Thursday, December 25, 2008

Buon Natale!

As part of our cross-cultural exploration, Trofie Wife insisted that she and Martello make it to the live (with farm animals!) nativity scene at the Santuario e Seminario di Gesù Bambino as well as a portion of Midnight Mass, this likely being our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience this very Italian holiday while living in a veritable Italian commune.

We arrived at 11 p.m. for the nativity pageant, beautifully pantomimed by local children.

It was a long wait, but eventually three live donkeys and one micro-mini pony were introduced to the scene (and stayed behind to eat hay after their curtain call, penned in behind the piazza). We entered the beautiful church to get a sense of what this holiday entails for the faithful (Martello managed to snap a few photos before worship began; it is quite beautiful). 

We made it through the pre-Mass hymns (Trofie Wife swears that some of the Italian/Latin sounded like Hebrew…) and the processional and incense portion of Midnight Mass before leaving to take one last look at the donkeys and pony (sadly, no pony pictures) and then return home to pack for our upcoming vacation (yes, Trofie Wife is technically on one very long vacation…). 

Some observations from our time at the church: Trofie Wife insisted that she and Martello change out of jeans and into nicer pants so as to be respectful on this mega holiday. While some worshippers were decked out, the majority were on the casual side—most notably the dude wearing the Chelsea soccer club warm-up suit replete with sweatband. More than a handful of people seemed to come in, cross themselves, stay three minutes, and then depart. Perhaps they were headed to a smaller church but just wanted to pop into the big kahuna or perhaps they just needed to literally make their presence known and then duck out (not unlike many two-day-a-year Jews; I’ve heard that such Catholics also exist). All in all, a very interesting experience that Martello does not intend to repeat again! (Trofie Wife will probably check out some Stations of the Cross come Easter, should they be local enough.) But not to worry that we're merely dabbling in exoticism, we just found out how to get to the shul in Genoa, so it’s high on the priority list for an excursion in early 2009.

Please note that the blog will be taking a longer-than-usual hiatus as we spend the next week and a half travelling through Italy and Switzerland. Planned stops include a town overlooking Lake Como (where, unbeknownst to Trofie Wife before she quickly booked it, is where Mussolini and his wife met their ends…), Zurich (to visit with Trofie Wife’s sister and family), and assorted towns throughout Switzerland that boast design delights (and hopefully, for Trofie Wife’s sake, chocolate). We’ll be sure to update you on our adventures when we return.

To everyone celebrating any and all winter holidays, we say Auguri! (best wishes) e buon anno!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Gimmel Comes to Genoa

This past weekend brought the warmth of holiday cheer to our casa italiana, as we anticipated the beginning of Chanukah coupled with the opportunity to greet our very first visitor! The holiday cheer actually began for Martello on Friday evening, as an impromptu (well, at least as far as he knew; sometimes they forget to tell him stuff) Natale feste took place after hours at his office, which kept him late (and reportedly, dancing the night away). The wee hours of Friday night coupled with very long workdays this week kept Martello (and Trofie Wife, by association) in bed late on Saturday afternoon. By the time we finally got moving, the stars were beginning to shine, this being the shortest day of the year and all. Just before we headed out on a quick errand/walk through town, Mrs. Furley stopped by to make sure that our holiday decorations were hung (we did ours, then hers; matching dinky strands of tinsel unlike those of our neighbors across the way, who are displaying beautiful, fresh wreaths (as per Mrs. Furley’s protocol, we couldn’t hang ours until theirs were hung)). While we didn’t expect to be hanging Christmas decorations on our first married Chanukah (though we recognize that our doing so is providing Trofie Wife’s father with outsized joy), they’re at least more secular in nature than the iconography around the house! (In addition to the dinky tinsel, Mrs. Furley brought over a bouquet of faux poinsettia as well as a mini tree with gold balls and stars.)

The neighbor's fresh wreath

Our dinky tinsel

Sunday brought yet another lazy day, though Trofie Wife and Martello did manage to get on a train to Genoa prior to the sun setting. Since the September visit, Trofie Wife has been eagerly anticipating the Ellis Island exhibit at the Museo del Mare, located in the Porto Antico (Old Port) area, convinced that it told “the other side” of the immigration story (especially since the advertisements stressed Genoa’s importance as a departure point for so many Transatlantic ships). Unfortunately, Trofie Wife was deeply disappointed when it became clear that the exhibit was, in fact, a portable visit to Ellis Island (which she has visited several times in its rightful home). This exhibit also had a US Holocaust Museum twist, wherein visitors receive a passport upon entry, and they can follow the story of their “immigrant” and see where he or she landed (Martello wasn’t quite sure who he received, but Trofie Wife was assigned the woman in search of her lost baggage who was famously photographed by Lewis W. Hine; see The permanent collection of the museum was, thankfully, worth our visit. It tells the tale of Genoa’s rise as a port and describes the intricacies of the socioeconomic relationships (slaves, guards, rowers; see below pictures) within the system (though Trofie Wife believes that the role of women in port life—footnoted as merely members of the oldest profession—is likely severely underrepresented in the exhibit). 

A slave hauling luggage

The vigilant overseer

Other museum highlights include a vial of Christopher Columbus’s ashes and a great history on Andrea Doria, who was responsible for creating financially-savvy fleets of Genoa-based mercenaries and thus building great wealth for himself and the city (in turn, furnishing much of its great cultural legacy). Museo del Mare is definitely on our list of must-sees for Genoa visitors.

And speaking of visitors, on the First Night of Chanukah Alitalia brought to us, il cugino de Martello. We’ve had a great couple of days with him, the highlight being lighting all together our homemade menorah, which Trofie Wife fashioned (with design support from Martello) out of two small squares of cork board from the hobby shop and bullone (nuts) from the hardware shop (see pictures below). Via the Italian Jewish listserv that Trofie Wife subscribes to, she was able to locate some local tunes for candlelighting and other songs (note, however, that “Maoz tzur” sounds very familiar). For your listening pleasure:

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Getting Tough on Crime

Some readers who follow Italian news extra closely now that Trofie Wife and Martello are stationed here, may have heard about large arrests of members of crime organizations in Southern Italy in recent weeks. We, too, have been following this news and were particularly intrigued by the police’s latest attempt to stem the flow of crime—by driving impounded Ferraris and Porsches around the gang-filled neighborhoods from which they were seized (see So, by nationalizing these vehicles and adding them to the police pool, instead of advocating on behalf of the “broken windows” theory they’re adhering to the “breaking the sound barrier in this Ferrari 512 or Porsche Cayenne” theory? Can’t wait to hear about the first time one of these babies goes “missing” after a shift!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Racket Upstairs

As most readers are aware, Martello is a world-class sleeper. Few can match his talents— though you know who you are. So it really is quite an accomplishment that our above-the-head neighbors managed to rouse him last night with the sounds of blasting classical music at around 2 a.m. As far as we know, we have not seen these folks (who we believe to be a pair), but we certainly hear them—usually only past 7 p.m. or so every day. We are starting to make up stories about who they are and what they do. But since music—either in recorded form or live renditions—usually pours down from their apartment, we’re going to guess that they’re “creative types.” Martello says that the materials used to build the apartment allow for enhanced echoing. Therefore, we can hear their every move. The music was just hysterical, at least to us, because you usually don’t encounter music blasters whose genre of choice is classical. Perhaps they’re thinking that our Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (with whom Trofie Wife is currently in solidarity), would be more understanding of this type of musical selection—or perhaps that they can’t hear it. Either way, someone else did, and we heard the duo turn down their speakers— and then about five minutes later, pick another tune (still classical) to blast. Perhaps they just thought that the neighbors didn’t like their first selection? They eventually turned the music off completely, and Martello and I managed to stop laughing and finally get back to sleep so he could make the early bus to the office.

As Mrs. Furley would say, they truly are ill-bred persons.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife


Protectionism, Pineapple Style

Italians being food obsessed and all, snazzy and exotic fruits are often found in their holiday gift baskets. Well, the intrepid Agriculture minister who was so kind as to sponsor the cheese (partial) bailout, is advocating for a shift in this seasonal activity. The politician is pleading with citizens to forego foreign fruits, such as pineapple, in favor of locally-grown products of which many, of course, abound, including kiwis, which Martello and Trofie Wife believe to be totally odd. Kiwis=New Zealand. (They must be having a major existential crisis down under over other countries pilfering their crop.) For more information, see Disclaimer: we have purchased neither pineapple nor kiwis since arriving here and take no formal position on this matter.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Herald the Arrival of a New Sport

Trofie Wife would like to proclaim that she has single-handedly invented a new sport—extreme grocery shopping. Now, it doesn’t exactly have its origins in Arenzano, as it’s certainly been played at least once or twice in Brooklyn, but it reached its apotheosis on Thursday, and Trofie Wife has the sore arms (and legs) to prove it.

Extreme grocery shopping entails buying too many groceries with insufficient means to carry them home over relatively long distances. While such a mistake can be merely annoying in Brooklyn, it is torturous over the hills and peaks of Arenzano. Usually, the best way to avoid such a situation is to only use a shopping basket instead of a shopping cart (shopping carts are usually an inconvenience anyway, since users are required to insert a coin in order to release them from their holder—you get it back once you return it; I guess they have a problem with cart thievery in these parts). Yet because I knew from the get-go that there was going to be a lot of glass entailed in my purchase, I wanted to be certain not to buckle under its spell, so I opted for the cart. However, when I got to the self-checkout counter (less disastrous than last time), I soon realized that my bag on wheels and rather large shoulder bag would not be enough to handle the goods. I paid for two more plastic bags (yes, this is Europe, you pay for bags here), and trotted off (at first forgetting to return the cart but then awkwardly about-facing with all my goods in hand to get it (and my euro) back). I then trudged and huffed home (with many breaks; normally it’s a 10-15 minute walk, depending on the route), with shoulder bag and purse on shoulder, plastic bags tied around my wrists and wheeling bag being pulled behind me, with its metal rod poking out and into my jeans all the way home—I fixed it with magical crazy glue the next day. I’m sure my appearance led to several guffaws and clearly displayed that I was not from around here. The good news is that we are stocked in the event of inclement weather, holiday service disruptions, or any orders to quarter soldiers (or any other guests that may appear).

One of Trofie Wife’s finds on this intrepid hunt for nourishment was hazelnut yogurt (yumminess confirmed about 20 minutes ago), which led Martello to ask, “Is there anything in this country that they don’t put hazelnuts into?!” (Note: I have yet to see hazelnut-scented deodorant…). Turns out there just might be a reason beyond taste (and Nutella, which is Italian—from our beloved Piedmonte region, to be exact— if you didn’t know. I always assumed it was French due to the crêpe connection…)—it’s healthy! A couple of years back the FDA actually recommended eating hazelnuts (along with other types of nuts) for good heart health and antioxidant gathering. Yes, it’s biased, but see for more information (the Council does not, however, stoop so low as to identify Nutella as health food. Probably because it’s not American made…).  

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife


Lessons from Our Elder Down the Hall

Every small town has at least one eccentric character known to all. Our town’s character also happens to be our landlord. As mentioned in earlier posts, she’s advanced in age, lonely, and means well, but sometimes…well, sometimes we just wish we could change our address. Martello first encountered our “Mrs. Furley” during his September premiere here, while awaiting the bus to the office. As Martello soon learned, each morning Mrs. Furley eagerly chats up the gathered young people (her adopted grandchildren, perhaps) with her thorough English, though they tend to see her and some of her pronouncements as well, eccentric. When Martello put two and two together and figured out that she was going to be our landlord, he considered reneging on the contract and going back to the original studio-style apartment that we first stayed in during the September visit. However, Trofie Wife insisted that we retain the larger place with extra bedroom—we’re pretty sure that our incoming guests will prefer the private room down the hall to the Murphy beds across the way from the master bed. In addition to checking in with Martello each morning, Mrs. Furley is certain to drop by at least once a week to monitor Trofie Wife (whom she has taken a particular liking to, due to our shared birth date—which we apparently also share with her late husband).  

