman my friend, a former partner in crime from our college newspaper, and now simply one of my BFFs back home. She visits various third-world countries for work and had a call for care packages to bring to the kids she will be visiting this month in Africa...she received over one thousand four hundred responses and is working like Santa Claus to sort everything out, but what she can't take this time she'll take on a future trip.

There was also a fun and unexpected number of responses to my spontaneous "Sisterhood of the Traveling Book" idea. There are actually two copies of two different books up for traveling now, so I am getting that sorted out and will have an update soon.

Have a great Monday!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Top 5 Signs That You're in Rome

1. You see gladiators taking a coffee break.

2. The clothes dryers.

3. The view from the neighborhood bus.

4. The local version of Wal-Mart.

5. The preferred form of transport.

Part of the Top 5 Group Writing Project. Thanks to Ms. Adventures in Italy for the head's up!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

When in Rome

[UPDATE: Since this book seems to be impossible to find, I am willing to put my copy into circulation. If you're interested in getting on the list, see the comments section!]

People, I’ve found it. I didn’t think it existed, but it does. A highly readable, refreshing, humorous and inspiring book from an expat making a go of it here in Rome.

I bought “When in Rome” by Penelope Green on a whim at the Sydney airport. Most of you probably know that I don’t hold out much hope for books like this. Take the subtitle, for instance. “Chasing La Dolce Vita.” Right. This is usually my cue for a long and emphatic eye roll with a light groan of despair. I looked at it, and put it back. But the prospect of a 10+ hour flight to Hong Kong weakened my reserve and I picked it back up. Tipping the scales was the fact that if nothing else, it could be fodder for a blog post about how every expat who writes a book about Italy seems only to manage to romanticize how they sweated over choosing custom-made tiles for their “rustic” renovated country kitchen, or how stressed they were in poring over which antique vase or rug would look best in their "quaint" city apartment + view. Don't get me started! When they manage to throw in broad, inaccurate or downright offensive stereotypes about Italians, it’s just icing on the cake.

Penelope is Australian. Could this explain why I have only seen this book in the Sydney airport? Did I overlook it on the “English books about Rome written by expats” table at Feltrinelli (which I do peruse from time to time, in spite of myself)? Perhaps. But the real million dollar question is: why, oh why, have I never run across the lovely Ms. Green in person during my six years here in Rome? Especially since reading her story made me feel like I had a long lost twin who was somehow born four years before me and raised in Australia? She got here just a year after I did and I'm guessing we might have around two or three degrees of separation in Rome’s expat community, if she's still living here.

Reading Penelope’s book took me back through so many of my own moments in building a life here, but with lots of added humor, and charm without a sugar coat. This book is pretty much what I would hope for if I ever decided to write one about my adventures. But the fact that she is brave enough to add in tales and details of her love life triumphs and mishaps makes her book more courageous, and intriguing, than mine would ever be. Her self-deprecating humor makes her pretty loveable as well. At the end of one of her first nights out in Italy, after having made the rather questionable fashion choice of wearing Birkenstocks with socks, she reflects: “Staring at my Birkies at evening’s end I rue my decision. I look like I just escaped from a beer hall in Munich.”

I promise I scoured the book for glaring stereotypes, but if they are there, I missed them. When she makes a judgement or expresses an opinion about "how Italians are," she clearly credits them to some specific experience or specific person.

