Friday, September 30, 2011

Choosing An Italian Cell Phone

I interrupt this blog to bring you factual information from the Stoic One.  You didn't think I would give you useful information on this subject did you?

Just like many of you who travel internationally for pleasure or business, we use cell phones to stay in touch with home and to make local calls while in country.   Over the years we have gone through many different solutions to having a cell phone in Italy.  We started by renting a European cell phone before leaving the US but eventually graduated to buying an unlocked phone and country specific SIM card through a US company that included an initial small amount of air time and could be recharged, kept and used for future trips.  SIM cards are the little electronic chip that actually makes your phone work, and they are tied to a specific carrier.  This has the advantage of letting you keep the same phone number on subsequent trips but limits the type of plan, and the air time charges, to what the US company offers through their partner.

One of the ways a supplier makes money on the deal is through the premium they charge on the recharges, or top ups, that they sell you.  If you buy your top ups from the US company that sold you the SIM card, which you may need to do if they partner with one of the smaller carriers whose recharges aren't widely available in Italy, you will pay a rather large fee for that convenience.  For example, the last company we used partnered with Uno Mobile in Italy and charged $26 for 10 Euros of air time.  Even taking currency conversion into consideration, that is a profit of about 85% on the air time they were selling.  For the last few years, we have also had our IPhones which work here but are a bit expensive at anywhere from $1.00 to $1.40 per minute of use for both outgoing and incoming calls, not to mention the cost of an international data plan for internet access.  Oh, and then there's the international texting plan that we just can't do without.   As you can see, these solutions weren't particularly low cost.

So, given that we are spending a lot of time here, I decided that it was time for us to get our own Italian cell phone numbers through an Italian carrier and set out to research the various options.  The first thing I learned is that more people rely on cell phones here as their primary phone than in the US.  They are also a lot more comfortable with the "pay-as-you-go", or prepaid, plans than is common in the US.  This allows them to switch between carriers as the mood strikes them while avoiding the dreaded multi-year service contract that we are all familiar with.  Having the latest and greatest phone seems to be less of a driver here, as well, but you can certainly sign up for a contract and get a new phone at a discount just like in the US, if you want.  For example, an IPhone 4 is offered through almost all of the major carriers but it comes attached to a 30 month contract.

There are basically four major cell phone companies here in Italy:  TIM, Vodafone, Wind and Tre (which is Italian for 3).  There are other mobile virtual network operators (like Uno Mobile here or Virgin Mobile in the US), but I wanted to stick with one of the big four.  One of our other considerations was the likelihood that we would be making calls back to the US, so I wanted a combination of low cost in country calls along with the cheapest international calling plan that I could find.  I also did not want to sign up for a contract plan partly because I figured that it would be a problem given that I don't have an Italian credit card, and I just didn't want the hassle.  So, I was left with looking for a prepaid plan with one of the major carriers.  As far as easy recharging goes, they are all about the same with many places to get top ups ranging from the grocery store to every bar in the country to even your local ATM.

The biggest players are TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) and Vodafone (London based and part owner of Verizon in the US), and I decided to concentrate on them as they also offer landlines and in house internet services.  They offer similar plans and pricing is about the same.  With the prepaid plans you usually trade off a lower per minute charge for a connection fee that you pay each time you make a call.  For example, the typical in country call would cost 8 to 10 cents per minute with a 16 cent connection fee or 18 to 22 cents per minute with no connection fee.  The typical charge for calls to the US was about 50 cents per minute.  Both TIM and Vodafone offer international calling plans that include a good price on in country calls with a reduced cost for calls internationally.  TIM's was the most straight forward at 16 cents connection fee per call, 8 cents per minute in country and 20 cents per minute to the US (and most of Europe).  Strangely enough, Vodafone offered an international calling plan that did not include calls to the US.  Their plan for reduced cost calls to the US required that you sign up for a prepaid plan and then activate the international calling feature.  At least that's what they said on their web site.  I did look at the other two carriers just for comparison and discovered almost the identical plan to TIM's with the addition of an additional small monthly or semi-annual fee.  So, armed with all of this knowledge I set off to acquire two SIM cards for the two unlocked cell phones that we had brought with us.  Here is where the real fun begins. 

There are only two places in Umbertide that sell mobile phones and SIM cards.  The first is Formica, which is a general electronics and home appliance store and Telefonomio, which specializes in cell phones.  They are almost directly across the street from each other and represent almost the same carriers.   Formica represents TIM along with the other three major carriers and Telefonomio no longer represents Vodafone, despite the sign over their door, and does not represent TIM.  I set off to Formica with my translator, Simone, in tow.  There is only one person in the store who handles cell phones and there is always a line of people waiting to speak with him.  There were 3 people in front of us when we arrived at about 7:00 on Wednesday evening.

Formica - Appliance store in Umbertide
Telefonomio - Cell phones in Umbertide

We patiently waited our turn and told him what we wanted.  He immediately told us that TIM was the best option and explained that Vodafone's international plan did not include calls to the US.  As I knew that TIM was the lowest cost option, I was OK with that and told him that I would like two SIM cards.  He told me that I could only have one because they only had one in the store.  He figured that he would have more in the next day or two.  If the warehouse had them in stock.  OK, welcome to the reality of shopping in a small town that doesn't sell many international SIM cards.   I gave him my passport, my codice fiscale (tax ID number) along with a local address and proceeded to buy the one he had for Susan's phone.   I figured I would come back for the other one later.

So, for the next two days I walked down to the store and waited in line only to be told that he didn't have another SIM card.  I think he finally told me that the program was finished, so I went back to looking at Vodafone and the other carriers.  As it turns out, Vodafone had just come out with a new program that did include the US but required a two step process to get it (as previously described).  I set out to find a Vodafone store that could help me and turned to their web site to find the closest store.  Interestingly enough, they did not list Formica when I input Umbertide as my location on the Vodafone search page.  They listed several stores in Perugia and a couple in towns north of us.  Susan and I set off to one of the Perugia stores that was located close to the autostrada and, most significantly for me, not in the centro storico.

Imagine our surprise when we walked in and discovered.....A MALL!  Yes, a real Italian mall with a McDonald's, a Timberland store and a Media World store (think Fry's) that sold cell phones and SIM cards for all the major carriers.  This was the store that the Vodafone web site had directed us to and had identified as one of their full service locations.  We quickly located the correct counter and found a salesperson who spoke some English.  I told her what we wanted and she told me that my options were TIM and Wind.  For a moment there I thought I was back in Umbertide talking to the guy in Formica.  I told her that I had seen an international calling plan on the Vodafone web site.  She then went to a computer and explored the Vodafone web site only to return to tell me that in deed Vodafone did not offer a plan.  Oh, and by the way, she didn't have any Vodafone SIM cards anyway.  She did, however, have a TIM SIM card for the very plan that I had gotten Susan and for half the price (10 Euros vs 20 Euros) that I paid in Umbertide.

The Mall

So, we both now have our very own Italian cell phone number complete with a reasonable calling plan for calls within Italy and back to the US.  It took longer than I would have thought before I started the process, and I went down more dead ends than I would have in the US, but I wound up with exactly what I wanted in the end and we have the extra benefit of having discovered the mall.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

More food

I woke up this morning feeling bloated.  This meant it was time for us to go on a diet.  The Stoic One thought we were doing fine, so I went out and bought a scale.  I decided that we were eating way too much, and the scale would prove to the Stoic One that he needed to cut down on our noon time eating orgy.

He was not happy.  "We only eat one meal a day", he says.  That isn't really true. He always eats his weird gruel for breakfast, don't ask, and I either eat a little yogurt or skip it.  For lunch we eat whatever we want.  Following the Italian plan, we first decide which courses we will order.  I must say we never order all of the courses.  We usually start with an antipasta and then decide if we will have pasta or a secondi, which is generally grilled meat. Sometimes we have dessert.  I was sure we were both turning into porchettas, hence the scale.  It is a very nice modern scale that weighs in pounds as well as kilograms.  So, he gets on the scale first and has LOST WEIGHT!!!!! Argh! He is so happy.  He is dancing around in his undies telling me he can eat whatever he wants.  Great!  Then he tells me that I need to weigh too.

