Saturday, November 28, 2009

A “Capital” Visit

Our first mission in Cagliari—the regional capital—was breakfast (Trofie Wife insists that we never miss breakfast when it’s included in the price of our hotel stay, sleep be damned), not knowing that we would be encountering quite possibly the best hotel breakfast in the history of hotel breakfasts. The buffet table was lined with, amongst a plethora of treats, the freshest, yummiest pecorino sardo, really good jam, surprisingly yummy café americano (Trofie Wife usually avoids it in Italy, opting for the more reliable espresso), and juice from every tree in the orchard. We now understood why there was fairly heavy security at the front door and checking of room numbers.

Cagliari city walls

Our last day in Sardegna was spent touring craft stores, the San Benedetto indoor market (we so wished we had access to a refrigerator for all the produce, fish, and cheese, but we at least came away with some great honey), and sipping drinks in the famed Café Antico, which turned out to be somewhat disappointing along with the gelateria that was supposed to have 280 flavors, but only boasted a paltry two dozen and most of them were canned, not fresh. Far more interesting was the hilly walk through the city walls (though Trofie Wife was a bit tired/complainy—it was super hot), searching for the old Jewish ghetto (evidence remains of the ghetto entrance and old synagogue site, though a church sits atop it now), and seeing the duomo all decked out for the upcoming holiday (Ferragosto—a holiday honoring Mary’s rise to heaven).

Old Jewish quarter

"The Ghetto" is an arts and cultural center that has nothing to do with Jewish culture. It was closed while we were wandering.

Narrow, winding alleys 

Although our time in Sardegna was coming to an end, our vacation was not (yes, we are ridiculously spoiled). That evening, we flew from Cagliari to Trieste (pretty much as far north and east as you can go in Italy) on our first Ryan Air flight. For those of you unfamiliar, it’s a budget Irish airline that lets you easily hop from one European city to another. The catch is that while the ticket prices are low, they charge you up the wazoo for all the extras (including reserved seats; it's quite a scramble to grab two together during regular boarding). If your luggage is above weight (as was ours), you pay. Annoying, but still probably less costly than a flight on a major airline.

Trofie Wife believes that the urge to visit Trieste was first implanted in her brain during her much beloved Joyce course in college (which inspired a trip to Dublin several years ago). More on this soon, but Joyce spent nearly two decades here and his experiences in the city likely both inspired much of what appears in Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake. As we started reading more about Italy, Trofie Wife learned that there was and still is quite a large Jewish presence in the city along with a great deal of other culinary and cultural delights. Martello obliged and found a beautiful little hotel (with a mezuzah, interestingly enough) right in the center of it all—we loved it so much that we booked two additional nights after breakfast that first morning.

Our first view of La Piazza d’Unita d’Italia, the central square in Trieste, was breathtaking, lit up in blue and bustling with activity. We just knew that we had arrived in a special place and couldn’t wait to explore the next morning.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Home Away from Home Away from Home

Alghero, once a Catalonian stronghold, was the next stop on our whirlwind Sardinian tour, which took us north briefly before we continued on southward (Martello had to help me recall the geography; I just kind of followed along without much awareness as to where we were exactly...). After a nauseating (only for Trofie Wife; Martello was snapping away as usual as supposedly it was a “spectacular” unfolding panorama) and windy bus ride, we landed in a walled town with a lovely sea view.

Stunning view of the coast from the bus; Trofie Wife was mostly looking at the backs of her eyelids, trying to avoid soiling the bus with her breakfast. I got glimpses of the mountains and water every so often and am grateful to Martello for documenting the beauty so I could appreciate it after disembarking from the constantly gear shifting autobus. 

Needing to catch a train south to Oristano not that long thereafter (and stuck with our luggage until we found the train station and its store room), we quickly toured the perimeter, seeking the vestiges of Catalonian culture (there was paella to be eaten, but we didn't have time for a lengthy meal) as well as signs of the former Jewish community, which had been expelled in 1492 alongside its brethren in mainland Spain. Although one of the towers embedded into the city walls was supposedly known as the "Jewish tower," we couldn’t quite find it (Martello recently remarked that he didn't know that we were looking...). However, we had no problem finding the expansive duomo (in a lovely Moorish style until Baroque elements were introduced and turned it all ungapacthka). We didn’t have much time to explore the sea (or take a ferry out to some nearby islands and grottos), but we did have an opportunity to indulge in some highly recommended gelato and see a pair of deaf parents yelling at their children in what we could only guess was Italian sign language (actual sign language, not just Italian hand gestures).

Ruins of early Catalan walls and towers.

Alghero's walls and the beautiful sea below.