Now, I admit I am probably partial to this book because it reflects a lot of what I went through, so I can personally relate. But besides my obvious subjectivity on this point, I think most readers would find it hard to resist Penelope’s unflinching (first time I’ve ever gotten to use that word! Fun!) and ironic look at her trials and tribulations here in Italy. Some of the finer points?
  • On page 128, although she doesn't name the place, I’m fairly sure the escapade she describes must have been an innocent wrong turn into La Parolaccia (a.k.a. "The Swear Word"), a restaurant famous here in Trastevere for the fact that you pay a hefty price for (what I've been told is) mediocre food with a generous serving of raunchy, vulgar insults in Roman dialect throughout the meal. (Tourists: the address is Vicolo del Cinque 3. You have now been officially warned.) Don't expect to be seeing any first-hand blog posts on that place by me anytime soon. After reading about what she went through there, I felt like I needed to thank her for taking one for the team. And then how about the other time when some of her soulless male co-workers asked her jokingly, “Ti piacciano i piselli?” after she put a bunch of peas on her salad? Ah, the subtleties and sheer crass of Roman attempts at verbal artistry. Poverina. Read the book to find out why.
  • On page 201 when she describes the helpless feeling of knowing just enough Italian to understand when you're getting ripped off, but not enough to be able to defend yourself. Argh.
  • An ENTIRE CHAPTER on the uniquely Italian phenomenon of “la febbre.” The dreaded "fever" and all its accompanying symptoms and drama, which easily merits the full chapter devoted to it. Are Italians just genetically more pre-disposed to getting fevers, I wonder? The conversation at the end of page 208, namely her boyfriend sitting in front of the TV with a thermometer under his armpit, sadly proclaiming, “Mi sento debole,” (I feel weak) is quite possibly a time-honored rite of passage for every girl who spends more than a passing moment with an Italian man. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but among all the female expats I know with Italian spouses and partners, this is not the first time I've run across this.
As an added bonus, you’ll walk away with a formidable vocabulary of Aussie terms. I was able to decipher most of them in context, but I still need to get around to Googling the origins of “Poms” and the exact meaning of “spruiking.” Among some of the other priceless gems are: kipping, utes, daggy, skerrick, hoon out, jim jams, gas bagging, and my personal favorite, “on my Pat Malone.”

In short, loved it. Finally an expat yarn I can put my stamp of approval on. And the happy, yet not sappy, ending makes it picture perfect for its inevitable future as a movie. Don't get Diane Lane on the phone---play yourself, Penny! You’d be great! (NYC Caribbean Ragazza, have you read this one?) Sadly, it seems as though it's out of print, or only available new in Australia. I got it on a sale table, even though it was first published recently, in 2005 (but apparently only in Australia and N. Zealand).

Read here for a much more succinct description of why this book won the 2006 Grollo Ruzzene Foundation Prize for Writing About Italians in Australia. Except I can't figure out why they call her "the imagined author" -- is this all a clever prank? If it is, I've been completely had.

Watch a video of "the imagined author, whose name is Penelope" as she introduces her book in her own words here.

Here's another description by the author of her life here in Rome.

Penny, you are more than welcome to join me and Avery anytime for a drink (right, Averina?) It's on me! Does anyone know her? Is she still in Rome?

Monday, May 07, 2007

Che cosa stai dicendo, Willis?

Ok, I admit it. I know I should be really ashamed for my sheer delight in finding little Arnold Drummond plastered on the side of a centuries-old building during a Sunday stroll yesterday. I'd say he's at least 3 feet tall or so. But as you may know, I am pretty numbed towards graffiti in my neighborhood, and I can't help but be amused by random and mysterious urban street symbolism (remember Untho?).

Anyhoo, found this guy around the corner from Piazza S. Maria in Trastevere. If you're familiar with the area, it's posted right in front of that bar that seems to be the headquarters for the Rome grunge movement, and where to my horror Ale swears some of the best gelato in all of the city is made. I've been dragged in there enough times but I still am not convinced. If I'm feeling brave one day, maybe I'll attempt a post about it.

But for today, how's about some Arnold trivia for you? Did you know that Diff'rent Strokes was called "Harlem contro Manhattan"(Harlem against Manhattan) in Italy? Then it was inexplicably changed to "Il mio amico Arnold" (My friend Arnold) and in its final mutation, simply "Arnold." Personally, I think the Japanese said it best: "Arnold bouya wa ninkimono ." Apparently this is a "literal title" but what it literally translates too, one can only wonder.

I have learned that there was a theme song in Italian but to my dismay have not been able to find any audio copies of it online, just the picture from the album, which was being auctioned off on Italian eBay, but alas, I missed that one too. Not that I have a record player for 45s, but who knows, perhaps I would have bought one just to listen to it.

