Thursday, January 28, 2010

My First List for Filling a House

'We like lists because we don't want to die'

In honor of Umberto Eco's new book release, The Infinity of Lists, and the exhibition he curated which is currently on display at the Louvre, I am writing my first list on my blog.

My husband are finishing the paperwork to buy our first house (or rather flat, in typical Italian living style). Since we have been renting a furnished apartment, now we need to buy EVERYTHING new. Here goes the basic list:

Coffee table
Dining room table
Light fixtures
Full kitchen with appliances
Washing machine
Bedroom set
Wardrobes: at least 2
Shelving for house and garage
Chest of drawers
Desk for study
Bathroom sink
Curtains for all rooms
Throw rugs
New door with lock

It feels quite overwhelming and the choices are limited given our small budget. I don't know how much I want my house to look like it's out of an IKEA catalogue.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sweet Carnival Tra Breve

The signs are popping up across town.

-at the bakery-
-at the pastry shop-

*Galani* or *Crostoli*

Fried wonders with sugar and sometimes cream remind us that Carnival is coming. For now, just our tastebuds get the thrill.

Soon the rest will come!

Image from blogdolci

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Finding my Hidden Pulse for Mountaineering

As a little girl growing up in Baltimore, USA, I would have never told you that I was interested in becoming a mountaineer. Yet here I am at 34, scaling mountains in heat, ice and snow in the Alps.
This hobby exemplifies the surprising twists a life can take, especially by changing countries. Even though I could have moved to a place like Colorado from my own country, in Italy, the mountains became accessible by accident. I moved to the Veneto for cultural and personal reasons and I found not only cities of great historic interest like Venice and Padua, but also a nearby seaside on the Adriatic and mountain area, the Dolomites and Italian Alps.
In the USA, I would have needed to choose a completely mountain life in the move to a place like the Rockies.
My Italian husband first introduced me to hiking in the Dolomites. Those initial hikes were surprisingly steep and difficult yet I saw even elderly Italians easily walking up the rock trails so I made sure that I could do the same. After all, I was in my mid-twenties at the time! Once at the top, the views were spectacular and made the fatigue worthwhile. I enjoyed the direct contact with the magficient towers of nature which turned rosy at sunset. I found my mind would be cleared of everyday stress from jobs and city life while hiking. My husband and I started to walk higher and higher. Soon I leared how to climb ferratas, with the assistance of steel wire and ladders bolted into the mountainside. We began to hit the BIG peaks of Monte Civetta and the Marmolada, which includes a glacier. That was the first time I put on crampons.

Photo: Pisciad├╣ ferrata outside of Cortina (2006)

Photo: The peak of Marmolada, 3445 meters (2006) with husband and another couple, S and R

To round off the experience, rock climbing was included in the new bag of techniques to learn and utilize in the Alps. Through a course we took last year, we discovered nearby rock faces and natural outdoor gyms such as Rocca Pendice in the Euganean Hills and started scaling them, too.

Photo: Piccolo Torre Falzarego (2009)

Unbelievably, despite having broken both bones in my left forearm twice in my twenties, I can actually rock climb. Who would have known?

Our rock climbing teacher and alpine guide, Andrea, mentioned a course that he was teaching on Monte Rosa that summer. We decided to join another couple and do the experience, practicing our mountaineering abilities on a higher and even more famous mountain and learning new techniques for snow and ice. Among other things, I learned 8 knots, understood how the materials work such as ice axes and ice nails and pretended to fall and save people in a glacier crevace. I found myself hiking and rock climbing on the second tallest mountain in Europe just this past summer.

Photo: left: faking having fallen into a glacier crevace while my husband practices saving me; right: learning pirolet traction with my husband as my sicura (Monte Rosa, July 2009)

That's what I get for moving to the Veneto: I'm now a alpinist.

Funny how things work out.

Photo: Ferrata Merlone (2006)

Top post photo: Along the hike to Mulaz (2005)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sweat and Sweets

I belong to a little health club called Palestra Synergym in town. They've managed to cram a full set of exercise machines, weight room and aerobics space in the tiniest athletic complex I've ever seen. At rush hour, which is between 6-7:30 p.m. on weekdays, we are packed in like sardines. However I love it there anyway. Where else would I be able to finish off a work out with a glass of prosecco and some cookies? Yes, this is possible when someone has a birthday. They bring sweets and sparkling wine for everyone to enjoy! The owners and clients are all friends. It's like an extended family at this palestra.

It may seem to be a contradiction to be eating fatty foods and alcohol in a gym setting, a place that it supposed to be wholly concentrated on your physical well-being. Italians are great when it comes to moderation in this regard. The gym-goers are not as "obsessed" with their workout schedule and regime as many Americans are. They balance the exercise with fun, which might include "devilish" foods or the occasional cigarette.