The Duomo--much nicer looking outside than inside. 

The real attraction of this portion of the trip, however, was our two-night stay just outside Oristano in Solanas, at the agriturismo bed and breakfast run by the future mother-in-law of one of Martello’s co-workers. The co-worker and her fiancé arranged for our stay and escorted us around the area. The grounds of the B&B and surrounding fields were filled with delicious vegetables and fruits (including plenty of grapes handily turned into wine). Martello’s co-worker was kind enough to brief the innkeeper on Martello’s dietary restrictions (also helping Trofie Wife steer clear of eating any beloved piggies). Like a good Sardinian mamma, she kept insisting that we eat more, hurtling apperitivi, antipasti, primi, secondi, dolci, vini, caffe, e digestivi our way. It was on that first night that we finally bit into seadas, the classic Sardinian dessert. It’s a sort of sweet calzone filled with pecorino sardo and honey. It’s incredibly rich and difficult to eat after a large meal, yet amazingly, people manage to finish their portions (sadly, not Trofie Wife, though I plan to attempt making it on my own at some point). Somehow after dinner, we rolled into Torre Grande, another nearby town with an invigorating nightlife, which we were all too full and tired to partake in. When we arrived home, the family dog—some sort of pitbull mix—was waiting to greet us, but he wasn’t too interested in being pet by Trofie Wife… .

The following morning prior to leaving on a daytrip, our friends were kind enough to locate the bus to Is Arutas, a beach laden with rose quartz instead of sand, and put us on it. The beach was breathtaking and the rocks soft, making for an excellent napping ground and foot massage conveyance.

Quartz! On a beach! (That would be Martello's extreme excitement about this turn of events.) 

Martello gives himself a foot massage. 

The area seemed to be particularly attractive to German and Belgian tourists--several bars rose their respective flags (and one particularly blond one asked me to guard a bathroom door for her). We stayed long enough to enjoy naps, reading, wading, and photographing. 

Is Arutas sunset

With our friends up north, we were on our own for dinner, stuck attempting to make conversation with the other guests in a mix of English and Italian (Trofie Wife failing miserably in the latter and speaking too quickly in the former). Our fellow guests even started planning the remainder of our trip for us, suggesting different spots in Sardinia and further north back on the mainland. Perhaps our best memory of Sardenga comes from that evening: The momma innkeeper explained that while pork was on the menu for the rest of the guests, her husband had grilled us some manzo (beef)--she then placed her fingers on her head (to make little ears or horns) and gave us a moo or two; we so wished we could have captured it on film.

Our last day in Solanas was quite eventful, with a daytrip to Isla Mal au Ventre—yes French speakers, that would be Tummy-ache Island. Maybe not the best locale for Trofie Wife? Along with our now-returned friends we shared a rubber dinghy rental with another family staying at the inn. Now as Trofie Wife has noted here before, I am not so into boats. But at least a regular boat is made from wood or steel or some other heavyweight material, and one is unlikely to be at risk of falling out merely from climbing aboard. Riding a top a rubber dinghy is a whole separate experience. Thankfully no one fell out nor did I create any food for the fish.

Isla Mal au Ventre

We enjoyed an afternoon of swimming and relaxing. I did opt out of the boat tour around the island (back on the dinghy), choosing to save my courage reserves for the ride back to the mainland. Instead Martello and I toured the island by foot. Unfortunately, the camera was with our bags in the boat, but we saw bunnies and a bird skeleton. We eventually met up with the "boat," (I don't even know if it truly merits that description; "oversized inner tube" might be more appropriate) and I endured an extremely choppy journey back to shore, holding on for dear life the whole way (and disappointing the 10ish year old boy who really wanted the vessel to go as fast as possible), and emphatically reminding Martello that he had used up pretty much all of his points in the bank and owed me big time for putting up with this bumpy adventure.

Our friends relax in between boat rides.

Dried off and happy to be back on the mainland, our friends escorted us to the train station, where we hopped aboard a coach to Cagliari, the capital of Sardegna, which sits on the southern coast. En route, Trofie Wife took the unusual liberty of putting her feet on the seat. Most of the trains on the island are in pretty sorry states, but this one was kind of new, and the conductor was being protective and decided to snip at me. Guess I have to get in trouble sometime… .

