Coming to live in Italy? Get used to the marca da bollo

marca da bollo, Italywise

Get used to buying a marca da bolla when you navigate the Italian bureaucracy

This post isn’t glamorous or riveting – that is, unless you find the nuts and bolts of the bureaucratic process fascinating. But, the marca da bollo, or Italian revenue stamp, is a regular necessity in Italian life – especially if you’re a new resident making applications for various things.

The marca da bolla has been in use since 1863

I’ve been asking myself what practical matters have I left unaddressed on my blog. Well, this past week I was reminded of that pesky little thing called the marca da bollo. I had gone to the U.S. consulate to get a particular declaration needed for one a process I’m going through here in Treviso. Even though the document carried the official stamp of the consulate and the officer assured me the city of Treviso had the signature on file, the comune office informed me I needed to go to yet another office in order for them to certify that the consulate certificate was valid. As we entered the office it occurred to me that I might need a marca da bollo to get this certification. Bingo. Eighteen euro, I was told, and we hopped in the car to find the closed tabaccheria (about a five-minute drive). If you don’t what a tabaccheria is, in addition to a marca da bollo, you can buy regular stamps, lottery tickets, bus tickets, cigarettes, stationary, etc.

Read More

Embrace the mystery of life, and prepare for things to change…

Mystery of life, Italywise

Contrary to a life-long desire to figure “things” out, and arrive at a metaphorical destination in which I finally can relax, I’m learning that constant seeking…a constant insistence on being able to explain things, instead keeps me stuck and limited. These days I keep finding myself being invited to embrace the mystery of life, and to trust that, when I do, life will carry me along to unforeseen, and unimagined places of creativity and possibility.

And, I’m reminded that I don’t know squat. Most of the time, that’s actually is a huge relief, and I feel something inside of me let go, and relax. My, what a price we pay for being on high alert while simultaneously trying to lasso life and manage it to our liking.

Might life have better plans for us than even our most lofty ideas? I believe so.

This is the scariest part for me – actually to keep moving forward while trusting in the mystery of life. Moving to Italy and throwing myself headlong into all my creative passions (writing, painting, photography) feels like a huge roll of the dice. My inner judge tells me I’m being indulgent and irresponsible. It then tells me “Well, if you insist on this path, step aside and let me manage the process.” Yikes. Talk about a creativity killer.

Read More

Che bordello! – A favorite Italian expression.

Italian Expressions, Italywise

A frequently used Italian expression to communicate a mess of a situation!

One of the things I love most about learning and speaking Italian is stumbling across a phrase or expression utilizing a metaphor that perfectly captures the sentiment a person wishes to convey. “Che bordello!” is an Italian expression that rises to the top of my list of favorites.

“Che bordello!” translates literally into “What a brothel/whorehouse!” but also means “What a mess!”

As you can see, this expression doesn’t work in the English translation. If you said “What a brothel!” in the U.S. people would look at you like you’d lost your mind. Surely you’d offend someone. You might even get slapped.

“E un bordello,” or “It’s a mess,” is a more toned down commentary of a situation that is a bit out of hand.

I had heard the word “bordello” being frequently used, and finally I had the courage to ask someone why he kept talking about a brothel. The explanation came with a smile. As I soon learned, this Italian expression is considered to be one of the best for communicating confusion or a mess of a situation. I hadn’t thought of a brothel as inherently unorganized, but I guess you could say that there’s a lot of different activity going on simultaneously in a whorehouse. And, that prompts me to laugh.

This expression comes in quite handy, and I’m putting it to good use. And, when I do, Italians nod in agreement.

To headline this post, I searched for an image that might visually represent this phrase. And, the one above, during the high waters in Venice, won the contest, hands down. Believe me “Che bordello!” is used frequently when the sirens go off in Venice indicating high waters. We have a very good friend who owns two shops in Venice, and when the high waters come, she must rush to her stores to move all of her merchandise off the floors to a level of safety. Shop owners also have dams for their doors to minimize the water, though often the water seeps in from below.

And, of course, there is the matter of getting around Venice during high waters. Even in February, when this photo was taken, Venice is full of tourists and their suitcases. What a messy situation!

Oh, the applications can be plentiful, and I look forward to using “Che bordello!” with great frequency!

I’d love for you to become a direct subscriber to Italywise.com. It’s easy. Just enter your email in the upper right column. You’ll receive a confirmation email, and then future blog posts will land directly in your in-box!

My Buddy, the Bidet

The Bidet, Italywise

Here in Italy the bidet is indispensable when it comes to person hygiene.

Well, I promised myself I would be faithful to discussing all facets of my new life here in Italy. And, to that promise, today I’m writing lovingly about my buddy, the bidet. Pardon me if I insert a bit of bathroom humor, but I’ll try to keep it clean as possible (the puns already are starting!).

The bidet is found most widely in southern Europe, with Italy topping the list.

Wikipedia will ground you in the basics of the bidet, if for some reason, you need an education. I saw my first bidet many moons ago when I was studying art here in Italy. My university group had landed in Paris, and we were staying there for a couple of nights before taking the train to Florence. In our little hotel I remember my moment of extreme bewilderment when I saw this hybrid of a sink and a toilet. I stood there, wondering if there was a hidden camera recording my confusion, and my eventual choice as to which device to use. Mom and dad hadn’t prepared me for this. I chose wisely, opting to go with the known entity. I asked questions later, but basically got an explanation that it was for women to “freshen up” after using the toilet.

Now I understand so much more. And, I don’t know what I would do without one in our home.

Italians take their personal hygiene and their bathroom habits seriously. I’ve heard many of my Italian friends remark, with disbelief, that a bidet isn’t a common bathroom fixture in the United States, even going so far as to say “Che schifo!”, or “How disgusting!”. This is followed up with an inquiry as to how Americans make sure they’re “clean” after going to the toilet, and remarking that toilet paper surely can’t do a complete job.

I have to agree.

I now understand that the bidet is designed for both genders. The hurdle for me was getting past the sitting on cold porcelain. Yikes, that’s an abrupt feeling of cold. Now I know what women feel like when the men in their households leave the toilet seat up, and they experience surprise contact with porcelain.

But, now I’m well versed in how to use the bidet. A person can sit facing the faucet or opposite, depending on the task at hand, or personal preference. Soaps for “intimate” areas are always within reach.

What happens when space doesn’t allow for a bidet?

An important question, especially since some bathrooms simply aren’t large enough to accommodate a bidet. If you’ve ever been to Italy, and seen a faucet with a hose next to the toilet, well that’s what it’s for – not to hose down the floor or clean the bath, though it certainly can come in handy in that regard. The problem, for me, with this “solve”, is the inability to control and contain the water during the hose-down of private parts. And, the force of the water often is a bit much for my taste. But, now that my “house training” has adapted me to the benefits of the bidet, I’ll certainly take the hose over not having anything but toilet paper.

Now, when I’m out and about, and a bidet or a special hygiene hose doesn’t exist (as is the case in many restaurants and bar/cafès) I’m not a happy camper. And, when I visit the States, I have to revert to old habits, and settle for not having the extra dose of “clean up”. Certainly not the end of the world, but now that I’ve seen the light, I’m a convert.

Yes, I’m spoiled, but I’m happy not to be soiled (sorry, couldn’t resist it).

I hope you enjoyed this brief post extolling the wonders of the bidet!

 

The Art of Italian Exclamation

Italian exclamation, Italywise

An exclamation of beauty.

Learning Italian can be daunting, especially if you insist on understanding and mastering the grammar. However, learning a few basics can take you far. Essentials are greetings, learning how to politely ask for something, and graciously thanking someone. If you desire to express your enthusiasm for the experiences you’ll have in Italy, which will be plentiful, then you might want to add a few simple phrases in your speaking arsenal.

A spontaneous expression easily can be constructed using the following formula:

Che + adjective (which must agree with the gender to which it is referring)!

Che, pronounced like “kay” (the ch makes a hard k) is the equivalent of saying “How”.

Che bella! – How beautiful!

Because, in the photo above, this refers to the vista, or the city, which is città, and both are feminine, this is why you say bella and not bello. Of course, if you see a handsome man, you might say “Che bello!” I use this expression most often when greeting friendly dogs on the street (once I know their gender).

Che buono! – How good!

This is a great expression to show your satisfaction with a meal. (In this instance buono refers to the food in general, which is cibo. If you were talking about a steak, a bistecca, it would be “Che buona!”).

While this is an exclamation of delight with your food, many westerners make the mistake of trying to be overly effusive. Don’t be over the top and say it’s the best you’ve every had, or that it is fantastic or spectacular. “Che buono!” will communicate your pleasure quite effectively.

Che caldo! – How hot!

When you’re trekking through Italy in the thick of summer, you’ll find yourself saying this fairly frequently. The converse is, “Che freddo!” or “How cold!”

Che brutto! – How ugly (or bad)!

If you’ve seen an especially ugly piece of art or architecture, this works (though it probably is best to say this quietly, or keep it to yourself, so as not to offend). Also, this can refer to someone who has behaved badly (again, practice caution, and not say this directly to someone so as not to escalate a situation).

Finally, my favorite…

Che schifo! – How disgusting!

Just a few days ago this came in handy. I was sweating away on the treadmill at our gym, when a guy hopped on the one next to me. As he started up, he pointed at a discarded wad of gum the previous person had stuck on the control panel, making a face of disbelief. I looked over, and exclaimed “Che schifo!”, to which he rolled his eyes and nodded in agreement.

The list goes on, but I advise focusing on using just a few. Once you have a better command of speaking Italian, and once you understand which adjectives work naturally with this formula, you can go to town.

And in closing, an important cautionary note – don’t exaggerate!

Americans in particular have seen too many movies with Italian themes, and when speaking Italian they often are “over the top” in volume and in exaggeration. Hollywood, is mostly the culprit, frequently having made caricatures of Italians and how they speak. Practice proper pronunciation, but speak evenly and politely, and you’ll be in fine shape.

 

 

 

 

 

Coming to Treviso? Head to Hostaria dai Naneti for a Quick Bite with the Locals

Trevsio, Naneti, Italywise

Our “snack” was a board of sliced prosciutto crudo, a basket of bread and two glasses of wine – only 10 euro!

Treviso is chock-full of reasons (too numerous to list here, but coming in a subsequent post) to make it a stop on your tour of Veneto. It’s easy to leave the hordes of tourists in Venice and head to this incredibly civilized and elegant town, just 20 minutes north. With its river and canals running in and around the city center, Treviso, like Venice, is an ancient city. And, it’s the home of Prosecco. I joke that the waterway encircling the city surely must be made entirely of prosecco.

Recently we’ve latched onto one of Treviso’s prized gems – Hostaria dai Naneti. Dedicated locals flock here daily to queue up, and grab quick bites (cicchetti) and glasses of wine from a generous listing on the main board. On TripAdvisor, Hostaria dai Naneti currently is rated #2 out of 333 Treviso restaurants. I’d say that’s a pretty hearty endorsement. We found this place on our own one day, when strolling the city center. We spotted it, tucked in a small alley adjacent to the large Benetton store (headquartered in Treviso). People were spilling out of the Hostaria, drinks and cicchetti in hand, into the alleyway, where they were communing happily.

Treviso, Naneti, Italywise

Locals queue up for panini, boards of sliced meats, and glasses of wine (or a Spritz!)

Hostaria dai Naneti, dates back to the 900s and is reportedly the second oldest institution in Treviso. The name itself reflects the local dialect. Hostaria is a local variation on “osteria” which traditionally refers to a place of simple wine and local food. Some people might call it an Italian “pub” or “public house” (I call it a really cool, down to earth wine bar). “Naneti” is a local variation on “nanetti” which means dwarves. I’ll have to dig further to understand how dwarves inspired this Treviso institution.

Tons of locals choose Hostaria dai Naneti for a quick lunch, and often they return for “happy hour” later in the day, when they can wind down and linger. If you arrive during peak business, be patient, and be prepared to queue up – though understanding who is next in line can be a bit confusing. Fortunately this is mitigated by the incredible kindness and civility of the Treviso people. In other words, it may feel like you’re stepping into a bit of madness, but it’s a happy madness. The people running the hostaria are agile food and beverage artisans. A large wine “board” lists an ample selection of yummy wine, and a case of cicchetti (prepared small bites) and cured meats and cheeses make ordering easy.

Treviso, Naneti, Italywise

The Wine Board at Hostaria dai Naneti

Simone kindly volunteered to order for us. Two glasses of wine, a board of sliced prosciutto crudo, and a basket of bread, only set us back 10 euro. Hard to beat, right? A similar offering in California would have been at least $30. While this didn’t become our lunch for the day, it nicely sated our appetites, and quenched our thirsts after a morning strolling and shopping trip in Treviso’s city center. Life IS good!

 

Hostaria dai Naneti

Via Broli, 2, Treviso, Italia

Tel: 3403783158

The Devil Is in the Detail, or Is the Detail in the Devil?

Handsome devil, Italywise

Tintoretto chose to portray a “handsome devil” in The Temptation of Christ (detail)

How many times have we heard someone described as a “handsome devil”? I never gave it much thought, until I stumbled across a handsome devil, literally, while reading the captivating novel, Lucifer’s Shadow, by David Hewson, which is set in Venice. A central character, Signor Sacchi is showing young Englishman Daniel Forster Tintoretto’s The Temptation of Christ, at the Scuola Grande’s Sala Superior, and pointing out how Tintoretto broke with the majority of the portrayals of a horrific Lucifer, and painted him as a devilishly beguiling young man. I guess it makes the temptation even more tempting. What starving person could say no to such a beautiful face?

Tintoretto, Italywise

The Temptation of Christ – Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was so intrigued by this snippet in the plot that I rushed to my computer, and my buddy Google, and saw for myself. Now, I’m determined to make the hike down to Venice and experience this in person. My love of art history once again has been ignited, and with a concentration on the jackpot of artistic treasures in Venice, I’m going to be busy for a long time. Since my recollections of Tintoretto are too vague to be of use, I want to focus and learn everything I can about this acclaimed artist.

This painting certainly has piqued my curiosity, especially in regards to man’s endless quest to make sense of good and evil, or light and dark. This is evidenced in the stories and myths man has created and expressed in art and literature, with Satan often being a headliner.

I’m a big fan, and follower of the work of Carl Jung. In fact, I’m due for a re-reading of his book, Man and His Symbols. I believe Jung “nailed” the prevailing cause of man’s neurosis and lack of mental and emotional wholeness: Man’s attempt to split off and purge his own darkness. The devil became a representation of this attempt to jettison the unsavory parts of one’s nature which lurk in shadow side of the psyche. Jung believed a wholesale rejection of man’s shadow side leads to an individual’s unending battle with himself.

Having grown up with many heavy-handed and fearful teachings of a Southern Baptist culture, I know I’ve spent years in a war with myself. Consequently, I’ve been a prisoner of perfectionism. However, try as I may to exorcise the devil, and run from my shadow, I’ve come to realize the wisdom of bringing light, and acceptance, to all parts of my being.

I realize I’m probably getting WAY too philosophical, and usually I endeavor to avoid discussing religion or sounding “preachy” in any regard, since I believe the path to wholeness and truth isn’t a one-size-fits all. That said, I do love the following quote from Carl Jung about working with the shadow. I call it making peace with the devil – whether
“he” is handsome or horrific.

May we all find peace and integration, and may we continue to enjoy and utilize the vast myths and stories that represent our search for meaning.

Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – Carl Jung, “The Philosophical Tree” (1945)

And the Winner is…”Haughty in Houndstooth”

Italian street life, Italywise

I had the best time reading every submission in this caption contest, for a photo I took of a street scene recently. Its working title was Wall on By, but that easily was surpassed with the variety and creativity of entries. Creativity is far from an exact science, yet I had to make a choice, and Haughty in Houndstooth, by Susan, took the top spot. Brava Susan!

What I like about having this kind of creative contest is how art evokes stories. When I had my first solo exhibition of watercolors many years ago, I resisted talking too much about the intent behind each of the paintings. On one hand, I wanted to respect the curiosity of the gallery patrons as to what made me choose a specific subject. However, I would endeavor to turn the tables and inquire first as to what each person saw in the image, so as not to influence them with my creative process.

Each one of us is always looking at the world through our individual filters and conditioning. We may not realize it, but we’re constantly scanning the world around us, and creating stories about what we see. The human imagination can take just a few elements of a scene and quickly construct possible story lines. What I love about art is that it is both about what the artist wanted to capture or express AND what stories and emotions it evokes in the viewer.

Who really knows the truth of this particular scene, and as your entries demonstrate, many interpretations are possible.

As an artist and photography I’m constantly in scanning and observation mode. Italian street life is ripe with vignettes unfolding. I can’t help but attach my personal narratives, but I’m learning to do so lightly and with humor, and remembering I can never know the truth of an entire situation.

Thank you all for bringing your creativity into this photo caption contest. Stay tuned, I may make this a regular thing!

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.

Page 3 of 1012345...10...Last »