Sunday, November 30, 2008

Come On Baby, Light My Fire

So our oven/stove/candle lighter ran out of fuel. And being good environmental citizens (except when it comes to wasting bathwater on account of our meager shower), we thought we’d try to refill it, instead of sending yet another piece of plastic to the dump. 

Earlier in the week, Trofie Wife made an excursion into the town centro in order to purchase a new one (for backup) and inquire as to how to refill the original. The friendly folks in the electronics shop explained the difference between the ones that run on fuel and those that run on some sort of rechargeable crystals (magic!). Deciding that she didn’t want to bother with lighter fuel if she didn’t have to, Trofie Wife went for the rechargeable crystal one, spending just 2 euro more and hopefully saving even more than that in trouble. Well, upon arriving home and attempting to cook dinner in the oven that evening, Trofie Wife and Martello discovered that the crystal one doesn’t work on the oven or open-air candles (it has to connect in a special way with the lighter thing on the side of each burner). 

So, yesterday, Trofie Wife took not one but two “boy do I feel stupid” trips to local stores. Having studied the term for “lighter,” I went to the local tabacchi as instructed in order to purchase a lighter fluid refill. Except that I pronounced the term incorrectly, emphasized the need for gas but not lighter fluid, and ended up leaving with extra-long matches (which I will never use, given my abject fear of lighting them). I was thinking of bringing (and should have brought) my present lighter with me, but at the last instant, I chickened out, afraid that it would burst into flames inside my purse with whatever little fuel was left). On my way to my next errand, I ended up passing the gas store, where seated inside was the same guy who filled our propane tank when we first moved in. My arrival commenced yet another frustrating encounter (interestingly, his English would only appear when he was totally exasperated). I ended up leaving with another charger that can be refilled with lighter fluid—of course, at the tabacchi. Luckily, on my way to the wine shop, I discovered another tabacchi, where I will go with the lighter’s box whenever we need more fluid, circumventing my need to interact with the lady who gave me matches.

I also noticed on this walk that it may have snowed here as a number of parked cars have snow on their roofs (upon arriving home, Martello confirms that, in fact, snow did hit the higher elevations). For our weekend pleasure, I stopped into the wine shop (my first time in there as we usually just pick up vino at the grocery store) for a bottle of Cantina Tramin Alto Adige Sauvignon (just raved about on; thanks for getting me onto that listserv, Moshe). A quick Google search revealed that it’s retailing for $18.95 at, but Trofie Wife scored it for under 9 euro! We will surely miss the wine bargains when we depart. (Tasting notes: we tried the wine with our antipasta dinner (with Trofie Wife working on that same glass for another two hours after dinner) and both agreed that it was fabulous and not at all overrated.)

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife 

Probably Not Making the Most Popular Baby Names List This Year

Trofie Wife is always on the lookout for interesting tidbits regarding her adoptive home. If readers remember from an earlier post, she was shocked to see a Mussolini calendar on sale in Voltri. Well, apparently there actually is a market for such paraphernalia. A little tidbit in The New York Times, of all places, reported on a $1,900 payment, courtesy of a neo-fascist party in the Southern Italian Basilicata region (Potenza is the big town there; the region is Italy’s smallest and most impoverished), to couples naming their children either Benito or Rachele, after Il Duce and his bride. No word on how many—if any—families have taken them up on the offer. I guess this is an extension of other attempts by Italian regional and local leaders to financially incentivize parenthood in order to stem the tide of negative population growth (see this New York Times Magazine article from last summer,

However reactionary, this group just might be on to something. Trofie Wife has heard on more than one occasion parents referring to a child as “the little dictator” or something of that nature. Taking the Fiamma Tricolore up on their offer turns the moniker on its head. In exchange for dictating, il bambino gets stuck with a funny name (at least if he’s a boy), and Mom and Dad get to take the money and run.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Gobbled in Genoa

Turkey is known in Italian as tacchino, but from what we can gather, it’s not really a big sell around here. This Thanksgiving was a first for Trofie Wife in many ways. It was the first time in recent memory that she did not watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (or the National Dog Show that follows it), OD on pineapple horseradish dip, blow out the candles on her (totally expected) belated birthday cake, or otherwise spend the holiday with however many Schwartzes can be wrangled together. Instead, Trofie Wife went into Genoa with her British pal to see Rachel Getting Married (at the original-language theatre), which was highly appropriate Thanksgiving fare given its focus on a dysfunctional family; Trofie Wife highly recommends both the film and soundtrack. Given the film venue, Trofie Wife should not have been surprised to hear English both onscreen and in the audience—a most welcome indulgence. She was also happy to gab with and give directions to an elderly couple visiting from the States. Other highlights of the visit to the city included coming upon a large group of Germans from Stuttgart beering and cheering on their “football” team and leafleting students preparing for a big rally on Friday (which might have encountered some complications, given the impending massive wind and rainstorm). 

Martello arrived home well after 9 p.m. so we could finally start working on our Thanksgiving feast. Trofie Wife was hoping to cobble together some fish ravioli from frozen fish filets and some egg pasta Martello selected in Eataly that looked enough like ravioli such that if they were cooked, separated, and then pan-fried fish was slid in between two pieces, presto, we'd have ravioli, right? Well….Martello was pretty convinced that the pouches would not hold together in boiling water, and he was correct. Instead, we baked the ravioli in the oven for five minutes or so and then topped the warmish, sometimes crunchyish, dish with the remnants of our bottle of bagna cauda, a traditional Piedmontese condiment made with olive oil, garlic, and anchovies which even Martello, the Garlic Freak, thought was a bit too garlicky. I’ve just read, however, that it is supposed to be served warm, so perhaps we’ve misjudged/mischaracterized it by not following directions…

Nevertheless, we dined and gave thanks for our new home, each other, and everyone else in our orbit of love and friendship, both near and far.

 Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife


One Small Step for Manicotti, One Giant Leap for Mortadella

Apparently, Italy has just been selected to head the European Space Agency for the next two years. (See:

The country is the third-largest contributor to the European space program, yet it’s only been launching astronauts since the 1990s. Plus, Trofie Wife is not really sure why it was granted this honor, given its well-documented foibles with all the other forms of transport over which it already has control (airplanes, trains, buses…). A strike on a space station sounds unsafe. Perhaps it’s all just an elaborate reemployment plan for laid-off Alitalia pilots?  Either way, for the next couple of years, I’d stick with Cape Canaveral as your shuttle launch of choice.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Fear Not Poste Italiane

Prior to moving to Arenzano, Trofie Wife was warned repeatedly about the unreliability of the Italian postal service. With this advice at hand, I expected little in the way of mail pouring in or out and expected that whatever was delivered to me—if it arrived at all—would be chewed up/pilfered through, and anything that I sent to the States would actually end up in Nova Scotia. Thus imagine the pleasant surprise when mail started arriving seemingly rapidly and word came back that what I had placed in the little red boxes had turned up across the Atlantic, in the right Zip code! Perhaps our good fortune is due to our positioning in Northern, and not Southern, Italy, where things are still a bit rough around the edges and not as interconnected with other Northern European commercial centers. Whatever the reason, I will happily accept it!

This week has been an especially good one for mail, with care packages of magazines (thanks, Mom!) and Lactaid (thanks, Keith and Amy!) finding their way to our box. An added bonus was that the Lactaid package was actually delivered via Poste Italiane courier, so Trofie Wife finally figured out what the downstairs buzzer sounded like and discovered how to let in guests!

The most recent get was especially exciting, not only for what arrived, but in that it allowed Trofie Wife’s determination to triumph over Martello’s cynicism. Prior to leaving, Trofie Wife created a lengthy agenda of necessary address and billing changes. As high a priority as ensuring that her final Brooklyn bills would be paid and banking and credit card statements redirected, was making sure that her New York magazines would continue to arrive. Yes, Trofie Wife realizes that presently she does not live in New York. But how can you expect me to keep up the RobynZagat if I don’t get all the information regarding restaurant openings? The good folks in charge of delivery told me that I would be able to have it forwarded to our new home at no additional cost for the lifetime of this subscription (basically, our entire time in Italy). Martello was certain that either a fee would show up and/or the magazines never would. I trusted that the people who so deliciously comment on the goings on in my favorite city would be certain to keep me in the loop. Low and behold, on my way out of the apartment this morning, a glossy plastic package beckoned from our box. What was it? The November 17 issue of New York magazine! (Yes, they might be a little far behind, but they’re still arriving!) My mother just sent me November 3, and I’m almost certain that November 10 ended up in Brooklyn and will somehow make its way to New Jersey and eventually Italy. (Note: midway through writing this post the November 24 issue arrived. Two in one week! Oh happy day!) Martello is not happy with this turn of events, as he believes New York magazine and the NYC-centric view of the world it proffers belongs somewhere in between the 3rd and 6th rings of the Inferno. He, of course, neglects to remember that many a fun birthday dinner or weekend outing sprang forth from those pages…

Speaking of Martello, I’m sure that readers are thrilled that he finally provided his promised disquisition on Venice. However, he has sadly determined that it will likely not be possible for him to be a regular correspondent due to his super-long work days. He will thus make guest appearances as opposed to being a regular player. Either way, stay tuned.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Cherie, Michelle, and Trofie Wife

Not that I’m presenting Martello as design’s little lost Laborite (with decidedly large ears) or Democratic savior/messiah (also with large ears…hmm, is there a connection between ear circumference and prestige? Maybe I should more closely examine Martello’s ears, not to mention my own), but reading the following New York Times article on the transition from power player to (less) power(ful) wife, I found cause to ruminate on my own situation here as Trofie Wife:

Via an article in the Times of London, Attorney (and former British First Lady) Cherie Blair told attorney (and First Lady-Elect) Michelle Obama, “‘You have to learn to take the back seat,’” as your husband will be the focus as long as he holds his title. The New York Times reporter continues to discuss various ongoing debates regarding Michelle Obama’s decision to resign from her own prestigious position in order to support her husband, first as a candidate, and now as president-elect and ultimately, president. The question is whether or not she truly had a choice in the matter and if so, if such choices are dispiriting or empowering for career-minded women. Some activists argue that Michelle Obama will gain a new soap box as first lady and perhaps be able to accomplish even more in this role than in her private-sector career trajectory. Obama remains convinced that she can return to her old career or a new one once her husband’s term(s) of office end(s).

Yes, Martello wasn’t elected the leader of the free world, and Trofie Wife had not yet risen to the professional stature of one Michelle Obama. But there are parallels. Trofie Wife is certainly taking a backseat to Martello at the moment, with her professional options limited to those that can be undertaken from afar on her trusty computer, as determined by open-minded employers. Just as any spouse (though in heterosexual couples I’m pretty sure women more frequently than men) must make tough decisions when their partner is offered a position far away from their current home, Michelle Obama and Trofie Wife found themselves in this same boat. While commuter marriages (or relationships) may work for some period of time over a manageable difference, at a certain point they are no longer feasible, especially, as in Michelle Obama’s case, when the family extends beyond the couple to animals and/or children. Becoming Trofie Wife and coming here was certainly a choice, and being with dear Martello in such a lovely location sure beats any administrative role. (I’m not sure if Michelle Obama will feel quite the same way about swampy Augusts in D.C., though I know nothing of Chicago summers, so maybe it’s not a major change.) Still, in the “dispiriting” corner, it’s unfortunate that one person’s career opportunities have to be sacrificed on the altar of another’s (here’s where the case for finally working out teleporting comes in).

Yet in the “empowering” corner, by tagging along with Martello, Trofie Wife has most certainly found a new platform—this here blog. In fact, it had been quite some time since she had written extensively outside of academic pursuits, so Trofie Wife has plunged head first into the opportunity, indulging in the writerly life complete with e-mail and online procrastination, constant revisions, and all together too many cups of tea. The ultimate question is what will become of Trofie Wife’s career, left behind on distant shores. Only time will tell if she will be able to transition back to the work force without skipping a beat, or if her “gap year” will be derided by employers in this increasingly dismal economy. While “First Lady” of the United States looks pretty good on the resume, Trofie Wife just doesn’t have the same ring to it…

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Falling in Love All Over Again

So, Martello and I have devised a little something called the “honeymoon bank.” Since we didn’t have a formal, mini-umbrella-drink laden week or so long honeymoon as per standard wedding operating procedure (SWOP), we’ve been denoting certain days/experiences here and there as part of our honeymoon cache. Included on the list was our actual 48+ hour Manhattan (where we realized we hadn’t slept in roughly five years) mini-moon, our 72+ hours in Maine, our 36+ hours in Venice, and most recently, our 36+ hours in Torino. (Yes, we understand that most of our readers believe us to be on a 12-month honeymoon, but in actuality, Martello does, in fact, go to work every day and stays out of the house for at least 12 hours while Trofie Wife is occupied with domesticity and computerly matters. Yes, we do this in a lovely setting, of which we realize most people are envious, but if you’re religiously making the bed every morning, you’re not on a honeymoon…).  Anyway, this post is dedicated to Torino, our new love (with apologies to New York and Philadelphia). If any design (or cioccolato) firms in Torino are reading this, we’d be happy to spend Year 2 with you.

Last Saturday we boarded the local train at a godlier hour of 10:30 a.m. in order to catch the Intercity to Torino. Turns out that we had purchased the wrong kind of ticket and were thus hit with a surcharge on the train. Luckily, the conductor was nice, knew some English, and answered his cell phone mid-transaction (pretty standard here—Trofie Wife is still smarting about not getting a snapshot of the gondolier in Venice kibitzing away while touring around a happy couple), proving that we were not in any sort of trouble. We also found out that they carry credit card machines, so if we are ever in a bind without cash, we won’t get thrown from the train! We alighted (sounds so much better than the subway conductor screaming, “Let ’em off, let ‘em off”) at the Lingotto station and immediately had an amazing view of the Italian Alps. We were a bit disoriented at first, but eventually found our way across the traffic median to the entryway of the Olympic bridge, the gorgeous red arch pictured below.

Torino hosted the 2006 Winter Games, which I somehow managed to completely miss, which is odd, given that I spent a good chunk of 1994 (post-Lillehammer) trying to figure out how I could become the next Bonnie Blair/Dan Jansen (I even went so far as to have my personal secretary (aka, my mother) call the nearby skating rink, Fritzel Ditzel (that’s at least what I called it; that might not be its proper name), to see if they offered speed skating lessons, which I figured I’d squeeze in between Hebrew school and tennis. Needless to say, it didn’t work out.). The New York Times was helpful enough to publish a tome to Torino just a few days before our departure in October, sealing the deal that we would journey there. In the article, the author notes that Torino, an old factory town, was on the upswing and cinching the Olympics further enhanced its development. However, the former Olympic village is a bit sad looking (see below). In two years, the huge visitors’ center has yet to be repurposed.

