Wilier Triestina dominates Cycling World Championships

29 09 2008

New World Champion Alessandro Ballan and Silver Medallist Damiano Cunego ride Wilier bikes to Glory





Foreign Food at Lidl

26 09 2008

When you get tired of the very best Italian cuisine

Lidl -hooray!

Lidl -hooray!

Italians are convinced they have the best food in the world and, of course, they’re right. It is not always a pleasure to be told that your native cuisine is rubbish, however. On the rare occasions when I’m able to find exotic delicacies like cranberry juice, oatmeal, or baked beans, there’s always some friendly soul who comes up to me in the supermarket and wants to know what I’ve got in my cart and why I’m buying it. Often it’s the cashiers, eager to know what that mysterious product really is, or, even worse, some supercilious jerk who wants to give me extempore nutritional advice. (Sure peanut butter is fattening but I’m still a lot thinner than you amico.) You would think Italians of all people would understand the powerful emotional resonance of food.

The emergence here of ruthlessly efficient German supermarket chain Lidl has made my food based homesickness easier to bear.  This week, apart from the regular supply of baked beans, there is a special offer on Specialità britanniche, complete with all your British favourites like oatmeal, marmalade, fish & chips, corned beef, English mustard, and above all shortbread. The British food specials were preceded in July by an American Food week, featuring packages of pecans and hamburger relish.

When I got to Lidl, the pickle sauce had already disappeared but there was still enough shortbread and oatmeal there to fill my needs. Predictably, after a few seconds, a group formed around the display and asked my wife “ma perchè si compra questa roba?”

My only question is how long will it be before Lidl gets around to the fine foods of Canada: maple syrup, butter tarts, muffins, donuts, rutabaga, parsnips, oatmeal cookies, pea soup, poutine, and Kraft Dinner.





Addio Alitalia?

18 09 2008

Bankruptcy seems imminent after failure of negotiations with unions

Theres always Ryanair...

There's always Ryanair...

Things are starting to look bad for Alitalia: the CAI consortium abandoned its rescue plan (of the most profitable parts of the current Alitalia) after its bluff was called by six of the nine unions negotiating the transfer to a new corporate structure. The CAI members had threatened to pull the plug on the complex take over plan if there was not an agreement by the numerous unions for significant job losses, and changes in wages and work practices. At any rate, as they have been doing since the weekend, the current emergency management continues to claim that the company’s fuel is about to run out.
Better bankrupt than in the hands of bandits

"Better bankrupt than in the hands of bandits"

The Italian media is reporting that Alitalia employees reacted with glee to the failure of the plan – seemingly convinced that domestic political considerations would oblige the Berlusconi government to undertake a bailout under more lucrative conditions. It is worth noting that, during the previous electoral campaign, the unions rejected what seems to have been a much better takeover offer from Air France. The brinksmanship between the government and the unions seems not unlike a famous scene in the Clint Eastwood bad cop drama Dirty Harry: “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Are there two rescue plans or three?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as the gas is about to run out, and would blow your company ( or ‘your future electoral majority’, depending whether you see the unions or the government as having the upper hand) right out of business, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”




Things I like about Italy 1:

17 09 2008

The smell of the vendemmia (grape harvest)

Ciao paisani!

Ciao paesani!

If you get together a group of expatriates who live in Italy, all you will hear are complaints – complaints about the bureaucracy, the laziness, the bad driving, and even the food in this country. For a long time the main topic of discussion amongst the expats I met was the fundamental injustice of the lack of decent (ie. Heinz) baked beans around town. I am aware that this blog has not been an exception to the rule. To be fair, these are the same complaints that Italians tend to express themselves – except for the baked beans of course – but I never hear anyone talk about the pleasures of living in Italy. Sure there may be books on the subject but it doesn’t tend to arise in conversation.

Apart from all the inconveniences and dietrologia of everyday life, Italy offers remarkable aesthetic experiences – sounds, sights, and smells that you can not find anywhere else. One of the things I really enjoy every September is the hustle and bustle of the vendemmia (grape harvest). There are trucks, little Ape (the three wheeled Vespa truck shown in the picture) and trailers everywhere filled with fresh picked grapes on their way to the local cantine. The actual work of harvesting the grapes, as I recall from helping my father-in-law once, may be back breaking labour but the fragrance of the grapes as the trucks pass by on the roads is heavenly. Even when the acrid odour of diesel fumes and the increased traffic are taken into account, the grape perfume makes September the best time of the year to go cycling in the country.

Too bad I’m busy working on my final book revisions this year.





Buying Toothbrushes in Italy

6 09 2008

You can have any type as long as it’s Medium

One of the things that amuses foreign residents in Italy is the fascination of the local people with ugly big box stores and malls. As more North American style shopping centres begin to appear, even in the provinces of the south, Italian consumers have been quick to abandon those picturesque urban piazze filled with charming small shops. When a miniature version of a mall opened where I live a few months ago, with all of 20stores, entire families would come down from the mountains to gawk at the glamour and luxury of modern retailing. The German discount chain Lidl cannot open stores quick enough and there are long, disorderly queues in front of their doors every Monday and Thursday morning for the biweekly specials. The reason for all this excitement is simple: traditional Italian retailers are overpriced and arrogant.

I have just come back to Italy with a suitcase full of soft toothbrushes. Why? In the area where I live (but it seems to be a nationwide phenomenon from my brief attempts to find them elsewhere in the country) the supermarkets and pharmacies only sell medium toothbrushes. No soft toothbrushes, no hard toothbrushes, no choice.