High Waters in Venice – An Even More Surreal Experience Than Usual

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Trash cans overflowing with the carcasses of maimed and massacred umbrellas.
Vendors making a killing on selling yet more umbrellas because the lifespan of said umbrellas have been abbreviated by powerful gusts of icy, rainy wind. (What a great business model).
Vendors also making a killing on:
A. Makeshift boot-like coverings (usually bright orange or sky blue).
B. Over-the-calf rubber boots as a sure-fire solution after above-mentioned makeshift boots have become torn or eroded because of the high salt content of the water. (Again, what a great business model).
Sirens going off twice a day (much like the bomb raid sirens in London during WWII) warning of rising waters. (Don’t ignore these warnings or your window of opportunity to respond and plan accordingly).
Raised platforms elevating locals and tourists above the murky and smelly high waters.
“Dams” constructed at the doors of most establishments.

These are just a few of the memories etched into my brain after our 2 1/2 day “jaunt” during the period of high waters in Venice.

I’ve been to Venice so many times I actually can find my way around the city without a map. I don’t say this to brag, just to say I’m not a complete novice when it comes to the city. I’ve visited Venice during different times of the year – and I thought I’d “seen it all”, until this most recent 2 1/2 day trip. I’ve dealt with periods of high waters, not letting such conditions impede my explorations of the many nooks and crannies of the city – especially the more off-the-beaten-path gems of Venice. But, this trip presented new challenges and new extremes.

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My Latest Italian Food Find – Agriturismo di Ivan

My new front runner of culinary delights is "Gnocchi di polenta", a discovery we made while visiting friends in Udine.

My new front runner of Italian culinary delights is “Gnocchi di polenta”, a discovery we made while visiting friends in Udine.

Thursday, February 5.

Today we visited friends in Udine, a two-hour train ride northeast of Venice. We left behind powerful, gusty winds, rain mixed with snow, and rising waters. I was happy to be inside the warm train, speeding out-of-town until the waters receded. Little did I know that our journey north would lead to the best dish I’ve had yet here in Italy.

Our friends took us to Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, deep in the countryside. This restaurant was heavily populated with locals and workmen. I felt as though I was slipping into a place largely unfrequented by tourists. In fact I felt as though I stood out quite blatantly.

Everything was rustic, and cozy. A mature fire was close by, and low, warm lighting made this a place where I wanted to linger well after the meal.

The menu was simple and incredibly inexpensive. I spied several items of interest. Our friends pointed out a specialty of the house, a gnocchi of polenta with smoked ricotta and speck (a type of ham) and insisted we try it. I shelved my usual low carb restrictions and jumped onboard. This turned out to be one of the wisest culinary decisions I’ve ever made.

I guess I was expecting typical gnocchi shapes, just made with corn flour. Instead, these gnocchi looked like little polenta “cubes” doused with shavings of the smoked ricotta and chunks of speck. I took my first bites and became speechless. I was so engrossed in this new culinary experience that my chatty left brain shut down. I just ate…and ate. I’ll be thinking about this dish for a long time, and a trip back to this area, just to partake of this polenta gnocchi, will be well worth it.

Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, in Friuli Venezia Giulia

Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, in Friuli Venezia Giulia

This in no way should indicate that Agriturismo di Ivan is a one-trick pony. The cheeses and prepared meats will knock your socks off. The table wines are tasty, and the other pasta dishes, secondi and contorni (particularly the spinach in butter) are delicious.

We’re back on the train to Venice and to yet another fine dining experience at a favorite restaurant there – Osteria Anice Stellato.

Guardia Medica – Urgent Care, Italian Style

Guardia Medica - a form of urgent care available throughout Italy. Here is an office that is dedicated to tourists.

Guardia Medica – a form of urgent care available throughout Italy. Here is an office that is dedicated to tourists.

My sister has been visiting us here in Rome. After a couple of days of acclimating to the time change, her voice starting getting hoarse, and a dry cough began. Because this was at the beginning of her trip, I wanted to make sure she was seen by a doctor so that her condition wouldn’t worsen, and so that she wouldn’t be bed-ridden instead of devouring all the sites at her disposal. Being far away from home and feeling like crap isn’t a great combination.

Enter guardia medica, which is a form of urgent care. In Italy, it isn’t the emergency room, and it usually is reserved for times when a person’s regular doctor isn’t available through normal business hours. Here in Rome, you can find guardia medica offices dedicated mainly to tourists. This is a great convenience. I visited a guardia medica office once in Umbria, and I was seen within 15 minutes. At the time I wasn’t under the Italian Healthcare system, so I had to pay a (very) minor fee.

