Category: Italy

…my favorite Roma cafe

Thinking of espresso again today, I want to note that of course I found my favorite coffee spot only a few days before departing Roma last year!

I was supposed to meet an SGI member at Stazione Termini for a morning coffee that day and she stood me up.  Anyway, instead of walking back along my normal route home from Termini, I decided to walk a few blocks out of my way. I ended up going to a cafe and ordered a macchiato and cornetto, but they didn’t put latte in my cafe so I drank it without. I couldn’t remember if a macchiato had latte or not, and I didn’t feel like asking. Anyway, I left there and continued to walk out of my way and came upon the Piazza di Santa Maggiore. Ah, finalmente! The place on my map!

I saw a stylish looking cafe across the street and decided to try this cafe thing one more time. First off, the gentleman at the front greeted me kindly, and in my broken Italian, I asked for a cappuccino. He was very nice and told the barrista what I wanted.  The workers were young and multicultural — it looked like every nationality worked there. I loved it! And they were all very friendly and accommodating – I guess so, since I was the only person at the bar!

Piazza di Santa Maggiore

I never had a chance to return to the cafe before I returned to the states, however, I will stop by again the next time I’m in Rome.

To the city with the best coffee in the world – Ciao Roma!!

…driving while learning Italian

Before I traveled to Italy last year, I had moments where I thought it best that I brush up on my Italian. At the time I had no idea I was going when I did, I just thought it would be a good way to improve on what I knew already. I wrote this to myself:

I was shopping in Barnes and Nobles (yes, there are still some standing stores!) for a friend’s gift the other day when I came across a cd set in the bargain section for learning Italian while you drive. I immediately snatched it up!

I’ve been playing the cd’s for the past week now, and I must say I’m impressed with myself. The instructions and sample dialogues have songs to assist you, and it’s actually quite helpful. So helpful that I find myself breaking into song at random moments in my day! My colleagues giggle at me because my outbreaks are really quite random – I could be in the middle of filing and start singing “Un momento per favore” or “Gli daró un messaggio”, or even the entire Italian alphabet. Most of the material is a review for me, but since I haven’t practiced much since I took my first class several years ago, I feel like it’s still one step closer to fluency.

Alex the security guard, whom I drive pass each day, heard the music one morning and thought I started listening to the Disney archives. Funny that he didn’t think it was odd since he’s heard all kinds of music coming from my car on any given day.

Who knew that learning Italian through song would be fun?  Because I”m on the tail end of that party. When I first began, I would constantly miss letters in the pronunciation of the alphabet in Italian. I’d struggle with some words here and there, or think that I heard one word when it really was another.  I’m proud of myself now that I can recite it without pausing. In song though, only in song.

It’s time for me to break out those cds again. Practice and repeat. Practice and repeat. Pratica e ripetere.

…10 things that are more convenient in the States than in Roma

As an addendum to my “10 things that make Roma troppo speciale”, here is another list of observations of those things that are, well, a little less convenient.  Casual observations, mind you.

1. Laundry. First of all, we have dryers in the States. Not so, in all of Italy. Those picturesque shots of clothes hanging from windows? It’s for necessity, not just to make your photo album look authentically rustic. I guess it requires too much electricity to run, and why waste the fast drying heat of the sun? Which might also explain why everyone washes their clothes at night. FYI – do not even think of going to a local laundromat either, a lavenderia. It will cost you over 20 euro to wash and dry three loads. I found out through a friend who was suckered into using it…

2. Staples. The fact that we have Staples and/or Office Depot is a blessing. Finding a location in Roma to copy your cv on quality paper is a pain. Especially one that has business hours that most of us are accustomed to.

3. Shopping hours. Wallowing in the brilliance of this European city, I still missed 24-hour stores.  In Italy maybe a shop will open at 10am, maybe not. Maybe they will close for lunch for 3 hours, hey, maybe not. Maybe they won’t open at all. You shop on their time, ok? Because they really don’t need your business.

4. Pavement. As a woman, you’d have a better time walking in the street swerving out of the way of speeding taxis than footing it on the pavement. Especially if you’re wearing cute heels. Otherwise, cobble-dy, cobble-dy, cobble-do — oh wait, did I just break my ankle??

5. Streets. As I mentioned, its better to runway walk in the streets if you’re rocking some high heels and a nice outfit. However, figuring out which direction cars are coming from when you’re attempting to cross the street is another story. While you’re assuming you are safe by looking both ways, you might get hit from some Vespa scooter traveling from an entirely unexpected direction. Watch out!

6. Stoves. Thank goodness that my American-made (or at least made-for-American-use) gas stovetop turns on when I turn the knob. I do not have to sit and count for 10+ seconds so that the gas will remain on. Nor do I need a match to light the burner, and then hold it for 10+ seconds to make sure the the gas remains on.

7. Towels. Ok, who knew that buying a towel would be such an ordeal? Or linens, for that fact? There are few specialty linen stores (where? I didn’t see one!), and of course there is a blessed absence of Target/Walmart/Kmart (well, maybe a Conad superstore out in the rural areas), but that still meant it took me a week to find a place a buy a decent bath towel. And only because I asked my host family. After all that, I had to leave my beautiful celedon colored towel at Ms. Gx’s home since it took up too much space in my luggage. So much for trying to find things on my own.

8. Libraries. I love libraries. I swore I would visit a few in Rome while I was there. However, historical landmarks that are as far as the eye could see(squirrel!) — helped me avoid visiting any institutions of higher learning except my language school while there. Roma, you make things so difficult!

9. Wawa. For my east coast people, you know what I’m talking about. 24- hour made-to-order sandwich delight after a late night of debauchery. Or Haagen Daz coffee ice cream.  They also sell clothing detergent and razor blades if you need those too.

10. Mani-Pedis. I’m sure the women in Roma visit salons, and I’m sure they get mani-pedis. However, where, I just do not know. I saw one salon that offered manicures throughout my entire two months there, maybe two. I must be honest, I really wasn’t looking for any salons since I highly doubt that any of the stylists there have worked with natural hair as resplendent as mine. (yeah, I said it)  I’m sure there are many salons/mani-pedi establishments, but they were not obvious, just like most of the good places in Roma.

Dear readers, I absolutely adore Roma. Maybe Siena and San Gigmignano a little bit more. However, the most important lesson I learned was this:

when in Rome, do as the Romans do…

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…you is kind, you is smart, and you is impo’tant

…And you is beautiful!

Excuse me, but I need to remind myself of this frequently. Especially when I feel I’m not looking my best. My friends would say that I’m pretty, and pretty confident too. However, even the most confident people deal with insecurities – I can attest to that! I flew 6000 miles out of my comfort zone to live temporarily in a country where English will never be their first language, where people drink water from fountains along the streets (acckk – pigeon flu!), where the culture is different, the systems are strange, and people have so many flowery ways to express themselves.

I have to remind myself of that edited phrase from The Help anytime I’m feeling off-center. During one of my many days in Italy, I hung out with a classmate after class and we had a very nice time in an area of Rome we had never visited before. However, on my return home I was standing in line to purchase a train ticket. I could see that the man at the front of the line was turning around to look in my direction, so I moved over slightly to hide myself behind two guys directly in front of me because he couldn’t possibly be looking at me???  Then the guys directly in front of me turned to stare at me because this guy was looking at me.

Oooh, I don’t feel pretty today, dang-it! Off-center, off-center! All of you, turn around please!

Then, after he purchased his ticket he came over to me and started speaking Italian to me. Like I could understand what he was saying! I should be flattered that he thought I spoke Italian. However, he received the *blank stare*.  Observing him more closely, he started to look awfully familiar for some reason. Then I realized that he was the same guy I mentioned in an earlier post who said bellisima/bella to me while he walked by talking on his cellphone near Roma Termini. Smiles all around, as we recognized each other, and laughed at the connection we made. We even ended up sitting next to each other on the train.

This big city of Rome is not very large at all, in fact, its quite small. (thanks Dr. Seuss) Yay for random wonderful experiences in Roma!

Colorful road in Rome

…what did you do on the farm?

I meant to write this post a looooong while ago, however my manifold activities have distracted me from posting.

I’ve been asked this question so many times since I’ve returned to the states.  Actually, I think my stint on the farm might be unusual because they had a huge storm about a month before I arrived in March,  and it totally ruined many of the plants and trees.  As a result, remaining trees needed pruning and branches needed to be removed.  My host, Ms. Gx, is a TROOPER. Meaning that she did everything around the house and more. I don’t know how she handled this property all by herself, because it is an expansive property. Not only the property, but the garden, the animals, the cooking and cleaning daily for her family and friends who regularly stop by.  However, that’s where my volunteer work began. I helped fill in the gaps.  So here’s what my normal routine comprised:

First thing I did after my morning shot of espresso was feed the dogs. They were so lovely, and I miss them so much! I’m neutral when it comes to dogs, except I’m not particularly fond of pocketbook dogs.  Hey, that’s because I like my dogs like I like my men — sturdy. That’s probably why I want a Great Dane? Ha! Anyway — I adore these dogs. They run up to me, give me lots of love, and wait patiently while I mix their food with last nights’ leftovers. I love them so much!

