Saturday, February 23, 2013


Sometimes it's the little things that make you feel like you are surviving just fine in Rome. Maybe it's knowing to always bring change. Maybe it's knowing to check that your metro ticket was properly stamped. Maybe it's knowing that trying to unfold clothing in certain stores will cause an outrage as severe as if you had tried to shove said item into your purse and walk out of the store even if you explain to the clerk that you are a Certified Folder who spent TWO years in the Benetton school of folding program. This may stop them in their tracks and they will ask, "Benetton where? Benetton in Italy?" And when you shamefully admit it was a Benetton in America, they will order you from the premises. Which will be fine because you didn't have the correct change anyway.

What makes me feel like I am surviving just fine in Rome is driving on the "back roads." Anyone can drive on highways.Well, more or less.Okay, sort of. It's the back roads with their unmarked one-way streets and infinite lane possibilities  and lack of laws that make the Wild Wild West look like it was ruled with an iron-fist. This is what makes me feel I'm doing okay. Are you three lanes over but need to make a left hand turn? Not a problem. Is there a car going slowly on a one lane road? Well, heck join the cars passing it on both sides. Red light ahead? Know that nothing short of four cars abreast is going to cut it. And first one there has dibs on what will constitute the lane. Someone honking because you are stuck in traffic? If you don't wave your hand at them in a bah motion, you will ruin their entire day.

I won't exaggerate: I can't text, talk on the phone, smoke a cigarette and read the newspaper while I'm driving. I haven't yet reached that level of Jedi training. But I can drive over the sidewalk to pass another car with the best of them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

La Valle della Caffarella

I love Rome. I really do. But I've spent nearly mumble mumble years living in the country. Country Proper as in a traffic jam is getting stuck behind a tractor and you can tell the season based on which pasture the cows are grazing. So imagine my absolute delight when a lovely new friend took me to a park off the Appia Antica. Not a beautifully manicured picturesque Villa Borghese park, but a hope-you-don't-get-ticks-park. People were tending to their gardens and the earth was so dark and rich and hopeful ; I just wanted grab a hoe and get to work. The sheep meandered with nary a fence in sight, bamboo was growing wherever it could, the streams were clear and babbling. The country girl in my blood was positively singing. You could hear only birds, the air smelled like grass and was impossible to believe that  that city of Rome was in full swing just ten minutes away.

and meanwhile, in other parts of Rome:

if we can relocate the pair of pants from the bench and find another shoe, we are well on our way to making an entire outfit ! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

boiling water for dummies

Trying to get a handle on this whole cooking thing in Italy is like a baby deer learning to stand. With four hooves tied behind its back.

Most recipes call for garlic in quantities ranging from "a lot"  to "a ton" (still working on my metric system skills). Okay, so I needed garlic. Easy enough. It's Italy. Garlic is a staple. Except that I couldn't find it. Not in any size. I wasn't being all COSTCO/Sam's Club American or anything; , a small jar of minced garlic would have been fine. But it turns out that garlic doesn't come in jars. It grows in the ground, someone picks it, drops it off at the market, and then you are expected to do the rest! It comes in bulbs.Bulbs. Like I was trying to repel a vampire. Unless you believe in  Twilight vampires  and then I guess you have to hang a wolf around your neck.

So I took home these "bulbs." I hadn't the faintest idea what to do with them. It looked like they had some kind of husk on them. So I peeled that off. And then some additional peeling and then I chopped it up a lot. So annoying. My brother-in-law taught me a trick to remove the garlic wrapping but I can't repeat it here because I think it's copy-written.And I asked for a garlic press for Christmas.

And onions! I can't bear to cut onions. The smell is so overpowering that not only do I cry, but I am forced to seal the onion peels in a ziploc bag and put them outside or I'm in sensory overload. And then my lovely grocery store in the States (what's less annoying, calling America "the States" or the "US"?) started selling them in a nice plastic container pre-cut.And from that day on, I vowed to never again cut an onion. If the grocery store didn't have them pre-cut, I just made something different for dinner. Perfs. Italy does not have plastic containers of pre-cut onions. See above paragraph on garlic.

I also now grate my own cheese.It does not come already grated in a plastic bag with a top that you can easily reseal. Sigh.

Because here, God help me, here everything is fresh. (Don't quote me, but I'm starting to think that may factor into why the food in Italy is so amazing.)You make everything from scratch. Unfortunately, our kitchen is barely equipped for the first round of humans that used electricity. I boil water on the stove and make toast in the oven.

My son asked for mashed potatoes and not one of the stores here seemed to have that nice brown box with those flakes that you pour liquid into and they become mashed potatoes. Y'know, like sea monkeys. 

Finally I looked in an American cookbook because my Italian cookbooks are way past those kind of basics and just assume that you have already mastered such things as turning your goat's milk into cheese. My American cookbook is very remedial and assumes that you believe all your food comes in a package and/or through a drive-through window.

Step one was peeling the potatoes. I dug through my drawer of kitchen tools looking for my apple slicer (sort of like a potato peeler, right?) and lo and behold, I discovered that I own my very own  potato peeler! I think my mom must have snuck that in there when she was helping me pack.

And after I peeled the potatoes, I had only to boil them and add milk and butter and mash them and then whip them. And then my son ate them!

So I'm getting there. I haven't burnt a grilled cheese for ages and  even I have to admit my bucatini with amatriciana sauce is decent. And I can still whip together a smuggled-into-Italy box of American Kraft macaroni and cheese like nobody's business.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

it's election time up in here

In America, we are partial to supporting political candidates by putting signs in our yard. And along the highway. And pretty much any place there is a spot of soil in which a sign can be shoved. I haven't read any statistical evidence, but my guess is that these signs are more to annoy neighbors and passing motorists than anything else. Was an election ever won or lost based on the amount of signs one had? Does anyone even read these signs?

 I simply can't recall a conversation in which SueBob and I were having coffee and she said, "I have been following the debates and have a chart in my kitchen listing where each candidate stands on the 'issues'. I thought I weighed all of the information and made a decision based on these facts, but then I saw that Cookie Jo had 10 more signs per yard than Big Bird. So I am totally switching my vote."


In Italy, or at least in Rome, they are a bit more hard-core. Rome is a very green city , but rather than stick some measly signs in the grass, Rome COMMITS. They jackhammer some holes in the sidewalks and jam in towering metal billboards to display their candidate love.

 Joggers, bikers, dog walkers, families with strollers..everyone does their best to dodge these metal monstrosities, but they are the teensiset bit of an huge pain in the ass inconvenience. And an eyesore.

Finally it was Showtime.<insert jazz hands> 

People appeared, slapped on what seemed to be wallpaper paste, popped on some campaign posters and called it a day.

Now, when one political candidate puts up their slogan in the middle of the sidewalk, what do you think all the other people with their student council posters are going to do?  

In America, the retaliation lawn signs of the opposing political party would probably start sprouting up like rabbits or dandelions (I'm a country girl). Or some well-intentioned teenagers would spend an evening or two driving around and driving through people's yards or on highway medians and mowing down signs. Just good 'ol fashioned, harmless fun.

In Rome, however, the sidewalk only has so many places a hole can be drilled. So more signs are plastered on top of the old signs are plastered on top of the new signs and so on and so on and so on (I think that was a shampoo commercial). And it's winter, which means it's the rainy season. And there is a surprising amount of wind as well. And now our previously beautiful neighborhood looks like this:

I know that there is only so much one can do, but I really hope the graffiti-ers can pretty this up.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

to pant or not to pant. that is the question.

                                                                                                                                   So on the way to the market, I saw these:

The obvious thought was, Hey, those are nice pantsI wonder if they are my size? But alas, they were not.

Considering that they were crumpled to perfection, was it  a photo shoot( perhaps for an up-and-coming brand with the tag-line: the quality of our pants stands on its own?) in the making and all concerned parties had left for lunch? I should have checked if it was between 1-4. Hmm.

 Was it a political statement?

Did the pants blow from someone's line of hanging laundry?

Did someone simply hate said pants and change on the way to school -ha ha mom i 'll show you!

Was it a gang sign?

Did the person who was wearing these pants simply vaporize? 