With great hesitation, I get on the scale.  I had previously lost about 8 pounds in preparation for my eating fest here.  I look at the scale, and I weigh exactly the same as I did when I arrived 3 weeks ago....Whoah!.  How could this be?  It must be going up and down those 65 stairs 4 times a day.  We were so happy that we had not blimped out that we went out to lunch to celebrate.  You will now have to continue to endure more stories of lunch time meals and their rhapsodic descriptions of the dishes.

One of my plans in exploring our area is to have lunch in a different little town every day.  Today we explored a hill town of Bettona.  It is another of the Most Beautiful Towns in Italy.  We had been here previously but the 2 restaurants were closed.  One for the holiday and the other because they were having a christening and the family had booked the entire restaurant.  I decided that was the restaurant for us. It is high up on a hill with a beautiful view of the country side.

I ended up having one of the most unusual and delicious fish dishes I have had anywhere.  It was sea bass with diced tomatoes and tiny diced potatoes wrapped in a cabbage leaf and baked.  OMG.  The fish was perfectly cooked as were the vegetables.  I am sure the Stoic One could learn to fix this.

We ended up at this restaurant in Bettona. Lovely view and food

He had lamb chops

I had Sea bass wrapped in a cabbage leaf. Note the crispy leaf.

Unwrapped and ready to eat.

Shared dessert Catalan cream...unbelieveably delicious

After this meal, we decided we definitely had to take one of our longer walks.  This is the country side outside of Umbertide.  It is like a painting.  We walk along the Tiber River.

Just outside of town. It goes from city to country side in just footsteps.

The walk leaving town.

Others walking off lunch.  Where do they buy these clothes?

Monday, September 26, 2011

5 things to do to drive an Italian waiter crazy

It has finally happened.   A foursome of American tourists discovered our Locanda today while we were sitting by ourselves having lunch.  It is a lovely spot with a terrace and "typical Umbrian food."

Here are some photos to prove the point
Me sitting on the terrace before others arrive 
Caramella a new type of pasta for me


Vegetable timbale

Okay.  So a young Italian couple come in and sit at the other end of the terrace.  Then 2 couples of American tourists walk in.  They are about my age and are wearing biking clothes.  Ok, you have the picture.

Rule number 1 to make the waitress crazy.
1.  Talk to your waitress in English in a loud voice even though she has addressed you in Italian.  Here's the thing.  If someone speaks Italian to you it is because they don't know English!  They know you are not Italian.  Trust me, they know.  If the waitress is young and doesn't know English she will be embarrassed because she thinks she ought to know English.  If the waitress is older, she may be defensive and rude because she thinks you should know Italian. Speaking to them loudly in pidgin English won't help either.  The waitress will just look shell shocked and not know what to do.

What you should do is ask, "Parla Inglese?"  If the waitress does not, she is more likely to find you someone who can.

2.  Order items out of order.  Italians may look like there is no order or system in their lives, but it isn't true.  It is just different from Americans.  Italians are very ordered around food.  They are very serious about food.  To them, eating is not just putting calories in your system that will later be burned off.  So, there is an order in giving your order.  You will first be asked about water.  Do you want water with gas or natural.  This question needs to be answered first and then the waitress disappears while you look at the menu.  If someone shouts out beer, and someone else shouts out spaghetti, the waitress will get the same shell shocked look and god knows what you will get.  Probably the owner.  So allow the waitress to take your order in her manner.  People should go one at a time and stay on the same course.

3.  The next things that will drive her crazy.  At a table of 4 have one person order an antipasta, one person order a primi, the other person order a secondi and the last person orders a salad, which oh by the way is not on the menu.  So the American asks, "Do you have a mixed salad?" to the owner.  (The waitress has now high tailed it to the kitchen.) The owner says, "Yes, of course."  The American says, "Where is it on the menu?"  The owner says, "It isn't on the menu."  The American says,"What's in it?"  The owner says, "We make it for you what do you want in it?" The American says how many Euros?  The owner says 3.  The American says, ok my husband and I will split it."  Now everything is out of order.  The salad, which usually comes last, is expected first.  The antipasti which should arrive first is now matched up with the primi and the secondi.  There is confusion everywhere, and everyone seems unhappy.

4.  Walk into a ristorante that offers "Typical Umbrian food" and expect a full menu of things you would eat in the states.  Oh by the way, Umbrians do not think their food is Italian.  It is Umbrian. It is different from the food in Tuscany, way different from the food in Rome and Naples.  It is generally grilled meat and meat sauce with pasta.  Very little tomatoes and very little butter.  Cheese is big.  It is usually made in house.  It is good, but unless you are at a large city, like Perugia, you are going to see pretty much the same thing on the menus because Umbrian food is pretty much the same thing, if you get my drift.

5.  The final thing to do to make your waitress crazy is to order a pizza at lunch.  Italians eat their pizza for dinner and it isn't available at lunch.  Why is this? The wood pizza ovens are too hot to heat up during the day. There are some places that sell pizza by the slice at lunch, like in the grocery mall.  Need I say more?  One last thing once if you order pizza for dinner, ask for your left over pizza to go home with you.  The Italians are horrified by this.  Why?  Because they think warmed over pizza is disgusting and why would you do that to a food you can go and get fresh.

How do I know all of these things?  I have done everyone of them.

Buying a car in Italy

It is done.  We now have a car.  It is as convoluted as a Medici story of intrigue and sleight of hand.  I will not bore you with the details, but after waiting 2 weeks for a car we thought we had already bought, the car is now in our possession. Notice I have not said that we own the car.  It's complicated.  In order to buy a used car in Italy, you must indeed be a resident of Italy, which we are not. To buy a new car, the requirements are different and there are many opinions as to whether or not you need to be a resident to buy a new one. You do not need to be a a resident to buy a house, or open a bank account.  Why do you have to be a resident to buy a car?  It's another one of those Italian "why" questions that only gets a shrug of the shoulders.  If pushed the Italians will always say it is a law to keep the mafia under control.  But gangsters only buy cars not houses?  Being American, and not an EU citizen further complicates things. The Stoic One is great in these situations, he is focused on the ultimate goal and does not get side-tracked by all of the discussions of various methods...mainly because he doesn't understand the conversations.  Whatever.  He is persistent and focused while I get indignant and impatient.  It is a good combination for stressing everyone out and then they need to go for coffee and a cigarette to calm things down.    

About the car.  It is, as the Italians say, bello ma grande.  Beautiful but large.  It is a Nissan Pathfinder big enough for a small regiment to fit into.  The Stoic one thought we needed space for luggage and visitors.  He did not want to squish us all into a Fiat Panda which is the car of choice here.  I am sure all of our future guests, mainly my sister, will be happy to learn they no longer have to come with carry on luggage only.  This is big enough even for Sarah's shoes!

The Beast

We had a huge thunder and lightening storm the other night and it woke us all up.  I thought the lightening hit the ground somewhere.  It actually hit the spire of the church and knocked off a few roof tiles.  Mani got called by the commune to see if the steeple were safe for people to walk around.  He climbed up on top of the roof, and said yes it was safe, but the lightening went down the iron into the steeple and pulverized the stone next to it.  I was telling my Italian teacher, who is from Ravenna, this story and she said this was ridiculous that the town did not have a lightening rod tower outside of town for lightening.  She said, "What are you living in a town from the Middle Ages ?"  I said, "Hello.  Where do you think I live?"  Quite frankly that time period  had some pretty good things going, except for the bathroom issues which are too disgusting to write about.

 I do love this slower pace. It is maddening at first, but as my body and mind are adjusting,  and I feel a deep sense of calm that usually comes after meditation.  Welcome to my town and to the Middle Ages.

Our new river walkway

The river is on the left

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More photos of the festival

Here are some additional photos of our festival, which is now over, until next year.

Ladies dressed up


Children who are mesmerized by the old time music box.

The chaos beneath our window

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Escape to Bevagna

We escaped from the Piazza on Saturday afternoon after another rousing song fest underneath our window.  By leaving the Piazza, we missed the reenactment of the war between the various contingencies, Garibaldi arriving on a horse to save the day and more singing.  Next year we will come for the end of the festival.  4 days is a bit too much.

So off we went to Bevagna. It is one of the "I Borghi piu' Belli d'Italia, or one of the "Most Beautiful Towns in Italy".  It is about 40 minutes southeast of us, and we took the windy back roads away from our main drag of E45.  I love driving through the Italian country side in this part of Umbria.  It feels so uninterrupted by modernity.  I guess Umbria is the province uninterrupted.

Here are some pictures from the town.

 The hallway in our hotel.

 The restaurant of the hotel.

Beautiful wrought iron windows.

The hotel is called The Garden of Angels.  Lovely name isn't it?  The town is a medieval town.  I love the arches and the iron work in town.  It is very neat, and the old buildings are beautifully maintained.

While we were there, there was a prom going on.  Here are some young Italian beauties and their dresses.

These faces are in a 1,000 paintings that you see.  Heartbreakers.

Another look of love. Oh to be an Italian baby!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What do can-can dancers and muskets have in common?

They both were fired up and ready to go to open the 2011 Fratta Otto Cento festival in Umbertide last night.  Remember when you were a kid and went to your first big Barnum and Bailey circus?  Remember the excitement,  the chaos, the 3 rings with elephants and lions and tigers, oh my, the overhead trapeze, and the ring master?  Ok, hold that memory,  take out the animals and add into that circus space, opera singers, um-pa-pa bands, roving soldiers with muskets that are fired off indiscriminately and now and then a cannon that goes off and scares the crap out of everybody.  Or take a small county fair and put it inside a small town. Instead of cotton candy and hot dogs there are 12 taverns, 12 trattorias, people wandering around on stilts, a huge puppet show, clowns, a brothel, a jail, and artisans sculpting the map of Italy into marble. The centro storico of Umbertide is the stage and the towns people are, as always, the actors upon it.

Mani's son, Antonio, brought me up a flag to hang out the window.  Now our apartment has joined into the festivities.

The heat has lessened a little, but it is still scorching during the mid afternoon.  This morning there is a soft breeze that comes down from the hills above and drifts into my window.  It is astonishing how quiet the mornings are here above the piazza.  I can hear the birds and the traffic from the distant highway.  A night it is another thing.

Last night's big event was a modern dance interpretation to Carmen, the opera.  For those of you who don't know the plot of Carmen you would recognize the music.  Think about hearing "Gaily the troubadour, strums his guitar,  ta da.."  Anyway, here is the plot, much simplified.  There is a gypsy girl, Carmen, who works in a factory with other girls.  She is a bit of floozie and loves the boys.  One young man, who is engaged to another, falls in love with her.  The girls have a big fight over him (The Italians loved the fight) and he eventually leaves with Carmen.  She convinces him to leave not only the girlfriend but the army and he turns into a smuggler.  (You had to really know the plot to get this piece.  The reenactment looked like a big black caterpillar swallowed him.)  Anyway they are happy for a while, then a bull fighter comes by and Carmen is entranced by him.  The guy and bullfighter have a minor skirmish.  Carmen and the other dude have a fight, the dude kills Carmen, she lies dead on the stage.  The dude is taken away in handcuffs and the other girls do a rather boring dance without Carmen. Apologies to Franco, our opera expert for this translation.

I fortunately, watched this from my bedroom window.  It is like having a box seat above the stage.  The Italians were all standing for this show.  They formed a semi circle of about 30 people and stood 5 people deep.  They were mostly quiet for the performance.  The evening was lovely with a full moon in the background, and the church bell ringing at 10:00pm when they were mid way through the dance.  I was mesmerized by the modern dance interpretation.  Carmen had boy short hair, bleached blond.  She was seductive and provocative in her movements and heartbreaking in her death. My friend Adelle has the idea of a memory box where we store memories we can later revisit.  This will definitely be in my memory box.

The night ended with the crazy ones bellowing YMCA beneath my window.  The Stoic One slept through it.  How the Stoic One can sleep through this and why the Italians love this song are both mysteries to me.  The Italians do all the hand gestures and fall into fits of giggles. It would have been funnier if it weren't 1:30AM.  At 2:00 all noise magically stopped. Do the police come by and tell them to go home?

Guess who is going to spend the night in a charming villa away from Umbertide?  Yours truly.  I don't think I can take 4 nights of Can-can dance music.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Italians and Americans at play

Italians at play may seem like an oxymoron to most Americans, but Italians don't play all the time.  It's true! Sometimes they fret.  What do they fret over?  The stock market, getting things done on time, having too much to do and too little time?  Think again.  Remember where I am.  They fret over family members, the tax man or being ripped off.  They fret about not getting to lunch on time, or traffic.  As you know, they really fret about their health.  If they aren't fretting, they are talking, and talking and talking.  It is something to behold.  Go into one of the little trattorias and they will have the t.v. on.  Why is that?  To provide a background of talking so people will be comfortable.  This tv on drives me crazy.  I have a friend who has a gizmo that will remotely turn off and block the tv.  He secretly zaps the tv when they are out of the room. He says it puts the Italians into a frenzy when it goes off.  Why don't they play music?  I'm convinced it is because there is not enough talking!

However, when Italians play, they immerse themselves into it.  In California, we say we play hard and we work hard, but this isn't the same thing.  The concept of play being hard, wouldn't make sense to Italians.  They play like children play.  They can immerse themselves into the world of make believe like first graders.  I've been told that there is no word for "self consciousness" in Italian.  My Italian teacher disputes this, and then tells me the word for it is embarrassed, or shy but as we know, that isn't the same thing.  So most Italians somehow do not develop that awkward self-consciousness. This allows them to dress up in funny clothes, play music at less than a professional recording level, and generally enjoy themselves without the inner critic playing a constant dialogue.  I think this is one of the reasons that Americans love them.

So life in the Piazza is busy.  Instead of 12 people watching one guy work, there are now only 6 guys watching one poor guy work.  The Otto Cento is their major play event of the year and it starts this evening.  Of course, like children they aren't ready.  The one thing that they have finished is the "house of pleasure" which is located beneath our back window.  No surprise there.  I guess this will be the women's time to play dress up, and god knows what else. But I am a bit ahead of myself.

We have had guests for about 90 seconds.  They arrived one day and left the next.  They are a couple that Gary, aka The Stoic One, knew in graduate school.  This was their first trip to Italy and they spent a week in Venice and Bologna with friends, and then a day with us, back to Florence and then on to Rome.  They are darling.  The waitress asked if they were our kids and we were both flattered.  Here they are

So, in their 90 second visit we did not go to museums, go to churches, explore the historical significance of the upcoming historical re-enactment.  What did we do ?  Guess?

We went to Cortona, and I actually offered to take them to the Etruscan museum but they said "let's eat first"  My kind of people.

This is the restaurant La Bucaccia (the word refers to the part of Tuscany where the restaurant is located.)  The owner Romano is pictured above, and is charming, flirtatious, and animated.  The restaurant is located in a perfectly restored XIII century building.

Christine told him she loved cheese, and was unsure what to order.  "Do you trust me?",  he asked.  With our food selection, absolutely I thought. He told us he would order for us and after our first bite we would remember him forever.  (Have I mentioned the Italians were a humble people?  I thought not.)

To our surprise and delight, he came to the table and made fresh mozzarella in front of us:

He told us we could easily make this ourselves :)  6 liters of whole milk.  Put in 20 drops of good lemon juice.  Let sit overnight.  Next morning, boil until you have curds and whey.  Then proceed to knead as shown. PS: He has only been doing this since he was a child, so I am sure there are some steps in between that he didn't mention.

All the cheese is made in house.  The cheese above the tomato is what I call "embryo" mozzarella, before it was turned into little balls.

To serve the fresh mozzarella, which is not pictured here because we gobbled it down too quickly, he put quite a bit of salt on it, a little bit of pepper and a little bit of olive oil.  If you have never had warm mozzarella made in front of you, add this to things to do before you die.

Buon Appetito!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A hot September night

It is strange to be in Italy on 9/11. They talk about it on the Italian radio stations but it is more about the Americans' reactions, and how sad we are.  My deepest sympathy to anyone reading this whose family or friends were affected.  

We are back in Umbertide.  The Stoic One woke me up around 10:00 this morning checking to make sure I was still alive.  I had been sleeping for 12 hours straight and could have slept for a few more. Maybe I slept right through my jet lag this time!

The flight was uneventful until we got to Rome.  We spent one hour standing in line to get our rental car, mama mia! After 13 hours in flight, the wait is excruciating. An irate Englishman, went to the counter and demanded,"How much longer will this take?" The Italian calmly responded, "What number are you?"  The English man answered, "130".  "Well, then"the Italian responded, "It will take nine more numbers since we are on 121."  Remember when I asked Luca how many tiles he could set in one day, and then he called in sick the next day because my question stressed him out?  Hurray, we are back in Italy, where deadlines are non existent and time can't ever be measured.

Hopefully, this will be the last time we wait in line for a rental car, as we hope to pick up our own car on Thursday.  We do not have our "residenza" permit as we are waiting for citizenship papers.  This could be a problem because you are supposed to be a resident before you buy a car. However, we have been told that the law changed and it is now possible to buy a car in Italy without the residenza, but the people in the car dealership seem unaware of this change in the law, and so....More on this Thursday when a male entourage will accompany the Stoic One to the car dealership.

Leaving Rome we were stuck on the autostrada, going nowhere fast.  There was an overhead electronic sign that informed us there was a "ribaltata" 1 km. ahead.  Ribaltata, hmmm.  Isn't that some kind of Tuscan soup? I told the Stoic One that the road was a little soupy up ahead.  He gave me a look and suggested I look up the word.  The Google translator said ribaltata meant reversed, so I told the Stoic One not to worry that there was road work ahead and one way traffic.  Then we noticed several Italians started reversing themselves backward on the autorstrada to get off at the passed exit. "I think maybe the sign says we are supposed to reverse ourselves and go backwards." The Stoic One looked at me as if I had gone totally daft.  "How can I reverse when there are 100 cars behind me?"  "Well maybe you should get in the right lane and reverse yourself once you are over there." He didn't respond to my driving suggestion.  No news there. The next sign said "auto ribaltata"  I look this up and Google informs me it means "overturned car".  Uh oh.  One hour later, the Stoic One is still calm.  We had moved about 100 meters.  The Roman drivers are not honking their horns but have their hands out the window with their lit cigarettes keeping time to their music.  Has no one here heard about lung cancer?  We inch our way to the accident which had closed down 3 of 4 lanes.

Eventually, we arrive home.  Coming into the Niccone valley, is liking falling into a beloved recurring dream.  The sweet green hills surround us on either side, the farms appear as hand drawn little plots of land, with a few hot cows taking refuge under the shade of the trees.  Did you notice I said hot?  It is "hot unto death" here as the Italians say.

So remember when the Stoic One insisted on air conditioning, and Mani and all the Italians insisted no one in the town has a.c. and it was a waste of money, but my darling insisted?  Ha, ha. We are the only ones in the town who are cool.  Even the old men have stopped their card playing.  The black and white little dog is too hot to bark at the motorcycle that roars by, and the languid young Italian man who always sits to the right of our door, is now in the shade. Things are not normal in the Piazza of Umbertide,

When last I left you, we were in the airport having decided to buy apartment number 2.  As you may recall, apartment number 2 was owned by a 92 year old grandmother and her evil grandson Max.  Max was not only ugly in looks, way over weight with greasy brown hair, but ugly in behavior.  He told me that all Italians were thieves and liars and could not be trusted to tell you the correct time of day.  I took this as a summary of his character.  It did not endear him to me.  I told Matteo and Mani I didn't like him, and I wouldn't deal with him, so Matteo represented us in the purchase of the apartment.  We completed the Compromesso, through Matteo, wired in our deposit, and then we flew home.

Last month I get an urgent email titled "Max e' morto."  Uh oh.  Max, it seems is indeed dead.  He died in Rome mid June.  These are the following reasons we have been given as to what happened to him.  The grandmother said he died of a heart attack.  Totally believable given his weight and life style. The attorney said he died after a crisis of depression, and killed himself in the apartment in Rome. This, I must say is not believable given his personality, his need for cash and drive to sell the apartment.  His apartment in Rome has been sequestered by the police for 2 months.  Mani and I looked at each other and both said, someone killed him.  More on this later.

For lunch today, we went down to our favorite restaurant in town and were greeted by the owner Laura and her mother who does the cooking.  I had potato ravioli with salted ricotta filling and tiny bits of zucchini and pancetta in the sauce.  It was delicious.

Tomorrow we drive to Terontola to pick up some friends who are visiting from California.  I hope it is cooler weather for them.  This week there will be a grand festa in town celebrating the reunification of Italy.  It is called Otto Cento which means 800 but it is really 1800.  It should be a spectacle in the piazza.  Let's hope for cooler weather.  I think even the Italians may be grumpy wearing soldier uniforms from the 1800's if the heat is near 100 degrees.