For my sister’s situation, we took her to a guardia medica at a local hospital. She was seen immediately by the doctor on duty (no, this isn’t a fairy tale), and my partner translated for her so there would be no confusion of symptoms, and subsequent treatment. Within fifteen minutes, a diagnosis had been made, antibiotics, cough syrups, and throat gargle had been prescribed. When asked about payment, the doctor said there would be no charge, and further added that in Italy (unlike in America) they feel a keen responsibility for treating sick people, without onerous financial consequences. This is an interesting and informative perspective from a country whose healthcare system is highly rated in the world.

Thank you guardia medica for “saving the day” and for providing yet another great example of Italians going out of their way to help someone through a crisis.

My sister is on the mend now, and getting the most out of her visit. Grazie a Dio!

The green neon cross of a farmacia.

The green neon cross of a farmacia.

 

 

 

Mattarella Presidente Repubblica

Italy has a new president - Mattarella! Elections held in the parliment January 31.

Italy has a new president – Mattarella! Elections held in the parliament January 31.

Yesterday, Saturday, January 21, 2015, we watched “live” on TV the casting and counting of the votes in the parliament for the new president of the Republic of Italy. I must confess total ignorance regarding the subtle and not-so-subtle aspects of Italian politics, and only with the improvement of my speaking and comprehension of the language (I’m starting a VERY intensive Italian language course in just over a week, gulp!) will I be able to share perspectives which are more informed.

What I have gleaned from reactions is that overall people are happy with Mattarella as Italy’s new president. However, some people believe Berlusconi, who is known for his penchant for orchestrating “things” from the sidelines, isn’t so happy. Speculation exists (there is an amply supply here) he instructed members of his party to submit blank ballots (read as “scheda bianca” during the tallying) so as to prevent a 505 vote majority needed to cinch the election for Mattarella. This would have forced another vote at a later time, allowing Berlusconi and his party to craft a plan to get someone in place who would be friendlier to their causes. Instead, Mattarella blew past this simple majority to garner 665 of 1009 votes. Pretty decisive, I’d say.

Mattarella is Sicilian, a widower, and a father of three. Renzi lobbied hard for his election. I have quite an education ahead of me to understand what power the president of Italy actually wields. Many people consider him more of a figurehead. Time for me to get deeper into the swirling and confusing politics and alliances within Italy. I can’t promise I’ll be able to add clarity in future posts. I can hope, however.

In the meantime, this online article from the New York Times will give you a succinct overview of this recent development.

Cellulari – Photo by Jed

"Cellulari" - Mobile phones in a story of movement here in central Rome.

“Cellulari” – Mobile phones in a story of movement here in central Rome.

 

I love capturing people as they go about their daily lives here in central Rome. At times, I resist inclusion of elements that demonstrate how the digital world is taking over people’s lives (no, I’m not immune), preferring to capture the old world charm of this city whenever possible. But, I believe art and photography moves with the evolution of societies. It makes me wonder where and how mobile phones will be viewed by future generations, and if technology will have advanced in such a way that these phones depicted here, will be perceived as old and clunky as rotary dial phones. Will the use of these devices be perceived as something that became nostalgic and romantic?

Pondering these questions, I was very happy to capture this pedestrian scene, which almost feels orchestrated in the movements of the characters. The older woman, stylishly put together (and her dog, too) clearly is engrossed with the contents of her phone, and she has the agility to do this “one-handed”, which shows she’s not a novice. Off to the right a father with stroller makes his entrance, also with the same focus and involvement with the cellphone in hand.

See this and other photos and painting in the online gallery.

 

Bella – Painting by Jed

Watercolor of "Bella"

Bella – Private Collection – Jed is a Signature Member of the National Watercolor Society

“Bella” is one of my favorite paintings, inspired by a chance encounter I had, several years ago, with a wonderful Italian woman on the isle of Burano, just outside of Venice. If you haven’t visited Burano, it is a fishing village of colorfully painted houses. Often times you will see women sitting outside their houses along the canals intently making lace. Most visitors to Venice flock to Murano to see the glass-blowers (and make purchases), leaving Burano in its shadow. Do yourself a favor, especially is you’re an artist or photographer, and spend time in Burano. You will find ample subject matter.

From time to time, I will post earlier works as a trip down memory lane. Also, in this particular instance, I want to pay tribute to my dear friend Sherry, who had “Bella” in her private collection. Sherry recently passed away and she frequently told me how much she loved having the company of this painting in her home.

See this and other paintings and photography in my online gallery.

Calcio in Piazza della Minerva – Photo by Jed

Calcio (Soccer) in Piazza della Minerva

Calcio in Piazza della Minerva

Piazza della Minerva is one of my favorite places in Rome – not only for the architecture, and this wonderful obelisk with the elephant, but for people watching. Here, the scene is punctuated with boys playing soccer – a rare moment when the piazza isn’t crawling with tourists. See this and other photography and paintings in my online gallery.

Personal Reflections on Making a Big Life Change

Even the best of big life changes can challenge you in unexpected ways.

Even the best of big life changes can challenge you in unexpected ways.

I’m writing a lot about the practical experiences of building a life in Italy. Now, I’d like to pause and talk about the incredible mind shifts and life shifts that have been occurring as a result of making a big life change. I’ve loved how the adventure has unfolded, but it has challenged some long-held beliefs and ways of relating to the world. I suspected the move wouldn’t just be a romantic, magical manifestation (though there has been plenty of magic). I suspected I really would have to see how comfortable I was in my own skin.

I had a wonderful career in creative marketing, working with many talented and kind-hearted people. Friends thought I was insane to leave such a great gig to venture into a world that didn’t provide me a regular paycheck, and a matured social network and support system. I can understand such concerns, because I knew I would have to weather the transition of suddenly living in a dramatically different place and culture – one in which I would feel like a complete novice, and one in which I would be have significantly more time for personal creativity, and reflection.

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At Last! My Tessera Sanitaria – Italian Health Care

At last! My Tessera Sanitaria card that shows enrollment in Italy's National Health Plan.

At last! My Tessera Sanitaria card showing enrollment in Italy’s National Health Plan.

After almost two years of living in Italy as an expat I now have my tessera sanitaria and I have health care coverage in Italy! Woohoo!

By some surveys Italian health care is rated #2 in the world.

Until just a few day ago I was covered with an affordable Cigna major medical plan – good anywhere in the world, except the United States (no surprise). Medical care here is pretty cheap, especially by American standards, so if I had run into a health crisis I simply would have paid my deductible and then filed a claim. Fortunately I’m in good health, so I never had to enact such a scenario.

With so many other things on my plate in my first year here, I decided to forgo making the health insurance change until 2015. Getting the tessera sanitaria isn’t necessarily a difficult thing. In fact in can go quite smoothly. But, a few factors aren’t always consistent, so educate yourself on the process, and be aware of the parts that might veer off your anticipated course.

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“Talk of the Town” in the Hills of Umbria

Even daily laundry can be cause for speculation and commentary amongst the neighbors.

Even daily laundry can be cause for speculation and commentary amongst the neighbors.

I guess small towns are pretty much the same wherever you go in the world…

You see, my neighbors in Umbria talk about my underwear. Yes, my underwear.

Living in a small rural village in Umbria, everyone pays attention to everything. This is a good thing, because the “neighborhood watch” is fierce. Our home in Umbria is in a hillside cluster of 10 or more homes. Things may appear quiet, but ears are always alert to the sounds of strange footsteps or car engines, and eyes furtively peek out from darkened windows. In these small Italian hamlets, if that’s where you end up living, you’d better get used to your life being up for village commentary and speculation. This won’t be the first and only posting about having my life on display in Umbria. I’m not at all upset about it. I find it endearing and humorous.

I was prompted to write this after having a lovely New Year’s Eve dinner with our next-door neighbors from Umbria, who also live in Rome during the winter. During the course of the meal, my neighbor delightfully recounted a conversation she had during the summer with another neighbor, who lives just around the corner. This was regarding my underwear. We share a communal clothesline, always being respectful of one other’s needs and being sure not to monopolize use of the clothesline. One day I hung out a load of laundry that included a dozen pair of my Italian briefs, courtesy of Intimissimi (a guy has to feel sexy whenever he can). I’m one of those people who like to have at least three weeks of underwear on hand, and I end up washing them in bulk.

Apparently this prolific display of underwear ownership caused quite a stir and my neighbors remarked about my investment in the underwear industry. They chuckled about this “indulgence” of mine, and I’m sure word spread throughout the village. Pretty much anything qualifies for conversation fodder – and this isn’t exclusive to the expats. It hasn’t been unusual for us to be having a coffee at our favorite bar/alimentari at the bottom of the hill, only to find out that people are aware of our activities and whereabouts just two days before.

The bottom line is that we’ve been welcomed with great hospitality and affection and the “talk” isn’t malicious in the least. I like knowing people are looking out for us. So what if my underwear strategy undergoes scrutiny in the process?

Maybe you’re choosing a secluded home up a beautiful cypress-lined drive, and this will afford you much privacy. But, be prepared, because it will also prompt commentary from the locals, and this will be turbo-charged with colorful speculation. Italians are masters of storytelling.

I can only imagine what other stories have been told as the result of the astute observations of our comings and goings. With a bit of exploration, and sufficient consumption of wine and grappa, I’m sure we’ll be able to loosen lips….

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