We were happy to arrive at the über-hip T Hotel (which the locals deride as an oversized "pencil") and enjoy a delicious dinner. The following day we would take in the sounds and sights of Cagliari.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bosa Bustle

When people go to Sardegna, they usually laze on the beach for a week or more, enjoying the relaxing sand, sun, and hydrating (or not) beverages. Not so Martello e Trofie Wife. Martello wanted to see as much as possible during this trip, since we were not yet sure if we’d ever have the opportunity to return. So we planned (or at least outlined) a most unusual near circumnavigation. From the northeastern corner of the island, we next headed west and south to Bosa, a medieval town on which the guidebook had sold Martello. It being a Sunday in August, our journey there was anything but smooth, involving a bus, two trains, and a chartered taxi since the bus that was supposed to take us from where the train let us off was MIA (though a German–Italian nonna who spotted us at the train station was kind enough to invite us over for a beer; our (or at least Trofie Wife’s) American skepticism/mistrust still hasn’t quite warn off).

During these long bouts of travel, Martello enjoys taking nearly endless pictures of the scenery as the train whizzes by (Trofie Wife prefers to read). Given that Sardegna had just suffered a bout of forest fires (along with nearby Corsica and parts of Spain) in recent weeks, we saw quite a bit of charred fields and huddles of sheep that we weren’t quite sure were alive or dead (Sardenga’s sheep census seems to rival that of New Zealand; Sardinian sheep are responsible for the delectable pecorino sarda cheese. Thank ewe!).

View of Bosa

When our taxi finally pulled up to the hotel in Bosa, it was evident that Martello had hit upon yet another charming spot. The building was of an old world style, similar to our hotel in Pisa. But one of the main attractions (and the reason we put in for two nights here) was the town’s beach, which the guidebook said was quite wide and excellent for lazing about. Unfortunately, as we learned after a very long walk that involved crossing a major highway, while the hotel was in Bosa, the beach was in a town called Bosa Marina; the guidebook did not state this fact. Bus service to and from the beach as we learned on Day 2 was spotty (and the bus stop difficult to locate). Also annoying: Bosa Marina, while boasting many a place in which money can be spent, does not have a single ATM machine (though it does have a tourist office). Given that it was vacation season, there had been a run on the two ATMs in Bosa proper and one machine was not dispensing cash (at that point we probably had five or so euros between us). When we finally were able to get some, the line was ridiculously long (and Trofie Wife feared there'd be no money left by the time it was our turn--they don't accept credit cards at most gelateria--Martello found this anxiety to be ridiculous). Note to anyone doing any sort of city or town planning: if you’re designing a future tourist hotspot, please make the place’s name and location clear and do us all a favor by not naming your town the same thing as a neighboring town!

Beach on Bosa Marina

Bosa Marina beach

The whole distance from the hotel thing aside, the beach was quite spacious and lovely, lest the sulfuric smell emanating from the sea, which we were told was due to the algae (right…). While eating lunch at a beach bar, our waitress mistook us for Spaniards, then when we tried to correct her, she guessed we were every type of European before barely believing that we were American. At this point Martello and I realized we could be secret agents. We’ll let you know how that turns out…. .

We also ate fairly well (not a shocker), enjoying pizza on the first night after our epic nighttime return from Bosa Marina alongside the highway. At that pizza joint we began noticing (but did not order) something called pizza americano. What ingredients is our home country honored with? French fries. On pizza. Strangely enough, people actually order it (upon returning home we started noticing it on Ligurian menus). We, however, like our arteries too much. Our hotel also boasted a well-known restaurant and we had a delightful meal there, albeit it took forever to be served (not so much hustle from the wait staff, though to be fair, they seemed understaffed and overtaxed). We also enjoyed strolling through the lovely cobblestoned streets and seeing Sardinian handcrafts, which include pottery and sheep-based textiles. And then it was on to the next town… .

Bosa proper centro

Where there is zucchero filato, there is Trofie Wife

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Real Italian Holiday

As readers can probably guess from the general theme of our marriage, this blog, and knowing us, we often like to leave things to the exact last minute. I mean, once you plan a full-on wedding in a month, what’s a two-week vacation crisscrossing the country? Child’s play. Of course booking a last-minute vacation in August when nearly the entire country is out and about is not advisable. If it were solely up to Martello, we’d have found hotels at each stop along the way, but since this is a shared venture, Trofie Wife insisted that we have sleeping spots booked for at least the first portion of the trip (in a highly-vacationed zone); an idea that Martello finally warmed up to when he starting noticing the price differential between online rates and the significantly higher rates posted on the room’s door.

So, with the first few days of our lodging booked and all of the most necessary plans made, we left Arenzano and headed to the Genova port, where we boarded the ferry to Sardinia (Sardegna in italiano), a lovely island lying off Italy’s west coast and fully part of the country (although it does have an autonomous regional government, a dialect closely resembling Catalan, and unique cuisine). Its most luxurious stretches are famed for hosting the internationally rich and famous, including Berlusconi’s infamous party villa. For the plebians, there are more budget accommodations, but the entire island is covered in gorgeous coastline, so even if you can’t afford to spring for a resort, you can do quite well at the public beaches.

Because one can reach the eastern portions of the island via a relatively quick nine-hour ferry ride, the eastern coast of Sardinia functions as a sort of Genovese Hamptons (yes, people who live along the sea need to summer along a different seaside). People buy season passes for the car ferries and load on and off every weekend; there’s even a special kennel for the dogs. Since we were heading into the two prime weeks of August vacation, the ferry was quite packed (we chose the budget line to Olbia; there are several companies that service the many possible routes between Genova and several Sardinian ports of call; Trofie Wife was tempted to book the boat bearing Looney Toons characters, but, unfortunately, passage was in the realm of Scrooge Duck's budget). 

All of the ferries have a pricing system that seems weird if it’s unfamiliar. You pay for the right to be on the boat and then you pay for the seats (or cabin, if you want a bed). Seeing that we booked the budget line, we opted to pay a couple euro more for the first-class poltrone (the seats).

However, upon finding our seats we were quite surprised to notice that many—not only in first but also second class—were empty. We soon realized why:

Apparently people take this whole paying for passage thing quite literally. They pay for passage and then camp out in all sections of the boat. They bring sleeping bags, air mattresses, beach chairs; some board as early as possible to commandeer the bar and cafeteria areas or the staircase landings (some even sleep outside, canines beside them, as Martello learned during a middle of the night walk, which nearly ended in catastrophe with his foot brushing, yet thankfully not smushing, a sleeping dog). All violations of the fire code and all blissfully unenforced in carefree Italia. It’s quite insane and reminded me somewhat of a NFTY shul-in. (Trofie Wife was embarrassed as Martello snapped the above photos, yet I’m using them here, so I guess I should be grateful for the few moments of shame).

We docked not too long after sunrise and then took some time to find the pedestrian exit (apparently cars take priority). And as we began our search for a bus to take us to Palau, where we, thankfully, had a room booked, we had our first encounter with what would become a recurring motif: immense hurdles to accessing public transit. It’s pretty easy to get around major cities via train and bus. But to attempt to do so on an island like Sardinia requires immense amounts of willpower and patience (immediately apparent as Martello went through security to enter the building where said bus tickets were supposedly for sale only to learn that he had to buy them from the conductor standing in front of the bus, who had earlier said to go inside…). By the trip’s end we would certainly earn the title of Italian public transit warriors.
As we hurtled toward Palau, it became abundantly clear why Sardinia is the vacation choice of discerning Italians—it is absolutely stunning. And hot. We took a lovely nap in the woods overlooking the sea and then a boat over to La Maddelena. 

Looking out on the water in Palau

Palau Pineta (woods; excellent napping conditions)

Trofie Wife had recalled once reading something about beautiful pink beaches on La Maddelena (though there was nothing in the guidebook accompanying us that day), so we set out looking for them, merely following vague signs (Trofie Wife’s chosen, and usually correct, mode of navigation in Italy) to the beach. As the local road gave way to a highway and we inched along the shoulder, we (well, Martello) grew increasingly skeptical that such a beach existed. Yet finally, we reached a beach. It wasn’t pink (we’d later learn that those pink beaches were ecologically protected zones that could only be viewed during special boat tours), but it was a pretty, almost otherworldly place on which to view a sunset.

Otherwordly (though, sadly, not pink) beach on La Maddelena

We thankfully caught the day's last bus back to the center of town and had our first taste of Sardinian cuisine—spaghetti e bottarga (dried fish eggs; they would grow on us over the course of the week) and then took our third boat in 48 hours (and Trofie Wife really doesn’t like boats) back to Palau where sweet sleep awaited us (vacation was already tiring us out!).

Moonlight on the water between Palau and Maddelena

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Zipping to Firenze

Despite having lived here for nearly a year, it’s still quite bizarre to Martello e Trofie Wife to be able to look at each other and say, “Hey, want to go to [insert Italian city that’s reachable within a five-hour train ride] this weekend?” With our mega-long August vacation fast approaching (and precious little of it booked), Trofie Wife felt rather indulgent being able to pull this little trick mid-week, while Martello was wrapping up his big deadline. But seeing as she’s not likely to be able to do this when we return to the States, she might as well take advantage of it while she can.

So, waving aside the guilt, Trofie Wife booked a budget hotel, hopped on three connecting trains, and found her way to Firenze (Florence) to meet up with some friends from her high school youth group (as well as their friends). Trofie Wife hadn’t seen one of the friends nor Firenze in nearly a decade (seeing as Martello was there last summer, it hasn’t been high on the weekend priority list), so the journey was doubly exciting. I sneaked through the sweaty crowd in Piazza della Signoria to find my friends and together we headed back to meet the others by the Mercato Sant'Ambrogio, where dinner was already being planned. After a yummy bruschette e pizza lunch and hotel check-in, I managed to run across town to catch the last few minutes (literally) of the synagogue and its museum's opening hours (highly guarded spaces always love a sweaty, stumbling, and stammering last-minute visitor, but seeing just how empty the tour group I joined was, I'm sure the box office appreciated the extra euros). The Firenze synagogue is quite spectacular, due to the fact that the generous endowment donor stipulated that the future building had to match the splendor of the city’s well-regarded masterpieces and houses of worship. With that mission in mind, the architects were sure to make it as un-Italian as possible, focusing on a sort of Moorish/Babylonian design (so that you can loiter in the lovely courtyard while skipping out on services; there was one such girl demonstrating this feature as she played with her Sidekick while her family took the tour). Trofie Wife can only provide external shots as photography was not permitted inside the building, and Martello was not there to surreptitiously break the rules and shoot regardless of the signage.

 Following the tour, Trofie Wife re-joined her friends and we enjoyed some excellent (and surprisingly well-valued) gelato (I did, however, take them to task for only ordering one flavor and not two) and we returned to the apartment they were renting where the master chef amongst them was whipping up a fantastic meal with the items procured earlier that day (even more impressively, using his own culinary tools, transported transcontinentally). We dined and enjoyed catching up and reminiscing, bidding farewell on the banks of the Arno as I returned to my meager lodging (actually, for a budget place booked about 10 hours before leaving, it was pretty good).

The next morning, I strolled over to Oltrarno (that would be the side of the river opposite the city center), wandered around (including stopping into the Santo Spirito church), and then crossed back over the Ponte Vecchio (the big-deal bridge here that used to host slaughter houses and now focuses on jewelry sales, go figure). I was crestfallen to learn that I could not enter the Biblioteca Nazionale just to take a look around (my residual anger, however, will not prevent me from posting pictures of the exterior of said library). 

Bridge O'Bling: there's nothing to bring foot traffic to a standstill quite like putting shiny jewels on display to mesmerize the masses. 

 Biblioteca Nazionale (otherwise known as the library that wouldn't admit me). Hint: if you're worried about the state of education in your country, maybe you should consider letting the public access the libraries!!!

Santo Spirito (the one Italian church I've entered in the height of summer where they actually made me cover my shoulders; luckily they ignored the shorts)

 Santa Maria Novella (not to be confused with the train station of the same name; I didn't have time for this church as I was headed to the station)

 I have to say that when I first visited Firenze during high school I was completely taken with its beauty. Although it was during Easter week and many of the major art galleries were closed, we got to know the streets and various landmarks, and I recall desperately wanting to return (particularly because there was this pair of shoes there that I should have bought and didn’t, and I still have wistful dreams about the experience; the lingering regret was not helped by my beloved French teacher chaperone and i genitori, who, when I returned, said that I should have splurged; and there I thought they would have appreciated my frugal nature with the newly issued credit card; I was sure to have them make up for that instance of thrift in future years).  But this visit left me with a different impression. Other than my brief sojourn to Oltrarno, Firenze just seemed overrun with and exploited by tourists. While it’s still beautiful, my initial feeling of wonder at seeing it at 17 dissipated (perhaps by returning with Martello, who always manages to find the hidden and surprising pathways around every city or small village, I will find that feeling again). After a long return journey, Trofie Wife was happy to return home to Martello so we could pack and continue planning our vacation (which started the next day!). More on that soon to come... .

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Arenzano Day

Like every good Italian village, Arenzano has a patron saint and therefore saint day. It’s not enough to just celebrate the regional patron saint (in our case, San Giovanni/St. John the Baptist)—you need a parish one too; it’s good to diversify. Arenzano’s parish church is named after a saintly duo, the martyrs Nazario (according to Wikipedia his father was possibly Jewish!) e Celso. The story is a little bizarre and may even appear to be a bit scandalous (especially to those of us always looking to read a little more into things). In summation, Nazario left Rome to preach in Milan and along the way, at the behest of a mother seeking religious guidance for her son, became a guardian of the then nine-year-old Celso. They proselytized on the Swiss and Italian sides of the Alps, alternately preaching and then being tortured for their beliefs, always together. They were finally beheaded around 400 C.E.  Most depictions of them show a man and faithful boy by his side. Make of it what you will.

