Saturday, June 13, 2009

Il Mio Pain Quotidien

Time for a little bragging.

Trofie Wife made those. I now can make my own (and, yes, even share) baguettes (or in Italian, sfilatini). Martello has decided that they’re my best carb (over the bagels and focaccia).

This is dangerous, as I am capable of eating an entire loaf in one sitting. The one advantage of this discovery, however, is that baking these loaves requires at least 15 minutes of kneading. So there is some upper body strength benefit there... .

Come visit and we’ll make you fresh bread!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Labor Day at the Beginning of the Summer?

Trofie Wife has a vague memory of dancing around a May Day pole at her fancy suburban nursery school, yet said nursery school did not go forth to inculcate other important information about May 1 pertaining to worker’s rights, Marx, or the Communist Party (that’s what the Columbia education was for). So it was a long time coming to be in a country where they actually celebrate this holiday by having tens of thousands of union members marching in the streets, with nary a festive pole in sight. Of course, May 1, being the rest of the world’s Labor Day, has also devolved into the usual three-day weekend replete with packed beaches, trains, and likely a white sale here or there. So with the plight of the noble worker (as well as a respite from the dour Genoa skies) in mind, Martello and Trofie Wife decamped further south, landing in Tuscany.

When we arrived at the Genoa station, we noticed a fairly large uptick in the number of English speakers, which we attributed to study abroad programs getting out of session and young backpackers thus making their way through multiple European countries. Not long after we took our seats, we were joined by another American couple, roughly our age (perhaps a bit younger), and enjoyed chatting with them all the way to Pisa (we had hoped to make it to Siena, but since we made our plans last minute, every room in the city was booked). Our amazing moment with these New Hampshire natives was when, after two hours of talking and learning that the female was a professional cheesemaker and they were traveling through France and Italy prior to interning at a dairy just outside of Zurich, we finally introduced ourselves. The cheesemaker’s name? Bessie. Yup. Bessie. Now, that’s kind of funny, but it’s not really something on which you comment. Well, unless you’re Martello. After she finished, dear, dear Martello said something like, “Are you kidding? You make cheese and your name is Bessie? Like a cow?” Although Trofie Wife was embarrassed beyond all measure and apologized for his tactlessness (honesty?), Bessie proclaimed that she got that all the time (so now not only was he tactless but clichéd…). In the end, no harm was done, and we learned a lot about enzymes and Camembert and then went our separate ways into the Tuscan sun upon reaching the Pisa station.

Martello sourced a delightful old hotel, the Royal Victoria, which is located across from the smelly, mosquito-infested Arno River and has neverthless welcomed guests for over 150 years. The rooms hearken back to the first great era of transcontinental travel; Eloise would have found numerous fantastic hiding places amongst the marble lobbies and heavy wooden doors. Incidentally, there was a cool pan-European marketplace set up across the river. We snagged some really yummy gigantic Hungarian donut; it was nice getting back to a portion of my roots via piping hot fried dough covered in coconut!

We spent that Friday afternoon walking around the university quarter, Piazza dei Cavalieri, and Piazza dei Miracoli (otherwise known as Piazza del Duomo, where that sorta famous tower rests). The area around the Duomo was packed with tourists, and the tower looked much cleaner than I remembered it being when I first visited almost 11 years ago to the day. Near nightfall we walked through what must have once been the Jewish quarter and were saddened to see red paint splattered on the synagogue, although, thankfully, the signs in memory of victims of the Holocaust that were scattered on various buildings remained free from desecration.

We spent Saturday in the famed walled city of Lucca, best known on this blog for its ban inside the city walls on any new restaurants serving inauthentic cuisine (more on that in a bit). Bicycles are a big thing in Lucca. Tourists rent them so they can circle the city walls (turned into a cool park—perhaps a precursor of the High Line?) and aggravate the locals in town. For those of you who haven’t been privy to this information before, Trofie Wife holds the distinction of being one of the few individuals on the planet who forgot how to ride a bike. I promise, it can happen (and if you were on KTJ’s Midnight Bike Ride in Fall 2001, you know all too well). Martello, an on-again, off-again avid biker, has successfully coaxed me on to said contraption one or two other times on various vacations over the years, but basically, I’m just not interested in falling. Well, I’m happy to report that I successfully biked around Lucca and even enjoyed it! So much so that I might actually get on a bike again…maybe…we’ll see... .