Would any of you Italian speakers out there be interested in the lyrics? I did manage to dig those up. Thanks to Nico Fidenco for the composition.
Oh, what the heck. Let's just go ahead and translate some of the choicer gems, for the ridiculousness of it all. I mean, what did I learn Italian for, after all, right? Just keep in mind that in the original Italian version, IT ALL RHYMED.

Arnold a-ha
Arnold a-ha

Arnold, Arnold, sempre nei guai
una ne pensi e cento ne fai

Arnold Arnold zarattata'
giri la testa e lui te la fa

Arnold Arnold zarattata'
giri la testa e lui te la fa

Lo trovi nascosto in un vecchio cassetto
sorriso da furbo, occhi da matto

You find him hidden in an old drawer,
smiling like a trickster with crazy eyes

ti prende il tubetto del dentifricio
lo spalma felice per tutto l'ufficio

He takes your tube of toothpaste
and happily spreads it all over the office

Arnold a-ha

Se sulla faccia ti salta un ranocchio
o la pallina ti arriva in un occhio
o in tasca trovi la zampa di un'oca
puoi star sicuro che e' Arnold che gioca

If a frog jumps on your face,
or a ball hits you in the eye,
or you find a ..wait... what's a zampa di un'oca? a goose's claw? in your pocket,
you can be sure that's Arnold playing

Arnold, Arnold, sempre nei guai
una ne pensi e cento ne fai

Arnold Arnold zarattata'
giri la testa e lui te la fa

Bicchieri e piatti rotti
li trovi dentro i letti
la scatola del lucido
e' piena di confetti

Broken cups and plates,
you find them in the beds,
the shoe polish can
is full of candies

And then it repeats itself again... ah, the joy. If only I knew the melody, we could all sing together. And by the way, where the heck was I when Arnold was putting broken plates in the beds? Was that one of the "very special" episodes?

I did find the theme song in Italian to another old show though... did you ever read this post?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

My Big Fat Roman Wedding

Well, I wasn't planning on posting any photos from my wedding or honeymoon, but due to requests from my blogger buddies as well as a handful of my former guests who have stayed in our apartments, I'm caving in and sharing a few from my wedding day. I usually don't put anything about my personal life on the blog because I like to keep to the Rome (and Italy) only theme, but hey, we are talking about a wedding in Rome, so I guess I can make an exception...just this once... I mean, had I seen it with my own eyes I would have taken photos for you guys to talk about "this girl who was walking down my street to get married..." so...

I'm the one in the white dress. (Cue drums and cymbals... Thanks folks! I'll be here all week!)

And yes, I walked down my street to the church. Usually about a 10 minute walk, but we went extra slow because at 10 am when the ceremony was supposed to start, we got word that there were "technical difficulties" at the church. (I later found out that this meant there weren't any guests yet.) Tell the Italians your wedding is at 10 am if you want them to show up at 10:30. So, it was at a snail's pace that we made our way to Santa Maria in Trastevere, in my opinion the most beautiful church in all of Rome.

Quite the memorable experience getting to walk, especially given that I was blessed to have about 25 or so American relatives and friends following me, as well as a few of my closest Italian friends as well. The rest were waiting in the church... eventually!

Um, basically when the photographer had me stop here to take some shots, what you don't see is the main street of my neighborhood, Viale Trastevere, to my right. Where a large garbage truck was passing by and then slowed to a stop, with two guys around my age inside. They started yelling over to me: "Auguri! Auguri!" (like congratulations or best wishes). When they saw I spoke Italian as I yelled back a thanks to them, they got on a roll and yelled back to tell me that it still wasn't too late, and did I want to run away with them in their garbage truck?

I hollered back that under normal circumstances I would, but unfortunately on this particular day I wasn't dressed appropriately. Laughs and smiles were had by all (minus my puzzled relatives), and another runaway bride episode was thus averted.

Only in Rome, people, can you be hit on by garbage men on your way to the altar. Can't beat that!

