Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Eve in Rome

The streets were very quiet as I walked to Santa Maria in Aracoeli. I have never seen or heard the Center so quiet at night. It was eerie.

Only Sloppy Sams and The Drunkin Ship were open in Campo de Fiori, I guess for those who had to get their shots on.

The mass was packed. (Random sighting, “Law and Order” actor Sam Waterson. Maybe he lives here. He recently narrated a series on Ancient Rome.)

I though mass would start at 11.00 and end at midnight, like the churches back in my hometown but no, mass started at midnight. I was so tired. Ha

This was the first Catholic mass I have attended since I went to St. Monica’s (in Santa Monica, CA) for an Easter mass with a friend 10 years ago. I understood very little and there was no program.

The church is beautiful. It is the church of the Senate and the Roman people. I’ve climbed the 124 marble steps to the church before but this was the first time I’ve been inside. The church was built on the site of the ancient temple to Juno.

After the service, the Santo Bambino (baby Jesus) is moved from the altar to the manger. The church had a wooden one from the 15th century that was carved from a tree in the garden of Gethsemane. It was stolen in 1994. Who the heck steals something like that and what did they do with it? I think it would be hard to sell.

There is a saying in Italian, “Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want.”

When the mass ended at 1:30 suddenly the streets were full of cars and there were families everywhere. It was so surreal.

It was a very moving evening.

A photo of the Christmas tree at the top of the Capitoline Hill. I wanted to take a photo of the incredible manger scene but there were too many people standing in front of it.

The front of Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

Once the mass started there was more light but I thought it might be bad form to start clicking away.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Flashback Friday (on Thursday) – Donny Hathaway - "This Christmas"

sappy level - medium

Merry Christmas!

I just returned from a looooong Christmas lunch. My friend D. is a fantastic cook. Lunch was delicious and very fun.

There is no video, just audio and Donny's photo but I love this song so much. I know Chris Brown did a remake. Whatever. No one can touch the original.

Last year I was alone in Los Angeles on Christmas Day. It was very depressing. Every single person I knew was out of town.

What a difference a year makes. I miss my family but my first Christmas in Rome (like Donny sings) was a very special Christmas for me.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Lights around Piazza Navona

A friend from L.A. was in town for meetings. After dinner an Italian friend of hers drove us to Piazza Navona. We parked on a side street and I had to take a photo of these blue lights.

On the way to meet my friend near Piazza del Popolo, I came across these lights near Pz. Navona. I love these side streets.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!

sappy level - low

Apparently there are some young people who are only familiar with the live action version starring Jim Carrey. I know the movie made a lot of money but prefer the original animated version.

Below is a clip from the beginning of the TV classic.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Oh no! The dollar is dropping again.

Dear whomever is in charge of this kind of stuff:

I have one question, why! why! why!

I had to transfer money yesterday from my American bank to my Italian one. Let's see, a few weeks ago the Dollar was at 1.27 to the Euro, much better than the 1.64 earlier this year.

Yesterday it was 1.46 (the bank rate). What is going on?

I need to start making some money in Euros (Pounds would be even better. ha) stat.

Meanwhile I am going to try and not look at the exchange rate every day. No good can come of it.

For my Italian and British friends this is great news as they travel to the States. I told one British friend I didn't want to hear how cheap the iMac store and Barneys were. Hello, that is just cruel.

Will the Dollar ever return to 1.20 or be equal to the Euro?


A broke expat

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Here comes the sun.


The weather forecast calls for several days of sunny or partly sunny days.

Good. I don't belong to a gym here so I can only work out during non-monsoon like conditions. I feel so lethargic from not working out (and a little bit of cabin fever, as I work from home).

I'm so looking forward to getting back to the park.

Spoiler alert re: INTM

As I predicted Michela won. The show displayed their photos starting from the beginning. I have to admit, while Elena is very beautiful, Michela is striking. The camera loves her.

Michael, one of the judges, teared up.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I am very salty with Italia's Next Top Model.

How could they send Martina home?!

I am not a fan of Michela's...she'll probably win. She seems very immature. Didn't she get into some beef with one of the other girls earlier? Given I only understand 50% of what is being said, I don't know what they were arguing about.

Of the three remaining contestants, Elena is my favorite. I also liked Diletta and Giorgia. The latter looked like Carla Bruni.

The Italian version is not as over the top as the American original and the contestants here look like they could actually become models. The American version is more about entertainment I think. And it is entertaining. Tyra is a trip and Miss J. cracks me up. Apparently the Italian version is one of the toughest spin-offs.

You don't see anything about the Italian host. The show is not about her or any of the judges.

Can someone (if I'm not the only prerson watching this show) tell what is up with the judge, Giusy Ferrè, who wears sunglasses inside...all the time? I know she is a fashion journalist but must she wear them 24/7? I find it distracting unless she is blind, then I understand.

Wait I just realized I made no darn sense. How can she be blind? She has to see the photos and models. Doh.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Tiber Runneth Over

The sun finally came out on Saturday and I went to take some photos. The river was 10 meters above normal at one point.

After a dinner party Friday night I walked a few blocks over to the Ponte (bridge) Sisto with a friend. She’s a native Roman had has never seen the Tiber like that. She said her great grandmother sometimes had to take a boat to get around. Back then the higher banks weren’t built yet place and the Tiber would overflow.

When we arrived at the bridge it was 1:30 a.m. and the river was very high. The area was packed with police and people taking photos.

An Irish tourist, 26, here for a bachelor party fell into the river. He had been drinking with his buddies and fell off a bridge. His body as of now has not been found.

The other day people were out taking photos especially of Tiber Island and the Sant’ Angelo Bridge. The latter was shut down. There were work crews and a crane trying to secure a large tourist/dining boat that floated down river and crashed into the bridge.

To the north the river overflowed. It was strange standing on a bridge and watching bales of hay, small boats and other things flow down the river.

I have posted more photos on my Flickr page. The whole scene was unreal.

The ruined dock just north of the Vatican.

The flooded Tiber Island.

You can see the boat on the left that has crashed into the bridge.

The same view earlier this year when the Tiber was at a normal level.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Flashback Friday – “Heatmiser”

Sappy level – low

Here is a classic from the TV movie “The Year Without A Santa Clause”. The Rankin/Bass specials were fantastic.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Even the storms are more dramatic here.

Last night was bananas.

I have NEVER heard thunder like that. Once in a blue moon we would get thunder in L.A. but only for a half hour or so. Not very loud and not all freaking night long. I can't remember any east coast thunderstorms.

The lightening was blindingly bright and seemed so close I swore our building was going to get hit.

My power went out for a while. Even with my ear plugs in, the thunder was so loud I thought it was the "end of days" or something.

As a kid thunder didn't scare me probably because I never tried to sleep through a storm like last night's.

I wish I had a boyfriend. I would have asked him come over.

Rome has a higher annual rainfall total than London. How is this possible when London have many, many more rainy days than Rome? Because when it rains here, it POURS. I'm talking sheets of rains, which floods some of the older streets in the Center.

At least here all we have is rain and thunder. Up north they are getting clobbered with snow. Some snow is fun but when you can't get out of your house, not so much.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What’s Cooking Wednesday – Strawberry Rhubarb Tarts

For more WCW recipes check out Shan's place.

A few weeks ago I was walking through Trastevere and saw this store.

I saw stalks of rhubarb and had to buy them. I haven't had any since I moved here. Strawberry Rhubarb is one of my favorite food combos. The sweetness of the strawberries cut the tartness of the rhubarb.

I love Strawberry Rhubarb pie with a crumble top. However, I didn't have the time or energy to look for oats. I had pasty sheets in my freezer (I was going to make a goat cheese tart at some point) and used them instead. Not sure when rhubarb is in season again (spring?). When it is I will be making these.

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart

Follow the instructions for defrosting your pasty sheets or make your own. Cut the dough into 7-inch rounds. Put them on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Place sheets into the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

For the filling:
1 pound rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces (approximately 3 cups)
1 pound fresh strawberries, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/3 cup all purpose flour
3/4 - 1 cup granulated white sugar

Combine the rhubarb, strawberries, flour and sugar.

Take the pastry out of the fridge and place some of the filling in the center, leaving a border or an inch or so (You might need to leave closer to two inches depending on how much filling you use. I didn't leave enough and some of my tarts spilled over).

Place the tarts back in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bake tarts on the center rack for approx. 25-30 minutes until the crust is golden.

I'm sure this taste great with some good vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

Makes 8 tarts.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Finally the scaffolding is down from Bernini’s “Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi/Four Rivers Fountain”.

Italy has one of the lowest birth rates of industrialized nations. Therefore every child in the country must have been in the Historic Center yesterday. I have never seen so many strollers in my life. Ha.

It took me 15 minutes to cross Piazza Navona.

I met a friend of a friend for language exchange/lunch at ‘Gusto. We met at 12:30 which was a little early for lunch. Good thing we did. Fifteen minutes later, the line for a table was insane. Families everywhere. We left at 3:30 (it was a loooong lunch) and there was still a line.

A few weeks ago Jessica posted a fantastic photo of the fountain at night. The scaffolding was up when I was here February of 2007. The restoration is done. Scaffolding came down over the weekend.

I shot this the other week when the scaffolding was sill up. I didn’t notice the clouds' reflection on the glass until after I downloaded the photo to my iPhoto.

Yesterday, I took the photos below. It was so crowded I couldn’t get a better shot of the whole fountain. Bernini is one of my favorite artists

Monday, December 08, 2008

Immaculate Conception.

No I'm not taking about the excellent Madonna's Greatest Hits CD from 1990 but Mary.

Today is a public holiday in Italy and the start of the holiday season.

I find it interesting the start of the holiday season here is an emotional religious day as opposed to "Black Friday" . The church bells (there are five within a few blocks from my home) are ringing more today.

Last year when I went to Venice I took a photo of Titian's "Assumption of Mary". The photo of course cannot do it justice. It was very dark in the church and I was still experimenting with the ISO on my new camera.

The painting caused quite a controversy upon its completion. Titian painted a more human Mary and the vibrant colors were a departure from the solemn paintings of that era. If you are visiting Venice, a trip to the Frari Church is a must.

For more information on this day and for videos of processions, my fellow expat Michelle, has written this article for Italy Magazine.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Flashback Friday - Nat King Cole "The Christmas Song"

Sappy Level - medium to high.

This along with "O Holy Night" is one of my dad's favorites. Mel Torme co-wrote this classic. I love Nat King Cole's voice. So beautiful.

There is a big religious holiday here on Monday. It's very interesting to spend the holiday season in a place where shopping takes a back seat. It's really a shock to my American system but I'm adjusting. Being broke helps. Ha.

Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Sound of Music

Sappy level: low

My sister mentioned this movie in one of her comments. Along with "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" (the cartoon, not that Jim Carrey thing), "Charlie Brown Christmas", and a few of the Rankin/Bass specials, "The Sound of Music" was a must see every holiday.

I don’t care what anyone says, I love this movie. So what if it’s cheesy at times? The movie did win the Oscar for Best Picture. Then again so did "Dances with Wolves" over "Goodfellas" which was an outrage!

As a child of course the World War II subplot went over my head. However, I loved the music and even as a young ragazza I could tell Christopher Plummer was FOINE! Mr. Plummer is still doing his thing. Great moment in "The Insider" when his character said to Gina Gerson's, "Mike? Mike? Try Mr. Wallace!" Everyone in the theater was like, man, he is not playing.

Julie Andrews had an amazing voice. I read her vocal chords were damaged during an operation for a throat infection. Sad. We sang this song in choir and those notes she hits at the end? Not easy.

I felt bad for Maria when they said she was a problem nun. She was just misunderstood. Then she found true love. I also felt a little sorry for the Baroness. I don't blame her for being salty. I'd be pissed too if my fiance dumped me for another woman.

One of my favorite clips from the movie.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Silvio B.'s misstep?

In American politics there are certain issues which are considered the "third rail". You touch them, you might die.

There is an economic bill working it's way through the system here. One of the items is an increase from 10% to 20% of the VAT tax that SKY subscribers have to pay.

SKY (owned by Rupert Murdoch) controls 92% of the pay satellite TV market. Mediaset (owned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi) just stared a pay -cable division. Hmm. The left (led by former Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni) said the tax is being raised become SKY is a competitor.

Berlusconi says no, that is not true. His own cable company's customers will also have to pay more. One of Berlusconi's colleagues said the left has traded in their parka jackets for cashmere coats. The left said come on, most of the people who have to pay more are just regular soccer fans, not rich elites.

The head of SKY Italia said doubling the tax is b.s. SKY has created over 3000 well paying jobs, and during an economic crisis why raise taxes on something like this?

I think the reason this is getting so much press is because many people who pay for SKY, individuals and bar/caffes, do it for the soccer/football/calcio matches.

In fact, popular soccer presenter Ilaria D'Amico slammed the planned increase at the start of Sky's flagship soccer show. That is deep.

We'll see how this shakes out. I don't have the soccer or cinema channels. My bills will go up a few euros a month. I don't have a dog in this fight. That said, what surpised me is how someone so media savvy would be tone deaf about this issue.

Soccer here is is the third rail. It's not just a sport. It crosses class lines unlike skiing, golf or tennis. Trying to paint the center-left as elitist on this issue is not going to work.

PM Berulusoni controls most of the non paid media (his Mediaset empire and as PM, the state channels) however, he is going to have a hard time controlling the spin on this soccer debacle. He said the Italian people have more important things to worry about. Of course they do, but I still wouldn't mess around with folk's soccer, especially during tough times.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Photos from Piazza Navona's Christmas Fair.

Phew, I made it back home before the hail started. The weather has been pazzo (crazy). The sun came out for a few hours yesterday morning. I ran out and snapped the following.

December 1st kicked off the Christmas market in Piazza Navona.

This carousel was built in Germany in 1896.

Christmas trees are growing in popularity but aren’t really an Italian tradition. Here it’s all about the presepi (Nativity scenes). There were some mangers with running water, moving/bowing Wise Men and bakers holding loaves of bread.

Check out the tiny fruit, buckets, etc. in this photo.

I love ciambelle (donuts) but these are huge. I don’t think I could eat without passing out from a sugar rush.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Hold up, it’s December 1st already? This mean Christmas is only 24 days away.

I cannot believe 2008 is almost over.

Tiny white lights just went up on my street this weekend. If it stops raining this week, I’ll take some photos of the holiday booths in Piazza Navona.

It’s an understatement to say Christmas is my favorite holiday. Forgive me if I get a little sentimental in future posts. I will try to give a “sappy” alert or something.

Since my family was from the Caribbean, Thanksgiving wasn’t the “Big Holiday”. Sure we had turkey, went to the Verona High vs. Cedar Grove football game but it wasn’t the serious throw down that Christmas was. My mom was a nurse and had to pick which holidays to work. She had Christmas off…from the job that is. Poor woman. I don’t know how she managed to do all the things she did for Christmas. I get exhausted just thinking about trying to cook a meal like that.

This will be the first holiday I am not spending with my family in years and only the second time in my life this has happened. I know I need to get over it. My siblings are married, have families of their own and we live so far away from our parents.

I knew it was really Christmastime when my dad busted out his Nat King Cole and Mario Lanza (!?) Christmas albums. I think I will play those CDs later, along with Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” and kick off the holiday season in my apartment. My sister tracked down the Lanza CD two years ago. I cracked up when I opened the package from I don’t think many people under 70 are buying his CDs.

Below is a clip from a classic special.