On Wednesday, after Trofie Wife finally got around to telling Mrs. Furley about the broken shutter opener/closer in the kitchen, she dropped by with her reliable (and long-retired) workman. (I felt a little bad that this guy was crouched over on our floor when he seemed like he should have been lounging somewhere, but I guess it’s good to keep active if you can.) While he worked on the mechanism (and continued to work even after insisting that he needed a new part and would have to return tomorrow—Mrs. Furley’s, uh, persistence required that he continue trying to fix it with the materials on hand), Mrs. Furley shared some stories about her life and how she came to be proficient in so many languages. It seems like she’s had a tough go of it, being born between the two wars and likely seeing some horrible things on soil here and other parts of Europe (though we sometimes wonder about her family’s allegiances during the war…), and she doesn’t seem to have much—if any— family left (or at least nearby). She also nosily poked through the stuff on our dining room table and insisted that we cut some branches from the lovely tree outside our window (“Ouch!” said the tree) for Christmastime luck. Not soon enough, the Wizened Workman managed to fix the pulley with the parts on hand—I guess that’s one vote for Mrs. F’s style of squeaky wheelism. She left shortly thereafter the fix was complete, and it wasn’t a moment too soon!

And now, for your benefit, Trofie Wife will pass along some wise words from our ever-eager-to-help landlady, which you, too, may find useful in your everyday encounters:

1. Trust no one. Especially in these times.

2. Don’t eat too much fish; it’s all water. Eat meat. That way you won’t be too          thin like Martello.

3. Do not open the door for anyone—except me.

4. If you’re not going to eat meat, take vitamins daily.

5. Do not open the door for anyone, especially Communists selling newspapers.

6. Don’t use so many lights! Even when you need them…

7. Only put up Christmas decorations if your neighbor does.

8. Avoid stupid and ill-bred persons. 

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When You Constantly Hit “Refresh,” You Learn New Things

Such as: Italy is at the forefront of the fight against Somali pirates! (See And they don’t just bring along any old bag lunch but are sure to dine on “homemade pasta, marinated eggplant sliced paper thin, prosciutto-wrapped dates and tiramisu, finished off with cool glasses of spumante.” I’m sure that their diversion/capture rate drops considerably between the hours of 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. ….

And speaking of lunchtime invasions, I had the pleasure of receiving a (not very exciting but still important) package today, mid-lunchtime (I think they do deliveries on purpose during these hours, figuring folks will be home). However, it turns out that despite proclaiming my victory over the doorbell, Trofie Wife, in fact, did not know how to open the front door to the apartment (and thus I think the package guy thinks I’m a little nuts). Apparently, I was pressing the wrong button. Not the right one, with the key symbol clearly marked on it…. In my defense, the key button appears to be a phone dial tone button. And since the intercom/door opener is shaped like a phone, such a function appeared to make perfect sense, with the little button on the side being the one you use to let in folks (not sure what it does, the landlord thinks nothing, but Martello thinks it might be how you speak to the visitor)… Luckily, our landlord opened the door for him. And now I finally know how to. So, we promise that packages won’t be abandoned, or any visitors left in the cold.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Wet, Wild Goose Chase

The Web site clearly stated that the Chocolate exhibition was going to take place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the Beatles tribute band would appear at 5:30 p.m. So, despite the downpour, it seemed to make perfect sense to Trofie Wife and Martello to spend the latter part of Sunday afternoon and early evening exploring Varazze. Just two train stops from Arenzano, in the opposite direction from Genova, Varazze is advertised as a lovely highpoint along the Italian Riviera, and it definitely leans towards città as opposed to commune. Despite having traipsed through it (and its puddles) in the middle of a rainstorm, the wind pulling us along what is likely a gorgeous boardwalk during the summer months, it does appear to be a bona fide shore town, complete with amusement rides and surfside cafes. It also has a large centro with a surprising number of shops open at 6 p.m. on a Sunday evening—perhaps just for the Christmas rush? We were able to see so much of Varazze’s main drag because Martello did not want to adhere to Trofie Wife’s Number One Rule of Exploring Italian Cities: Read the Signs. They are incredibly helpful in pointing out all the major sights in any town, small or large (we even have them in Arenzano). Martello thought we should just follow the lights and people heading towards centro. Big mistake. After a long walk and major soaking, we headed back in frustration towards the main part of town (and the train station, readying to return home if need be) and finally saw a sign telling us that we were headed in the right direction (we would have known that if we had just looked at it in the first place…).

Our destination Sunday evening was the porto turistico, otherwise known as the Marina di Varazze. It’s sort of like the retail portion of South Street Seaport, filled with name brand shops and restaurants along with actual port-related activities (there were some mighty large boats anchored there, all sure to bring on acute seasickness in Trofie Wife). When we arrived we saw little sign of a chocolate tasting/cooking demonstration, or any other large gathering of people. And “Yellow Submarine” with an awkward Italian inflection was not being piped out of any sound system. But we did walk around the marina and imagine that it would be a lovely place to spend a warm, spring day, perhaps taking in some music and gelato. To add insult to injury, none of the marina’s restaurants were yet open for dinner (no early bird specials in Italy!). So, we headed back to centro to try and find a table. On our way, we did see a sign for the event, which at the very least helped secure Trofie Wife’s sanity in the eyes of Martello (the poster did say Chocolate Event all day and Beatles at 5:30 p.m.). Luckily, we found an open and fairly decent pizza place on the tourist strip. From there we headed back to the train station, still damp, and not so happy about the 30 minute wait for a train. But what did we see there? Just at the very moment when we so desperately craved it, we spotted a Lavazza vending machine! We “ordered” a steaming hot chocolate and were instantly warmed (other options included various espressos and tea, but seriously, hot chocolate is the only way to go if you really want to get warm and cozy quickly). We had not yet seen one of these so it was even more exciting.

But we think in the future, we will avoid frigid rainy day exploring. Brr.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife


More on the Curdle Crisis

More intrepid reporting has been carried out on the AIG of DOP (DOP is the official designation marking that Italian food comes from the region it says it does. Basically, it’s a food identity card) —Italian cheese. The UK’s Daily Telegraph was sure to capture all angles of the story, including the opinions of those left without a rescue package—buffalo mozzarella producers who have also suffered major drops in revenue and also want a helping hand (wielding a cheese knife). See for more on this urgent matter.

