Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Italy the good and the bad

We had our first snow of the season this morning.  I woke up to a gray world with white feathered accents.  Usually I like that color combination, but I this morning it did not look chic only cold!

You are probably thinking I am a California girl complaining about the cold. However, I spent the first 18 years of my life in Michigan, so I am used (or at least used to be used to) snow and cold, ma (but) this cold is really bitter. The wind, particularly in Perugia, whips right through your skin.  As we walk through the old stone buildings, I can imagine how many people have shivered their way up the hill.

So Italy the good and the bad.  Let's talk about the good.  No it isn't the snow.  Italy the good goes like this.  I was out of my cholesterol medicine.  I thought I had another bottle secreted away but I didn't.  I have a doctor assigned to me, but I haven't been to him yet because the hours always seem to be in conflict with my school hours.  So I ask my Italian friend Barbara if she thinks the pharmacist would take my American prescription and fill it.  Who knows she says, and off we go to see if if will work. When we get to the pharmacy, her friend isn't there, but another kind woman is.  Barbara asks if they could fill my prescription.  The pharmacist says yes we have this medicine.  She asks me who my doctor is in Umbertide. I give her the name, she hands over 85 pills, no charge, and tells me to come back later and tell me where I fit on the "Fasccio di reditto".  Ok, I say. I find out later that this Fasccio di Reditto is a hierarchy of income and depending where you fit, is what you pay.  She said since I didn't know the answer, I could tell her later when I found out.

Now several things.  Picture yourself in any major city in the United States.  You have a foreign prescription but you are a legal resident.  You ask if the prescription can be filled without an American doctors prescription?  Right! Could they fill it for no money until you figure out what you may owe, since you have no insurance? Double right. I imagine there are some people out there thinking, and this is WHY Italy is in so much financial trouble.  Maybe….maybe not. There are many ways to spend money.

Italy the bad on the other hand is a bureaucracy that is insane.  We have been trying to get the Stoic One all of the documents that he needs to get a more permanent visa so he can stay and not have to go off to Russia for 10 days..(his and Manuele's fantasy.)  So since I am an Italian citizen, the documents should be easier….one of the documents we needed was our original marriage certificate translated into Italian, which we had!!!!  So we take said document and translation to the office and they say, this document was completed in 1987…correct the year we were married.  It is too old they say.  "Como?" I say.  What do you mean too old.  Well, how do we know you have not gotten divorced since this document?  You're kidding right? The look on his face told me he was not kidding. The problem is I could prove it if I were divorced but I can't prove that I am still married. You may trip down the logical path of if I were divorced would I be in Italy, selling all my things, buying an apartment, but then you would be thinking like an American.  Oh, mamma mia.  Ok, what to do?  Well, they answer,  you need to write to Vigo di Cadore where your family is from and where you were registered and ask them to verify you are married.  I agree.  However, I have never even been to Vigo di Cadore.  They wouldn't know me from a jack rabbit, but so it goes. We call Vigo di Cadore, they do remember all of the paper work of my citizenship and they agree to send said document to us.

The word for the day is fuggi…RUN!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Festa di Santa Cecilia

Today is November 22nd.  At 3:15 this am, I heard some unusual sounds coming from the back of the apartment. You know that feeling when you are sleeping and have to make the decision whether you should wake up and investigate or go back to sleep?  So I decided to go back to sleep when I heard a trombone playing a warm up scale…What?  Am in the twilight zone?

I rouse myself and go into the living room to look out the window. There underneath our window is a brass band, in a circle playing a song that was vaguely familiar, but I don't know the name.  I look around to see if other neighbors are checking out this serenade, but nothing. It is totally quiet in the piazza. A young boy who was with the band, saw my face in the window and waved to me.  I waved back. The band then broke into the song "Tanti Auguri" which is the same melody as "Happy Birthday".  We heard them leave the piazza and continue tooting their music as they went marching along.  The Stoic One was up by this time and said, What the ????was that?  I had no clue.

So I met up with Manuele, and said did you hear the music last night….oh yes, he answers.  I say, what was that?  He said it happens every year on Nov. 22nd everywhere in Italy. (This was news to my Italian teachers in Perugia who had no such sleep interruption.)  Anyway here in Umbertide, it is the way that St. Cecelia is celebrated.  She is the patron saint of music so the community bands honor her by waking everybody up….ok….

So this is remarkable for 2 reasons.  1.  Who was the wise guy who thought the saint would be pleased to have every one awakened in her honor?  2.  This is the first Italian celebration I have seen where there was no…..Food!!!

Italian lessons are going well.  The Stoic One still hates reflexive verbs.  I am continuing to improve, slowly, in my use of the correct tense when I speak.  I am trying to learn two new words a day.  Not doing so well at that.  Do you think we are too old to learn to speak Italian fluently?  Probably….but what the heck.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


As a child, I loved the story of Pinocchio.  He did something, lying, that the adults said was terrible, but he seemed like a sweet boy and all that happened was his nose grew long…That was my child rationalization of the story. A sweet child, who told lies, but survived.

I also loved Marionettes.  Like many of my generation, Howdy Doody was my favorite after school show. For Christmas one year I received a Howdy Doody set.  I had Howdy Doody, Mr Buster and Flub a Dub, which looked like a strange dog but was a combination of 8 different animals.  I was ecstatic when I opened the box and saw Howdy.  I wanted to make the marionettes move like the did on TV. I forced my sister to sit in her little red rocking chair while I tried to understand how to work all of the strings, not get them into knots and keep the attention of my baby sister, hopeless! I grew so frustrated, I put them in a box and never really played with them.

So, I have always been intrigued by puppets and marionettes, apparently as are the Italians.

Our lovely teacher Eleanora took us to the puppet theater in Perugia.  The Teatro di Figura; tieffeu.
It was astonishing.  The puppets inside are remarkable.

The man who created the puppets is also the puppet master.  It is astonishing to watch him transform this lifeless creatures into movements of life filled with emotions. Look at the intensity and love on his face.

Here he is with his gallery of friends.  He is so tiny he could be a puppet himself!

He created all of these creatures, and said he had tons more at home.

Italian children learn fables and stories through the use of puppets. Do our children know the Greek myths from puppet shows?

The school we are going to is so cool.  It is very personal and we learn about Italian culture both directly and indirectly.  Even the Stoic One is liking it but he hates reflexive verbs!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Italian Health Care

With so much discussion, anger and frustration about Health Insurance and Health Care in the US, I thought I would share my personal experiences with Italy's health care system.

As an Italian citizen, I am covered for health care at no cost under the public system, called, the national health service, SSN Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, it is administered regionally.Family doctors are paid by the SSN, must offer visiting hours 5 days a week and are limited to 1500 patients. The Italian system is a combination of public services and private services.  Any where along the line you can switch from public to private or vise versa.  The difference is not in the quality of care, but in how long you have to wait for appointments or tests or surgeries, etc. One can get private insurance, which we have not decided if we should get this or not.  Once the Stoic One becomes a "resident" he also will be covered by SSN.  You do not have to be a citizen for this coverage, as a matter of fact the system also covers "illegal aliens".

My experience. I had some vision issues, and was told by my doctors in the US to get to an ophthalmologist immediately.  I got an appointment that day at 8:00 at night.  I had a 2 hour exam, my eyes and retina are fine, and I paid 65E.  Another time, I had a terrible sore throat and Antonietta's doctor came to the house to see me, prescribed antibiotics and would not accept payment.

I have found the doctors in Italy to be attentive, patient, and kind.  I also respect their professionalism. I know that many Italians complain about the system here, but it all depends on your expectations.  In the states I had Kaiser Permanente as my health care provider.  I loved them and I loved my doctors.  I had major trepidation about the health care in Italy as I had had some health issues.  I now have no concerns and believe that if I have a health care problem here, I will be taken care of and I will not go bankrupt and I will continue to be covered even if I am sick.  What a concept!

Socialized medicine in the US is the pejorative term for Universal Health Care.  This is my second experience with this system.  My first experience was as a dependent of someone who was in the military.  Again, I had very good experience and I heard very few complaints.  It is strange what creates fear in us.  The unknown is certainly scary.  When I was going through my own personal health care crisis the Stoic One kept saying to me, what are the facts?  What do you know for sure?  In this current health care debate, I would advise my friends in the US to ask themselves these questions.  What are the facts and what do you personally know for sure.

Anyway, enough about that.  I am happy that I am healthy, the sun is out and it is a beautiful November day in Umbertide.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Italian gym

Ok.  The Stoic One dragged my ever enlarging you know what out into the rain, wind and cold.  Can you tell I was thrilled to go?   I can now report on our first Italian gym experience.  The gym was small, like most things in Italy.  It had a variety of things, but only one piece of equipment per type.  Like only one treadmill, one elypitcal machine etc and no TV!!!
It is located in the new part of town above a rosticerria that we love. I can't imagine the smells wafting up in the afternoon.

The name of the place is Inn Forma….ok…

So Mauro, the sweet owner, puts me on a treadmill, I get to 5 and say "basta."  I think, wow, I'm doing great at this speed.  It hardly feels like 5 miles per hour….I look down, oh about those kilometers…I was doing about 3.0  now wonder it was so easy!

The Stoic One of course was the star.  He was working through the weights and machines like Mr. Universe. I was working with a rubber thing to improve my ankle strength and somehow I broke it.  Don't ask me how.  The Italian dude next to me almost choked laughing as the rubber handle went flying across the room. Sigh..

So this gold machine was the hot ticket.  This is the third woman that came in, got zipped into some foam rubber skirt, then got strapped in.  Since Mauro's explanation of this machine was all in Italian, bear with me, you pick: it was either a machine that would allow you to climb mountains at higher altitude, allow you to swim under water for a long time, or eliminate cellulite.  I have a sneaking suspicion it was number 3.  Note the clock.  We started at 9;00, at 10:10 we were still there!  Hello, 10 minutes past my expiration date. The Stoic One was thrilled.

Luca in the mean time, has taken to rearranging slippers while we are gone.  This is his latest artistic arrangement.

Do you think Italy is wearing off on him?  Note our new carpet.

Now about some art work...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Recipe for Tiramisu

Our very nice teachers at Lingua in Corso decided it would be good fun if we experienced some Italian things other than grammar! Yeah.

So the first thing we do is make tiramisu.  She had all of the ingredients ready for us and the recipe as well.

There were 4 of us making this.  Each person made a dish for 4-5 people.
Here is the recipe.
3 egg whites
250 gr. of mascarpone
3 egg yolks
4 tables spoons of sugar
"cacao amaro" in powder form
400 gr. of pavesini or savoiardi lady fingers
6 cups of Italian coffee

Mix the marscapone with the egg yolks, add in the sugar, mix and stir very well.
Whip the eggs whites until they form peaks.(We used big glass measuring cups which worked great!)  Fold into the egg yolk and sugar combination.
Dip the lady fingers in coffee..don't soak..shake off any extra liquid.

In an 8X8 pan, put down some of the marscopne cream, just a little.  Then put down a layer of the lady fingers, pressed next to each other. Alternate soaked lady fingers and the cream. End with the cream on the top. Shake the cocoa powder over it. Put in the fridge for 4 hours before serving.

Our teacher said 3 layers is the best. It was delicious and easy! Even I did one.

We had 2 batches, so we gave one batch to the Babucci family.  They ate it all and said it was delicious! Remarkable.  We got them to eat something.

Pastries and Hair

I have been asked what do we do every day?  What is our daily calendar like?  Everyday is so different, it is hard to say.  We do the normal things you would do in the US but it takes twice as long and is in Italian so it is twice as much fun.  We haven't really established a routine yet. I am sure in the months to come we will.

So one thing I had to do was find a hair dresser.  Luckily Joseph met someone who was working at show in London and who lives in a town about 35 minutes from us.  The four of us went off to meet the hair dresser.  The Stoic One went along because he drives, Paul went because Joseph went and Joseph went because he cares about hair and makeup!

It was a fantastic, only in Italy, experience.  First of all, what a surprise, the shop was in constant chaos.  Neighbors stopping, women stopping by to ask hair advise and an 8 year old girl, whose mother lives upstairs, who was bored and wanted to stay in the shop.  Ok, you can kind of picture it.  In the US I take a book or something to read because the shop is quiet, soothing music, a respite from the world…right…ok.  Stefano is the hair dresser and he gave me one of the best cut and colors I have ever had and I have been around a long time!

The shop is in Sansepulcro.  The town is actually in Tuscany.  Another charming medieval town.

So in the US this is the process for a cut and color….shampoo, hair cut with wet hair, hair dry, color put on with foils, weaving your hair with the end of a comb and mixing the colors. Sitting with foil on your head for about 20 minutes, then dry a few more trims, out.  All in all about 2 hours….in Italy.

First of all there is a lot of pushing, pulling your hair this way and that.  Joseph is also there so he adds in that my hair should be layered, enough with the bob look, Stefano agrees, then Stefano talks about the weather, winter is coming, I will be wearing more scarves, high collared sweaters, so all of this effects the length of the back of my hair…then color…many choices, mixes, skin tone…omg. about 40 minutes has gone by and no work has started.  Then the little girl tells Stefano she is bored and wants to comb out a wig, so he goes and gets her a wig to play with.  Joseph decides I am in safe hands so he and Paul and the Stoic One disappear and go to a pastry shop!

There were so many choices, they had a hard time deciding.

Thank god I wasn't with them.  I would have had no resistance.

Ok, back to my hair.  I had a very careful haircut…beautiful…then dry…then grandma comes in and puts the color on…to say I was alarmed understates the situation…then Stefano comes back and twists the colors together, then puts paper wrappers on my hear, then puts me under the heat for 5 minutes except no one pays attention to timers going off, then I was ready…3 hours plus…here are the results..ignore my face which looks like I have been in the sun and eaten too much gelato.

Another day in Umbria.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hazelnuts and Bevagna

We continue to visit the towns in Umbria that have festivals.  Montone's festival was so crowded we couldn't move much less take pictures. Young Italians continue to smoke like maniacs so every time I crossed the piazza, I was sure some fool was going to set me on fire.  Luckily I escaped unsinged.

Bevagna, on the other hand, had few people and not that many hazelnuts.  The word for hazelnuts in Italian is nocciola, if you have ever visited here you may have been subjected to Nutella, which is a combination of chocolate and hazelnuts that most Americans find revolting..So sweet. The company came up with this product in 1964 and it has been a staple in Italian kitchens since.  Although mainly for children, I know of Italian adults who eat it. It sets your teeth on edge it is so sweet.

Maybe we got to Bevagna too late, but we didn't see many hazelnuts.  There was mainly music and people strolling, which was fine with us.  Bevagna is one of my favorite hill towns with a beautiful piazza.  It supposedly was built before Roman times by the Etruscans but was burned down several times. It is a great place just to wander, people watch, listen to music and just hang out.

Italians seem to love American music.  They love jazz, the blues, English rock and roll.  It always surprises me to hear them playing songs I know.

What the band lacked in talent, they made up for in enthusiasm.  They definitely needed a better sound system.

I love looking in store windows and seeing how beautifully they arrange the food.  It looks appetizing on all levels.

Have I mentioned that the Stoic One is a secret romantic?  He captured a young Italian couple having a quiet moment.

Ciao til the next time.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Italian-American dreams

We are one anothers dreams, we Americans and Italians. Not all of us of course, but those that dream of another life, those who in their hearts are travelers not tourists, we have fantasies of foreign places that will satify our restlessness, our search for a life style that would match our dreams. This longing for a difference creates dreams of a place where we are happy, where our restlessness is calmed and our aggitation is settled. Our life in a new place would be more satisfying, more suited to our indivudal make up if only.....

Many young Italians dream of the life style of the U.S. If only they could find a way to work and live in the US, then... For these young people, the US continues to be  the land of opportunity, a place where merit rises above background, heritage, nepotism and stifling bureaucracy. One young Italian woman told me in amazement that she heard that in the U.S. it was possible to have an idea, and people would pay you money to develop it and implement it. It was astonishing to her that such a thing was possible. These young people dream of the freedom of the US, the lifestyle, the ease of technology, the ability to get meaningful work. They wonder what it would be like to live independently, finally, from their parents, to have a home of their own. Their eyes widen at the dream of unfettered freedom,  the ability to make as much money as they could possibly want or need.  They are Midas before the gift.

Many Americans dream of the life style of Italy.  A country of wonderful food, and wine, music, art and culture. It is our Elysium Fields, a place where everything in life is sensual, delicious, and dolce. Italy is the land of perpetual vacation, where the music makes us happy, the people are satisfied with small things, and "mamma" has the answer for everything and can fix everything.  The laws here don't apply to us.  Stop lights can be ignored. If we miss our exit on the autostrada we can back up and not be killed. Life in Italy is the oyster and we are living our own personal pearl.  Such is the American dream about Italy.

How did we come to have such dreams about one another?  Why don't Italians dream about Canada? Why don't Americans dream about Switzerland? What is it about our own lack of meaning that makes the other life style so seductive in our dreams? Italy and the US; the Yin and the Yang. Complementary, not opposing forces of life, desire, and dreams.