Friday, December 18, 2015

Not Spaghetti and Meatballs!

Liver and Onions with Polenta
When I was a kid cowboy movies were big entertainment.  I couldn’t wait for every  Saturday morning when the theatres would program 3 westerns and 5 cartoons.  (This was in the 50’s before daytime television)   There were famous cowboys, Lash Larue with his whip, singing Gene Autry, toothless Gabby Hayes, and Hoot Gibson.  My hero was Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger, while his wife Dale had ol’ Buttermilk. This was about as close as I ever got to a horse and I never thought that people in the world would eat horse meat.  It was a shock to me to find that here in north of Italy there are restaurants that specialize in horse meat.  You can also find meat dealers in every market that sell horse meat.  You can buy steaks of horse meat, or even tiny strings of “gourmet” horse meat.  Italians will tell you that horse meat has less fat than beef, that it is better for you.  I have also seen horsemeat shops in Slovenia and Croatia.    

There was a series of movies featuring Francis the talking mule.  Francis, speaking in a low pitched, scratchy Bill Clinton voice, shared his analytical knowledge to fix a perplexing dilemma.  He had all the answers and told the main character how to get himself out of bad predicaments.  I remember one where  Francis joined the army (they used mules back then) and another movie where he joined the WACS, the female branch of the army.   Take a gander at  these movies on Youtube.    

Those movies taught me, a kid in elementary school,  that mules were clever and a good friend—Francis always had good ideas.  He was a faithful friend.  He was strong and a fighter for justice. He was the Jesse Venture of Muledom.  Hollywood humanized a mule, the same as Disney humanized a mouse and a duck.  I was an impressionable and Hollywood had me hooked.

Later there was a television series featuring Mr. Ed, the talking horse.   Mr. Ed even managed to talk on the phone in one episode where his owner had a party line installed.  (We had those in the 50's, where you shared the line with other homes and knew the sound of your ring to answer.)  A Young Clint Eastwood starred in one of those shows.  He actually did a lot of speaking, different than the gun slinging cowboy in those spaghetti westerns.  YouTube has these, too.

Join me at my table, I have a surprise for you.  Donkey meat, will arrive and it is called musso, in Veneto, the dialect of the area surrounding Venice.  Musso is a specialty dish found in this region.  They cook it for hours, like a stew,  in a red sauce and then serve it on soft polenta.  When I have  guests stay at my home, I take them to a trattoria up in the hills so they have a chance to play Andrew Zimmern and choose Musso.  Most of them dive in with  great apprehension but come up smiling.  I have to admit that on a cold winter night it is a choice I would consider, but I try not to think of Francis and his descendants.

When tourists come to see Venice they usually stay for two days and then move on to Florence and Rome.  In this short time they want to know more about Venice and experience its beauty.  They want to experience the food of Venice.  They will see liver and onions on a menu , but I doubt they would choose that dish, nor cavallo, or musso,  all famous in Venice.   Maybe this post has helped you know a little more about the Veneto, and someday after your gondola ride you will brave the menu and try one of these specialties enjoyed by the people here.
Cute and Friendly

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Wine Glazed Eyes Under The Influence Of A Stereotype

Most house wines here in the Veneto are exceptional.   Restaurant owners take a pride in offering a house wine that the locals will happily drink.  You have to remember that the village restaurants are not ones frequented by tourists who only visit once and never more.  These locals know a good wine from a bad and will be vocal about a bad house wine.  

One major type produced in the Veneto, called Prosecco, is something I enjoy.  Italians cannot and do not want to call it champagne.  It is not aged in oak casks or stored in underground tunnels for many years.  It is priced much cheaper than French champagne, and every bar has it on tap.  I can buy a jug of prosecco in my local supermarket.  They even provide the bottles.  When ordering in a restaurant you can get it in liter or half liter pitchers.  Sounds funny to order this  sparkling wine by the “jug”, but this is Italy.  They are quite proud of producing prosecco, and I am sure you will agree that it is exceptional.  

Not often will I find a weak or bad house wine.  The big problem is that wine is forced from a cask to the tap by CO2 and this process makes the wine cold.  This was a real shock to me the first few times I ordered house red.  Now I have learned to let my glass sit awhile to warm it, and I have become more used to this cooler serving.  If I will be with my Italian friends I will be naturally sitting longer, so my glass will become warmer through time.  Of course you can always order a bottle of red which won’t be cold, and you can trust the waiter’s suggestion on wine.  Don’t be afraid to explain you are looking for a medium priced wine. 

Something surprising is that the wines from Colli Euganei, south of Padova,  can be quite exceptional.  Grown on the sides of sunny volcanic hills, there are many good years of fine wine.  When I lived in the states I had the mistaken impression that white wines such as pinot grigio and soave were the only great wines produced in the Veneto.  A few trips to the local enoteca in the tiny village of called Arqua Petrarca set me on a new path.  Actually I am pleased that these wines are not famous in the states as the result would be a rise in prices and hard to obtain vintages.  It is bad enough that some enotecas try to buy up the whole supply leaving what is left to be found by diligent buyers.  

One last remark about wine in Italy.  When I first moved here I brought, in my suitcase, a bottle of cabernet from Silver Oak of Napa Valley.  I was invited to a dinner and thought that this would be an appropriate time to enjoy it.  While I was opening the bottle I gave a little dissertation about Silver Oak and Napa Valley.  I poured some in my host’s wine glass.  My jaw dropped to the floor as he reached for the bottle of fizzy water and poured some in his wine glass.  I was speechless!  I expected the swirling and sniffing of wine, after all, aren’t these Italians who love wine so much?  No one at the table seemed to react as I did.  He did not look at the color or check for legs.  There was no discussion of what a great wine we were drinking.  End of Silver Oak, end of my stereotype of Italians with wine.  If you ever consider bringing wine to Italy, go back and read this post.  

There are Italians who appreciate good wines, and there are shops in Padova that feature great wines.  However, most of my Italian friends drink wine without all the hoohah and flourish.  They will probably only drink one glass.  I have never seen any of them drink more than two glasses, and this over a  period of several hours.  I know that part of this is the strict driving and drinking laws in Italy, the other part, I believe is that they are “normal”.  We Americans and our wine, we are not so normal in behavior.  We have learned what is fashionable.  Italians are not so into “fashionable” when it comes to wine.  The hard truth is that in 7 years living here I cannot remember anyone, except myself, swirling a glass and sniffing it.  When my friends see me swirling, etc., I can expect a few laughs.

The Next post will put meat on the table.
Prosecco on Tap Next to Beer Tap

Friday, December 11, 2015

Foodie Therapy and Devilish Children

Italian television has begun to provide access to American food shows with exception of the Food Network that does not even allow Europeans to see video content from their food articles on the internet.   My friends are shocked to see food piled onto plates,  consumed by eating activists with a high-wattage passion for large sized portions.  A perfect example is the program  Man Versus Food.   It is amazing to see the host grow in size through the year of eating his way through America.   After several seasons he was forced to change the format and have others competing for top glutton.

Another show popular in the mainstream here is produced by the Brit, Jamie Oliver.  He has a knack for showmanship and in one series he visited American schools and made a serious attempt at changing the offerings in school cafeterias.  He was met with mean spirited and angry officials afraid to examine their carbohydrated menus.  Oliver features programs more closely to Italian thinking.  He clearly voices his dissent against the propensity of fast food restaurants.

Italy does not have a fastfood joint on every street corner with a food court in the middle of every mall.  This clear difference has saved Italians from becoming over weight, and there are far fewer overweight people in italy.   This is written to make a point that when dining in Italy do not expect that American sized pile of food.   Here in the north if you order a pasta dish it will be much smaller than what you receive in America.  There will be a whole lot less sauce.   It will be mixed into the pasta, not piled on top.  They consider that pasta is more important than the sauce, a compliment to the pasta, not the other way around.   It’s all about enjoying the flavor, not filling the stomach.

Italian children are more allowed to wander away from their parent’s table, and this can be quite distracting to me.  Children are regarded by Italian parents as cute and adorable, and the result of this is that these little darlings are allowed the freedom to share themselves with other diners.  It is a bit annoying to enjoy your well prepared food and have some kid running by your table chasing the cat or pigeons.  Imagine the waiter’s job as he arrives balancing  four plates of food while a 4 year old is racing underfoot.   Restaurants here have begun to provide high chairs for toddlers which has helped the problem a bit.  

I have begun to see a separate children’s menu,  but do not expect this.  You can ask the waiter to bring a smaller portion of food from the menu for your child.  Most likely they will charge less for this plate.  Booster seats for  older children are unheard of,  I have seen tablecloths and piles of napkins used for booster seats on a regular chair.  Change is coming but it is slow.

The next  post will continue the same subject.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How To Pick Your Teeth While Saving The Tip .

Bruschetta, pronounced Brooskehtah

Lingering over dessert In a noisy restaurant in Padova I tell my friends about conquering the Italian driver exam. Directly across my table, with face cupped inside her palm with a toothpick, my friend politely listens while she picks her teeth clean.  More than frequently when dining with a group of Italians I see the majority looking like a group of giggling Japanese school girls, hand over mouth.   It causes me to smile when I see the whole table mining their “denti.”  I never know whether I should stop talking to them and instead gaze off to do some people spying.  Encountering these teeth pickers I am a bit flummoxed.  (Now there’s a word you don’t see much.)

The rooting out of stringy bits of flotsam and jetsam has caused me to consider my next few posts:  a good discussion of  Italian restaurant customs and idiosyncrasies as seen through my American eyes.  7 years of culinary exploration has revealed restaurant  behaviors displayed in  “hole in the wall greasy spoons” to “flashy eateries”.   With sleeves rolled up I want share with you what I have discovered from the far North of Italy to the South.  However,....

Before reading further, please take this short seven question test.
 No time limit!
 Cell phones off!  

The five food groups are: Fast, Frozen, Instant, Microwaved and Pizza?     True    False
2.   Most Italians drink a lot of wine when dining out.  True   False
3.  Venetians know the difference in taste between donkey and horse meat?                True False                                         
4.  Italians drink coffee with their desserts?   True False
                Personal taste questions
5.  Do you eat pizza more than once a week?
6.  Do you eat at McDonald’s often?

                   Bonus Question
7.  What is the capitol of Europe?

Answers to  1 false,  2 false,  3 true,  4  false, 

If you answered 5, 6, with a NO, good for you!  (ten points reward)

Answered 7 with a name of a city?   Turn in your passport and suitcase!! 

Let’s  plunge into the customs of Italian dining.  Keep in mind that my comparisons will be through the eyes of an American.

                               The Biggest Difference
I have a neighbor friend who is a British expat, married to an Italian.  Her son upon reaching high school age has chosen as his focus of study food preparation, hotel management and  wait staffing.  In Italy, young people make a decision as to which kind of high school they attend and the field of study.  This young man is in his 4th year and working part time at a local restaurant.  He wants to be a full time waiter after graduation.  Waiters are paid a full time salary in Italy and therefore do not depend on tips to survive.  There are few moonlighters here.  They also have full coverage health insurance, and the Italian health coverage is one of the best.

The results of this training and full time work is that waiters in Italy will not be hovering over you, thus eliminating American waiter traits such as refilling your glass of wine in hopes that you will order another bottle of wine, making your bill higher, resulting in a higher tip based on percentage.  Italian waiters do not expect tips.  (If in a tourist area, if they decide you are American, beware, they know you are fair game in the tipping department.)  I have noticed this in particular areas such as Lago da Garda, Rome, Naples and Florence.  And speaking now as a resident of Italy, please, when visiting Italy,  refrain from tipping waiters, unless they do something extraordinary.   

The first few times I went out with my Italian friends for dinner, I was so used to  “wolfing down my food” within 45 minutes and leaving my table.   I found that Italians spend a much longer amount of time while eating.  Your waiter will not be concerned to hurry you through your meal, and pushing you to eat faster by bringing your next course before you finish the one in front of you.  In America waiters do this so that he can have a new table open and earn more tips during his shift.   (The book by a waiter in New York, Waiter Rant, is a great read on this subject)  In Italy, when dining with friends, I normally expect to be at the table 2 hours or more.  I have sat with a group for 3 hours a few times.  They actually stand up, walking around and return to the table after a good stretch and continue conversing.   I cannot imagine sitting at a table in Olive Garden for three hours.  I bet that they would ask you to leave after two hours. 

Because your waiter is schooled and works as a full time employee he will well know the items and explain the menu.   He will know what is in the dish, and basically how it is made.  The menus in Italy remain, with few changes, the same year round.  He will know the specialties of the house and you should consider his suggestions.   (I must say that usually in Italy the posted menu suggestions are not made up by the management to get rid of food about to go old.)   Bear in mind that these restaurants are mom and pop businesses and therefore most of the food is prepared on premises and not out of a box produced in some factory.  This is a great benefit of eating in Italy.   The Italian people  benefit from a lack of corporate restaurants and the result is a negligible multitude of overweight fast food lovers.
Canneloni, (home made pasta)

The next post will be a continuance of these differences…. 


Monday, December 7, 2015

Driving Schooled!

Italian Horsepower
In Italy pedestrians rule!   I have just finished my second “in the car” driving lesson.  I have been corrected, during my lesson, absolutely stopping for people who are standing at a crossing without a street light.   Even if they are standing there smoking a cigarette, without intention of going across, I must stop for them.  

Driving the streets of Padova with my expert instructor has been as fun as a dental visit.   My armchair expert instructor has not been greatly impressed.   I am a defensive driver, while Italians are more aggressive.   Wrecked autos in junk yards here show mostly front end collisions.  Italians don’t stop at stop signs, I do.   My greatest flaw is forgetting to signal with my blinker when I exit a roundabout, the circular intersection that saves Italy from purchasing super expensive street lights.   Today I was forced  to drive through about 30 roundabouts.  It is confusing when I appear to be going in a straight direction across to the other side, yet must use the blinker to exit the roundabout.  I have also been schooled to start my blinker 150 meters before entering a highway. 

The discouraging news is that before driving the exam car the proctor will ask me questions about the automobile.  I must learn to read the numbers on the side of a tire and interpret what they mean, the date of manufacture, sizes, etc.  I will also have to explain things under the hood, and the different lights, all this in Italian.  I am told that I will have to explain how I adjust the seat and mirrors to exactness.  My wrists must be over the top of the steering wheel to be exact, the level of mirrors, and the height of head rest. 

Adjusting the seat is difficult for me as this is a small Italian car, I am not sure this size is found in good old US of A.  Italians are generally smaller people and cars are made for them specifically.    I have set the seat at its lowest level to the floor, yet my head is still pokes above the roof.  The fact that this is a car with an open roof saves me.  Using the rule of measure that my wrists should be across the steering wheel with my back against the seat,  my stomach is 4 inches from the steering wheel.  When finished adjusting myself and seat belt buckled, I am, basically, a sardine.  Total comedy!!  I pray that the air bags will not be needed.

Driving 2 hours around in the centre of Padova, traffic is intense.  Lanes are smaller, and I have to concentrate on driving.  There is no talking, the atmosphere in the car is like a heavy wind.  My comprehension holds me as I drive, and I see a sign, for 30 kilometres an hour, yet I am told to speed up.  I explain that there was a sign 20 meters back that said 30.  He explains that it was only for the speed bump.  My frustration level raises.  BTW You have no idea how many signs are on Italian roads!

We stop in a slotted parking lot and the instructor explains that on the test there will be a chance to display my  skills by backing and turning into a parking place.   (Not parallel)  He tells me to count two spaces before the slot and align my steering wheel with the third line.  Then, while turning the steering wheel, l back up and slip myself between two cars.  (Italians like backing into parking places where they might not be able to leave easily).  (This skill NOT in the driving manual or law, by the way)  But I do as told, and I end up just a bit over the line.   My problem is that looking backwards by turning my head in this tiny car does not allow any vision to the rear.   The mirrors are better for me, but I am not allowed to use them as the examiner will be  looking at my head movement.  This manoeuvre was practiced later in my village with my own car.

My other most eligible to fail habit is not using the “correct” gear when nearing the roundabout, or when entering the highway.  Italians are really into gearing according to rpm, I am not. 

 At the end of the 2 hours, I park the car and I receive the analysis with the anticipation of biopsy news.  With the face of a pall bearer  he says, “it was better this time,” then nothing more.  I identify with Rodney Dangerfield, but   there will be one more 2 hour lesson next week to improve. 

Scroll Down to read my other blogs, in particular the driving test.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bringing The Bird Home

THANKSGIVING... is at the top of the list of special occasions I did not want to miss when moving to Italy.   But where in the Veneto to obtain a turkey?   I had never seen a whole turkey in any market.  One could walk all over Padova and not find one gobbler anywhere in the meat markets.  They don’t exist.  The closest thing would be a leg and thigh, attached, or you can also buy breast of turkey.   Italians do not  eat a whole turkey, never see them, and they do not roast them or cook them whole.   I knew they had turkeys, just not whole ones.

I began to look harder.  My quest was successful after I questioned my local macellaio (butcher) if he could provide a whole turkey.    I began a long explanation, recounting the history of Thanksgiving in America.   He smiled and told me that my request could be met, and what date would I want to pick it up.  Thanksgiving was a go!

I described the size I needed, and this is important because the ovens in Italy are smaller than the ones in America.  I also had to tell him NOT to cut it up as I wanted to cook it whole.

Invitations to my Italian friends were sent out and we began to make plans over the dishes we would prepare and what wine would be served.   We already had table decorations with turkeys on the napkins and a matching tablecloth.  I went to the cantina and  brought up the two cans of pumpkin, two cans of condensed milk and one can of cranberry relish.  All these had been brought over in my baggage from the states.    We were set!  It was going be fun!  Thanksgiving in Italy.

The day to pick up the turkey arrived quickly and we drove over to bring our bird home.  Bear in mind that there are no frozen birds, this one would be fresh.
Smiling at my macellaio, but worried that he forgot our turkey, I announced I was ready to take possession.  He disappeared through the refrigeration door and came out carrying the hugest turkey I had ever seen.. It resembled a small baby!  Well, almost!
Take a look..
Comedian Butchers

All I could say, was I thought I ordered a smaller one!  Panic City!  While having some discussion about the size, my mind is quickly calculating and visualizing a possible buttering the turkey to squeeze it into the oven.  Having no other choice, we took the bird and after placing it into the pan we found that parts would not have to be removed.  Thankfully it just fit, but just barely, not touching the roof or side of the oven.

The hungry guests began to arrive and I greeted them from my second story window, with a big smile and a "Benvenuti"!  The first thing they wanted to do after removing their scarves and coats was to view the bird in the oven.  Turned to a shiny nice brown, it looked massive!  We took our seats, and they sampled some American appetizers, and discussed the holiday decorations while the bird was finishing .   We toasted Thanksgiving with a bottle of prosecco from my area of Colli Euganei and one of Soave from the village of Soave, near Verona,

Coming out of the oven, there were a lot of "ooos" and "ahhhhs"…None of us had ever seen such a big bird cooked and presented on a table.  It was a real feast not just for the stomach but for the eyes.  It was fun to watch the reaction.  There was a lot of good discussion about the history of Thanksgiving and what most of America does on Thanksgiving Day.  It was hard for them to understand that Thanksgiving is nearly as big a celebration as Christmas.   They had a hard time visualizing freezers chock full of turkeys in a Safeway store.  Italians have a difficult time visualizing lots about America, in particular, store sizes, choices and hours of being open. 

Now every year we have Thanksgiving, but we have it on a Sunday, because there is no Thursday vacation day here for the event.  Also to our relief, my macellaio now provides smaller turkeys.  

Happy Thanksgiving,

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Real Italy

There is a local watering hole I frequent, which I call the “Old Farts Bar”.  We have several bars in town where one can get a number of different kinds of coffee drinks.   Old Farts is only patronized by tottering old men, well past the age of 70.  It is a deep-rooted “men only” establishment.  Not more than once or twice have I seen a woman venture inside,  sitting by what I gather would be their husbands. 

These old men have been beaten down by a lifetime of hard work, wear and tear.    Italian life hasn’t always been easy.  You can expect sudden loud clearings of throats and noses, coughing and snorting.  If they see a friend on the street, a greeting will be bellowed out to get their attention.   They know everyone in the village and have an opinion on everything. 

The only woman inside this bar is the barista, a knock dead 30 year old with shiny well kept hair and big black glasses which partially hide her dark blue eyes.  She daily dresses herself typically in Italian designed super tight pants, and a loose blouse.  Bending over to clean a table brings near applause. There are times when the old codgers line up at the bar, hovering over her even without ordering a coffee. They outright stare at her like a kid catching Santa under the tree.  They hover like flies on honey and oogle Miss Hotpants as if judging a painting in an exhibition.  Beyond doubt they are completely dazzled by her charms.   There is a lot of “back in my day”  thinking.  The owner has been smart, with an eye on profit making.

Baristas are quite like therapists. People make short visits and while drinking their capuccino unload recent problems.  Offering little advice, Italian baristas are like therapists who listen and let you figure out your own answers.  However, the above mentioned hottie does not give therapy, they are too dumb-struck to communicate.

A Turkish Old Guy Group
One would expect to see old Italian men in a bar playing cards, but that scene is a bit of Hollywood.  They don’t play cards in my village.  My wife tells me that it is not allowed as it is considered  gambling.  This is against the law.   The local police are visible much of the time, and also two Carabinieri come in for coffee in the mornings.  The result is that there is no crime in our village.

I sit in this bar with my coffee Americano and with my laptop I type descriptions of these colorful characters that hang out there.   The whole gathering is a portraiture of old Italy in black and white.  What little testosterone they have left they use in their loud voices and litigations.  Opinions are expressed with a flair of typical Italian hand gestures.  

Observing them is good practice for me as the preponderance of them seem quite off-center.  If you are a writer and need characters for a novel, look nowhere else.  Sitting at the tables painted in Italian colors of green, red and white,  you will find a brigand, a gangster, a farmer, and a performer, comedian, mime, politician, and a mafia boss.  Even though there is no mafia here there is one who could easily put Marlon Brando on the bench.

The top 10 most fascinating inhabitants of the town would have the majority spots filled by these wacky pensioners.   In a faded yellow shirt an old fellow looks like a fossilized Sean Hannity,  pleasing himself with his point of view.  Another I have named The Roamer.  All morning with his hands stuffed in his pokets he walks back and forth to his car about every five minutes reminding me of a hyena trapped in a small cage at the zoo.   In the corner a thin man with tossled hair looks like Luciano Pavarotti gone diet.  He sits quietly hunched over the table thumping his knuckles and has a gaze sending me a message, “come back when you can’t stay so long”.  (Clearly, being American,  I am out of their league.)  

My favorite is the one I call the Pirate.  Sauntering in around 9:30 with the gait of a barbarous privateer, he sports a red bandana around his neck and a large and shiny gold earing hanging from one ear.  With his grizzled face and his hair tied back like a tattooed biker,  he commands respect from all his peers.   His gravelly voice orders his macchiato, while he positions himself at the head of the table with his buddies. He speaks to them with a library voice, and everybody listens.  If Steven Spielberg ever needs an old crusty pirate, I know the guy for the part.

This is a glimpse of the real life in a small village in northern Italy.  In future posts I will continue to describe my village.  In a few ways it IS like you have seen featured in the movies.  Just don’t expect the accordion player you see and hear in the background playing O Sole Mio.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

50 Years of Driving In America--no tickets, no accidents!

In America you can get a driver license within a minimum of time.  You take the test, pass it and drive your own car to show  your driving skills.  You pay the fee, less that 50 dollars, and they take your picture and you are out the door. 
In Italy a beaureaucratic mess awaits you.  If your country does not have an agreement for older licensed drivers from other countries to trade in and be issued a new license without testing (How do they drive in Sri Lanka, for instance?) you will experience your bank account shrinking as you pay over 600 euroes directly into the pockets of a driving school, a doctor who gives you a ridiculous 4 minute exam, and the government establishment which grabs the rest.  It is a shameless creation of government, over designed, and strengthened by a law that by its very essence plunders its citizens.  Topping it off is an exam obviously created by people who have nothing to do all year except think up more than 7,000 trick questions.   Many of these have little to do with driving knowledge or skill.   It’s a bonus for all if you do not pass as they will receive  more money from you in retesting.  It is in their interest for people to fail. So with all this in mind let me tell you about my second attempt in taking the exam..

Before the Italian computerized driver exam I sit in a bar, run by an irish woman.  We talk a little and she says she has a son who is 19 and just passed the test after two tries.  She tells me that her son, now at the University does very well in school.   She and I agree that it is no secret that many Italians fail at least once.   I mention that at my wife’s work there are two fellows who have taken the test numerous times, one of them at least 8.

I sit in that bar for almost four hours cramming my brain with everything I can find about driving in Italy  There are questions about types of drive licenses, all those weird signs found in Europe and how far they are from the intersection you can park, parking along the street, parking in the city, out of the city, on the highway, on the autostrada and even how you can park in the fastfood gas stations along the autostrada.  I find questions about walking your dog in the service area of the autostrada, whether trucks can transport animals, what to do if you drive into a demonstration of strikers, and whether motor cyclists wear boots with metal in the soles.

It’s time…… I walk to the motor vehicle area and wait in a crowded hallway with a bunch of teenagers.   We stand in the hall just outside of the examination room.  I am the sole person over the age of 18.  I am the only stranieri.  19 speechless Italian teens stare at the floor as they quietly await their fate.  Teenagers not talking!  Italian teenagers not talking!?  I am with them and I am one of them.  I don’t want to go home and face another month of study.  This will be my second attempt.  I know that of this group, I have studied far longer and harder to pass this ridiculous exam than any of them.  I have studied far more than a year.   
The hallway seems dark and cold.  No one moves,  somewhere down the hall there is a muffled conversation, but otherwise it is very very still.  We stand and we wait.  The sheet on the wall say that 20 people will be taking the test in room A.  The only people moving are those who excape to go outside to have a smoke.  Strange that teenagers have taken up smoking again...another issue, another future blog post.

 We hear someone walking towards us and we see a man of what I estimate to be 40 years of age.  He trudges towards us staring at the floor and  carrying his official clipboard and briefcase.   His posture and shuffling feet reveal that a midlife crisis has revealed the futility of his existance.   Fumbling for his keys he unlocks the door and orders everyone to go in and find a seat behind a computer.   I get the one at the front of the class near the door.

The words fly from the man’s mouth at machine gun speed and you can tell that he has done this so many times. There is no emotion or care to make sure people understand what will happen, how to use the computer and how  many minutes, and various rules. 

He calls each person to his desk in alphabetical order.   There is little chance that at his breakneck speaking I will be able to  translate what he will be saying.  He goes through my pages...,  pages such as the  medical doctor release, the eye glasses check, the school documents, and  documents of visa, passport, photos.  I looks up at me and then he bangs his finger on the first document and runs off a bunch of Italian... I stare, mouth open, God help me!,  He is clearly displeased and he points again at my paper.  I look and it and nothing  comes to my mind as to what he has said.  Another blast of words and he says  “Maine”  while pointing to the document. He stares at me like I am a sneaky thief trying to get past the system.. He raises his voice, babbling... and I clearly catch the word…" Luoghi"...ah...the place, I managed to hear the word for place and I realized he was questioning where I was born. so now I begin to understand that my driving school did not put my birthplace on the form, only the state of Maine.  
He looks up at me, and my mind is quickly thinking, mostly out of control, what the fxxx!  I reach for my backpack and take out my visa, my passport and my sanitaria card (medical insurance) and show him.  He takes my passport and the bastard begins to go through all the pages, looking at each one as if he is going to catch someone illegally in the country.  I am thinking, why would he want to peruse every page of my passport?  I am also thinking that he is not going to allow me to take the test!  And I am prepared!!!
I show him the first  page of my passport with the photo.  He holds the passport up and compares it to my face....can you believe!
I show him my visa, which shows I am legal....and he holds that up.
The whole classroom is very quiet.  Are they seeing a stranieri caught and  sent back to his home country.

My hands are shaking, seriously, I am befuddled as to what to do.  I need to take this test.  My life needs to move on!
He is enjoying the moment.  He thumps my documents with his finger as  if keeping time to Pink Floyd’s The Trial.  Finally he waves me off while handing me my documents sending back to my place.
I breathe deeply..and wait.  I try to calm down.
He gets up and begins to wander around the classroom as he explains how to use the computer and how to review the questions answered and how to quit the program.. None of this  I understand, but at least I have practiced the same at the driving school.  
I see the other people insert their card into the reader.  I have no card, the proctor did not hand me one.    So once again I hold up my hand and I signal, "no card".  He says in Italian, look in your documents!  I look inside my passport and there it is.  Whew!
I insert the card, but nothing happens.  I wait.  Maybe I have it upside down?  I look across from me at the girl and she has hers the same side up.  I wait more.    Meanwhile more instructions are being given.  Do I stop him, or do i wait until he has finished?  
I give up.. In desperation I put my hand back up.  I am sure he can see my shaking hands as he takes my computer card and shoves it into and out of the card reader. The machine refuses to function.
He signals me to sit in the new place in the back. I sit and see that all the computer screens have a different look, a different page than mine.  I change.  I try to advance the screen but nothing happens.  The proctor ambles over and after several attempts and a lot of grumbling he manages to make it function.  I turn and take a look at the class.  I am their circus!
He pushes a few buttons and then the proctor, bending over my computer, advances the program forward by punching rigidly on the screen.   His pallid face turns toward the class while looking as if he butchered a chicken, he throws his arms into the air and says, “Wallah!”  Then in the midst of another  burst of Italian to the class, I hear the word “stranieri “.  This is not a compliment.  He is talking to them about me.

My computer finally reveals the same page as the others.  More Italian. More explanation.  I am straining to translate.
I see everyone push with their finger on their screens to start.  I do the same, and begin.
A question I see is:

The distance of security itself is repected to the over of a certain velocity... That is the direct translation.
Sometimes Italian is confounding in the flow of the words.
I reason, …I think... I push true... and I miss it.

More questions go by, I believe I get them right.  I can only miss 4 out of 40.
A yield sign is pictured and it says, this signal along an autostrada is placed at 150 meters.
I am reasoning.. I have seen these on the on ramps of the autostrada  So... is the ‘on ramp’ a part of the autostrada?
OH  HELP ME SOMEONE:::.I think I…I  think ….and I choose true.  I guess wrong.
Another question is:
4) Quando la temperatura è vicino a 0° C il conducente deve chiudere i fori di aereazione per evitare colpi di freddo al collo.
The literal translation is…. 
  4) When the temperature is close to 0 ° C, the driver must close the ventilation holes to prevent colds at the neck.
What about fogged up windows, or frost, or the fact that my breathing will cause the windows to fog?  What is more important, the windows or my neck?  By the way, most Italians were scarves throughout the winter, even inside their homes.  I wonder why this question is used, perhaps something more appropriate to determining a future driver’s knowledge of the road.

I finish the test and review it.  I actually found two questions that somehow the computer jumped past when I pushed my finger to advance.  (this happened on the first test,  so I knew to check.)
I am almost confident that I might pass.  My hands are still shaking as I pull the card and walk to the front. The proctor sneers at me as I walk past.  Cleary he needs to take the workshop on how to treat his customers.
We all wait outside.  It is very quiet.  These teens WANT to pass!  It is their rite of passage.
Mine, too.

The exam door opens with a bang, and all eyes are on the proctor who, in his arms holds the hefty pile of folders containing school information, photos, and hopefully positive results.  He calls out names, alphabetically,  last then first.  There is little discussion with each transaction.
 I wait.
My name is called and he sternly looks at me... he says “Non è passato!", which means I have to pay another 100 euros and retake the exam next month.  
I ask him how many did I miss?  He looks at the paperwork and very loudly says, “DIECI!”, which is 10.  I said, "Dieci?"  He says,,,”Si!."  (Missing 10  is disgraceful and he loudly declared it to everyone.)  
I cannot wait to get out of that place.  How could i miss ten!  I am clearly lost, clearly exasperated.  TEN!
Over the weekend and part of Monday I am questioning myself.  How could I have missed ten.  Maybe i am getting alzheimers or was it a computer mistake and/or I am getting to old to be doing this.  
I tell my wife, I will not take the test more than two more times. It is clearly too much stress and the study is sucking away so much of my time.  (I have not painted for over a year, and the piano is collecting dust.)   I sit  and think…..what is wrong!  I must be losing it!  It was a hopeless weekend.

Monday afternoon my driving school sends an email... There is information as to how I will reapply to take the test in one month, how many stamps I must buy at the post office to pay the fees, how much money I will bring to the school, how to reapply for the medical examination and how many photos I will bring. (For some reason they cannot use the old photos.) 
Included in the email is a copy of the test with mistakes noted.  CRAP!  I only missed 5! …………. 5!
That bastardi test giver, he said “10” just to embarrass me!   Oh, I would like to meet him in a dark alley somewhere!
I grieved all weekend over nothing.  Suddenly missing one more than passing is not as big a deal to me, as now I  know it wasn't 10 and I am not losing it!
I feel a whole lot better!

I wait over a month and then on the next attempt, with a different  proctor, I pass the exam.  I am now a practice driver.  An 8 X 11 white paper with a capital P is taped to the back window of my car.  It will remain there until  I pass the driving test.  I am allowed to practice drive with another adult in the front seat.
I cannot tell you my relief in passing the first test.  But I have more to say about this formidible test, this cash cow established to empty the pockets of every eligible driver wannabe in Italy..

Just a few years ago the test was also  given in English.  That would have made it a lot easier for me to pass.  The Italian language used in the test is at a formal level.   I, on the other hand have the ability to order things in a restaurant, make simple conversation, get directions and slowly read books in Italian with the help of a dictionary.  There were no English/Italian textbooks on driving regulations to be found.  Therefore, I began to translate the Italian Driving book published by Bocco…This took me some months of study every day Monday through Friday.  Bogging down in language and translation, I waded through the chapters, discovering that there will be questions on insurance, giving assistance to the  injured, how the motor and parts of the car work, and all the different levels of license.  If you are only planning to drive a car, you are going to have to learn the details on motor scooter licensing, Quadricicling license….. Motor cycle license.  ….The test has questions like  knowing where on the motor cycle you turn it off in an emergency!  I will never drive a motorcycle so why should I have to know this!  Then there are questions about ages of the different licenses, how long they currently last, and how drivers move up to the next level.  Learning these facts take some time.  Later on a book in English and Italian was published.
The test uses a high level of language and they use double negatives.  So you are not just thinking about what they are saying, but you must also consider the double negatives  designed to confuse your choice of true or false.,   You will be confronted with 40 questions.  Many of them will have two correct answers, but you will have to choose which is more correct

An example....When you wait at the train tracks and the train has gone by, the flashing lights keep flashing as the barrier raises... true or false...
Well I reason that in America  they keep flashing….and past experience can be a problem because Italy does things differently.  These little things matter.
Why are they asking a question about the lights flashing after the train has  gone by and the barriers are raising?
I have more examples, I saved quite a few, and my plans are to make a booklet for English speakers to assist them in passing the exam.  I will put it on kindle books.

I will wrap up my post by giving you a thought to consider.  Every teenager, and every stranieri like me, thousands will  pay out over 600 euros to receive a driver’s license.  Where does all that money go?  And why?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Mario Andretti, where were you?

     I am afraid that this post will sound like an advertisement for truffles and the Motovun Truffle Festival.   I must admit that I am not an expert on food, nor truffles,  On this subject I feel more like a redneck who blundered into a beer and crawdad festival.   Previously, most of my experience with truffles is like a kid window shopping for toys at Christmas.  My experience has been more like  field testing for flavors I have never known to exist.  However, I will try my best to give a straightforward analysis of the whole affair.

     This has been one of the best weekends I have had all year!  We have had some great ones.  Reviewing the weekend my mind has indulged itself, lingering over long moments of a taste so warm and filled with the  sudden sensation of glorious contentment.  It was that good!

     Finding almost nothing but short critiques on the festival on the internet,  and only first knowing about it by watching Anthony Bourdain's show on Croatia, I was not sure what to expect.  Would I see  a bunch of farmers standing  in their  muddiy boots selling their booty to rich “foodie” tourists? Would the festival be more like a circus of truffle cuisine?  Would the inhabitants be out in force to sell their arts and crafts?  Would they proudly have on  display their pigs and dogs who dig the truffles from the forest?  Would it be so crowded that the experience would be ruined?

Mario's House Below
We parked our car half way up the hill and walked to the top, passing at about half way up the restaurant, Konoba Mondo,  where we would have our glorious feast at lunch.  At the top we wanndered around the top of the village along the wall and enjoyed the view below.   The trees below were turning color as the sun warmed the valley that had been previously layered by fog.   Walking by a guide, we stopped to llsten as he pointed to a house below that belongs to Mario Andretti.  We also watched and listened to a radio show host, interviewing people, the station was from Pula.  Sitting outdoors in the sun and existing with a cool drink we just took in the valley below.  These days of sun are valuable to us as we liive in the Veneto where rain and clouds are more often than not.  It felt good to be  outdoors for what might be the last good weekend before damp weather sets in.

     Under the tented area were many artisans who had  created tastes not just of truffles, but jams, and spreads, bakery goods, and more.  People  were encouraged to sample  pretty much everything before buying.  On one table we saw a whole prosciutto about to be carved in tiny slices.  By the time we finished walking around the tent, it had been sampled with a vengence.  Of the many items we tried we ended up bringing home  a jar of small black truffle pieces mixed with capers, a loaf of black bread, a bottle of red wine by Tomaz, and a type of jam made from pumpkin and apple preserves.

We walked back down the cobbled street and entered Konoba Mondo.  It was lucky we had made a reservation as few tables were available for late comers.  Mondo has had many excellent reviews, covering the food, the preperation and the owner Klaudio.  None were negative, instead praising the whole experience.  We were ready!

     Klaudio  was most gracious.   We had a list of questions to ask.  He took the time to explain his use of  truffles, where they are gathered, how long their freshness lasts, and the differences between white and black.  He even took time to talk about Bourdain's visit, explaining how many cameras were there, how many people in the crew and how Bourdain liked the restaurant.  At the end of all this he pointed to the wall over the bar and we saw a large photo of Bourdain in Mondo.

     My wife and I chose different dishes so that we could compare tastes.  mine was tagliatetelle, and she chose risotto made with Terano wine with radicchio. Both dishes are made with white truffles which we were told were freshly gathered.  Klaudio, in his white gloves,  sliced a white truffle, and the flakes floated floated down on onto our food.  He was very generous in slicing, almost to the point that i wanted to say, "Stop, save some for everyone else!”
     My pasta had a wonderful flavor, warm and a kind of old, mushroomy and deep taste, but my wife won the day with her choice of risotto.  Because I have had experience with risotto with truffles before, I am now firmly convinced that risotto is the way to go with truffles,    We also shared two different appetizers found on the truffle menu used only during truffle season.   

     Truffles that I have tasted had the taste of warm relaxed comfort.   And these had a scent seemed recognised from somewhere long ago.  In Mondo I enjoyed  filling my senses with an enchanting pleasure.   I forced myself to slow down and take smaller bites and think about what was about leave my fork.  To be honest, though, i think it would be difficult to have truffle dishes everyday or  more than twice a week.  You can overdo things.  They are that strong.
Truffle Flakes

     Dessert was a cone shaped  chocolate cake.   It arrived  topped with white truffle flakes for decoration.  When I cut into the cake, molten chocolate oozed onto the white dish.  What  a great ending to this adventure.  We are already talking about going back soon.

If you live anywhere within 4 hours of Motovun, I highly recommend the festival next year.


Motovun, Croatia

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dead Pig Walking!

     I am calmly sitting at my table, waiting for a steaming plate of wild boar, called cinghiale,  nestled on a small pile of soft polenta.   Sipping my wine, and reasoning like a kid who suddenly realizes because ol’ Santa could not possibly deliver all those presents to the whole world,  I consider how many hunters and wild boars would be needed to furnish all the restaurants in Italy that feature wild boar every day.  
     Later I posed this question to my buddy, Alfonso, who has an agritourismo restaurant in the hills outside of Padova.  His answer delivers a crushing blow to my romantic view of Italy.  I am told those so called wild boars are a sham, fradulently labeled as wild, but instead raised on a farm.   (The word for swindlers in Italian is truffatori.)   Consider that wild boar is served in some Italian restaurants in the states.  Are they importing?  A waiter who writes on a blog called Waiter Rants, says that his restaurant uses rabbit, but labels it wild boar.  The word that comes to mind is charlatans (ciarlatani).
     In Italy there are many wild boars roaming the hills, causing trouble,  rooting up the vegetation, and leaving a stinky mess behind.    Encountering a huge mother boar and her piglets when on a hike in the hills can be jeopardous to ones health.  Boars can run very fast and when they catch you, the will tear and slash with their tusk, hurting a person severely.  
     Near my village, in the Colli Euganei hills, are swarming bands of these huge pigs, now so many that the authorities are hiring professional hunters to cull the numbers.  These boars are not babes in the woods,  they cause a lot of trouble to the grape fields so valuable to the production of some of the Veneto’s very superior wine.  Nearby crop farmers are also prompting the extinction of  the boars.   I have been hoping that my father in law who is a cacciatore (hunter) will be chosen and we would might get a few choice cuts, but he tells us  that the meat would not be allowed to taken home by the hunters.  My belief is that the authorities will be the ones taking the meat home.  Another story!

     Many Tuscan villages in October have a group of hunters get together on one Saturday and head out into the misty forest with their dogs before dawn.  Plans are to corral  a large area in the forest where they have spotted the boars foraging.  The dogs excitedly smell the ground until they find the scent.  Yelping and running like horses in the Kentucky Derby they race to find their quarry.  Shots are heard, and within minutes several boars are pulled out of the undergrowth. I should mention that every year some hunters are shot by accident in Italy.   Alcohol is the major cause.

     The boars are carried from the forest.  Bottles of grappa, a powerful Italian hooch, are passed around and the dearly departed are toasted along with praises to the bush whacker who blasted the poor critter to his last reward.

     Later in the village, glowing inwardly, the congenial group will warm themselves around a bon fire, and feeling no pain, they toast each other with wine as the boar is skinned and then cut up for the village feast.  No part will be wasted, even the head will end up on the wall of the local salumeria.  Meanwhile the dogs repose by the fire  while the hunter’s wives fill the table with regional specialties.   Thinly cut slices of different salamis and cheese, bruschetta piled with tomato and spices, and liver pate are set out. The  hunter/leader calls everyone to the table, a speech is made, and the feast begins.  The exuberant party of hunters will stuff themselves with their “real” wild boar.  
The one who made it to the market

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Motovun Truffle Festival

       Soon we will be joining carloads of foodie worshipers headed down the autostrada to visit the Truffle Festival in the small village of Motovun, Croatia.  This area’s forests are famous for the malodorous fungus known as the white truffle of which these are said to be of the highest quality.   October and November are said to be the months where the most truffles of quality are found.   These truffles were known throughout history, especially used by both the Greeks and Romans.  The Istrian truffles from the Montovun area were featured in a television show on Croatia by Anthony Bourdain.

     Local producers will be showing their largest mushrooms, liqueurs, wine, crafts and cheese.  I have read that if you pay a fee of 20 kn you can have a non-stop guzzling of wine, and there will be demonstrations of cooking with truffels.  Free tasting is ncluded after the demonstrations.  Somewhere in the middle all this we have a reservation to Konoba mondo Motovun Restaurant which has an exceptional reputation.

     I have to confess that I know very little about truffles.  My culinary credentials as an expert foodie are inadequate.  Seven years of living and eating in Italy has increased my culinary knowledge, but buying truffles is something a retired teacher cannot afford in his everyday shopping.   Fortunately, I had an awakening experience a while back as we stumbled onto a restaurant in a tiny village called Camignone in the middle of nowhere, near Lago Iseo.  (There are so many of these villages!)  We had been to a great extent lost and hungry, and my wife with her unexplainable talent for finding exceptional places of dining hit a real home run. 

     The special menu board featured truffles on different pastas, risottos and meat courses, and it was difficult to make our selection.  Later as I looked over the top of my wine glass the owner/chef came bursting out of the kitchen to talk to an old  friend.   He was carefully carrying  a white bucket.  With raised voices they chatted excitedly, then gesturing hands together in a prayer like manner then pointed to their cheeks with a rolling of the finger.  The aquaintance reached for his reading glasses and then dropped his head into the bucket.  He lingered for some time then rose out of his chair and exclaimed,  ”Oh Dio!”  
After more gesturing and loud proclamations the bucket was carefully passed around the table for all to enjoy, and all the customers realized it was a huge bucket of truffles.  The chef had hit the jackpot, no wonder he had a smile as big as  Gary Bussey.  Noses came out of that bucket with faces of delirious pleasure.  Right then and there I was determined that this bucket was not going to disappear into the kitchen until I had a shot at finding out what a entire bucket of truffles smelled and looked like.  

I waited patiently…., then I stopped the chef with my hand out like a traffic cop, and he proudly let me look into that bucket.  I dove… I inhaled… I came up hooked forever.  Truffles are contagious!  

The chef personally brought our risotto to our table and we tasted and lingered and drank our wine while discussing the sumptuos pleasure of truffles.  Even that word cannot describe them well.  This was a day to remember, a time capsule of pleasure.   So you can see that I am hoping that there will be a repeat performance in Montovun.

The restaurant I have written about is Osteria Casa Marcelina, via Chies, 76,  in Camignone, near Lago Iseo.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

No Tweeking Allowed!

     American television shows are shown in Italy, but they are years behind the actual date.  Most are older shows such as Hawaii Five 0, Ironside and The Simpsons.  All are repeated constantly,  but the best shows are related to food and travel.   
     We watched Anthony Bourdain visit Tuscany and attempt to make a pasta for a young group of Toscani friends.  Bourdain should have been alerted that they would never appreciate his pasta.   (My wife says that the whole thing is probably staged.)   We see him nervously prepare everything and cooking it, making sure it is al dente but tweeking it with a few new components.  He did not realise that trying something new with pasta would not be pleasing to Italians.   Italians do not seem to enjoy innovation but instead consider it an annoyance.   Adulteration is out!   The word “purists” would correctly describe them.  The result of the dinner was that Bourdain became the main course in front of his television audience.

     There was a funny episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where his Italian mother faked sharing her precious recipe with Raymond’s wife, yet cheated by deleting one item so the dish would never be perfect.  The writer of that episode must have been Italian.  Recipes handed down here are sometimes guarded by a level of secrecy.  Grandmas sometimes do not share many of their recipes, some take them to the grave.

     Jamie Oliver had a series of episodes where he visited Italy and cooked with the locals.  They kept telling him not to add any new components to basic Italian cuisine.  They did not want to modernize their tastes.  Near the  end of the series, we see him sitting in his van, leaning over and looking into the camera to proclaim that Italians are a very stubborn people. 

     I have run up against my own jury when I made my lasagna.  Just a few months after I moved here I invited a housefull of hungry Italian friends.  My lasagna had multiple levels of home made pasta, fresh mushrooms, ground beef, and cheese with a tomato sauce.  It came out looking good, smelling good and they respectfully tried it.  The first comment I heard was,  “Where’s the white sauce?” I was dumbfounded, and could not understand what they meant by white sauce.  Then it was explained to me that lasagna here in the Veneto has bechamel sauce in lasagna.  They politely said the lasagna was interesting, but I was told I should learn to make it “their way.”  I had learned my lesson in eating regional food, and from then on I made it a passion to find out more.  I also learned not to serve my friends Italian food “my way”.     

Friday, October 9, 2015

Driving Me Crazy!

      Remember when you were at the circus and the tiny Italian car drives into the center ring and one after another men keep coming out of the car?  Fooling you into wondering, how many more?  And  they keep coming!!   This is much like my life struggling with the Italian Driving Exam.
     I have been studying for the driver exam for many months.   It  has been developed over the years by a group of whom I believe to be a scheming and deceitful bunch of question makers.   The exam has been created at a  level of the Italian language which is a much  higher level than my Italian language school.  I am not a teenager, I have driven for years the freeways in Los Angeles, San Francisco and never had an accident or been stopped for bad driving.  However, here in Italy I have had to spend a great amount of time with the Italian driver exam.  For months many of the things I like to do have been put on hold,  as every morning my nose is buried in the text book.

     The process for gaining a license to drive is more complicated in Italy.  Besides taking the test, I had my pockets emptied by the Italian government, with a second heist being committed by the driving school  that I am forced to use.  In America the driving exam is completed in one’s own car, but here I must use the school’s double driver car, and use the driver school to take the mandatory 6 hours of driving practice, after which they  complete my papers, order the doctor exam then send and later receive the results of my computer driven driver exam.  I am scheduled to take the test for the third time, in two weeks having flunked it by only one question on the first two.  

     I won’t go into the details of the 365 page text book that I have had to translate and learn, but I will  discuss some of the questions so that you can see what a bunch of shysters these question makers are.  Here are some examples of the over 7,000 (someone needed a job) questions developed  to use in  the test.   You can pratice using these questons online.  I have seen over 6,600 of them.  The exam will use 40 questions, and you can only miss 4.  Many Italians flunk the test, retaking it several times.  It was once possible to take the test in English, but a few years ago they dropped this and now it  is only in Italian.  The language they use can be tricky if not down right sneaky, clearly formed to trick people who speak English.  (Many immigrants  come here knowing English.)

Here are some examples.

In America we pay a premium each month to have insurance…
The question is…Il fondo di garanzia per le vittime della strada è un premio per chi non ha provocato incidenti.  translated…..The fund of guarantee for people involved in a crash is…(un premio), if you are not perfect in knowing Italian you would be tricked into thinking … "premium".., but  this does not work as in Italian  premio means prize.  The conniving testers know that this is a tricky translation!

Le corsie è una pista riservata alle vetture da corse.. The lanes of a road are reserved for cars of…
If you don’t know that "vetture da corse" are "racing cars",  you are fooled as your translation is headed for a meaning in another direction.  

How about discussing a crash with the words "forza maggiore"… Sounds a hell of a lot like major force doesn’t it?   They know that,  these scheming bastardi!   But the meaning of forza maggiore in Italian  means something very different….even though google will translate it out as MAJOR FORCE.  It means something that you could not avoid.

My Italian friends have a good laugh over many of these dubious questions.  There was even one about having cold air hit your throat while driving.  
How about this one:
Per evitare rumori fastidiosi, occorre chiudere con forza le portiere dell’autovettura, in modo da non doverle richiudere…  by the way, the answer is FALSE  translation by google is:  To avoid disturbing noises, must be forcefully close the doors of the car, so you do not have to close.  It is reassuring to know that the motor vehicle people are against pollution of noise.

Here is one that is not even in my driving text manual.  
Durante la guida, si deve fare uso di occhiali da vista o di lenti a contatto solo quando la miopia supera 6 diottrie.  FALSE is the answer.  What importance is this?  Anyone taking the exam is already been tested for vision by a doctor (provided by the school  for 30 euros more), and how would I know how powerful 6 dottrie is?  I think one would have to guess the answer!

It is not impossible to realise that the test has not been developed for them to  know if the person knows the laws of driving.  Instead it is comprised of questions to test the intelligence and ability of knowing italian,  made more difficult through logic and double negatives.....  Remember those guys getting out of that circus car?

At the end of October i will stand in line at the Dipartimento della Motorizzazione Civile and be sent to a computer,  where I will push the start button.  I will taking the test again with the temper of Rosie O’Donnell, and  thinking of what I could do with my missing 600 euros.   In the old west these outlaws would be caught and strung up like a bunch of horse thieves.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Our Differences

        It is October 5, and I have walked to my usual bar every morning I carry my laptop with which I  study for the Italian driver exam.  If you walked into this bar you would know me right away.  I am the only person with a jacket hanging on the back of the chair.   I am the only person not wearing scarf.   I am in short sleeves, and I  am here for the long haul nursing my Coffee Americano. I refuse to give up summer easily.  I am hard-core!
     You see, just two weeks ago, as if a starter shot his gun off to announce winter, all Italians made the fundamental decision to begin wearing coats and scarves.   Even if the sun comes out and makes the day extra warm they, in a “one for all all for one spirit”,  remain wrapped up like Eskimos.  Once inside the bar, Italians never take their jackets and scarves off when seated.  Almost all of the customers will be leaving this watering hole within a few moments.  Many of them are there only long enough for two or three swallows and then they leave with a quick  “Arrivederci!   
     This battle of  clothing, I always lose.  I lose it every Fall.  Today I have to  raise the white flag of surrender as I notice the room is beginning to get  colder and I have to put my jacket back on.  Looking around I see that one of the customers has exited and left the door open.   Since it is just a tad over 50 degrees (10 C.) outside, things quickly get a bit nippy. 
The new owner of the bar, doesn’t mind as he likes to keep the door open as much as possible, even when it is cold outside.   I think he believes that having the door open will bring in more customers.  The regulars are not coming anymore.  Last week I watched him stand out on the street for about half and hour looking up and down wondering what happened to all those patrons.   
    I begin to lose interest in the driving exam, it is tedious work and there are over 7,000 questions to study.  I have read 6,650 of them!  My mind wanders. I begin to think of the differences I have experienced in the past 7 years.
     I will admit that Americans are wasteful with energy.   The use of air conditioning and heating units are really different between our countries.  There is a law here in the Veneto that heaters are not to be used until October 15, houses not to be warmer than 20 Centigrade (68 F) and heaters must be turned off on April 15.  We Americans abuse the right to have good air conditioning and heaters, owning devices far more capable to cool and heat  large multi-storied homes with a basement.  (My old house in Colorado)  The resulting difference is that Italians have to wear a lot more clothing indoors during the winter than I am used to.  I have also been spoiled by living in Los Angeles many years. 
     During the spring and summer while in a bus or a train Italians hardly ever experience air conditioning.  They quietly endure sultry days, without complaining.  I have endured some torturous, scorching hot rides, with my face soaked in sweat, and I wonder why don’t these folks at least crack open a window?  In July the driver of my bus, a spitting image of an Italian Billy Bob Thornton, has his window open for a breeze.  Billy Bob thought nothing of neglecting his passengers, whose windows were not made to open.  A flick of the switch on the AC would have liberated us from the disabled list.   (It was over 90 that day.)  I had a malevolent thought to hijack the bus and force the driver to sit in the back!  On another day in August my train was leaving Venice and my car was at least 100 degrees with the high humidity we get here and not one person opened a window.  
     That’s my campaign against the predicament of life in the Veneto.  I am not sure I will ever get used to this, and probably to old to change.   The poster above was used during the election, and I am what Italians call a Stranieri.