Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Steeping in the Shower, Sans Tea Bag

Trofie Wife believes that it was the Romans who developed indoor plumbing, and apparently their descendents haven’t improved upon Italian bathing amenities since Caesar’s time.

If you recall from our earliest adventures, when we arrived in Arenzano, we were just on the cusp of the central heating function being turned on for the winter. For about three weeks, we had to endure long waits to warm up the water in our boiler, which our ever-present landlady assured us would wipe out our savings should we leave it on a second longer than necessary or deign to actually make the water hot as opposed to lukewarm. We were relieved when the heralded central heating did arrive, even though it took a while to get used to the schedule of when there would (and wouldn’t be) ample hot water. Well, with mid-March now upon us, our days of central heating are waning (in New York, the heat gets turned off in mid-May, so hopefully this schedule means that spring does actually arrive earlier here, although hearing the wind whistle and the tree outside the church-side balcony sway a bit too close to the apartment, I am left to wonder…).

Roughly two weeks ago, Martello awoke one morning in need of a cleansing and noticed, to his shock, that the heat was off. Without enough time to get the system running, he endured a painfully cold quasi-shower and then shivered off to work. Trofie Wife, with a bit more time on her hands, decided that she would get the boiler boiling so that she could take a hot shower. As I cannot quite reach the lever (even on a chair), and Martello was already gone for the day, this required quite a struggle. I finally managed to nudge the lever over to the side with a broom, but for whatever reason, the water just would not properly warm up and flow (pipe delay?). Cold, smelly, and covered in conditioner after being a bit too optimistic about the temperature, (the central heating had turned back on magically, but because the levers had been turned in the boiler direction, the hot water was delayed even though I had nudged them back into heater position) I was forced to resort to what I imagine were tenement-era bathing conditions. I heated water in our electric tea kettle, poured it into a large pot (I omitted the usual tea bag and honey), and then finished the job. I was cold, wet, and mopey for at least 30 minutes following the execution of this solution. (And never fear, I was sure to thoroughly wash the pot.)

Despite the great psychic pain that being so cold and wet caused, as evening (and Purim) approached, I managed to find the strength to make more cookies. Haman’s Ears are supposedly Italian Jewry’s answer to hamantaschen. Essentially fried, lemon-zested dough, covered with vanilla-infused zucchero velo (confectioner’s sugar), they are more reminiscent of a Chanukah treat. Needless to say, it took us quite a while to get through the large batch, but they were tasty (next time, I’ll have to add the suggested rum and perhaps find a way to incorporate chocolate…).

I’m happy to report that while the central heating is still playing mind games with us, we have decided to risk our net worth on warm showers and are plugging in the heater before we go to bed each night.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Sloth and Gluttony

After working hard following playing hard with nostri amici, Martello really needed to spend the weekend after their departure resting. With Purim quickly approaching and our guests in need of some of her homemade sweets, earlier in the week Trofie Wife prepared some Purim moscardini (from the trusty Italian Jewish cookbook; here’s a link http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Italian-Jewish-Cooking-Traditional/dp/0060758023/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1237489596&sr=1-1), which, being chewy and chocolately—not to mention, a cinch to make (what’s not to love?) were a hit with all involved parties.

According to the oversized dictionary, a moscardino (the i makes it plural) is a dandy, which I guess is another name for a cookie. However, moscardini are also small octopuses—clearly not an ingredient in a pareve Purim dessert! (And no, the dandy does not have eight appendages.)

Martello was surprised to arrive home in the wee hours of Saturday morning to Trofie Wife having freshly made—from scratch, dough and all—calzones. Consequently, Trofie Wife was just as impressed at having prepared them! The so-called Jewish-style calzones marry anchovies with cheese, but I also prepared a non-anchovy version for Martello, who has not yet been won over by the pungent wee fish.

We finally made it out of the house Saturday night for a late dinner. Trofie Wife was surprised to have her order of some sort of fried fish and vegetables arrive literally on fire. Nothing on the menu indicated that this sort of thing was going to happen, and many of you are well acquainted with my aversion to said natural element (though, I’m getting a bit better with it as required by our kitchen equipment here). The flame finally dissipated, but not before I had managed to knock over an entire glass of water (landing on the table, floor, and possibly Martello) due to the shock (the waitress was likely amused, but we didn’t understand her joking comments).

Although we had planned to spend all of Sunday in Genoa, the exhaustion got the better of us and for the third or fourth time running, we missed the opportunity to take the old-timey train through the mountains on the city outskirts (outskirts in a different direction than those in which we live). Instead, we finally managed to walk over to the heavily-guarded synagogue. Martello found it quite disappointing architecturally as it was reconstructed—possibly totally rebuilt—in 2002 (we were hoping for something closer in design to the charming old ones still standing in the Venice ghetto). Now that we know where it is, we can work on the next steps of making it to some sort of service or event there (provided that they consider moving Saturday morning services to about 4 p.m….). 

We continued our exploration of a new part of the city, climbing into neighborhoods atop hills (with some pretty nice real estate) and at least finding our way to the old-timey train depot (which doesn’t really have any old-timey trains, just the same old graffitied Trenitalia cars). We capped off the evening by riding the short, short subway from one end to the other (the end on yet another city outskirt is supposedly “architecturally notable” but Trofie Wife didn’t notice much about it…).  

From our investigation, there appeared to be condos in this castle. Yes, condos! 

I should also mention that Sunday, March 8 was La Festa delle Donne, or International Women’s Day. In a move that Trofie Wife finds pretty progressive for Italy (not to mention the United States, force-fed the fake “Mother’s Day” (and “Father’s Day”) holiday by the card industry’s $2.49 (more for the oversized ones) forces; birthdays are when everyone should be celebrated for their individual merits), rather than have an appointed “Mother’s Day,” mothers are lumped with all women and are celebrated together on this day (we realized something was up when we saw a lot of prix fixe menus up all over; usually you don’t go out for brunch in honor of women’s rights (in the States, IWD is pretty much acknowledged only in feminist circles), though that sounds like a great idea!), while La Festa del Papà (Father’s Day) is on March 19, coinciding with La Festa di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s Day, you know, earthly daddy to Jesus; apparently the Italian holiday designators didn’t see fit to denote it as an inclusive Men’s Day for all men, but that’s usually every day around the world, so no bother). For La Festa delle Donne, vendors hawk mimosas and you see women toting them around all day. Apparently fathers receive red roses on their day, but I don’t recall leaving the house that day, so I couldn’t observe. (For anyone concerned about Trofie Wife’s disdain for these parental celebrations and psychological effects on said parents, note that I am in possession of three sisters who can carry out these duties in a more conformist manner, should they choose (and they do).)

All in all, it was a lovely, relaxed weekend.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Harvey Latte

With i ragazzi off, retracing our steps through Switzerland, Trofie Wife and Martello returned to our daily routines, grateful for the visit and change of pace. I relished the opportunity to take in an afternoon flick in English in Genoa, my second time doing so, first time alone. It was a rainy Thursday and thus the perfect time for a cinema break—and an excuse to take the Metro from the train station instead of undertaking the usual 15 minute walk (especially since it was a rare occasion on which I didn’t have my umbrella in my bag; I had decided not to turn back to grab it, even though it appeared that precipitation was afoot). When I arrived at Piazza De Ferrari (you should know that Genoa’s subway has less than 10 stops; it’s really more like a theme-park trolley in its practicality), I hopped on the up escalator. Within one minute, the escalator stopped moving. As if on cue, all of the riders (myself included) looked around quizzically to try to figure out what to do. And then, again in tandem, we all started hiking up the stairs. So much for modern conveniences.

As you can likely guess from the subject heading, I went to see Milk. I left in tears, which increased my sogginess, since it was raining pretty hard on the way back to the station (this time I walked, since the ticket machine appeared to not be working, and I wasn’t sure how to ask what to do and just wanted to get home). The Thursday afternoon movie crowd is pretty thin, and the majority of viewers are actually Italians seemingly annoyed by the dubbing of American films/wanting to practice their English comprehension.  However, I did have the opportunity to eavesdrop on one English-speaking pair (a rare event in Genoa). They were not a couple but each in their own relationships and were discussing their partners prior to the movie’s commencement and during the lengthier-than-usual “intermission” during which the projectionists change the reel. (Trofie Wife isn’t sure if American movie houses have made greater technical strides in switching reels or if the Italian projectionists’ union just figured out a way for their workers to get additional concessions for their artform… .) Anyway, the older of the two men was explaining the different frustrations that he and his partner encounter in Italy and the United States. While in Italy they do not yet have any official standing as a couple, they do have healthcare. However, in the United States, while they could register as domestic partners (or possibly marry/enter into a civil union depending on where they live), the man’s partner would not be eligible for healthcare there. Presumably in his mid-50s, during the intermission the americano noted to his Italian friend that he remembered when the historical events depicted in the film occurred and sadly, how far we still have to go in the struggle for equal rights for LGBT people and families. Not yet a twinkle in anyone’s eye when Anita Bryant and friends were waging their hateful campaign, I could not overcome the sense of eeriness that 30 years later, the exact same arguments were being waged all over the country and LGBT folks and their supporters were being forced to counter them, once again.

With a little Googling, Trofie Wife has just learned that Genoa will be hosting Italy’s Gay Pride celebrations this June! A different city gets the honor each year and this year—the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall, the Web site notes—our fair city will play host (we’re taking reservations now). Check out http://www.genovapride.it/. These events could potentially be fascinating, and Trofie Wife looks forward to documenting them. I’m particularly interested in seeing what, if any, pushback there is from the Vatican and the country’s conservatives. I have a hinting suspicion that even the most close-minded persons within Italy are nowhere near as bad as the ignorant forces working vehemently to undermine families in the United States (yet again, that American work ethic puts us on top every time…).  Stay tuned.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Friday, March 13, 2009

More on Culinary Protectionism

Well, one month after Trofie Wife first brought to your attention the ban on non-Italian food in several major cities, it looks like the New York Times finally sent a reporter to check out the situation (see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/13/world/europe/13lucca.html). 

We'll be sure to hit the falafel stand when we finally make it to Lucca. 

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thoughts on Squatting Toilets

Rather than spoil your views of Cinque Terre, Trofie Wife decided it was best to describe some of the unsavory sanitary conditions we encountered there in a separate post. For those of you who have never encountered a squatting toilet, I give you Exhibit A (you place your feet on those dirty ridges): 

While such set-ups are familiar to those who have traveled further east and I suppose south, Trofie Wife had not seen such an apparatus prior to reaching Italy. And up until this excursion, she was able to avoid them. However, within Cinque Terre there was no workaround. While Wikipedia and other related pages on such appliances (yes, several cyberspace scribes have devoted considerable effort to documenting the worldwide differences in bathroom equipment) tout the “naturalness” of the squatting position, for those of us accustomed to a chair-like toilet (especially if you’re of the female variety), this is just plain awkward (not to mention uncomfortable). Note: While there are likely more familiar toilets located in established inns and restaurants, the main visitor experience of moving from town to town seems to lend itself to brief breaks at train stations or tourist spots where the squatters are the only option. 

So, potential Cinque Terre visitors, be forewarned! Oh, and be sure to carry an extra package of tissues with you.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Five Towns (Woodmere Not Included)

Despite the overcast clouds, dooming us to a day of rain, we boldly venturedas plannedto Cinque Terre. For the uninitiated, Cinque Terre is a collection of five coastal towns in the southern portion of Liguria that play host to a seaside national park, resplendent with fauna, flora, and probably some animals I wouldn’t want to run into alone in the dark. A main walking path connects the five towns to each other (which are also linked by rail); more strenuous hikes can be found yonder in the storied hills. Cinque Terre is known for its stunning views and unique soil terraces, which provide the perfect setting for lemon trees and grapes waiting to be turned into celebrated wines and other organic/biodynamic products by the cooperative-supporting farmers. Each of the five towns host tasty foccacerie and gelaterie as well as B&Bs and at least a church or two. It's best visited during the warm spring and summer months, which is exactly why we wanted to make sure to get there during the low season, before the hordes of backpackers hog too much of the path. 

Unfortunately, when we arrived at Monterosso, the northernmost town, we learned that the rain (falling ever more heavily as our train inched forward on the tracks) was responsible for closing most of the main drag (known as Lover's Lane, leading it to be covered by young lovers with locks and keys in the style of the overhead gates). So, we hopped on the next locomotive in order to reach the southernmost town, Riomaggiore, and walk as far as we would be allowed—the next town over, Manarola.

Living in Liguria we are regularly spoiled by an array of stunning, mountain-studded sea vistas, so perhaps at first glance Martello and I were not quite as awed as our guests. Nevertheless, Arenzano is not quite as dramatically situated on a precipice. Here’s a sampling of what we saw during this first hike: 

We soon stopped for lunch and to dry off. Trofie Wife surprised herself by ordering, along with le piccolo messicano, an anchovy sandwich, lightly seasoned with oregano and butter. I figured that if I was going to give anchovies one last try, the organic heart of their homeland would be the place in which to do it. Boy was I surprised that I actually enjoyed them! The sandwich was luscious!

Post-mangare, Martello’s feline-like curiosity led us into every nook and cranny of Manarola. We finally wrapped up the day in Vernazza, the most tourist-trappy of the five towns. In addition to tasting some lovely lemon sorbetto (refreshing, despite our sogginess), we took a visit to the scenic tower, up a massive flight of steps (Trofie Wife declined to climb the actual tower, preferring to digest her gelato). I raggazi enjoyed the additional views. Here are some shots:

On our way home, we had to transfer at Sestri Levante, another coastal town Martello and I had yet to explore. Fighting exhaustion, we spent the 45-minute layover walking along the shore and through the centro; it's definitely worth returning to when the sun is shining. 

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Carnevale, Genovese Style

Fat Tuesday (martedì grassi) had technically already occurred on the prior Tuesday, yet Genoa conveniently scheduled its big carnevale celebration for the following Saturday, when our guests were in town. After failing to get moving early enough to take the old-timey train into the country, we set our sights on visiting the San Lorenzo cathedral prior to viewing a portion of the carnevale (but not before le simpatizzanto della destra and I took a nice walk to the grocery store, spotting a peacock a’courtin’, his feathers fanned and the female peacock completely uninterested in his display).  Upon arriving in the city, we slipped into the so-called Oriental Market (reminiscent of the Arthur Avenue market in the Bronx) and then made our way down Via Septembre XX, which was closed off, 5th Avenue parade style and covered with costumed, silly-string-spritzing and confetti-throwing revelers (Trofie Wife especially liked the below dino get-up with optical illusion included).

After wending our way over to the cathedral, we strolled to the Porto Antico and cute Sarzano neighborhood (which houses the University’s architecture school through an imposing castle gate and stair and thus 1) an inviting architecture book shop and 2) a chic thrift store, which respectively await the return of Martello e Trofie Wife) on our way back to the Piazza De Ferrari for the conclusion of the carnevale festivitiesan homage to Purim. We’re not sure if this is an annual occurrence or not, but the carnevale organizers decided to include a mention of the story of Purim and some Jewish music at the end of the general carnevale celebration. It was late in the afternoon, but the sun was not totally down, so (from what we think we understood), the Jewish community president couldn’t make it to the celebration, but a representative of the community wished everyone a good carnevale on his behalf and then there seemed to be an exchange of commemorative plates. A great band played a mix of old and modern, likely local and more familiar Jewish tunes. The crowd that remained, largely thinned from its mid-afternoon height, was grooving right along, and we’re pretty sure that only a handful of them had heard this brand of music before. 

A small gathering of protesters carrying Palestinian flags and distributing a lengthy explanatory handout soon wandered into the crowd. Trofie Wife couldn’t really digest it while dancing (and without her extra-large dictionary), but nearly managed to fully translate it a week later. [Note: Martello takes issue with the fact that the following description makes the protest out to be more impactful on our day than it was in actuality. To which I say, Trofie Wife spent an hour and a half translating said handout while he was watching some dubbed, dumb movie from the ’80s, and I’d like to put my effort on display.]

Theirs was a two-folded protest. The first reason they had gathered (and we’re not sure if they were present during the full carnevale celebration or only the Purim part) was to express their frustration that the Jewish carnevale was being twinned with the city of Jerusalem. Each section of the multi-stage carnevale was devoted to carnival traditions of a different country (for example, Italy, Croatia, Brazil, etc.). The protesters took issue with the fact that instead of pairing the Jewish carnival with a country, it was paired with a city (which they believed was done to avoid mentioning Israel following the Gaza operation), and, as they explained, an international city that did not solely belong to Jews. Ignoring the overall tone projected from such statements, at the most basic linguistic level, Martello and I were confused by this assertion, because none of the carnevale literature that we had received mentioned either Jerusalem or Israel (the twinned area was denoted “the Middle East”), nor did we see any Israeli flags, as the protestors had also lamented, meant to signify Jerusalem and the Jewish carnevale. This piece of the protest seemed to lack much traction (especially since protesters had apparently expressed their frustration to the organizers who didn’t quite understand their complaint either and thus chose to ignore it).

The second, more cogent, reason for their protest was that the organizers and Commune of Genoa had invited the Jewish carnival (which they noted was a “religious holiday”) and thus the religious Jewish community into the old city of Genoa while simultaneously attempting to prevent construction of a mosque in the old quarter where the bulk of the religious Muslim population resides. The growing movement to halt mosque construction throughout Italy is not only xenophobic, but incredibly foolhardy if Italy hopes to fully integrate Muslim immigrants into their communities as opposed to further isolating them. I’m not sure if there is any sort of Islamic carnival (and if so, where on the calendar it falls), but clearly if such a holiday were contemporaneous with Carnevale and Purim, the Genovese Commune should have welcomed its celebration. Short of such a fortuitous opportunity, the community should do what it can to make its newest minority community feel at home; issuing permits to allow them to construct their own house of prayer is as good a place as any to start. Of course, welcoming the new should not be done to the exclusion of continuing to celebrate the unique virtues of older minority and majority communities. The protestors—according to their literature, a mix of ethnic Italians, Jews, and Muslims—also should have pointed out that even if the connection has become looser as Italian society continues to secularize, carnevale has deep roots in the Church and thus along with Purim is a religious holiday, and therefore, in their eyes, its public celebration in the face of banning mosque construction should be just as frustrating as the public celebration of Purim, if that is, in fact, their main message.

All in all, while it was annoying to be handed fliers while I wanted to dance, it was a respectful protest, with viewers mainly ignoring the protesters and protesters not being verbally disruptive of the concert in any way (most of them hung in the back or on the sides while a couple worked the crowd with their handouts); I doubt a similar protest in the States would have taken on such a quiet demeanor.  

Following the end of the music, Trofie Wife finally got her hands on some zucchero filato (cotton candy! bearing a surprisingly straight-forward name as opposed to the fanciful French barbe à papa), after seeing it in the hands of way too many babes and not her own. It was delicious! 

We then made our way over to Piazza del Erbe for some aperitivo e stucchini (happy hour with free snacks!). We passed up going to a party thrown by Martello’s co-worker in favor of hitting the sack early so we’d make it to our Sunday destination—the fabled Cinque Terre— at a godly hour.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife


Last Thursday marked l’arrivare de la delegazione di Brooklyn. The first of our two friends to arrive was le piccolo messicano (for those unaware, any neighborhood beyond Park Slope is officially south of the border). Unfortunately for our jet-lagged guest, his train from Milano was running sufficiently behind; unfortunately for Trofie Wife, a nice woman waiting with me on the platform tried to make small talk about this state of affairs, but after I nodded in mutual frustration about the train being late, I couldn’t respond to her further musings and finally had to say that I didn’t understand, which understandably left her confused as to how to proceed (and probably wondering how/why I nodded in assent to her first sentence). Needless to say, Martello and I both (though me especially) have to work on our small talk, particularly because people seem to think that we’re good folks with whom to strike up a random conversation. But I digress….Le piccolo messicano finally stepped onto the platform and was able to make it up the hill to our house and even stay awake for a bit before nodding off in the expected manner.

The other half of the Brooklyn delegation, le simpatizzanto della destra (let’s just say that he never ordered a “Yes We Can” bumper sticker to replace the unpopular one currently affixed to his sedan), landed on the Arenzano platform past Trofie Wife’s bedtime. Martello and le piccolo messicano went to pick him up and then proceeded to burn the midnight oil with the social lubricants in the house while Trofie Wife snoozed.

I raggazi slept in that next morning but we spent the post-siesta afternoon in Genoa, touring some of the stately palazzos (Martello spent the post-siesta afternoon at his office desk). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to snap any shots in either Palazzo Reale or Palazzo Spinola, but I’ll provide links to their Web sites so you too can envision life amongst Italian household treasures. Reale is known for its hall of mirrors, la Galleria degli Specchi, which provides the illusion of endless luxury (or, depending on your perspective, maybe just a poor man’s Versailles; see for yourself http://www.palazzorealegenova.it/specchi.html). The mansion also has a fantastic winding roof that Trofie Wife imagines was the setting for some rocking parties (wigs and powder flying everywhere) back in the day. One massive flaw, however, seems to be the size of the beds. Either these doges were teensy and always slept alone, or their original, massive beds were infested with 17th century bedbugs and replaced with Ikea mattresses. All I’ve gotta say is if I had inhabited a palazzo with a hall of mirrors and crystal chandeliers, I would’ve also sprung for the California King!

While the Reale sits on one of the main Genovese drags, across from the University (which the original inhabitants graciously funded), the Spinola is obscured on a side street. It endured significant Allied bombing during WWII and was mostly restored. It’s definitely darker and has more stories than the Reale. At its apex is a lovely, yet narrow, rooftop with panoramic views of the city. For a virtual tour, visit http://www.palazzospinola.it/English/visitavirtuale.htm. One strange note: Touring both of these mansions requires moving from room to room with a group at an appointed time. The guide nudges you forward, so there isn’t much time to linger on a particular piece of artwork or furniture (this was especially true at the Spinola, though to be fair, we were the second-to-last group of the day).

Following our time travels to the days of the doges, we hopped a train back to Arenzano and met Martello at home. The boys (well, two out of the three) made pizza using refrigerated dough and fresh toppings. It was quite tasty, though it included a bit too much hot pepper for Trofie Wife’s taste. Yet again, i ragazzi stayed up late to imbibe (though at a reasonable rate, I am ensured; given my own lack of a tolerance level, my definition of “reasonable” is way off from the supposedly acceptable norm) while I trotted off to dreamland. Thankfully, no one knocked on our door to complain about the noise…

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Monday, March 9, 2009

Tech-Free Lent

We’ve recently been experiencing some technical difficulties with our Internet connection, so for a laugh and frustration reliever (granted, only feasible if we were able to connect to the network), I was going to post an open letter on the blog suggesting to our neighboring Italians that they consider giving up their Web access during Lent so that Martello and I could benefit from the renewed speed. Well, it turns out that the Pope beat us to the punch! Pope Benedict has, in fact, suggested that the faithful “unplug” during these weeks of prayer and reflection. Trofie Wife thinks it’s a fantastic idea, and given the improved Internet speed over the past week, I do believe that many Catholics have taken it to heart. Grazie mille! For details, see


Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife