Monday, June 11, 2007

We've Moved!

Yes, a new home for "At Home"! I've moved over to

Here I am, years later (I write this now in June of 2012!), still blogging but with a totally new life here in Rome, after three years back in the States, an amicable divorce (strangely not as oxymoronic as it may sound), and three kiddos in three years (how? twins!)

So I'm still around, after having bounced all over the blogosphere and across the pond as well.

Please come join me at my newest, and hopefully permanent, home.

By the way, "Un'americana a Roma" doesn't mean Un-american! It means "An American Girl in Rome." It's a play on words from a very famous Italian movie with Alberto Sordi, Un americano a Roma.

Ciao ciao, come on over!!

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Virtual Visit to the Pantheon

Well, not really the Pantheon itself, but rather the madness in front of and around it. I was struck the other day when I rode my bike through, noticing just how crazy it has gotten now that tourist season is in full swing. It's hard to tell from the video but it was pretty chaotic. Plus, I can't possibly resist an excuse to showcase the men who sell bubble guns. For the love!

Here's a 360° view of what it looks like from the center of the piazza, taken a few days ago. The quality is bad because my camera was accidentally set to the "email" video function, so it wasn't a big enough file to really be clear, but... I'm putting it up anyways. If nothing else, at least you can listen to all the electronically-generated madness from the above-mentioned bubble gun. (And the eternal question remains: who BUYS those things?)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Che cosa stai dicendo, Willis? Part 2

First, for all of you who are joining the show late, I give you Part One of this apparently on-going saga. Please read before you go any further, in order to fully appreciate the Arnold-ness of this post.

Now, I realize that the only thing that qualifies this for my Rome-themed blog is the simple fact that I saw it in Rome. But that's OK by me. Just yesterday I saw a t-shirt for sale that said "My so-and-so went to Hawaii and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" for €4. Which goes to show: things don't always have to make perfect sense.

So, just for some random fun, look where Arnold turned up, in action mode, on Lungotevere:

Kung-Fu Arnold! And, for all you excellent mystery solvers (it's usually one of my readers who solves these great curiosities of mine): what's up with that weird pink graffiti next to Arnold? It looks strangely like the other one:

What does it all mean, folks?

Well, if you thought Arnold was a Rome-only phenomenon, you'd be wrong. I promise I don't spend my days wandering Italian cities looking for him. He just shows up. For example, when I was in Milan with Sara last weekend, poof! Walking around after breakfast, there he was:

This is a close-up of a small stencil on the side of a wall. There were also a couple others, but seeing as how one of them was additionally painted over with something that portrays Arnold in a rather compromising light, well, I'll leave that one to your imagination. As always, we try our best to be a PG-rated blog around here.

Ok, ok, I promise tomorrow I'll get back to the meat and potatoes of the blog. Or rather, the espresso slushies and the Pantheon, both of which I have waiting in the wings for you.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Riding a Bike in Rome

(Thought this was a fitting topic coming off of yesterday's post featuring The Fat Cyclist!)

Have you ever seen the movie Bicycle Thieves (also translated as The Bicycle Thief)? A classic of neorealism from the late 1940s, many of the key scenes were filmed in Porta Portese. You may know Porta Portese for its famous Sunday flea market, but its true heart and soul are the back-alley bicycle and scooter helmet/accessory stalls that are there day in, day out.

Alessandro and I each have a bike, but for over a year they've been sitting idle in our entry hallway on their poor little "gomme bucate" (tires with holes in them). When I worked in an office here I used to ride my bike to work, and frankly I was missing the convenience of tooling around the center and running errands on my bike. So one Saturday a couple weekends ago, we decided to wheel our tired biciclette over to Porta Portese and see what could be done about the situation.

Now, Porta Portese on Sunday is a crazy place, and one of these days I'll get a post up about it. But please don't underestimate Porta Portese on a regular old day. You're coming up against the cream of the crop of "Romani di Roma" (real Romans). The accent is thick and the salesmanship is... man, those guys are good. You like to barter and bargain? Perfect. You'll get a good workout here.

We wheeled our bikes up to "Box" 3, Bicycle Repairs, and told the man we needed our tires repaired. He rattled off the figure of €60 to replace the inner tubes and tires on Ale's bike, and the inner tubes on mine (tires still good). Ale tried for €50 but since I'm an impatient wuss when it comes to bargaining down, I made the mistake of opening my big mouth too soon and saying that €60 was fine. I was completely unprepared for what we were coming up against. Maybe the actual value/cost is around €40, but so be it. The owner was beaming, a neon sign on his forehead practically flashing in hot pink: "My lucky day, a naive foreigner!" Because once I had said it was ok... well, how do you recover from that?

Sighing, I explained to the man that I'm no good at bargaining (this confession being the first, most obvious proof of such). He said that an American woman had come by just the other day by herself, and he spent "mezza giornata" (half the day) bargaining with her, as she kept telling him her "marito" (husband) would only allow her to spend X and she wasn't leaving until that was the price. He smiled wistfully. You could see that he had truly enjoyed the "battle."

Bravissima! But that's not me.

Anyhoo, our bikes were quickly repaired and ready for the road. While we were waiting we saw these electric scooters at the stall next door:

We asked the guy how much they cost and he told us €200, and when we asked if he sold those too, he said, "Ma no, siamo ciclisti noi... quelli sono solo gioccattoli." (No way, we're cyclists here, those are just toys.) Fatty would have surely appreciated the "we're serious cyclists" comment, seeing as how this man had a belly to rival that of Santa Claus. Then we all agreed that something like that parked on a Rome street wouldn't last long in the hands of the owner anyway, so it wasn't worth it whatever the price.

Now, back on the road. You can tell me what you think, but sometimes I feel that riding a bike in Rome is more dangerous than a scooter. The problem is that with all the tourists, staying on the sidewalks isn't usually an option, and without mirrors or turn signals, it's hard to keep an eye on the traffic around you or keep others aware of you. Then there's the fact that no matter how fast you pedal, you're probably not going to keep up with even the saddest-looking example of a moped, even if it happens to be an old Piaggio Ciao from the 70s (which itself has pedals, strangely enough---I guess in case you needed to help it along).

So that's why I'm the girl with the red helmet.

Yes, yes, I wear a helmet here. I stick out like a sore thumb. The first day I rode my bike around my neighborhood, I felt like a proud 5-year old, with all the Trasteverini in front of their shops making funny comments like "Ehi, bella, mi piace il casco!" Hey cutey, love the helmet! Etc., etc. I just smiled and waved. I am OK with looking like a dork here in Rome. I've accepted by now the fact that I'm never going to blend in completely, so I figure the helmet only adds to my overall charm, my "foreign mystique," if you will.

Tourists can rent bikes to take a spin, but that's more in the areas like the Spanish Steps. In fact, the other day walking down Via del Tritone I saw this contraption:

But, Porta Portese? Custom-designed for locals. If you're not from around here, be sure to bring your bargaining hat, because you'll need it!

Here's my bike at home sweet home, my front door (yes, the people eating at the restaurant look at me funny too).

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Rallying the Troops: Are You With Me?

I was recently contacted by a bloggy buddy of mine who participated in World Nutella Day. Since she expressed herself so eloquently, I'd simply like to share her email with you here.

(Although she mentions Italy expats, this is open to anyone who wants to help in a creative way, whether they live in Italy or not):
...I'm also writing to you because of a more serious turn of events. For some time now, I've been a devoted reader of the Fat Cyclist blog, written by an avid mountain biker named Elden Nelson. "Fatty," as he is known to readers, started his blog a couple of years ago in an attempt to force himself to lose 30 pounds in preparation for an annual "century," or 100-mile race, through the rough wilderness terrain of Leadville, Colorado. Almost daily, Fatty would detail what he was eating and how he was training -- regularly confessing to late-night binges and embarrassing junk-food blowouts, and posting endearingly candid updates on his fluctuating weight. He's a delightful writer and a wickedly gifted satirist, so much so that the noted biking website invited him to submit a series of humor pieces during Tour de France season. He was also selected as a 2007 Bloggies finalist for the Best Kept Secret blog.

Last month, there was a period where the FatCyclist blog went quiet for a while. Mid-month, Fatty returned and told readers why: His wife Susan, known to readers for her otherworldy tolerance of Fatty's crazy biking exploits, her custom jewelry-making talents, and her super parenting of four charming children, had just been diagnosed with a recurrence of the breast cancer she had first fought back in early 2004. The cancer has spread to her lungs, her bones, and her spine. She has already begun radiation therapy, and after that's finished she will begin a course of chemotherapy.

Over the years, Fatty has used his blog to raise thousands of dollars for charitable causes, primarily in the realm of medical research. When faced with Susan's recent diagnosis, he received an outpouring of support from hundreds of readers worldwide, with many people asking what they could do to help. Twin Six, a cycling apparel company that sponsors the FatCyclist blog, approached him with an offer to create a customized pink cycling jersey in Susan's honor. (You can see the proposed design here in a post poignantly entitled "Pink Lemonade.")

In his typically selfless fashion, Fatty proposed that he would donate most of the proceeds from jersey sales to a worthy cancer research organization, with a small fraction going to purchasing jewelry-making supplies for Susan. Several of his readers lobbied for him to consider a different approach, and to dedicate more of the proceeds to something that would directly support his wife. It turns out Susan majored in Classical Civilizations in college, and had always wanted to travel to Italy, but never had the chance. She and Fatty were hoping to make the trip a number of years ago, but their travel plans were set aside as they discovered they were expecting, and they welcomed a pair of twin girls to the family.

Many FatCyclist readers have urged Fatty to fulfill Susan's long-held wish to travel to Italy, using the jersey sales as a way for all of us to help sponsor her once-in-a-lifetime dream trip. As several people have pointed out, it's important for Susan to have something to look forward to after enduring the pains and rigors of undergoing chemo. Fatty's sister has already stepped forward to take care of the kids while they're gone, and several other people are offering to make direct financial contributions in support of the trip. Besides, Fatty himself is very dedicated to two things very dear to Italians: cycling and food. Traveling to Italy feels like destiny for Susan and Elden.

Still, I'm concerned that the trip might fall through because of all the tiny details that, as you know from having just planned a wedding, really add a lot of overhead to making it through everyday life. Especially in Susan's case, when far too much of that life is now spent in hospitals. So I'm writing to you to ask whether you and some of the expat posse in Italy might be able to give Fatty some pointers with his trip planning. I'm sure a little assistance would go a long way towards making certain that the trip takes place, and ensuring that Susan finds her travels comfortable and enjoyable, even when she's not in the full bloom of health.

If you and some of the other expats would be interested in sharing some of your expertise in all things Italian, please let me know. I can put you in touch with Elden (who, I suppose in Italian might be known as something like "Il Ciccio,") and you all can take it from there together.

I've always loved how the blogosphere makes the world both a smaller place (by bringing us together) and a larger place (by opening new doors), all at the same time. Thanks for everything you've already done to be a part of that, and for whatever you might feel able to do in this special case.
Now. I've lived through a close family member's battle with cancer, so this is an issue very close to my heart. Once you look cancer in the face, you'll never take your health (and the freedom it brings) for granted again.

Since I received this email, I've been in touch with Elden and I've told him I'd be honored to try to coordinate anyone willing to give him a hand with his Italy vacation. He and his wife were touched and grateful for this offer of support and friendship, but my asking for your help is really just the first step...from there it's up to you. Are you with me?

Here's how YOU can help:

1) Spread the word about this through emails and links back to this post or to Elden's posts.

2) Do you live in Italy? Have you traveled to Italy before? Even if not, can you think of a creative way you could contribute to making their trip a reality? Expats and non-expats alike are all welcome to pitch in!

If you would be willing to share your knowledge, expertise or resources regarding Italy and a trip to Italy, please let me know via email (ahirswap AT gmail DOT com), mentioning what specifically you would be able to contribute.

Creativity is best. For example...
  • If you're a tour guide in Italy, could you offer a free tour?
  • Know a creative way to help them save money on their trip?
  • Do you have anything useful you could donate to them that would be helpful during their trip? (A few leftover euros or bus tickets from a prior vacation, maps, guide books, a care package of things you think they could use on their vacation, etc. etc. etc.?)
  • Have a list of things they should see, with personal tips from your own experience? Personal restaurant recommendations?
Let your imagination run wild!

3) You can purchase one of Elden and Twin Six's special-edition pink lemonade jerseys, available in men's and women's sizes. The profits from the jerseys will actually go three ways (as copied below from Elden's blog):
  • Treatment: Copays, deductibles, and possibly expenses for traveling for clinical trials. It all adds up.
  • LiveStrong: As I’ve recently mentioned, I’m now a big fan of the Lance Armstrong Foundation. They’ve helped us, and now I want to give back. When you buy a pink Fat Cyclist jersey, a third of the net goes to the LiveStrong foundation.
  • A Trip to Italy: When Susan’s ready to go, I’m taking her on a vacation to Italy. And if you buy a jersey, in a sense you’re taking her, too. Which is not to say that you’re invited to come along.
At this point the dates for Susan and Elden's trip are not firm, but the plan is to squeeze it in during the 2-3 month breaks between Susan's chemo treatments. Susan started chemo last week. Elden will keep us posted on when we need to "mobilize" our forces. ;-) Elden's own blog readers have already filled their home with can take a look in a post from his wife Susan here. You can see Elden himself posing in the original jersey that just arrived here.

I hope you'll join me in this show of blogger support for an illness that far too many people have to battle.