Friday, June 18, 2010

Ilaria, Beer and Soccer

One of the official sponsors of the World Cup 2010 in South Africa is Budweiser Brewing Company. They are currently broadcasting a reality TV show, BudHouse, for the duration of the championship with one person representing each country that is playing in this year's competition. During the Modiali, they all live together, watch the games together, talk about soccer, meet the famous athletes and do odd and different things in South Africa, such as riding an ostrich.

I was curious about this house of people and who Bud chose to put inside. A woman named Ilaria was chosen as the Italian participant.

Italy is reigning world champion, but who knows if the title will be defended this summer. We do know that they dominated their first game against Paraguay, but the final score was 1-1. The other traditionally strong teams like Spain and Germany are not performing as well as expected. Brazil will be one to watch, of course.

For now, Italy is in a fairly easy girone (group) so they should make it to the finals without much of a problem. It has to now beat Slovakia and New Zealand in its assigned Group F.

Click here for a YouTube segment of BudHouse after watching Italy play its first game. There really seems to be a reality show for everything nowadays!

At our house, F decided to get us a little keg to drink during the first game. It sure wasn't Budweiser, thank goodness.

Next game: Italy vs. Slovakia at 4 p.m. Italian time on Sunday, June 20.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Scooter Reality Below

Just a note to call attention to my newest post, which got published as an "older" one below. Click here for my reflections on life on two wheels in the Veneto.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fresh Milk

Recently, milk distributors have sprung up around town to allow individuals to buy milk directly from the makers. It's a wonderful project that has become even more important, considering the latest news about Italian milk production.

This is the one I go to in Camin, managed by a farm in Villa del Conte, north of the city. For 1 Euro, you get a liter of fresh, unpastorized milk. That's 20% less than prices available at the supermarket and some people prefer the lack of pastorizing treatment, which takes some properties away from the milk. The Italians call it latte crudo (raw milk) It definitely has a fuller, thicker taste.

Just drop a coin into the machine and the window opens. Cute "milk" music begins playing as a woman's voice instructs you on how to proceed in getting the milk into your bottle. After the requested milk amount comes out, the window automatically closes and the space self-cleans with water inside. Outside, they have provided paper towels in case you need to wipe your hands or bottle. They have even thought about helping those who came without their own bottle to recycle: you can buy a plastic or glass one from the vending machine on the right. Other milk-based products are available, too, such as yoghurt.

A famous television news magazine, Anno Zero, dedicated its last episode of the season to the milk crisis in Italy. Last week's Padania al Verde showed how Italian milk farmers are being paid too little for their milk to stay in business while thousands of gallons of milk destined for the Italian market are coming from Germany and countries in Eastern Europe, as well as evidence that powdered milk is being watered down and mixed with fresh milk. The show also called for reflection about hazardous breeding has led to cows that produce too much milk a day to maintain their health and live a long life. (Click here to watch the recording online.)

Basically, after seeing the show, I never want to buy milk again from the big companies and want to stay clear of the long-lasting milk, which mostly uses the foreign milk. (Latte a lunga conservazione is a milk product that can be stored at room temperature until the container is opened and lasts longer in the fridge than regular milk.)

So, I'm cleaning up my glass bottle, hopping on my moped and filling up with fresh, creamy, local milk.

For a map of latte crudo distributors in the Padua area, go here. The site also has more detailed information about the milk and its characteristics.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Snag in the Joy

Local tradition dictates that on the last day of school, this year June 9, the students jump in the fountain in Prato della Valle. This year was no exception. Teenagers started to play in the water in Padua's most famous and one of Europe's largest squares. In fact, the fountain is located at the center of Isola Memmia within the square, as they call it.

However this year the medics had to come on the scene and help some injured people. In all of the joy of the event, things got rough when the city decided to send in the police to drain the water while the students were in the fountain. The students didn't want to stop the party. In the end a few got thrown onto the solid marble, probably by overly enthusiastic friends, and 3 ended up even in the hospital with serious injuries.

