Thursday, July 29, 2010

Impressive Recycling

The recycling system is one aspect of the new surburb where I live, just outside of Padua, that has been most noticeable. Its autonomous government administration takes recycling very seriously.

Things were a bit different in Padua. I used to just take my recycling bucket to the two giant bins that asked me to divide into the following categories: yellow for paper products and blue for tins, plastic and glass. Sometimes there was also a small brown bin for umido (organic waste). Then at a nearby spot, you could open the big metal trash bins for all other non-recyclable trash. The plastic bins, especially for paper, would get emptied about once every 2 weeks and you hoped that the bin wasn't already overflowing 5 days before the trucks came by.

A picture from a former post:

Now in Noventa, I've been presented with a near rainbow of recycle bins.
YELLOW for paper
ORANGE for plastic
BLUE for tins, cans and glass
GRAY for non-recylables
GREEN for organic
BROWN for grass and plant clippings

I don't understand why everything is colored differently except the 2 blue and gray containers that almost look the same color, especially after dark. You need to read the fine print on the bin to understand the difference. Did they run out of available colors? What about trendy purple, for example? The tins could go there.

Anyway, they are all lined up at the foot of my building or hidden within the property of each of my neighbors' individual houses. You have to put the correct bins out on the right days, according to the official calendar provided by the city. This is nothing different from many American towns, I presume. But there is barely enough space in the lousy 2 bins we have for the non-recyclables. This is especially when I consider I live with another 8 families. The paper bins get filled in record time, too, but we have 3 of them.

Not only do we have the above-listed divisions, but my new town has yet another category: bins for used diapers. There are so many young families brimming with children, and inevitably their thousands of pannolini (diapers), that you see these special containers dotting the municipality.

This system is in stark contrast to places like Naples, which had its citizens burning excess trash that was overflowing in the streets from the lack of pick-up at the normal city on-street trash bins. This was big news and considered a national disaster in 2008. Information also came out that very little recycling was done at all in that area, therefore aggravating the situation of general trash collection for the city. There was just too much trash and awful trash management (maybe due to the Naples' mafia involvement in waste removal?).

Meanwhile we are here in the Northeast, dividing and dragging out bins to the streets after dusk almost every night. So far F and I haven't had to do it for our building but we will be on duty for the whole month of September. That will be "fun", I'm sure. In the end, we'll be doing our civic duty.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hot US Celebs Buy Property in Northern Italy

It wasn't enough to only have one of the sexiest American men alive with a beautiful luxury villa in Italy since 2002. That is George Clooney, who has also been in the news over the last couple of years because of his romantic liason with Italian TV sweetheart Elisabetta Canalis. He bought Villa L'Oleandra in 2002 on Lake Como.

Now there is another sexy duo on the Italian scene--in Northern Italy! Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are reported to have recently bought a mega villa in the hills of Valpolicella, the region famous for its red wine of the same name. Paying a mere $40,000,000 their new abode includes a park, two swimming pools with waterfalls and jacuzzi tubs, a cinema room and a well-equipped gym. They have supposedly been in Italy for the last 10 months while Jolie has been working on the film, The Tourist in Venice. According to the property firm owner Alexander Proto, "They wanted something more exclusive and in record time to spend the summer vacation in Italy."

So Brad, Angelina and family, any plans to come to Padua soon?

Photo credits:
Clooney's villa: MailOnline
Clooney and Canalis:
Pitt and Jolie:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Local Headlines

This is the first in a new series of featured headlines from local newpapers. They go from funny to tragic.

Today's feature:

Il Mattino di Padova, front page story


A group of 20 boy and girl scouts based in Crespano del Grappa found out their tickets had never been purchased to go to Brazil. They found this out yesterday when they showed up at the airport, bags in hand. It is suspected that the Euro 15,000 they spent back in January for the July departure had just been pocketed by the travel agency's owner, Vito Barbieri. The scouts had planned a 20-day mission in the South American country.

Once the group and its organizers realized the truffa (scam), they promptly occupied the travel agency in Padua, where they had deposited their money. Despite spending all day there, no real answers were given.

Now the police are on Vito's tail.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Requests by Friends and Family as an Expat

It's not your normal affair. My guests come half way around the world. Very often they are on some sort of European tour and let me know they want to stop in Padua. Other times they come specifically to see me and this part of Italy for a longer stay. But that is just the point. The visit is heavily laden with touring on their minds. After all, they are on vacation for a week or more. They have a city, country or all of Europe to discover.

Meanwhile I am settled in this place. I have lived here for over twelve years now, off and on, and the last six have been steady in one city. I have a normal job with hours, clients and basically mandatory vacation time periods, just when the work naturally wanes. Officially I am freelance but it's quite a scam here in Italy--the freelance status, I mean. It's not as "free" as it is designed to be, especially in my field of teaching. (Maybe I'll do a post on it soon?)

This contrast is significant because it creates conflict between their desires and my capabilities. Most of the time, I am barely on vacation myself during their stay in Padua. I desperately want to enjoy their company but have the pressures of work, the money loss of not working if I do take off time to be with them, as well as house to cater to and husband to keep in the mix.

Every moment weighs heavily as I spend time with these beloved people. We haven't seen each other for between 6 months and 3 years. Everything should be perfect as we spend time together since we haven't seen each other for so long and won't see each other again for quite a while, most likely. Meanwhile I am well as seeing them.

It's out of the question to be in a bad mood or talk poorly about anything. Those words get imprinted forever by these special listeners, who have come from across the ocean.

I try to be a tour guide. I do love talking about the places I know well. I am even good at it. However it can get tiring. I am often visiting what I have seen many times before. My friends and family rely on me to prepare many, many aspects of their trip. They are often timid about making reservations and plans themselves for fear of a language or cultural problem. Irene can do it so much more easily, right? I usually help, but it goes beyond my normal relationship as friend or family. Since when does an American friend ask you to put together hotel accomodations, tours and travel tips when you want to visit San Francisco or Santa Fe? Can't the guide books help out with 80% of that, if not more? But in a foreign country, these requests just seem normal for the American to ask of me. Meanwhile I haven't visited some of the places on their tour for 5-10 years because they are in distant regions from me in Northeast Italy.

Or then there are those who get the information about possible hotels, for example, and then don't use it. Of course, that's their right but it sure makes my effort feel insignificant and not particularly appreciated.

What bothers me most is the pressure to make everything perfect. I have to be "on" all the time. I wish the visitors could better understand that the imperfections don't have to be indelible. Sometimes, they are just witnessing temporary lapses of an expat that is experiencing her regular life with special guests while their visit may be during the vacation of a lifetime.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mysterious Identity

It was another walk around the neighborhood, but this time, there was a mystery animal to meet. My dog got instantly curious when he happened to see this curious robot, which is about the size of a medium dog but quite silent as it rolls around the lawn and cuts grass.

Automation is the new frontier in Noventa's lawn grooming. You don't have to push or even sit on a machine to do it. Just set the robot on the grass and let it do all the work. These were pictures taken at dinner time. I could hear the plates clanking in the background while the black robot was at work.

The dog has since remembered the strange being at this house and jumps up to look for it every time we pass by. His doggie brain can't get around this human invention. He was expecting it to bark but it never did. It just rolled on.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Extreme Hot Hits ... living room bedroom

It's been incredibly hot this week and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. I know it's July but this is getting out of hand.

We're at the point that the computer is not working properly due to excess heat. We already serviced it, only to find out that nothing seems to be wrong with it....except the Paduan heat. The dog can do nothing but pant and sprawl out across the tiled floors in the hopes of keeping his naturally hot doggie body temperature as low as possible.

On that note, when we went to take the dog to the vet 2 days ago, by the time the vet saw the dog, he was suffering from a doggie fever caused by the heat and excitement of waiting around too many other dogs. His temperature was 2°C above normal. The vet then promptly refused to administer the routine shots we had come for. We are hoping for better results tomorrow morning when we do the same thing again, but this time in the morning by appointment, which was a small feat to get from this particular vet.

Fans are distributed throughout the house and rotated as we move through the spaces and rooms. At night, 2 are blasting on either side of the master bed. I have given up on wearing clothing at night. Nothing is cool enough! And forget sheets. They just absorb the sweat!

The lights are kept low. Blinds are kept down all day. We even shut some doors during the afternoon to keep more heat from seeping in. The windows are only open wide from about 10 p.m. to midnight, when the heat finally wanes.

Our terrace walls are so hot during the day and much of the evening that we could roast meat on them for a barbeque.

The sky is white from haze that appears as early as 9 in the morning now.

We average 2 or 3 showers a day to try to stay cool and sane. The dog is having one a day as a "refresher", otherwise we think he might explode.

We are starting to invent any and every way to stay away from home at night when inside is hotter than outside: open air film festivals, air conditioned pizzerie or restaurants, bars with outdoor seating and late-night superstore shopping with climate contol.

Luckily, in a couple of weeks we will escape to the mountains while other friends and fellow Paduans will hit the beaches.

Meanwhile, the dog days of summer have our dog a pezzi (literally "in pieces").

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Color Match

Any orange would not do. If is was too bright, it would overpower the tiles and make them look drab. If it was too dark it would make the room feel heavy and gloomy. But too light and it would come out looking like peach, right?

What were we to do? Exactly this kind of questioning accompanied our thinking as F and I tried to come up with a solution to a new living room, while keeping existing flooring.

The house came with groovy tiling. At first we just about hated it but finances kept us from ripping it up like we did for the kitchen. After all, the endless spending had to stop somewhere. We decided to embrace the pattern and color choices instead. However, getting a suitable color to go with it proved to be a challenge.

The sofa and wood furniture were easy: go with brown fabric and dark wood. On the other hand, the wall was the battlefield. I didn't want all white which is such a plain solution that would look horrible with the tiles, as I had seen when I visited the house with the real estate agent. F and I agreed that an orange wall or area could be the solution, but then we ran into all those questions about which color of orange.

Additionally frustrating are color memory and sample factors. Memory alone does not help when choosing a paint color for a delicate home remodelling situation while physically choosing it in a hardware store. You can't remember the nuances of tone and hue of your original. Bringing a digital photo, in the camera or printed, does not really help either because the photo process changes the colors too much for them to be reliable color samples. In my case, the camera adds a blue tinge to everything so the tiling colors don't seem as warm as they are in reality. In the end, I painted myself a true color copy of the tiles which I took to the store to select the paint. I am lucky enough to have painted for most of my life and know how to copy exact colors, but this would be an almost impossible feat for some people.

So then I got to the point of checking potential oranges to match against my watercolor tile sample. Since the colors from the sample book were 0.5 cm tall and 2 cm wide, it added to the challenge. I had to imagine that tiny spec of color from the book projected 2.5 m high and on 2 walls! After an hour of looking, making a list of semi-finalist oranges until I got to the finalists which were 2 colori di arancione, I ordered my 1 liter sample buckets of each and went to the new house (in the pouring rain) to paint some big swatches of the colors directly onto the wall, for better effect. I was doing this the night before I was leaving for 2 weeks in the US, in which the painter would be completely painting the new house in Padua. I had to instruct him on what color to buy before leaving and I couldn't trust F to do. I let the paint dry overnight and F drove me by the new house on the way to the airport so we could look at the dried paint color and make a decision together. The softer orange hue was the winner.

Peach was it. Luckily, it doesn't feel like peach in the context of the final furnished room.

Here are some other computer-generated color combinations I experimented with along the way.

The final paint job with a custom-made sofa and retro crystal and metal coffee table. Model is Satchmo, as usual.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Wedding Bells

That time of year is temporarily closing. That is, the wedding season in Italy. The favorite months to tie the knot are May, June and September. July and August are considered a bit too sticky to be comfortable for the sposi (bride and groom), friends and family, although a few brave souls do sweat out their ceremonies during those high-summer months.

Above is my neighborhood's announcement about the marriage between Erika and Gennaro on June 19th. Italian tradition has the friends of the bride and groom, on the wedding day, make posters that are stuck around town on any and all surfaces: poles, plastic street bins, phone booths, street signs and more. This way everyone knows about who's getting hitched. The posters are often whimsical. White bows are placed on the couple's house and car as further status indicators. The bows on the car seem to stay there for about a month afterward, as a mobile declaration to everyone that the person (especially for the woman) has gotten married. Copies of this poster are still sticking to many places, even though 3 weeks have gone by and water has damaged some of them to the point that they are grey and red washes of color on standard white A4 paper. The picture below shows one poster in better condition but overpowered in importance by the street sign.

As for the house bows, I remember that mine were put up on our wedding day by our neighbors/landlords. By the time we got back from our 2-week honeymoon, the bows had turned grey from the local air pollution so I took them down. Basically the bows were there for as long as we weren't physically in the house.

Another thing friends often do on the wedding day is spray paint a message to the bride and groom on the street outside of their house. It could be something like, "You finally did it!" or "Do you want to look back now before it's too late?" A lot of Italians believe their life is basically over, or at least the fun part, when they get married. Perhaps that explains why they never seems to be under 30 before they make their union official.

Thanks to the bows and wedding signs, now I know the names of two neighbors who live across the street from me, although they know nothing about me.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Amanda Knox Conviction

A fellow expat blogger, Michelle, has read the 400+ published notes produced by the Italian courts referring to the contested Amanda Knox conviction and summarized the information along with her own comments about the case on this post on her Bleeding Espresso blog. Since many Americans were heavily questioning me on the case during my last visit to the US in March, I would like to refer them to this informative update from the Italian system's viewpoint, which had little coverage by the US media for obvious reasons. I did not know about several points until reading her post, despite having witnessed the media bonanza over the few years. My only point that differs from Michelle is the amount of Italian attention that was given to the case. I believe many Italians were focusing on it, rather constantly.

Several key pieces of evidence and problems with alibi are outlined in Michelle's post, including DNA and evidence of early morning phone calls and computer use by Sollecito, the boyfriend, which Knox did not cite in her testimony. This meant that she probably wasn't at his house at the time, as stated to police.

I think the motivazioni della sentenza will be very interesting to read for you, especially my American readers.

Terribly Mistaken

And I thought the national Italian soccer team would easily pass to the second round of World Cup Finals. How wrong was I!

From reigning world champions, four years later, Italy has left South Africa ashamed and embarrassed after a final defeat in Group F against Slovakia: 2-3.

In that last game, the Italians only seemed to wake up and even attempt to win in the last ten minutes. Real pressure on the Slovakia goal area happened at the very end. Some problems could be explained because there were a couple key players like the goalie, Buffon, and midfielder, Pirlo, who could not play at all or only for a short time due to injuries. Maybe the coach, Lippi, made a mistake in his original invitations of who should play at these events. For example, Casson, a brilliant young striker was not invited to participate on the national team. He possibly could have scored that much-needed goal that might have tied the game and allowed Italy to move on to the next round. In the end for the Italians, there was a general lackadaisical approach to playing soccer, while the other teams couldn't wait to beat Italy. And they did.

That Thursday match, on June 24, witnessed most of Italy at a standstill. Businesses were all but closed. Everyone was in front of a TV monitor. My neighbors had a party with the husband's friends, all home from work and in the back yard even though it was 4 p.m.

As a funny anecdote, I had to call the phone company that day about a recent bill. Since I called them during the game, I was connected to an operator immediately! This had never happened while living in Italy. I always have to wait at least 5 minutes to talk to someone. Obviously that day, I was benefiting from the fact that the entire country was glued to their TV and not thinking about mundane things like phone service.

Anyway, World Cup dreams have crashed to a depressing end. Italy's head coach, Lippi is getting hassled by reporters back in Italy while trying to be on vacation after the defeat. Italians were now rooting for Ghana, until they were defeated yesterday by Uruguay. Holland is really kicking butt, even beating Brazil. All the usually big players are basically out of the World Cup scene at this point, save Germany. Who will win this 2010 edition? We're coming down the home stretch. Finals are on July 11th. Stay tuned, but alas without Italian players on the field.