Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Viareggio's Tragedy

Last night, devastation hit Viareggio in the form of fire. Five houses collapsed, many cars were burst to a crisp and at least fourteen people were victims of the worst train disaster in Italian history.

As a cargo train was passing through the Tuscan town of Viareggio, part of its load of combustible GPL fuel tanks was derailed, caught fire and sent flames 40 meters (130 ft) into the air. The fire quickly spread to neighboring buildings and caused some sleeping souls to lose their lives.

The country is in shock. Berlusconi is in the city promising emergency relief. This is all within a few months of Aquila's horrific earthquake.

Italy can't take much more bad news this season.

Our thoughts are with Viareggio.

Pictures of the train station district of Viareggio from flickr account: rabendeviaregia

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dolomites: UNESCO World Heritage Site

On Saturday, these fabulous and revered mountains were distinguished as a World Heritage area by UNESCO. It took the commission less than an hour to weigh the decision.

These rose-colored mountains cross five provinces including Trento, Bolzano, Belluno, Udine e Pordenone. Now various cities are jockeying to host the UNESCO offices for this disinction, which will guarantee more tourism for their area, most likely. Will Cortina in the province of Belluno win, home to the 1956 Winter Olympics Games?

Some spokesmen, such as Reinhold Messner, are worried that the new flurry of activity will bring tourists who are just interested in the "post card" aspect of this natural treasure. These potential tourists/intruders may contribute to hurting the ecosystem and rock formations. I would like to hope that the new status brings extra respect and funding for all aspects of its safe-keeping.

Pictured here is one of the most famous sights nestled in the mountain chain: Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

The Dolomites are the second park area to receive UNESCO's title in Italy, after the Eolie islands of Sicily and their naming officially places Italy in first place for the number of World Heritage treasures in one country. Naturally, the others are all cultural treasures, as in Venice and the city center of Florence.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday's False Friend

argument v. argomento

If you find you are fighting with someone in English, you are probably having an argument. But be careful about translating that word to argomento, which means the neutral idea of "subject" in Italian. You need to use the Italian words discussione or litigio (for a more intense argument).

Ex) I had an argument with my husband last night about our son.

Italian) Ho avuto una discussione con il mio marito circa il nostro figlio ieri sera.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Let's Talk about the Weather

This is my father's favorite conversation: the weather. I grew up in a family where this topic was discussed on a regular basis. But in Baltimore, the only time that we might get worried about a proper weather report is to predict whether the upcoming winter storm will be in the form of snow, ice or sleeting rain. Those distinctions can make the difference between a fairly safe drive to work or a perilous one.

Coming to Italy and teaching English as a language and culture, I came to learn that my father's passion for the subject of weather probably comes from his English ancestory. The British talk about the weather a lot because it can change rapidly and drastically there on the isles. There are stories of it raining, being sunny and briefly snowing all in the same odd summer afternoon.

Now I find myself consulting online weather forecast sites on a regular basis. I do this not for Padua's weather, but for predictions of the weekend in the Dolomites. In the mountains, the weather changes often from day to day and througout a single day. It can turn a hike or climb into a miserably wet experience or even a highly dangerous one, especially if you consider that sometimes you are hanging from a metal wire while going up a ferrata. (We all know what can happen if there is lightning and you are attached to a piece of metal!)

So in true form, I am clicking away on various sites and talking about the weather today with my husband as we plan for the weekend.

I have added a favorite site, ARPAV, to the mountain links section of this blog so that you can check out my weather predicament, too.

Dad, this is dedicated to you.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sleeping with Casanova

While preparing for our imminent trip of 6 nights on Monte Rosa, we have decided that it would be a good idea to get our bodies acclimated to the high altitude a week early.

My husband and I are joining the other young couple, who will be with us for the week of the glacier course and climb, for a night at another "Mantova" lodge. This one is on the mountain peak Vioz in the Gruppo del Cevedale north of Trento.

The climb itself should be quite short and fairly easy. Our objective is not to tire ourselves out too much. We just want to get to know each other with this teaser of a trip as well as sleep up high where there isn't much oxygen in the air. That night's slumber will happen at 3535 m (11,600 ft).

But maybe our male companions should think twice about taking their women up there because we'll be in the company of Casanova! Yes, the lodge manager's name is Mario Casanova, as in the famous Venetian lover from the eighteenth century. Of course, that one had Giacomo as a first name.

Will our Casanova be providing any extra services?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Memoria e Luce

This monument, Memoria e Luce (Memory and Light), was inaugurated along Padua's Piovego river in 2007 as a symbol of friendship between Italy and USA and an appeal against violence in the world. It sits just a few steps away from the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua's most famous tourist destination, and the train station.

Designed by Daniel Libeskind, a finalist for Ground Zero's Freedom Tower area, it bears a twisted beam from the World Trade Center's South Tower, still with its original construction number visible after the destruction.

The Regione Veneto decided to place this project in Padua with the glass-and-metal "book" structure opening in the direction of the former WTC.

The monument can be accessed from the street at Via Giotto.

At night, sometimes the monument's illumination colors change in a nocturnal rainbow of memory and emotion.

For an Italian perspective of the monument, read an article from Il Sole 24 Ore:


For as elegant as it is, I do not believe that the Paduans truly feel much of anything for this monument. It is a strange testimonial because it is primarily displays a tragic American problem that, although had some effects in Italy, did not directly hit this country. Italians do not personally know people who died in those towers. September 11, 2001 was a TV account and act of violence that shocked the world but was absorbed at a distance, just like most of World War II was a terrible event that Americans did not have to suffer much on their soil.

Did the politicians in Padua believe that their medium-small city would appear more important on a world-scale with this kind of "international" monument? Is it appropriate here? I am an American here and even question it sometimes.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Piles of Money destined to a "Mountain" of Stuff

To prepare ourselves for our big trip to the top of Monte Rosa, scheduled for the end of July, my husband and I had to go on a shopping spree. We basically bought a ton of light-weight petrol products. Why do I say petrol? We need to wear technical gear designed for mountain use that protects against wind and water while allowing perspiration to escape through the same fibers. These wonder-fabrics are all made from polyester derivatives. And polyester = spun petrol.

The products are all light so they don't wear down your bags as you hike up the mountain. That is great for your back while on the trail but not so rewarding as you cart your pile of merchandise out of the store.

In this case, light and petrol does not equal cheap! No, dear. We are talking large chunks of change for even the smallest things.

We outfitted the husband from head to toe while I already had several clothing pieces in my stash from past ski trips while other things I will wait to buy next year. So far the list goes as such for the duo:

2 pairs extra-UV protection sun glasses
1 light-weight Montura shell
1 medium-weight Rady's shell
waterproof pant shell
1 pair of medium-weight Montura hiking pants
1 pair of approach and hiking shoes
1 pair of crampons
1 38-liter backpack
2 pairs of men's breathable underwear
2 pairs of hiking socks
2 compact fast-drying towels

The fashion show of our alpine shopping spree will be photographed at a later date.
The bill to be paid will be next month's entire paycheck, even after a 20% discount.

But what the hell-
Viva la montagna!

These petrol jewels just better not rip this season on any stray rock!

Surprising Results

To my surprise, Flavio Zanonato, won a second term in office with 52% of the vote.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Si Cambia? The Polls Will Tell

It's election day again, two weeks later. Padua as well as 98 other Italian cities need to vote for their mayors a second time because no single candidate received a clear majority (over 50% of the vote).

Dozens more of Marin's posters have been plastered all over town and over the face of the current mayor, Zanonato, who received just under 1% more of the Paduan vote to continue a second term as mayor, according to June 8th's numbers.

The votes might change this time around, like Marin's posters boast, in this weekend's election because the UDC party has officially supported Marin as their favored candidate so those center votes will go to his right-wing camp and not Zanonato, representing the right-wing.

Si cambia o si continua? Vedremo...
Polls close Monday at 3 p.m.
We'll know by Tuesday.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday's False Friend

factory v. fattoria

In English, a factory is a building where products are made industrially.

Ex) Cars are built in a factory.

In Italian, an apparently similar word is fattoria, but that is the land where food is grown-a farm. Use fabbrica as the correct Italian word choice.

Italian) Le macchine sono costruite in una fabbrica.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Wonders of Summer TV

Since schools let out last week, Italy is officially on its summer schedule. The local bus times were modified and TV line-up has radically changed to welcome the hot months and what they assume Italians are doing (and more importantly not doing, like working too hard, staying in the city or, for that matter, watching much television). Italy is at the beach-right! The whole country! And who watches TV at the beach?!

One of the benefits of these alterations is the return of Italian classic movies to fill in the hours that during the year are dedicated to regular programming including reality, talent and variety shows. But in my opinion, the quality comes in summer when all those people running the shows are on vacation.

Tonight I had the pleasure of watching Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni play roles as Filumena, a prostitute, and Domenico, a wealthy patron of her services, in the 1964 film Matrimonio all'italiana. In the end, the main characters end up married and only when Domenico is already an old man does he realize that her three children are all his. Their passionate arguments during the tormented years of knowing each other are a thrill to watch.

Few of today's Italian actors offer the same kind of charisma and intrigue as these past legends.

And thanks to the TV station's laziness in creating new summer programs, we get to savor the past greats!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dedicated to my Mother

When I came across this incredibly grand and old magnolia tree, I had to take a picture of it for my mother. I remember the stories about the tree we had in our front yard when I was born which died during an especially harsh winter.

This is a testiment as to how much these trees can soar in Padua. It may be as much as 200 years that climb that sturdy trunk. The owner only knows that it was already very tall when he moved to this property in 1963.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Change of Seasons

The city landscape moves from rich greens in April to burnt browns in June as we move into summer.

View from Via Cornaro

Saturday, June 13, 2009

June 13th: Saint Anthony Procession

The holy day has come around again.

Paduans have a holiday today in honor of Saint Anthony, patron saint of the city. Two weeks of festivities including special prayers, masses and a night procession from Camposampiero (PD) to Padua, are culminating in this procession of a Saint Anthony statue and reliquary.

My pictures started from Via del Santo...

the mounting crowd behind the patron's statue

round the bend with scouts toting a banner

joined by praying nuns, young and old

historic costumes of medieval warriers

pensive, if not angry, elite club members (this could be Lion's Club or Rotary Club?)

women showing off old crafts

and the best part...

Saint Anthony's JAW BONE!!!

This procession celebrates the living memory of Saint Anthony's death on June 13 , 1231

May he rest in peace

(while his body parts get paraded around town)

Clouds Hanging Over Prato della Valle

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday's False Friend

library v. libreria

In English, a library is a place where you can consult and borrow books while the Italian libreria means the place where you PURCHASE books, so a book shop. Libreria can also mean book shelves or a book case, where you put your books once read. For the best translation, use biblioteca for library in the Mediterranean language.

English) I can study better in a library which is quiter than my apartment with college roommates.

Italian) Posso studiare meglio in una biblioteca che è più tranquillo in rispetto al mio appartamento con universitari come compagni di casa.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tram North Semi-launched

Yesterday night, on my way home from the train station, I saw "Scuola Guida" (Practice Session) written on the Tram route sign at 11 p.m. I thought it odd to see that message. The tram drivers have to practice just like the rest of us! Obviously they do it under the cover of darkness when traffic drops drastically, especially in Padua.

The tram is gaining territory as it has semi-opened the route north of the station since May 24th. The announcement can be seen on the site: http://www.tramdipadova.it/

This method of public transportation has been controversial ever since the idea started 7 years ago by a former administration. The tram is technologically advanced, featuring a single rail which allows the tram to move along a curved path. This was necessary because it bends through Prato della Valle on its 10.3 km route pictured above.

The problems are numerous with the project: too long in its completion (7 years +); dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians (catching wheels and heels in the wide track grooves on major streets); too expensive (required the construction of a new overpass over the train station to accomodate the tram); too limited in its service (offers only a single north-south line through town).

I must admit that it is a nice-looking transport system compared to buses and it makes the city seem more modern, somehow, as well as more similar to Milan, perhaps, as a tram-toting town. Yet we citizens wonder whether the extra expense was well spent. The project went over budget and made certain companies rich in the process of the construction of the routes and overpass. I, for one, never use the tram because it is off my personal commuter route since I live on the eastern part of town. If anything, I have to be careful that the tram doesn't run into me daily as I pedal to and from one of my major clients, Istituto Dante Alighieri, along the tram's path.

The recent opening is partial because the service is offered only for a full day on Sundays and night-service during weekdays and Saturdays. So we are still waiting for full service, since 2002. How many months will we need to wait for this project to be complete? Or should I say years?

This recent push for the partial opening coincides with the June elections. The current administration wanted it to be as finished as possible before the city went to vote even though these particular politicians were not responsible for beginning the project.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

No Winner Takes All Yet

Italians voted for their national European Union representatives on Saturday and Sunday and some cities also voted for their mayor and other local political positions. Padua was included in that batch of over 60 comuni.

After waiting over a day for the final results to be tallied (polls were closed at 10 p.m. on Sunday evening), the numbers are being published. Padua seems to be in a tie with the incumbent mayor, Flavio Zanonato (left coalition parties), having 45.7% of the vote and his main opponent, Marco Marin (right coalition parties), capturing 44.9%. This means that our city will have a re-vote to determine which of these two will actually become mayor of Padua for the 2009-2014 term. Several other towns are in the same predicament. The new voting session will probably coincide with the scheduled referendum vote to be cast on June 20th.

In general, the country is seeing its main right and left-wing groups losing popularity in favor of smaller parties such as Lega Nord and Italia dei Valori gaining significant votes. Italy's attempt at reaching a similar system to the simple Republican and Democratic parties found in the USA is not receiving the results that were expected.

It is interesting to watch how other countries try to adopt our American habits while changing them or having them fail, even miserably sometimes, because other cultures are obviously different than the US one.

Key to running mayoral candidates' political supporting parties at local level:

Left Coalition:
Lista Civica Padova con Flavio Zanonato
Sinistra per Padova
Partito Socialista
Lista Civica Innovazione
Lista Civica Comitati Citta' Sicura

Right Coalition:
Lega Nord
Lista Civica per Padova con Marco Marin
Lista Civica Padova Sicura
Liberta' Democrazia Cristiana

Link to all the voting results for Italy:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Tram Art

The city has a young artist exhibition called Gemine Muse in progress. One of the artists did a piece on the tram where a silhouette of a city landscape was traced onto the window of a tram. If you catch it right, you can see reality line up with the image. Otherwise you see the record of that place while on your journey.

Artist's name: Antonio Guiotto

Gemine Muse, promoted by Progetto Giovani and GAI (Associazione per il Circuito dei Giovani Artisti Italiani) and CIDC (Associazione Città Italiane d'Arte e Cultura) in Padua.

You can see the drawing from the outside of the tram in the above photo. You have to look hard in the reflections to get to the image. Look closely.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday's False Friend

Actual v. Attuale

In English, we use actual for something that is "real" or "based on fact".

ex) an actual account of the accident

In Italian, attuale means current as in, Berlusconi è l'attuale presidente, so use reale to translate from English.

ex) una testimonianza reale del incidente

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Politicians Want to Party

It's election season with the voting date imminent on Saturday for both the European parliament positions and, more importantly locally, the mayor's race.

In true Italian style, the city has seen a flurry of road re-pavement, roundabout projects be completed in record time and, generally, beautiful city management in the last few months. This all started happening in January, 6 months before the elections and the end of a 5-year term for a mayor who hasn't done much that was noteworthy except build a temporary wall on Via Anelli and push out the foreign presence living there.

In fact, the story of that wall made international news, including front-page news on the BBC's website shortly after installation. That exposure was not kind on the city of Padua. It was treated as a racist gesture that should have been embarassing for the city administration.

The city has been spruced up recently to remind its voters that they should re-elect Zanonato, the current mayor of the left-wing party. On paper, he is from the left but his actions, especially regarding the immigrants, seemed more of a move on the part of the right-wing.

Anyway last night, a stage was set-up in Piazza Signori with a yiddish music concert organized for Padua. The flags flying on the poles around the piazza displayed its sponsor: Zanonato. It was very entertaining. I just wish these politicians would host an event like this even in the middle of their term in office as simply a plain gift to the city citizens.

Viva i politici!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Shrouded Santa Sofia

Another sighting of a monument gone covered.

This is now Santa Sofia, a church built primarily in the early 12th century in the Romanic style.

Of course, you can't see that just now.

How many months or years will this one take to restore? Give me your guesses.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Old City Walls

Padua is a medieval town, including 11 kilometers of fortified walls built in 1509 to protect the city against an Austria invasion. At that time Padua was under the control of La Serenissima (Venetian Republic).

This particular piece of the old city wall runs along today's Via Gattamelata. I cycle past it everyday as I go to work or into town for any reason. The wall and moat have been under restoration since January. They started by cleaning the stones on the wall which had turned dark. Then they cleaned up the wild plantlife that had grown up all around the water's edge. The rocks in the foreground were just delivered a few days ago to delineate the water's proper course, I imagine. On some days, I used to find people fishing down at the water, tucked away from the car traffic of the street. They will probably resume that activity soon, once these public works projects are complete.