Thursday, December 31, 2009

Buon Anno!

Happy New Year!

Tonight's the night for fireworks in Prato della Valle, if it doesn't get rained out.

I won't be in town for it but here is a photo from a former pyrotechnic display in town.

Photo from gad_jet's flickr photostream.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A White and Black Christmas

So it was a very white Christmas in the Dolomites this year for me. I went snowshoeing in the San Pellegrino and Valles areas pictured above. The views were spectacular. The new shoes worked wonderfully.

Down in the valley, it rained for 27 hours straight from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day. The rain was obviously snow up at these higher altitudes and lay over a few other meters of recent snow. Usually, this kind of combination makes for lots of lovely powder but can be dangerous. The new layers only lightly adhere to the lower layers. Snow generally needs a few days to settle and become more solid, and especially safely join with the older snow.

So why am I talking about this? Because the Arpav bulletin warned a level 4 (on a scale of 5) for avalanche risks after Christmas. Yet 2 alpine enthusiasts launched out on snowshoes to check the conditions of an iced-over waterfall. They ventured into a particularly dangerous area at Sass Pordoi and went missing. The Protezione Civile sent 4 volunteers to look for the missing people, Fabio Baron e Diego Andreatta. Drammatically and sadly all 6 were killed from the avalanche danger in the area. Ervin Riz, Luca Prinoth, Diego Perathoner and Alex Dentone were the alpine emergency volunteers who lost their lives trying to help others.

Obviously this loss has angered many who blame the stupidity of the alpinists who first went missing with the Arpav published warnings. Some say that the volunteers should not go out to help when there is a level 4 danger. The volunteers do not want to make that kind of judgement call when their job is to help people in need. It is a painful situation, especially for the community of Val di Fassa and Canazei, where the volunteers lived and worked.

The mountains I chose to visit were on a high plain and had hills, not mountain walls, that flanked the snowshoe path. The avalanche risk is not high in that situation.

The mountains have claimed many lives and particularly those of emergency service people. There was a helicopter crash earlier this year that I wrote about here.

The beautiful snow white, turned black with grief just after Christmas.

We all need to be responsible as we go out in the snow.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Different Kind of Christmas Present

Two days ago, Santa Claus had a special chat with the big bank in Turin. He finally convinced them to accept our mortgage loan request. With this news, my husband and I were able to sign the preliminary paperwork to buy our first house yesterday.

After two months of signing documents, gathering money, providing a mountain of paperwork and waiting, we had our wish come true. In the new year, we will be living in our own property.

Thanks Santa!

Buon Natale a tutti!

Happy Holidays to all!

Image taken from site:

(I'll be back at posting on Monday.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Story of a Fellow Foreigner

In yesterday's snow aftermath in Padua, I was waiting at the bus stop to catch my ride to work. The 8:40 bus left 3 minutes ahead of time, according to my watch, so I began my long wait to get to the city center. A man arrived at the stop just after me and had seen the same bus leaving early. We started talking.

It turns out that he is a neighbor who is from Nigeria. He was taking the bus because his Fiat Punto wouldn't start. It had been that way since Saturday's snowfall and the deep dip in temperatures. Even though he has a degree in Business Economy received in his country, his job here in Italy involves being a professional cleaner. Yet his paycheck in that humble job, with the advantageous exchange rate, is about three times more than what he was making in Nigeria when he was involved in bookkeeping for the military service.

He came to Italy because a friend said he could probably find a good job here, even in his field. Of course, his friend was terrible optimistic about an African man actually being able to use his degree in this country.

Now, four years laster, he plods along and endures prejudice everyday from a population who has become quite hostile toward foreigners in recent years, especially those that look different. He seemed so sincerely happy to speak in English to someone, me, who would actually have a decent conversation with him.

He dreams of moving to another country, maybe Canada, and continuing his studies to eventually get a Ph.D and teach. I sincerely hope he can do that although I am doubtful because he seems to just get-by here. He'll probably need a lot of cash to chase that dream. At the moment, he is in contact with an internet company that says his paperwork and credentials are ready to make the formal request to emigrate to Canada but they are asking him for Euro 360 upfront. He is afraid they just want his money and that they are not trustworthy. I tried to give him suggestions about how to find out more about the company through official Italian channels. He was leaving the bus at that point and I don't know if he understood exactly which government body I was referring to.

He believes God will help him find his way. He's happy he tried to come to this country despite some of the unpleasant surprises he found once here.

I may be having some of my own troubles during this Christmas season but P. put that in perspective.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bomarzo, in tema in tempo

So my recent nostalgia about Bomarzo: Il Sacro Bosco is shared by other Italians! I came across a La Repubblica article that focuses on the wild late-Renaissance garden in yesterday's online edition. It announces the release of a book, "Bomarzo: il Sacro Bosco", published by Electa and edited by Sabine Frommel with the collaboration of Andrea Alessi.

Until now, Bomarzo has always been underrated. I am so glad it has been seen as worth of having a book dedicated to it now.

For my blog post. For La Repubblica's article.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

An Exceptional Snowfall

I could write about the difficulties of travelling along the highways.
I could write about the problems with the local tram which was stuck at the stop, Trieste, yesterday morning and halted city service for at least 30 minutes.
I could talk about the icy roads.
I could talk about the delayed buses.
I could talk about the shopping centers exploding with people, especially in the skiwear section.
I could talk about the miserably cold stand owners in the city center that lacked their normal Christmas customers because they were all at the heated shopping centers.
I could talk about Berlusconi's health and theories about his attack.
I could talk about frigid temperatures at -5° C.
I could talk about my dog's swollen anal glands.

But I'm not going to...

I don't care...

Because it snowed 12" in Padua.

An Exceptional Event

Some drive-by images:

Prato della Valle

Under Santa Giustina

Along V. Gattamelata

We all turn into children with our city covered in this white blanket!

Friday, December 18, 2009

More "Juice" About Olive Oil Harvesting

The "juice" is the great description developed in a five part series published on italyMONDO!'s site, with the collaboration of Ciao!Amalfi. This should appease any curiosity which ensued from my post on the olive harvest I participated in at the farm Monte Sereo in November. For a quick read of that post for those who missed it, here is the link.

Reminder: make sure you have some good quality olive oil on at least one dish during your this holiday season and think of Italy!

Friday's False Friend

romance v. romanzo

Romance is when you are in love with a person and have a love affair. However Italian's word, romanzo, means a novel (which may or may not have some romance as part of the plot). Translate with una storia d'amore.

Eng) Some women come to Italy for romance.

It) Alcune donne vengono in Italia per vivere una storia d'amore.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Berlusconi Meets a Vicious Statuette

President Berlusconi's encounter with a Duomo statuette yesterday evening was quite violent. While at a Popolo della Libertà (his political party's) rally, a member of the public in Milan's Piazza Duomo threw the souvenir at him. It hit his face causing a gash on his lip, breaking some teeth and hurting his nose. For the Financial Times article and video, click here. He has been in the San Raffaele hospital in Milan for 24 hours already and his next doctor's check up will be announced at 10 a.m. tomorrow. At the moment he is mostly tired and shocked, according to reports.

This said, violence is horrible.

I can't believe this is organized terrorism, as some people are stating. The assailant, Massimo Tartaglia, has been taken to a hospital clinic inside of a Milan prison for psychological testing and interviewing. He supposedly has a history of being mentally imbalanced. Tartaglia has declared to authorities that he acted alone.

Honestly, I can believe that even a sane person would want to hit Mr. Berlusconi up-side the head with his idea of governing the country in many aspects. But that's not the point.

Needless to say, this has caused a political uproar in the country.

But it also sounds like a joke if you tell the story: What happens to the premier when he's signing autographs? He gets hit by a figurine.

Yes, in the US, the secret service would probably not let the president get so close to the public. But isn't it Berlusconi who loves to be in the middle of his adoring public as often as possible? He's not just a politician. He's a celebrity over here.

I would like to just say for the record that I know an Italian citizen who withstood violence of the kind several years ago. He was attacked by a man who ended up biting him in the face which bled just as much, if not more, and required 6 stitches to repair the damage done to his cheek. Unlike Mr. Berlusconi who has his man behind bars immediately, this person saw the police actually arrive on the scene over 1 hour after the attack and waited 5 years for the trial to come to court. This is how the justice system works for "normal" people. Will Italy's president wait as long? Of course not.

Meanwhile, under the recent law that was passed just weeks ago, all trials that don't get tried within 2 years will be absolved automatically. So this means this common man's case would never have gotten to court. The current Italian system is slow for many and mostly bureaucratic reasons but let's allow people to see their day in court, please.

I wonder how truly shaken up Berlusconi is today.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday's False Friend

confidence v. confidenza

Confidence is when you feel very good about a situation. Confidenza means sharing intimate thoughts with someone. Translate with fiducia when searching for the proper Italian word.

Eng) We have confidence that the system will change soon.

It) Noi abbiamo la fiducia che il sistema cambierà presto.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Baking Birthday Cookies

So today's my birthday and it's a national holiday in Italy: the Immacolata. I love the idea of never having to report to work on my birthday. (Of course this is one of the main reasons I decided to settle here, right?)

