Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Eve in Prato della Valle

It's time to ring in a new year. This time we meet 11 in the third millennium after Christ's birth. This is the year of the Rabbit according to the Chinese calendar, which will be coming up soo.

Padua will be having its usual New Year's Eve celebrations, but a bit more subdued. There will be a concert stage with live music and DJs in Prato della Valle by the church Santa Giustina, organized by Radio Company and Radio 80. Festivities will start at 10 p.m. Fireworks and a light show will be put on by Parente Fireworks at midnight. Click here for their demo, including an excerpt of a Padua past display at the 1 minute mark. Since the city of Padua decided to shift two-thirds of the fireworks funding to the recent flood victims in the Veneto region, the pirotecnico display will most likely be more simplified and/or shorter than usual.

Funds will be raised that night for the "Save Guinea" cause.

All is free and open to the public.

Hopefully it won't be too cold to have fun!

For more information, go to Radio Company.

Selling Second Hand in Italy

It took me forever to find a few second hand shops in the Padua area.

I had grown up in the States, visiting them at least once a month. I pratically lived in clothes from there as a child. I found great, cheap and funky things as a teenager. Once at art college, I located some more objects to convert into art assignments such as a compound found-glass sculpture and a cigar box memory trove.

While living in New York City, I bought some odd evening wear.

Then I moved to Italy and these special stores didn't seem to exist.

Italians push through the latest fashions with new clothes and shoes to don every year. I wondered where all of last year's abiti and scarpe had gone? I could only see big yellow donation containers on some streets to explain their end. These are designed for donations to the poor. But what about people who don't want to spend full retail price, but aren't "officially poor"? What about getting furniture at rock-bottom prices, but not going to IKEA?

Finally I found my solution: Il Mercatino chain and a few other shops. I could start to peruse used wares again. It has come in very handy, especially since I have a house to furnish now.

After buying a few things, I also wanted to unload some other items from my closet and garage. I decided to sell in these venues. I started with clothes. But this is where things got culturally very different. They wouldn't accept half of the items! "They are out-of-fashion," the girl said. Even classic fully-lined wool pants were put into the pile of unacceptable merchandise. "Wow!" I thought, "Couldn't they be appropriate for a middle aged woman, perhaps?" No, either the cut was too wide for the pants or the sweaters too short. She was afraid she wouldn't be able to sell them. So I realized that even the second hand shops are quite trendy in Italy. You're supposed to be selling your clothes only a year after you buy them, while the styles are still fairly current.

In the end, I did unload some clothes. My funky hats were sold immediately. (Leopard-print and transparent vinyl are all the rage, I guess!) The others items are still waiting to find homes. Anyone looking for a violet wool jumper set from Benetton?

Italians take their clothes seriously, even at the second hand stage. Now I am taking a better look at Il Mercatino's fashion section. If I can buy a great jacket which retailed for Euro 150 last year at one of the big brand name stores and is being displayed on these racks this year at Euro 20, I would say that's a good buy!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nativities Galore

Along the most historic street in Cencenighe Agordino, Via Coi, there seems to be a nativity outside of virtually every house. It's interesting that the magi have already arrived. They came early to the baby Jesus, here in the Dolomites.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Destructive Waters for Christmas

The rivers rose again. It was during another holiday weekend: Christmas! 250 people were evacuated from there homes on Christmas Eve from Bovolenta, in the province of Padua. The Bacchiglione reared its ugly head again. This makes two floods in less than two months. No warm fires at the hearth while opening presents for those children.

Click here for more images of the flooding.

Image taken from Il Mattino di Padova

Friday, December 24, 2010

Interesting Seasons Greetings from Padua

I received this most interesting email from XMountain Guide Alpine Padova for this Christmas season. Here it goes with translation below:


ma si sveglia
sempre di buon
umore, a chi saluta
ancora con un bacio, a
chi lavora molto e si diverte di
più, a chi va in fretta in auto, ma
non suona ai semafori, a chi arriva
in ritardo ma non cerca scuse, a chi spegne
la televisione per fare due chiacchiere, a chi è
felice il doppio quando fa a metà, a chi si alza presto
per aiutare un amico, a chi ha l'entusiasmo di un bambino
e pensieri da uomo, a chi vede nero solo quando è buio

A chi non aspetta Natale

per essere


Buon Natale
e Felice 2011


loves to
sleep but
always wakes
up in good spirits, who
still greets you with a kiss,
who works a lot and has even
more fun, who speeds in his car but
doesn't honk at lights, who arrives late
but doesn't make excuses, who turns off the
television to chat, who gets up early to help a friend,
who has the enthusiasm of a child and thoughts like a man,
who only sees black when it's dark

To he who doesn't wait for Christmas

to be


Merry Christmas
and Happy 2011

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Goodies from America

I saw a friend from the States last night. She brought me and other friends a goodies bag from the US. I've taken a picture of the assortment inside:

It got me thinking about what best represents our US food, and cravings, when abroad. Peanut butter is an obvious choice. Now eveything seems to be Bio. I've been introduced to Justin's brand for the first time with this packet. Maple syrup lets us dream of New England snow and bright maple tree colors in Fall. I love the tiny Tabasco sauce bottle, although I can easily find this product at Italian supermarkets now. My husband insists on using it in many recipes, including yesterday's Tuna Melt sandwich (with a kick!). The symbol of American money--our greenbacks-- in miniature containing chocolate. Ghiradelli chocolates cannot match Gianduia in the mother country. I have to admit I never ate Altoid's in all my years in America. Then since this friend was coming from CA, there's a new snack to taste: California Crunchies. I'm from the East Coast so this is a novelty. Do they sell it in Baltimore, nowadays, even though it's from the state of "Eureka!"?

I really appreciated the thought. Thank you D!

Readers, what would you put in a little treat sack to pack away from Italy, if you lived here (or do live here) and want to take over something fun? Please leave me your comments.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas on the Streets of Padua

Via Altinate, Coin Department Store

The Christmas season is upon us. Even snow has arrived in Padua to boost the festive spirit. (About 3 inches fell on Friday, but has already melted in the downtown area.)

Droves of Paduans are pounding the city streets under giant strings, balls and bells of light. They are all searching for that special something for friends and loved ones.

5 days to go and counting....

to a Buon Natale

Via Santa Lucia, with lights and red carpet in front of one of my favorite bars, The Gufo, and underground tavern

a quiet Via Sauro

Friday, December 17, 2010

List of Home Projects

Now that F and I are home owners, there are always new projects to think about, prepare, execute and save for.
I should be writing Santa Claus my Wish List but instead, I am preparing this one.
(Bare in mind we have been living in our place for just over 6 months.)

Paint wall mural already pencilled in at end of hallway
Sand and varnish windows next summer
Install a work table in small bedroom
Frame prints and photographs for bedroom and hall
Paint a bright pink pattern on the bathroom ceiling to give it personality
Buy a nice rug for the living room
Draft a lace insert for the bathroom curtain
Put up shelves in garage
Get information about creating personalized wallpaper for one wall
Get a small heavy-duty outdoor table for the terrace (old one blew away during a storm in July)
Put up shelf in bedroom above chest of drawers
Decide on what to do artistically with wall space in living room (ongoing discussion)
Put up curtain in small bedroom
Make new dog throws for now brown sofa in living room
Get plumber to come back and pipe up non-functional radiators

Happy to have accomplished recently:

Install new wooden tiolet seat
Fix plumbing problem in kitchen
Change key locks for all major doors

Monday, December 13, 2010

Veneto's Flooding Crisis

A month ago a deluge of rain hit my area very hard. Flooding ripped through the province of Padua and Vicenza, not to mention areas of Treviso. The rain started hard on Halloween night, as I was complaining about my lanterns being blown out by the water. Then it just kept coming down: torrential and constant for over 36 hours. The mountains were spitting the water from every crevice. I happened to be there, in the Dolomites, for the beginning of it.

Then in the valley, the earth stopped absorbing the rain. The rivers couldn't handle the overflow. The tides pushed the fresh water back from spilling into the Adriatic. This meant FLOODING. The Bacchiglione River became one of the main culprits.

In my town of Noventa along the Piovegò, the bridge had about one foot of clearance before overflowing. Schools closed early in Padua on November 2nd. Other areas actually had water in their garages, basements and taverne (typical Veneto ground floor rustic dining rooms). Businesses were flooded out and farm land washed away. One of my clients from Veggiano had 3 meters (10 ft) of water in her family house.

For a video of Bovolenta's flooding effects as of November 6, click here. Casalserugo can be seen here, with a simple commentary in Italian. There is even a boat passing over what should be the road, during the video.

The region came under criticism for overbuilding many formerly agricultural areas, partly to blame for the water's effects. Several cities had been lazy about river bank maintenance and prevention work in recent years. After all, nothing like this has happened since 1966. There is a mixture of intense local pride to get back to work and recover the area and the need for help by the government and generous donations. The Veneto people are not used to "handouts" from anybody.

In the case you would like to make a donation to the cause within the nation, you can send an sms message to 45501 from a cell phone "Alluvione Veneto" (Flood in Veneto).The donation is for Euro 2,00.

For foreigners, please send donations to the Red Cross:

To the bank account: Conto Corrente del Comitato Regionale CRI del Veneto
Subject: "pro alluvione veneto"
IBAN: IT82 B063 4502 0100 6700 5001 62B

For the Italian Red Cross website: go here.

Time has passed but the groups are still raising funds and the work effort will go on for months, surely. During this Christmas season, think about helping the Veneto's recovery after November's flood.

Meanwhile here, the supermarkets and local government are inventing every way possible to raise money for the flood victims: matching gift donations and Christmas concerts.

Happy holidays and stay dry.

Image from flickr account Fritz Forelle at Ponte Pusterla (VI)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trying to Celebrate Halloween

It's not always so easy here. This year I resorted to making mini-Jack o' Lanterns from Melinda-brand golden delicious apples instead of sculpting a nice orange American pumpkin. I was in the Dolomites for Halloween this year and it is not as easy to get American-style things there. Then I was further disappointed last night because my lanterns were outside during the rainiest eve of the last 5 years, in my opinion. There wasn't a soul outside to even enjoy them during the deluge that hit this area this weekend.

Next year will be better I'm sure. Then again, I'm not in the US so I shouldn't expect much. Yet in recent years Italy has put more and more effort into promoting this American tradition. What started as an excuse for extra sales in shops like the cartoleria selling masks and witch hats and theme-nights for pubs and bars, has become an authentically borrowed festivity.

The kids in my building hanged pumpkin streamers in the stairwell 10 days ago. The elementary school teachers are doing units about the Halloween traditions. The Italians can now go trick-or-treating in the malls like many US childen do. At least this is what happens in the city.

However this year in the Dolomites, Halloween did not seem to have any impact. Rather, the people were more concerned about their own holidays: Ognissanti (All Saints' Day) today and La Festa dei Morti (The Holiday of the Dead) tomorrow. In their tradition, church was in order today to honor the saints and tomorrow they will be visiting the cemetaries and their deceased relatives to pay respects.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

WWI on the Lagazuoi

I've been away from the blog for a while because I was hiking with my father in the mountains.
Now that he is gone, I would like to share one trail and location with you. It combines history with glorious mountain panoramas. That is the Mount Lagazuoi, a stronghold for the Italian and Austrian troops during WWI.

View of Lagazuoi with cable car from Passo Falzarego

We started our hike up the Austrian side, leaving Passo Val Parola and following the route Kaiserjaeger. The Austrians had this side and the top of Lagazuoi as its defence. Along with the neigbouring Sas de Stria (see post), it created and almost invincible defence strategy because they could see far into the valleys and along the only paths that the Italians needed to gain territory.

Val Parola Pass and the Austrian fort Tre Sassi

A view of Sas de Stria and the Marmolada (with glacier) in the distance

The trail features a suspended bridge that is a special treat along the hike. This is not the most common route to take up the mountain since it is a little bit more difficult than the one going up the front of the mountain at Passo Falzarego. However, I find it more interesting to take since it focuses on the Austrian front before we will switch over to the Italian section. It also presents the hiker with a separate side of the mountain and its views to take in, which differ from the second section of the day's walk.

The summit is always gratifying, here at 9029 ft.

Me with Mount Marmolada in the background, where there is a small museum dedicated to the Great War.

Rifugio Lagazuoi

After a short lunch, we passed the Rifugio Lagazuoi (which is reachable directly by cable car) and headed into the gallerie (tunnels) which were carved 1 km long through the mountain. The darkness, dampness, tight quarters and slippery steps make you think hard about the soldiers' problems while fighting that war. The winters were devastating. It was hard to survive, let alone fight in those conditions. My father hit his helmet-protected head about a dozen times on the ceiling while trying to make it down the tunnel just once. He is tall, but I don't think the soldiers had it too easy avoiding the same bumps a century ago. And the soldiers were there for 4 long years.


Artillery perch

Every so often, hikers now catch a view a great view from what used to be the artillery points and defensive holes which act as windows now.

The tunnel ends at the Cengia (Ridge) Martini, an Italian position under the Austrian line, protected by some rock formations.

The last half an hour of walking is an easy stroll down to Passo Falzarego.

If you are a WWI buff and like to hike, this is the place to go!

For more information about WWI , consult the following site: click Museo della Guerra, focusing on the nearby Trentino region but also including information about the Veneto front; Museum of the First World War in Marmolada; Five Towers open air museum in Lagazuoi area featuring still lifes of the war scenes with mannequins.

For more information about hikes in the area: click

Monday, September 6, 2010

Local Headlines

Sacchi di pane fresco gettati nell'immodizia

Bags of fresh bread thrown in the trash

Leggo, giovedì 2 settembre, p. 20

The city was up in arms about the wasteful gesture on the part of the supermarket on via Gattamelata, Eurospar. Last Wednesday afternoon, they threw away kilos of fresh bread. This was probably because they did not sell everything that was baked in the morning and all food stores are closed on Wednesday afternoons. The local poor and homeless steadily arrived at the public trash container in question and took advantage of the boon.

I have seen homeless pilfering from that exact trash spot for years. There are two men in particular that gather their fruits and vegetables there just about everyday. There must have been more poor coming by that particular day, with the overflowing bread. In general, I have never seen anyone upset by these people going through the trash. The sight is an affirmation that poverty exists and that we are a wasteful society nowadays, throwing away things that are still usable and edible. It's an old and sad story...

In Italy, tons of unused bread ends up as rubbish from bakeries, food markets and individual houses. In January, the Corriere della Sera reported that Italy averages 24,230 tons of bread ending up in the waste bin a month. Not everybody uses their day-old bread. We can buy pane gratttugiato (bread crumbs) for very cheap, and even if Italian grate up the old crusty bread, there is only so much they can use of it at once. It's an interesting dilemna. Fresh is great but can be wasteful. Long-lasting is convenient but can be terrible as far as taste and health is concerned. We already consume enough preservatives in other food stuffs, right?

Veneto bread does not last as long as some other varieties on the penisola. I remember the bread I ate in Tuscany and other more southern areas of Italy would last up to a week. You just cut off slices as you go. The crust is thicker and must protect the bread from the air better. Here the bread shapes are all rather small and have thin crusts. Most of the bread is sandwich size: mantovani, zoccoletti, francesini, ecc.

F is buying some as I write. We just better make sure we finish off what we buy today. Panini are in order for lunch.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

After the Holidays

The city streets are crowded again with cars, motorcycles and mopeds. Just about everyone has come back from their summer holidays.

The kids have to start thinking about school which will open in my area on September 13th. There are tests to take in "deficient" subjects to make sure they can continue into their next year.

All the shops are open again. No more surprises of showing up somewhere to find the serranda down and a little sign with Ferie (Vacation) written in marker.

People of all ages are extremely brown after a month of serious tanning. Hair is blonder than usual from the great bleacher: the sun.

Italians have forgotten how to work. They can't remember their work passwords and details of office life. They are glowing when they talk about their vacations. There is a bit of a contest of who had the best one. Is it better to have been on the beach, relaxing in the mountains or travelling around the world?

Padua's relentless heat and humidity have subsided. We can breathe again. It's actually fun to be outside and in the sun. We even put on jackets in the evening, something we haven't done here for over 2 months.

Bentornati (Welcome back) Padovani!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lick Your Lips in New York

What should be the absolute best place to find fine Italian food products is opening today!

It's called Eataly,part of a chain that first opened in Turin, expanded to Tokyo and now is opening its doors in the Big Apple. Visit it at 200 5th Avenue, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway.

You'll be able to eat in one of 8 ristoranti, choose from a coffee in the Grande Caffè Lavazza, a delicious scoop or two at the agrigelateria, chew on a quick sandwich at the paninoteca or go for the rosticceria and/or pizzeria sections of the 7000 square meter extravaganza.

The signage will all be bilingual, with explanations about all products in English and italiano. The founders believe in the Slow Food approach which will be appreciated in the fast pace of Manhattan, I hope.

The owner, Oscar Farinetti, boasts that this location will be the Harrods of Italian food in NY. Go and see for yourself. Let me know how the mozzarella tastes: with American milk and Italian savior-faire.

For the video preview of Eataly presented by the news journal La Stampa and dated 28 June, click here. Language: Italian.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

From Benetton to Wines and Olive Oil

Only in Italy do you become famous, get rich and then create your own line of wines and olive oil. Oliviero Toscani has done just that.

He is best known for his controversial work for Benetton, a Veneto company from the Treviso area near Padua, including over 20 years of photos as part of the clothing manufacturer's advertising campaign. Some particularly memorable images for me growing up were a nun kissing a priest and close-ups of bloody death and slimy birth, featuring a newborn still attached to the umbilical cord. The billboards, magazine ads and COLORS magazine, which develops a journalistic aspect to the research, all ruffled many feathers and got millions of people talking about society's contemporary issues and problems.

Toscani was even responsible for founding Benetton's creative think-tank of young designers and artists from around the world who win residencies to work on-site at the company's compound space called Fabrica. The work produced there receives accolades across the art and design spheres as well as helping continue making innovative shop displays and ad campaigns for the mother company, United Colors of Benetton.

In recent years, Toscani has slowed down on his direct contributions to all-things Benetton. He's got a new project: he has chosen to produce and promote his own wine and olive oil collections named OT. As for the wine, it is colorfully labeled in separately yellow, cyan and magenta. By the way, those are the three colors used to create all printed material, of course with the addition of a fourth component, black. He may be making wine, but he's still a graphic designer and photographer at heart! And in fact, he is still doing his trade, but not with the big B. Go to La Sterpaia for that.

Another noted (clothing) designer who has a winery is Diesel brand apparel's founder Renzo Rosso. For my post about those wine and olive oil lines, click here. But that stuff's got the company's brand name on the label.

I have to admit I have never casually found either of these wines or olive oils in my giri around town, the region or Italy, but maybe one day I will actually get to taste them and see how they stack up to their founders' reputations. If you do first, let me know what you think. Grazie.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Local Headlines

Marijuana nell'orto della scuola
Marijuana in the school garden

Saturday August 21, 2010 Il Gazzettino, Belluno edition, p. 9

A dozen marijuana plants of various sizes were found in the little botantical garden at the "Anna Frank" elementary school in Spinea (Venice). The school's director spotted the "Cannabis sativa" and promptly called police.

The plants were dispersed among the many others being used for educational purposes by the students, faculty and parents.

So how is the next Parents' Board meeting going to go at that school, might I ask?

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Special Birthday Gift

I wish I had a birthday gift like hers when I was her age. I am talking about a 13-year-old whose father finances a trip to any country in the world for each of his children on that special birthday.

I met this father-daughter duo from North Carolina at the Rifugio Città di Fiume on Mount Pelmo last week.

I rarely hear American accents while hiking in the Dolomites, so I usually introduce myself out of curiosity. In this manner, I was told the reason for this American couple's visit to Italy. The father's pact is on condition that there is some sort of "adventure" involved in the trip to the child's country of choice. The young blond teenager chose Italy and I was meeting them on the adventure leg of the journey. They had started in Venice for 3 days, followed by 6 days of continuous hiking in alta quota and would finish with 5 days in Rome, possibly hitting Pompei before returning back to the US.

I was amazed at the magnitude of this amazing birthday present. Of course, the father got some fun out of the deal, too.

I remember that I was thrilled to get to go to the Rockies for a week, compliments of my Girl Scout troop when I was that age. My leader promised her girls a trip to anywhere (in the US) if they stayed in Girl Scouts beyond the age of 13. (At that point in teenage life, it becomes quite unpopular to be a Girl Scout.) Her family's company donated to help pay for the trip. We all thought we were the luckiest East Coast girls to see the mountains out West! But that must have been how things were 20 years ago in the US. Now it's Europe on the youngster's minds!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day Trip to Bassano del Grappa

This town provides a wonderful day-trip solution from Padua or Venice. Located 70 km from Padua, Bassano del Grappa is most famous for its grappa production, ceramic traditions and wooden bridge over the River Brenta.

Currently the cultural life in Bassano del Grappa is percolating with the programming for Opera Estate 2010. From the end of June to early September, a series of international dance companies, theatre groups, readings and opera will be performed in the area. For more information, click here.

Take a walk through the town and visit the many museums, dedicated to ceramics, the artist Jacopo Bassano, the tower and the civic museum. Visit the tourist information point near the old city walls by the train station for more information about all of them and a map of the city.

Around the old bridge, several shops sell Bassano's famous ceramics and stoneware. They feature painted plates and bowls, elaborate white stoneware and delicate ceramic fruit compositions.

Piazza del Libertà during a summer shower

A café in Piazza Garibaldi with ceramic art on the outside walls

The lion with wings that marks all the towns that were once dominated by the Serenissima (Venetian Republic). After it's protection for a while in the 13th century by a Paduan, Ezzelino II, the Ventians took hold in the 15th century, followed by Napolean's reign. Eventually Bassano became officially part of the province of Vicenza, which it still maintains today.

The oldest building in town, built in the 13th century
A clock tower, the Torre Civica
Another clock (building)

Local specialties on display in the historic bread shop, here featuring ciamballone.
An antique shop in the city center
The large wooden bridge has many names: Ponte di Legno, Ponte degli Alpini (in honor of those who last rebuilt it) and Ponte Vecchio. Even Andrea Palladio was involved in designing and building this large bridge which crosses a rough river, the Brenta. A wood structure was thought to be able to withstand the river's force. Unfortunately that wasn't always true. The bridge has crumbled many times over the centuries, although the last demise came at the hands of the Nazi Germans. The bridge was bombarded during WWII. What you see now is the 1947 reconstruction, based on Palladio's original plans from 1569.

Ponte degli Alpini

A plaque on the bridge in honor of the fallen during WWII.

The most elegant outdoor ash tray I've ever seen.

When visiting the town, don't miss a trip to the bar Distilleria Nardini at the end of the Ponte degli Alpini. Have a shot of Italy's strongest spirit, grappa, and take home a bottle. I prefer the Acquavite stagionato (aged grappa) with its golden coloring. But beware, it is quite strong at 50% alcohol content. Drinking a shot in the old bar proves special since the decor envelopes you in heavy dark wood impregnated with the acquavite scent.

At the very least, Bassano del Grappa is a pleasant afternoon stroll with characteristic architecture and little local delicacies as wells as souvenirs to satisfy most touristy souls. Enjoy a day at the edge between the northern Italian plains and mountains. Witness how people can restore their splendor after the devastation of war. Make a jaunt to Bassano.

To get to Bassano, you can take the regional train or buses (SITA or FTV) from Padua. The trip takes about an hour. Or you can make Bassano your homebase by staying a couple of nights and exploring the nearby mountains and Padana plains. Bassano is strategic since it sits at the foot of the Prealpi (Pre-alps) of Vicenza.

Photo sources:
Overall bridge view:
Ceramics store: Cippetta-Vicenza @