And then, as I made my way home, the pants were gone as suddenly as they had arrived. Like Mary Poppins or Frosty the Snowman, they had materialized when needed, taught us all a valuable lesson, and left us with the hope that they would someday return. 

cane at the carni

Damp, cloudy, cold—clearly it is chili weather. At home chili is a staple throughout the winter, but the lone time I tried to whip up a batch in Rome  was …how you say…schifoso. If you think subbing cream of tomato soup for condensed tomato soup will work, you are incorrect. 
Having brought three suitcases worth of kitchen supplies with me on my return from the States, I am ready to once again attempt American chili in my Italian kitchen. Except that I need ground turkey. Which involves going to the butcher. And translating “I need a pound of ground turkey” into Italian.
Even better, I had to take Stella with me to the butcher as on this outing we also needed to hit the vet.
Although Stella’s new rabbit, omega-3 and vitamin E  diet has allowed her emergence from the cone of shame, she now suffers from “itchy belly” aka she has two more vet bills before we encase her body in plaster and be done with it.

And off we went to the Super Carni. I had looked up how many grams made up one pound and I had looked up the word for turkey. I did not look up the phrase “please put it through the grinder” so we all got to play charades with that one. Thank the Lord the Italians I have met are patient and kind, because in their shoes I would so just tell me to get out and not return. Have you ever played charades and tried to adequately gesture the word “grind’? Serenity now!
Stella was meanwhile tied up outside the butcher on the dog hitching post . I knew she was still there ( as flop sweat rolled down my face and I tried to make meatball motions with my hands to the perplexed butcher ) because I could hear people crooning to her outside and the customers who entered the store were clucking over the poor cold dog . It’s 56 degrees. She is not cold. She can smell raw meat but has no way to get to it and it gives her the shakes.
Ground turkey successfully shoved into my purse, we went to the vet. Incidentally, our vet is a full-on knock-out with a nose ring. Plus she is super nice AND she is obviously pretty darn smart seeing as how she is a vet and all. And she calls Stella potato chip. What’s not to love?
The vet diagnosed Stella’a latest round of skin issues as needing to continue with her Front line treatment.  She fixed up our little potato chip and I tried to pay. Except my code fiscale did not match with my ID. The vet kept telling me to just come back and pay her tomorrow which somehow made me feel even jerkier.

And so this is a typical example of a day in my life. It takes a long time to accomplish small tasks and then an even longer time to recover from the embarrassing blunders made while trying to accomplish said tasks.

Friday, February 01, 2013

home sweet home

We are toying with a potentially big decision: moving to a new flat(new to us, not new to Romulus and Remus) or staying where we are. It's the devil you know verses the devil you don't. In the devil we know, the hot water cuts out and it's cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and the doorknobs fall off, and you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

But it is in an excellent location, within walking distance to all the bells and whistles for which Rome is known, plus we have a park across the street and floor-to-ceiling windows in every room. So it's very bright and sunny and surrounded by beauty.

However, it is horrifyingly expensive and I just killed an ant on the kitchen counter. I still have to light the stove with a match and one of our landlord's couches is still in our dining room. And there are still a lot of people ahead of us on the waiting list to rent a parking spot. Rumor has it that King Umberto II was on the list for a parking space in Rome but alas, he died before a spot became available.

We have looked extensively at other places in the city, but there is always something wrong with them as well: no kitchen appliances; no access to public transportation; no place to take the dogs; having to agree to allow the landlord's 30 year-old-son to bunk with us...

And so when I see ads for flats that cost the same but have modern kitchens or built-in closets, plus a parking space and a terrace and a community swimming pool, I can't help but be seduced.

The problem? Because you know there is one...they are not in Rome proper. The address might be Rome, but they are not in downtown center-city Rome. They are not in walk-the-dogs-to-the-Coliseum Rome. They are not in go-for-a-run-by-the-Circus-Maximus Rome.

And like a horrified Elaine on Seinfeld with her "new" Manhattan area code, or a rather-die-than-move-to-Brooklyn Miranda on Sex and the City, I just don't know if I can do it. I'm already a Rome convert. I don't know if I want to go outside the ring road.

But I'll bet they have dishwashers there.