Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Flipping The Bird in Italy

                          7 Memorable Facts About Italy

Have some fun with facts about Italy.  Amaze your friends.  Break a few prejudices and preconceptions, while keeping an eye on the real world.

                                          Flipping the Bird

That finger is right around
the corner from the
Duomo in Firenze
Galileo (1562-1642) is number one on the list for arguing that the earth revolved around the sun the result of which caused the Pope to imprison him in Rome.  Nearly starving him in a darkened cell of  Castel Sant'Angelo for a long period of time,  he was later released, but his request to live near his daughter was denied.  Galileo got even through a response of showing his middle finger which is on display in a museum in Florence.  The Pope issued a formal apology to Galileo in 1992, which was a bit late for the old boy.  In the Papal apology there was no mention of the finger.



                        Fork U

Window in Bologna
Take Home Pasta
Number two:  Did you know that the  fork came to Italy before any other European country because of pasta?  I have read where it is said that Italians do not use a spoon to help wrap their spaghetti onto their forks, but I have seen it done both ways.  Before the fork they would grab the pasta and hold it above their mouths and drop it in.  It must have been quite  a mess and encouraged the invention of the napkin around the neck.   Italians do not add a pile of spices and additives to their pasta, less is more.  The average man or woman in Italy is said to consume 25 kilograms of pasta per year.  A kilo is 2.2 pounds, do the math.  Tomato sauce was not the original sauce used in Italy,  because tomatoes came originally from America, and even at first they were thought to be poisonous.  Honey was used previously, with other spices.  Think about that taste.  Uummmm.  NOT.

Only Tourists Buy This
Italians are serious about their pasta.  It is interesting  that when the first McDonalds opened in Rome there was a protest.  When the Mickey D opened its doors in 1986 customers were blocked from entering by food purists who handed out pasta to remind customers to remain focused on their heritage.  Music was provided by Luciano Pavarotti, who knew a little about eating.  I wish I could have seen that!  

All Those Lessons!
On an aside, when the Moscow McDonalds opened, lines were three hours long and people saved the cardboard wrappings and proudly put them on display in their homes.  It was a sign of the new democracy.  Music in the Moscow McDonalds  was provided by retired accordionists from the Soviet Army Band.  Just kidding, Albert.


                     Party On!

Number three is Charlie Sheen’s favorite!   The Vatican is the smallest country in the world yet they consume more wine per person than any other country.  Italy produces the most wine in the world, and is the largest exporter world-wide, however, the Vatican’s consumption rate is the biggest in the world, 74 liters per person.  This is an equivalent of about 105 bottles per year.  It seems like that there is a lot of partying going on, all those priests in their black frocks toasting each other.  To be fair, part of the reason for the 74 liters per person is that the Vatican supermarket does not charge a tax on booze, and a  lot of the Roman citizens know to shop there.  Italians say, “Cin Cin” (cheen cheen) when they toast each other.  I am not sure what the priests say.  Halleluja?

                               Cheesy imposter

Number four.  Italy is the 5th most  populous country in Europe with a population of 61 million.  A great percentage of them love mozzarella, which is made from buffalo milk.   (Not the buffalo as in America)  This is not the mozzarella found in the United States, that hard yellowish cheese with almost no flavor, but a coveted soft, near creamy, wonderful super white cheese.   When those thin crust pizzas are made in Italy, the mozzarella is added only at the end of baking.    All those pizzas don’t seem to hurt the life expectancy of their citizens.  The average for men is 79.8 years for men and for women it is 84.6.  This statistic is amusing because we have 12 months in a year.   Anthony Bourdain knows that the closer you get to Naples, the tastier the cheese.  It has something to do with it being fresh.

While we are on the subject of pizza, you need to know that the word pepperoni is a word in Italy that refers to peppers, not meat.  There is no such word found in Italy for that hot meat found on a pizza in the states.  In Italy if you ask for a pizza with pepperoni, they won’t have a clue.  We have ours home delivered for about 8 euros each.  A euro is worth 1.10 dollars, so they come cheap!

                                      Mooching Off The Parents

Number 5.  This fact was my biggest surprise when I moved to Italy.   When I first sat down to dine with 5 fellows from my wife’s factory I was shocked to learn that way more than one-third of all males between the ages of 30 and 35 live with their parents.  With poker faces, they all admitted that they live at home. YES!  It is normal here!   Yes, those poor mothers still wash their clothes, clean and cook dinners.  Remember mama is important in Italy.  No one is looked down upon to be living with their parents.  The percentage is higher for women, and because of this, these folks are able to save a bigger percentage of their salary.  I actually believe that there are more people living at home than officially stated because most of the people I meet under 35, are not married and living in their parents home.  They are not in a hurry to move out and be on their own.   The parents are not in a hurry to push them out and have some peace.   Hotels seem to do a good business on weekends.  The low birthrate of Italians is very low and a great concern to Renzi and his government.  He has had to push the retirement date to age 70.   The bad news is that there is no Wall Mart for the old folks to have employment. 

                                               Deadbeat Dads

Number 6.  There is great angst about getting a divorce in Italy and in fact the divorce rate in Italy is one of the lowest in all Europe.  There is a big reason there are fewer divorces.  While pondering hair loss and loss of memory at the age of 50, divorced fathers must also provide child support for the so-called child is not working, until the age of 30.   Given the economy here now, this is very probable.   If you consider that a huge percentage of these so-called adult children still live with their parents, you can see why the divorce rate is low.   Another reason for fewer divorces is that the process costs a fortune, and you must wait three years after separating, then you can finally apply.  If both people agree it would take a minimum of four years. 
                                      Dash For The Cash

Number 7.   You have seen those romantic movies where tourists turn their back on the Trevi Fountain and throw hard earned money into the pond.   Late in the day there’s a pile of coins glinting in the sunlight.  In fact, more than 3,000 Euros are chucked into the Trevi fountain each day.  This money is now collected once a day and given to charity.  Secretly there was a fellow who shamelessly in 1968 made off like a bandit.  He would get up before sunrise and scamper over to the fountain and go wading in the fountain to collect coins.  People said that he quite resembled a short greasy haired Richard Nixon.  (You remember the photo of Nixon on the beach with his metal detector, right?)  The story goes that in 15 minutes of quick work the Italian bandido  could gather up 1000 dollars in coins.  It must have been a heavy bag.  This scoundrel pulled off this caper until 2002 when the polizia stopped this shakedown and hauled him off to the local hoosegow.   [Another do the math, 1000 dollars times the number of weeks in a year times number of years]…….. He had enough to retire in a home with Romanian maids scantily dressed in a villa next to Berlusconi.  And there I was at the same time directing 6 bands and living on a teacher’s salary!  ……..(Do you know that the Mona Lisa was stolen by a janitor and hidden under a bed in Italy—another story, another blog)
I have been inspired to make plans to build a large fountain with a statue of my favorite Italian composer, Resphigi,  in my village of Due Carrare.  It should be finished next year.  I have my bag ready.  (There are no police in my village until 9:00 am.)

That raps it up for this post.  Please leave a comment below.  Find the words, no comments, and click on that.  Stitchers, especially want to hear from you.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Helping a Friend

Are you looking for housing in Italy?   Do you dream of a home with all the romantic features of Italy?  Many people search expat blogs to find answers to all the “how to” problems of moving to Italy, obtaining a visa, how much to plan for costs of electricity, gas, sewer, taxes, water and the other usual considerations one must overcome in a move.  I am a member of and several other blogs of this type and I receive questions quite often from people all over the world.   My posting this week is to help a friend who has a very nice condo for sale right in the middle of Italy.  It comes completely furnished, furniture, stove, fridge, heater, etc.  This is a big help for foreigners as they don't realize that condos are usually sold completely gutted.  Just the bare walls, what you see is what you get.

My friend is moving to Malta.  She is putting her condo in Italy up for sale.  I have written in previous blogs about how Italians sell their houses  completely empty, no heater, stove, refrigerator, etc.  You get just the bare walls.  So when you move into your new digs, you have to go shopping for everything, then find workers qualified to put them in  correctly (hooking gas stove, heat, etc.), all of which shrinks your bank  account!  The good thing about this condo is that it will come fully furnished, stove, heat, couch, and so on.  I have seen this home and it is quite nice, and well kept.  It has a large terrace in a quiet setting and ample parking.

Now for the best part:  78,000 Euros total cost.  That is about 85,000 dollars, a steal!  A  steal in comparison to a home in America and a steal in a home in Italy!  
Ready to move in 
Today I walked by my village real estate office and compared prices.  They were all higher than the price of this condo.   This place is a steal!  (I don't get anything for blogging this)
I know that there are people who dream of living in Italy, but the price of moving is just too great.  Shopping for all the things to make a condo liveable can be a nightmare!  This is your chance to live your dream.  You just don’t see places furnished and set up like this.   Read my previous blog on real estate.

Here is an  additional thought:  your visa will allow you to live 3 months in Italy, 4 times a year.  You could rent it to travellers the other months.  Many people do this.  

If you know someone who might be interested, go to this link:

For retired folks, you could be here during the best months of the year, and travel around at your leisure, returning home during good weather months.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Driving in Italy

Gripping the steering wheel tightly, hands sweating, I am totally concentrated on the road.  Thoughts of nothing except what I am doing, what others are doing, and what might be the outcome of an accident at the speed of 130 kilometers and hour,  81 MPH.  I feel fear.  It is only normal to feel it.  You, dear reader,  are with me in my little 52 miles to the gallon Hyundai i20 on the Italian Autostrada out of Venice.  We are headed north and in a little over an hour we will be  close to the Austrian border.  

 I wish I had time to  look up and view the Alps near the border, but the big double trailer trucks dwarf my little red Hyundai. Most cars in Italy are small. We are small compared to the more crash-worthy SUVs.  We are cooking along at a speed of 130 kilometres and hour.   That is fast, but feels much faster with the lanes much smaller than American lanes and Italian highways have no siding, and make one feel coralled within a concrete fence with no places to get off in case of blown tire or car trouble.   Trapped in three lanes of possible disaster!   One split second of bad judgement or not being awake, and curtains.

Driving in Italy will cause you to be totally focused on the road.  Anybody who  suffers from high blood pressure, I recommend you to use the train or bus.  As the countryside flashes by I am forced to be like the Italian drivers: aggressive, skillful and fast.  If you want to drive slow, don’t expect people to slow down for you.  In the left lane you will look in the mirror and suddenly there will be someone going 150 km/h who will try sweep you from the fast lane with a flash of their lights.  You vacate the lane ASAP.  You will feel herded and then a bit angry that someone is so aggressive.  Eventually you learn to deal with it.

Tailgating is a way of life.  Tailgating at 130 km/h is nerve wracking, and they do it all the time.  You move to the far right in the slower lane.  That doesn’t help as they still get right up behind you, 2 or three feet away.  You look in your mirror and see their snarling grin.  You could count the freckles on their nose.  Braking would be a catastrophe, and you seem greatly endangered.  They will stay right there, pushing you along.  You can’t go to any slower lane than the one on the right, and if you are behind a truck, there is nowhere to go.  Yet they keep pushing.    I tell my wife that there must be some sort of aggressive anger in all this.   She is not in agreement.  Defensive driving is how I drive, but here I am forced to be doubly careful.  The car cemeteries are full of cars with crushed rear ends.   My head is filled with the many accidents we have driven past, and some of them were not pretty.  

Police Don't Have Fast Cars
On the autostrada, the National Tollroad, there are usually three lanes.  The lane on the far right is for trucks and slower drivers.  The trucks are allowed to go 90 Km/h and they intentionally set their cruise control for that speed, forcing other drivers to hold to that speed.   Causing more of a traffic problem is when a truck whose cruise control is 1 kilometer faster pulls out to pass the slower truck.  This process, like a horse race in slow motion,  takes what seems like forever. (BTW, trucks are not allowed on the autostrada on Sundays.)

The middle lane is for passing and faster drivers, while the third lane to the left is for the Italian  speed demons.  The limit here is 130, but many go 150 or more, even with video cameras along the autostrada.  Believe me when I say 150 is blazing speed in comparison to the other two lanes.

We survived our trek on the autostrada but what about other driving problems?  More stress and more challenges await.  Italy does not have the police driving around looking for broken tail lights, missed stop signs, or other traffic violations.  They are not out looking for criminals by using the “pull over” routine.   Italy has far fewer criminals and a hugely lower homicide rate.  As far as speed limits, my village has three main streets where from outside you enter the village, and 400 yards before the village the mayor has placed an orange box which holds a video camera.  If you are exceeding the speed limit you will receive a letter in the mail with the fine you are expected to pay listed, thus saving the salary of one or two policemen.  These cameras dare also place on entrances and exits to state highways and along the  autostrada.  My navigator (GPS) helps me to watch my speed as it  will beep as a warning when I am approaching  an autovelox camera.  

Other cash generators:  The inner cities will post a sign as you approach the very center of the city, and this sign informs you NOT to proceed, but to turn away.  If you don’t and enter the center, you will have your picture taken and later you receive a large bill.  If you are driving a rental, the company gets the bill, and deducts it automatically from your credit card.  Italian cities make a pile of money on this!  We were caught by camera by accidentally taking a  wrong turn into one of the narrow streets made centuries ago for horse drawn carts in Bologna.    Suddenly realising, innocently  that we were in the ZTL limited traffic area:   It was too late to escape. and later we received the bill in the mail.  That was one of the first times I heard my wife swear in English.  Hearing her swear in English with an Italian accent is pretty funny, so it helped to relieve the shock of it all.

Maybe you are thinking of NOT driving in Italy.   There’s more.  I would never recommend driving in Rome.  Talk about hair raising and a stress full experience.  The traffic there is humungous, and they all know where they are going.  You will be guessing a lot.  There is no time to depend on the English speaking voice in the Navigator.  Besides, there is absolutely no parking in Rome, give it up!  

I have driven in Naples and in the south of it, and trust me, I don’t want to go back.   Following a priest talking to one of his flock, driving down the center of two lanes, very slowly.  People swerving back and forth as if it were a slalom ski course on wheels.  I learned there that my defensive driving was huge detriment.  Hesitating, even the smallest sign causes the drivers  to take advantage of you, cutting in, going across, changing  lanes, etc. They seem to have an inner sense of hesitation in others, they search for weaknesses and go for it.  They are addicted to this.  They will even drive around you if you hesitate at an intersection to check for traffic.  They don’t look both ways, they just drive on!   You will be saying WTF, even if you don’t use that type of language!  Maybe you will learn the Italian hand signals for that, too.  I was a fast learner.

Now I get to my favorite subject in Italy, stop signs.  Italians do not stop for stop signs.  This is a serious problem for American drivers.  If you come to a stop sign and stop when it’s not necessary, you may get rear-ended.  They do not expect you to stop!  This causes you to be looking into the mirror to anticipate a possible rear in disaster, while you are looking in all directions.  At my driving school the instructor told me to stop at signs, especially when taking the test, but then he laughed because he knew.  He knew I would have a problem with this.  I also had a problem with turning right on a red light, something back in the states I was accustomed to.  Don’t you dare do that here, as the lighting systems are different, and you may end up being hit from the side.  

I have written in my blog that Italians are not big drinkers.  You thought they were, right?  Almost 100 percent of the time I see people drink only one glass of wine or beer for dinner.  I have never seen anyone drunk on the street.  Maybe in the past grandpa put several bottles of vino on the table and everyone imbibed, but now the  police will impose a large fine on the driver who is  0.05% over the limit.  They will impound your car.  For a newly licensed driver like me, they just take your license away—something of a disaster for me, as it took me a great effort to acquire the license .   If you drive a foreign-registered vehicle or a vehicle with Euro Zone plates and are caught over the limit, they will impose a huge fine, and collect one quarter of the maximum fine on-the-spot.   It will be all above board, you are not being stopped by the mafia, they will give you a receipt before you start walking to the nearest village.  

Italians love the stick shift system, they swear by it.  They love the thrill of control, of revving up, and they shy away from cars fitted with automatic.  Almost all cars made in Italy have stick shifts.  I have never ridden in one with automatic drive.  I believe that they all feel a bit of formula 1.  In every Italian there is a desire to race.   Maybe it is because they live cooped up, trapped by the population, the traffic, the extended families living together in one house.   Maybe getting out on the autostrada they can feel the freedom I feel when driving on the highway in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico!  Who knows?  Just remember that before you travel to Italy, be sure and request an automatic drive.  Otherwise you will be given a manual shift car.   

Parking in Italy is one big cash machine.  The only answer is a baggie of coins.   The parking machine is sometimes difficult to understand how to use it.   In any tourist village you will find few parking areas, and all are pay by the hour.  In the center of any large city the parking zone will be more expensive. You will have to estimate how long you will be, insert some coins, push some buttons and receive a ticket for the hours paid estimated.  There are also zones only to be used by residents, but It is okay to park in zones indicated by blue parking signs. These zones  can be free of charge for some hours of the day and on Sundays, or pay by the hour as indicated by signs.  However, expect to pay, and look for a machine that will take your euros.  You must also use the time disk provided by the car rental company.  It has a clock on it and you place the hands at the time you arrived.  They watch for cheaters…  Italy has a plenty of Parking Police, and tourists are fair game.  Of course, another parking problem exists such as the time I arrived at San Gimignano and found all the parking filled.  I  ended up parking far outside and walking in.  I am not a fan of walking a great distance in the Italian heat and humidity.  There is no peace from this parking problem.
It takes real skill to squeeze yourself into a compact Italian parking place.  They are measured for a small car.  Almost all are parallel parkiing.  That is one reason to have a small car.  I have seen people park a car that I was completely sure it was an impossibility.  In one try!  I could never do that!  I stood up and applauded them!  They acknowledged with a smile.  Smart cars make sense in this respect.  I have seen people parking a SUV and they struggle back and forth to park it, and they give up.    Are you beginning to see the frustration in driving in Italy?

The trains are comfortable and on time, the stations arrive in the center of the cities.  The buses are a great answer for getting around inside the city.  The subways speed you across large distances, in Rome and Milano.   All this for a lot less than the rental fee for a car.  There is a lot less worry about getting into and out of the cities.   A bit of advice and a drive on the autostrada…. 


Monday, July 4, 2016

Kicking at Marco Polo's Door

Checking out Paris
Several nights ago we had  Francesco, who works in the same place as my wife, over for dinner.  He is an amazing young man and an inspiration to me.  While I, living an old person’s life as exciting as watching a bocci ball game, ponder shaky fingers, sagging skin and loss of memory,  Francesco had the  determination to lose a pile of weight through exercise  with personal trainer.  His effort now allows him to compete in local marathons, and the amount he lost causes one to pause and ask, “is that you?”

No Pain  No Gain

Besides that fact, Francesco would make a good choice for an Italian ambassador, his innate quality of curiosity, and his overwhelming passion to know more about the world is contagious.  Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus have nothing on him.  He has a desire to find the heart of who people are, and, in particular, what Americans feel, think and do. I knew we would have a good conversation based on travel, and I had also given a thought to the Mexican food I wanted him to try.

In his hands, he  was holding his itinerary to his trip in August to the American southwest, and we very quickly sat down while he told us the plans.  His face was colored with pleasure and excitement as we went through each stopping place on his trip.  I grew up in the southwest, and knew well all of the places where he would be visiting, the tour group was very thorough in their plans.  

This was not to be the normal tourist experience, as he would be in a van with 13 other Europeans, and they would be sleeping in a tent in National Parks.  We had lots to discuss as camping in Europe is quite a bit different that in the US  While in the US there is a lot of space between tent sites, in Europe it is quite crowded.  In the US campgrounds, you usually need a bag of coins to take to the shower, and there is not camp store or restaurant like in Europe.  I warned him to stock up on all the things he would need every night before the drive into the camping area.  

USS Pampanito of WWII
The conversation moved to San Francisco, Fisherman’s Wharf and the WWII submarine, the cable cars, and Alcatraz.  I made a big push for him to go to a baseball game and see the Giants play.  He asked me if I had been in the Los Angeles subway,  and that he was eager to use it so that he could compare it to Milano's.  I was no help on that one.  We moved on to Santa Barbara and its beaches and then the desert of Utah, Bryce and Zion Park, Arches National Monument, and the famous straight highway in Monument Valley.  My wife made a big push for him to carry two liters of water at the Grand Canyon when he hiked all the trails along the rim. 
We got around to discussing Las Vegas, and I suggested a stop at Margaritaville on the strip, and taking a cab to the pinball museum and a shooting gallery.  (Italians don’t have guns and are very curious.)  When I related about Margaritaville, I mentioned the famous Jimmy Buffet song, but Francesco didn’t have a clue.
It is always a bit of a shock to me to be talking to people who do not know about Janis Joplin, the song called Sailing, the famous Richy Valens, Otis Redding, John Candy, and John Belushi, the Vietnam war, Nixon, Johnson and the Kennedy assassinations.  (My age is showing.)  My response was to Spotify the song and make him a margarita!  It was his first.  Margaritas are not popular here, for one reason limes are difficult to find.  Mojitos are more popular.

Tamale on bottom right
I wanted Francesco to have an ready to taste approach of Mexican food, so I had spent the afternoon making tamales.  He learned how people in the southwest make tamales during holidays, especially Christmas.  I related my  first tamale that was brought to our home on Christmas Day by Mr. Lucero, my father’s friend.  There was  that never forgetful  smell of roasted corn, masa e roasted chili emitting from a silver lard pail. 

I need Cisco and Pancho to
Sneak a bag of Masa over the
border.  They were 1950's
television heroes of mine
I explained how I managed to get a bag of masa in Italy, and how one uses lard, chicken broth while soaking the corn husks.   We talked about how tasting the food from a country is part of the adventure, while I showed him how tamales are made.  I made a special point that he MUST try enchiladas, chili rellenos and tamales in August and to find them in a mom and pop place, rather than from a corporate chain.  This led us into a discussion of food from a box, rather than fresh ingredients.  

Bloody Mary foto by Jaimie Oliver

We got onto the topic of Italians and Americans and how Americans expect a pile of food, all of the courses at the same time, while Italians eat slowly and seem to enjoy letting the ingredients shine.   Here nothing is over-complicated by too many additions to the recipe.  
 I encouraged him to consider the difference.  Then because he had never had one, I made him a bloody mary, another unknown drink to Italians.  (You cannot find tomato juice in Italy, you must make your own.)  

Just dropped his metal detector in the surf
Over gelato, Francesco discussed his first trip to America, and we heard his quilt of stories, insights into the real America.    With eyes of warm contentment, what he related was like an autumn breeze.   Expecting a bit of fast paced America or some big event, he told us of his slow-paced experience walking through a neighborhood in San Clemente.   ( I mentioned that Nixon had a home in San Clemente, but Francesco is too young and too European.)   He described the houses, the trees, and the people.  We began to see in a new way, through his eyes how he enjoyed seeing basketball boards over the garage, the people enjoying a day laying on the grass in a park, and watching the white surf north of San Diego in the early morning.  He planted his explorer’s flag right in our living room!  

My intention for the evening was to help Francesco be prepared for his vacation.  The outcome  for me was that he helped me see new possibilities that I sometimes take for granted.  I enjoyed relaxing and listening to his experiences, his questions, and his explorer spirit.  I think that  he came away with a renewed interest in his vacation plans.  He left with some new ideas to think about.  I also had given him 20 euros with which I asked him to purchase and bring back some corn tortillas.  I can only hope that someday they will be available here in the Veneto.
Please leave a comment below

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cowboys In Italy?

Buffalo Grazing South of Denver
Ghost Town in Colorado
Yippee Kay Yay, cowpokes!  Last winter an unintentionally funny restaurant called Old Wild West opened in Monselice which is about a pistol shot from my village.  This is run by a corporate chain which has placed their burger joints in many other places all over Italy.  We have also been to the one in Padova, our nearest big city.   When I need a horse kick to get my blood flowing, we make a visit.  I miss burgers, and my Italian wife now has a similar craving.  She is converted  This is not a commercial for them, but more of a small Italian adventure, so please relax and put your boots up.  Remove your spurs, mind the fancy Italian furniture!
The two saddles placed on sawhorses at the door of Old Wild West call out to the youngsters….” Ride ‘em Cowboy.”   Walking inside, my first response was to point and laugh at the museum of cowboy paraphernalia nailed to the walls, complete with cowboy furnishings of saloon-type wooden chairs and tables.  Collecting all that stuff they must have had connections with the Pickers, Mike and Frank. 
Chuck Conners
On the back wall, placed to the left of the fake saloon doors is a replica of  Chuck Conners'  lever action rifle, which looks so real that people get up and go touch it.   The illusion is somewhat ruined by the large screen tv which shows a continual loop of rodeo barrel riders.  I have seen number 12 at least 50 times, and he never gets any faster.   Any possible intimate conversation is beaten by an earsplitting din bouncing off the wood floor and walls which would break a decibel meter.   Not a first date place, Old West.  

Yet Italians are buying this brand of western hogwash, especially families with children.   No one has yet to go as far as The Fort with its old Trapper or Casa Bonita in Denver where diners can watch cowpokes dive 30 feet into a pool, listen to a strolling mariachi band, or have ranch hands bring you sopaipillas when you raise the flag on your table.   Each time we go to Old West there are more cowpokes chowing down.   They are just itching for a spectacle to be made.  (A big  Italian chance to make a pile of euros, anybody listening?)

The provisions listed in the Mouth watering menu consist of items wrestled from the old southwest, like Apache, Navajo, Dakota, and my personal favorite, the  burger, Toro Seduto.  How they got the name Seated Bull, I had no clue.  My wife straightened me out by telling me it actually means Sitting Bull.  WHAT?  Let me show you my problem?  Bear with me, I am not a good at explaining……Oh, we English speakers have it so easy with English: our ing   and our past tense ed.   In italian when you want to do an ing type verb you add ando or endo to the verb.  With the verb sedere you add endo and get….sedendo…
Sedendo means sitting.  Seduto means seatedSo the burger should actually be called Toro Sedendo, not the past tense Toro Seduto.. haha!  I question her on this and she just smirks and tells me that they use Seated Bull for the name of the Indian Chief Sitting Bull because it sounds better.  Ggrrrrrr!  Oh, this is so Italian how they love to bend the rules with a straight face and confuse people like me.  And she goes on to tell me, “It does sound better doesn’t it?  Which sounds like a tomahawk word… sedendo or seduto?”  I have to agree that Seduto sounds more powerful.  But yet?
Let me suggest some names they could use update their menu:  Chill Wills Chili, Slim Pickens Salad, Tom Mix mixed meat plate or a super spicy taco could be called the Hopalong Cassidy.  Those were my true movie cowboy heroes.  Granting Native Americans some clout would feature names on the menu like Chief Thundercloud or Iron Eyes Cody, and we cannot leave out Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto!
Jack Elam Had The Look!

Back to the subject:
"When you order a sesame seeded bunned burger it comes with a limp new invention called the Dipper Fries, however, they don’t give you anything to dip them into.   My wife tells me that the pink blotch of mayo is for dipping.   I inform her that it is for the dry hamburger they serve.  You can request a switch from these oily creations and get the regular fries.  This I recommend.  Ketchup comes in a tiny plastic package, and you pay extra for it.  I have threatened to bring some from home!  This is when my wife threatens to make me sleep on the terrace.

Old West is certainly a step up from the soggy, warmed up burgers at McDonalds, a step between that and Bob’s Big Boy.   Burgers at the level of The Burnt Truck or Bruxie is a far dream in Italy.   In-N-Out?  HA!  You want to make a killing in Italy?  Start a food truck here.  Seriously bring one over!  In Padova, by the University, I bet my boots you could serve up a good burger or fat burrito and you will be a sensation!  They will erect a statue of your image right next to where they used to have a statue of Berlusconi.  There are no food trucks here.  Italians dream of visiting food trucks in America, thanks to all those food shows on television.   I also dream of a line of food trucks.  (I will consult for a mere 10 per cent of the profits!)

Cisco & Pancho fight
against enchiladas
made with flour tortillas
I steer away from the lowest of the low,  the Enchilada Tjuana made with a flour tortilla.  When will they learn to use a corn tortilla!  Better yet, when is somebody going to build a tortilla factory in Italy.   (Another big money making possibility).    (Consulting free on this action—I need corn tortillas, badly)   
Gabby Hayes
A Gabby Hayes favorite, the platter of BBQ ribs covers the plate and more.   Gabby was always grabbing his beard, opening his mouth and saying, "Yep!"  He would have made the perfect gold miner in any movie, but was always the 'pardner' to the white hatted cowboy.

Jack Palance
  The size of the Squaw Steak would please the palate of black hatted Jack Palance.    Who could forget his one handed push-ups were astounding at his age.  A tough and rough actor which played comedy against two New Yorkers who had never smelled the rear end of a cow.

When in Italy remember to use the words, “al sangue” when desiring a steak cooked rare.  My last mention would be the corrupted Dos Tacos made and photographed in the menu with lots of corn!  NOT!  The creator of this should be put in the hoosegow.  Pioneer Woman, give them a jingle, will you?

Mesa Verde National Park
The appetizers were constructed by a corporate owner who aims for a profit.   Shooting out southwest appetizers while missing the side of a barn, it is food both tasteless and a large rip-off.  We have tried a few, and worst is the Nachos del Sol, composed of  taco chips that taste less like chips and more like sawdust.  The cheese topping is a liquid goo of tasteless industrial cheese.   As for the salsa, you must never depend on hot and spicy salsa in any northern Italian restaurant. You are not going to get anything close to resembling a Dragon’s Breath heat (Guy Fieri’s name for his chili). 
Always On Any Good
Burger Table
  There’s an old cowboy saying:  Always take a real good look at what you’re about to eat. It’s not very important to know what it is, but it’s critical to know what it was.   I had to explain this one to my wife three times.  So don’t worry if you don’t get it right away.  Skip the appetizers, anyhow,  the burgers are quite filling.

Cowboys say,  “Always drink upstream from the herd,”  but you don’t have to worry here as the brews featured here are  some of the best.   One large glass and everyone has a smile.  There’s another bit of cowboy advice: never drink alone unless you are with someone.  Saint Benoit beer is featured, but they have others, even the translocated Millers. 

Old West prices would knock the wind out of Gabby Hayes, but not jaw dropping.  Diners should expect to pay for the cowboy circus atmosphere.  You won’t walk out feeling double crossed.  What would a burger in New York City cost? Burgers at Old West run from 8 up to 13 euros.  The high end is because of the double patty.   The beef is not from Texas, but is said to be from Ireland.  
                To help you compare prices, at this time a euro is worth 1.11 dollars.

I hope you get to try Old Wild West someday.  Just remember, never squat with your spurs on.  You can find their website on this link.
Make a comment by clicking below on the words   "No Comment" 

Adios Amigo!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What Do Italians Think of Americans

Living in the Veneto,  the first question my Italian friends have been asking lately is ”What do you think  of Trump?”   Trump makes a big splash here in the news, as this is what they are seeing most.  They question his racist comments and the whole circus of the Trump campaign.  They also question why we have  expensive and long campaign periods.   

Killed by a gun
Now after Orlando, there will be questions thrown at me about the ownership of weapons.   Clearly the interpretation of this and other related events cause them to believe the pilot has announced a loss of cabin pressure!   

Monday the Senate, by a vote of 53 to 47, rejected a measure that would have denied a gun sale to a known or suspected terrorist , but only if prosecutors could convince a judge within three days that the would-be buyer was involved in terrorism.    Today, July 23 the Republicans voted to NOT vote and NOT debate a no-fly no buy for terrorist's bill.  I believe that this is the last gasp for the Republican Party,   They have created their own demise.  The American public is clearly seeing the truth, and they will react in November.  Many of those representatives will be replaced.   

We should be ashamed of ourselves to let the NRA buy off these senators!  Something is seriously wrong with our representatives!

He was killed by a gun
The number of firearm-related deaths in America since 1968,  is larger than all of the battlefield casualties in all of the wars in American history.   This fact was taken from the Washington Post, a  fact that I am afraid most Americans have not read.    Too many of them search Yahoo to find who wore the most revealing dress at last night's gala and think that Judge Judy is on the Supreme Court.   I don't mention this lack of knowledge to my Italian friends, but they already know that most Americans could not find Slovenia, Portugal or Denmark on a map, nor know that Europeans have no guns in the home, great health care, three weeks of paid vacation, and free University Tuition.

Here in Italy it is far more difficult to acquire a gun in the home.  Pistols are allowed but only after a mental exam, a course on safe usage, and a visit by the local police (annually).  We have hunters, but otherwise it is not a big deal to have a gun.   There is only one gun shop in Padova, for example.  When I walk by there, there are usually no customers inside.

These statistics speak loudly:  Every year 0.80 in every 100,000 people are murdered annually in Italy compared to 3.80 in The United States.

In 2012, the United States had a homicide rate of 4.8 per 100,000 people compared to only 0.3 per 100,000 in Iceland, 0.7 per 100,000 in Sweden, 0.8 per 100,000 in Denmark and Spain, 0.9 per 100,000 in Italy, Austria and the Netherlands, 1.0 per 100,000 in France, and 1.2 per 100,000 in Portugal and the Republic of Ireland.

Killed by a gun
Mass shootings: There were 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, which catalogues such incidents

School shootings: There were 64 school shootings in 2015, according to a dedicated campaign group set up in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Connecticut in 2012. 

Are you a bit afraid when you go to an indoor movie?   Maybe the NRA bigshots don’t go to the cinema?

Late at night it is safe to walk in the streets of Padova, a large city in northern Italy.  It is the same in other cities, such as Bologna, Verona, and Parma.  It is the same in other countries I have visited, Spain, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, etc.    This statistic shows another angle:  87 in every 100,000 people are currently imprisoned in Italy compared to 698 in The United States.

I am not saying that people should not be allowed to own a weapon, but assault weapons are for the police and the military.   We need to stand back and take an intelligent look at ourselves.  We need to take corporate and group contributions out of politics.   We need to have possible gun owners checked by the FBI before acquiring a weapon.  We need to have some common sense about this.  This is what I tell my Italian friends.   

More people will enjoy prosecco

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dropping The School or How To Fight With Your Spouse

            Dropping The School or How To Fight With Your Spouse

I felt a great relief when I dropped the Italian Language School.  I needed to get back to my “old” life, pondering things like hair loss, sagging skin, shaky fingers and loss of memory.  The daily surrender to stress, being disgusted with their negative techniques and having too little  “conversation” practice  in class had taken its toll on my mental state.    The school was used mainly by students who wanted to enroll in the University.  Most of the European students had already had one or two years of Italian in their high school.  The school let them enroll in the beginner class, causing true beginners like me to feel always behind.   There were days when, after class, I just went out and sat in the piazza, feeling overwhelmed.  I wanted to learn but there were too many students who already new a huge amount of Italian.   I needed more daily conversation practice, which the school did not push.  It’s important to “hear” Italian and know what was being said.  It’s important to be able to carry on a basic conversation with people you meet during the day.  

I already had a problem as my hearing is not as sharp due to the fact that for some years I taught, one hour every day,  a marching band drum line.  Those drums were loud, and many days I suffered from headaches.  My hearing is now a bit  diminished and I struggle to hear consonants when listening.  (Yes, my wife thinks I am a poor listener…..)

We do not speak Italian at home, my wife needs to speak fluent English  for her job.   So I was not getting conversation practice there, either.   I taught her a few things along the way.  You would think she is from Iowa, but with an Italian accent.  The only time she has trouble with English is when we watch a British movie.  But, hey I sometimes wonder, are they speaking English?.

The day I left the school  I was walking past a newsstand and I noticed a small booklet entitled TEX.  Inside I found a Red Ryder cowboy named Tex,  (older readers might remember Red Ryder from the funny papers on Sunday).    This Italian cowboy’s adventures were chronicled in a monthly booklet.  As I flipped through the pages I discovered that all of the story was in “conversation”.   Tex, also known to the Indians as Aquila della Notte,  talks to his pard, Kit Carson (only the name is similar), his Indian pal, his son, and others throughout the story.   All this is in complete conversation with cartoons which would help me understand what they were saying giving my dictionary a rest.  I took the book home to see if I could gain some conversation practice through some cowboy adventures.  

After reading several months of Tex’s exploits I learned some things.  The funniest is that Italian cartoonists draw cowboys mounting  their horses on the right side of the horse (whoops).   Maybe they  are British drivers :-)   Tex and his cahoots shoot bad guys using only a couple of bullets, Tex always knows what bad guys are planning, and he always wins unfair fights.  Good Guys never miss with lever action rifles, and Tex never wastes ammunition when a good bonk on the head will do the trick.  Tex never utters swear words that kids should not know, and lastly, Tex never pockets, for himself, any of the recovered stolen cash, gold, or goods. 

While reading Tex I  would add useable terms to a spiral notebook I keep.   I think I am on spiral number 5.    There’s a number of these books on my shelf, and I still pick up a new one once in awhile.  After I have read the books I pass them onto my wife’s father, who is a nut about cowboys, Indians and the old West.   Shamefully, he knows more about Geronimo, Cochise and Native Americans that I do.  (Sergio, as a kid, left school to work at the age of 11)

Have a cappuccino while you study
A typical conversation between Tex and Kit while riding their horses:

Rallenta, Tex!  Cosi faremo sfiancare i cavalli!
Slow down!  So we will tire the horses!
Non c’è tempo da perdere!
There isn’t time to lose!

and later…
Siamo arrivati Troppo tardi!
We have arrived too late!

Of course there are useless phrases that I could never use….
Corna Di Mille Bisonti! 
horns of a thousand bisons!  (There is no bad language in Tex)

In a bar….
Un giro per tutti!  Offro Io.
A round for everybody!  I am buying
then a guy asks…
Che ti  succede?  Hai ereditato una fortuna?
What happened to you?  You inherited a fortune?

You can see how I could use this for a study.  There was no written story line, it was one panel after another of conversation.  The book I am reading, number 667 has 141 pages loaded with conversation.  I believe that there is a way to make money, using this type of technique to help people learn.  There are all types of learners.  (During WWII Disney was contracted to make cartoons for training soldiers.)  

I was joking with my wife that since there are a lot of phrases from Tex that are used in his personal confrontations, It might make a few readers smile to list some with translation.  I will start you off by using a quote by President George W. Bush when meeting the Italian Prime Minister…..“Amigo! Amigo!”


Sei in un mare di guai   You are in a sea of trouble
strana coincidenza strange coincidence
la faccenda               the fact
di niente             it’s nothing
stia mentendo   be lying
poi di uno               more than one
per caso                         by accident
apri bene le orecchie open your eyes
lo ha fatto apposta!                  you did it on purpose!
prima a poi                         sooner of later
lascia perdere                   let it go
non costringermi a battermi con te    don’t force me to fight with you


Home late again?              Sei di nuovo in ritardo?
Dove sei stata?                     Where were you?              
non mi tiro certo indietro          I won’t back off
La casa e’ in disordine!            The house is a mess! 
e’ macchiato                            it is stained, dirty
Cosa c è nella tua tasca?      What is this in your pocket?
tu guardi troppo golf           You watch too much golf

                      Uh Oh!           

colpevoli                          guilty
tu meriti di morire!             you deserve to die!
cosa ne hai fatto dei corpi?    what did you do with the corpse?
ricomminciamo                    Let’s start over
e’ stata dura                      it has been hard
nel rimorso                    in remorse
 mi dispiace                      I am sorry
 perdonami                         forgive me
 ti perdono                           I forgive you
versa da bere                         pour the drinks
e ora che cosa facciamo?         now what do we do?

Now you have learned some Italian, and I do hope you will learn and use few phrases,  but unless you are in the mafia you won’t need to use all of them.  If you have taken Spanish you might find Italian similar.  Italians  usually understand Spanish when spoken in a movie.  Maybe you will also find it understandable.   Buona Fortuna!