Monday, March 6, 2017

Weekend Diversion To Amsterdam

We made a quick weekend trip to Amsterdam, using a budget offer, and I will made a few comments.

Canal Bridge 
Amsterdam, like most of the world, has changed a lot since my first visit in 1974.  The economy has taken off and the city has grown to be massive.  The effect seems to be that many of the original families that lived in the center have moved away to be replaced by the nuovo rich, much like Venice and even San Francisco.  
Huge Cheese Wheels
The Dutch Are Famed for Great Cheese
The center of the old city is frequented by the young tourists, some of whom just want a glimpse to see if there really are prostitutes in windows and marijana shops galore. Between these and the  souvenir shops one can still find cheese shops that offer a tasting before you buy.  

Where have all the hippies gone?
 In 1974 the famous Dam Square had some 25 hippies smoking grass without being prosecuted and a few tourists being what tourist do.  Today a gathering of hundreds visit the square each hour while the smoking of dope is in the coffee houses.  I felt overwhelmed by 35 year olds crowding the square while folks my age sat on benches and people watched.  Hundreds surrounded a guy who could pull his whole body through a tennis racket while balancing a large glass ball on his head.  This was a nice break from another type of circus we see in Washington.

We made a nice morning of it in the Van Gogh Museum, where one can see the painting left by the great painter to his brother after he passed on at a young age.  Many of these were stored under the brother’s bed, now hanging with gold frames on the museum walls.     Did you know the Dutch pronounce his name with a coughing sound at the end?  Not the usually hear "owe" sound....

Windmills of Holland

We made a follow-up visit of the R. Museum with a plan concentrate on Rembrandt, in particular his, Night Watch and other large paintings.  Those two museums made a morning it and we had lunch featuring foods whose designs and flavors came from the Dutch West Indies, a colony of Holland years ago.  I appreciate the chance to try something new, a nice change from pasta land flavors.  Another plus is a chance to try  locally made beer.  

An Enchanting Hour Cruise
If you are ever in Amsterdam, I would suggest that you take the night canal cruise.  The lights on all the canals and bridges are beautiful, plus you can look into windows and get a real look into the life style of the citizens.  Most of these windows along the canal have no curtains, and the Dutch are known to keep their windows squeaky clean.  You can also look into the boats along the canal, people are not afraid to let you look into their boat while they are dining or entertaining friends.  

For our last meal we decided to take tram 4 a ways out from the center and then look for an interesting “non tourist” place.  We do this sort of thing a lot and had good luck in Munich, Prague, and Lisbon.  What we found in Amsterdam was a Moroccan restaurant in an old church.  The food was excellent, reasonably priced, and the decor seemed a bit north African.  

Love those plates!  Mint Tea was relaxing.

It is difficult to deal with the fact that my country continues to spend a large majority of its budget on the military while countries in Europe are applying resouces to surpass our economy, provide free university to educate all its people, and a decent health care for all the citizens.  Since my first visit to Europe I can see HUGE progress, while America's roads and  bridges mirror what we think of moving forward in education and health care.  We have lost our middle class, while the Netherlands and other countries in Europe move forward.  All this with less crime, gun fatalities, and hunger.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Driving With Mario

I am not Catholic, and even though there are only Catholic churches here,  I decided to consider attending after last week’s hair raising bus trip.  The new driver, who had replaced my last,  who was a more calm and laid back driver, gave me a bit of the spectacular and unexpected.   Most bus drivers are exceptional and safe drivers.  Yet I began to believe, that Dale Earnhardt must have an Italian relative?  

I usually sit in the first seat so I can enjoy the view when leaving the city and reaching my village.  That was my first mistake!   I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, certainly not screaming and yelling like the passengers in my bus.  I had a front row seat feeling quite imperilled as the bus flew around corners, screeched to stops, and brushed by pedestrians who suddenly decided they should have stayed home.

He Always Got The Girls

I was reminded of the first auto chase movie I had seen as a child, the 1958 movie, Thunder Road, starring Robert Mitchum.  (Yes, I am old!)  Speeding his home-made liquor through the hills in his souped up jalopy, racing away from the authorities, screeching tires, he seemed to escape from the police at every attempt to deliver his hooch and get paid.  But here in Italy there are very few police on the roads, so there is little chance to catch bad drivers who violate rules.  And certainly there are no hooch makers evading the police.

 My ride last week was no donkey derby.  It was more of a hair raising Grand-Prix that started off when I boarded the bus.   When I stepped onto the bus the door hit my in the butt and  I grabbed a railing to hold on.  I struggled to climb the stairs and grab a front seat as the bus left two black stripes on the pavement.  From my seat the driver, hair combed back as if the wind trained it, leaned forward to adjust the his radio as he wheeled into a right turn and entered the city traffic, pushing his way into a circle and bullying the small Italian cars into submission.

One Handed/Half Brained
Every turn was taken too fast, forcing the bus to lean.  We heard tires screeching at every stop, some just in time, barely missing the car in front.  Speed was his object,  this guy lived like Mario Andretti, “If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough.”   I realised I had chosen the wrong seat as there was nothing between me and the big windshield.  The guy really had a control issue, and we were all part of it!   We even skipped one stop where 8 angry passengers waved their arms in a useless signal.  You win some, you lose some, you wreck some, this was my driver’s apparent motto, while I just wanted to finish above ground.  

It wasn’t the speed, or the turns that scared me the most.  It was the driving too close, the bullying of the cars in front.  It was the pushing them from the road.   Where were the police when you need them?   Who is going to challenge a huge bus in one of these tiny cars.  This bus would eat this car for breakfast!

Leaving the city only increased our speed.   It was a straight shot to my village.  This guy must have been a stunt driver in the Bourne movies.  He had no fear.  I had it all!  I grabbed my phone, wrote my wife while I invented several text abbreviations.  OMGIMDT, Oh My God I Might Die Today, and RMTHSDGOM, Remind Me To Have Sex,Drink, Goof Off More.   They seem long, but I was desperate!

An old joke came to mind about driving.  “My wife had her driver's test the other day. She got 8 out of 10. The other 2 guys jumped clear.” 

 We not only brushed past pedestrians but an old lady on a bike got a few more grey hairs when she had to stop in the middle of a crossing as our bus swerved to miss her.  (In Italy pedestrians have the  right of way, especially in a painted cross walk.)

I did not complain to the driver as I was afraid he would not stop at my village.  There are few stops outside of Padova, and it would be a long walk if he intentionally missed it.  I did mention to him, when we reached the finish line, that this must have been his personal best.  Then I sent a text to my wife, MNFA, Make No Funeral Arrangements!

You learn to appreciate the calm life of a quiet village in funny ways.


Monday, February 6, 2017

This will be a follow-up fact finding “mission” dedicated to my readers that responded to my earlier blog on Starbuck's invasion of Italy
Ciao Tutti?
It has been some time since I wrote about the Starbuck's corporate decision to invade Italy, first in Milano and later to other cities.  Howard Schultz, CEO Starbucks, had originally decided to stay away from competing with the hoard of coffee bars that Italians  frequent daily.  Times change, and placing a Starbucks near the Duomo in Milano  will be a sort of trial balloon, fishing to see if the hard-core coffee drinking Italians will storm the doors of a Starbucks coffee shop, lining up like crazed prisoners making a food raid.  Will they tolerate the long lines like the people of Moscow upon the opening of Moscow McDonalds?   My take on this is that Italians are down to earth people, they never dream  of one hand gripping a cup of exorbitantly priced java with  the other hand holding a cell phone needing free wifi.    Starbucks will be welcomed by the Milanese like a heavy dead wind and a greeting by the people, “come back when you can’t stay so long!”   

As things go here in Italy, it has been a much slower than imagined process for the American company.  In America what takes a few months, in Italy takes much longer.  When I last wrote the official statement to the press was that the big splash would be in February.  February is here and the big day has been slowed by the  usual bureaucratic snafus we all find here in Italy.
 (Go read my blog on obtaining a driver’s licence.)  Now the grand opening date is rumored to be  in September.  Months of profit lost.  I admit I am smiling.  Poor Starbucks!

The young people here are asking questions about possible employment, but they find no answers.  They need jobs, and here people are paid a living wage.  This is a tip off to us all as to really when will be the big day and the crowds will line up.  Starbucks has been in production stocking up on souvenir mugs with “ITALY” and “MILANO” emblazoned on the side.  One can only imagine how the massive Duomo will be presented.  Of course, one year after the opening they will change design to make these coffee mugs highly prized and valuable merchandise on    The furniture for Starbucks is rumored to be stored nearby, complete with their imported toilets they use in all their stores. They are ready!  But the officials of Milano are not!

Mamma Mia!
Oh no!
The newest problem is a matter of landscaping.  How can Starbucks be involved with landscaping you ask?  A councillor, Pierfrancesco Maran, has announced that "Starbucks with its garden will give an exotic touch to the square, while currently present trees will be replanted in other areas of Milan.”   - -an article by— Manuela Messina, journalist in Milano.  What this boils down to is that Starbucks made a plan to change the landscaping to spruce up their coffee quaffing shop.  Green it up, after all, who wants to look at those romantic century old buildings!  So it has been decided to place palm trees while removing the trees and plants that will go to another area of milano.  Palm Trees!  This is so NOT Milano.  Can you imagine the indignation of conservative Italians?  

Another quote from Messina:  "In the west of the square, rows of palm and banana for a spectacular scene with vegetation of large evergreen leaves. Will also be planted shrubs, grasses and perennials with alternating blooms during the seasons in various shades of pink: in spring a carpet of Bergenia, during the summer the big hydrangea flowers in variety Vanille Fraise and hibiscus, in the autumn of inflorescences Chinese giant reeds. A dark gravel carpet finally exalt contrast to the green of the system, which will be powered by an automatic irrigation system. “

Madonna! This is so American!  Gravel carpet and automatic sprinkling systems!  All in front of the former Post Office building in Piazza Cordusio!  To Italians this is much as if Italians planted palm trees at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty complete with expensive gondola rides to Manhattan.   BTW, Some years ago the mayor of San Francisco planted palm trees along the street of Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf.  Many people were not happy about that.  It’s the American way!

Thirty-three years ago, Schultz visited  Milan and Verona, wrote off the trip on his taxes, and began to build his multi million dollar enterprize.  The stage is almost set, and soon the curtain will rise.  I project that the lines will be formed with touristas, and the young.  With only one Starbucks it will be a popular success, but when their strategic approach moves to capitalize on more  shops Starbucks will be less popular.  After 8 years of living here, and my daily experience in my coffee bar, I believe the average Italian will remain loyal to  their old shop and baristas.

Want to know more?  Take a look at:  Potrebbe interessarti:

But you will need a translator, try google translate.



Monday, January 23, 2017

Sitting In My Local Bar, Thinking Food


That’s what we say in Italy for let’s eat!  
The food is so good in Italy you never run out of new things to try.  Every region has its specialties.  One bite and you are hearing Luciano Pavarotti.

One region uses more butter, another only olive oil, one region has smoked cheese another has wonderful parmigiano cheese.  It’s eating at every level. You never tire of sitting down to something new.  It’s always a challenge to read a menu for me.  After all, it’s not all pizza!

The good thing about living here in the north of Italy is that we are near other countries, and so that makes life twice as good!  Croatia, Slovenia and Austria are within a few hours drive and so they make for a fun weekend.  Even though only a border separates these countries from Italy, the food there is quite different.   
I am putting together a small cookbook of things I like to cook at home, things that I have discovered and the tricks to make them work.  Meanwhile I want to try and encourage readers to think about trying to make something different than their usual fare.  If something below causes an interest, you can find numerous videos on Youtube on how to…..So be brave.  This is not a fearless cultural exploration of foods, you have nothing to lose.
Casey Stengel (do you remember him?) said, “Without losers where would the winners be?”  Every time I try something new, I learn, and the next time I do better.  

Different Cheese Displayed
There are so many of us out there, you know the ones taking photos of the food.  We do that when we go out.  I enjoy looking at the presentation and then using that at home.  I think food tastes better when it looks better.  Here are a few examples from Italy and nearby countries. 
A simple cheese plate is made more separates with decorative cherry tomato, a red pepper, green olives and some sliced pickles.  This is a typical appetizer plate in Italy featuring some different cheeses.  There is nothing difficult in making this at home.  

How about a change in the weekend breakfast!  Take a look at the typical hotel offering in Turkey for breakfast.  Colorful and good for you.  You can’t miss copying this one! 

Sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and some cheese of different types.  Throw in a pepper and some parsley to dress the plate up.  

Let your imagination go!

Something simple things you can make could be bruschetta.  (pronounced broosketah, not shh in the middle).  Soak some sliced tomatoes in a little bit of lemon to help them be more tasty before you add oil with garlic flavor.  Toast some Italian bread on a grill, or even in your toaster.  Brush with oil and add the tomatoes.  You can’t beat that for taste and simplicity.

served on handmade pasta
Have you tried making goulash?  You can find this in the Alps of Italy, and in the countries north of Italy.  Each one has a different style but all are hearty, and are great on a cold winter’s night.   We have seen goulash served with pasta, polenta, potatoes or as a soup. 
Goulash is not difficult to make, kind of a set it and forget it recipe.  You won't have any plate smashing temper tantrums over this one.   Here is a Viennese recipe easy to follow and they even provide a video on their website.  You can’t miss!  

Go to:

The clock on the wall tells me I must go home and put together dinner.  If you think we always eat Italian here, you think wrong.  We actually don't eat much pasta.  Tonight is chicken enchiladas night!   Those of you who have access to corn tortillas--APPRECIATE THAT!    We cannot get them here.  So tonight is a special night.     Ciao!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

What is progress?

I cannot resist a small step away from blogging “Italian”

A few days ago we marked the passing of the last man who walked on the moon.  Gene Cernan was the commander of Apollo XVII was the last man to leave footprints on the moon’s surface.  That was back in 1972.  I was just past the legal drinking age, with a grandmother who knew real cowboys in Dodge City and another one who was in Cherokee Land Rush in Oklahoma.  It was an amazing time.  Progress reaching across time.  It was a great moment for mankind, something America can be proud of.   
Now I am old, what happened?  

Is it a question of money?  We certainly have enough to bomb 7 countries at the same time.  So many bombs that we run out of them!  Jets that release mini drones, illegal cluster bombs, and more.  We have an economy captured and ruled by the military industrial complex, and has great influence in the direction of NASA. 

In these past years I have thought about NASA and the direction the United States have taken in space exploration.  45 years have gone by and I would have thought we would have seen more exploration of the moon and also Mars.  I believe that the direction taken has led to many spy satellites in order to keep control of other countries.  Billions of tax dollars spent and wasted into contraptions that in a few years are out of date due to techno updating into how to overcome attempts to spy, etc. 

 When I talk to Italians they are perplexed about the choices made by Americans.   I do not have good answers.

In a slightly different direction, but enlightening.   Considering the hold the insurance industry has on politics and the economy of the United States.    Here is a quote from a website which clearly highlights the current problem in America from a completely different angle.

“You would expect that when NASA asks you to be the first man to walk on the Moon that they would consider the possibility of things going wrong. Well for Neil Armstrong he couldn’t afford the life insurance policy for an astronaut. However, along with Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin he wasn’t alone. All three astronauts of the Apollo 11 mission decided to create a plan of their own to support their families if something bad was to happen. Before the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 when all three astronauts were in pre-launch quarantine, they signed hundred of autographs and sent them to a friend. If anything was to happen to the astronauts during their mission, the entrusted friend was to send the autographed memorabilia to each of the astronaut’s families. This way they could make some money by selling the signatures of the Apollo 11 crew.”  taken from this interesting website:

Armstrong couldn’t afford his own life insurance!   OMG!
Did you know that when they landed back on earth they were asked to fill out a customs form on what they were declaring?  Only in America!
Go take a look at that website for more facts on the moon landing.  

That is enough for now.  I wish you a happy day.  The next post will return to life in Italy.  


Monday, January 9, 2017

After The Holidays

Window In Shop in Venice
I have been distracted by the holiday season and my mind has been far from What Fills My Plate.  It has been an interesting few weeks, with a steam train ride, a visit to the Christmas Markets in Nuremberg, Bamburg and Ljubljana, three trips to Venice, and the birth of a grandchild.  Time does not sit still and neither did we!

What is the season to Italians?  I can only add a few insights in comparison to American perspective.  Using my mother as an example, she would have us diligently search at least three Christmas tree lots, with a final trip back to one of them to pick up the tree she thought was the best choice.  Italians do not have tree lots.  I have never seen one.  We have an imitation tree from IKEA of all places.  It actually looks pretty good, and I have been trained by the best, good ol' mom.

Seasonal music in Italy is marginal in comparison.  Shoppers are blasted by Bing Crosby and the song White Christmas, Frosty the Snow Man, and other commercial songs to promote the secular side of the holiday.  I have never heard Silent Night, The First Noel, Joy to the World, or even Good King Wenceslas.  There is a group in my village the do carolling but they expect a few euros after their meager attempt.  No family in my condo answers the buzz to invite them in.   Last year we were invited up to Aviano Air Base where a chorus was backed up by a brass quartet featuring a multitude of carols.  This year the concert was cancelled.  I did see a concert in Padova advertised to feature music of Christmas.  Italians do not know about The Messiah, unfortunately.  That about wraps it up for music.

Look So Good You Don't Want To Eat Them

What is Christmas without a specially wrapped panettone?  We have gone through two of them this year.  Some of these are very expensive, 20 euros or more.   The local bakery makes some incredibly decorated sugar cookies.  Pictured above are some found in Venice.

Hard to Pass Up
The dinner table on the big day will not have a turkey or ham.  We went out to an agritourismo and had pasta dishes, and grilled meats, with a fancy.  This feast took 3 1/2 hours and we literally rolled out of there.

Italians leave their decorations up until way after the first of January as they celebrate Epifania on January 6.   This is the day of the Three Kings visitation.   The great majority of my neighbors have now removed any Christmas lights they had outside and now we are the only ones to light them at night.  I am finding it hard to give up my holiday.

German Santa in Nuremberg

I want to wish for you a Wonderful 2017, and Peace for our world.  I am hoping for a safe and calm existence for my Turkish friends in their country.  I am very worried about our future and we must all speak up for justice for all people, not just the top 1% who have all the wealth.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Markets This Year

A Short Question Remains to Be Answered

Christmas Market Time

                                         But first a few short words.....

Once in awhile there is a huge amount of readers of this blog from Russia.  Today I had 44 readers and the day isn’t over.  This makes me curious, of course.  Are there people wanting to know about Italian life?  Maybe it was the title, Dave the Mad Bomber.  I once received a huge amount of Russian readers when I wrote a title which had the word Putin in it.  

Nuremburg Christmas Market
More Crowded at Night
Maybe I will never know the answer, but I am hoping  that some of them will take the time to make a comment at the bottom of the blog post.  I also would like to know a little about my two faithful French readers.  So, I am coaxing you to take a few minutes and write something.
Santa Claus, Bavaria Style

Smells Like A Carnival
Nothing like Onions and Brats
Meanwhile I will mention that we are just returning from the Nuremberg Christmas Market.  It was billed as huge, and it was massive.  There were lots of food stalls, and decorations galore.  It is so large that it takes hours to see it all.  

Mr. Cookie 
Candles, craft items, and decorations for the tree were in many stalls.  There was an area for children with rides, and area for crafts, and the whole market was spread out over the old center.  

None of the American Fake Cheese Product Here
Bamburg Market
We also went to Bamburg and walked through their market.  Prices were a lot less in Bamburg, and we brought home some great cheese and sausage items.  Blood Sausage was available with many other types that Germans love.  The beautifully preserved town  is walkable and after the river bridge you find many  beer restaurants that feature a regional favorite, smokey beer. 

The week previous we drove up to Slovenia  and enjoyed a nice time in Ljubljana.  Of all the European Christmas Markets we have visited, this one gets an  A Plus for best lighting.  They went all out, and with the lighted castle above the whole thing was magnificent.  There were less vendors here, but the city has a wonderful market which one must not miss.  

Padova has a small market with vendors lining the pedestrian street near the main market.  This seems to grow as the 25th nears and they celebrate the holiday by burning an effigy of a witch over a mountain of scrap wood.  This makes for a cold night, and I have to admit we have only taken this in one time.  

Not A Lot of Snow on the Alps
climate change?

I am getting some comments…..Thanks, now I know the comment area is working.
This blog post will only be up for a few days.

Merry Christmas.