Statues of Nazario e Celso

Cross being paraded through streets

Parish church lit up and surrounded by crowds

As with most saint’s days, it’s a good occasion for a party. The streets of Arenzano are overtaken by street vendors and the tiny via e vicoli are mobbed by revelers young and old and are nearly impassable. Unfortunately, with the exception of the religious procession after the sun set that evening (July 28), there was nothing very local about this festival. Arenzano Day provides yet another example of something Trofie Wife has decided to term “the globalization of crap.” As they do for the other festivals here and around the region (and in some cases, other parts of the country) the same vendors return with the same cheaply made toys from China, knockoff handbags and sunglasses, and dolce da Sicilia (seemingly-from-the-freezer canoli, stale marzipan fruits, and over-roasted nuts). There’s even a group of South Americans playing wooden pipes and flutes, accompanied by a background CD that you can purchase (it makes Trofie Wife feel like she’s at the 42nd Street subway station; I don’t have anything against South American music, but there’s something about that ubiquitous CD and flute combo that doesn’t really smack of genuine musical talent, especially when they’re not in sync, which is so often the case). The New York-based Center for an Urban Future conducted a study a couple of years ago about the generic, non-place-based nature of street fairs in New York City (MozzArepas, the sock and underware bins, the live cleaning product and salad chopper demonstrations, etc.; if you’re interested, see and it’s quite sad that the same study could be applied to Italian street fairs. Trofie Wife feels deeply embarrassed whenever she sees evidence of this non-particularism sneaking in because she knows that American culture is to blame. Ah, the shame. You know how far American commercial practices have reached? Even street fairs in Arenzano and Genova boast the live cleaning product and salad chopper demonstrations! Complete with headsets! And people crowd around to watch the guy speak really fast. It’s awful!

Well, enough gloom and doom. On the upside, there were fireworks (good import; being that it was July (albeit the end of the month) and I also managed to score a cotton candy, it felt a little bit like the Fourth of July, which we didn’t celebrate properly here). Our landlady avoids the fireworks because they remind her of the bombing during World War II; there were, however, plenty of her contemporaries watching the show, so I guess they’ve had better success working through their post-traumatic stress disorder. Sadly, Martello was stuck at the office, pumping out drawings. At least Trofie Wife could enjoy her favorite raining gold fireworks (see picture below), even if she had to do it alone.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nearby Adventures

After spending much of the beginning of the summer with family both in Italia and the States, by mid-July we settled back into normal life around here, trying to see as much as possible with our impending departure approaching (of course that departure didn’t come to pass, but we’re still glad that it gave us a swift kick in the posteriore). We enjoyed our first visit to Martello’s annual office barbecue at a senior partner’s country home up in Piemonte. The event feels more like a family reunion than an office party, with the hosts generously inviting colleagues past and present to partake in a mix of Asian, European, and American cuisine. We arrived later in the evening, winding through the treacherous mountain roads, so we missed the tennis and swimming, but we thoroughly enjoyed the food and beverage spread as well as the company. Seeing that the majority of the guests at this event (minus Trofie Wife) are somewhat skilled in drawing, the host has everyone craft a little piece that includes their names (and usually a note of thanks). He then compiles these sketches along with pictures from the party and prints a yearbook; prior yearbooks are on display at the party, so everyone can enjoy seeing how much their hair has receded over the years (in the case of the men) or their sunspots have turned to leathery wrinkles (those Italian women who refuse to wear sun block). In any event, the party was a warm, enjoyable event, and we do hope that we can join in the festivities come next summer.

We spent Sunday of that weekend exploring the Boccadasse neighborhood of Genova, an old fishing community that has seen better days. From both Boccadasse and the neighborhood above it, Albaro, there are gorgeous views of the cliffs and the sea, and Albaro hosts some very lovely villas, some of which have been converted into apartment complexes while others remain single-family homes (one had a drawbridge!).

The sad thing about Boccadasse is that it could’ve been a contender had fate and history taken a different turn. It just as easily could have been beautified to look like Portofino (compare here (particularly the picture of the Portofino Marina):, which was also just a small fisherman’s village until someone decided to transform it into an “it” place. But despite its rough-around-the-edges façade, Boccadasse still attracts visitors and boasts some art galleries, restaurants, and a gelateria or two.  It’s probably better to be a working resident here than in Portofino, where the influx of tourists can often be overwhelming.

