Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween in Italy? Not Really

Italy tries to borrow a lot of American tradition. High school students want to organize "prom" their last year like they see in our films. Santa Clause now brings Christmas presents on Christmas Day instead of the traditional Befana delivering them on the Epiphany, a more Catholic version of the giving.

Halloween has been promoted steadily since I first came to Italy about 10 years ago. The children sometimes dress up. The bars host themed parties as an "exotic" and rather easy way to create a novel environment for a night and attract more customers. Clubs do the same. But most of what I see here is just a lot of merchandise being sold at the cartoleria and a few orange pumpkins appearing in the local supermarkets for inflated prices.

It's just not the same. Rarely do I see an honest homemade costume. The energy is simply not right among supposed revellers.

I wonder why this American tradition was borrowed by this country when it has no real place or connection to this particular culture. As for costumes, Carnival offers Italians 2 weeks of time to don a different face or persona, so there is no need to do the same now in October. Once a year is enough.

Pumpkins don't naturally grow here. They have to cultivate the special squash variety precisely for this foreign holiday. Nothing is indigenous about the whole thing.

This holiday is another example of globalization gone wrong. We really don't need to celebrate Halloween all around the world. As for those of us in Italy, just wait til winter and you've got Carnival to be masked and mischievous!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday's False Friend

possibly v. possibilmente

Our word possibly means that there is a chance that something is capable of happening, whereas the Italian possibilmente means "if possible", as in when you would like somone to do something for you. Although they are linked in meaning, they are not the proper fit as translations of each other.

For possibly, use forse in Italian:

Eng) I will possibly be going to the states next spring.

It) Forse andrò in USA la prossima primavera.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Scooter: City Life in a New Light

It's official, I have finally become absolutely Italianized.

I own a scooter.

It took over ten years for the day to come, but now my husband and I have splurged on Italy's favorite vehicle with 2 wheels.

It's liberating. Traffic is a breeze. There is a sense of freedom. We dart around town instead of plodding along in traffic at rush hour. It takes 5 minutes to get downtown. There's no fatigue involved like when cycling. The gas mileage is great!

On the other hand, it can be very cold with chilly wind rushing over your hands and through your pants. It can be dangerous: if a mistake is made, and even if it's the car's fault, I will probably suffer some serious consequences. I have to be "all eyes"!

It's a new scooter world for me and a very Italian one.

I am now relearning the roads through the city since z.t.l. (zona traffico limitato-restricted traffic zone) areas have previously been off-limits to me, a car owner who does not have a business or residence within those borders, and on a bicycle, I haven't had to respect one-way signs through town like scooters should do. Now everytime I get on the saddle, I have to rethink the roads to take, make mistakes and discover this new method of moving through urban space. I have to think like a scooter driver which is uniquely different than the cyclist or car driver.

"Buona guida," I think to myself, "e che brivido!"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Automatic Porno Distributor Available

In case the local Sexy Shop doesn't have opening hours that are convenient enough, now you can purchase porno DVDs and accessories at all hours from the local gas station in Padua! I found this particular one at the EMG gas station along Via Venezia.

Beyond the lady's sultry face glows a world of porno stuff you can buy like a soda! Just put in your money, locate the object/video desired behind the veiled screen/photo, insert the right number and extract your choice from the black door at the bottom of the machine. It can't get much easier than that. No need to invent your own sweet dreams anymore....

Can you believe it?

Note, please excuse the low picture quality but it was taken from the cell phone at dusk.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday's False Friend

casual v. casuale

When not at work, Americans love to dress casual. Dressing up can be a pain: heels, runs in your hose, tight ties around the neck. But the word casuale in Italian refers to something coincidental that happens, maybe happening to see a colleague at the local shopping centre on Sunday when you are wearing your grungiest jeans and no make-up.

Use the Italian words sportivo or informale when translating casual.

Eng) On Fridays we can dress casual at the office.

It) Il venerdì all'ufficio si può vestire in modo sportivo.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Writing on the Wall: Portello

Porta, Scalinata e Ponte Ognissanti

This door to the city marks the university center for Padua since it has the largest concentration of university buildings in the area. The name is also borrowed to describe the residential area in its vicinity, "Portello". But it's first role was as a customs house when Padua still had all of its walls in place and it remained active long after the other city doors' lost their utility.

It was constructed in 1518-19 for Captain Marcantonio Loredan with an Istria stone facade by Guglielmo Grizi ("The Bergamasco"). The bridge dates from 1784 and connects Via Portello to the Istituti Universitari and fairgrounds to the north. On the other side of the door, there is the Edicola di Santa Maria dei Barcari, 1790, in a decorative chapel. Yet the steps seems to actually be the highlight since Canaletto supposedly depicted them and Barbarigo used them to welcome the Venetian authorities visiting Padua. On a warm spring day, you can spot numerous university students reading on them as the sunlight showers down.

In 1993, those steps, la scalinata della Fraglia, were put to public use, recently restored and have been monitored by the association Amissi del Piovego. They hold a market on the last Saturday of the month, Portello Cartastorie. Touristi boats leave there for tours along the Brenta, too. Then in the summer months of June and July, a temporary and floating screen is place in the canal and 4 weeks of events are planned around the Portello River Festival, including some of Hollywood's latest movies, experimental cinema, local documentaries, jazz concerts and short-film events.

For two years, the Portello area was completely transformed during the hot months (June-September) because all the local bars set up stands to serve their clientele along this canal instead of packing the city center with rambunctious teenagers and young adults with a buzz. It was a lot of fun because each stand created a different theme which was distinct from the next. You could walk down the road and drink at the "tropical" stand or "fashion" bar. It was a festival of color and furniture styles. Unfortunately the neighbors complained about noise and the city disbanded the concentration of bars this past summer.

This door is one of the most active still today. Hundreds of students walk and bike under its triumphal arch, not to mention the markets and festivals that take place here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Teacher's Perk

As you can tell from my dwindling blog posts, my work schedule beefed up in the last two weeks.

All my courses are in full swing now and between the planning, transportation, invoicing, correcting and teaching, I feel swamped. On top of this, I just got a cold to ring in the new season that brought especially cold weather after an exceptionally long and hot summer season. The temperature shock affected my immune system. But on the bright side, calling in sick today has allowed me to spend a few minutes with you!

From the above picture, you can see one of my teacher's perks. I was given this lovely plant a couple of weeks ago by a sister-duo who are clients. I was able to help both of them pass their tests at the high school and university level, respectively, with flying colors. As the plant's buds continue to bloom, it is becoming more and more of a festival of color for me to enjoy as I invite other students into my house for their lessons.

Here is a close-up of the two-toned blooms, one color for each sister.

I periodically receive flowers from my students. In the past, I was given a great bouquet before leaving for 2 months in the US. It helps bring the sometimes frustrating job into perspective. I am somehow making a difference for them. Since so many schools and clients never tell me how their test results come out after my assistance, it is nice to have this kind of pleasant surprise and real recognition of my effort.

And by the way, once I feel comfortable in my new schedule, I will be posting more faithfully, although not everyday like I sometimes could this past summer.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Infiniti Completes the Luxury Suite in Padua

Paduans love their upscale cars! Especially on the weekends, the luxury and super-modern sports cars come out of their protective garage and hit the cobblestone streets of medieval Padua.

I remember gawking at them the first few months living here. I have lived in several big cities which are known for their wealth in the past but the frequency of passing these elite cars was not the same. Considering that only about 250,000 people live in this city and its suburbs, the per capita tally of how many luxury cars which can be spotted in town is surprisingly high. Paduans' business savvy, as part of the "Northeast miracle" which transfers into small or large family fortunes, seems to be directly poured into car sales.

Porsche's Boxster and Cayenne are almost as popular as the Toyota's Camry and Ford's F-150 in the USA. Padua is crawling with them! The situation verges on indecent.

Infiniti is the latest car company to hope to take a piece of the luxury car pie. It opened on Corso Stati Uniti in the industrial area a couple of months ago. Infiniti now joins the ranks of not only the old-faithful names such as Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Porsche and Jaguar but also dealerships including Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Maserati. Padua is the smallest city to open an Infiniti showroom in Italy after Milan, Rome, Florence and Bologna. The company is probably targeting the entire Veneto region since Padua is fairly central. I am curious how there sales will fare during the supposed crisis. But like many say, the truly rich stay rich, even during a crisis.

So the next time you want to drive around town here, be aware that your jalopy will stick out like a sore thumb amist a sea of luxury cars.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Overwhelming Feeling of Work

It's the first real bulging full-time week back at work in months. I feel a bit overwhelmed. As usual, I have accepted to work a few too many hours than are comfortable but the job offers never come in the right order to make the "perfect" schedule. Such are the hazards of freelance work!

The new year brings new challenges and requires brushing up on old material. There are new colleagues, old spaces, a mixture of more-or-less enthusiastic students and my annual confrontation with language: how does it make sense to others and how can I make it interesting.

I am burning the midnight oil to get ready with lesson plans, syllabus and a bunch of books and photocopies in several different folders, all under the light of my glowing computer screen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday's False Friend

mess v. messa

In English, a mess is a disorderly, cluttered, and often dirty condition. In Italian, la messa is a public celebration of the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church: our English word, Mass. No Italian would forgive you for associating her messa with a mess. That would border on offensive. Use the words confusione or casino when translating from English.

Eng) The construction of the new building across the street is causing a mess.

It) La costruzione del nouvo edificio dall'altra parte della strada crea della confusione.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In Bad Taste

Perhaps some of you have heard about the intense rains that have pelted the Italian peninsula, especially in the southern regions. Padua had a couple of intense days with their share of precarious street situations. But in Calabria, the region received the equivalent of three months of rain in three days.

Then last week, the area of Messina was devastated by mudslides, triggered by the continuing torrential rains. This Saturday, the funerals of the Messina mudslide victims will be celebrated. Click on this TG3 excerpt regarding the tragedy.

While the Italians are being rocked by the effects of all this excess water, Sky TV, has continued to run a commercial for their HD product which portrays an entire town being completely flooded while some women cry as they watch the film, Titanic. The idea is supposed to be that Sky TV's HD quality is so good that you feel like you are inside the drama, for real. Yet the choice couldn't be worse given the similar and awful conditions found in Italy this season.
I find it a horrible managerial choice to be so callous towards real trauma and destruction, just in the hopes you can sell a few more Sky TV subscriptions!

For the commercial in question, watch this video.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dolomites, the Shadow of War

Upon experiencing Italy's Dolomites, you quickly realize that you are not only beholding fabulous nature, glorious and challenging peaks and rich woods. You are also treading on the remains of a battlefield.

Much of WWI was fought in trenches along the stretch of mountains that divide today's Italy and Austria. Those two nations had thousands of soldiers living inside the mountain for years, defending their territory. They built networks of tunnels and trenches through the rock. To see part of the Italian side, take the Sentiero degli Alpini on the peak, Lagazuoi, which opens onto the Cengia Martini, a continuation of the national frontline. For an Austrain view, there is Sentiero dei Kaiserjaeger in the same area. This trail offers unusual panoramic views of the landscape and a piece where hikers traverse a suspended bridge to finish along the Vonbank trenches. Both hikes can be reached starting from the Passo Falzarego road leading to Cortina.

Today, along the open trails, you can still find barbed wire laying in heaps from a century ago. Some hikes now take you through the old tunnels where soldiers had to live, eat and sleep in a desperately cold climate. Imagine, the Italian government did not have enough money to buy socks for its soldiers so most of them stuffed their boots with grass or hay to keep their feet buffered and warm.

Passo del Valparola, an open air museum of restored trenches and buildings brings visitors back to a time of war. Now everything looks pristine. You have to remember that hundreds of men were sharing this confined space with their shared dirt, sweat, grime, terror and hunger.

The Austrains camouflaged their buildings by keeping them low to the ground, almost completely submerged, and covering the roofs with gravel so the enemy could not easily distinguish the man-made areas from the natural ones.

Also in this part of the Dolomites, Col di Lana was blown apart with massive amounts of explosives in an Italian offensive to finally disrupted the Austrian stonghold in the area. The mountain stands as an open wound, still today.

Further away, the Adamello glacier in Trentino periodically turns up entire dead bodies from WWI as the ice shifts, delivering pieces of history to the surface. Can you picture being the hiker who happens to find a dead soldier's refrigerated body along his path on a beautiful July day?

It's so hard for Americans to understand the depths of war fought on our own soil within living memory. We had Pearl Harbor and more recently September 11th, 2001 and its attack of the Twin Towers but in the end, only a few thousand people died from those militant actions. We have no real idea what it is like to lose everything: buildings, land, entire male populations of certain villages. The Dolomites are a reminder of a darker part of history even when they are at their most glorious.

A museum area which is also worth a visit to see life-size models of soldiers in context:
Il Museo all'aperto della Grande Guerra sul Piccolo Lagazuoi
Open Air Museum of the Great War on the Small Lagazuoi

A "living room" for soldiers carved inside the mountain

Image from Associazione Nazionale Alpini (National Alpini Association)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday's False Friend

It's been a week solidly dedicated to language which finishes off with the weekly "false friends".

front v. fronte

The most common definition of front in English involves the forward part or surface of something, such as a building. In Italian, la fronte, refers to the upper part of the head, between your eyebrows and hairline - the forehead.

Fortunately another meaning of the words is shared between the two languages: as in a military front (il fronte militare). Since the second one is less used, pay attention when translating front. For the first definition mentioned in English, used the Italian word facciata or parte anteriore.

Also, the difference between the masculine (il) and feminine (la) fronte in Italian, changes the definition from the military association to the part of the head.

Most common use and false friend:

Eng) The front of the Sant Sophia's Church in Padua demonstrates the Romanesque style often found in medieval architecture.

It) La facciata della Chiesa di Santa Sofia a Padova dimostra lo stile romanico che si trova spesso in architettura medievale.