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 fa├žade, 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.