Thursday, August 27, 2009

Me vs. Rome City Hall: VICTORY!

With the amount of complaining I do about the ghastly bureaucracy in Rome, I think it is only fair to give credit where credit is due. This morning I left the house at about 10:00, fully prepared to spend an hour or two in line at the municipal building only to be told that I was missing some paper and should come back.

Rather, there was only one person ahead of me, and when it was my turn I was assisted (as always, from the other side of a bulletproof glass with a tiny circle through which I would squeak out my request) by a lovely young woman who helped me correct the few errors on the form I
had to submit, and within 15 minutes or so I was out of there with my signed, stamped (Italians love stamps) and approved documents.

I must say that it being August in Rome and most Romans are still on vacation had something to do with the fact that it was all so quick and easy, but still. I have nothing but love for Italy today. Except of course that it is 100 degrees today!

Worth mentioning, the fan you see in this picture actually dates back to the founding of the Roman Republic.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What Do Italians Think About American Food?

I spend a lot of time writing about Rome and Italy travel. Today I got to thinking about What Italians think of the United States when they visit. Mainly, what they think of American food. I was a bit shocked at some of the opinions I got.

For example, here are a few of the top choices published by a reputable Italian travel blogger:

Denny's: "One of the best places to get fast food. Excellent and abundant burgers and sandwiches, an ideal place to have lunch".

Hooters: "Generous portions, excellent service provided by scantily dressed girls, great buffalo wings"

Taco Bell: "The best of tex-mex fast food, tacos, nachos, quesadillas, watch out, some are spicy!"

Pizza Hut: "If you absolutely must have a pizza, this is a great solution. Very cheap, huge portions, but obviously nothing like a real Italian pizza-thicker crust and instead of tomato sauce they use ketchup..."

Sbarro: "Cant miss this place, it has a huge Italian flag for its sign. Great salads and cold pastas, good pizza by the slice".

I could never quite put my finger on what the problem with Pizza Hut's tomato sauce was...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rome, where tiny cars park illegally amidst graffiti paradiso

If one photo could describe Rome, this is it:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Victor Hugo on Old Friends

"My coat and I live comfortably together. It has assumed all my wrinkles, does not hurt me anywhere, has moulded itself on my deformities, and is complacent to all my movements, and I only feel its presence because it keeps me warm.

Old coats and old friends are the same thing."
-Victor Hugo

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When it comes to European borders, Italy lies South

It is always nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Rome and explore new places. This year my destination of choice was Brussels, Belgium. Aside from a much cooler place to spend August in Europe, flights from Rome are frequent (and in our case, free) with low cost airlines such as Ryan Air, not to mention that Brussels is a great base to explore other top European destinations such as Paris, Brugges, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and a handful of other neighboring cities.

There are no borders when flying between European countries. You don't even need a passport, just a national ID card will do. The European Union truly has united countries into one giant European Nation. However, one mustn't be misled into thinking that all European countries are made equally, because the differences that lie across each border can be astounding.

It's no secret that between Northern and Southern Europe there are vast differences. Northern Europe is known for its cool climates, booming industries, intelligent city planning, and reserved characters. Southern Europe boasts its warm climate, world renowned food, sluggish economies, and colorful people. Still, the differences I found on this trip were unsettling.

After living in a city like Rome for ten years, the things that jump out at many tourists (filthy streets, graffiti, rude people, ripoffs, poor organization) no longer bother me. One becomes exceedingly patient by living here thanks to a survival mechanism which teaches us to just "let it go", or find another place to call home (which many do). I can now spend an entire morning in line somewhere only to be told by some rude Italian bureaucrat to come back tomorrow, I carry around toilet tissue and handsoap because I am fully aware that most Roman bathrooms will not have any, any I don't mind when the cashiers throw my change down on the counter instead of placing it in my hand. I find all of these challenges to be minor inconveniences that one tolerates in order to live in a city as wonderful as Rome is.

Unfortunately, when it comes to my children an angry mama bear takes over my usually cool and composed self, and she is is just a bit less complacent than I.

The other day in Brussels I asked my aunt if there was a park nearby where I could take my three year old to burn off some energy. Sure, she said. The neighborhood park is quite close and not bad for kids.

NOT BAD??!!!! If this is not bad, I really need to see what good looks like. This park was the most amazing play space I have ever seen. Physically and mentally stimulating with more than 30 different activities, sand all over the ground so the kids can play barefoot, and best of all, completely free. While my daughter played and ran herself ragged, I started to wonder why nothing like this exists in Italy. As it became clear to me why not (within days it would be covered in cigarette butts, graffiti, trash, and otherwise defiled), I got downright mad.

Why can't Italy get her act together?! This country has 80% of the world's artistic and historic patrimony, yet on the list of most visited cities it is 5th, lagging behind France, Spain, and even China. If only the astounding amount of money we pay in taxes each year went to cleaning up Italian cities and making them friendlier places for tourists and natives alike, Italy would be number one on that list, where she belongs.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Campania: Home To Italy's Craftiest Con Artists

Italy's Campania region is home to some of the country's most prized historic and natural patrimony such as the lost City of Pompeii, the stunning Amalfi Coast, the Island of Capri, the list goes on and on. Interestingly enough, it is also home to some of the worlds craftiest con artists.

It seems as though the world has Italy on the hot seat this month. Between Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's sex scandals, threats of kicking Italy out of the G8, and the story about two Japanese tourists being charged 900 Euro for lunch in a Roman restaurant when the actual bill should have been closer to 200 Euro, it sure seems true that when it rains, it pours (and sometimes in Italy, it even hails)!

To make matters worse, today in Avellino, (a suburb of Naples and city of origin of Tony Soprano, protagonist of the acclaimed HBO series "The Sopranos") A 62 year old woman was brought up on charges of aggravated fraud when police found her jogging with her dog. Since when is jogging at 62 against the law in Italy, you might ask? It is when you have been collecting a 100% invalidity pension for decades. In addition to jogging, locals say she is out every day ploughing her land and farming. Not bad for a 100% disabled woman, hey?

Just a few miles away in Caserta, according to the Sole 24 Ore newspaper today 200 individuals comprised of police officers, town mayors, and other city officials are under investigation for partaking in a widespread con which led to inflated and illegally issued traffic fines. Automatic speed detector devices were rigged to increase the amounts of fines issued, the personal information of those to whom fines were issued was compromised, and the local authorities are accused of lining their pockets with the profits.

Is it something in the water? Why is Italy known for the mafia and con artists almost above all else? Luckily Italian cuisine, fashion, and artistic patrimony help to tip the scales back into a more respectable position. All in all Italy never fails to amuse or surpise, and that my friends is part of what makes it so wonderful.

Update: The speed cameras around Caserta are now under sequester by Carabinieri, more here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

When In Rome, _ _ _ _ as the Romans Do

I am always delighted when a package arrives on my Roman doorstep. Note that I have been here so long that I no longer say "a package from home", as for some time now, home is Rome.

A dear friend sent me a belated birthday gift. This is a friend who always knows exactly what I need (even why I myself don't know). The package included a book which from the title alone, I knew I would enjoy. So far, the pages of "Drink, Play, F@#k" by Andrew Gottlieb are quite entertaining.

"While purchasing condoms in a foreign country is much less embarrassing than doing so at home since you probably won't bump into your fifth grade English teacher in the checkout line, it is still an uncomfortable process. Especially if they're not on display and you don't speak Thai. You haven't really played charades until you've mimed what you need a condom for to a seventy year old druggist on the Phi Phi Islands."

All this talk about condoms got me thinking about how Italy measures up. While Rome and Italy in general for the most part rate poorly when it comes to overall organization and practicality, I must say that finding condoms is pretty easy, at any time of the day. Though there are no 24 hour mini marts, and pharmacies close for siesta every day, all day on Sundays, and basically for the entire month of August, still they do not leave frisky Romans in the lurch during their moment of need. Outside just about every pharmacy in the city there is a handy condom dispenser, with (count'em) seven different varieties of prophylactics.

Perhaps the abundance of condom machines all over the place could be the reason why Italy manages to keep it's population growth at zero for decades now (well, that and the fact that many Italians live with their parents until well into their 30's and 40's-who needs birth control when jealous Mamma is around)?
When in Rome Tours © 2008. Design by :Yanku Templates Sponsored by: Tutorial87 Commentcute