Dog bowls – Feedin’ time!

Next, I fed the chickens:

Starter bin of food for the chickens
Feedin’ time for the chickens. And the turkeys. And the ducks.
I picked these eggs!

After feeding the chickens I would pick the eggs. Warm, they were! And extra fresh!

Horses:

Luna?

I don’t know if this is Luna or not. There were two horses, mama and daughter, yet I can’t remember the others’ name. It began with an ‘F’. Why can’t I remember?  Anyway, I would usually make sure that they received big bins of fresh water and hay daily.  I don’t know if you can see in this picture, but there is an electric fence that shocked me on several occasions – I couldn’t see it! I hated that thing – I almost clotheslined myself several times.

Olive branches in piles

Look at the lovely piles I made! Ok, consider many such piles all around the farm. All day, every day, picking up and collecting branches to place them in piles.  Eventually to be transferred to the home for the fireplace, or recycled for burning.  The turquoise wheelbarrow became my constant friend and companion. Work was hard and grueling, yet I enjoyed how I felt after a days’ work.

I wish I had taken pictures of one of our family meals. Ms. Gx is the best cook, and I must say, her food was the best I had my entire time in Rome. Sorry restauranti di Roma, take a lesson.

The smaller garden

Sometimes I had a chance to collect arugula for the day’s dinner – exciting! I was so careful with how I handled anything in the garden – being a city girl, I couldn’t tell the weeds from the produce. I remember saying how lovely and colorful a ‘plant’ looked, and Ms. Gx telling me that it was a weed.  :-/

Either way, she liked how I treated her garden and that I wanted to learn more. Eventually I would like to have my own garden, but in the meantime I will practice in others’ until I get the hang of it.

Italian washing machine

I also washed and hung the clothes and linens, cleaned the dishes at every meal, and/or did whatever odd jobs needed done around the house.  The washing machine was pretty self-explanatory, but it was odd to wash only at night.  The luxury of being an American is that we wash whenever the mood suits us.

The Grotto, from outside

One of my random projects was to clean the Grotto, inside and out. Just sweeping, of course.  A HUGE job, but someone had to do it. It was formerly a Etruscan tomb, or at least that what Ms. Gx believes it to be. I could feel a dampened energy while I was sweeping inside, which prompted me to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo the entire time I was there, and to sweep as quickly as I was physically able to do.

Ms. Gx home

Overall I had a wonderful time here, and I miss Ms. Gx and her family. I hope to return soon, for more of la vita bella!

…10 things that make Roma troppo speciale

  1. Leather stores with no websites. Because, yes, you too can only get this leather bag from Italy. So hop a plane, because its not online.
  2. Random water fountains. Not that I would drink from these structures for fear of catching pigeon flu, but its cool to see them randomly appearing as I walk.
  3. Hygienic plastic gloves at the supermarket. I mentioned these in an earlier post. The smartest waste of plastic ever.
  4. Tourist booths. The fact that there are so many historical locations that a city needs tons of tourist booths. BAM! Start learning.
  5. Sink foot pedals. Yet another hygienic idea. Primitive yet perfect. I don’t have to touch the nasty handle that someone else touched who did not wash their hands. Thank you!
  6. Extended hellos and goodbyes.  Ciao, ciao, ciao, baci, baci, baci, come stai, bene? Bene, bene, bene.  Yep – that’s all from one person to someone they’ve just met.
  7. Stovetop espresso makers. I love these damn things. Stainless steel though, not aluminum. I smuggled coffee bricks back to the States, and yep, I just bought one from Ikea a few days ago.
  8. Salmon steak for 3 Euro. Ummm, yeah. The best tasting salmon. Ever.  I seasoned it with only sale grosso and pepe nero, and sauteed it in some olive oil.
  9. Ancient structures in between modern buildings. Because who can fault a city for keeping its history, historical and relevant?
  10. PDA.  I love public displays of affection. Not the kind that makes you wonder if there is a candid camera nearby, but just genuine displays of affection. Its a beautiful thing.