I’m on a bike!

After returning our bikes, we headed to Duomo San Michele, which we followed up with a visit to San Martino, which features a Last Supper by Tintoretto that depicts a woman nursing a baby (I’m sure Dan Brown would have something to say about that; I couldn’t find anything via Google) as well as an important sculpture of the Holy Face (Volto Santo), which was carried back from the Middle East many centuries ago (sadly, no picture-taking allowed). We missed the last entrance for the Torre Guinigi and Torre delle Ore, but I feel like we’ve climbed enough towers in this country and Switzerland to last us for quite a while.

Now about that foreign-food ban. Trofie Wife had desperately wanted to chow down on some falafel within the historic walls of Lucca. But sadly, we could not find a sit-down falafel restaurant con un bagno when we finally grabbed our late lunch. So we had authentic soups (which were pretty good). I tried to purchase a falafel outside the walls prior to boarding the return train, but unfortunately, the place only had shawarma (I’m not a fan). We’ll just have to return to Lucca so we can protest this ridiculous ban.

Sunday was devoted to the many sights in the Piazza dei Miracoli. We toured the duomo, baptistery, and hallowed Camposanto (the cemetery). Aided by our Jewish guide to Italy, we thought we had located Jewish graves within the Camposanto. However, we were mistaken. We had actually seen the gates to the Jewish cemetery (that was where the guidebook was directing us) on Friday and hadn't realized it. Oh well. Apparently it opened in the 13th century.

Pisa Duomo

Some sort of structural deficiency...

Martello filmed an awesome video of the acoustic effects in the baptistery, which allow for the appearance of an entire choir singing multiple notes, when in fact just one person is carrying a tune. Listen for yourselves (the video is at the bottom of the page).

Until it was time to head back (on three separate trains), I napped while Martello enjoyed sketching in the grassy piazza, grass in a piazza being a rare thing for Italy, which helps to explain why it is such a popular spot for lounging (with university students all around, playing ball and Frisbee, although signs clearly state that it is forbidden... ah Italy and unheeded rules…). It is reminiscent of the Steps and Quad on a gorgeous late spring or early fall day. On the way home, possibly near the train station labeled “Forte dei Marmi,” we passed revelers dressed in medieval garb carrying blue and white flags and cross bows and arrows. I never did find out what was going on there...

All in all it was a relaxing weekend for a very hard worker (or two).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Guillotine

**Warning: gratuitous photos of piscine decapitation follow below.**

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she has to take the next step. A major, defining moment that proves her mettle and ability to face adversity and unexpected discoveries. That leap, of course, is the first time she buys a whole fish and chops off its head.

When the day started, Trofie Wife had no idea it would take such a momentous turn. My plan was just to make it to Voltri for some Internet-related business and then head back. Yet as frequent readers of this blog know, there’s no way of escaping Voltri without heading into the grocery store (I swear, they have a large magnet). Usually, I avoid purchasing perishables as I’m never quite sure how long I’m going to have to wait for a return train. But that fateful day was different. I lumbered over to the fish counter and saw that there was a sale on alice (that would be one way to say “anchovies”). Before I knew it, I had uttered enough Italian to leave with half a kilo and made it home, where I located an interesting recipe for baked anchovies, which seemed as though they would mask the usual overpowering taste (stench?) of these wee fish.

I’m happy to report that I managed to decapitate, gut, and debone all of these buggers. The dish turned out great (Martello even enjoyed it!), and I feel as though I’ve passed a major culinary hurdle. I even went on to buy a large whole fish from a stall a few days later and communicate well enough to get them to remove the head and guts. I baked the whole thing in the oven—so tasty!

Here’s the evidence, just in case you don’t believe Trofie Wife (now's the time to close the tab if you don't want to see fish guts).

The newly purchased (and intact) alice.

The weapon.

After the first one, you get used to it.

Collection of bones.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

As Gelato Consumption Rises, Waistlines Fall

The OCED (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; score one for British spelling) released its 2009 Society at a Glance OCED Social Indicators in late April. Linked here are the key findings for Italy: Fun facts and figures abound, but Trofie Wife’s favorite relates to obesity rates. Italy ranks fifth in lowest obesity rates amongst industrialized states, losing out to only Korea (rice), Japan (more rice), Switzerland (gooey raclette, but they strip you of your citizenship if you don't go hiking every Sunday), and Norway (lox).

Guess who comes in dead last, 30/30 with 34.3 percent of the adult population obese? Yup, America—the red, white, and blob. Clearly, it’s time to take some advice from the Italians.

In fact, gelato does have a lot less fat and other icky by-products as compared to the average American ice cream. You can walk up and down the streets of Arenzano all afternoon and see tons of people with excellent physiques downing their daily dose—you’d never see folks of a similar build eating so much ice cream in the States (maybe a Tasti D-Lite every now and again). Una coppa gelato ogni giorno helps keep the weight off (it’s worked thus far in Trofie Wife's case! And well, Martello, he never gets out of the featherweight class), especially when you have to hike up and down hills to procure some.

So listen up fellow americani: swap the Atkins for some gelato e pasta and maybe spend a little less time in the office while you’re at it.

Baci e gelato (indeed!),

Martello e Trofie Wife

Honk! It’s the Pedibus!

There’s a new movement afoot (hee hee) to get local kids to arrive at school in a green fashion. Back in late April, Trofie Wife noted a cute sign (see above) featuring a green dinosaur wearing red high tops by walkways across from the newsstand and in the center of town. Each sign indicated a pick-up spot for a color-coded line. I conducted some research and discovered that the “Pedibus” was not, as I imagined, a cutout bus traced onto a sheet or large slab of cardboard that the kids carried as they walked in unison, but instead, just a group of bambini walking to school en masse, accompanied by an adult chaperone. While Trofie Wife’s image of the cutout bus is decidedly more creative, just referring to the concept as a “pedibus” is cute enough. Always on the cutting edge (maybe? I'm not really sure), Arenzano was selected to participate in the provincial pedibus pilot program. Presumably if it goes well, they’ll expand it to all of Genova.

I am never outside at the right times to spot the bus in motion, and the school year is nearly up, but perhaps I’ll catch a glimpse at some point. In the meanwhile, there’s some event this weekend with local and regional government mucky mucks touting the success of the program. Maybe we’ll manage to swing by; supposedly there’s some sort of biking demonstration that might involve fancy tricks (Trofie Wife may or may not have read that poster correctly…).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Friday, June 5, 2009

Soggy Times

The above image of a sullen Oscar pretty much sums up our reaction to the events of the last Sunday in aprile. Trofie Wife had successfully convinced Martello to accompany her to Pavia for a vintage clothing fair (the ads for which were spotted in Genoa the same day as Slow Fish). We reviewed our handy guide books and noted that there were other things to do and see in Pavia aside from vintage clothing, so a good time could be had by all parties.


Although Saturday had been warm, sunny, and generally lovely, Sunday was a soggy mess that grew messier the closer we got to the city. Pavia is in Lombardy, adjacent to Milan. However, not quite as adjacent as to make life easier for us when we slept through our Pavese train stop and disembarked at one of the lesser-known Milanese railway stops (this is where we encountered Oscar). We had to endure a long wait for a return train (to go only one stop) as well as the mysterious locking of all the bathrooms. We finally emerged from the Pavia train station, several hours behind schedule, to buckets of rainfall and none of the signs Trofie Wife assumed would point us to the famed vintage show. Atop our list of non-vintage-clothing things to see was the Certosa di Pavia, a famous monastery on the outskirts of town. We attempted to find the bus headed in that direction, but after a cold and soggy walk and little success, we hopped into a cab, which dropped us off at the monastery door. Built by the Visconti (an illustrious family including the first Duke of Milan) in the 14th century, it is quite a magnificent site:

In order to see the full campus, you must join a tour, given by a monk (they were originally of the Carthusian order, but the tenants switched hands over the centuries, and today's monks are of the Cistercian order) who has been temporarily released from his vow of silence in order to show you around his pad. Of course, he only spoke Italian, but we were able to pick up a few words here and there and just enjoy the art and architecture (Martello was particularly taken with this monk's vocal stylings, thinking he had a future on the big screen, possibly portraying God). The highlight of the tour was getting to walk through an actual (though currently not in use) monk’s quarters. It included several rooms, outside access, a fireplace, and great closet space; Martello and I tried to assess what it would go for on the New York housing market... .

Just as in Disney World, the tour ends by spitting out visitors directly into the gift shop, where a curiously large collection of monks have been released from their vows of silence in order to hawk the merchandise… . In their lovely gardens, they grow herbs that are mixed into teas for different ailments and preventative care (the one I purchased turned out to be so medicinal as to be undrinkable). They also make beer and license candy, imprinted with the façade of the monastery (as Yogurt wisely said in Spaceballs, “Merchandizing! Merchandizing! Merchandizing!"). Once our shopping was complete, we trudged into the rain in hopes of finding a bus back to the center of town, where we would hopefully find the vintage show. It turned out that the bus didn’t quite run on Sundays. 

With the afternoon fading, and no other transit option seemingly in sight, we tried to find help. After several blocks of fretting, we ultimately walked into a sketchy-looking bar (which Trofie Wife believed to be the seat of a major gambling ring; Martello thought that I was overreacting to a few card tables), where the proprietor gave us the number of a cab company. We sipped caffè while waiting for the taxi, which eventually dropped us right in the center of Pavia. We wandered from duomo to duomo, never quite finding either the famous Romanesque one (but stumbling on the tragic site of a tower collapse at the main cathedral, which killed several people about a decade or so ago) or the vintage show, the impetus for this whole soggy adventure. We returned home, defeated.

Of course after we arrived, Trofie Wife returned to the vintage show Web site which noted that a bus was lined up to take people directly (on the half hour) from the train station to the vintage show, which was located on the outskirts of the city. We saw that bus without knowing what it was. Oh well. Looks like they have a fall edition, should we still be around then…(Martello just can’t wait...).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife 

What, No Fireworks?

First off, Trofie Wife apologizes for such a long hiatus in posting (although she knows that our readers are relieved to have some time to catch up on the, uh, jam-packed entries). Much has transpired in the past month+, so you can look forward to new stories and pictures in the coming days. Allora, going backwards in time…

Several weekends ago, we had the pleasure of celebrating the 25
aprile holiday, which essentially commemorates the partisans' liberation of northern
Italy in 1945; it's as close to the 4th of July as they get here, and Trofie Wife did not want to miss the festivities. So, we set the alarm clock for the ungodly Saturday hour of 10:15 a.m., and made it down to the piazza by the sea just in time to see the Arenzano marching band escort various dignitaries and veterans across the street to the stage. Martello snapped some great shots, while Trofie Wife scrunched her ears in an attempt to understand what the mayor and friends were saying (too much chatter in the crowd and a weak amplifier, but it sounded very patriotic).  The events are annually sponsored by A.N.P.I (Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d’Italia—this organization is so hip that they even have a Facebook page! They still actively work against fascism as they define it in present-day Italia).

Martello and I are still trying to figure out who these guys in the Robin Hood hats are. We’ve seen them at public events but also traveling together in groups at random times. We’re thinking that they're either veterans or some kind of lodge members; eventually we’ll work up the courage to ask someone...

After the last speech was muffled by microphone, we headed to the parco communale to view the FlorArte festival, which helps to kick off the spring/summer season in Arenzano. Local flower artists are directed to interpret paintings with floral design. While some color in the lines, so to speak, and closely adhere to the outlines of the painting, others are more loosely interpreted, and we found those to be far more interesting than the literal pieces (ladies with more than six weeks to plan your wedding take note: it's a cute idea!). Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to snap our own shots, but I will attach here a link to the official Web site, which features some representative pictures that will hopefully illustrate the concept,

Strangely enough, the event provided us with an experience straight out of Arrested Development. Trofie Wife presents to you, the sustainable Lemon Bar (Banana Shack, anyone?):

The furry barista mixed up delicious lemon-infused drinks and was as sweet and tender as George Michael, adding additional potato chips to the free snack plate after Martello had downed the last ones (he downed several more handfuls following the refill).

Random encounters with giant fruit on wheels aside, throughout the region during the days leading up to and following 25 aprile, passersby will note the great care taken to laying memorial wreaths on every street sign and monument honoring Italy’s fallen partisans and freedom fighters. With so many current residents having endured the horrors of World War II in this very town, they are certain to observe the occasion with solemnity for as long as they are able.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife