Friday, January 29, 2010

Flashback Friday - The Beatles - "Here Comes The Sun"

I wish.

It's raining again and will be raining all weekend.

Here comes the sun, do do do do...Here comes the sun and I say...It's alright.
Little darlin, it's been a long cold lonely winter. Little darlin, it feels like years since it's been here. Here comes the sun, do do do do, here comes the sun and I say, it's alright.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The glorious event is almost here....World Nutella Day!

Yes, it's that time of year again. On February 5th, Nutella lovers from all of the world will pay tribute to this wonderful Italian creation.

For more info on how to participate, check out Michelle's Bleeding Espresso blog or Sara's Ms Adventures in Italy blog.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Get your art on: Boldini e Gli Italiani a Parigi: Chiostro del Bramante

My friend A. invited me to check out this exhibit. I highly recommend it.

I had no idea there were so many Italian impressionist painters. There are some truly stunning works of art in this show.

My friend E. had told me about the cool cafe upstairs but I had no idea where this museum was. Of course it's walking distance from my apartment. I've been here almost two years and I'm still "discovering" places in my neighborhood.

The building, designed by Bramante, is pretty spectacular as well. It was cold and raining when we went last week. I look forward to returning during a nice sunny day.

The show runs until March 14th. Here is more INFO about this incredible exhibit.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Guest Post - A Day In The Life Of An Expat In Perugia

Here's a lovely post from Tina, one of the first expats I "met" way back when I was thinking of moving to Italy. It's a slice of life look at a beautiful place. Grazie Tina.

A Day in the Life of an Expat in Perugia

I live outside the historic city center of Perugia, in a very tranquil place. I have a view of a castle, the Umbrian hills and some cypress trees. Since I work from home, it's very easy for me to spend the whole day inside at my computer. Now that I don’t live "downtown” anymore, trips into the city (just a few minutes away by bus) are excursions I look forward to.

Yesterday I decided to get out of the house, enjoy the cold, sunny weather and go grocery shopping. I rode the bus to central neighborhood of Monteluce. Where my bus stops, you can see bars, bakeries, a pharmacy and a butcher shop, among other things. It’s bustling. The main thing that stands out for me is the imposing medieval church of Santa Maria di Monteluce, next to the Misericordia hospital. I've been known to forget to get off the bus, too busy admiring its rose-colored gothic facade. I always forget my camera when I go into the city and yesterday was no different. Someday I’ll capture an image of it.

As I made my way through the grocery store, stopping for my usual items (wine, cheese, chocolate, oranges, vegetables, pasta), I had a feeling I should pay extra attention to the aisle I was in. I looked up and saw tortillas, tortillas chips, salsa, peanut butter, mustard, mayonnaise, curry sauce and Tabasco sauce. Nearby, basmati rice. My jaw dropped in wonder. I'm usually in my little Italian bubble when I do leave the house, and I forgot that Perugia is actually pretty international. In fact, now I remember a store on the other side of the city that sells Thai ingredients and even yerba mate, the national drink of Argentina. I have got to get out more.

I walked to my bus stop in the crisp air, checked the bus schedule and while I was studying the bus times, a familiar sound rose to my ears. There was a couple, also studying the bus schedule, but they were speaking Spanish, with Argentine accents. I smiled, half wanting to talk to them.

Meanwhile an old man started to sing. And sing and sing. To me. I distracted myself from him and walked over to the window display of the tobacco shop. This shop sells not only cigarettes but also costume jewelry and perfume. Every time I walk by I have an impulse to buy all three of those items and go home and listen to Edith Piaf.

I noticed the singing old man boarding a bus so I returned to the stop and admired the women around me in their fur coats, one with sunglasses even though the sun had set by now. The bells of Santa Maria di Monteluce began to ring and continued to do so for about 5 minutes. I looked from the fur-clad ladies to the tobacco shop window to the church, all the while listening. It was one of those moments in which everything I loved about Italy was present at the same time.

A couple arrived at the bus stop and began arguing. Her Italian was very Russian-accented. Their arguing would intensify with each bus that pulled up. Finally, my bus arrived. I settled into a seat, grateful that I was no longer in the cold. Two people boarded the bus and began happily chatting in Polish. I smiled to myself, realizing that for being a small city in the middle of Italy, Perugia has a lot going on and is very receptive to immigrants. Earlier in the day I had been craving a larger city with a more international population (and am thus planning a trip to Florence soon), but on this little outing I realized that I am surrounded by people from just about everywhere. This could be a sign of the times – and a very positive one indeed.

Tina Ferrari is a translator, writer and tango dancer based in Umbria. She can be found at her own blog, Tina Tangos as well as **If you're an expat blogger in Italy, stop by and enter the Blogging from the Boot contest!**

Tina Tangos

Blogging from the Boot contest

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flashback Friday - GLEE - "Don't Stop Believing"

The hit American TV show GLEE just started airing in Italy.

After hearing all the hype and my even my jaded film industry friends rave about the show, I finally got to see it.

Ryan Murphy who created the shows POPULAR and NIP/TICK created this show based on his own high school experience.

Are the students cliches? Yes I think that's the point. Of course the football jock is dating the head cheerleader. But then he's blackmailed into joining the GLEE club. ha

It's great the show is introducing younger viewers to songs from different genres and eras. The actors are crazy talented and kudos to casting for picking people who can actually sing.

Jane Lynch plays the very mean cheerleader coach She's hilarious.

This video is from the ending of the pilot episode. It warms my geeky music loving heart. I love the energy and joy.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Learning Italian, a breakthrough


Before I was so worried about getting the grammar correct, I would be afraid to speak.

Somehow after my trip to St. Martin, where I kept responding to French speaking people in Italian, I returned to Italy speaking faster and with more confidence.

My Italian friends are being helpful by speaking more Italian around me. Since all of them are multi-lingual we would always speak English. Not anymore. Sometimes I do get lazy and fall back to English. Before they would switch but now they say they don't understand me. Ha.

I am determined not to be that American Expat who has lived aboard for years and still can't speak the local language. I don't want to just get by. What happens if I find myself in a situation where no can translate for me?

Plus I need to prove to myself that I can become fluent in another language. It kills me that I studied French for 7 years, have a French speaking mom, multi-lingual dad, was a foreign affairs major and yet didn't learn any languages.

All my expat friends are stronger speakers than me. Several have lived here longer and/or are married to/dating Italians. We now split our conversations between Italian and English.

While there are many practical reasons why I need to become fluent, there's also the poetic reason. Italian is such a beautiful language. I love how expressive, lyrical and dramatic it is.

Some day I will open my mouth and find Italian words spilling out of it effortlessly. Until that time, I will keep trying to remember which one of the twenty-one Italian verb tenses is correct, articles, that nouns have a gender, and ease up on the curse words. While they are fun to say, perhaps they are not always appropriate.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cenci, Frappe, Chiacchiere...the yummy goodness is back!

I had no idea it was the beginning of the Carnival season until I walked into my local Forno/bakery and saw Frappe. These lightly fried treats are so addictive. They are made daily and available at bakeries only during this time of year.

They are called different names in Italy. In Rome it's Frappe.

I'm going to try very hard to limit my intake to only once or twice a week. Hard to do when they are all up in your face.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

R.I.P. Teddy Pendergrass "aka Teddy Bear"


This was "grown folks" music when I was growing up. When I got older I started to listen to all his music. I loved his work with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and his solo work. They were part of that great Philly soul movement.

He had a great voice and will be missed.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

7.0 earthquake devastates Haiti

This is the strongest quake in the region in over 200 years.

We all know how terrible a strong quake like this is in an area like Southern California that has a strong infrastructure and emergency services. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. There is barely any infrastructure.

The phone lines are down and most of the buildings in the capitol have collapsed, including the Presidential Palace and the UN headquarters. Experts worry the death toll will be quite high.

My heart goes out to the Haitian people. The island cannot seem to catch a break.

NYTimes article here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ina Garten's Honey Vanilla Pound Cake. Some help from bakers?

One of the gifts I received for Christmas was Ina Garten's latest cookbook (thanks sis!)

I made the Honey Vanilla Pound Cake. This is the first time I have baked something from scratch here and I have some questions.

I couldn't find cake flour. I read online that you subtract a tablespoon from each cup of all-purpose flour and add some cornstarch but I couldn't find any cornstarch. While the cake was good, it was a little too dense. Maybe Castroni's sells cake flour?

Also in converting the temperature (350) to Celsius (180) I wonder if the oven was too hot. My cake browned quickly on top and was not baked all the way through. I had to leave it in longer.

Last but not least, the recipe called for 4 extra-large eggs but I could only find large. In the future should I used 5 large eggs?


Sunday, January 10, 2010

St. Martin/St. Maarten, Trip report and some pics

My sister wrote a trip report for Travel Talk Online. She does a great job in describing the beaches, and places to eat and drink.

Clink HERE for the report.

I noticed all the construction on the Dutch side. I didn't think it was possible for that side of the island to become even more over-developed.

St. Martin was slammed recently in a big travel magazine saying that the island, especially the Dutch side, is losing it's character. The French side still has some open spaces. The French side also uses euros, has property taxes and zoning laws so that could be one reason we don't have all the fast food places, traffic and over development the Dutch side has. The French side is more expensive, bureaucratic and therefore less attractive to big developers.

St. Maarten/St. Martin was THE spot back when La Samanna first opened. Now St. Barths and Anguilla, two nearby islands, are attracting more of those visitors while St. Maarten gets the big cruise ships with their day trippers.

I worry for the future. Who wants to travel to an island and sit in traffic all day? Serious crimes, unheard of before, are being committed and the locals are furious about the immigration problem. Of course some of the complaints are more about intolerance toward people from other islands.

People concerned about the environment/conservation are starting to speak out. They want to make sure the island is not turned into one big slab of concrete.

I still get pissed every time I see Domino's pizza in the recently renovated airport.

I wonder how the bids for that space went down. Did any local people even get a chance to put in a bid? Domino's has crappy pizza and nothing to do with Caribbean food. If you are traveling to the Caribbean from America why would you even want to eat Domino's and I doubt all the European or Canadian tourists are dying for it.

St. Martin is a special place. There's a reason so many people have been going there every year for decades. People complain because they love the island and don't want to see it ruined.

St. Martin has many of the same issues as places like Venice or Florence. Tourism is a big part of the economy but in the process do you lose your soul or the thing that attracted tourists in the first place?

Friar's Bay Beach.

Le Gailon Beach, aka "the baby beach". The water is so blue, clear and calm.

More photos on my Flickr page.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Flashback Friday – Les Nubians - "Makeda"

Some French Neo-Soul on this rainy day. It's schedule to rain for the next 10 days. Sigh.

I heard a lot of French music in St. Martin the other week.

I totally remember this hit from 1998. Sisters Helène and Celia Faussart have beautiful voices and this is a beautiful melody.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Build A New Life, No Going Back, and Selling A House Abroad.

These are the English titles for several shows on Discovery Travel and Living.

Every episode features a British couple or person who has decided to leave the city and buy property in the country or overseas. I'm addicted to these shows.

The prices in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal are much cheaper than in the UK and the weather is better so I understand the attraction of moving. I also get that train wrecks make for better TV but some of these are folks are freaking nuts.

Usually things do work out at the end but the process! What drama. These shows are educational in that they show you what NOT to do.

• Always get a survey/inspection.
Who buys a house without doing a survey? I realize some places don’t require one but given how much thought I put into buying a pair of shoes, you best believe my anal self will be asking lots of questions and will have someone look at the property before I buy. One couple in Normandy bought a house full of termites, which were discovered after they moved in. Another couple in Southern France found out that the previous owner didn’t have proper sewage facilities. This weaken the property’s foundation. Sewage had been leaking out into the yard for years. Yuck.

• Budget enough for your renovations.
Call me crazy but 5,000 pounds (around $9,000) is probably not enough money to renovate an old Tuscan farmhouse that doesn’t have plumbing, or electric.

• Hire professionals unless you actually are a builder.
Just because you can put together some furniture from IKEA doesn’t mean you can put up a roof, wire electrics, pour concrete floors by yourself, etc. I really wouldn’t mess around with wiring. A badly painted wall is not the end of the world. Jacked up electrical can be a fire risk.

• Don’t pay builders in full before the job is done or use their lawyer to draw up your contract.
This seems to be more of a Spain problem, since most of the properties there are new builds. In fact, there are more new builds in Spain than in France, Italy, and Portugal combined. I do not want to buy a new house so I tend to ignore those episodes. I did get sucked in with one couple from the UK who paid in cash before the job was done. The contractor didn’t finish the house. There were several couples who found out after they signed the papers that their houses were illegal builds (again big problem with new developments popular with expats along the coast), or a highway was going to put in next door, or that the person who sold them the house really didn’t have the rights. Hire an independent lawyer folks.

• Have a back up plan/save enough money.
Watching these poor people living in small caravans while their renovations go over budget or are delayed, I wonder why they assumed everything would go smoothly. It’s construction, in a different country. The ones who quit their jobs and think they will be able to renovate quickly and make money from vacation rentals have the toughest time, especially if they have kids. There were several near divorces. One couple renovating a houseboat did in fact get a divorce. The marriage couldn’t survive the stress.

• Get references.
Don’t hire a builder because they are cheaper than the others. They might be cheap for a reason.

• Learn the language.
Or at least make sure your project manager or architect can communicate with the builders.

• Find out what the zoning laws are.
If you are moving to the country for some peace and quiet, you might want to make sure there are zoning laws. This one woman paid for a villa in Spain with mountain views and the developer built these ugly ass condos right behind her. She’s stuck since she can’t sell the property and she doesn’t want to live there anymore.

• Find out before you buy the property if there are restrictions on renovations.
Many older homes are protected. Try to get all your building permits lined up before you actually hire a builder. There were several shows where people started renovations only to be told they had to halt all work because they didn’t have the right permits.

Here's a clip of George Clarke. He's the host of "Build A New Life" and easy on the eyes.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Can someone please explain to me how comedian Steve Harvey became an "expert" on relationships?

Yet another expose about us poor single black American woman. This time on ABC's Nightline.

Mr. Harvey's advice to date older men is downright revolutionary. I mean, who ever heard of men dating younger women?!!

One friend told me his book "Act Like A Lady, Think LIke A Man" is helpful and a good read. However, I can't get past the title.

In this new year/decade, I'm going to keep on keeping on and seriously not worry about all the stats. I'm fine with not getting married as I'm not having children.

However for my friends who do want to get married, I understand their frustrations. I felt the same way a few years back.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Best New Years Eve ever (well in recent memory anyway)

Happy New Year everyone!

I've decided to stay up so I can get on Rome time.

I just flew back from St. Martin yesterday and didn't really get to sleep on the plane. I might become delirious in a few hours. ha

I went with a friend to a dinner party last night where there were a ton of kids. They like sparklers.

The second party which we went to after we couldn't find the club, had no kids but a DJ. I danced for hours and I bumped into imfamous friend G. What the heck?

My other friend has nothing to do with the film world so to walk into this party and see so many people I know was kind of funny.

Several Italians busted out with "OH MY GOD!!" with an American accent. So wrong...I do not do that. Okay I lied. I do say that sometimes but not everyday or anything. And seeing G and his girlfriend was worthy of an OMG moment.

I was sad to leave St. Martin but happy to return to my home. I was alright at the airport until my sister started crying.

I have a bunch of pictures to go thru but hope to post a few beach shots later in the week. Getting to St. Martin was a nightmare. Snow delays, drama at the airport, etc. Returning to Rome I connected in Paris and was put on blast by the officer at the passport control for not being able to speak French. It does say on my French passport I was born in America and received my passport in Los Angeles. I have to conquer Italian before I can revisit French.

I need to write down my goals for 2010. 2009 started out horribly but ended well. I have high hopes for this year.

Not sure why but I feel like it's going to be a kick ass one.

How do you feel about the New Year? So many of my friends were glad to see 2009 go.