Now, 2 days later, the fountain is still not running, despite plenty of Padana heat. It is surrounded by temporary barriers.

Honestly, I blame the administration for trying to squelch the fun. Let's let kids be physically excited about the end of school, please! It's like we are afraid of anything out of the normal day-to-day routine of life. Let's live a little more people, or rather, popolo (as a certain political party would say here).

The above picture of the running fountain was found on Internet, and obviously comes from the winter season, since the trees still don't have leaves. (Piero Tasso, January 2006, Creative Commons)

Italian TGPadova article here.

Scooter Reality

After 3000 km and an entire winter's experience behind me, I now get the full thrill of having a scooter to ride around Padua.

Feeling cool air rush over your skin while the sun beats down is a great summer benefit that a moped provides. I can also dart past long lines of cars stuck waiting at city traffic lights. My skinny transport machine allows me to stealthily weave in and out of slow traffic, too. Driving becomes a faster and cooler pursuit with a scooter. The hair that sticks out of the bottom of my helmet jumps around in a frenetic dance.

We bought our first moped in October. Too bad it was the beginning of the cold and rainy season.

The winds and rain can really pound, especially when going 40 mph. I had never felt a raindrop hurt before having to travel to some work locations outside of town during heavy showers. The innocent water turned aggressive as it crashed against my cheeks at near-freezing temps. Many Italians don't even use their scooters during the winter because of the chill factor and inconvenience but since ours was new, we just had to start using it! For next winter, I will be prepared with a full face helmet. The "zip" version (as they call it in Italian: open face, in English) I currently have is convenient because it fits under the sella (seat), which is necessary when the bauletto (carrier) is filled by my husband's helmet. This is necessary when we ride around together. However, the open face helmet only covers half of your head. Air easily whips under the visor and rips across your cheeks, nose and chin. What I need to cover my head completely is called integrale in Italian.

I am lucky that I already had rainproof alpine outer-clothing. That apparel now doubles as urban rain gear for the moped: jacket, pants and gloves.

During the first few months, I also had to get used to pushing around the weight of the scooter: 115 kg (250 lbs). Parking it, reversing, and moving it when the engine is off are typical moments when you have to manoeuvre its full weight. The bike even fell a couple of times, luckily on grass, while I was getting the hang of shifting its mass.

As for other aspects of driving, it can get a bit dangerous to do so when the schools let out. All the teenage drivers hit the roads at the same time with "Fast and Furious" on their minds. You risk getting swarmed by them, your machine enveloped in a madly nervous buzzing cloud of other scooters.

Having a moped makes it now easy for my husband and I to get into the downtown city for a night out, a single drink or a quick shopping jaunt. We used to have to park the car and walk about 10 minutes to get to our usual haunts. Now we can park literally in front of them.

My teenage students seem to have a new respect for me, the American who now rides a moped like them. They were so cute when they saw me with it for the first time. They sounded like their parents when they said, "Be careful."

In some ways, you're not completely Italianized until you've driven a scooter in Italy. And this, I have finally tasted over a decade after arriving here.

A dear picture of me from my first day with the brand new bike in October:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Over the Top in Newness

I've never had so many new things at once.

I moved into a house last month that my husband and I bought, after 6 years of renting fully furnished apartments. In Italy, the rentals normally come with furniture; yet once you buy, you need to get EVERYTHING from normal furniture such as sofas and beds to bathroom sets, light fixtures, curtains, rods and all appliances.

We could have used the old kitchen, from the former tenants, but my last post showed you why that was not an option for us.

So we embarqued on a crazy shopping spree. Trying to critically decide on best value for your money on every single item needed in a new house, all at the same time, was torture. Washing machines, dishwashers, oven, lights, sofas, beds, mattresses, wardrobes and more: all purchased in 30 days or less.

Eventually everything was bought and installed and assembled, some by us, and some by professionals. But then we had to learn how to use all the stuff! The appliances had strange light sequences and odd cycles that we weren't familiar with. For example, the washing machine basically gets "turned on" twice, by 2 separate buttons.