On the other hand, when I am in the states, I go to Bally's health club and witness a lot of exaggeration with women spending 2 1/2 hours straight doing aerobics, running on machines and pumping weights. A lot of the men are too muscular for my tastes, too. Some of them have trouble walking normally from the bulging muscles developed in their thighs, for example.

Back in Italy, I also come across the following situation at the gym: before and after an aerobics class, the women are exchanging recipes for sweets and favorite dinner plates. They are freely talking about lovely food while sweating away some of those future calories.

It's another case of those little differences lived in this different country.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Here's a shout-out for a very happy 3rd birthday for! The helpful and informative website features articles, blog rolls, advice, success stories, useful links and more.

Today, I am enjoying an article by life-coach Piercarla Garusi discussing the pursuit of happiness abroad. It makes me remember how when I was living in the US, I was constantly talking about Italy and my experiences here. Then I decided to take the big leap and come here permanently. Surprises followed but here I still am 10 years later!

As we say in Italy, buon compleanno!

To visit's home page, click here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

American Voting Pride

I just love being American when I get my absentee ballot notice 9 months in advance. Yes, today I received an address form to fill out which will ensure that my US state election office sends me this year's election ballot on time and to the right place. They are not even legally obliged to send out this kind of announcement, yet they do.

They noticed in their records that I voted for the 2008 elections and thought I may still be abroad so they sent me this probe. I will complete the form, send it back in the mail and am assured that I can easily participate in September and November's voting. It exemplifies real satisfaction towards American efficiency.

This would never happen for an Italian abroad. They were only recently lucky to get even the ability to vote while abroad, finally granted in 2001. (Meanwhile Italians still cannot vote with an absentee status when residing anywhere in their country, even if it is at the other end of it, i.e. a Sicilian living in Milan! This means they have to go "home" if they want to vote where they are residents.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Welcome to the World of Holiday Cleaning

In Italy, just about the whole country goes on holiday for two full weeks between Christmas and the Epiphany. The kids are elated they don't have school and the adults are happy to catch up on sleep, eat and drink a lot, ski and maybe get some travelling in during the vacation dates they carve out for the themselves.

It is a time that signifies family and reunion. Many of the Italian families gather in large extended clans over a big dinner table for Christmas Day, Eve or Saint Stephen's Day, 26 December. It has the feeling of Thanksgiving with the added element of Jesus Christ's arrival, Santa Claus' gift delivery service and ends with a witch, the Befana, being burned over a bonfire.

However there is another aspect to this holiday season that I would like to mention: the fact that the house help goes on holiday, too. My middle-aged clients and friends were complaining about how much "work" they had while not strictly working. What do they mean? These women did what their paid service normally accomplishes during the rest of the year: clean, iron and do the grocery shopping. These lawyers, doctors, teachers, etc. were shocked by the mundane aspects of life. You see, the staff of house assistants very often go home to their native countries at Christmas time or simply refuse to work during the holidays.

These career women I know couldn't wait for life to get back to "normal" at the conclusion of the holidays so they could avoid the everyday chores of their own houses. It's amazing to me how many of them do not do these rather "normal" duties, in my opinion.

It must be nice to only clean 2-3 weeks a year and not 2-3 days/week all-year long! (I am writing this post after having cleaned the oven and mopped the floors only hours before it started to rain, when the dog made them muddy again.)

Meanwhile for interesting statistics relating to the Italians who do clean, and of course they number many, there's an informative article at An Expatriate in Rapallo.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sales Season: The New Headline

Buon 2010!

The new year started with a bang, lots of rain/snow and now we are in the midst of the official sales season. For many cities, the official opening was the second day of the new year.

How can it be that every TV channel, radio station and newspaper make headline news of the sales season? I heard a report yesterday that there were lines lasting one hour to enter the outlets that have sprouted off of the highways around the country. Lines also have formed outside of the classic stores in the big cities like Rome and Milan. The news tells us how each family will spend about Euro 300/person on various clothing and sundries.

I thought Americans were crazy about sales, but the Italians may have beaten us at that game or are keeping in toe.

Many Italians are even flying to cities like New York just to take advantage of the great exchange rate (about $1.50= Euro 1) and go on a shopping extravaganza. Forget culture. Travel is for shopping!

What upsets me about many stores and their sales season is that they provide different merchandise when the signs advertise "30% off". I was once sold linens of an inferior quality that had been sent to the store only to be sold during the sales season. That wasn't a sale. That was just selling cheaper merchandise. I found out about this practice after the fact because I hadn't previously compared the before and after sale quality of the product.

Or there is the other trick: raise the original price 30% so your "sale" ticket seems like a good deal after the advertised discount. That ploy was discovered by the friendly journalists at Il Mattino di Padova last year regarding shoes in some upscale shops in the city center. How many other shops do the same, I wonder?

What I did find interesting this year was the introduction of 20% of certain items the week before the sales season, from Christmas to New Year's.

If you can wait and don't really need to buy anything at the moment, I suggest holding out until the sales discount becomes 50% in February. However you may not find the size or color you want.