The gorgeous bridge provides breathtaking views of the Alps en route to the mall. Yes, the mall. Trofie Wife was glad to be back in her natural habitat, when she and Martello entered the shopping center to find themselves in the midst of the food court and many Christmas decorations. Amazingly, the mall is connected to two gorgeous Le Méridien hotels. We splurged at the Art + Tech, enjoying such amenities as a comfortable bed with multiple pillows!, window curtains with an automated open and close button, and a power shower (boasting amazing water pressure and massage nozzles and which has managed to make our dinky “shower” at home seem even less inviting, as if that were possible).

After settling in, we abandoned our plush accommodations in order to explore Torino. We hopped on a local bus and disembarked in order to walk the vaunted avenues of fancy shops, drink espresso-inspired beverages at the original Lavazza café, down some good, cheap falafel, explore the various piazzas, and attempt to not purchase the entire contents of the Muji store (I sincerely fear for our financial health when we finally make it to Japan, as our joint propensity for cute/well-designed stationery items will surely get us in a lot of trouble). On our way to visit the famed Shroud of Turin (Turin is Torino in English; I don’t understand why geographical names can’t just be standardized, with the country/city in question’s name holding up from one land to the next, in the original language!), we stopped for a ceremonial scoop of Grom ice cream. Now if you will recall, Grom opened on the Upper West Side to great fanfare several summers ago. Trofie Wife was one of many, many New Yorkers who waited for hours on lines that whipped around the block in order to sample this so-called most amazing gelato ever. At $5 a scoop, I was underwhelmed, though the experience of chatting with other hopeful ice cream devotees was in some ways worth it (plus, I had nothing better to do that night). Tasting Grom on its home turf (meaning, not freeze-dried), for a lesser price made it a bit tastier, but Trofie Wife is still not convinced that it’s the best gelato in the country. (However, she will likely look forward to visiting the relatively new West Village shop upon her return and commenting to her companion about “how much better it tastes in Torino.”)

So, with cones in hand, we made our way to Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista, where the Shroud of Turin is housed. The deal with the shroud is that it is believed by believers to be Jesus’s original burial cloth. The powers that be have put together a fairly impressive timeline (complete with radiocarbon and other scientific testing) that definitively places the shroud in Turkey in the 500s, and they have traced its travels from the Middle East to France and ultimately, Italy. According to a quick Google search, controversy over the carbon dating arose yet again this summer. (Trofie Wife and Martello have no official position on the matter.) Due to its sacred and delicate nature, the shroud is not on display, but a great reproduction is front and center for all to examine. From an artistic perspective, it’s pretty cool.  

We next moved on to the Roman ruins—a gate and amphitheater that were hard to view in the dark. They appear to now be used as an elaborate dog run—I’m sure the Roman emperors would be quite pleased to know that. At this point, our lack of sleep on Friday night and a pestering cold was really getting to Trofie Wife. She was ready to call it a day. However, Martello—who apparently likes to plan vacation itineraries (but not much else)—convinced me to soldier on…and up. I found myself riding up a ridiculously steep elevator inside the Molé, which is inside the national cinema museum (which boasts such national treasures as relics of American cinema belonging to Marilyn Monroe, amongst others, go figure) to reach a viewing deck looking out and over all of Torino. Pretty lights. Trofie Wife preferred to cling to the support column while Martello snapped some death-defying shots (below). Martello wants all readers to know that the entire top of the Molé is, as Trofie Wife refers to it, “suicide proof,” meaning lots of wires, enclosures, and other contraptions are in place such that it would be impossible for anyone (even with great effort) to tumble off. (He somehow thinks this makes my case for clinging to the pole less cogent.)

I should also add that the Molé was originally supposed to be a synagogue for Turin’s newly emancipated Jews, but wouldn’t you know it, the architect went over budget, which led to some sort of land swap (Whitewater?), with the city giving the Jews another parcel in exchange for the Molé plot. After relishing the vistas, we rode the elevator back down but decided to forego the cinema museum in favor of dinner as recommended by our guidebook and the above-mentioned New York Times article. Dinner caused Trofie Wife to perk up such that when we disembarked from the bus, she noticed that the lights were still on in Eataly, henceforth known as the most amazing place ever (to be discussed in greater detail two paragraphs down). As a sort of preview for the adventures that we would have there the following day, Trofie Wife and Martello ducked in just a few minutes before closing to get Gelato #2 of the day. With the staff trying to kick everyone out so they could go home, we returned to our hotel to rest and prepare ourselves for the culinary journey that awaited us in the morn.

For as long as Trofie Wife has been capable of booking her own hotels, she has been certain to pick those where breakfast is included (sometimes you have to double check these things, if it’s not automatically noted on the Web site). Martello doesn’t believe in this principle as firmly, believing that scavenging for breakfast provides the first opportunity for adventure each morning. However, I believe he will agree that it was well worth my nagging to get us to spring for breakfast at Art + Tech. We enjoyed the luxurious setting of the dining room ensconced with suspended lighting fixtures along with the buffet breakfast, complete with yogurt in glass containers and chocolate hazelnut sauce and honey (which may have found their way, half opened, back to Arenzano). After breakfast, we ascended the structure, finding ourselves on top of the roof of the old Fiat factory (the building’s original use prior to its conversion into a hotel). We had the dual sensation of overlooking the gorgeous Alps, while feeling as though we had entered the racing scene in Grease. Martello took the opportunity to get some exercise, as pictured below, while Trofie Wife took the opportunity to take pictures of Martello and find shortcuts around the track (she did, however, climb up the side of the track in order to commune with her inner Nascar driver). We then stopped at the floating art gallery, also on the roof, to view the Fiat owners’ permanent collection as well as the temporary exhibit of works from an eclectic Zurich gallery. Finally, it was time to head to Eataly.

To understand just how amazing Eataly is, imagine the largest Whole Foods in the world, running on hyper antioxidants. Eataly is a foodie’s mecca. Both Disney World (fun) and Epcot (educational) for acolytes of the Slow Food (keywords: natural, local, seasonal, greenmarket, biodynamic, organic, fresh, anti-prepared foods) movement. Essentially, heaven on earth. The aisles upon aisles of fresh, all native Italian food ranges from pasta to produce to prosciutto (we, of course, skipped #3). In addition to stocking every possible bit of Italian food you can imagine (well, except for black pasta, which was surprising and disappointing), there are nine—yes, nine—eateries within the complex, allowing visitors to sample fare from a specific genre and have it paired with wine, which you can then find in the cellar downstairs. We narrowly resisted the all-white truffle menu in favor of the fish bar. Trofie Wife dined on an excellent fish soup, while Martello enjoyed some grilled fish. I should also note that before heading into any of the food aisles, Trofie Wife navigated into the book section, and she and Martello nosed around there for close to 25 minutes, finally settling on a catalogue of Piedmont-produced delicacies (with a recipe section; all in Italian) and an awesome chart noting seasonal availability of vegetables and fruits. Our carts (and, eventually, eco-friendly shopping bags) were filled with pastas, sauces in jars, cupcake tin liners (!), and chocolate (lots of it! To atone for missing this year’s Chocolate Show).  Somehow we managed to leave the store with some money still left in the bank. Rumors circling the Internet say that Eataly is set to land in Rockefeller Center in 2009, but given the business climate right now, who knows. For a virtual visit see,

We returned to Arenzano early that evening, laden with good food and great memories. We will certainly be sure to return to Torino in the coming months…perhaps with guests? Still to check out is the synagogue (courtesy of that land swap), Victorian-era chocolate stores, and maybe some more art and architecture, not to mention the happenin’ night spots down by the River Po, which Trofie Wife assures Martello she’ll stay awake for, provided she’s given wide latitude on an afternoon nap.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

chiamo martello. daniel martello.

