Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Dave The Mad Bomber!

I will admit it, I was addicted to cooking shows.  I say was addicted as  here in Italy I find their cooking shows boring and limited mostly to  Italian dishes.    American palates are more adventurous  enjoying food from all over the world using ethnic ingredients.  Back in the U.S. I watched a lot of Food Network shows  and I also enjoyed others, like the shows where the host eats bugs, and other roadkill items, or the one where the host is challenged by the clock to eat a pile of food that would feed a  famished army.  I was a fan of Emeril until Food Network left older viewers and went and changed directions and pulled his show off the air.  He had a lot of followers and brought a lot of interest into cooking your own food from scratch.   He showed people how easy it is to cook something not out of a box.  

Yellow Tag says chicken broth for 1 euro
But there is none to be found here.
One thing I saw that was pushed on viewers was chicken broth, and I believed that chicken broth was indispensable in Italian homes.  I was brain washed into believing that chicken broth is a big deal in Italy.  Nothing could be further from the truth!   I found this out on my first shopping trip to my local market in Padova.  Chick broth was absent from the shelves.  They had beef broth, vegetable and meat broth and other similar items, but no chicken.  I searched other stores and had the same bad luck.  Finally I gave up, and use a mix called Mr. Mix because it does not have monosodium glutamate and tastes excellent.

Finally, Chicken Broth









Later,  I did find chicken broth in one store in Padova, and through my discussions with Italian friends, I now I have several sources.  But Isn’t it strange to hear how important  chicken broth is to Italians and then not find it!  In this photo you can see a display of broths.   Now I have less trust those Italian food experts , much like I have less trust in CNN to report real news.

The great majority of Italians do not have time to make stock from chicken bones, and my belief is that they would not know how.  I am not sure what their source is.  In the photo above that I took in my store where it is found,   look closely.   Even though advertised, it is not found.  Was it Black Friday for chicken broth?  The word of the day is pollo, and it stands for chicken.

Another thing more difficult to find here is lasagna pasta.   My Punto store, near my home has none.   I would have thought that every brand of pasta would sell its own lasagna pasta.     Maybe people here make their own?    Another blog in the future.  
My point here is, Let the Viewer Beware.  One or two trips over here does not make those tv chefs experts.  Maybe a year would do it, as during the year different crops of vegetables become available.  So they would learn how to cook them Italiano!
                                                 Part Two

I like to cook. I like to create, and I like to explore different foods.  When considering to move to Italy, after a few trips back and forth, I decided to save a pile of Euros and buy my Kitchen Aid Mixer in America and bring it back in my baggage.  I was, at that time, able to bring two suitcases and a large carry on.  My new Kitchen Aid went in one suitcase, and the pasta making parts went into my carry on.  

IT'S A BOMB!  NOT!
If you don't have one of these, look into getting one.
Making your own fresh pasta is fun.
At the airport as the metal detector line snaked along, I was wondering what would happen when all that metal went through the machine.  Sure enough, they  made me step aside, and the workers all backed up, one fellow remarking it looked dangerous.  They asked me to unpack and open the carry on.  I was smiling as I fumbled to open the bag and bring out the box.  I pulled out the pasta maker part, and the other pasta cutters to show them that I wasn’t a terrorist bomber.  They looked quite relieved. 

My mixer, in the checked suitcase,  also made it through, and I could see that someone had opened my bag as they left an official paper stating it was searched.  I felt relieved while going through customs in Italy I was motioned to go on through the exit.  BTW I had to build a special electrical device to change Italian electrical current to what my American machine needs.  50 euros did it!  I run my Kitchen Aid Blender off that current also.  The device is large and very heavy, but does the trick.
  




My mixer cost a bit over 200 dollars at the time.  Shown here are some different colored mixers  in a large store in Padova with the price listed below.
626 Euros!  Ouch!

Big Difference!  You can see why I brought mine over the pond.   It works like a champ.

There are other brands of mixers, mostly German made, and not as expensive as Kitchen Aid.  I think it was a good thing to pack and bring it here.


This is my 63rd post.  Thanks for reading.  Please, leave a comment if you have time.  Go to where it says, "no comments".  
Ciao!

Monday, November 14, 2016

PROBLEMS WITH THE FLOATING ITALIAN DISNEYLAND





Happy Thanksgiving Day to Everyone.  Protect Native American Rights!

Dear Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Whoopi Goldberg, Amy Schumer and others, I heard you are leaving the United States.    Don’t move to the city of Marco Polo!   What you see is not what is real!  The true Venice that you and millions of visitors should see is evidenced by the shuttered windows of homes all along the canals.  Shutters that are closed most of the year, opened only for short-term renters or the rich owners who come for a short holiday visit.   Closed shutters/nobody home!  There’s one reason with a growing problem.

Dark and Lonely
I call Venice The Italian Disneyland.  They are quite similar, both aiming  to  suck the pockets of tourists dry.   Both provide a thrill or two.  Both are visually beautiful.  Disneyland is empty at night, frequented by guards and the cleaning staff.  Venice is also devoid of people.  If you wander the walkways of Venice in the belly of winter with your free cartoon map, you can’t help but find yourself frustrated and lost.   Even though Venice is quite safe at night, you can’t help but feel a bit frightened.   I wouldn’t want to be in Disneyland at 3:00 a.m., either.

Piles of money buy up those beautiful villas, but there is a price to be paid. We only see the fronts of Venetian structures, quite  like a visit to Universal Studios where you see houses that only have one side, provided for a front.   It is the same here in Venice.   Behind that beautiful exterior lies the ugliness of the back of a bowling alley.  Venice has been abandoned for years to the rich, and lies as a museum piece.  Although you have the pile of cash allowing you the luxury of moving, Barbara Streisand, no one will be rolling out the red carpet for you and the those  who gawk and take selfies from the expensive vaporetto boats.   You and the vast number of tourists are as welcome as a case of herpes.  



The problem stems from the hoard of besieging tourists, estimated at 20 million a year,   It  wasn’t so bad as far back as the 80’s,  but  the economies of the European nations have grown, and so the growing middle class comes to see this famous city,  They want to see its beauty and view, in person, what their teachers and the history books have told them.  Venice kicked butt in history and was a major player with lots of wealth.  They ruled over lands all the way to Istanbul.  In one crusade they plundered Constantinople (Istanbul) and hauled away their gold and jewels.  They ruled the water routes to the East.  During those times  these villas were built and history was made.  If you build it, they will come, and come the tourists do.  They arrive at the train station which lies right on the canal, they arrive by plane from the nearby airport, and they arrive by ship.   This is the biggest problem, the  huge passenger boats that park at the convenient docks with the people who walk across the hated bridge (another blog soon)  to the vaporetto stations.  Think of it, 20 million Karl Pilkingtons feeding those hundreds of flapping and crapping pigeons.   20 million bodies blocking the entrance to homes, and making noise at night.  Think of the trash and sewage problems this creates!
What is the entrance fee for Disneyland?  There is no  entrance fee for Venezia (the real name).

video
expensive ride

The residents who are hanging onto their beloved city are justified.  They complained to the mayor and his council to make the vacant apartments owned by the city available with affordable rents.  Yet, like most governments today, nothing happens.   Compounding this problem is the fact that two top city officials have resigned due to a scrupulous siphoning of construction project funds.  The result of which is  the city is now temporarily run by committee.

jammed sidewalks
The people also complain, with good reason, that during holidays and festivals the walkways are so crowded that they cannot get from the boat docks to their front door, battling the crowds that are jammed and not moving.  They complain about the constant noise of rattling suitcases being dragged over the cobblestones at all hours of the night.  They have complained about the vaporettos being so bloated with tourists that they are forced to wait for the next water bus.  In an attempt to combat this problem the mayor raised the ticket price.  The last time I rode a vaporetto I think I remember that the ticket price was an astounding 8 euros.  The ticket price for locals like me is 1.50.  

In September there was a congenial gathering of protesters as they used small boats and gondolas to block cruise ships from entering Venice.  A few years before this many citizens donned wet suits and swam out to block the cruise ships.  The 30,000 passengers a day that arrive by ship are welcomed by the locals as if they were part of the Manson family.    If you stand back and look at the bridges crossing the canals it actually looks like an ant hill.  It is a kind of organized chaos.  Taking a few moments to give some thought to what you see, you begin to have empathy for the citizens.  Every day they get a brass knuckle punch from the hoard of tourists.

vaporetto

There is no industry in Venice, the shops have been mostly bought and are now stocked with Chinese-made souvenirs, many of the bars are run by immigrant Chinese, while fancy shops that service the rich like, Chanel, Gucci and Armani have pushed local shops into oblivion.   Is there really anyone stupid enough to buy a handbag for 3,000 euros?  The locals who work in the service industry such as trash, transportation, and deliveries are mostly what is left for employment for the locals.  What do you believe they are thinking about those luxury shops and the prices?

 
train station
There have been public demonstrations of late.  The latest emotional display was called Venexodus and had residents carrying suitcases and parading to exit with signs saying, “Addio”  to signify the forced exit of long-time families from Venice.  One man donned a red cloak and played the part of the Doge, and after walking the streets in protest and being followed by residents he symbolically boarded a gondola he and bid Venice, “Addio”.
.

Smaller is Quieter
Families have good reason to be upset.   They have lived here for generations and cannot afford to stay.  Yet, the rich with their piles of money now have their vacation villas.  They rent them out for a huge profit which keeps rental prices for residents far too high for people working in the service industry.  The well to do don’t plan to own the villas for more than a few years and so do not repair structural problems.   Believe me, there are problems with these villas sitting on the water.  Waves created from the boats constantly eat away  the structures.  High tides cause water to enter the first floor of the villas.  All this plus the fact that these homes were built hundreds of years ago and there is a natural ageing of structures, such as sinking, etc.    I would like to offer one last thought about all this.   What will happen when the seas rise within a few years?   The rich villa owners who do nothing to help the city will be left holding the bag like the last person in a pyramid scheme.  They will deserve it.

Friday, November 11, 2016

2,000 Steps Around My Italian Village

on a bridge in Venice
It's time to get back to writing about life in Italy.  We have a pathway in our village that goes behind it, circles around  clockwise, and then cuts through the middle.  I decided on my last late afternoon walk to take some photos and post them with a bit of discussion.
My village is small, you can drive through it in 3 minutes or less.  City Hall has a board that says we have 8,000 inhabitants but I think they are counting the people who live outside on their farms, and maybe a few deceased. This gives you an idea of the size.  If you plan on moving to Italy I would suggest finding a village outside a large town, one with public transportation.  That was our choice, and it was a good one.

Those hills in the back are ancient volcanos.  The wine from
these hills is above average and worth investigating if you are here looking for wine.
We walk north down a street and come out on a small park where the mayor has provided a small field for soccer players,  You can see the high fence to stop balls from going onto the farm.  This farm just had a crop of soybeans harvested.  Last year it was corn.  This corn  was for animals, as Italian do not eat corn much.  Corn on the cob?  Ha, never seen that here.

A foot and a half deep
The Veneto, the area around Venice, is criss-crossed with canals.  They do not have a water shortage here, and the farmers pump the water out and use it on their crops.  We have seen large fish in the canals, but one would never eat them as they are probably loaded with chemicals from the farms.
Persimmon tree in back



At the far end of my village a farmer has a plot of grapes.  He makes enough wine for his family.  There are other grape fields nearby, and the wine that comes from these grapes is exceptional.  I took this shot as I was thinking most people have never seen a grape field in the Fall.
Turning the corner one can see the main north/south street into town with the big church in the center.  You are viewing from the end of the village, so you can see it is not very far to the center.






shoe repair
Along the way you pass a small shop where a friendly fellow repairs shoes.  I stop and practice my Italian with him.  He doesn't mind my mistakes, which is nice.  
I like to see this kind of shop still making a go of it.  I worry about this man when all the older people who wear only leather shoes die off and we are left with people who buy throw away shoes that are not of leather.



Further down the road is the meat shop where I buy most of my meat.  This shop also has eggs, butter, milk, wine and olive oil.  Nothing here is prepackaged.   You can see that the meat is displayed nicely and you get take it home freshly packaged.  Cuts like brisket, can be a problem as you have to explain what you want.  They will go in the back and cut it and bring it to you.  Brisket is not a favorite cut for Italians.

I took several shots to give you a better idea of how we shop in Italy.  The owner knows how to choose his beef.  I have never received a chewy steak, for instance.
The workers wear red hats, and red aprons.  They are paid a good salary that is not minimum wage, and the state of Italy  has a wonderful health plan.  The lady is always smiling (not fake) to see me and listen to me order in Italian.
Dried Cod


Those dried fish you see are cod, caught near Norway.   Italians make a dish called baccala, which can be served cold or hot.  They eat a lot of this in the winter.  I don't think that Italians understand about the over fishing of cod. I feel there is a need to be aware of this.
My Bank

Walking in the center of the village you will find 4 bankomats.  This is my "bank" that talks to my bank in America.  It is difficult to have a bank account here and also is costly. They charge for the service.  Forget about  your money making interest in an account here.  That interest would be sucked into the coffers of the banks!
To give you an idea of money exchange, right now a euro is worth $1.09 American, which is much better than what it was some months ago, at $1.39!   Now that we will have a new president, I am sure this will change for the worse.  People here do not have much faith in the future for America.

Gelato Heaven
But only in Summer
This is the local gelato shop, which also sells coffee and munchies throughout the day.  Italian gelato is really good, but to Italians it is not such a big deal.  Two weeks ago this shop stopped selling gelato as it is winter and no one seems to want it.  Imagine if all the ice cream shops in America shutdown on November 1 until April 15.  I don't know about you, but winter does not stop me from enjoying some ice cream.
Next door is the real estate shop, and on the left is a flower shop.  I skipped the pharmacy a bit further back.  That's it for the shops around the piazza.

Rounding the corner you see the furniture store.  I think they have the weirdest furniture in that store.   Actually, I think that Italian furniture styles are totally strange.   Couches are inches off the floor and look uncomfortable.  Chairs are small and look like they were designed for looks rather than comfort.  Some of the stuff they have remind me of Danish furniture of the 50's.

I have never seen anyone in this store to buy anything in the past 6 years.  I walk by  this store everyday, never seeing a customer.  I don't know how they stay in business!  Maybe it is tax write off.  BTW a HUGE majority of Italians but their furniture from IKEA.  I think IKEA would be a good stock to buy if you are looking for an investment.  Sunday we were there and parking places were full, people drove around for ten minutes to find a spot.  (The parking lot is HUGE!)
Italian style furniture

Another window of the furniture shop shows this turquoise lamp.  To me, this is hilarious, and might fit in with a southwest decor, but no one here knows what that is, unless the local American Hamburger joint needs to pick up a few more display items.  I wrote about this place some time back.

Next we get to my vegetable shop.  This guy is a hard worker, from 9:00 until 9:00 he is there providing fresh produce.  He also sells several types of wine pumped from a  barrel, nuts, and this month he is pushing chestnuts, which he roasts outside in a fancy roaster.
I stop here almost daily, make a purchase and work on my Italian. Frequently Denis, the owner,  does not understand what I have said.  (That happens a lot with my accent not being perfect)
Denis, my veggie guy


Denis gets a little help from his family  in running his shop.  His mother comes quite often, and even his nephew was working their during the summer.  You can see different dried beans behind Denis, and bags of potatoes.  They call sweet potatoes, American potatoes, in Italy.
Denis also sells dried fruit, and lots of different kinds of nuts.  Because of me he sometimes stocks avocados which we use to make guacamole.  Avocados are kind of a new thing for Italians.  I bet that 98 percent of all Italians have never tasted guacamole.

He also sells pinto beans and tomatoes in a can.  Pinto beans in Italy are called Barlotti, while the small black beans are called  Mexican beans.
take home vino
Denis has his vino set up from this wall.  He has several choices, and the prices are displayed.  This is strictly table wine which you bring your jug and fill it yourself.   Strange to me... a produce shop selling wine.   It's funny to see the local police in uniform stopping to fill their jug to take home.
Hot item, roasted chestnuts

On the right you see bags of chestnuts.  These are ready to roast and is a favorite of northern Italians.  Chestnuts are roasted in the center of the city of Padova, and eaten like a snack food while you walk.  BTW Italians don't usually eat and walk, but this is excusable.
During WWII food was scarce  and chestnuts were gathered and made into  flour.  You can buy chestnut flour here, and I have brought some to some kind friends in America.

That is a trip around my quiet village.  For some of my readers who are considering moving to Italy, this is how it is.  Quiet, calm and crime free.  Thank you all for taking the time to read the blog posts.


Missing the great beer in Prague
CIAO!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Politics 101


Through the internet, people have been able to see more clearly the corruption in American politics.  Whistle blowers have given us access to behind the stage workings of people in power.  I feel as if I have been cheated out of what should be.  Democracy is losing.

I am lucky to have readers from many countries, France, Italy, Russia, Canada, Great Britain, United States, Colombia, Japan, and Turkey.  To you I want to say I am ashamed of my country.   In these past months It feels as if we have been enrolled in Politics 101.  

I voted through my home state

Taking notes in Politics 101…..
Debate moderators asked softball questions.  For example, the NSA was never mentioned.  
CNN received debate questions to ask Trump from the DNC as revealed in recent  found emails.
Democratic National Committee, from the very beginning,  worked against Bernie Sanders as revealed in the missing emails now found.
The Department of Justice is favorable to Hillary.
The head of the FBI has disgraced his bureau.
The media clearly ignored Bernie Sanders, then later ignored Jill Stein.  
If Bernie would have been given equal coverage, I believe Hillary would not be the candidate chosen.
The media covered Trump far more than any other candidates.  Even when they admitted they were guilty, then did not change.
The American public does not seem to realize that newscasters are multi-millionares and for the most part are told what to cover and what to say.
Big money, the 1%,  controls our government.  
Hillary is sponsored by big money.  She refused to publish her speeches to bankers.
Bernie Sanders had far larger crowds, filling football stadiums, but this was hardly mentioned by the national media.   
Hillary’s crowds were never shown as they were much smaller and a lot less enthusiastic. 
Arizona has a very corrupt voting system that gives only lip service to the public as evidenced in the hearings, post election.
Los Angeles has a corrupt voting system with lost and missing ballots.
Florida has a corrupt voting system, leaving items to be voted on off the mailed out ballots.
Voting machines are corruptible and are owned by a democratic supporter to Hillary.
Hillary’s calling the common people a bucket of losers, or deplorables is ignored by people.  
Thousands of New York area voters in the primary were purged from the rolls.
The Clinton foundation is funded by rich people who buy access to Hillary.
Very little of the foundation money ever reaches the people who need it.
Clinton basically ignored the the pipeline issue and did not visit the site in support of  clean water and Native Americans and their burial site.
Tanks, heavy weapons, police in riot gear with biting dogs against unarmed protesters is not acceptable.  
Obama blew off the protest of the pipeline.  “Letting it play out means”, allow it to continue.   He disgracefully chose not to be involved.
Guantanamo still exists, a promise broken by Obama.
We have troops in Afghanistan, another promise broken by Obama.
Hillary made it possible for funding to ISIS to have weapons to fight Syria.
We are sending more troops to Syria.
We have learned nothing from the Vietnam war.
Every major decision by Hillary has turned out to be a major mistake.
Hillary could have sent help to our Ambassador in Benghazi, but waited for hours and he was killed along with others on site.

                                       
A Lincoln Moment
In a major Football stadium filled with supporters a sparrow landed on Bernie Sanders podium and was declared a symbol for peace.   If you have not seen this, go YouTube.  

No matter what country we live in, we must all speak out and fight against corruption, war and people in power who do not care about the common people.   The next four years, no matter who wins the election, will be very difficult.    

We must continue to strive to stay informed.  We have been schooled and know we must stand up for democracy.   




Peace to you all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Battle Of The Bar Door

I am involved with a few blogs where people who are seeking information on life in Italy.  Many are considering moving to Italy, and are researching the hows and wheres, etc.  These blogs are helpful and I try to make a few comments in them about life here besides writing my own blog.   For my subscribers….. I am back to writing about Italy.  Here we go, my attempt to season your romantic world view.

The sky today is  gray, the clouds are low, the humidity is heavy like a wet blanket.   Italian pop music rhythmically reminds me in what country I reside in, while  three old guys sit near my small table in my coffee bar, Cafe Jolie.  A balding guy with a neatly trimmed mustache is speaking in Veneto, the dialect of this area.  He bears a striking resemblance to  Higgins, the character on Magnum PI.  Looking over the top of his glass he says, “ Heyay gowa sua eeah ay cava subata laya comeeah waka veeyaw, si, roba comabah….”  Veneto sounds exactly like this to me.  The acoustics of the dialect Veneto to my ears has less use of consonants.  Lotta vowels!  Lots.

Not a day over 75,  two other men throw in their comments and laugh.  They hardly look up as a fourth old gray haired guy arrives and pulls up a chair.  Together the look like aged pall bearers at the Godfather’s funeral.  Should I be worried?

They sit relaxed and jabber.  They have ordered no coffees.  They are just here for some engaging talk.  No one seems to mind.   In a village like mine, bars are meeting places. Hollywood has shown us this picture numerous times, the tiny village, the old guys sitting at a table playing cards and the sexy barista tending the bar.  However, no one plays cards in my village.

Slot Machines in Bars Here
A rough looking man, in need of a shave, wanders in.  He is dressed in typical orange worker garb, the kind that highway workers wear for visual protection.  He walks straight to the door of the bathroom.  
Bars are useful for refreshments but also for the bathrooms provided for their customers.  I also have learned to use them out of desperation. 
I sometimes buy something out of guilt and sometimes I don’t.  Like the burger place, It’s in and out.    Bar bathrooms are the local public restrooms for Italians, and unlike in the 70’s, are quite clean.  (Remember this when you are a tourist.)  

                                           A Good Example
Two days ago I was in the village of Noventa Padovana where I had held a painting exhibition some years ago.  One of my paintings now hangs in the mayor’s (Sindaco) office.  Which ought to count for something, right?  I was driving by and in need of a restroom, as there are no gas stations there and we don’t  have  7/11’s in Italy.    So I stopped in the convenient free parking area and went into the city hall with the office of the Sindaco.  I was met with a scowl in the hallway by a custodian in an prisoner-ish orange suit.   I could tell I was in trouble before I started.  He curtly wanted to know what I wanted, and I explained I was needing a bagno (bathroom).  He said, “what?”   My hit and run Italian accent had revealed me to be a stranieri.   I had little hope in the first place as most Italians take one look at me and figure I am either German or Russian.  I told him I was looking for a toilet.  At this point,  with feigned outrage, he stuck his arm out and pointed to the door, while he said, “BAR!”  He was pointing to the bar directly across the street.   Here was the prisoner in that orange Jailbird suit, telling me where to go!  I was being viewed with considerable disfavor, somewhere between a bill collector and Vlad the Impaler.

Later I was having an interesting discussion with my wife, and she politely told me that in Italy people do not use the city hall bathrooms.  Those toilets are reserved for the pampered fannies of the elected officials. Something about the perks of officials here in Italy don't add up!  I countered with my thoughts on this:  In America, no one would be refused to use a bathroom in the city hall.  We  Americans own that city hall!   I guess tax paying Italians don't own the local city hall.  Where is the justice in this!  RISE UP, ITALIANS!  (While you are at it, more benches and water fountains, please!)

Then it got funny when my wife told me I had looked pretty “rough” that day and much like a Romanian immigrant.   (I don't have any Romanians reading my blog, so I am safe to use this.)     Should I be wearing suit and tie?   I have been judged before the trial!  I countered that I did not look like the 4 guys who robbed me in St. Petersburg!  
I looked at myself, clean shirt, pants, hair combed, shaved, (Okay, I did need a haircut) everything in place and to top it off,  I had smiled and was polite to the orange costumed custodian.  This is not justice!  What would happen  if I had a SUDDEN AND URGENT need for a bathroom?  
Such is Italy.  They can hang my painting in the mayor’s office, but I cannot use his urinal!  I think I want my painting back!


                                           Back to the bar. 
 The old guys have now ordered a spritz which is a combination of compari or aperol and prosecco (champagne style wine made in Italy and quite good- - a lot cheaper)  They have waited until after 11:00 because bars feature snacks for free when you order a spritz at this time of the morning.  Cafe Jolie brings to your table a large bowl of chips surrounded by tasty finger sandwiches.  While they are wolfing down the freebies, another old friend joins them, coming in from the light rain shaking his umbrella.   I have noticed that he has left the door open and we are now feeling the chilling effect of the cold sneaking its way into the toasty-warm bar.  This happens a lot in this bar.  I don’t know why, except that Italians like doors open more than I would.  They don’t seem to realize the money lost in losing heat this way.   The door remained open for most of the morning that day.
Music Videos Pump It Out
The day before this it had been an even colder day and sitting in the bar I glanced up from my keyboard and saw the door had suddenly been propped open.  I had a light jacket on and was feeling uncomfortable from the cold.  I looked at the barista, but she was busily sweeping the crumbs dropped from people’s brioches.  I waited.  I tried to get her attention, but no....  I waited....My nose began to get cold and my fingers seemed to be at the first stage of frostbite.  

This is more than a petty annoyance to me and finally I got up and closed the door.  ( BTW I am sitting 6 inches from the wall heater.)  Soon it became comfortable again.  I couldn't see my breath anymore.  Ten minutes go by and the manager rushes out of the kitchen and hurrying to the door says, “Dave, I must open the door, it is hot in here!”   What can I say?  It is 54 degrees outside.  She wants it the same!  They have lived their lives in this cold humidity.  The kind that caused consumption in the past.  I have lived in the dry cold of the Rockies and the west coast of the U.S.    This is Italy.  
Italian Breakfast Of Champions
Another heated discussion at home occurs the same day.   I am made to realize that scarfed and jacketed Italians walk in off the street to have a quick hard-core two-minute coffee “whatever” and leave.  They don’t come into a bar, remove their jacket, and sit around reading a book, working a computer or talking on the phone.   They come for their coffee fix, a jolt of caffeine in a tiny cup.  If they want to sit, they will do this during their hour and a half lunch.  (Factory workers only get 30 minutes, I say this to save myself another at-home discussion later.)  There is no lollygagging around.  This is NOT Starbucks!  I am the lone goof-off in the whole village.  For me, pacing is important.  At least they know my name in my bar!   (BTW we have checked and Starbucks in Milano is still a few months away.  So some of you will have to wait a bit longer for your souvenir Milano mugs.) 


Cin Cin!

This is life in Italy, the bare bones, reality.  People want to know.  It is not a hard life, and if you let go a little, you find a very peaceful one.   Those little things combined with no crime in my village?   They are gladly acceptable for me.  I just have to wear a better jacket…..
gloves
long underwear
wool socks
Russian hat with flaps
scarf (no I refuse that)
Ciao!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Two Winners in Tallinn

Old Center of Tallinn
I wonder how many people in the United States could correctly point to Estonia on a blank map of Europe.  Shamefully, I have to admit that I might have guessed right with a 33 per cent chance between Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.   You almost never hear about them, and the last big news was years ago when they broke from the Soviet Union.  Think about what you know about these countries.   Not much, right?

I had my eyes opened this summer.  Landing in Riga, Latvia and riding a fancy but cheap bus to Tallinn, Estonia.   Walking through the center of both Riga and Tallinn, we visited the wonderful markets and later found some great local cuisine.   It was easy to have our eyes opened to see the gathering weight of two economies.  Clearly, the citizens have decided to use a strategic approach and compete with the rest of Europe.  That took  hard work and a truck load of time.  

For several months we made plans to meet two men in Tallinn who started their own business from scratch.  Ascending through the ranks of the successful, these fellows now run a factory that turns out frames for stitching hobbyists.  People from all over the world now excitedly order and wait for their new frames to be quickly delivered.  You would be surprised to know the huge number of stitchers in the world.  They are organized, to the point of groups who have made friends with others all over the world.  They spend time stitching, discussing their projects and more, all at the same time. Modern technology allows them to use videos as if they are sitting in the same room.  It is actually amazing to see how connected they are.   They have even organized weekends where they meet, a convention of sorts.  One I am familiar with met last February and had 50 people from 5 countries.  Imagine 50 stitchers taking over a golfing hotel!  Many of this group use frames made in this Tallinn factory and so  we were interested to meet these two fellows and see what they have accomplished.


They Are Good Listeners
There’s an old guy and a young guy.  Alexei is my age, the old guy,  and he had been a soldier in the Soviet army.  When the Soviet Union was dissolved he was given a choice to move to Russia and remain in the army, or leave and remain in his country of Estonia.  This was a difficult choice because it meant he would have no income and be starting out in his later middle years.  He chose to stay.  The state offered some classes that were offered to help people find a new career and Alexei chose jewelry making.   During this class, he was asked by a  Russian lady to build a stitching frame, one he would have to design by himself.  The frame turned out to be a great success and Alexei began to get a lot of orders from Russia.  Along the way, he managed to find an unused army building and this is where the factory is today.  His son, Anton, is the voice of the operation and is now the one communicating with the people who order frames, he also helps Alexei in their construction.


Put yourself in the shoes of Alexei, facing his economic disaster and a huge change in lifestyle.  He was a man standing on a bridge in a hailstorm yet he managed to change his direction and forge a new life for his family.  It is the kind of  story that encourages all of us to never give up.  No job to a new factory, what a vivid contrast!

The outside of the factory looks exactly as you would expect an ex-Soviet Army building to look, in need of a paint job and a bit in disrepair, but the inside is filled with tools and machines to do their work. Alexi tells us that he purchased many of the large machines through auctions held to unload state-owned equipment no longer used.  They have plenty of space and are able to separate painting operations, from machine work.  The factory is doing so well that they have hired another fellow to do work in a side room and Alexei had to ask him to stop for a few minutes so that we can hear them explain how and where they do each of the processes to make the frames.  

We are shown a new frame, which is still undergoing changes, and we are asked not to show photos later.  They expect a lot of interest and they do not want the competitors to copy their ideas.  My wife sits behind it and offers  suggestions. They listen.  She is very positive about this new set up.  

Peter The Great's Humble Abode
We spend almost two hours there and then Anton takes us back to our hotel in his Landcruiser.  We will meet them later for a late lunch, but on the way, Anton drives by the house of Peter the Great.  I had no clue that Peter the Great had lived in Tallinn, but let’s face it, I know very little of the history of Peter the Great.  We also see the house of his wife, located across a small park.  However, these are no palaces, as you can see.  His huge palaces we will visit later in St. Petersburg.

At the Restaurant 

Like a cop at a crime scene I was highly interested in what these two men would choose to eat, and secretly I was wondering if Alexei would be drinking vodka.  They ordered in Estonian language and we ordered in English, so I had no idea what we would see on the table, but sure enough a jug of vodka appears with one glass, then two tomato glasses of tomato juice arrive.  This is kind of a shock to me as in Italy you  would die before you could find tomato juice anywhere, a store or restaurant.  Bravo, Estonia!  The juice did have a funny color.

World Peace!
So here we are, me, an American flag waver, sitting next to Alexei an ex-Soviet Soldier.  There is hope for the world.   Never in my wildest dreams would I ever think I would have lunch in such circumstances.  (I grew up in the cold war era.)  What is also amazing is that in one week I would be meeting and staying with my good Russian friends, Albert and Alfiya, making a double dose of world peace.

The food was excellent.  The restaurant, we were told, was one of the oldest in Tallinn.  The experience of meeting these two men with their life stories made the day one of our best in the summer.  I came away glad that my wife is a stitcher and made this day possible.  

To all you stitcher folks!  This blog page was also dedicated to you.   You now have a glimpse into people who make those frames possible.  I hope you can also travel to these small countries and see their beauty as we did.  

If you have read this far, maybe you would like to offer a comment.  You can do that by clicking on the area that says...."no comments".  Google controls this statement or I would change it to "make a comment"......

Ciao!


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Everybody's Friend, Umit

Turkey has so many beautiful beaches, but one of the best is Cirali.  Our research had revealed that this beach was a prime stop and still not overrun with sun-seeking tourists.  Every article written by travellers spoke praises, and we took a look using Google Earth and it looked perfect.  Backed by the green hills, the beach stretched for miles and near the village had many beach side restaurants.  What google couldn’t show us was a man standing at the gate of the restaurant called Ikiz, which means “twins” in Turkish.  That man made a striking impression with us through his ambitious work and his pursuit of making our visit a memorable one.

Two years ago
Meet Umit.  Umit the manager.   Umit the translator.   Umit the concierge, the helper, the friend to all foreigners, the hardest worker with the longest hours in Cirali.  He’s the guy at the gate, and when you come to know him you find him to be a funny person balanced with grown responsibility and caring for the people who visit his restaurant and pension owned by a local family.  

Starters
Umit made sure we enjoyed the regional products and led us through the menu each day as if he knew where the treasure was buried.  When we left Cirali it seemed like we had been on a road trip with a true friend.  The thing that comes most to mind is that right now, Turkey needs more men like Umit, because he shows the best part of Turkey, the heart.

Umit is kind of like Food Network’s Guy Fieri, you know, the kind of person you could come to know and like right away.  Built like a brick house, like the majority of Turkish men, he makes a striking impression with his gentle and kind way.  If Umit would wrestle Guy, The “Road Stop” guy would be on the mat begging for mercy.  

Every question we had about Turkey, about cuisine, about life in general for Turks was answered.  We discovered that Umit was learning Russian to help the hoard of Russians who were coming to Turkey.  (Now they are not coming due to the plane shot down.)   Once away from the beach work it was hit the books, a complete immersion into hotel and restaurant management.  I admire his pursuit of contentment for his customers. 

xray showing titanium and bolts
BIG OUCH!
But it was a moment similar to a car crash with a freeway pileup that brought Umit’s quick thinking and care into reality.  It was when my wife accidentally fell and crushed her right knee.  The village has no doctor, no clinic, and no pharmacy, and we were about one hour from the nearest hospital.  Within minutes Umit had an ambulance on its way.  Umit made all the necessary arrangements got our bags packed and ready, and made sure that she was as comfortable as possible.  Without Umit, it would have been so much more difficult to get help so quickly.  The knee was so bad that the hospital began surgery immediately.   He brought an oasis of calm into an unexpected disaster.  


Mr. Cirali, Umit
That was two years ago, now the knee is healed with titanium, and we have been back to Umit’s Cirali beach.  Nothing has changed, it was still a calm and magical place. We found Umit smiling at that gate, and our memorable road trip began again.  At the end of the week, it was difficult to leave and fly home.  Umit has made plans to visit our home in the Spring.  I hope that you, dear reader, will visit Umit and his Cirali Beach someday.  

My Road Trip Restaurant

Ciao!