Our final stop was Nervi, the southernmost section within Genova proper. It is another lovely seaside area dotted with villas and gardens and popularly frequented by British tourists. We enjoyed a short walk along the sea and through the huge parco (trailing behind a lovely, droopy basset hound, Trofie Wife might add) before boarding the train back to our own seaside paradise knowing, with Martello’s huge deadline looming, that we wouldn’t be this relaxed again until August vacation rolled around.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Monday, September 14, 2009

Non(na) e Nonno di Wayland

So, in one of the stranger twists of irony (or just scheduling), while Martello e Trofie Wife were in Boston, le non(na); (“non” usually means “not” in Italian or “no” in French, but our aim here is to appropriately abbreviate “grandma”) e nonno di Wayland (that’s near Boston) were actually in Europe, en route to Italy! Thankfully, they were able to rearrange their plans so that we could meet in Arenzano after we were fully recovered from our transatlantic crossings.

In our short visit, we were able to enjoy a lovely outdoor lunch of pizza e birra, una passeggiata around town while Martello worked (poor Martello), and a delicious cena di pesce by the seaside. Non(na) e Nonno di Wayland were troupers climbing up and down the Arenzano coastline’s often unforgiving trails. Of course a visit to Arenzano wouldn’t be complete without stopping by one of our favorite gelateria. Non(na) e nonno di Wayland were hip to local trends in gelato intake, with Nonno di Wayland opting for the always sublime pistachio e fondente (dark chocolate!) and Non(na) di Wayland enjoying a refreshing lemon granite, a frozen delight that Martello often enjoys during the hottest summer days (it must be genetic!).

We can blame forgetting to bring a camera along on the jet lag, but we think that our guests at least managed to snap a photo or two. All in all, it was as sweet as a short visit could be, and we’re so glad that we were able to make it happen.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Feste in Stati Uniti

While Italia is lovely, the one thing that it’s sorely lacking is Martello e Trofie Wife’s friends and family. As we all age, we seem to spread beyond our initial post-college backyards. In the case of Martello, he’s one of three of his close college pals in recent years to end up on Columbus’s original side of the Atlantic (when you throw in the California contingent, the pack stretches for nearly a dozen time zones). While most of Trofie Wife’s friends have stayed along the eastern seaboard, what used to be short weekend jaunts from Brooklyn to points north or south have now morphed into major long-distance excursions. Needless to say, we’re grateful that we live in the Internet age!

So when the opportunity presents itself to actually see people in person, we like to take advantage of it. And it just so happens that on the second week of July, we had the good fortune to land in Boston for the aforementioned feste grande, the wedding of old college pals. Friends from all those time zones gathered on Cape Ann for a memorable weekend.

Lovely rehearsal dinner sunset
The Dudettes
Wait, Liguria or the Mass. coastline? *photo actually taken by Trofie Wife!
The Dudes
Fun with friends was bookended by visits with Martello’s Boston-based family plus i genitori, up from New York (Trofie Wife survived the slight of not personally visiting her beloved home state as she had last been there in May). We each also caught up with friends not part of the big feste, in Trofie Wife’s case, one from high school whom she hadn’t seen in several years’ time.

Our trip was capped off by Martello's transatlantic return flight birthday celebrations, with captain and crew bursting out in song and cheer (well, maybe in Martello's airline meal-fueled dreams).
Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


It’s hard to believe that it was just one year ago today (or yesterday or tomorrow; rough estimate here) when Martello e (almost) Trofie Wife first set foot in Arenzano—only 48 hours or so after mailing their wedding invitations from the all-night post office near Madison Square Garden. After surviving two flights and emerging from the airport with lots of baggage (and this was only for the trial run!) we were whisked away by car and driver to our first apartment here—the loud, buggy studio just above the marina, which if we had ultimately selected it, would have made accepting visitors quite difficult (Murphy bunk beds) and probably would have driven Trofie Wife crazy, given the comparatively small space. (Actually, the flat’s finest feature was its (foam-stuffed) couch, a rare furniture item around these parts.)
As Trofie Wife marvels at the huge, early September waves, I think back to all that has happened since that first awkward week and remember some of my first battles: hunting down a reliable Internet connection (still a struggle) and my first grocery store trip, which nearly resulted in my squashing, since I had not yet discovered the pedestrian walkway (nor the shortcut leading to the goat pen, for that matter) nor figured out that I was walking along a major thoroughfare linking town to highway. It was during that first week, also while overlooking the beach, that I first had the inspiration for this blog and its title.
The sights along the coast are familiar now yet still foreign in so many ways. Year Two (if you haven’t yet heard, we’re staying!) gives us a second chance at this adventure, which we hope will prove to be less helter-skelter. Our first year here was broken up in many ways, notably by our impending wedding just a month after our arrival. (I left after that first September week, and Martello stayed until a week before the wedding. We returned together at the end of October.) The last 11 months have been dually devoted to adjusting to being in the same ZIP code for more than a couple of days at a time along with dealing with the many challenges of living abroad. Now that Martello and I know how to function in the same space (more or less), we can focus on taking in more of the language and culture of this great country (we’re doing quite well in the “taking in the food” department). Martello continues to work on an exciting project in an idyllic atmosphere while Trofie Wife tries her best to not get sucked into her computer while relishing being busy and constantly seeking new opportunities and adventures to pile on my plate (apparently our acquaintances here still don’t get the whole telecommuting thing and believe that I must be deathly bored…).
We’ve spent the summer far from bored, which is why you haven’t heard much from us. July and August were quite the party, so over the next group of posts, we will recount where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. Beginning with hosting our first apartment party!
As June crept into July, several departures (mostly of the semester’s interns) were nearing for Martello’s colleagues. Parties were hosted by and for those leaving, and we wanted to make sure that we debuted on the social scene prior to the departure of several of our new pals. About a week before the impending gathering, Martello e Trofie Wife had just whipped up an herby spinach lasagna, their first Garfield-approved pasta dish. Perhaps it was the mixture of rosemary and wine which lead Martello to ask (aloud), “I wonder if anyone’s ever made chocolate lasagna... .” With that bit of inspiration, Trofie Wife was off and Googling, adapting American recipes to fit with the ingredients on offer here. And before we knew it, Martello had invited over a dozen-plus people to taste this experiment (accompanied by Trofie Wife’s bagels, baguettes, and assorted other delicacies, including those contributed by our guests). We were amazed that the recipe (mostly) worked and that everyone seemed to enjoy our hospitality (well, that part wasn’t so surprising…). Perhaps one of the funniest moments of the evening came early on when a German guest noted how he thought he was entering a German (instead of an Italian) apartment when he saw our two last names posted on the buzzer. That lead to a discussion of the fact that we each had our own surname and our surprising discovery that in Italy (often considered a most conservative country), women do not change their last names when they marry (another point proving Trofie Wife’s latent Italian heritage).
Trofie Wife should add that Martello insisted on hosting this affair the night before we flew to the United States for an even bigger party. The last guest left after 12 a.m., we cleaned until 1 or 2, and then the cab arrived at 5:15 for our 7 a.m. flight… . Needless to say, Martello is (still) trying to make Trofie Wife more flexible; it’s starting to work…a bit.
Speaking of partying, the Italian government is concerned that a bit too much of it is going on for the local raggazi, so they’re (supposedly) starting to enforce the drinking age, which is 16. See here,,8599,1913176,00.html. This is a sad commentary for several reasons, most notably that it’s only recently that Italians have taken up binge-style drinking, which several reports have tried to blame on the exposure to British (note that’s British, not American, woo hoo!) drinking culture encountered while studying abroad and during other cultural exchanges. Trofie Wife still wants to believe that the liberal Mediterranean approach to teens and alcohol is favorable to that of the American “forbidden fruit” tack, which, bottle for bottle, has led to more alcohol abuse over the years.
Well, that’s all our commentary for now. Tales of more feste will continue a dopo.
Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pause for Pride

Although the rest of the family wasn’t quite up for the schlep and the crowds, Trofie Wife really wanted to experience Genova’s turn at hosting Italy’s National Gay Pride march (as noted several months ago, it rotates from city to city each year). Martello pulled himself away from the pool to join me as official photographer. Apparently he was quite inspired, as we have many pictures of various floats and revelers. We were stationed at the start of the parade, by the train station, so we don’t know if they encountered any unfriendliness as they drew deeper into the city and passed some of the churches. However, the news didn’t seem to report any trouble with protests. All in all, it seemed to be a successful event!


The event kicked off with a not-so-environmentally-friendly rainbow smoke explosion. It was kind of cool, though.

This adorable little train carried all the kids participating with Famiglie Arcobaleno (the COLAGE of Italy). Check them out here:

We think that nostro nipote di Cleveland might have enjoyed taking a ride.

We think this was the Ecuadorian float. We're very international here.

No explanation needed.

Check this out, il Capitano di Vicenza: This is the atheist group that wanted to advertise on buses in Genova but were banned after pressure from the Church (we think the posters successfully ran in London). Loose translation: the bad news is that God doesn't exist; the good news is that we don't need Him/Her/It.

Plenty of anti-Vatican (and anti-Berlusconi) signs, this being one of the tamer ones, simply asking that the Vatican "leave us alone!"

This is the float from Agedo, Italy's PFLAG-like group (each of those blue ribbons signfies the different relatives/friends/neighbors they're/we're all supporting). They can be found at Trofie Wife clapped extra loudly for these supportive relatives and friends (my fellow sidewalk revelers joined in suit). More allies are certainly needed all over the world.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife