Hardware shop theatre

18 02 2009

Home of the teatro stabile di ferramenta

Home of the teatro stabile di ferramenta

Or, how buying a door latch in Italy becomes a public spectacle when you’re foreign

 

 

 

One of the things I’ve realized after a number of years in Italy is that I have no anonymity. Even when I lived in the big city I was the object of the curiosity of apartment porters, local shopkeepers, and neighbours. They may not have responded to my greetings but they knew (or tried to know) everything about me. Now that we live in a small village, I have acquired a certain amount of local celebrity.

The extent of my visibility became clear when I made my first visit to the nearby negozio di ferramenta (hardware shop). On orders to purchase a new door latch mechanism, I entered stage right on to the set of a comedy:

Foreign man enters holding an antiquated door latch.

Foreigner: I need a replacement for this.

Hardware man turns to crowd of onlookers sitting around the counter, all grateful for a bit of excitement.

Hardware man (in dialect): This is the man from Canada who lives on the next street over. Ha, ha, ha!

Pause.

Hardware man (In standard Italian, very slowly and loudly as if talking to an obtuse small child): Meester – Meester – Meeesteer! THIS – IS – A – VERY – OLD – DOOR – LATCH – YOU – NEED – A – NEW – ONE! [In English] Veeeree Olde!

Chorus: heee, heee, heee. It’s old. It’s old. Poor guy has an old door latch.

Foreigner: Yes, I know. That’s why I’m here.

Hardware man (in dialect): He must want a new one. Poor guy!

Chorus: heee, heee, heee. He wants a new one. Poor guy.

Hardware man (In standard Italian, very slowly and loudly as if talking to an obtuse small child): They – Don’t – Make – These – Anymore – Meester! You – need – a – different – one!

Chorus: heee, heee, heee.

Hardware man rummages about storeroom and comes up with one exactly the same but with a slightly different latch shape.

Hardware man (triumphantly): This – is – a – NEW – ONE! They- Don’t – have – these – in – Hollywood – Meester!

Chorus: heee, heee, heee.

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“Who’s been drinking my cappuccino?”

14 01 2009
goldilocks and the three coffee drinkers

goldilocks and the three coffee drinkers

Goldilocks and the Three Bears for Italian students of English

English may be a world language but that does not mean that everyone understands it. In Italy, there is a local version of the language which has little to do with the original. You can find psuedo-English words like “footing” (a substitute for jogging) and “transfert” (a taxi or bus ride from the airport). There are also many recycled expressions which have taken on different meanings here, such as “fashion victim” for very stylish people, “ticket” for hospital user fees, “mobbing” for workplace harassment, and – my favourite – “pullman” for intercity buses.

Even the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is not immune. My 3 year old daughter has a locally produced version of the tale in English and there are significant differences with the tale we know and love. Many of the memorable phrases such as “Who’s been sitting in my chair?” are gone, replaced by expressions like “I’m sure there is somebody else here”. However, the most startling change is the total absence of porridge from the volume. Instead, like all Italians, these 3 bears enjoy a hot (but not too hot) cappuccino in the morning. Mamma Bear even has the typical shiny aluminum moka caffeteria.

There are fewer changes in the tale of the Three Little Pigs, since the construction techniques of the first two is similar to that used by local apartment developers.





Water – A precious resource in Southern Italy

4 01 2009

What do people do when water is scarce? They spend, spend, spend…

and meet lots of friendly plumbers.

Blue water tanks - an essential part of your home

Blue water tanks - an essential part of your Italian home

Everyone talks about how precious water is but, unless you’ve had to do without it, you don’t appreciate its significance. There’s nothing worse than having the taps run dry and not knowing when you will be able to flush the toilet, take a shower, wash the dishes, or even make a cup of tea again.

What I did over my Christmas holidays, or my brief visit to Gela

The province of Caltanissetta is not known for its plentiful choice of radio stations. On my infrequent trips to the area, most of my driving time has been spent listening to the broadcast recital of the rosary on the entertainment challenged frequencies of Radio Maria. I was pleased therefore to find more upbeat sounds as we passed through the petrochemical centre of Gela. Alas, taking advantage of the lack of competition, almost the entire output of the local radio station was devoted to annoying commercials for the standbys of Italian Christmas life: high fashion clothes and food. However, there was one business model that stood out from the more predictable concerns: private water suppliers. It seems as though there is a serious water crisis in Gela. A local news site is reporting that the erogation of water supplies has been blocked. In that case, as the advertising pointed out, the only possibility to get water is to pay for a tanker truck to come to your house and fill up the blue tank on your roof.

Dry, dry, dry

I know what they’re going through in Gela. During the first few years I lived in Palermo, there was a serious water shortage. The water would come at irregular intervals, at best providing the essential liquid two or three times a week. In such cases, you need to take care to preserve every drop of water when it does come. This meant that I ended up spending big money in the apartment I was renting for a water tank (placed over my hallway), a water pump at ground level (because the water pressure was so low it didn’t make it up to the 6th floor when it did come), and an autoclave to pump the water from my tank to the taps in the kitchen and bathroom. This was not a cost efficient solution. One pump or another constantly broke down – so that either the apartment was flooded with water or I missed the bi-weekly supply. Nonetheless, things have gotten better in recent years and we listened to the news from Gela with a certain amount of nostalgia.

Then we ran out of water yesterday afternoon.

A dry Saturday

It was our fault. We had become complacent. It was almost like living in Canada. As long we ran the pump a couple of times a week, we had all the water we wanted. However, we forgot to fill up the tank after we got back from our trip to Ragusa.

First the water started to spurt as we did the dishes, then the autoclave started to make knocking sounds, then the taps went dry. I ran to start up the pump to get more water – but, at the moment, our village does not supply water on Saturdays. We had to wait until Sunday morning.

Flushing your toilets with bottled mineral water is not a satisfactory solution.





Signs of Economic Crisis

23 11 2008
0% Interest

0% Interest

The stores were open here this Sunday for the start of the Christmas shopping season. I went out for a walk and saw a couple of signs of the economic crisis:

1.  The first Euro store I’ve ever seen here. Of course, it was all the same stuff (ie junk) you’d get at the dollar store back home.

2. A toy store with a giant sign on the front display window: 0% interest. It’s a difficult Christmas when you have to buy your Barbie on the installment plan.





RAI not?

4 11 2008

Please don’t make me watch Affari tuoi anymore

 

Basta!

One of the most irritating things about living in Italy is having to pay for the so-called abbonamento RAI, the obbligatory and expensive television licence. It’s not just that the programmes are bad (and they are) but there’s so little value for money. There are very few original programmes for children, the rare examples of cultural programming are put on after midnight in August, and the three networks are dominated by inane shows with dancing girls and screaming C-list celebrities.

Another example of RAI entertainment I can do without is Affari tuoi, the Italian equivalent of Deal or No Deal. Like such classics as Grande fratello, Isola dei famosi, and La talpa, it’s a format our creatively challenged pals from RAI have bought from abroad and then left to fester and putrefy on air over a number of years.

For those of you who are lucky enough not to have seen it, Affari tuoi is a quiz show without the quiz. They open the boxes and people win money, without having to demonstrate any personal ability or knowledge. The sole challenge the contestants face is whether to keep the package up until the end of the programme, when they win the value of the contents, or exchange it for a cash offer along the way.

To keep it interesting, since it’s not their money, the producers continue to raise the levels of the prizes. But even winning €500,000 has got boring, since it’s on 7 nights a week. So they try and garnish the stale entertainment with ever more absurd antics from the hosts and contestants.

The only time Affari tuoi is entertaining is when the contestants take the first decent offer to give up their package. Instead of handing over the prize and calling in a new contestant, the hosts recriminate with the person who has taken the early offer for an half hour or so. From what I’ve gathered, however, the best strategy is to accept the offer, even though (or because) it destroys what little entertainment value the show had.





A typical Sunday afternoon on RAI UNO

27 10 2008

Or, what I saw as I ran to turn off the tv

The television programme Domenica In has been shown Sunday afternoons on RAI Uno for many years, notwithstanding my best efforts to avoid it. From what I have seen, when forced to watch in other people’s homes, its main audience is middle aged men sleeping on the sofa after a long lunch. The non-start entertainment lasts from 2 in the afternoon until 6:30 in the evening, just as the effects of the lasagna and red wine are starting to wear off.

Thanks to our pals at You Tube, who watch all of the show so we don’t have to, here are all of the things I missed this Sunday (and the two minutes I saw by mistake).

At 2 pm:

Opening dance routine (I’m not watching because I’ve got better things to do):

At 3 pm:

Italian superstar Ron sings his greatest misses (but I’m still working on my book):

Ow! My ears hurt!

At 4:30 pm

Italian singer Alexia meets Luisa Corna (but I’m still RAI tv free):

“Truly sweet”

At 6:15 pm

I turn on the tv for the soccer results and discover this week’s theme is what Beethoven would sound like if he and Freddie Mercury collaborated on Italian television dance routines:

It makes you proud to be European

At 6: 16 pm

I turn off the sound so I can concentrate on the teletext.





Cycling with Ferrari

17 10 2008

In which a plethora of supercars make my regular cycling route more interesting

After my recent encounter with a group of Ferrari Californias during my usual bike ride, I discovered that Ferrari is holding the official test drives and press previews of the new model in my town. Automotive journalists are coming from all over the world to try out the new model and they are trying them out along the stretch of road where I usually go out riding my Wilier.

Ferrari California - more exciting than the Fiat 126s I usually see
Ferrari California – slightly more glamorous than the Fiat 126s I usually see

 

Since the excitement of seeing the Ferraris last time was followed by a bad (Mercedes) driver’s attempt to run me down in front of my house, I increased my visibility this week by wearing my bright yellow ‘bad boys of cycling’ kits – first a Riccardo Ricco style Saunier Duval outfit and after my retro Marco Pantani-Mercatone Uno kit.

I usually go out (when I can) around 5pm after a long day at work or sitting in front of the computer working on the final revisions for my book. On Wednesday in particular, a number of Ferraris were going up and down the road the entire time I was out. I saw red ones, blue ones, grey ones, with the tops up and down, with and without camera crews, going fast or slow. Wow! My favourite moment was watching a group of excited local Fiat drivers pass one particularly slow moving Ferrari. The locals were punching their fists in the air as they managed to pass the supercar (at approx. 30kmh). For you car buffs, I can only say that the new model looks nice and makes a very loud roar as it passes…

Meeting the stars

As I was coming up to the top of the steepest hill on my route, winding my way around the switchback curves after 35km of fun, I came across a parked car and camera crew. Curious and always keen to talk to the stars (I met Angelo ‘King Kong’ Mosca twenty years ago), I felt I recognized the ‘motoring journalist’ from somewhere:

Me: Are you the guy from the car show on British tv?

Star: Yes.

Me: Cool.

As I was speeding down the other side, by racing bike standards, the Ferrari zoomed past and the driver waved at me. After I got home, thanks to Google, I connected the face with Tom Ford from the tv programme Fifth Gear.

All in all, an interesting afternoon on the bike.