Talking Trash, Italian-Style

Talking Trash Italian-Style, Italywise

The systems for managing trash in Italy can vary significantly from region to region and town to town.

Sorry to disappoint if the title of this email implied juicy gossip, or pointers on cussing in Italy. Nope, this is about the very important topic of managing your trash in Italy. While this part of everyday life in Italy might not seem like a major issue, nonetheless, if you plan on staying in Italy for any extended time (i.e. setting up a household), you don’t want to be caught unawares. It’s a significant yearly expense, so I recommend you factor that into your budget.

That pesky thing called the Rifuti tax…

I loathe getting my rifuti (trash) tax bill from the local comune in Umbria. I pay several hundred dollars (payable in two installments). What irks me is that I have no trash pickup at the house. There is a container on the street leading down the mountain. When cleaning up after having guests over for dinner it’s not a fun walk, which is partially in the dark. Cinghiale (wild boar) sightings are common, and I’d hate to have an encounter with these dangerous animals simply while taking out the trash. So, I have to haul my trash a good distance from the house. And, this container is supposed to be only for non-recyclables. Down in the village, containers for sorting glass, plastics and metals, paper, non-recyclables, used batteries and old medications are available. It’s a bit of a hassle, but I’ve gotten used to making the journey. Still, I pay a hefty annual tax. If you slough off paying this tax, be prepared for a notice from the Agenzia Entrate. When a letter arrives from this agency it’s usually not good news, and many Italians clutch their chests when they first see such a letter. This is a governmental agency that gets involved for taxes not paid, and you could have personal belongs seized and accounts frozen. So, even if you feel the tax is unfairly high given your circumstances, pay it.

Trash service varies significantly depending on where you are in Italy.

In some communities trash sorting and collection is a free-for-all, with very little structure and compliance. I’ve heard of one area in which residents are obliged to sort their trash according to what can be recycled and what can’t be recycled. Containers are provided to ensure compliance. However, word is that once the trash is picked up, it ends up being all dumped together. For me this sounds like a scenario where the agency responsible for rifuti is training residents to “get with the program” while the agency itself hasn’t yet caught up with the backend process. Yeah, a bit of a head scratcher. Then there are places, like Rome, where they have systems in place, but the city just can’t seem to catch up with debris that often litters the beautiful historical sites. Okay…let’s visit the other end of the spectrum. Even though we still maintain our home in Umbria, we’re now living mostly in Treviso, which is a lovely, historical town just 20 minutes north of Venice. Man, this town has its trash act together. So much, in fact, Simone and I live in fear of not following trash protocol properly and being “busted” and fined by the trash police (okay, I don’t think there is such a thing, but our trash IS monitored and checked for compliance). Fines can be stiff. When we first arrived in Treviso we dutifully picked up our four containers, each barcoded for tracking. One container for “umido” (biodegrable), one for “carta” (paper), one labeled “vetro” (which means glass, but is also for plastics, and metal), and one for “secco” which is most stuff that doesn’t fit into the other categories. We were given a calendar showing what is picked up and on which dates. – and we are obliged to use the trash bags (provided for free) from the Comune. We pay an annual fee and then each time we put out the “secco” container for pickup, we’re billed 16 euros. The upshot of this is that Treviso is a poster child for Italian cleanliness. You can tell residents take pride in their city and it’s nice to be in a historical Italian city that isn’t marred by unsightly trash. Other city services are run with similar precision which makes living here quite attractive. So, that’s the extent of my trash talk in this post, other than recommending that you learn the do’s and don’ts of your future Italian community. Be prepared, manage your expectations, and all will be well!

At Rest – New Photo by Jed

At Rest, Italywise

At Rest is a recent photo by Jed Smith

I am drawn to, in my art and photography, scenes of simplicity and calm. For me these are meditations and reminders of the importance of stepping out of the torrent of “doing” and allowing my soul, and mind, to breathe.

I’ve always had a fascination with physics, especially the paradoxes of quantum physics. For an artist? Yeah, go figure. I guess my dad’s nuclear engineer genes haven’t been crowded out by my mom’s art genes.

What continually does a number on my head is that the world/universe actually is 99.99% empty space, yet we’re convinced by the swirling activity of infinitesimal particles of energy that what we see is solid and real. I know that I all too often forget about this ocean of empty space which holds everything, and where anything can happen. Like me, unless you’re an Einstein or David Bohm, your brain will shut down if it tries to assimilate this into anything but an intellectual concept.

In light of a brain that can’t conceive of the inconceivable, I “feel” my way towards truth with my art. The above scene brings me calm. In contemplating such a setting, perhaps my mind, like the waters, becomes still, and the realization of the depth and richness of the unseen space that connects everything returns to my awareness. The neurotic need to do, to figure it all out, abates. And, the insanity of the world’s current events temporarily loosen their grip on my attention. For me, this in incredible gift.

In closing, I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite actors…

Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes a radiance. – Morgan Freeman

To see other photos be sure to visit my online gallery.

Poste Italiane, Italywise

Waiting in line, and practicing patience!

“Scusate, chi è l’ultimo?” which means “Who is the last one?” is a phrase you’d best remember when you prepare to stand in line at the post office, the doctor’s waiting room, the questura (immigration police), almost any utility company, and a host of other government or public service offices.

I don’t mean to imply that Italy is the poster child for long queues, or that life in the States is devoid of having to stand in line. But, in my experience waiting in line is a far more common experience in Italy. My dear friend Elizabeth gently coached me on practicing the three P’s – patience, persistence, and politeness. She also urged me to always have a good book (or, in my case, my Ipad), and be prepared to settle in for a bit of unpredictability. Knowing this early on has helped me to breathe, and release my American-conditioned need to “move things along”. In other words, I’ve had to check my “Chop, chop, get ‘er done attitude.”

The feature photo for this post is the classic Poste Italiane sign (sadly soon to be defunct and currently being replaced by a new snazzy design). I’ve done my share of complaining about waiting in line, and very long queues with the good ole’ USPS. The experience varies by location here in Italy, but in most larger Italian post offices, the experiences make me feel a bit guilty for complaining back in the states.

I’m talking about the Poste Italiane as an example of how waiting in line functions in other venues. Learn the ropes and the rules of behavior, and all will be good.

At our local Poste Italiane in Rome they have a machine you approach when you enter, and based on the type of transaction you hope to make, you choose the appropriate button, and the machine dutifully spits out an alpha-numeric slip. Then you stand or sit, and wait for your number to pop up above a specific window. I’ve seen people enter and push all the different buttons and hold onto three different slips, banking on being able to plead ignorance if they’re summoned and they are attempting a transaction at odds with the function of this particular window. No surprise, most of the people who do this are stranieri (foreigners).

The experience varies at our local Poste Italiane in Umbria. No numbering system exists to help provide sanity to the queueing up process. There is a manual machine where you can go to pull off a paper number, but it always is empty. So, the “organic” system of queueing up goes into play, and I return to how this post began,”Scusate, chi è l’ultimo?”

Rarely do you see a discernible line in such a situation. Unless you have followed someone into the venue and you know for certain they are the last person, be sure to ask (in Italian) “Who is the last person?” Then, you will know when it is your turn. Also, be prepared to answer the question for the next person who enters.

Follow the above practice religiously, or you risk inadvertently stepping ahead of someone else, and the “mob” can get pretty irrate.

At my doctor’s office the organic queueing is always in play. At my farmacia, the numbering system helps keeps things under control.

The most challenging office for me is the questura, when I am going for my annual permesso di soggiorno renewal interview. Even though I have an appointment, I’m lumped together in a waiting room with people waiting for a variety of reasons, some with appointments and some without. And, every time an official opens the door to call in a person, there’s a bit of a mob scene, with people trying to get in ahead of others. Yes, foreigners. Italians, as a general rule, would enact the system described above, and then patiently wait their turn.

In closing, I must stress that the system of waiting in line will vary, often to your frustration. I’m a person who desires much greater predictability in “taking care of business”. So, I’ve had to learn and adopt a very different attitude. If you’re planning a long stay in Italy, or if you’re planning on making a more permanent move, I urge you to prepare yourself for this “fact of life”, and manage your expectations accordingly. If you’re like me, you can employ techniques to make waiting fun. If you’re open to it, rather than getting worked up when things don’t move along briskly, play the people-watching game, and use it as an opportunity to listen and train your ear to what is being said in Italian!

 

 

 

Buone feste from Italy!

Buone feste, Italywise

The holidays are elegantly rendered in the ancient streets of Italy.

My favorite holiday decorations in Italy are the chandeliers suspended in the middle of the city streets of old historic towns. I first saw a sea of chandeliers in one street in Florence and the sight stopped me in my tracks. I was speechless. I had no idea I could be transported back to complete childlike wonderment.

Using a chandelier as a giant ornament is only one of many elegant adornments you’ll see in Italy, should you be lucky enough to celebrate the holidays in Italy. I must confess, I was feeling a little burned out on the holidays when I left the U.S.  Maybe I just needed a new locale to rekindle the magic that I’d lost over the years. Maybe I had become a tiny bit of a grinch.

Italy has come to my rescue, and I’m falling in love with the holidays again. I know this is trite, but I feel like I’m in the middle of a fairytale expression of the holidays. Perhaps old world charm was the missing ingredient.

As my education about “all things Italian” continues, I know I still have much to learn about the traditions of celebrating the holidays here in Italy. I promise to plan a post for next December to call out the most special aspects of an Italian Christmas and New Year.

I dearly miss my family in friends back in the States, especially at this time of the year. But, I am surrounded by the warmth of my new Italian family, and I love having days filled with hearty and frequent wishes of “Buone feste” and “Auguri!”

Thank you all for following my adventures, and for your enthusiasm and your support during this first year of Italywise. May you all have the richest and warmest of holidays, and may we all be blessed with magic!

Auguri, Italywise

Auguri! Best wishes from Italy.

Don’t Wish Me Luck – Talk about Wolves, Whales and Poop!

Speaking Italian, Italywise

Photo by NatureGuy, Adobe Stock Images

You’re probably asking (if you’re not offended) “What do wolves, whales, and poop have in common?” They all share a common function of wishing someone well here in Italy, while avoiding saying “good luck”.

I am fascinated by idiomatic expressions, and they are plentiful here in Italy. As you begin learning them, you might be overwhelmed. I’d recommend concentrating on matters that come up more frequently, so you can fit in. So, don’t be surprised when an Italian instructs you, “Don’t wish me luck!” Other colorful ways are at your disposal for wishing someone well. Let’s start with probably the most common…

“In bocca al lupo” means “In the mouth of the wolf.”

This phrase, is similar to the English “Break a leg,” and has origins in opera and theater. Over time, its use has expanded to encompass wishing someone well in other endeavors, such as taking an exam. I heard this several times before I took my Italian driver’s license exam. How do you respond when someone says this to you? “Crepi il lupo” which means “May the wolf die” is the proper response. Often it is shortened to “Crepi!” A prevailing theory insinuates that you hope the wolf dies, choking while he has you in his mouth.

An alternative theory of the origin of “In bocca al lupo” is that it isn’t phrase that is meant to have menacing overtones, but instead refers to how a mother wolf might protectively hold a cub in her mouth. I prefer that interpretation, and I’d rather not wish that a wolf dies. But, I don’t need to split hairs. I just want to go with tradition, and follow the formula.

If you want to equip yourself with one phrase for wishing someone well here in Italy, this would be the one, in my opinion. Other options exist, but they’re pretty colorful, and you might not feel comfortable using them. They also include references to “poop” (my attempt to be a bit more polite).

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The Beauty of Silence

beauty of silence, Italywise

A river in the Veneto at sunset.

I am grateful to be “stunned” into silence by the many beautiful scenes that present themselves here in Italy. And, given this post is about the beauty of silence, I will attempt to be brief in my reflections.

Silence and beauty can be experienced anywhere. Yet, sometimes a change of scenery, and a change of life can wake us from our hamster wheel thinking minds and conditioned selves. Italy has done this for me, again and again. Perhaps this is because I left the rushing torrent of a busy work life where I had little opportunity to really pause and see.

Italy has been a gift that keeps on pouring out her treasures. Thankfully, my artist-teacher-mother trained me to always have my eyes open, and to take in the quality of light, the composition of a scene, and the underlying emotions of the experience. The genes that my nuclear-engineer-father gave me, which give me abilities in analysis, deconstruction and problem-solving, often can be at odds with the aforementioned artistic training. In other words, my analytic brain sometimes yanks me out of the immediacy and “feltness” of the moment, into a noisy intellectual violence that seeks to hold prisoner the scene and the memory. Having awareness of these machinations of my mind has been a breakthrough, and more and more I am able to accept these gifts of beauty with hands willing to receive, and not closed to possess. The by-product of this is a deep, rich silence. Words cease, and even though I am not able to articulate it, I sense that my true self resides in that vast space of quietude.

I close now with a short quote from my (and my mom’s) favorite book of inspiration and comfort…

Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.  – Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Preparing for Winter in Italy

Italywise, winter in Italy

Just a few winters ago winter bit hard in Umbria, and left people homebound in rural locations.

Autumn is firmly entrenched here in the hills of Umbria, the smell of wood smoke dominates all other smells, and colder weather is just around the corner. Winter in Italy, especially when you reside in the rural countryside of central to north Italy, can be mild and it also can be harsh, therefore calling for a change in one’s day-to-day living strategies. You’d best be prepared…

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Italian Life is “The Cat’s Meow”

This is the story of Francesca and Oscar, our two cats, and how I imagine they view their lives in Italy. Oscar is an Italian native, Francesca is an American transplant, and they have distinctively different personalities. But, at the end of the day, I think they would both say that Italian life is “the cat’s meow”.

Oscar is almost 3 1/2 years old. Born in the hills of Umbria, to a feral mother, we gave him a decidedly un-Italian name because it fit his unique, mischievous personality. But, he has decidedly Italian traits and preferences.

For starters, he communicates passionately. He just puts it all “out there”, and doesn’t brood. He is very direct and clear about what he wants. I’ve never had a cat who vocalizes with so much emotion. (Read more about cat vocalizations in this online article from Catster).

Oscar also uses his hands to communicate. For Italians, the hands are almost as important as the mouth in fully expressing oneself. Oscars stands on his hind legs and whips his paws up and down the surface of a closet, door, or a window, to let you know he expects your attention (while also expressing his displeasure that you would dare to be otherwise engaged). In the kitchen he artfully employs his little cat hands to snatch his favorite foods. Tops on his list is arugula.

Oscar makes himself at home in a sea of pomodori.

Oscar makes himself at home in a sea of pomodori.

Yes, arugula. His wild, greedy nature comes out whenever he sniffs the presence of arugula. It’s a real head-scratcher. You would think he was eating the treat to end all other treats.

He also loves other salad greens, and he loves to nestle himself in my summer harvest of tomatoes (pomodori).

Life in most Italian households centers around the dining table and the kitchen. Oscar loves to camp out in both places. It is as though he is watching and studying to be the next Italian Master Chef. I’ve given up on banishing him from the kitchen. He is just too intent on being part of the action.

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What do you think? A viper or something else????

Yes, just outside our back door, the dreaded Italian viper makes his way up the stone wall.

Is this indeed the vipera aspis, or a European Cat Snake?

My most recent post was about what I thought was the appearance of a viper, just a few feet from our back door. I admit, I was thoroughly freaked out, being a complete wuss since childhood when it comes to snakes. And, I haven’t been able to quit obsessing about it.

I was certain it was a viper after viewing the attached YouTube video, and my neighbor Elena, who has been working this land for more years than I have been alive, saw the photo and concurred it was a viper.

After my good friend Jill suggested it might be another type of snake – one that is harmless, I was eager to believe I had made a mistake. Plus, there were two glaring inconsistencies with nailing this as a vipera aspis. From the eye, down to the body, the vipera aspis seems to have a black stripe, which makes the face/head even more menacing. “Our” snake is missing this marking. Also, a vipera aspis usually tops out at around 33″ and “our” snake looks to be at least a meter long – and more tapered than the usual fat body of a viper. However, from the neck down this snake looks a lot like the one in the video.

Now what?

I hopped online and looked up “snakes of Italy” and went to a website that listed every snake you might find here. I went through every one, looking at pictures and reading descriptions. Then I came across what, to me, seems to be the leading candidate for identification – the European Cat Snake, which matches almost all the criteria for “our” snake. It has the same markings, it can be 1.3 meters long, it loves rock walls, and it is readily found in Italy, and many other Mediterranean countries. Bingo. Our photo doesn’t get close enough to the head to provide more information, but the European Cat Snake, like ours, doesn’t have the stripe emanating from the eyes and going down the body.

I thought that the viper is the only venomous snake in Italy. The European Cat Snake is also venomous. However, it’s fangs are rear-facing and constructed in a way to deliver venom only to small prey. Supposedly, this snake is not a danger to humans because it has no way to bite and deliver its venomous and this larger scale. Is this supposed to make me feel better and safe? I don’t think so.

So, my obsessive compulsive nature has been driving me to identify and catalog this snake – and to know the identity of all of my neighbors here in the country. Maybe then I’ll accept the facts and move on.

I’d love to hear your opinions and if anyone has expertise in snake identification, I’m all ears. Let me hear from you!

 

An Italian viper appears…

Yes, just outside our back door, the dreaded Italian viper makes his way up the stone wall.

Yes, just outside our back door, the dreaded Italian viper makes his way up the stone wall.

Reading that Italy has only one poisonous snake, the viper, is one thing. Seeing one making its way up the old stone wall adjacent to our backdoor is another thing altogether. Until I had seen one for myself, I was able to delude myself into thinking “Yeah, they’re around, but they’re shy and they rarely come out.”  Indeed they are not eager for an encounter or a fight. But, when they are big (like this one) and close to the house, I’m compelled to take steps to protect ye ole homestead.

I did an internet search, hoping the results would assure me this merely was a large non-venomous snake, but something in me (probably ancient survival programming) knew this wouldn’t be the case. Sure enough, the online description and photos confirmed this was a vipera aspis. Check, check, check. Dam, it all fit. And, I was irritated that the description said an adult male would top out around 32″. This fellow was at least a yard long.

Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know I’m supposed to take the higher, more enlightened perspective of what a magnificent creature this is. But, I can’t. I just hate snakes. My fear of them robs me of peace of mind. I’m certain this guy has a family lurking close by – probably up in the piece of my land that houses long-abandoned chicken coops and a giant, overgrown pile of terra-cotta roof tiles.

Am I supposed to take solace in the fact that only 4% of untreated viper bites are fatal? What about the aftereffects of a venom that causes tissue necrosis, nerve damage, and possible renal failure?

On the positive side, I’ve learned that the sweet little hedgehogs I see scurrying about, love to kill and munch on vipers. They provoke the snake, prompting “strikes” in which the viper damages itself on the quills of the hedgehog. The confrontation continues until the snake is sufficiently wounded, at which time our little hero moves in for the kill, and a dinner that takes a few hours. Bravo little hedgehog.

Oh well. Life in Italy has its dangers. Thinking I could create some type of Utopia of complete safety and security is just major self-delusion. I made the choice to settle down in a remote corner of Umbria, which is ripe with all sorts of wildlife, and even the viper has its place in the cycle of life. I will endeavor to respect that. Still, I will dust off the knee-high snake proof boots that I purchased several years ago for this very possibility (never imagining I would really need them), and get to work securing the areas close to the house by eliminating tall grasses and other hospitable conditions for the viper. Time to reclaim my peace of mind.

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