(I really hope that The Daily Show/Colbert Report is all over this situation. And if they’re not, Trofie Wife is putting them on notice.)

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife


Swedish Polpette

On Saturday, Martello and Trofie Wife made a long overdue trip to Ikea to deal with the pillow situation that he already summarized. Yet again, we got lost despite having impeccable directions. The bus that’s supposed to await furniture shoppers right when they exit was lost in a mystical loop around the train station. We wandered in the cold and rain until we finally located it. Stepping aboard and crossing over the autostrada to the back roads of Genoa Sampierdarena, it was as if we had detoured into Paramus, complete with auto dealerships and confusing roundabouts. Trofie Wife felt right at home… (Wikipedia confirms that Sampierdarena is a shining example of boxed-in industrialization to the detriment of other activities. Apparently Sampierdarena used to boast a beach as beautiful as Arenzano’s, but sadly, no more, after being re-envisioned by “planners” just a few decades ago.)

If you’re looking for a confusing time, visit an Ikea abroad. Not only will you have to contend with interpreting the Swedish, but you’ll have the joy of double confusion if you don’t speak the language with which you’re trying to do the Swedish interpreting! Luckily, picking out pillows didn’t involve much in the way of language skills/having to deal with customer service. We had tasty snacks when we first arrived (although Martello was far from impressed with the lingonberry soda…) and circled back to the snack shop after purchasing our pillows and tub of discount candles! Along with lox and salmon, we scored some frozen latkes (well, they weren’t called that, but they fit the criteria and we’ll be frying up some come next week).  We easily found our way back to the bus and grabbed the train back home to prep for the party. Martello has already described my feat of wakefulness, so I won’t further gloat. But for any future hosts, the keys to a standing Trofie Wife do seem to be ample food, seating, and the natural effects of a long sabbatical (aka, a well-rested Trofie Wife).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Sunday, December 14, 2008

a life for a night

our quaint village of arenzano is not exactly a hub of nightlife, save a couple bars. but last night we got to shake things up a bit at a coworker's soiree. after splurging on a pillow upgrade at ikea (our furnished pillows are like lumpy sacks of concrete), we came back to check out the party. and despite being about 80% officemates (the host hails from the umbrian city of assisi), it was definitely a couple notches above the typical christmas or birthday party you might see on an episode of 'the office'.

highlights included:
-blood orange (now in season in sicily) sangria
-seats made out of plastic bags stuffed with shredded construction documents
-polenta dramatically poured straight on the table and draped with sauce and cheese shavings
-watching the comically bearded and bespectacled model shop guy get his groove on to amy winehouse tracks
-the couch being too crowded for trofie wife to nap (though this meant an earlyish departure)
-just a short walk home
[trofie wife interjects that she would like to be given serious credit for attending and chatting at the party, resisting a couch nap, and staying out past her bedtime]

martello e trofie wife

italian babka and other important matters

so during my sojourn to the big supermarket last weekend, i may have gotten a bit swept up in things. i may have been rather hungry at the time (always the worst time to shop for groceries), it may have been an otherwise unexciting evening, and in a moment of weakness i may have been lured in by the mellifluous lilt and enticing gestures of a middle-aged italian cougar. now now, before you gasp about proprieties, you should know she was a professional. and the product she was pushing is called panettone.

she had a table set up at the end of the aisle, with a plate of scrumptious samples. i hadn't previously tasted of this national treat, and a fateful twist of temptation and curiosity moved me. what a delight! a soft, almost challah- or babka-like texture, with small chocolate chunks, candied orange bits, and a flaky crust with hazelnut glaze, a light sweetness overwhelming the taste buds. i zealously bid my thanks, and sifted through panettone boxes of different flavors, makers and sizes strewn about and piled up like large cornerstones in a delicious roman bakery ruin. i picked up a distinct chopped pyramidal thin cardstock pannettone box by its ribbon
handle, whisked my selection to the register, and skipped home like charlie with a wonka bar.

given the content and subject line of this blog entry, you would likely expect this to have been from the doyenne of dessert, trofie wife. however, awaking upon my return from the market, and sampling the baked goods, she was overwhelmed only by my extended time absent, while underwhelmed at the discovery. but i've since seen her sneaking off to the guest bedroom followed by a trail of crumbs, and noticed the dwindling remainders of panettone over the course of the week...

a co-worker has since told me more of this delicacy, of the different types, etc. some have a crustier texture, some are lighter. some are flatter, weighed down by nuts, raisins and the like sprinkled atop. the lightness is obtained by allowing the dough to rise multiple times, some in excess of 20 hours. different regions and different pasticcerias whip up distinct varieties. wikipedia traces the cake to milan, and its history from ancient romans' "tall leavened fruitcake" to cookbooks for the popes to a 16th century brueghel painting. many interesting legends of its origins abound, but it is now particularly associated with the christmas and new years season in italy and in several south american countries to which italians have migrated. no doubt, more will be sampled in the coming months...

baci e panettone,
martello e trofie wife

Friday, December 12, 2008

Auguri (aka Merry/Best Wishes for the Holiday)

Last night, Trofie Wife officially became a dues-paying member of the expat club while attending their Christmas gathering. She got incredibly lost trying to find the venue, and nearly turned around after spotting both the funeral home and hospital on the creepy street seemingly leading to nowhere, but luckily spotted the hotel before turning back. (One bonus to getting lost: locating the Genoa Grom gelato shop, conveniently near the Brignole train station! I resisted temptation…)

Trofie Wife met additional expats and Italian wives of expats and continued to be charmed by their welcoming demeanor. I have to say that Martello and I come across as rather boring, two Americans married to each other as opposed to the exotic combinations that they’ve all managed. Many of the husbands were in attendance (Martello was still in the office), and it’s funny to pair up these dashing, older Italian men with the statuesque and chipper American women (many from the Heartland) that they met decades ago; some just seem oddly mismatched, the men far more glamorous than the women in a few cases. Despite our lack of intrigue (well, the Judaism that some have uncovered or deduced intrigues some), people do, however, enjoy talking about New York (especially the Italians, who all seem to adore it). Trofie Wife had her debutante moment when she received, in front of the assembled crowd, a white rose for becoming a new member. The one advantage to this bizarre ritual is that I was introduced, along with another young woman, as the two new members bringing down the group’s average age. Turns out that the fellow giovane (young woman) is a Texan who came here as an au pair and fell in love.…Although she resides in Mom World and is quite occupied with her toddler, we had a great, loud conversation (it’s that great New York–Texas chemistry, right LCH?), and Trofie Wife looks forward to paling around at future events. Interestingly, Trofie Wife seems to have the most in common with the Brit (who could probably be my mother) whose kids are all grown and off in the UK, leaving her to figure out her meaning here (I’m not sure if she left behind a job, but I suspect so).

Fellow Arenzanoans offered me a lift home, which was welcome instead of having to find my way back to the train. An Italian husband drove three Americans and a saucy Aussie, and the conversation turned morose (due to my mention of getting lost near the funeral home, which it turns out is not a funeral home in the American sense; apparently they don’t have them here; bodies wait for burial either at home or in the hospital) to funeral rituals in Italy, while driving on a slippery road…

I’m glad that I joined the group, but I also don’t foresee spending oodles of time with these women outside of official events. While age is just a number, I have to admit that they, for the most part, just simply are not my peers (especially when they talk about their kids who are either my contemporaries or slightly older!). Nevertheless, a little non-electronic chatting every so often is probably good for Trofie Wife. However, she is looking much more forward to the local party (several blocks away) at Martello’s co-worker’s house this weekend where attendees will be either our age or slightly younger/older.  I will try my best not to fall asleep.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife


Some Financial Crisis Solutions From Italy

With the financial crisis in full-on mode around the globe, it was only a matter of time before Italy took bold steps to shore up sections of society that are falling behind. In recent days we have seen some intriguing innovations from the government and labor.

First off, Italia has decided to proffer government cheese to help both food-insecure Italians and cheese producers, who have seen steadily falling revenues over the years as distributors pressured them into dropping prices. The cheese will be of exquisite gourmet quality, as opposed to the faux orange cheese offered up by Washington, DC. Italia’s Agriculture Minister signed on to purchase a whopping 100,000 wheels of authentic Parmigiano Reggiano and Grana Padano, each weighing in at 30 kilograms (around 66 pounds; I didn’t convert that myself, but instead trusted the AP’s conversion). No word yet on how the cheese is going to be distributed to the hungry. But Trofie Wife does not recommend wheeling full rounds into homeless shelters and soup kitchens à la several guests at Andrew Jackson’s inauguration. Also, no word on any soy substitutes (or Lactaid) being made available to hungry, lactose intolerant Italians.

And now for the contribution from Italian labor: Due to rain, the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL), which had scheduled massive general strikes for Friday to express their general state of displeasure with the tanking of the Italian economy, decided to cancel transit striking in Rome and Venice, due to rain. (If only MTA workers had had such sympathy when it was below zero with the windshield during their 2005 strike!) Online news sites reported on large marches in Milan and Rome, as healthcare, retail, financial, and government workers took to the line. However, during Trofie Wife’s usual noon jaunt before everything closes for lunch, she saw no evidence of a strike in Arenzano. The buses were rolling and the line at la poste long. Maybe the ’burbs are just strike-immune or ignorant… I did notice a few more caribinieri (police in nice, military-style outfits) around, but maybe that was just because it was market day and traffic needs extra handling. Speaking of the market, Trofie Wife finally mustered the nerve to purchase food stuffs at the Arenzano market. Friday is hereby christened Fresh Salad Day, as the most popular vegetable stall has wonderful, readymade salads (olives, feta, lettuce, pleasantly edible red onions) just begging to become my lunch. (The only potential problem is that the plastic containers in which the salad comes violate the limited-non-recyclable-food-packaging-materials in the house rule that Trofie Wife proposed and Martello seconded last night. Maybe we need to reconvene Parliament....) I also have high hopes for the vegetables we will try to turn into soup and the fresh pesto. (After dinner note: they were divine!) In addition, I finally nabbed 3 euro slippers (I was refusing to pay more than 5; the ones at the supermarkets don’t seem to go for under 7).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Eat Your Heart Out, France

According to the Associated Press, due to good weather conditions, Italy is snatching the title of World’s Biggest Wine Producer from France for the first time in 10 years. (France still holds the distinction of World’s Biggest Whine Producer, although the Four Schwartz Sisters and Offspring are gaining on them.)  Martello, with his vast knowledge of viticulture, notes that he is surprised that this wasn’t already the case for Italia. (Actually, Martello just admitted that he is not familiar with the term, “viticulture.”)

We have quickly come to appreciate the abundance of very decent wine for 3 euro and under and will miss the bargains when we return home to $10 (at least) bottles. Perhaps the American Heart Association should consider importing and subsidizing some cheap yet snappy reds in the name of heart health for all. We’ll be happy to offer up some suggestions.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

The Stamp Tax is Alive and Well

So, some of you may remember from American history class a little something called the Stamp Act, which helped usher in the Revolution. Basically, Founding Father types were perturbed by having to pay yet another tax without having voted on it, this one requiring that it be paid whenever processing official (and, seemingly, unofficial) documents. (Once tea got added into the taxing mix it was all over for King Georgie.)

Well, Trofie Wife is here to report that the Stamp Tax is alive and well in Italy! Something called a marca da bollo must be affixed on pretty much everything, and like most essential things in this country, can be purchased from the tabacchi. Trofie Wife has spotted it on such varied places as the wedding certificates posted outside the Office of Demographic Records and the doors of shops that have made any sort of policy change, including taking vacation. (Martello insists that he has walked by many a shop with a posted notice that lacks the marca da bollo, to which Trofie Wife says: tax evaders!!)

The current cost of this marca da bollo is nearly 15 euros. Nice scam they got going here. Too bad the Brits couldn’t pull it off back home and the Patriots keep it going. Just think of the surplus that would now be available for mass transit and green infrastructure!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

A Knock at the Door

So when we first moved in (and then about ten times thereafter), our well-meaning landlady—who at least Trofie Wife has decided should be our adopted Italian nonna for the year—repeatedly warned me about not answering the door for anyone except her: “trust no one.” This suggestion seemed a bit, well, absurd (and not very Christian, for someone who covers the house in pictures of her welcoming lord), given the need to let in messengers of important packages from overseas and whatnot. Yes, we’ve all seen the Saturday Night Live shark skit with Chevy Chase and Lorraine Newman—check the peephole before you open the door and don’t let in any land sharks or other strangers whose official purposes cannot be confirmed. But she kept stressing the matter, concerned that I was going to be taken advantage of in some way. Not only was I to be mindful of my own front door but the building’s as well—“don’t let anyone follow in behind you.”

Well, on two separate occasions this week, I finally figured out what the fuss was all about after I encountered not one, but two, traveling salesmen. The first was my own hopeful fault. The doorbell rang while I was mid-(tooth)brush, and although I could have let it slide, with the giddiness of a camper thinking that a package was waiting for me at the office, I opened the door, saw no one there and shouted out “ciao” to the people who were already heading down the steps. The two men came back upstairs and proceeded to try to explain their service to me (all the while pointing at their official photo ID badges). I said the standard “I don’t understand,” and said I spoke English but one of the guys asked if I spoke French. I said “un peu,” and then proceeded to not understand most of what he was saying, which raised new concerns about the state of my French. Turns out they wanted to clean the floors or provide some type of maid service. I finally begged off with “the landlady lives over there; I’m just a guest” and they left. While returning from an errand run the next day, I had another such encounter in the lobby. After the door of one apartment had been closed in his face, the salesman tried to go after me. After my “I don’t understand; I speak English,” he launched into, “great, I do, too!” and then tried to explain his frozen foods service to me. I quickly said, “I don’t use frozen foods” (total lie). “I cook” (as if that prohibits you from using frozen foods!) and then ran up the stairs. I guess I will be more mindful of the crazy commission sharks (“Plumber, m’am!”) on the loose in the building in the future.

In other apartment oddities, it seems that everything is breaking around here, mostly due to age and the fact that all the broken things seem to be a) made of plastic or some other non-biodegradable yet otherwise easily destructible material and b) on at least their second round of breakage, evidenced by noticeable fracture scars. I purchased some crazy glue and went to work on the shower “telephone” (first the plastic casing fell off, followed by the spout, after the pressure had almost completely puttered out, flying out at me mid-shower; that required a screwdriver), paper towel dispenser (totally Martello’s fault, after he forcefully leaned on it; but turns out it was definitely not the first time it had broken), one of the hooks inside the closet (totally Trofie Wife’s fault, as I had forced just one more thing to rest on it and then it went snap), my umbrella (fixed/replaced by the company in the States yet it had broken again by the time we arrived), and picture of the Holy Family (not the Schneersons) at prayer over our bed, which apparently fell behind the bed, along with the palm fronds (didn’t realize that iconography repair was part of Trofie Wife’s job description, but only seems respectful to do, especially after having explained to the landlady that we were not Catholic nor Protestant; given this fact, she’ll likely be certo (sure) to check for extra signs of desecration when we depart and before she releases the security deposit). However, the one downside to my “Little Ms. Fix-It” act is that I can only reach heights so high. Martello’s going to have to deal with the curtain situation, as it is literally above my pay grade.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Madonna’s Immaculate Conception (As Opposed to Madonna’s “Immaculate Collection”)

Given our religious upbringings, Martello and Trofie Wife are not well versed in all matter of Catholic practice and dogma. So when we learned that Monday, December 8 was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we scratched our heads and remained befuddled but thankful for any holiday that creates a three-day weekend with Monday off. (While we thought that the holiday referred to the immaculate conception of Jesus (which would be kind of quick given the 12/25 birthday), it actually refers to his mother’s “pure” conception, which, although undertaken by her parents au natural, rendered her free from the original sin with which everyone else supposedly is born. Jesus’s conception is apparently “virginal,” not “immaculate.” Thank you, Wikipedia!) We had originally considered taking another three- or five- hour train ride somewhere (just like Trofie Wife’s sister in Zurich was seven whenever she traveled somewhere in Europe, any train trip that Trofie Wife takes in Europe is three or five hours away—sorry for the bit of insidery family lore for those unfamiliar with the story). But yet again, the computer screen called to Martello, so we decided to stay put and explore our Genoese home base.

Well, we didn’t make it outside on Saturday (well, Martello did make it to the grocery store to pick up what was supposed to be just eggs (for the molten chocolate cake mix) and steel wool; he returned nearly two hours later with two full bags; he just really likes supermarkets (as do I). We then vowed to spend Sunday in a more exploratory mode.

And explore we did! Although we hit the snooze one too many times and missed the train that would take us to the old Casella railway (a very old scenic trackway leading to walking paths on the outskirts of Genoa, northeast of our home in Arenzano), we did make it to a branch of the Parco Beigua, a beautiful protected regional park (kind of like a state park), in our usual, roundabout manner. Trofie Wife found Googlemap directions to the park administrative center, which we figured would be at the head of the park. We still don’t really know street names here, other than our own (we find our way by visual aids—lamppost, staircase, bakery), but from the map we saw that the offices were over the train tracks and across the highway. Martello thought they were on one side of the tracks and on the side of one highway; Trofie Wife thought they were on the opposite two sides but since Martello usually has the better sense of direction, followed him (getting winded along the way) up a steep incline of steps (there are many in this town) to what we thought would lead to the park, but only left us across the street from the local hospital (and somewhere near the legendary canile—the organizers still haven’t called…). So, we decided to throw in the towel and just take the train into Genoa to hopefully catch a museum and dinner. But while approaching the tracks, we found a street sign that corresponded to the Googlemap directions. To hurry this story along, we ended up circling Arenzano to find this park. While we managed to locate the administrative offices, they did not, in fact, lead to the park, but luckily, we eventually found a sign that indicated that some sort of aviary outlook was “up ahead.” “Up ahead” turned into a two-mile or so hike up the steep incline that was the auto road to the park, not the hiking trail proper. Since Trofie Wife doesn’t regularly Mousercize (or perform any traditional exercise other than taking long walks), she strained the top portion of both legs in the process of getting her relatively stumpy limbs to more or less keep apace with Martello’s long strides. But no pain, no gain, right? And what a view from the top, which we proudly display below.

We hiked back down the actual marked trails to the famed Bambini church behind our house (that's its belltower in the above photo). So, we essentially followed in the footsteps of famed Genoese Christopher Columbus, accidentally circumnavigating (or in his case, attempting to) to find that what we were looking for was just straight ahead. We plan to return to the park in coming weekends for the fresh air and exercise.  But next time, we’ll avoid the hike before the hike!

Soreness aside, we managed to make it into Genoa for dinner and a glimpse of the Christmas tree in Piazza Ferrari (think the Rockefeller Center Tree as a fetus, see picture below). 

We spent the actual holiday in another sleep- and design software-induced fog, but made it out just before sunset to wander through the local park and see what we thought were decorations (a mistranslation of the flier—it was a craft fair). This weekend must be Italy’s equivalent of “Black Friday” in terms of it being the official kick-off for holiday decorations and shopping in all the small towns (turns out we missed the local tree lighting on Saturday night). We hope to take in some more (adopted) holiday cheer in the coming weeks in our adopted home.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Return to Normalcy (Well, At Least to As Normal As We Get Around Here…) Plus Some Other Odds and Ends

Trofie Wife is thrilled to report that the first of her promised telecommute gigs has panned out. She started work this week and is quite happy to be “back in the game,” as they (whoever says “back in the game”) say. Never fear—this turn of events should not halt blog production at all. In fact, it may just increase it, given Trofie Wife’s propensity to build increasing returns on her productivity (i.e., the busier I am, the more I can get done).

And now to turn to the energy front: According to news reports, demand for power fell across Italy in November due to relatively warm temperatures (see We’re not quite sure where these reporters were stationed, but the power demand in Trofie Wife and Martello’s apartment certainly did not drop. In fact, we shivered though many a November night while “demand” was falling.

Finally, in world power headlines: The annual G-8 summit is making a triumphant return to Italy in July (perhaps in honor of Martello’s birthday?). If you read Trofie Wife’s earlier post on the outcome of the Diaz trial (related to police brutality during the 2001 G-8 meeting in Genoa), you’ll realize that there might be some local trepidation afoot in regards to such violent incidents repeating themselves. Well, never fear, because the Italian planners have identified a perfect venue, La Maddelena, an exquisite, pristine island nestled between Sardinia and Corsica (Napoleon, anyone?). Eager protesters be forewarned: it is only accessible by boat, and I suspect that the Italian equivalent of the Coast Guard will be out in full force (at least you can't brutalize people if you keep them at bay...).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I Really Hope We Didn’t Overlook This One

Trofie Wife came across some articles on European energy deals that she normally would have skipped had she been in the States, but due to Italy’s appearance in the copy, she read what was in front of her and then sought out more information. Apparently, Italy and Albania are joining forces on natural gas and wind power projects, not to mention signing new business development agreements that have led to calls of “colonialism” from Albanian environmental activists (see, Of perhaps more significance to the United States, one of Italy’s mega power companies, Edison SpA, has been awarded a major 20-year-plus contract to explore and develop Egypt’s Abu Qir oil fields, beating out a British firm.

Trofie Wife roundly supports moving towards sustainable, non-Middle East-based sources of energy, however, she sincerely hopes that the United States got (or will get) some use out of this patch of oil at some point, given the $28 billion in aid that it has showered on Egypt for over 30 years.

Perhaps with all these new energy deals, Italians will finally be able to have enough voltage on hand for not just washers, but driers…

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Clothing Curiosities

As the signs of winter sprout (note the snow on the mountain, a lovely view en route to the train station, grocery store, or aluminum recycling bin), Trofie Wife’s mind remains temporarily frozen on a recent discovery made during a routine walk: children at the local Catholic school in this country that hosts the seat of the Church do not wear school uniforms. What gives? I have come up with three possible answers:

 1) Given Arenzano’s propensity for fancy strollers and hip cars (read: Park Slopeism), perhaps it’s a wealthy outlier where parents have advocated for the retention of their children’s wardrobe originality (purple galore!).

 2) Perhaps Catholic school (girl or boy) uniforms have never existed in Italy, and it is the Irish brand of Catholicism that is responsible for the kilts and ties.

 3) In yet another example of American exceptionalism, we, in fact, gave birth to the Catholic school uniform. 

Clearly, Trofie Wife has way too much time on her hands if such musings are what she’s devoting it to….

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Behind the Scenes at “Martello e Trofie Wife”

Like any good pop culture venture, Martelloetrofiewife realized that it was about time for a “behind the blog” post—minus the debauchery and melodrama. Trofie Wife realizes that the rate of posting might seem a bit odd to some readers (i.e., posting five entries at a time after a week of silence), so she thought that some insight into our production process would be helpful. 

First, Trofie Wife (or, in a rare case, Martello) needs to have some sort of experiential encounter that can spawn at least a paragraph of commentary. Examples include a struggle with a household appliance, an interesting tidbit in an online article, or actually leaving the house and noticing (or even doing!) something. Next, Trofie Wife opens up a Word document and blathers on about the matter. The writing may take place in one sitting or follow a more meandering path, depending on the status of her attention span that day. After at least one re-read (with the requisite editing), Trofie Wife is now ready to share her piece with Martello (or vice versa, as the case may be). This “sharing” should by no means be construed as “a visit to the censor”; we have a First Amendment (and then some) policy in this house. The writer reads the piece aloud to the spouse in order to double check for clarity and grammar, as well as collect snarky interjections that can then be parenthetically inserted as necessary.

The next step is to format the document on the Web site. Trofie Wife pastes the information onto the page and uploads (usually with great frustration) any accompanying photos. Finally, she reads the entry over one last time before pressing the “Publish” button. In a final attempt to get the word out, Trofie Wife posts a link to the blog on her newly-acquired Facebook page (thanks, nudgey friends). Sometimes this takes a while, since Martello (usually the one on the being-read-to end) needs to be home and awake enough to digest the information. (He notes that Trofie Wife can speed up the process by not writing so much… .)

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

“I Knew You Must Be American…”

“….Because you’re holding a cupcake in one hand and a bag of popcorn in the other, and you’re grinning from ear to ear.” (Classically American, or just classic Trofie Wife?)

Trofie Wife spoke to more people on Monday than she has in a month, and the above gem was just one of many great outcomes of her roving afternoon adventure. But first, a little background.

Readers might have noticed from the large slew of writing posted to the blog in recent days, that Trofie Wife spent little time out of the house last week, apart from the Thanksgiving movie. In addition to putting pen to paper, as it were, the weekend was a dull and dreary one, and with a midweek deadline looming, Martello wanted to spend sabato (Saturday) and domenica (Sunday) getting in some extra (laptop) screen and snooze time; our big weekend highlights were a trip to the Voltri grocery store and our sublime concoction of rimasugli (leftovers)—it’s amazing how good a (slightly burnt) amalgam of jarred peppers, tomatoes, sundried tomato paste, sweetened (we’re not sure why) zucchini, tuna (but not the yucky, wet kind that Trofie Wife abhors) tastes over extra-long fusili! (Martello would like to add that despite the pouring rain Saturday night, he actually did suggest doing something that evening but Trofie Wife demurred. Trofie Wife would like to note that she wanted to go into Genoa on Sunday afternoon, but Martello was less enthusiastic.)

So, given the casa fever to which Trofie Wife was likely about to fall victim (how do you say “red rum” in Italian?), on Monday, she finally made it as far as the Genoa Brignole station to attend the Natale (Christmas) bazaar hosted by the friendly ex-pat group that she has been scoping out since September. Not yet certain that I wanted to make the financial commitment of membership, I wanted to be sure to attend at least one event before sealing the deal, and the one involving shopping that was open to the public seemed like just the ticket. Trofie Wife was thrilled to meet the ex-pat woman with whom she had e-mailed and spoken to (on the payphone advertising the funeral home) during her first visit to Arenzano and to be introduced to many other English speakers (and more than one or two New Yorkers, including the club doyenne, who made a sneering comment about another peer originating from “lowly” Philadelphia—a lady after my own heart!).

 The club seems more akin to the Junior (but certainly not “Jew”-nior) League than anything else. The women (some of whom, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, work) socialize and raise funds for local charities benefiting women and children in need (certainly a plus). The bazaar raises funds for the local international school in addition to the charities the group supports. Most of the available items were gently used toys, clothes, and books (three of which may have ended up on Trofie Wife’s bookshelf…I just can’t help myself!!), but there were also delectable delights. In addition to the cupcakes (rumored to have been made by someone with a connection to the actual Magnolia Bakery! In Genoa! I must find her!!!), there was an entire table filled with processed American staples—canned cranberries and pumpkin (likely left over from the group’s Thanksgiving event), marshmallows, sundry baking supplies and mixes (I resisted), and Jif peanut butter (Martello actually enjoys the sugar-free peanut butter he found in the Voltri grocery store. I wasn’t so much missing peanut butter, and when I tried a scoop from the jar, decided it was definitely something I could forgo for the year. With that vow in mind, I passed on the Jif).  As I scanned the table I realized how easily our cupboards have adapted to the Italian offerings. While it would, of course, at times be easier if we had all the usual ingredients at hand, such convenience would stifle the culinary creativity that has captured us in recent weeks.

Everyone that I was introduced to at the bazaar was lovely and invited me to partake in their regular tea-fueled card and Scrabble games. While the thought of entering the drawing rooms of these welcoming 40-somethings is appealing on one hand, in many ways it only further served to illustrate Trofie Wife’s peculiar position. One particularly wise member gave me a concise overview of the Genoa expat community that served to confirm the general weirdness of us being here, especially at this (still quite youthful!) stage of our lives. Unlike some of Europe’s more cosmopolitan (globalized?) metropolises, Genoa tends to be exactly the opposite of a constantly-in-flux, itinerant city that attracts young and energetic expats. It sounds as though aside from Martello and his colleagues, few people pass through here for short stretches of time. In fact, the only person I encountered at this event who had been in Genoa for less than five years, arrived from the UK “a mere” 18 months ago. In other words, they’re lifers. Apparently, with the cruising industry so big in this port town, many couples meet aboard while working or traveling. Given their long-term position as wives of Italians, these women are able to work while others are either forced—or content, especially while raising children—to stay at home with their Scrabble boards. Most of the husbands are either import/exporters or engineers involved in some aspect of the shipping business (plus a few architects).

I was also relieved to learn during this tutorial that my hesitancy towards teaching my native tongue is well-founded; it’s not considered a plum employment opportunity, especially for someone with a graduate degree (plus, my interest in teaching faded when my Cabbage Patch kids—ever the attentive students— received their diplomas).  This state of affairs is in line with Italy’s trend of having one of the lowest rates of women (especially mothers) in the workforce. Indeed, aside from the cupcake, the highlight of the event was the opportunity to conduct some networking regarding nonprofit-related volunteer opportunities in the community (in addition to my high hopes for the canile, from which I’m still anxiously awaiting a ring!). Even so, as with most things in Italy, while there is an increasing hunger (especially amongst youth) to connect with community-based organizations, ridiculous bureaucratic restrictions impinge upon their rapid actions (and the kids only have so much patience before they decide to move on). So, we’ll see if any related projects pan out. Nevertheless, I left the event with a good feeling about the group, and determined that membership would be worth its weight in euros— even if productive contributions to the world would have to be sought elsewhere.

Before heading back to the train station, I wandered through the nearby market, which mostly sold the same mix of food, schlock, and crafts that the Arenzano and Voltri markets feature. Upon my arrival home, Martello seemed pleased that I was buzzing about my encounters and had more to share than the usual events of making a mistake at the grocery store or post office. BF would be proud.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife