Crossing the street (without getting killed)

February 15, 2015

Cross at your own risk!

In the seventies and eighties, Italy was under siege from bomb-throwing, homegrown terrorists. This danger that has now more or less ceased, and although serious crime, once very limited, has now admittedly increased, one has to laugh when  fellow Americans ask if I feel safe here, and laugh even more heartily when Italian journalists compare this or that Italian city with Chicago in the 1930s. In 2013 there were only 34  homicides in Rome, giving it a lower murder rate than either Amsterdam or Glasgow (not to mention the top 60 US cities. BUT, in the same year, there were 56 pedestrian deaths. So the worst danger you face when you visit here, aside from that represented by the very able pickpockets on some bus lines and a few knots of thieving gypsy children, may well be that of crossing the street. Here’s some advice on how to do that safely and effectively. (more…)

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You don’t like milk? Well then, don’t ask for a “latte”!!!

February 14, 2015

For years now, Americans, Canadians, Brits and Australians have been flocking to places like Starbucks and ordering a “latte”, knowing it is an Italian word and thinking it has the same meaning in Italy.

Wrong! Latte in Italian means only one thing: milk. So if you wander into an Italian café, especially if you are not in a major city, and ask for a “latte”, you will find yourself looking at a tall glass of white, foaming, probably cold milk. Ick, says I, who haven’t drunk a glass of milk since I was 12. But even if you like drinking milk, that is probably not what you want when you are in your morning coffee breakfast mode. What you want is a CAFFELATTE, also spelled CAFFÉ LATTE, which is a coffee drink, made with espresso and steamed milk.

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Is it a toilet? Is it a sink? Noooo! It’s a BIDET (a what?)

February 13, 2015

If this is the first time you are visiting Italy, you may be surprised to see an accessory in the bathroom that looks like either a sink or a toilet, but isn’t. It’s a bidet (pronounced bee-day) and your first thought may be that it is there for washing underwear or socks, soaking tired feet or keeping beer cold (and there’s no reason why you can’t use it as such). bidetbeer

You may, alternatively, think that it has something to do with sex (especially if you are my age and remember bidets being used as a contraceptive method – yeah, like that really works! – or a post-intercourse clean-up in the hotel rooms featured in steamy books of yesteryear like Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer). Or you may already know that it is a permanent fixture in just about all Italian bathrooms and that Italians generally think that people who come from countries where bidets are not in use are, ahem, unclean.

Yep. The main use of the bidet is hygiene and you should know that in Italy most people feel uncomfortable if they don’t use the bidet after they have done what as a child we used to call “number two”. They do not feel that toilet paper is enough and they want to be clean without getting back in the shower perhaps in the middle of the day. They don’t understand how there can be entire countries, like the US, Canada, Germany, Sweden, the UK ,  where bidets don’t exist except perhaps in the bathroom of someone who has lived at length in Italy (or places such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and some parts of South America where they are also widespread) who decided to put one in especially. (more…)

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Telling time (time? what’s that?) in modern Rome

February 12, 2015

In some parts of the Western world, time is of the essence, but Rome is not one of these. Probably when visiting here, it is best to set your watch by your cellphone and,  if you are staying for a longer period,  to learn not to expect people to always be on time for appointments and/or meals.

This very flexible attitude towards time became immediately apparent when I first moved to Rome and, putt-putting around the city on my 50cc motorino, could not help but notice that the large street clocks I passed all seemed to show different times. What’s going on, I wondered? Isn’t someone supposed to be winding these clocks? And who?  Isn’t there an office responsible for these street timepieces? And to complicate matters, church bells didn’t always ring exactly on the hour (or quarter hour) either. The only reliable time teller was (and is) the cannon on the Janiculum Hill. That seems to go off at exactly 12 noon every day. But after that, the exact time was (is) anybody’s guess, unless of course you have a cellphone. (more…)

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