In addition, we weren't very experienced with all of these contraptions. F had never had a dishwasher in his tiny house while growing up in Venice, and I hadn't used one seriously since I left the States in 1993. The technology has changed. The products and instructions are different. We were reading manuals and getting depressed at night because we would discover we didn't have certain materials to allow us to use the machines properly, especially for the first time: e.g. special dishwasher salt. So then another day or two would go by and we still didn't know if the machines even worked! That's what you get for only being able to read manuals after the shops close at 8 p.m., after a long day of work.

Then there is the oven mystery: why is there an "extra" metal piece when the oven has supposedly been put together and installed? It seems to work fine without this certain piece but we should probably use it anyway. The problem is that it probably needs to go in the very back of the oven, which is now well sealed off by cabinets and floorboards.

The complications of newness made me think about how seemingly different this experience would have been in the US. My husband and I would have met and moved in together with our old furniture from previous apartments, some dating back to the first move while in college which included rummaging through the second-hand stores and Salvation Army. We would have taken the good old stuff and chosen to buy only certain new things based on finances, space and necessity. Here, it feels like all or nothing. Before I owned nothing. Now I own everything. And it's all new!

Funny thing is that most Italians gut their newly-acquired property even more than we did, only focusing on the kitchen and a few fixtures in the bathroom. Italians typically walk into completely, spankin' new digs with fresh flooring everywhere, new wood, new doors, often new walls and plaster and paint, not to mention brand new furniture, even when their building may be over 300 years old! They usually take 6 months to 2 years to accomplish this mission. Now much of this can happen because so many Italians never rent property. They go from their family's house to their fancy remodelled house, maybe just after coming back from their honeymoon. Often both sides of the family pitch in to help with the high costs and the rest was saved by the couple by years of not renting while working. It's all very traditional and formal, in many ways.

In the end, we have accepted much of the "old" house elements like groovy '70s tiling for most of the flooring (will display soon) but changed what bothered us most, while also being forced to buy all our furniture at once. You could say we did our move and remodelling with a mixture of Italian and American mentality.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Debut of the New Kitchen

The kitchen was the largest project to improve our new house, built in 1971, before moving in. Since we thought both the old kitchen in-place and the tiles were awful, we gutted it all.

We started with this in February:

After the first phase of gutting all the wall and floor tiling:

Then the new tiles were installed after a week: white for the walls and grey for the floor:

Model: Satchmo

Finally the black and steel kitchen set was installed:

The best part about the remodelled kitchen is that it includes a dishwasher. It took me about 10 years to get one since all my other apartment situations were too small to accomodate one or I lived with people, mostly students, who were not interested in installing a dishwasher. No one cooked enough to feel the need for it.

The dishwasher is such a great appliance! So many precious minutes of evening time can now be spent in a different activity, other than doing the dishes. I have a new appreciation for this machine which helped in the women's liberation movement.

Don't get me wrong. My husband did the dishes too, but not as often as me.

We are enjoying cooking in a new and modern way in our new kitchen.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Job Offer

I have been teaching Italian teens for years. Some of them complain that they cannot find work, even when they are of legal age, 18 in this country. It often comes up in a conversation about how industrious American adolescents are and how they work throughout high school and college.

Usually the problem stems from age and contracts; there isn't enough work to go around in Italy even for the adults, so teens don't get included in the mix.

I was caught off-guard this week in my new neighborhood by a girl, who I think is about 14 years old. As soon as she saw me walking my dog, she came to her house's gate, pet my dog for exactly 5 seconds and then offered her services as a dog-sitter, should I ever be interested. Honestly, I barely knew how to react. I wasn't used to this kind of entrepeneurship by such a young girl in this country. I had never met her before. She didn't know my dog, unless she had met him on a walk with my husband. It did explain why I had seen some older ladies in the same house eying me from the terrace as I passed by the house at other times. Maybe they had been scouting me as potential new customer for the adolescent/family side business.

In the end I said, "Grazie e buona sapersi (good to know)."