Monday, December 13, 2010

An Italian Christmas

When I spent my first Christmas in Italy, I admit I was pretty cynical. Although the spirit was there, I couldn't help but compare it to my Christmas back home and everything I missed about "my" traditional Christmas that I grew up with. The lavish houses we would drive by all decked out from lawn to roof.... the smell of fresh trees.... the Christmas music in every store... and most of all our family dinners and chaotic opening of the presents on Christmas Eve. Instead of concentrating on the new traditions I was going to make, I dwelled over what I missed back home.

This year is a different story and I am appreciating everything. I still love and miss my Christmases back home but it truly is a different story when you actually do stop and smell the roses, or in this case, the chestnuts roasting! Here in our little town, there's many more apartments and condominiums than single houses with porches and front yards. We don't get a whole production like back in L.A. but many people decorate their balconies with lights and Santa dolls climbing up the railing and it is just as beautiful and just as Christmasy. I still get to adore seeing some family Christmas trees making their display in home windows and Christmas shopping in full force. This past weekend they set up a little open market in our community parking lot where they sold novelty items, trinkets and knick knacks, toys, and sweets and chestnuts roasting. Really gets you in the Christmas spirit!

Surprisingly, one thing that is new to me is our nieces and nephews who believe in Santa Claus or as they call him here, Babbo Natale. There is nothing like childhood innocence. They all wrote letters to Santa and told him they have been good and what they want for Christmas. I never actually was made to believe Santa Claus really existed when I was a kid so this was new to me. Then on Christmas Eve, one of our family members dresses up as Santa and brings the gifts to the kids. Can't get any more precious than that.

But so far, the most favorite experience I have had, is cozying up with my husband at home the other evening watching TV with the lights off, and christmas tree lights glimmering in the corner of our living room. But that's not all, a group of people are playing instruments to Silent Night right downstairs from our balcony. It was magical and like in the movies. I absolutely adore the band members who have been walking around the town every evening like carolers and playing Christmas songs. I run to the balcony every time and just take it all in like a nice warm cup of hot apple cider. It really doesn't get more perfect than that.

Wherever you may be on Christmas, whether you are at home or somewhere new, you can still get in the spirit and especially if you are with ones you love. Merry Christmas and Buon Natale everyone!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Healthy and Delicious Salad

Nowadays, there are such a huge variety of different salads to choose from. They aren't just a dietary meal or a side dish anymore, but a delicious and filling entree. I love the fact that there is pretty much a different kind of salad for any mood you are in... whether you want an asian flare, or a mexican or greek influence... they are all filling and satisfying.

My current favorite salad is really simple and fast to make but still has all the flavor you are looking for and waist friendly. It actually isn't an Italian salad you can find at an Italian restaurant here in Italy, but it does use all the food staples you would find in an Italian kitchen. It also follows the simplicity of Italian dishes where you can take in the full flavor of the few ingredients used. If you want to make this into an entree, just add some grilled chicken breast to it.

Insalata di Rucola
(Arugula Salad)

1 bag of pre-washed arugula
2 tablespoons of yellow raisins
1 tablespoon of crushed almonds
Extra virgin olive oil
Cracked black pepper

Add all the ingredients together and toss to mix. Drizzle oil, sprinkle salt and add black pepper to your liking.

And that is it! Really simple and quick yet healthy and delicious. The sweetness of the raisins combined with the kick of the arugula and crunch of the almonds is the perfect mixture in your mouth.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! =)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Simple Life = Less Expectations?

With all the wet weather these past few weeks I have been hibernating in my home and trying to stay warm. I save going out for the weekends but I have been suffering some cabin fever. At times, I almost feel like a puppy that has been stuck in the house all day and is scratching at the door to go out sometimes. I think a lot of you know what I mean but I have realized that a lot of Italians don't have this problem. Back in LA, I would go out every day, rain or shine, and would never just stay at home unless I was sick. I always had to find something to do to keep me busy. That's just how I was.

However, it's different here. It's crazy to think that most of the people in this town have never stepped out of Europe, let alone Italy, and some not even to any other major Italian cities in their entire lifetime. From my three sisters-in-law, only one has been on an airplane and that was just for her honeymoon. Ironically, I have traveled more Italian cities than they have. But the thing is, they are perfectly fine with this. It's a norm here and they don't expect anything more. They don't get cabin fever, and they don't have the urge to go traveling or take a vacation like most of us do in the States.

I believe it is a combination of what they are use to, the convenience of traveling, and their level of stress from work that pushes them to need a "get-away vacation". For us Americans, we take any three-day weekend, mental day-off, holiday break to take a vacation and go somewhere out of the city. It's just what we do. However, I do think that our more complicated, or less simple lives, with high-demanding jobs, sitting in traffic, and the luxury of having so many places to travel to with the click of a button and a cheap flight on sale have made us "want" to travel more and explore because we can and that is our norm. It's pretty much the same thing with technology and electronics.

All in all, I realize that my living the simple life here has definitely allowed me to enjoy the simpler things and have less desire for the materialistic things that I craved back in LA. I've learned to have less expectations on finding an event to attend every weekend as I did back in LA. I am not as crazed to follow the latest trends which actually is stressful as well. However, I don't know if I can ever fight this cabin fever feeling. It just boggles my mind how these Italians are content just staying within their little town for as long as they live but are completely content with it. All hail to the simple life? I am still split on my conclusion. =) I think it's a great privilege to be able to travel and see the world and experience different cultures, foods, people, and traditions. It keeps your life interesting, exciting and adventurous and anything but simple. I think there is a time for both... but it really depends on the type of person you are. In the end, it's what will make you satisfied and fulfilled with your life. What would you prefer?

Monday, November 29, 2010

I live in Italy, so what is there to complain about?

So this blog is for me to just complain about little petty things for a change. Because who doesn't need to vent over frustrations whether big or small, right? Of course, there are so many things I love about living in Italy, especially with the scenery, history and food most of all. =) But there are many, many things that I am still not use to... There's a list but I will focus on what that is driving me crazy at the current moment.

With winter weather well underway and nonstop rain for as long as I can remember, my clothes will not dry! It isn't common for Italians to have dryers because they are costly and electricity is even more crazy expensive when using them. At first, I really wanted to just be "the American who likes to spend money" and get one for my own sanity. I miss the smell of bounce and the warmth of the clothes straight out of the dryer. Like I said, petty little thing, but not even a factor in the U.S. because we are just use to having dryers. But, I am trying to do as the Italians do and if they can do this for their entire lives... then I really am being petty.

Here, I hang my clothes on my balcony. Yup! Just like you see in the movies... =) It is not just for show. In the summers, it's okay, because they dry like within 2 hours with the heat... but the winters are brutal. I can't put them outside if it's raining and the humidity here does not help it to dry any quicker. The other day I put our space heater under the rack of clothes in our home and they dried in about 5 hours... Not the most time efficient method. So, today it hasn't rained and it's windy! Perfect drying weather on a winter day! Thank you!

I apologize if this blog doesn't seem to be of much substance, but I hope all my fellow expats and anyone who doesn't have a dryer can relate to me and the frustration. =) Know that it's normal for even small things to get your spirits down, especially in a foreign country. We are always so comfortable with what we are use to and what is convenient and when something different comes your way, it kind of throws you off guard. The lesson here? Truly appreciate every little thing you have. =) But, also be open to change and adapting as I believe that adapting to you environment is a huge strength for anyone to have and shows that you are more open-minded.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Good Samaritans: A Simple Act of Kindness

One of the things I love about Italians is that they are mostly friendly and are always there to help someone in need. I am proud to say that my husband is one of them and truly a good samaritan. There are times when he is driving in our town and would see a senior citizen walking and give them a ride home. Another time, there was one of his dad's friend at the bar who had a little too much to drink and accompanied him home. Then, one time in Siena, there was an awful motorcycle accident and he immediately pulled over and called the ambulance. This may seem like a common and obvious thing to do, but unfortunately, not in America or other parts of the world.

Sadly, the media and possible personal experiences have tainted the public into being cautious and weary of helping someone in need in the fear that it may be a trick. Someone might be crying for help, but in actuality, are luring you in to kidnap you as many chain e-mails have led us to believe. Don't do the heimlich on that person choking because what if you break his ribs and he ends up suing you even though you were trying to save his life. It is sad and it is the corrupt world we have created for ourselves. Why should we second-guess helping someone in need? Helping an old lady with her groceries should be a simple act of kindness rather than a chore or a hope to get a tip. Let alone having her fear you are going to run off with her bags. It is disheartening to see what has become of the world sometimes...

However, it is great to know that I still get to witness good deeds here in our little Italian town. Just yesterday, my husband and I were driving down a road that wasn't as busy and not lit. We saw someone with emergency lights on and another car who was barely sticking out of the bushes and had driven off the path into a ditch that hung off a steep hill. Without even a second thought, my husband pulled over, put on his emergency lights, and got out to see if they needed help. If you are familiar with Americans at all, you will know that the majority if not all cars would just slow down to look with curiosity and then speed off without even considering pulling over. Whether it might be because they are afraid it is a trap or just assume the victims have called for help, the fact is, most would not pull over.

After about 40 minutes, a friend with a tractor had arrived and my husband was able to help them tie their car to a rope connected to the tractor to safely pull it out of the ditch. We then accompanied the tractor back to their home since they had no lights and it would have been dangerous for them to drive back in the dark. In those 40 minutes while we waited for the tractor, I counted 7 cars that passed by and 6 out of those 7 cars stopped and asked if everyone was okay and if they needed help. The one car that didn't stop was a woman so needless to say, she probably assumed she would be of no help and there were already 6 men on the scene.

All in all, it is refreshing to know that all of society isn't corrupted but will it only get worse? Thank you to everyone who has taken the opportunity to help someone in need. Even if it was just picking up a pen someone dropped, a simple act of kindness goes a long way.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Comfort Food: Pasta e Fagioli

Everyone has their comfort foods that they eat for certain moods. I know I love a nice bowl of minestrone soup when I have the cold or a nice greasy burger and fries when I am hung-over. I have found my comfort food here in Italy that basically is... comforting. Pasta e Fagioli which is a pasta of your preference, normally with a mixed pasta or tagliatelle, and cannellini beans. Yummm.... seriously like the comfort of your mom's home on a plate. This is a staple in the Italian kitchen and really easy to make! So, if you ever feel like you want something warm and satisfying, and you don't want something out of a can or something that will take too long to make... try this. =)

Pasta e Fagioli

Servings: 2

1 clove of garlic
1 can of vegetable broth
200 grams of Mixed Pasta or Tagliatelle or Ditalini
1 can of Cannellini Beans
Chili Pepper Flakes
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. In one pot, boil water for the pasta with a dash of salt.
2. In another small pot, add diced garlic, red pepper flakes and olive oil and cook until the aroma of the garlic comes out.
3. Add the cannellini beans, vegetable broth, and oregano to the pan and cook on low heat.
4. Cook until the beans are cooked through and the pot is simmering.
5. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook.
6. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot.
7. Then add the pot of beans to the pasta and let it simmer for 1 minute to infuse the flavors.
8. Remove from heat, serve, and enjoy!

It's a simple plate but a very traditional one as well that just has the right flavors for me. You can also drizzle raw olive oil over it at the end for more taste. Another option instead of pasta is to serve it with some rustic bread. Che buono!

4-inch Boots and Cobblestones Do Not Go Together

You know, when you watch movies and see pictures, cobblestones truly have a romantic feel to them. I always thought that. They give a street more character and make them so much more enticing to walk on. I am grateful to have them everywhere and to be able to see them from my balcony but reality likes to smack me in the face again.

