Well-Heeled in Italy

Italian fashion, Italywise

Well-Heeled in Italy is a recent photo by Jed.

I’m taking liberties by including the phrase “well-heeled” in the name of this recent photo. This two-word adjective most often has been used describing someone who is well off financially – as reflected in the quality of their shoes. However, its origins come from cock fights (check out this link at http://www.saidwhat.co.uk) – yes, cock fights. You see, spurs would be added to help them fight. Hence “well-heeled”.

As I study the prevalent sense of fashion here in Italy, I see much of it begins with the shoes. Most self-respecting Italians wouldn’t dream of being out and about with boring or crappy shoes – as evidenced by the two well-heeled women in this photo. You can’t see their faces, but I assure you they are well into their fifties. Fashion isn’t reserved for the youngsters and I love how these woman boldly and comfortably opt for sexy dresses and shoes that show off their legs (which often are kept in fine form by being part of a culture that embraces walking vs. opting for hopping in a car).

My favorite Italian fashion scenario to happen upon is an Italian wedding. I love snooping around to see the decked out crowd – men and women alike. It’s not unusual to see attendees standing outside (taking a break from the wedding in progress) to have a cigarette and/or check their cell phones. For me this is one of the best “cat walks” for checking out the latest Italian fashions. Hint, stay tuned for a future post about Italian fashion using Italian weddings as a backdrop.

In closing, I pay tribute to the Italians’ seemingly uncanny ability to effortlessly express fashion sense. I can’t articulate the exact “how” or “why”, but I sense it is hard-coded into the DNA of the culture. It doesn’t mean that fashion tragedies can’t be witnessed on the streets here – I just find it’s a pretty rare occurrence.

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

Learning the Ropes of Buying a Home in Italy

Buying a home in Italy, Italywise

Buying a home in Italy is easy, as long as you know the ropes.

When I bought my home in Italy I was surprised as just how easy it was. In fact, in was far easier than buying a car (which, unlike buying a house, requires being an Italian resident). I’ve written about purchasing a home in a prior post, but I feel compelled to call out the parts of the process that may throw you off balance if you aren’t forewarned.

When you are buying a home in Italy, you are buying the structure of the house, and not most of the fixtures in the house.

Unless you negotiate with the seller, don’t be surprised, when buying a house or apartment, to find every light fixture removed from the walls and ceilings, and much (if not all) of the kitchen removed. If you’re coming from the States, don’t be surprised by this different, but common, practice. Aside from lighting, bathroom fixtures come with the house (unless it is new construction and still you may have to add mirrors, shower enclosures, sinks and vanities).

Just don’t assume anything is “standard”. As long as you are working with a reputable agent (get references), he or she will help you with these important “ropes”. Anything is negotiable, and some sellers are amenable to selling some of the furnishings and fixtures in the house.

When you view potential properties, you may ask yourself how and why would the owner would remove the entire kitchen, since kitchens aren’t a one-size fit’s all. In reality, most owners don’t want to dismantle an entire kitchen, so be prepared to negotiate an additional cost to keep the existing kitchen (that is, if you like it).

Whatever you decide, make sure all is specified clearly in the compromesso di compravendita (the sales agreement).

A house inspection, as a condition of the sale of the house, isn’t a common practice in Italy.

You certainly can pay a geometra (the general work manager, or choreographer of engineers, builders and architects) to inspect a house and give you their take on the state of the house including any potential issues, and potential improvements (expansions, additional windows, etc.). But, you’ll have to do this before negotiating and signing the compromesso. Once you’ve signed the compromesso, you will have paid a sizeable deposit, which you will not get back if you decide to back out. And, if you do back out, still you may find yourself in legal proceedings.

Read More

The Visual Poetry of Italian Body Language

Italian body language, Italywise

Italian body language is endlessly fascinating.

As an artist and photographer, I find people watching here in Italy to be a source of great inspiration, and education. This recent photo, captured on the streets of Cefalù, Sicily, shows one of countless snippets of the dance of Italian body language.

For most of my life I’ve thought I reveal much about myself through speaking with my hands and my body language. Now, in contrast to the effusive and rich vocabulary of Italian body language, I realize just how restrained I am. I ask myself, just how much energy is locked up in my more Americanized style of expression, and ponder whether the incredibly natural flow of energy in Italian expression (verbal and body language) is more freeing, and thereby healthier.

As I watched this particular Italian gentlemen go about his morning, I watched him have a lively encounter with a friend and shop owner. The moment captured in this photo is just seconds after his friendly exchange, and demonstrates how the dance of expression continues and flows.

Perhaps, one day, I will attempt a photographic journal, or concise visual dictionary, of Italian body language. I would only do this through the guidance and tutelage of my Italian partner who, constantly and justifiably, warns me of the dangers of foreigners thinking such forms Italian “speech” are easy to understand and emulate. Italian expression contains many important subtleties which, if missed or not understood, can be dangerous in inexperienced hands.

In closing, I have included a YouTube video, posted by nadasitlay.com, which demonstrates some of the most often used Italian hand gestures. I can’t help but smile when I watch these native Italians sharing their rich skills in speaking with their hands.

To see other photos, be sure to check out my online gallery.

 

Hitting the Jackpot for Venetian Cicchetti (Small Bites)

Cicchetti, Italywise

Cicchetti with baccalà

I can be a control freak, which at times can be at odds with spontaneity and seizing the moment. When I do quit trying to orchestrate life’s opportunities, some pretty great experiences have shown up in my life. Hence, this post…

We’ve recently relocated to the Veneto, and are living within a half-hour of Venice. We’ll still be maintaining the house in Umbria, but the Veneto is now our “home base”. So, just days ago, and after yet another day of unpacking and trying to settle into our new abode, friends called and invited us to meet them in Venice for drinks and cicchetti, which are Venetian “small bites”. We drove to Venice Mestre and took the train shuttle into Venice. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Frankly, I had to keep reminding myself that I’m one lucky fellow now to be able to do this kind of thing.

Having drinks and cicchetti is like breathing for Venetians. I’ve quickly became a devotee of the practice, after visiting some of the best establishments for these addictive “small bites”.

Cicchetti, Italywise

Perfectly hidden in an alley that seems to go nowhere, protecting the goldmine of cicchetti and ambiance

A good friend, who hails from an old Venetian family, urged us to visit Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso. It is so close to the Rialto bridge you might think it would be a major tourist trap. Thankfully it’s hidden from view of most tourists, several turns down a narrow alley which seems to be a dead-end. As we arrived this past Thursday night, a barren alleyway suddenly yielded a lively crowd spilling out the door of Bacarando in Corte dell’Orso, with drinks and small plates in hand. Inside, locals were queueing up to order the beautifully displayed cicchetti. The variety was immense, and at least half of the selection was seafood “themed”. Baccalà, or codfish, is the star of much cicchetti in Venice, and comes in many yummy variations. There were vegetarian options (e.g. mini eggplant Parmigiano), meat options (e.g. skewers with sausages and vegetables), and several cheese options (e.g. fried mozzarella with anchovies). I could have closed my eyes, and pointed blindly at the vast array of choices without being disappointed with any single dish. I ordered the skewers of grilled seafood, several polpette (meatballs) of tuna and ricotta, polpette with meat, and a couple of mini eggplant Parmagiano.

Read More
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!

 

 

 

A Special Insider’s View of the Food and Wines of Umbria

 

Umbria cuisine, ItalyWise

Recently I had the very good fortune to sit down with Elizabeth Wholey, who is a local expert in the foods and wines of Umbria. She is also a dear friend. Elizabeth has lived in Umbria for many years, and she carefully and painstakingly has done her detective work in understanding the history and craft of Umbrian food and wine. She has built important, long-lasting relationships with local food and wine producers – many who are gems hidden to the eyes of many people who visit Umbria. Elizabeth recently wrote Sustenance: Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland

A Guide to Farms, Markets, and Fairs in the Upper Tiber Valley in Sustenance, Elizabeth Wholey explores the Upper Tiber Valley and the ways in which its peasants fed and sustained themselves throughout history. Their ancient food traditions are still alive today, often with a modern twist, and are accessible to visitors as well as to the local populace. – available at Amazon.com

Elizabeth graciously agreed to do this interview for Italywise.com. I hope this will whet you appetite to learn even more!

You’re very passionate about the food and wines of Umbria, particularly of the Upper Tiber Valley. What, in your opinion, makes them so special?

Most people were poor in this part of the world until fairly recently. They subsisted on what they could grow, hunt, forage or barter, the growing season was short, and much of the terrain was mountainous. However, they made the most of what was available, and cooks took pride in what they created. These dishes are beloved, and are still found on local restaurant menus, often with a modern twist. People here are careful about what they eat and who they buy from. If a food product is not of high quality, a seller won’t survive. In other places local, seasonal, and sustainable are concepts that you fight for; here they are taken for granted, though vigilance has become necessary. People don’t want pesticides and herbicides in their soil.  

Read More

Yes, You Can Begin Again…

Beginnings, Italywise

Each moment affords the opportunity to begin again…

New beginnings don’t have to be big to affect a true change of life’s course. My move to Italy was of the major variety. In no way was it a rash decision, yet, however carefully planned it was, I knew I was throwing the metaphorical dice with the universe, and saying “I’m willing to shake things up.” Boy did I shake things up. As wonderful as the change has been, my reference points (a.k.a. my comfort zone) changed dramatically, and I often find myself grappling to feel grounded and steady on my feet.

If you’re considering a major cultural and geographical change, be prepared for the exhilaration of the newness and “bigness” of the change, and then settle in for a steady stream of new beginnings.

As New Year’s Day approaches,  I contemplate the gift the Universe provides us in each moment – the ability to begin again. For me, like many other people, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the beginning of a new year, and the urgings from my inner critic that I’d better shape up. Dutifully I journal my resolutions, and I take some initial steps. Yet, within weeks or days, my resolve falls prey to old conditioning, and I feel as though I’ve once again tricked myself into a cycle of futile self-improvement. Self-recriminations emerge, and I fall into the wheel of Samsara, often called “the wheel of suffering.”

Then, I remember that the ability to begin again does not rest exclusively with the advent of the New Year. And, I don’t have to drag around my stories about the past, and remain imprisoned by an identity crafted by layers upon layers of conditioning. Each moment gives me the opportunity to reorient myself, and start anew.

Everyone’s journey is unique, so I don’t presume to prescribe a “how to” to anyone else. I believe much of the mess the world is already in is due to countless fights and insistence on the right “way”. With that disclaimer I share with you the lessons that seem most relevant to me as I learn to begin again.

Quit trying so hard to find THE answer to enlightenment.

My pesky left brain insists, rather desperately, on nailing the formula for “getting it right” and therefore earning my ticket into the country club of peace and unending good feelings. Ha! I keep falling for this, but I’ve come to realize the following…the more I search, and the more I strive, the more elusive peace and truth is. A prideful, intellectual pursuit of truth has led me, again and again, to a state of supreme frustration. Dare I trust that I can allow truth to come to me?

Krishnamurti said that “truth is a pathless” land, and cautioned again relying on techniques. Not doing something to reach enlightenment seems so counter to everything I’ve ever been taught in my religious upbringing. Simply shining the light of awareness on the activity and contents of my mind might very well be the most helpful thing – and doing so without judgment.

 

Read More

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).

Read More

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

Page 4 of 10« First...23456...10...Last »