When I lived in the US as a child, my birthday was one of the most stressful days of the year. Not only did I have to attend school, but I also had to do homework, go to church to please my grandmother who was a devout Irish Catholic (where holy days require going to Mass) and have a birthday party, at least with family. I would end up exhausted from it all!

Fast forward. Now I am an adult and live in a country that is officially Catholic so the holy day dedicated to the Virgin Mary means: NO SCHOOL OR WORK.

Although it's raining and generally pretty miserable today, on this particular December 8th, I have decided to cheer myself up with a session of cooking chocolate chip cookies. I haven't eaten them in over 2 years. I'll use the chips brought by an American friend during her last trip to visit me. I will gorge on the cookies when they are baked today. Then I will take the rest to work tomorrow for my belated birthday celebration with colleagues.

In this country, as the "birthday girl", I have to offer something to others. It's basically the reverse of American tradition where everyone is supposed to do nice things for you. In this Italian case, I will bring cookies and a bottle of prosecco to open at the 11 o'clock school-day break. This is the tradition where I work. Either something sweet (pastries) or salty (pizzette, tramezzini) or both are offered and a brindisi is made together at that early hour.

I like to have the Italian colleagues taste American flavors. One year I took brownies, for example. Another year I took zucchini bread, flavored with cinnamon, an uncommon spice in Italian desserts.

No cake. Yes, cookies. Happy Birthday to me!

Cookies baked:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bomarzo: Park of Monsters

"Tu ch'entri qua con mente parte a parte et dimmi poi se tante meraviglie sien fatte per inganno o pur per arte."

These cryptic words are inscribed into the rock that makes up the statues and monuments in Bomarzo's Park of Monsters in the province of Viterbo, 90 km north of Rome. I came to this park most recently 4 years ago on a foggy December afternoon to revisit Prince Pier Francesco (a.k.a. Vicino) Orsini's mysterious park, which he originally called the Sacro Bosco (Sacred Wood) at its construction in the 16th century.

The prince dedicated the park, a Mannerist labrinth of monsters, exotic animals, mythical characters, monsters and bizarre buildings, to his deceased wife, Giulia Farnese. The architect Pirro Ligorio, who also was commissioned by the Vatican at the time, elaborated the plans for Orsini's park that walks its visitors through a "wild" woods where enormous mounds of Tartufo rock jut out in the shape of elephants, dragons, lions, giant turtles, temples, Pegasus, Orcus, Neptune, Hercules, Sirens and Sphinxes.

Is it art? Is it a mystery? Is it a park? Is it a graveyard? Is it mythical? Is it real? Some of these questions have been pondered by writers and artists who have visited Bomarzo over the centuries.

The park was abandoned after Prince Orsini's death in 1585 and was not revived until this past century by the couple, Giancarlo and Tina Severi Bettini. They are buried in the temple, with perhaps, the remains of the beloved Giulia.

No one can exactly explain the precise reasons for the collection of characters and pathway through the wood.

With that winter fog I witnessed in 2005, the mystery felt alive even 4 centuries after its creation.

You walk into a leaning house which plays with your perception of reality and construction. You start to get confused about direction and gravity as the doorways and floors tilt and the proportions become too small compared to the size of your human body.

Monsters glare at you beyond their mossy stare and frozen movement. The sun struggles to reach the ground under the blanket of foliage in the dense wood, considered a park. It is wild yet has been controlled by a human's handiwork. This is not your traditional English or even Italian Renaissance garden. Everything is exaggerated in Orsini's natural oasis, built as a monument to death.

The man was rich and depressed. He commissioned a grotesque work to be made of rock and trees. Inscriptions provoke the visit as he moves through the space:

"Voi che pel mondo gite errando vaghi di veder meraviglie alte et stupende venite qua, dove son faccie horrende, elefanti, leoni, orchi et draghi."

"Sol per sfogare il core"

I highly recommend this bizarre park of monstrosities. It's a unique experience into the past, sublime, mysterious and dark world of a former prince.

For more information, go to Bomarzo's website.

Dragon with Lions

Hercules and Cacus

Pegasus Fountain

Temple and tomb

Leaning House

Me inside of Orcus' mouth

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday's False Friend

gross v. grosso

Gross, in our language, means 1. total or exclusive of deductions 2. glaringly obvious or 3. crude. However grosso, in Italian, means "big" so use 1. lordo 2. ovvio or 3. volgare when translating the word from English.

An example of definition 3:

Eng) Little boys like gross things and especially like to embarrass their female classmates with them.

It) Piaciono le cose volgari agli ragazzini e a loro piace sopratutto mettere in imbarazzo le loro compagne di classe con esse.