ciao regazzi,

i know, i know, you've been anxiously awaiting word from martello. well, maybe not so anxiously. maybe not at all, given the throroughly amusing musings of trofie wife, but it's about time the lesser half weighs in. all 70 kg. trofie wife has warned me against writing of my job, for fear of legal complications, so i will keep to the personal and philosophical rather than professional.

from my end, it's been quite an interesting experience, hurdling from the intense pace--academic, social and professional--of grad school in philly to married life in an italian village. shutters are drawn for three midday hours and then again in the evening, when the coffee and studio buzz only used to start brewing. trofie wife's transition from tirelessly helping the unfortunate to wide-eyed-helping herself to gelato (her fave flava: nocciola) has been equally stark. i wonder if there is an association between gelato tastes and personality types. is robyn hazlenutty? am i gianduia-y (choco/hazlenut mix)? was the large, unshaven guy in line the other day fiordilatte-y (lit. milk blossom)? feel free to post your comments.

anyways, we are comfortably settled in a charming apartment owned by an eccentric old lady i met on the bus, who has a profound habit of socially accosting anybody who will lend an ear. especially kind foreigners. especially those who take the same bus daily. she means well. she even stopped by the other day to give us a spare 2009 church calendar. happy santa catalina d'alessandria day everybody! doubtless you've already taken trofie wife's virtual tour of our abode.

trofie wife's blogging has been thoroughly detailed, but some additional thoughts, on venice:
who would've thought, the same town known for its fanciful canals, romantic gondolas, ornate palazzos and piazzas, was also the originator of the ghetto? the 'geto', or foundry, was an industrial area to which venice's jewish population was constricted by gates from dusk til dawn (during the day they were allowed out with color-coded identifying accessories, and to practice certain approved trades such as money-lending but sadly neither architecture nor i would guess non-profit management), from 1516 until napoleon's liberation in 1797. fortunately, we were there in 2008 (pics in trofie wife's blog).

our rapid-fire jaunt through the architecture biennale was quite interesting. highlights included a sleek, digitally-fabricated reinterpretation of a house, clearly more remarkable for its sculpted form (think whimsical design meets fiberglass racecar shell) than its sheltering qualities. also an interesting video installation takes the viewer seamlessly around the world via gondola to see both real and mock venetian canals while listening to an unseen gondolier's narrative on urbanism, tourism, culture clash and commerce. trofie wife got a bit lost gardening in a drag-and-drop interactive landscape of sculpted steel pipes, while i feasted on a radial city plan of rome presented in a pizza box with rivers of pesto amidst a tomato grid and cheesy edifices. at a second site we literally ran (iguacu falls style, for any southstreettosouthamerica blog readers) through a couple of the national pavilions, which was quite a shame, but we fortunately did catch the belgian pavilion, festive despite its austere warning signs (photos below).

from the belgian sorpresa to the milano centrale soppressa:

soppressa does not mean surprise, though it might as well. it means suspended. arriving in milano (not just a delectable pepperidge farm treat), we stood in the vast train shed (you could fit several 30th street, penn and union stations in there) looking up at the solari departure board (the wonderful, mechanical flip-flap schedule boards invented by the solari bros. of italy), amidst a crowd of would-be travellers. one column was filled with many 'treno soppresso' signs. this was not the expected 'ritardo' (late) or train type (IC for intercity, ES for eurostar, TGV for hi-speed, Reg. for regionale, etc.). our train was actually not listed at all, we thought perhaps a glitch of the flipping and flapping of the board, and we remained hopeful. instead this turned out to be our first major encounter with the maxim 'at least under mussolini the trains ran on time'. turns out there was a train strike, and we were out of the loop. transit strikes are regular enough that we now know to consult the online strike schedule before any trips. fortunately we were able to get on a 6am train back to genova after a quick stayover in milan.

back here in arenzano, stormy weather reappeared yesterday after a two-week strike of its own, with a night of violently shaking window shutters, and then actual hail and snow in the mini ecosystem around my cliffside office. this picture is from the last round of storms, depicting the seasonal after-work happy hour joint/lunchtime ice cream spot just below the office. the stairs, railings, and roof were whisked away into the angry mediterranean two weeks ago. also note the tenuous electrical wiring, encased and mounted along the embankment, was also pulled into the Bay of Genoa. this sparked rolling office blackouts--fortunately the computers are on generators, so we drafted in the dark a bit (sounds like a bruce springsteen song...)

on the agenda: to go to a bar and order 'un martini. scrollata, non mescolata'

ciao for now,
baci e gelato,
martello e trofie wife

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stop Light (or Lack Thereof) Ruminations

Trofie Wife admits that she was still dozing at 9:35 a.m. when she received a much-awaited call from the canile (dog kennel!) organizer, who said that she will hopefully be able to arrange for me to visit the kennel (and hopefully begin volunteering) by the end of the month. Trofie Wife is a bit concerned about her credentials vis-à-vis this post, since the caller asked a few times as to whether or not I had ever owned a dog, perhaps a requirement for working with the pooches (if this doesn’t work out, it’s just one more dog (or lack thereof) -related life trauma that can be attributed to my mother…). 

Much like back home, the Christmas season is upon us, except in Italy there is no Thanksgiving to stem the Ho! Ho! holiday tides for a few weeks (and I doubt this Friday will be Black, though I doubt Black Friday in the US will look like much this year…). Decorations have begun to sprout up around Arenzano, and the supermarket’s exciting Christmas coupons have made their premiere! (I used to excitedly clip coupons in my first Brooklyn apartment until the Steve’s C-Town circulars mysteriously stopped appearing on our stoop, so it was quite a joy to pour through the discounts yet again!)

On my way to the grocery store, I came across the sad event of a funeral at the (non-pilgrim attracting) church. Incidentally, I noticed that on the telephone booth adjacent to the church, there is an ad for the town’s major funeral home. Now this phone booth just happens to be located not only near the church, but across the street from what I believe to be the most dangerous intersection in town (and if there’s a worse one, I don’t want to find it) — it’s blind in both directions (due to a hill on one side and a curve on the other) and there is no light or stop sign (actually, I don’t think “Stop” signs exist in Italy—just lights on major boulevards). A curious discovery, this sign. Since I can’t understand the Italian, the copy might very well read: “Hit an unlucky pedestrian? We do pick-ups! Just, please, no calls between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m.” (Apologies if the lunch jokes are getting old, but as a dedicated eat-at-my-desker, I just can’t get over this way of life!)

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What Does “Quantum of Solace” Actually Mean???

Thursday brought with it a leak in the kitchen. An annoying “drip drip” that Trofie Wife at first mistook for rain (and went unnoticed by Martello during his rapid-fire breakfast) turned out to be responsible for a massive infusion of water. The entire window side of the kitchen ceiling was sopping wet, with rivulets of water (sometimes yellow water— bizarre) falling alternately on the stove, the floor, and Trofie Wife whenever she attempted to get near the sink or stove. I scrounged around the house for water collectors and came up with a mop, a bucket, and some rank-looking towels under the sink. It was determined the following day that the source of the leak was the upstairs radiator. Our landlady resolved the issue, and by Monday morning (yesterday) the ceiling was nearly dry.

The day was otherwise spent beside the computer, but the night ended at the local cinema, where Martello and I went to see the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, dubbed into Italian. Now Trofie Wife is not usually one for this genre of film, but we figured that given its heavy focus on bullets and the bedroom, it could be easily understood without the use of language. Martello had originally proposed seeing it the week before, but Trofie Wife thought he would prefer trying to catch in it English (Martello agreed that there are usually witty one-liners that he wouldn’t want to miss). So we decided to go see it at one of the “original language” theatres in downtown Genoa, where Anglophone films can be viewed on Mondays and Thursdays. However, as Thursday night approached and Trofie Wife’s running nose grew more annoying, she gently coaxed Martello into staying local and watching the movie in the dubbed Italian at the theatre just down the road from the apartment (says Martello, “You were the one who suggested that we see it in English. I was originally fine with seeing it in Italian.”).

Anticipating New York-style lines for some reason on a Thursday evening in Arenzano, we arrived 30 minutes early, bought our tickets (11 euros total! That’s barely one ticket in NYC!), small popcorn (2 euros; sadly, there are no combo deals, although bottled sodas are available), and then sat in front of the ginormous dinosaur statue until the theatre doors opened. Yes, you heard me: ginormous dinosaur statue that looks liked it was plucked from the set of Jurassic Park. This theatre is perhaps one of the most adorable in the world. The whole outside grounds are covered with mini amusement rides for children and two little huts where you can sit with your drink (or possibly host a birthday party; we did notice balloon remnants). In addition to the ginormous T-Rex, there is a fancy classic model car and a wide assortment of old movie posters from Italy and the United States. The cinema also appears to host lectures on film and other related arts. The actual movie was mostly followable, though the reel did stop mid-play twice; luckily, the projectionist got it going again. Even better, when we returned home, we were able to Wikipedia the movie and read the plotline in English (oh, how we adore the Internet!). Turns out we understood most of it, and the main confusion was elicited not by the Italian but by our lack of facility with the plot of the 2006 Bond flick, Casino Royale, due to the fact that Trofie Wife hadn’t seen it and Martello isn’t big on detail (or total) recall.

As one final treat—perhaps a reward for sitting through an action flick—when we returned home, Trofie Wife turned on the TV and found none other than a dubbed Sex and the City on one of the more staticy channels! (This occurrence was especially exciting as it was around 11:30 p.m. when she flipped on the tube—the same time when reruns air in NYC.) It was the episode where Carrie has to buy her apartment or vacate, and Charlotte ends up giving her the engagement ring from Trey so she can put together a down payment. Turns out that even with our handful of channels we do have access to reinterpreted American fare! Martello was quick to point out that Carrie’s voice was dubbed way too deep, and Trofie Wife noticed that Steve did not sound whiney (but still adorable!) enough. Yet we both agreed that the voice casting for Big was right on. Perhaps he should have been Italian all along…

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

I Know Why The Old Lady Swallowed The Fly

To get it to go away and stop buzzing!! How’s this for a cultural oddity: They believe in heavy-duty shutters in Arenzano; shutters to keep out the light and wind but not window screens, the things that block the bugs and prevent the children (and clumsy adults) from falling out the window. Trofie Wife had been fighting with a particularly persistent fly since we opened the terraza doors last Sunday to have a leisurely, outdoor reading session of months-old periodicals (Trofie Wife and Martello have a lot of information ingestion to catch up with!). How annoying! I’m pretty sure that I finally killed it on Wednesday because the buzzing stopped. I hope I won’t have to swallow any flies in the future, though if need be, I’m sure I could figure out a way to make a bug cupcake… 

But Trofie Wife is guessing that with the increasingly windy days we’ve been having here the bugs will head for warmer climes. I was mistakenly sold this bill of “warm winter” goods, but feel pretty certain that winter here is just as brutal, if not more so, than the offerings at home. Arenzano appears to be caught in some kind of wind tunnel, such that going outside to dump papers in the carta bin is unpleasant, and leaving the house for any great length of time is to be avoided (here’s where unemployment comes in handy). Trofie Wife is also feeling like she made some bad packing decisions, listening to Martello’s input (cute dresses) instead of her own better judgment (additional warm sweaters; now sitting in bags on top of stuffed animals in Tenafly). The only upside if it continues to stay extremely cold will be the increasing need to add warmer items to the closet. And perhaps a rollback on the promise to get dressed every day, opting instead for the always warm, if not fashionable, footsie pajamas (yes, they make them for adults!). Come on, admit it. You only mock Trofie Wife because you really want your own pair! I’ll even share my supplier with you and keep your inquiries a secretJ 

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Monday, November 24, 2008

The 199 Euro Mistake

To Trofie Wife, communication is key, and she will go to any and all lengths in order to stay in touch. For example, when my cell phone died on my 27th birthday (a day when you really want your phone by your side), I bought a rechargeable (read: disposable) model by Virgin while Verizon repaired my usual model. A few days later, when I called to cancel what I had viewed as a temporary service and the customer service guy (in the spirit of everything Richard Branson touches, even this guy sounded cool) asked why, I said that I had needed a new phone for just one day. He said, “Wow, that’s cold.” Cold? Yes. Economically unwise? Perhaps. But necessary. Very, very necessary. And it’s this penchant for constantly being plugged in that is the source of the present expensive dilemma.

So, as mentioned in an earlier post, my Web recharge for what I had hoped would be another 100 hours (but was really only another 15, since I had run through the promised 100 hours prior to the end of the billing month and was on the pricey hourly payment plan) ran out, and the Internet’s absence from our apartment led to a minor panic attack that hit some existentialist notes (“if the Internet is down and Martello’s at work, do I still exist? My forest of friendly ears is gone, and I’m a falling tree…”). When I arrived in Voltri last Monday morning, I let out a “you have got to be kidding me!” when I saw the steel grate deployed over the doorway without any explanatory note.  Dejected, I took the train back to Arenzano and tried to communicate my cyber needs to the folks in the Arenzano Vodafone outlet but learned that they did not recharge Internet keys (how they manage to sell the things but are incapable of recharging them, I do not understand…). As the abyss of lunchtime set in, I headed home where I could mope in front of my computer while desperately trying to pawn some wireless from a local network, to no avail. As 15:30 (that’s 3:30 p.m., to those of you who still use a 12-digit clock) came around, I had the good sense to call the Voltri store in hopes that they might be open in the afternoon. It was my first phone call entirely in Italian (I think I said three words and the guy on the other line, two). Low and behold they were open Monday afternoons (they just take the morning off)! And when I arrived I learned that I could sign up for the unlimited plan! There would be no download or upload limit! No time limit! Freedom! But, alas, my dreams were thwarted as THEIR connection line was down, crippling them from signing any new contracts. For two days, I was relegated to portals at the Internet shop, where at least I could check my inbox, if not balance my checkbook and apply for jobs. By Wednesday afternoon the Voltri shop’s line was fixed, and my unlimited plan was rolling. Once again, the valiants of Voltri, along with the pinch hitters at the Internet point by the train station, were my connectivity heroes. Thanks to them, all is now fantastico, and thus the blog (as well as my sanity) is now back up and running.

The only catch now is that in unwisely opting for the rechargeable key back in September, we wasted 199 euros, because the rechargeable key can’t be used for the unlimited contract, go figure—they have a different USB attachment that’s roughly double the size of the rechargeable key. Trofie Wife sincerely hopes that the dollar will rise in value to the euro so that the mistake will cost us less when we inevitably get hit with an early cancellation fee (which equals the cost of the USB device, thus another 199 euros, which will then make this a 398 euro misadventure).

Buyer’s remorse aside, to celebrate our return to network normalcy, Martello and I dreamed up (with the help of our cookbook) an excellent fish stew with tomatoes and leftover rice and peas. It was delicious. Almost as delicious as unlimited Internet…

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I Swear It Wasn’t Me!

So Italy’s minister of public functions, Renato Brunetta, is on a mission to eradicate idleness amongst public sector workers. Trofie Wife, though indeed a freshly minted MPA, hopes to deflect any blame for this "let's put our noses to the grindstone" phenomenon. She in no way encouraged the minister to make any of the following statements:

“I don't believe Italians are anthropologically slackers.”

“Ferraris, we can make. Designer clothes, we can produce. Sun, pizza and love, we can provide a lot of,” said minister of public functions Renato Brunetta. “It's the public administration that is below par.”

Trofie Wife may have, however, waxed on a bit too long about the three-hour lunch. She apologizes if any such comments in any way lead to the smoother functioning of the Italian public sector.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

The Honor System

As I read horrifying accounts of the MTA’s “doomsday plan” to scale back service throughout New York while increasing rider fees, I thought about one particular nuance in the European rail system and just how distinct it is from “the American Way.” Once again, I first learned about the so-called “transit honor system” in Zurich, wherein riders are obliged to purchase tickets even though they likely will not be checked by an attendant. The mere threat of a major fine is enough to sway citizens and tourists to saddle up to the ticket booth. Now, such a policy made sense in such a polite, well-ordered city as Zurich. So Trofie Wife was somewhat surprised to learn that the same principles follow in freewheeling Italy. At least from what I’ve witnessed, people here wait in line and buy their tickets (it might be worth looking into official statistics on this matter at some point). I have yet to have my ticket checked on a local or regional train, and in fact, the only time that we were asked to show our stubs was on the way to Venice while riding an Intercity train. I wonder then, when the odds seem to be stacked in favor of fare evasion, why people still buy those tickets. Is it out of sheer principle? Dedication to their country’s functioning, albeit severely flawed, transit system? Or fear that the one time they don’t buy and validate, they will be discovered and fined? (Martello chimes in with his co-worker's accounting of sitting on the local bus when such a random check, involving three members of the elite local police, occurred. As far as Martello is aware, no fines were collected.)

It is quite difficult to imagine a major city in the United States standing for even the threat of mass fare evasion by not requiring a swipe or ticket check (heck, you have to wait 17 minutes between Unlimited Metrocard swipes!). Do Americans not have an innate trust that people will buy tickets even if they are not routinely checked? Are we that jaded? Or are we over-employing ticket takers/wrongly throwing money into card readers when we could invest in additional service or amenities like my long-desired bathrooms on subway cars? A serious point to ponder as we (hopefully) head into this new era of hope and change…

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Political Education

From a technological perspective, Tuesday, November 13th was fairly traumatic. I awoke to find that the promised 100 hours of Internet service was already caput. As in, Trofie Wife had used it up. Already. (Martello asks why I feel the need to open, on a daily basis, nearly every e-mail I receive even if it’s junk. I explain that it’s information, and I want it. It doesn’t matter that I can’t attend any of the 92nd Street Y Tribeca’s classes or use any of the Broadway Box discounts; I need to keep tabs on what’s going on back home!!) Luckily, I had already self-scheduled a trip to Voltri to acquire buste (envelopes) from the office supply shop. So, I rerouted myself so that I first stopped in to see the valiant Voltri Vodafone knights who put me back in business. (Note: As later posts will explain, the recharge didn’t last too long. I tried switching on and off while composing e-mails and reading articles so as to conserve as much juice as possible, but apparently Vodafone was already onto that trick and imposed a 15-minute usage charge on each connection, thus the Internet saga of this past week.)

 But moving past the Internet for a nanosecond, let me wax on how much I love office supply stores! This is the first autumn in several years that I haven’t had the pleasure of buying new notebooks and Post-Its, due to the absence of formal academic endeavors. The wedding allowed for some quality time with paper products, but it just isn’t fall without school supplies! I managed to conduct the transaction in almost 100 percent Italian. (“Buste?” (Store clerk shows me the envelopes. I think I should have first said, “prego” or finished with “per favore.”). “Grande? Per paccetto?” (I think I was supposed to have said “pacchi.” He shows me the largest ones.) “Si.”  (He rings me up and gives me the total, which he repeats in English after I appear confused.) “Grazie. Arrivederci”). Ok, maybe not 100 percent, but getting there (maybe).   

A visit to Voltri isn’t complete without a stop in the mega grocery store. They happen to have especially good deals on wine. Heard of Two Buck Chuck courtesy of Trader Joe’s? Well here, we’re trying to find the best One Euro Nero (another foiled Google search yet again proves that Trofie Wife must have invented this term!). 

But now I should finally get to the title of this post (apologies for all the diversions). I guess even without the scholastic notebooks (though I do carry a little journal so that I can make pithy notes for the blog while I wait and wait for trains), I am receiving an education here—particularly a political one. I’ve taken to watching a lot of Italian political shows and listening to Parliament on the cell phone radio (I’m very glad that Voltri Guy #1 convinced me to spend the extra 10 euros for the radio. At first I though I was being ripped off, but it has proven quite useful; I’m listening as I type). There is a political humor show (I don’t yet know the name) in the style of my beloved Daily Show and Colbert Report (I’m not sure which side of the Atlantic pioneered embarrassing members of the legislature, but they’re both doing an excellent job). My favorite program by far is Exit: Uscita di Sicurezza (my meager attempt at translation: Exit from Certainty) hosted by Ilaria D’Amico, who I think is a dead ringer for Catherine Zeta-Jones, but without the creepy Michael Douglas baggage. Each episode probes a particular civic issue (the financing of political parties, obscene train delays) by combining short, documentary-style reportage with debate (or sustained yelling) amongst government ministers, journalists, and other interested parties. What’s most fascinating is watching the politicians’ (often uncomfortable) reactions to the filmed pieces (they have to watch them while seated on set). The producers also roll associated statistics throughout the discussion, and even the most obnoxious of ministers bring their notes with them so that actual facts and figures—and not just platitudes— can be expressed. CNN, are you listening???

Trofie Wife sits with a dictionary to look up the words that are continually repeated and thus probably important. I am amazed by how much I can understand, but also at how such government-sanctioned nonsense can go on in a country, be thrown wide-open on TV, yet continue. Yet, I guess we have our fair share of exposé reporting in the States these days that leads to little social change. Nevertheless, the show is great (with an awesome soundtrack to boot), and I look forward to it weekly. (After watching the program with me a few days ago and listening to me extol D’Amico’s sharp questioning of the guests and issues (in great contrast to so-called “news” hosts in the States), Martello notes, “it doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous.”) Here’s a link so you can check it out yourselves:

I also tune-in regularly to the Ligurian-focused news channel (think NY1). Last Thursday night, I watched the outcome of the sentencing in the Diaz police brutality case, which goes all the way back to the 2001 protests at the Genoa G-8 meeting. I learned a new word watching the commentary— vergogna, which means “shame.” Essentially, police officers were acquitted or given very small sentences (which will be commuted) for planting “evidence” of planned terrorist acts to justify a brutal raid on the sleeping quarters of multinational anarchist protesters.  Whatever one believes about globalization and its (dis)/(mal)contents, the outcome in this case and the fallout in Genoa will likely be fascinating to follow. Here’s a link to the full article on the verdict:

In closing, there is one major gap in my political education that I doubt will be surmounted by year’s end—my knowledge of the assorted political parties. It’s an alphabet soup! In this regard, a two-party system has its advantages! Maybe there's a song they teach school children so that they can learn them all. Trofie Wife will have to look into that...

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just Call Me Martha Jewess: I Made Bagels!!

(First off, I can’t believe that no one else has coined “Martha Jewess!” Well at least as per Google so one else has...)

So, as our move-out-of-Brooklyn date loomed closer, Martello and I anticipated the major bagel withdrawal heading our way (I was more concerned about this than he was; he wanted to load up on Indian, Chinese, and other ethnic foods he feared he’d have to do forego for 12 months). When I first visited Zurich, my bagel-jonesing sister insisted that we take a jaunt to the local Chabad bookstore. Already knowing how mediocre their carb offerings were, she was so desperate that she claimed to enjoy those joyless (how Swiss-German) excuses for buoyant bagels. Flipping ahead to the commencement of her own expat adventures, Trofie Wife quickly realized that even this disappointing luxury would not be available in Arenzano, so when I spotted the bagel recipe, my heart was all aflutter. (Subsequently, earlier this week while in the Voltri grocery store, I did spot what looked like thick-sliced bagel chips in their baked goods section. Regardless, it’s not the right item.)

Most bagel connoisseurs are aware that the secret to great bagels is the water (thus New York City's dominance) and Italy does water right (one of Martello’s guidebooks states that rates of osteoporosis in women are below average here due to the high calcium content in the water, although looking at some of my aged neighbors, I'm not so sure that that fact holds water, so to speak). So we figured we at least had water covered. It was also very easy to assemble the simple, cheap ingredients of yeast, flour, salt, sugar, and extra-virgin olive oil (I’m not sure if that last one is a staple ingredient or just an Italian-Jewish flourish; this cookbook is amazing, Phillips folks!). Baking the bagels was almost like a dance routine: mix, knead, wait; separate, wait; boil, bake. The aroma in the house was a yeasty sensation that warmed the nose and recalled the wonder of seeing piping hot bagels emerge from the kitchens of our favorite bagel joints. But as the baking inched to its end, I was nervous. Would the bagels be an utter disappointment, a waste of flour?

Upon removal from the oven, we noticed that the resulting bread was closer in resemblance to a flagel (the “flat” bagel offered in some savvy shops) rather than the puffy roundness of a full on bagel. But the taste, if I do say myself, was right on. They tasted like bagels! They bled with a soft, yet crunchy excellence! The book’s Italian name for them is ciambelle (which seems to be used to describe any spherical output of dough with a hole through it; although it was too staticy to watch the full episode of The Simpsons that I glimpsed on one of our TV channels, I’m sure that Homer loves his ciambelle). Perhaps if there’s a market for them we’ll open a business: NYCiambelle, anyone? Even if Trofie Wife’s entrepreneurial idea is a bust, I can rest assured that when we wake up on Sundays instead of looking at each other and wistfully saying “Bagel Hole or Terrace?” (over 3,000 miles away) we can now just walk into the kitchen and fire up our own batch! (And yes, observant audience, that is LOX and CREAM CHEESE (real Philadelphia) on that bagel pictured below.)

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Seasonal Affective Disorder/When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple

It rains here. A lot. And the lighting fixtures are fairly poor. And Martello, despite waking up early every day, encourages me to sleep in since I can. He does this not only with his soft, convincing words, but by avoiding opening the shutters, such that before I know it, it’s 11:30 a.m. Trofie Wife, of course, appreciates this beauty rest after enduring so much sleep deprivation in recent years, however, it feels very slothful, even though my unemployment dates to less than a month, and it wouldn’t be insane to take a leave of absence from the workaday world for that length. (Customer Service Note: After reading this entry last night, Martello opened the shutters this morning and encouraged me to enjoy the beautiful day. Before I know it, he’ll be getting me up at dawn to run. Be careful what you wish for…) But despite the late starts, I do make it a rule to dress for the day, even if its entirety (or bulk thereof) will be spent inside the house. I once went to a talk on telecommuting women (whose ranks I aspire to join this year), and the speaker emphasized the importance of making a distinction between home and office hours and dressing for work was mentioned as one way to make that psychological leap. (In my case, “dressing” means swapping the pajama pants for jeans (or maybe even khakis); I don’t go overboard with a suit or anything, though I did recently wear a casual skirt and tights for a short trip into Voltri and felt somewhat ridiculous). Of course, whether or not I make it into the shower before I leave the house is always a toss up. Just like everything else here, the hot water breaks for lunch. If you don’t get your warm (courtesy of the central heating) shower in by 12 p.m. or so, forget about it until evening, when the heat returns. I swear, I was mid-cleansing at noon one day when the water mysteriously went from hot to cold!

But getting back to the climate…On one particularly dreary day last week (which fooled with everyone’s heads, because it had started out so sunny), Trofie Wife decided to go to the municipo, the beautiful park running through the center of town, which Martello and I discovered on our first day here back in September. I thought that given that it was lunchtime and still a bit sunny, it would be filled with people on break, walking their dogs and having a jolly time. I guessed wrong. As I entered through the gates, there was nary a person in sight, yet a colorful peacock greeted me. Strange (but I guess that accounts for the even stranger collection of dried peacock feathers in our apartment). I saw yet another festive peacock, then an albino one (or maybe that’s just what the females look like), and finally a person, but no large gathering. Dejected, and thinking that I probably shouldn’t sit there by my lonesome although it’s likely even safer than Tenafly’s Roosevelt Commons, I left the park, and tried to follow the clouds to a sunnier place, which I briefly found along the sea, where a larger number of residents were sitting on benches, reading. However, it was clear that rain would be approaching sooner rather than later, so after 30 minutes or so I retreated home. The weather here just boggles the mind. It’s gorgeous when we awake then yucky in the afternoon or vice versa. Either way, the coffee’s still great. Seattle, much? Perhaps iffy weather is a prerequisite for good grind.

Weird weather may also play a role in trendsetting fashion. Now Trofie Wife can’t claim to be part of the Fashion Week vanguard (in either New York, Milan, or Paris) but it is certainly clear that purple (the deeper the shade the better) is all the rage. You cannot walk by a single store window in any city or small town (at least in the ones that we’ve already visited) without encountering a plum paradise. Already owning an infamous pair of purple clogs and other similarly-hued items that met the tight packing requirements (and many that did not), Trofie Wife felt a part of the crowd, yet it was clear that at least one of these new-fangled purple items would have to make its way into her collection. So after much research, I finally settled on a cool purple sweater-coat, which has the dual advantages of being hip yet warm. Remember folks, you heard it here first: purple is the new black!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Venice Part A (Trofie Wife Perspective)

Martello has pledged to share his reflections of our whirlwind trip to Venice, but since his time is limited (and mine, abundant), I figured that I would give you all a little taste of our visit to this lovely city due east.

Now, the most amazing aspect of the entire trip (which occurred nearly two weekends ago) is that Martello and Trofie Wife managed to make the 7:15 a.m. train to Milano. As most readers are fully aware, early rising is not our thing, but with the Architectural Biennale calling, and the threat of weekend overtime the following week hovering over us, we made it happen. Upon arrival in Milano (upon slow, rickety, regional rail), we transferred to a faster moving Intercity train that pulled into Venice’s St. Lucia station around 2 p.m. After purchasing Venice’s equivalent of an unlimited Metrocard, we attempted to find our hotel in the Cannaregio sestiere, so that we could deposit our bags before making our way to the exhibit. We walked up and down the street, trying to find the house number that had given us (we had had a lot of trouble booking a hotel at midnight, seven hours prior to our departure, but managed, at the last minute, to find a cheap, clean-looking one). It wasn’t a good sign when a nearby shop vendor did not recognize the name of our hotel. Yet, recalling another image from the Web site, Trofie Wife suggested that they return to the hotel situated next to where their hotel was supposed to be in order to seek clues. Low and behold, pinned to the wall above the adjacent alleyway (no wider than 2 ½ feet), Martello and Trofie Wife spotted a wrinkled sign with a hand-drawn arrow, indicating that the hotel was down the alley, just past the pile of canine excrement. (Note: at least five times during the course of the trip Trofie Wife asked Martello (who had commandeered the camera) to take a picture of this sign and alley. (Interjects Martello: “You definitely asked me fewer than five times.”) Martello kept postponing the shot, and evidently, we left Venice without the picture. So you’ll just have to conjure up a sketchy alley in your imagination.)

After making our way to the “penthouse” of this tiny hotel, we walked in the direction of the Arsenale (over in the Castello sestiere), where a portion of the Biennale exhibit was being housed. We stopped for an excellent caffè along the way and passed a bunch of great stores to which we hoped to return. Though pressed for time, we had to pause and marvel at the grandeur of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Piazza Ducale, which we knew we would not be able to tour that weekend but vowed to return to before the hordes of summer tourists descended. We explored the Bienniale until they kicked us out of the bookshop well past the 6 p.m. close. Martello will likely discuss the exhibits in greater technical and aesthetic detail, but Trofie Wife will merely add that there were a great many clever, socially-conscious pieces that caught her attention such that she was not dying of boredom. After close, we failed while attempting to locate a hot chocolate place that specialized in a non-lactose version, but after having another Venetian hot chocolate later in the evening, realized that it wasn’t too great a loss.

One big downside to Venice is that it’s very Anglophone friendly, which means if you’re already struggling with Italian and resisting speaking it, you can pretty much get away with not uttering a word of it during your journey. Despite our best efforts, we ended up at a very touristy restaurant in the San Stefano area where we at least found some decent grilled fish. Our waiter insisted on English, and we were seated next to two other American couples (Boston and North Carolina). Though the overall English exposure set back Trofie Wife’s Italian at least a week, it was nice to eavesdrop on the couples’ cross conversation and hear voices from home discussing the election outcome, economic crisis, and their own Italian adventures (one couple was on their way to Tuscany to harvest and press olive oil on their friend’s land!).

After dinner, we found some excellent, cheap gelato, window shopped while dodging knock-off handbag dealers (Chinatown, 42nd Street, Venice….they’re everywhere!), and magically made it through a long boat ride on Venice’s public transit system without Trofie Wife’s dinner making a reappearance! We returned to our “penthouse” (which was actually a really good, clean deal) to enjoy an American-regulation sized shower, which did have abundant hot water for a spell, though Martello used more than his fair share! Trofie Wife continued binging on English while watching a BBC special on the Obama victory, followed by the weather forecast (British accents are just lovely, no matter what they’re saying!)

For the second day in a row, Martello and Trofie Wife managed to heed the call of the alarm clock and shuttle to breakfast and the train station (for return tickets) prior to trying to maximize their morning and early afternoon. We headed to the Jewish ghetto, which was actually the first of its kind in Europe. The tour was very interesting. We were able to see the interiors of three of the five Venetian shuls: two Ashkenazi (one was German, the other French; they couldn’t get along in one building, so the French moved next door! Oy!) and the Spanish Sephardic. Supposedly for security purposes, we couldn’t view the two synagogues that were in operation, the Levantine Sephardic and the Italian (we’ll have to get to an Italian synagogue at some point, though, and see just what they do that gives them claim to their own style!).

We had fun purchasing books in the museum gift shop and adding to our collection of mezuzot at the Judaica shop (we’re really being optimistic that we will return to an apartment in the States that has more than one door!). Most exciting for Martello was his acquisition of a kosher salami sandwich! Upon leaving the ghetto, we first headed to the Rizzoli candy shop for some nougat, then to the Dorsoduro sestire to do a little glass bead shopping. We probably lingered a bit too long, but left with some beautiful items.

Our foolhardiness regarding time continued as we commenced a long boat ride back to the Bienniale site. Sadly for Martello, we picked the wrong portion to see first (the Arsenale, which we toured on Saturday, was actually the smaller gallery), so we had only 30 minutes to view the bulk of this major exhibit. Drill sergeant Trofie Wife managed to get Martello and the camera out of the galleries just a few minutes behind schedule (after not one, but two gift shop stops for books that could have been purchased in one fell swoop had Martello been paying attention) but, alas, we fell victim to another long boat ride (interestingly enough, on the #1, Red Line boat, which, by its name, color coding, and speed (or lack thereof) bore an eerie resemblance to New York’s 1 train) and subsequently missed our train home. We managed to hop on another train back to Milano, but then the fun began. I promised to let Martello tell this portion of the story—even if it means that it will arrive in time to be a stocking stuffer or the content of the dreidel pot. But just know that this tale involves labor unrest, “delightful” detours, and popcorn made with MSG.

In closing, Trofie Wife would like to take a moment to give a big shout out to Venice’s public toilet system. Now, some people might complain about having to pay 1 euro to use the bathroom. But Trofie Wife says, if such a fee guarantees a clean, available (no lines, at least in November) place to go when you really need to, then fantastic. Each place has attendants on hand to show you where the sinks are and help you figure out which button to push to exit. Furthermore, by having paid for your stall, there’s little guilt involved should you need to rent it for a wee bit longer. Trofie Wife hopes that by the time she and Martello return to New York, the long-promised pay toilets will finally be installed around the city, so she will not be forced to walk nearly 20 blocks from Rockefeller Center to Lord & Taylor for a bathroom at the height of the holiday shopping season.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Top Ten Reasons...

For those of you who’ve known Trofie Wife long enough to remember her Top 10 lists of high school, I present to you the latest installation, after what I’m sure was a long-lamented absence:

Top Ten Things I Do in Italy That I Don’t Normally Do

10. Make the bed (I must admit that it’s so much cozier to get back into at night or during naptime)

9. Get dressed up to go to the grocery store

8. Complain about poor lighting (likely Martello’s influence)

7. Deal with real estate brokers (viva la Craig’s List!)

6. Join Facebook and voluntarily video chat

5. Clear my inbox daily and reply with great haste

4. Go to sleep (or at least climb into bed with reading material) at a decent hour

3. Eat breakfast quickly, at a table

2. Schlep only one or two bags (daily average in NYC: three)

[That’s it. These lists never did make it all the way to 10…]

And in other news, last Friday I finally made it over to the video store on the way back home from the grocery store. It was there that I noted by far the most slothful opening hours that I’ve yet to see in Italy (and that’s saying a lot). The video store is only open 2 1/2 hours each day!! From 5 to 7:30 p.m. and only Monday through Saturday! Now, for the cinematic-seeking public, there is a 24-hour rental machine available outside the store that allows locals to rent recent mediocre American and Italian films whenever their hearts desire. Maybe we’ll try it sometime. Or just stick to the ancient TV…

I also spent the early evening hours making my first Italian challah bread, courtesy of the lovely Italian Jewish cookbook that our friends Adam and Rachel gave us (which was also responsible for the evening’s succulent saffron rice and slightly-soggy Jewish-style artichokes). In my attempt to halve the recipe (and convert from American to metric measures using the conversions in the back of the used Berlitz I picked up at Housing Works), the sweet and salty factors didn’t turn out quite right, but nevertheless, Martello commented on the loaf’s excellent texture. I’ll be sure to attempt again, but the book’s recipe for bagels is my latest temptation. Trofie Wife will, of course, be certain to share the outcome of that great experiment…

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife