Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

This time, the greetings for a Merry Christmas are coming from the US. I am here for this holiday for the first time in eight years. The lights are fantastic to see, outlining the houses and decorating trees and bushes in the suburban wonderland. I've even had the thrill of witnesses the terrific and alternatively kitsch and creative Christmas light display called Miracle at 34th Street in Baltimore, a famous local event.

My project this visit has also been to dismantle my entire studio and former bedroom for good. No more clothing remnants. No more art supplies or paintings to leave tucked in a drawer or piled on a table. This is full and total closure. It's time I do it but its finality is strong.

I am opening a new chapter of my life in Italy with a new project of remodelling being finished in the mountain house that is part of my husband's family. There is also new work scheduled for our condominium soon.

I am closing one door as another is evolving, if not opening.

The night before the Epiphany, January 5th, in some areas of Italy, you burn all the excess and symbolically the negative aspects from the previous year to get ready for the new one. The objects burn in a big bonfire. See this post as reference. In Baltimore now and several days earlier and not necessarily on a negative note, I am not burning but throwing away massive amounts of my past. Twenty year of it to be precise. May this be a good omen.

Auguri a tutti!
Merry Christmas to everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Before I Hear About the Festivities

I just finished a full day of work. Now I remember that tomorrow is Thanksgiving for the Americans. I am about to open up my Facebook account and I know I will see a long list of posts related to turkey, the holiday and maybe even football references.

It's strange knowing that I will work a long day tomorrow. I won't be on vacation. Thanksgiving is going to wait until Saturday at my house. (There will be turkey, some sort of cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.)

I have lived abroad for over a decade and this sensation is still strange. Knowing that people are celebrating and I am not.

This is part of the package of being an expat. On the upside, I will get my birthday off: December 8th. That's something the Americans don't celebrate unless they are Catholic. And even then, they go to work like everybody else and just go to mass in the evening.

I'll get a long weekend this year here in Italy--il ponte dell'Immaculata.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bang Bang

If you look carefully, the blood becomes bats.

Taken from a column under the porticos on Via Roma near the Tabacconist
at the beginning of the street.

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Other Project on the Blogosphere

I mentioned before that I have been kept away from An American in Padua for a while because of a project that had been lurking in the corners of my TO DO list for years. Well, I started it in September. It's a blog/showcase of contemporary art in Northeast Italy called NE-ARTE.

This blog is meant to feature the art of the this part of the country for a local and international audience, being written in Italian and English. This is especially important to me since I am a contemporary artist myself, when not blogging or teaching.

I also hope to see NE-ARTE become a valid community for the region with its artists, curators, gallery owners, art collectors and enthusiasts.

If you would like to be part of its followers and/or community, please click here.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New Blog on the Block

There's a new blog featuring a woman's view on the city of Padua. It's called Galline Padovane and written by Cristina, an Italian who is passionate about Padova and writes her posts in both Italian and English. The name of the blog translates as "Paduan Hens"after the special local variety that is bred in this area.

She recently featured my blog on hers at this link. (Thank you, Cristina)

Now you can get more on the scoop here in town by checking "The Hens" out!

Desperate House Cleaners

While recovering from surgery, the house got progressively dirtier. F only did so much and I couldn't do anything on crutches, so I placed an ad on a local internet site for help cleaning the house: 2 hours once a week. Just enough to do some basic cleaning like vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom.

To my surprise, I got over 80 responses. The calls kept coming at all hours from early morning to evening and weekends, too. My mobile phone's battery was completely drained at the end of everyday by the sheer volume of telephone calls. The emails popped up in my box, one after another. Foreigners, Italians, women, men and girls. I got printable CVs! They were willing to drive 30 minutes to get to our house to clean for just 2 hours. They wanted to be interviewed immediately. I was absolutely shocked. Even the 45-year-old daughter of the family that lives door happened to mention that she saw the announcement, figured out that it was me, and asked for the job.

If anyone tells you that the economy is just fine here, they're wrong. There are thousands of people who are trying to make ends meet by cleaning. Young girls doing poorly-paid internships who need a little extra money. Women out of work. Mothers who wanted to do a little extra work when the kids are at school. Men who lost their jobs.

I am lucky that F and I have a job.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Fiat Fun

I have bought the quintessential car: the Fiat Punto.
Get a load of my scenery.
The car's not quite so fantastic.
10 years old
but only 40,000 miles
Gotta love Italian driving
=virtually no mileage

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Graffiti Continues

This life-size image can be found in the Ghetto on Via dell'Arco 44.

It depicts the custom of drinking heavily in this part of town, especially among the college students. Their favorite night out is Wednesday, when most of the bars, pubs and clubs have special "spritz" events dedicated to the city's most famous drink. Some get quite drunk. But overall, it's just a lot of young people in a small area of the medieval city, trying to have some fun.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Know I've Been Away

If you are still checking in, I know that I haven't posted for a long time.
Forgive me.
Here are a few updates.
The Smart car has been an experience, one that will finish on Saturday.
I am buying a "new" used car the same day.
My physical therapy continues everyday.
One hour a day.
My town started preparing for the big sagra yesterday: lights, metal frame structures are popping up all along the main road.
I still walk with a crutch.
I am back to full-time work.
I still walk up stairs with 2 feet on each step.
I have started in a new project, one that has been on the back burner for years. It's satisfying but takes away time from An American in Padua.
I can walk my dog, but only 3 houses down the street and then back home. Slowly.
The weather finally turned from hot to somewhat autumn, with night temps just about right for October.
Life has been busy.
Life marches on.
The seasons change.
I blog.
I don't blog.
I don't walk.
I walk.
Thinking of you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pull Out

Finally the last piece from surgery has come out of my leg today. It's called a "pull-out" (Italians use this word in English) and the doctors literally pulled its 10 cm out of my leg during a visit at the hospital today. I got the green light to start putting slight weight on my left foot.

It's such a satisfying moment.

After 2 months of hopping, crawling and walking with crutches and the leg up, I can start to feel a bit more normal as I move through my world. I even walked up the steps to my condo today. Those two floors of stairs were always a marathon to do before: hopping and trying to pass up and down my spare crutch to myself as I navigated them using one crutch and one hand firmly holding onto the railing, the only safe way to do stairs I found other than on my bottom.

I will also be able to take a regular shower and get my leg wet for the first time in two months.

It's the small things that become so exciting to get back after surgery.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Beautiful Thing on September 11, 2001

Since I live abroad, I didn't get quite as much of the publicity blitz regarding the build up to the anniversary of September 11th like most Americans stateside. I may be making a comment quite late according to the calendar's date, but I didn't feel I had very much to say or offer on this blog before today.

This is the story how I found out about the tragic events:

I was in Italy the day of the horrible event and saw the smoking towers from 40 television sets that were on display in the appliance store where I was buying a cell phone in Venice that day at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. You see, I was living in that city then. It was surreal to see that "absurd" picture repeated so many times across so many screens. Then I overhead some comments by the local salesman speaking in dialect to each other and realized that the images were something that was really happening. I had already made a special Internet appointment that day at one of the city libraries offering free access. (In those days, I didn't have my own computer or personal Internet access.) I remember being so happy and horrified as I got about 30 minutes of a email conversation in almost real time with people living in the New York area. Then the lines went dead, even my internet access to them. But I knew they were safe.

I found this video documentary about a heroic underbelly of action on the part of Americans that day in 2001. Boatlift chronicles the efforts of hundreds of boatmen who spontaneously evacuated lower Manhattan Island as the twin towers were smoking and continued after they fell. The men simply wanted to help others in need.

Una riflessione sull'undici settembre

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Quest for a Non-Stick Shift

I am forced to find a car to rent with an automatic transmission because I can't put any weight or pressure on my left leg for another month or more. This rental purchase has been no small feat.

The reason why I need a special car is because buses won't get me where I need to go. Even though Europe is known for better public transportation than in the US, my area is not one of the best examples of how the system should work. The Veneto consists of several small, medium and large centers that have vast areas of development between them, including residential areas and industrial parks. When you are travelling, it is really difficult to see where one city district ends and another one begins, for this reason. The people of the Veneto decided to build out and not up (like New York or even Lombardia and the example of Milan).

The problem is connecting all the dots from all of this development. The individual cities have only drafted connections going from main outskirt areas, all toward the downtown area: example--from Noventa to downtown Padua. This is fine for students who all pool into the city center area, but not often for professionals like me. I need to get from my house to the industrial area and then out to another suburban area on the other side of Padua, all on a typical work day. To do so with public transportation, I would find myself on 2 different bus lines with 2 different fees and ticket offices to get to each destination. In total at least 4 buses a day. Travel times can reach one and a half hours to go 15 miles just to get to one of these destinations. Needless to say, I cannot consider public transportation to get to work these days. But I can't drive my car either because it is a stick shift. It requires two working legs.

So began the quest for a rental to get me through my recovery period.

And do you think it's easy and reasonable to be looking for this service around here? Well, of course not. We're in Italy and just about anything other than locating great wine gets complicated.

After phoning 10 rental car agencies, I found most places with time limits of no more than a 29-day rental period. Those must be designed only with tourists in mind. Or the ones that require a long-term rental of 2 years or more, designed for company business cars. And all of them didn't have any low-end cars available with an automatic transmission. Only luxury cars like Mercedes and Audi could possibly fit my request. "Davvero?" I replied. If only I was paid more to afford a luxury car....

Why is it so impossible to find a car with a non-stick shift? I always knew it wasn't very popular here in Italy. but NOTHING? Come on!

Well, in the end I finally found and settled on a SMART car. It's the best deal I could get, while still quite expensive. I'll be picking up a black two-seater called FORTWO just 2 days after my cast comes off. People say it's really fun to drive. Maybe like a very fancy and powerful go-kart? I will finally get the thrill of driving a truly tiny European car, yet I never really was interested in that, but that's OK.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Waning Summer

It's time to get the last walks in under big green canopies of leaves. The weather is going to turn soon. For now, "Goodbye" stifling heat. We shout a welcome Arrivederci to the worst of summer's humidity.

The leaves will soon change color and fall. The Veneto fog will envelop us all come November. Let's enjoy what we still have of the soft side of late summer.

This is a view of a section of Noventa Padovana's Via Roma with its grand old trees.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sugarpulp: Contemporary Writing Culture

Two years ago, Sugarpulp was founded in Padua by a former colleague of mine. Now it's got hundreds of people behind its mission.

It's a hip, young group with a passion for reading and writing.

They're going "a bomba" (like crazy) these days.

Lexus car company has recently supported their mission by presenting this viral commercial which,

"...[produced in collaboration with Current TV] profiles people that embody the unconfined spirit of the new Lexus CT200H, people who see things differently to escape convention without compromising.

The Sugarpulp commercial features Matteo Righetto, an up-and-coming Italian novelist who successfully created in his hometown of Padova, a literary movement called Sugarpulp."

Take a look at the viral commercial (with Matteo's great, thick Italian accent) that highlights not only the literary group's mission, but also the city and countryside around Padua:

I'll soon be posting about their upcoming literary festival scheduled for the end of the month and featuring an international (and rather American) roster of names.

Sugarpulp's website

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Finished Cork Plate Debut

Well I finished that cork plate project. After writing a post about how hard it was to find real corks these days, even in Italy, the original gift-giver sent me another package from the states. This time it was full of corks her friend saved, including French and South American wines.

Although I cheated myself out of authentically showing only my own history of wine bottles that had passed through the house in my life with F, I do have a completed project in much less time.

It's definitely one big hot plate. For now, I have it hanging on the kitchen wall.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Italian Life in a Leg Cast

It's been 24 days since my operation. My stitches were taken out yesterday. The doctor says that everything is proceeding well. I still have two more weeks of life in a cast and another 25 days after that of life being every step=1 leg + 2 crutches. I'm at that horrible halfway point. I look back and say, "That was boring," or, "That was difficult." Now I have more of the same to look forward to.

I spent just under 3 weeks trapped in a house with a beautiful view. I spent the longest time ever of my personal history in the mountains with sunny weather, yet crippled. I watched the sun rise and set in a hot blue sky everyday except for two. Meanwhile I could only watch the good weather from the terrace. Sunbathing was the best I could do to enjoy the great weather. Now I have a tan only on my arms, chest and tummy: the classic sunning chair position.

This year's experience was especially ironic because I have been coming to this location in the Dolomites in August for a decade and this was the first year that it didn't rain for at least 60% of the vacation. Some years, the percentage hit 90%. Instead it was sunny EVERYDAY this time. It rained a couple of times, but it was either sunny before or after the storm.

Leaving that house proved extremely tricky and tiring because of the street outside. The house is located in the oldest part of town and has a narrow and steep walkway that is several yards up or down from the nearest parking area. It's part of the charm, but you always have to walk it. In snow. In ice. On crutches. Even as the mountain climber I have become in recent years, I was huffing and puffing after short distances of navigating the stone walkway carefully and very physically with crutches.

A view of the stone walkway accessing several houses in the Dolomite region

In total, after almost 3 weeks, I left the house 5 times.

Streets like this one are part of the marvel of Italy, but prove potentially hazardous when you are not physcially fit. It's why the bel paese is una sfida (a challenge) for anyone who is handicapped. I am lucky this condition is only temporary.

But do not dispair. If you do find that you have handicapped concerns while travelling in Italy, read this Slow Travel article for insight and useful links. As the author says, it's possible but you need patience and a good sense of humor. (I wish I had some of that right now.)

Currently I am back in Padua where the terrain is flat. My new challenge is accessing my condo which is a 2-floor walk-up.

Friday, August 26, 2011


I'm going to be extremely dangerous tomorrow.

I am going to be threat to the USA.

Am I a terrorist?

No, I am a hurricane.

But I am also Irene, your blogger, sweating through a Padua heatwave.

Over the past few days, as weather channels and services all across my home country announce the developments of a hurricane given my name, I have been steadily contacted by many friends and family. Some of them are facing what could be a disaster.

Here's a call in the hopes that "my" hurricane won't devastate another part of the country, USA, which is already suffering from severe draught and unprecedented Mississippi flooding this year. But looking at these forecasts, the outlook doesn't seem so nice.

Meanwhile in Padua, we have blazing sun that will continue through at least tomorrow. For our weather, click here.

Photo sources : Nasa and The Weather Channel

Monday, August 15, 2011

Have a Nice Vacation

And vacation it is!

Italy is officially on vacation. Today, Ferragosto, is the day when all Italians "should" be on vacation. And most of them are. Either at the beach (70%), in the mountains (15,7%) or in some foreign place, the USA being on their favorite destinations in recent years (10%). (The strong Euro against the dollar makes their US vacations cost-effective.) 33 million Italians are on vacation this summer, which is 55% of the population.

Some things have changed from last year. The average cost has come down Euro 100 to Euro 776, including room and board, transportation and entertainment. The average length of
the holiday has dwindled a day to 11 nights away from home. The time period to take vacation is also changing. June and September are becoming increasing popular with 4% increases for both, although August remains the favorite month with 52% choosing now as their time for the great escape.

On another front, Italians are increasingly borrowing money to go on vacation. Around 35K of them are borrowing anywhere from Euro 4500-7000 for this purpose. The average Italian asking for this kind of prestito is 40 years old and generally comes from the South, Sicily and Sardinia being at the top. However considering that it takes these borrowers 3 years to pay off the loan, it may not be a very wise choice over the long run.

Buone ferie!
Happy holidays!

Vacations statistics from here and here
Loan information source.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Is This Garden a True Improvement?

This historic, central and hidden corner of the city looks so lovely, doesn't it? Unfortunately it's fake.

Fake in that the grass is plastic while the flowers and bushes are real. Yet that one important element of grass being fake compromises the whole beauty of the arrangement.

This is a picture of the courtyard behind Palazzo di Ezzelino, which dates back to the 12th century and is located off Via Santa Lucia. The courtyard is nestled behind the old palazzo and between several up-scale shops.

When I first came to Padua and discovered this little haven, it had a couple of marble benches and a wall full of spray-painted missives dedicated to lovers and local graffiti artists. The teenage population used its secluded nature to romantically sit together, kiss and make out.

I remember one May day in 2008 when a local artist, Sonia Furiato, decided to dedicate an art installation to the unique space for a roving exhibition I was curating, Libri d'artista per il centro di Padova (Artists' Books around the Center of Padua) . She laid dozens of white origami birds around the courtyard and something magical happened that afternoon. Kids and shoppers were drawn to the space and her action within it. They stopped in their tracks. Their faces lit up. (Unfortunately the shopkeepers didn't understand what was happening and seemed upset at the performance, as they came out and scolded her.)

Libri d'artista per il centro di Padova
Libri d'artista per il centro di Padova

Then fairly recently I walked through the space again and found it cleaned up (from the spray paint), landscaped and fake. It doesn't invite anyone to stay in the space anymore. The benches are gone. The garden looks great but lacks heart. There isn't any meaning to any of this, especially if it doesn't even have real grass.

I'm sure the shopkeepers splurged on the landscaping but don't want the hassle of cutting grass. Plus, glass needs to be weeded and no one wants to do that either. Solution: spruce it up with flowers and plastic! Such a gorgeous way to kill the spirit of a place.

Where is a city allowed to not be pristine? Only in the outskirts and under overpasses? We as humans often have an underbelly of our public persona, which is not always perfect. I believe our cities should be allowed to have similar "alternative" spaces, especially if they bring meaning to those who live there. The former version of this courtyard respected that loved, hidden and cruder part of ourselves.

Where do the teenagers have to go now to catch that minute of privacy, I ask?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Wonders of Socialized Medicine

While some people are complaining back home in the US about the planned "Obamacare", I am relishing the benefits of European socialized medicine.

It turns out that my achilles tendon was completely ruptured from jumping to the beats of Cindy Lauper, as explained in my recent post. An ultrasound on Tuesday sealed my fate. I needed surgery and fast. Within 36 hours of seeing the ultrasound results, I was on a hospital bed undergoing surgery.

Yesterday I came home from the hospital after orthopedic surgery lasting 1.5 hrs and just over 24 hours in the hospital in post-op recovery. I now have 5 stitches behind my ankle, nylon thread and special mesh holding my tendon together and a cast up to my knee. I may not be happy about being immobile for the rest of the summer and into the fall, but the service has been great and free.

This is not my first bit of surgery. I have already had 2 major operations on my arm in the US. I know what surgery and recovery involves. I also know that as a US patient, not only do you have to deal with the physical ramifications of surgery but also financial woes. Even as an insured US citizen, you risk paying for surgery out-of-pocket. That's exactly what I had to do years ago when I reinjured my arm. The insurance company did not provide coverage on that area of my body because it had already sustained an injury. I was faced with a $16,000 hospital bill for something that was not unlike what I underwent in the last couple of days in Italy. Needless to say, when the bills started pouring in within a month of surgery, I got progressively more depressed. Here I was, trying to get my arm back to health, and I had to deal with how to foot that kind of bill, which felt enormous for a 26-year old woman who was out of work at the time. That financial legacy lingered on long after the wounds were healed.

Fast forward to now. I can concentrate on my leg without worrying so much about my bank account. This is a real relief.

When the Italian hospital staff was asking me about life as an American, they were implying that everything seems better across the ocean. But I pointed out that the very action of their care, which was free for me, is one of the great differences between there and here. Then they smiled. "E' vero" (That's true).

Monday, August 1, 2011

My 7 (Sette) Links

Currently, there is a ripple effect of the 7 Links washing over the expat blog world. Now I am participating. If you want to learn more, go here for the rules and an explanation.

As for my own blog's classification, this has been a great excuse to review my own work over the last couple of years, my evolution on the blogosphere. Here they go:

2. Post I am most proud of, for its heartfelt opinion: Far Far Away
3. Most surprise success: Promising Forever
4 Most controversial post: Amanda Knox Conviction
6. Didn't get the attention it deserved: WWI on the Lagazuoi
7. Most helpful weekly series of posts: Friday's False Friends (no specific link, but you can do a search an find all of them using the Google search bar in the right column of this website)

These are the bloggers I would like to nominate:
Living Venice a comprehensive guide to nearby Venice
Becoming Italian Word by Word an eloquent online encyclopedia of the meanings behind the words and culture of the Italian language
Zoomata very interesting tidbits about Italy, written by a journalist working in Milan
Eternallycool great news and imagery related to art, architecture and advertising with the bel paese, and often Rome, as the main protagonists
Venetian Cat in-depth posts about cultural events in Venice

Enjoy your exploration of my blog space and those of others I particularly enjoy.

Buona lettura!
Have a good read!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Too Slow in the Slow Country

Italy is famous for being the country that invented Slow Food.
Foreigners consider it a wonderful destination because life seems to slow down while you visit or live here. (I can attest to this, especially when living here during the summer. Almost everything slows down or comes to a standstill in the cities.)
I enjoy this to some degree, depending on where I am (beach) and what I need to get done (not anything important like getting official certification of any kind).
But right now, I am talking about the slow one being me.
I can barely walk.
I sprained my ankle two weeks ago while dancing to Cindy Lauper on the banks of Venice's Giudecca during the famed Redentore celebration. Everything was grand until my left foot came down hard on an uneven surface: where the grassy plot met the sidewalk. Bang. Rip. My achilles tendon has been killing me ever since.
I am getting frustrated after hobbling along for 15 days.
I have had to give up attending an outdoor concert among other fun activities.
I have a hard time walking my dog.
Driving can be painful. At least I have a moped and don't need to be using my feet for any clutch action on it!
Life has become INCREDIBLY slow.
I am even slow for Italian standards.

For now, the swelling has gone down. The bruised areas are healing. I am getting physical therapy. I am waiting. I am trying to enjoy summer with my feet up. But honestly, at this point, I'd rather have them down and ready to scale mountains or at least take a leisurely stroll with my pooch.

(Monte Rosa, please give me good weather at the end of August when I can finally climb your summits! I regret having to postpone my original trekking dates which were dedicated to you next week.)

I guess I'll have another glass of chilled white wine while I soak my ankle in the essence of lavender flowers, one of the many herbal therapies I am currently using to bring my tendon back to an active life.

Salute! Cheers/To my health!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Welcome from Big Brother in Italy

Growing up and travelling in the states, I always liked the giant welcome signs that greeted you as you came into a new town or state. They were the extention of the handwave that Americans automatically give each. "Hi," "Howdy," "Hello," as they walk down a street and see someone else, whether a friend or a stranger.

Meanwhile Italy just has black print on sober white signs that indicate simply that you've crossed a limit. Now entering Padova. Now driving into Noventa Padovana.

Or Pazzano (Calabria) at 410 meters above sea level.

Then the Italians put a red slash over the same sign as you leave the town or city. No "Goodbye's" for anybody. You're just leaving.

When you thought that cool signage was bad enough, then you start looking around at other signs.

You're being taped everywhere!
Welcome, you're on candid camera!
Try to do something, Dude, and Big Brother will get ya'!

That's the message we get.

For as much as Italians should be a warm people, this message is chilling.

Photo credit: Florida sign: Robert English
Pazzano sign: Flickr account: marcuscalabresus

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Kenny Random #5

Kenny Random on via Risorgimento near Piazza dell'Insurrezione.

Butterflies are not only trendy in Italian fashion this summer season, but they also play an important part in Kenny's new round of tags.

Butterfly Farfalla

= fire (Aztecs)

= love (Chinese)

= soul (Greek)

= stroke (swimming)

= nervous (in your stomach)

= rebirth (mankind)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What You Can Learn from a Box of Pasta

I just love this box of pasta.

Although I realize the special military division of the Italian army called the Alpini are quite noteworthy in the country for their services and in the city of Bassano del Grappa because they are part of its identity, I didn't think I would find these components all on a box of pasta.

I found it in my local supermarket.

The pasta is the bigoli variety, which is basically spaghetti with a hole through the core so they look like little tubes when you eat them.

The bridge illustrated on the box depicts the most famous landmark of Bassano del Grappa, Ponte degli Alpini. "Bassan," as they say in dialect here, is a city north of Padua which was most significant during WWII. See my post for more about the town, which is always worth a visit.

The hat signifies the Alpini uniform. Alpini veterans are a proud bunch and they often have huge reunions around northern Italy, and often in Bassano itself. They form the oldest army troops specialized in mountain fighting in the world, founded in 1876. They are considered an elite group and Italy readily sends them to fight when only small groups depart on missions from the bel paese. They are currently involved in Afghanistan. Read here for more about them.

So now you see how this box of pasta is a cultural, historical and culinary lesson in yellow, black, red and white on cardboard.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Padova Pride Village

Padua has a strong gay population and their summer extravaganza has been growing every year since I got here 7 years ago. Padova Pride Village packs a month of entertainment, food, dance and stands into the city's fairgrounds. This year, they started with a bang: Boy George in concert. I didn't go but I heard that he put on a fine show.

The Village will be running until July 28th. Doors open at 8 p.m. everyday except Monday. Get ready for more singers, Italian comedians, international DJ's and more to enjoy at the Fiera di Padova.

The organizers, Arcigay *Tralaltro*, even provide "Welcome" packages for out-of-towners including extra hotel services, discounts off entrance tickets and local restaurants.

Join the fun!
( I'm sure you'll have fun even if you're "straight"!)


Fiera di Padova, Entrance E, via Carlo Goldoni - Padova
8 p.m. opening, no Mondays

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Jewelry Inspired by Caffè Pedrocchi

Padua's most famous café, Caffè Pedrocchi, now has an exhibition running of original jewelry inspired by the coffee shop and space itself. Artist have taken motifs from the walls and windows of the café and themes of coffee consumption to make their pieces.

Visit the first floor showroom and marvel at the pieces. Curated by Francesca Canapa. Organized by Associazione Contemporanea Gioiellodentro. Show runs through July 20th.

"L'arte del Caffè Pedrocchi nel Gioiello Contemporaneo"
(The Art of Caffè Pedrocchi in Contemporary Jewelry)

Exhibition link, scroll down page for English.

Davide Penso, Incontro, glass bracelet with gold filigree

Angelo Verga, Gothicoffee: Don't Throw the Culture, silver ring, resin, coffee grounds

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Terrace Bears its First Fruit

Tomatoes are technically

Well, I've got my first ripe cherry tomato from the terrace.

Small, very red and hopefully very tasty!

Summer's here-

Even though many people associate Italian cuisine with pasta and tomato sauce, the tomato was introduced to this country only after the discovery of America. So American land is responsible for an entire food culture on another continent. Pretty wild stuff.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kenny Random's Evolution

Kenny Random's painting/graffiti apparitions around town continue to brand the local identity. This picture highlights the evolution of his imagery. Recently he has updated his older work, in this case the gray melancholic figure, by painting over it the image silhouette of this sprayer with a top hat and a nearby cat.

No one ever sprays over his work, which is a sign of respect among graffiti artists, and the locals aren't particularly keen on painting over his work either. They usually can't wait to block out any "random" marking or "writing" on their property.

By now we are identifying ourselves with his big images.

Padua: Random's Land

Photo location: Via San Pietro, off Corso Milano

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Get Hot in an Italian Villa

I used to live very close to the city center of Padua. Houses and building are packed into small spaces because real estate is at a premium. So the gym I joined in that area was a tiny little hole-in-the-wall with great people, good prices, yet a horribly small space. See post. If there were more than 10 people inside, it felt like a crowd and you had to be very patient to get on the machine you wanted.

However last year I moved to, basically, the suburbs. I decided to find a new gym in my new neck of the woods (or rather-fields). The new choice happens to be Sportville, a big restored Italian villa on the riverbank of the River Brenta. There and to my eyes' delight, I can gaze at old restored wood beams in the ceilings, beautiful big windows and Italian-style awnings while sweating on a treadmill.

The owners reinvented this "house" to the contemporary needs of a 21st century gym culture. Sportville looks gracious and classic Italian on yhe outside and has state-of-the-art machinery on the inside. Many creature comforts are also embedded into this villa's sheath, such as a spa and café. The only thing that it doesn't have is a tanning bed, which I am happy about, but have seen in other gyms. Italians already tan enough as it is!

So I've gone from one extreme Italian gym experience to the other: tiny and cramped to lovely villa styling. Now I don't have to fight for a space in the aerobics room anymore. I can run along the nearby Brenta if it's a nice day, instead of having to wait for a treadmill to become free. I am in a villa, after all! Everything is better in a villa, right?

Although there are several Italian gym chains in the Padua area that completely mimick US versions, down to the big ugly structures and carving a space out of a big office building, I have ended up choosing something else, twice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Sun-Standing Today

...the literal translation of solstice

The term derives from the Latin sol (sun) and -stitium (stoppage).

In Padua, we had sunrise at 5:23 a.m. today and sunset will be at 9:05 p.m. It's a fabulously sunny and perfectly hot day. Lows at 17°C (62°F) and highs at 29°C (84°F). It's summer as we like it. We can just picture the beach! Too bad it's a workday.

Il 21 giugno è anche la giornata più lunga dell'anno. June 21 is also the longest day of the year.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Far Far Away

It's times when all of my family get together and I cannot easily make the reunion that I realize just how far away I am. It's not a simple hop to see them. My father's side of the family united this past weekend for the biennial family shindig, with roots beginning before WWII, and which included just under 100 people this year. I wasn't there.

Although I decided I couldn't make the date months ago, it still stings a bit to have to miss it. There is a lot that builds up and culminates with this mega W______ gathering.

However I chose to make my life on another continent. It's an ocean and not a pond that divides me and my family, even though a famous expression begs for me to believe otherwise. Living in Italy can be exotic but comes with its sacrifices.

There will be another reunion in 2013 and maybe I can leap over the big divide of the Atlantic to make that one. Everyone will have kids that much bigger, a few more wrinkles and probably some new bambini entries.

'Til the next time, folks.

Un abbraccio

Your cousin italiana di adozione

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Fishnets in the City

Spring is here and the Italian women are breaking out this season's wares. Their style includes fishnet stockings, as usual for this time of year.

Italians are the only women who can pull off wearing fishnets without looking trashy. You can find businesswomen, bankers and lawyers wearing an assortment of fishnet colors from tan shades to even black that peak out from under classic skirts and pants--and they look great!

When I go to buy new nylons, I request that the shopkeeper sell me a pair that will not form holes at the big toe after only wearing them once, a typical problem I have. And what is her solution? Fishnets! The weaving of the construction makes them more resistant in critical areas, like the toes. So now I too am wearing fishnets. When in Rome, do as the Romans.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Kenny Random, Another Neighborhood

Kenny Random sprays/paints another wall, this time under the porticos near the cathedral in Padua: Via del Vescovado.

Also notice the wonderful wicker basket on the typical old bike parked outside a shop.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Project Rugs: How to Make a Dog Happy

Work on decorating the 1-year old house acquisition continues.

The latest projects have included photos, curtains and rugs. There was printing and framing a favorite picture of the mountains to hang on the walls. It was one of the chance opportunities where the light was just fantastic: slightly overcast with sunrays peeking out to light up just Mount Pelmo in all its massive glory. Now we can look at that scene everyday from our dining room wall.

Then the new bathroom curtain was installed with a handmade lace insert crafted by my mother-in-law. We took the bathroom tile pattern and turned it into a lace motif for a custom curtain.

However the most important money went into buying rugs. We waited a full year to get one for the living room so it's just perfect. After it was rolled out, it took the dog exactly 30 seconds to plop down on the new woolly floor feature. He treats it like his own personal extended bed area. It's the plushest rug in the house so he obviously spends the most time there. And now that the spring sun is out? We also have the dog camping out on the other new rug on the terrace. It was officially bought to add some color to the outdoor section of the house and cover some awful tiling. But the dog thinks every rug is for his canine comfort. He dedicates at least 20 minutes a day soaking up the sun on the terrace carpet's bright orange design.

Two more things to cross off the list of house 2011 projects.

Oh, and one very happy and comfortable dog.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Pope Becomes All But a Saint

Today marked the beatification of Pope John Paul II in a speedy 6 years. The inquiry into this status began before the usual 5 year period.

We all knew this would happen since the public was so obviously convinced about honoring the deceased leader fast. At his funeral in 2005, there were dozens of banners written by the mourning faithful with the words, "Santo Subito (Saint Now)." The point was strong and Benedict XVI listened, with a beatification (beatificazione) at this point. It technically takes 25 years for the saint designation to be given to someone. That will surely be another record to be set for Karol Wojtyla.

1 million crowded into Rome for this historic moment dedicated to this beloved pope.

Some people wonder if this beatification move was partially to rally support for the Catholic Church in this modern time that needs reminders of keeping faith.

Where does the line between faith and consumerism get defined? Isn't this part of giving the hoi polloi what the want? Everything immediately, even in terms of religious time? Putting the words "saint" and "now" together are a strange contemporary concoction. Even the Catholic Church, which is famous for being timeless and/or slow and unmoving, is stepping up its rhythm.

This is an image now hanging in Saint Peter's Cathedral.

Image of pope from La Repubblica
Image of banner from mondonews24
Click here for explanation of 2005 banners in Italian.

Padua in Bloom

Recently this tower was in full bloom. I took this picture in Arcella, the part of Padua north of the train station.

This area of the city usually gets a bad wrap because some neighborhoods have been infested with dubious characters and some desperate immigrants in recent years. However, one look at this marvelous house covered is such buxom blossoms would make anyone want to move here in a flash.

Can't you just imagine having Sunday lunch on the terrace at the top of this turret with lilacs dripping from the canopy? Lovely, yes.

Buona primavera!

Happy Spring!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Italy's Most Famous Artist Was Born in Padua!

Born September 21, 1960 in Padua, Maurizio Cattelan commands the position as the most famous, successful and controversial living Italian artist.

The artist's decorated career spans the globe while he primarily works in Milan and New York, but we know where he's from.

He's perhaps most famous for the sculpture, La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) of a meteorite that hit Pope John Paul II and shown at MOMA in NYC among other venues. (Only an Italian would make this an opera. Once you live here you realize how strong the Catholic Church's role grips the country and its pysche. This is obviously worth an artist's attention.)

La Nona Ora. 1999

Most recently, Mr. Cattelan caused controversy when he built and installed L.O.V.E., a marble sculpture of a hand with all fingers cut off except the middle one. It was placed in front of Italy's equivalent of Wall Street, in Piazza Affari. The initial public outcry turned into a kind of tacit acceptance, if not promotion of the artwork. The piece was originally scheduled to be installed for 2 weeks in September of last year, during a retrospective of the artist. Yet the mayor and city council of Milan has sistematically voted to keep the sculpture installed and now it is cleared until September 2011.

L.O.V.E. 2010

So if you are in Milan between now and then and want to see a powerful piece by a formidable personality in Italian international culture, go see L.O.V.E.

Monday, April 11, 2011

How Did Discount Get So Difficult?

As an American, I always look for a deal. The problem is that I live in Italy where any discount is difficult to get, especially instantly.

To start, the official sale seasons are only twice a year: January into February and August into September. You have to wait a long time from when you first see those cute summer frocks in April and actually get them on sale! Then if you wait, sometimes you discover that the merchandise changes during the sale season. I have even been told by a saleswoman, in July for example, that a shop is expecting the arrival of their "sales" merchandise. What? Its arrival? Shouldn't it just be what I see on the shelves now, just at a lower price point? When I went back to see the "sales" merchandise, I realized that the "sales" products were either made with lower quality materials, such as thinner cotton for bed sheets, or included old merchandise, clothes from previous seasons and years.

Or then there is the repeat-shopper discount. If you buy, let's say, over Euro 50 in merchandise now, you get a coupon for a discount of Euro 10 on a second purchase of at least Euro 50 at a future date. This way they ensure that you come into the store twice and buy a minimum value of Euro 100 in the end. Buy what if I don't want to spend that much in their store or have the time to go back in 2 weeks to get the savings? I may be in mountains or sick at home, for that matter! Tough luck. No discount. Seldomly do you get the 20% right away if it isn't the official sales season. And this kind of sales trick is common at superstores like Interspar.

A third aspect of sales is when they really aren't sales. Some shops mark up their merchandise on the price tag so that when they apply the 30%, a typical initial sales season starting discount, the price looks like a deal when it isn't at all. Our local paper, Il Mattino, sometimes features journalists who hunt the town's window display prices before and after the first day of the sales season to see how honest everybody is being. An example, a pair of shoes retail for Euro 100. During the sales season, they mark the original price as Euro 130 with 30% discount, making the sale price Euro 100 (the same as before!).

All in all, we are all supposed to pay hefty retail prices for our merchandise or do a lot of work to get a discount. It makes life frustrating for someone who pays a mortgage, car payment and her taxes. I need some real sales, Italy! Give me a break!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Caffè Pedrocchi Expanding

This is the place referred to by the local saying in Padua, "la città con un santo senza nome, un caffè senza porte e un prato senza erba" (a city with a saint without a name, a café without doors and a field without grass). The saint is Saint Anthony, but everyone here just refers to him as "il santo." The café is Caffè Pedrocchi, pictured above. The field is actually a square called Prato della Valle (Field of the Valley), one of the largest in Europe.

Caffè Pedrocchi commands great historic importance for this town. It was founded 180 years ago and witnessed a critical involvement in Italian revolutions and intellectual activity. (I will discuss this in a later post.)

The no-doors refers to the fact that it is always open to the public. In fact, there is a room, The Green Room, where you can sit quietly and read or do whatever you want that is silent without having to order anything from the bar. It's a great, quiet and elegant refuge between appointments for me sometimes when it's raining and I just want to read a magazine.

The important news now is that the café is expanding. The Museo del Risorgimento is going to move to Palazzo Zuchermann and open up all the upper levels of the historic building. The café plans to expand its seating area upstairs, maybe stay open later in the evening (after 8 p.m.) and build luxury rental spaces as a foresteria for artists, intellectuals, etc.

The city is debating whether they should raise the café's rent after the expansion (and natural increase in revenue). Currently it pays a subsidized Euro 500 ($715)/month while it charges nearly Euro 3 ($5) for a coffee! That rent is what I paid for an ugly 35-square-meter (380 square foot) apartment.

Caffè Pedrocchi link.
Il Mattino article about the subject.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Overcoming Tragedy, the Story of Alessandro Zanardi

Nestled in Noventa Padovana, there lives a famous resident hero, Alessandro Zanardi. The ex-Formula 1 pilot from Bologna lost both legs in 2000 in a violent accident on the German race track, Eurospeedway. After coming out of a 2-week coma, the man not only recovered, but even became a winning pilot again in 2005 with BMW in the World Touring Car Championship. He achieved this goal with prosthetic legs! He was the first handicapped winner to acheive this against physically normal competitors.

Mr. Zanardi also got involved in other kinds of racing as a physically disabled person. He participated in the 2007 New York Marathon with a handbike, which I see him ride around town on. He came in fourth in that competition. Then he won the handicapped section of the Venice Marathon in 2009 riding the same gadget.

Last Fall, he hosted a TV series called E se domani (And if Tomorrow) on Rai 3, focusing on scientific advances.

He has written two book, his memoir, My Sweetest Victory, which received the prize, Premio Bancarella Sport 2003, and Alex Looks Skyward, written together with his friend Claudio Costa.

Now he's preparing for London's 2012 Paralympics. Let's be his tifosi (fans)! Join me in commending his positive attitude that, I believe, has made him more a winner now than when he was just a race car driver.

He is a husband to Daniela and father of Nicolò and a Jack-of-all-trades now with racing, TV and books behind his belt. Mr. Zanardi is a champion in so many ways. Nothing has stopped him from succeeding.

Complimenti Alessandro!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Japan's Emergency Makes Us in Italy Ask Questions

The devastation in Japan has rocked the world. That population has suffered a tremendous earthquake, a horrible tsunami and now faces nuclear radiation problems, already knowing its effects all too well after my country's final military blow to the nation at the end of World War II.

So much has already been said about the subject in the last week. Many Americans on the West Coast have thought about their own preparedness, since they are also part of the Pacific Ring of Fire activity, including severe periodic earthquakes. If you haven't made your own emergency kit, which all the Japanese seem to have, and live in that area, consult this Blogher post with a professional list, advice and comments.

We in Italy find ourselves in an earthquake zone as well. Aquila had its terremoto just under 2 years ago at 5.8 on the Richter scale. See my post. The city still hasn't even started to rebuild the downtown historic area. Many questionable building practices in the area were questioned in light of how easily some of the structures fell during the quake, especially a university student housing complex which killed many youth.

Japan's recent experience was, some say, 30,000 times stronger than Aquila's. Hardly anything in Japan fell during the actual earthquake because the culture has been so careful about its construction regulations. But there were horrible effects anyway, coming from the "angry" water and damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Here in Italy, the government recently decided to push for a plan to build nuclear reactors to help alleviate the country's energy needs. After the nuclear disaster in 1986 in Chernobyl, Italy had passed a referendum to not build any nuclear power plants. Two years ago the tune changed. Nuclear energy has been an appetizing solution in addition to renewable energy. Plans were in place to start building soon.

Now even those in favor of the nuclear solution in Italy just started to serious reanalyze the need for that dangerous energy option. Italy could have a similar problem to any future nuclear reactors that are built. An earthquake could cause the reactors to malfunction and leak radiation. This is in addtion to other problems like human error and the eternal problem of where to deposit nuclear waste.

FYI the province of Padua is one of the strongest areas in the research and development of alternative energy. We have many businesses that have sprung up recently, especially for the photovoltaic option: ex) Helios Technology S.p.a., Solon S.p.a., and XGroup S.p.a. Exactly a year ago, the city of Padua announced that it would install the panels for free on your house after an analysis of the architectural and urbanistic situation. The city teamed up with banks and the companies mentioned above to start installing not only for private people, but also on public schools and other public buildings. The city has at least 20 schools with solar panels, at this point.

Recently the government froze incentives on renewable energy sources like photovoltaic, real options that would cut the demand for nuclear plants. Some suggest this is exactly the reason why the funds were cut. Nuclear had to be the clear and single need. The Paduan companies are suffering the consequences with a drop in business. They have been worried about their future as well as the progress of renewable energy in Italy.

But Madre Natura (Mother Nature) has spoken. Japan's example makes the choices very clear for us in Italy. Nuclear is too risky.

Let's keep the money flowing into renewables.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Combination Holiday

So today marks 150 years since Italy's unification. On the Irish (and American) calendar, this date is known as Saint Patrick's Day. Since I belong to both cultures in one sort of way or another, here's my visual dedication to the split/unificazione.

I am 35% Irish, and have adopted Italy as my "land" to live in.

I wonder if I can find green beer in the city center this evening? Green for not only Ireland, but also Italy? Probably not, since the spritz does the colors well: red for Aperol or Campari and green for its famous olive.

Do you know the meaning of the colors in the Italian flag?

GREEN for the fields of the plains
WHITE for the snow of the mountains
RED for the blood which was shed to make the country


Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Lion Comes Out of Her Den

Last year's lion waited a year to spring out of her hibernation for Venice's Carnevale. I just got back from the most spectacular sunny and warm Sunday carnival, perhaps in history! The weather was absolutely beautiful in the lagoon this year during a late carnevale that boasted VERY spring temps today. Hooray! (It's not always fun to tread Venice's streets in the freezing Febuary cold, during the usual holiday's dates.)

I got out the costume that I never got to wear last year because I got a bad cold the only weekend I could make it to the event. See post. So the lion "queen" finally made her debut and was especially appreciated by the kiddies (under 10 years old). The best part was roaring in their little faces and getting both excited eyes and a tinge of fear.

Every year I go to Venice, I find fewer people wearing costumes, and even fewer that are wearing costumes that they have not rented, but have made with their own hands and imaginations. It's sad to see this evolution of the "business" of carnevale and a general laziness by the public. Everyone is more interested in taking pictures or getting their face painted or wearing a funny wig, rather than truly transforming themselves in some total way: the real reason for the season.

Another horrifying addition to this year's event was witnessing a fenced-off area in Piazza San Marco near the stage, where a fee ranging from Euro 5-100 was being charged to enter certain areas. The city has thousands of ways that it takes our money, from expensive hotels to myriads of mask stands to exorbitant parking and boat transport fees. Now tickets in the main square, too! Just plain pathetic.

On the up side, one of the costume highlights from this edition of Carnevale features groups of 20-somethings from the area that band together and dress up with a group theme in mind. This year I saw or heard about Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs, a CSI crime scene set-up including victim, assassin, scientific police team and fake TV journalist on the scene, and 6 friendly clowns.

Here are some pictures of a few interesting costumes I found today in the piazza and captured on my camera, while fumbling with a lion mask on my face.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Blog Toddler's Anniversary

It's An American in Padua's
2 year anniversary.
2 years of words.
2 years of posts.
2 years of thoughts.

I hope you have enjoyed the ride. Let me know what has been worthwhile for you on my blog.