Here we are in our getaway which was kindly provided by Ale's sports car-loving uncle.

Chances are good that if you pass by the "Fontanone" on the Gianicolo Hill on a Saturday or Sunday anytime from morning to mid-afternoon, you too might spot a newly married couple taking photos. It's a great place for them, and speaking of it, I just saw a couple there as we drove by this afternoon.

Now. If I ever get around to it, I plan to write a series of posts about all the bureaucratic nonsense you have to go through just to get to the altar. It's Italy, so getting through the red tape is the hardest part! I took a couple gem photos, even one inside a public office which I am sure must be punishable by death, but you see, for blogging, my courage knows no bounds.

And I just want to say thank God you only plan a wedding once.

Or do you?

When I mentioned this as I was hanging out chatting to my friend and hairstylist Alberto at his salon about a week or so before the big day, he was working on a woman's hair and she heard this and looked at me from the mirror with a steely glare and said, deadpan, "Non è detto." (Not necessarily.)
Um, yeah. Not exactly the best thing to say to a soon-to-be bride. But funny Roman spirit all the same. Don't ever expect a Roman to hold back what he or she really thinks...

In any case, should you be planning to get married in Rome as well, I HIGHLY recommend these friends of mine:

Hair and makeup: Alberto at Laboratorio Figaro, Via dei Conciatori 22 (Testaccio), Tel: 06 5758099
Photography: Massimiliano Uccelletti,
Flowers: Rosa Manzone, Via della Settima Coorte 7 (Trastevere), Tel: 06 5815387

Friday, May 04, 2007

There's No Place Like Rome...

I'm back! I'm back! Did you miss me? I missed you guys! I've finally shaken off enough jet lag to hammer out my first post-honeymoon post.

Aside: As for the La Mia Italia "contest" -- did you read everyone's submissions? Do you have a favorite? If you feel more motivated than I do, send me an email (ahirswap AT gmail DOT com) by May 15 with your vote, which counts as an entry into the contest for the person you've voted for. After I get all the votes, I'll do a random draw for the winner, chosen from the votes received. If I don't get any votes, I'll just randomly draw from all entries. Can't go back on my promise of prizes ...

So, how shall we kick off the month of May? While I ride out the rest of my jet lag, I'll hand it over to my more energetic cousin Fabio for today and put my bragging rights to good use.

If you were with us way back in November, you might recall when I introduced you to my bionically enhanced super cousin. Since then he's made quite a name for himself in the world of parkour here in Rome. His most recent appearance was on Le Iene, a popular sort of undercover investigative reporting/comedy/variety show here in Italy where this season between segments with the reporters they've had different dance/acrobatic groups perform. Click here to watch the segment. Fabio is the one with the shaved head. Click here to watch a taping of the rehearsal. Fabio is the one in the red t-shirt who steals the script off the desk.

Speaking of Le Iene, might I digress for one moment? Am I the only one who thinks that Jeff in Puglia is the long-lost twin of Paolo Kessisoglu, half of the show's dynamic duo? (That is, if you're not counting Hilary's dynamic duo.)

Judge for yourself:

Who is who, right? That's what you're thinking? I know!
PS Jeff?! When's that Rome trip happening?

Anyhoo, back to today's hero: this latest video was born as a sort of pitch for a FootLocker commercial and at the same time as a kind of anti-drug PSA. Fabio is really active in getting young people in Rome's outlying neighborhoods involved with parkour, in the process keeping them away from drugs and crime, giving them something positive to take part in that also has an adrenalin factor.

Strangely enough, Fabio says that it's a misconception that parkour or freerunning is risky: he tells me they do so much training and practice that the actual risk involved once you are properly trained is minimal. Um, I'll take his word for it.

If you'd like to know more about parkour and see two more videos, just click back to my previous article.

Here's the latest, which is a bit different than the previous videos in that here they are actually out and about in the city, which makes for some amusingly puzzled bystanders. Running on walls, you know... all in a day's work. Watch as Fabio mysteriously emerges (hatches?) from a closet after a pair of shoes gets stolen... and the plot thickens...