Settimana della Cultura 2009

22 03 2009

 

Che risparmio!

Che risparmio!

After all the confusion surrounding the Italian week of culture last year, when it appeared in March without any prior warning, it looks like things are a bit clearer for 2009. According to the official site of the Italian cultural ministry, the XI Settimana della cultura will take place from April 18 to 26.

Spring is the best time of the year to travel around the peninsula and, given the high cost of admission to public museums and monuments, it is the only opportunity to sight see extensively in a large group without breaking the bank. Instead of paying €6 to 8 each to see one site, we can cover all of the beni culturali (”cultural assets” in official translator English) in an area in one fell swoop. Consistent with the much lamented exponential increases in the cost of living here, the main topic of discussion in both the national media and anxious personal conversations, many culturally minded families have started to plan their vacations around the initiative.

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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.





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.





Cycling in Italy

9 10 2008

Cycling in Italy is fun when you see the new Ferrari and the driver gives you a thumbs up

Cycling in Italy is no fun when drivers of crappy little Mercedes cars don’t see you

A Wilier like mine

A) a Wilier Triestina like mine

B) My Canada team kit

B) My Canada Olympic Team kit

I think I am noticeable with my flashy bike and cycling kit.
I tend to attract a lot of attention when I ride around town and in the country. The area where I live is one of the cycling meccas of southern Italy and there are many cycling tourists from around the world, especially in the spring, who want to chat about the local routes when we meet along the roads. Drivers will often wave from their cars as well. I have even had my picture taken by some hikers as I whizzed by.
like my Wilier, world championship Italian performance

Ferrari California: like my Wilier, world champion Italian performance

On Tuesday afternoon, I happened to come upon the road tests for the new Ferrari California. As I was pedaling home, I saw one red Ferrari after another – and not your garden variety Magnum PI models.The first driver recognized the spiritual kinship between our two examples of world-beating Italian performance engineering, slowing down on the curve to give me a thumbs up as I passed. The second driver went by at mach speed…
After all that excitement and 50 windy kms of exercise, I arrived back in town and discovered that I had become invisible. A couple of cars cut me off on the main road – one genius drove across from the other lane and parked in front of me at a 90 degree angle. Tired and irritated, I was glad to get on my quiet little street and relax for the final few metres back home…
Alas, as I coasted up to my front door, some clown in a Mercedes A-class roared down the street at full blast. There no place to hide – typical of a narrow Italian side street, there were parked cars everywhere. The car slowed down – to 30 kmh – but I was getting squeezed between the pretentious minicar and a parked Lancia. The only place to go was up.
Some gymnast like balance, honed over years of cycling, along with some choice Italian obscenities saved my skin (and attracted a crowd on the neighbouring balconies) but it was a close call. As they say, most accidents happen close to home.




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.





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.