Yesterday, I excitedly put on my 4-inch boots and am ready to take them out on the town in beautiful boot season weather and the minute I step out the door, bam, I gracefully sprain my ankle on the cobblestone. Seriously? Ironically, I was more upset about scuffing up my boot than spraining my ankle. The ankle will heal but how am I suppose to touch up camel-colored boots???

Props to all the beautiful, sexy and skilled Italian women who manage to sport heels without being a clutz like me....sigh... This is the time you chime in with one of your clumsy mishaps to make me feel better. =)

P.S. I still heart high heels.... ;)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Back to my so-called reality

Well, it's official, my vacanze is finally over. Finito. =( I had a great time back in LA spending it with my loved ones and soaking in everything I missed there. Call me a nerd, but every time before I go back to LA I make a list of all the things I need to buy to bring back and places to go and events going on that I want to check out. To my surprise my list was much shorter this time around. I think that is another indication that I am slowly weeding out the things that I just don't find necessary anymore and can live without like certain foods. Doesn't mean I don't miss them and still get my fix when back in the States, but it does show I am making further progress in adapting to my life in Italy and not focusing on the materialistic things.

Anyways, I have to tell you what one of the most biggest things I missed about being home that may come to a surprise to you. Well aside from driving my car on streets that everyone actually obeys the rules of the road.... Dressing HOWEVER the hell I want! LA is a trendy city but I have always loved the fact that everyone can sport their own styles and it is a presentation of individuality rather than frowned upon or gawked at. Sure there will always be trends and such, but I appreciate how there are so many different types of people and styles that rock the streets.

Here in Italy, not quite the same. You can basically sit at a bar and people watch and see every person walk by with the same designer names, colors and shoe styles. I am absolutely one for fashion and getting dolled up but some of my clothes that I would wear in LA isn't appropriate for here like ones with patterns, for example. And sometimes, I do want to just be in a hoodie, but that would be screaming American. Forget about all the hats I use to wear, that would just draw more attention on me that I don't want. =( I know I should wear what I like but I think I am being pulled in both ways. I will NOT change my style to fit in. But I will also tone it down as to avoid any further attention. =)

By the way, if you are interested in knowing what the Italians go crazy for? Besides the Italian designer labels, they are mostly American designers! Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Levi's, Timberland, DC Shoes, Nike, etc. Go figure! If you do make it out here, go into these stores and notice how they have a completely different line than what we have in the states... it's interesting to compare.

Back to what I was saying, I will be happy to report that I will not be sucked into one of their over-hyped and over-priced trends that I think are just plain ugly and unflattering... They are these Hogan shoes that have a little heel to give woman and men height and are suppose to be comfortable but I think they are just blah. I just don't get it... Sorry to any Hogan owners. I'm sure you look great in them but I will not be brain-washed and lose my personal style. =) I don't care what anyone says, I am content with the way I dress even if it isn't the way Italians dress... after all... I am not Italian and I think everyone's personal style is part of their identity. Never lose it, rock it! =)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chiuso Per Ferie

Oh that infamous sign that I see everywhere in the month of August for Ferragosto - "Chiuso per ferie". Don't get me wrong, everyone deserves a vacation once in a while and now it is my turn! My beloved and much appreciated blog followers, I will be on vacay officially starting today! Woooohooooo! My husband is off work, my friends are coming on the weekend and I will be jetsetting back to L.A. next week... it is a fabulous September.

Things I will miss about Italy... the food, the simple life, the luxuries of my home. Things I am looking forward to in L.A.... my family and friends, shopping, my car, the food, the countless events to attend, not having to be overly self conscience about what to wear and to fit it, being able to wear flip flops if I like... home sweet home. =) My trips to L.A. are always bittersweet as I know there is an end and I have to bid farewell to my loved ones eventually but I always come back more humble, appreciative and grateful of my life.

Till we chat again in November, this Piccolo Grande Amore couple is off to America!

Baci e abbracci!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini

One of my favorite pasta dishes here in Italy is their Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini. It's the flat, fat pasta - like fettucini but wider, with porcini mushrooms. I actually haven't found a decent dish in L.A. but it is actually quite simple to make and delicious! In my picture above, I have it with wheat spaghetti for those who are on a diet. However, you can go with the traditional tagliatelle which is made with egg and a little on the heavy side. You can also find tagliatelle that is made of just flour as well to try to avoid egg. Personally, the Barilla wheat spaghetti is quite yummy and one of the few wheat pastas that I actually like. Here we go:

Tagliatelle ai Funghi Porcini

Servings: 2

100 grams of Porcini Mushrooms (hopefully you will find this in the stores... I have seen it at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods in the dry packs but try looking for the frozen ones as well.)
200 grams of Tagliatelle (these come in the little nests... an average serving per person is three nests)
Olive Oil
1/2 cup of Vegetable broth
Minced garlic
Chopped Parsley

Okay, first thing is bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. While you are waiting on that, in a pan, add olive oil and the minced garlic. Once the flavors infuse, add the porcini mushrooms. If you get the dry pack, soak these in water for about 20 minutes before adding to pan. Cook through until sizzling but not too much that they get dried out. Add half a cup of heated vegetable broth to the pan. Normally, vegetable broth is not added to the traditional dish. This is actually something I improvised on to avoid putting too much oil. If you go to a restaurant, the dish is pretty much soaked with olive oil and although it is delicious, not so great on the waistline. This will be up to you to see if you want to add more oil or a little broth to give the plate more wetness. If you add the vegetable broth, let the pan simmer until the broth is reduced by half. Then add the chopped parsley. Turn the heat off.

Once the water is boiling, add a little salt and then the pasta for the amount of time indicated on the box. Then, drain the pasta from the water and place back in the pot. Add all the ingredients in the pan to the pot and mix well. If you see that it is drier than you prefer, add a little more olive oil. Then transfer to your plates and top it off with some more fresh parsley for taste and show. =)

Grab your fork and spoon and dig in! =)

Another great dish with the porcini mushrooms is Risotto ai Funghi Porcini. Mmmm. I can write the recipe to that one as well if you are interested but pretty much same ingredients just different carbs and procedures. =)

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

"The Italian Government System" aka "Mission Impossible"

So I am pretty much close to pulling all of my hair out. You know, I thought dealing with any government office in the U.S. was painful enough but here in Italy, it is almost impossible. With the U.S., at least you get in contact and are able to talk to someone even though they always seem to give attitude.

So from the time I got married, I could apply for Italian citizenship after 6 months of marriage and residence here in Italy. If I was living abroad then it would be 2 years after marriage. So, after we got married and I got my Permesso di Soggiorno (permit to stay) and all, we went to the Prefettura di Siena, to get the application and just to see what paperwork I needed to get prepped. Then, 5 months later, we decided to go to the Prefettura di Caserta (where we now live) and just double check that the paperwork I gathered was correct.

We go there and noone is in the office. Office hours state Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9am-12pm. The hours of operation are already limited and now they aren't even there at their given times? Apparently, there is only ONE person that deals with citizenship and she is on vacation. Oh how nice... no big deal for who knows how many people coming in.

Then my husband manages to find someone who has the heart to try to help us and he tells us that the law just changed and I have to wait 2 years after marriage and residency OR 3 years if I am living abroad. This law changed two weeks ago and of course they haven't changed it on the website. Just my luck!

Okay, so fast forwarding to date, it's almost two years and I am going back to LA so I need to make sure I get all the paperwork done now since a couple of them are time-sensitive. So, we go back to the Prefettura to cross-check everything and get an updated application. We go on a Friday and as soon as we walk in the door there is this blond lady and she snaps, "What do you want?" I tell you, she was no peach. We explain and she says, "No, no you aren't suppose to be here. Hours are Mondays and Wednesdays only from 9am-12pm." Oh that's great, care to change that on your website? And then she adds, and besides, the lady isn't in today. What is it with this citizenship lady???

We try to talk to a couple other people who were of no help at all because they say she is the one that deals with citizenship. Fine... Mission aborted once again. So we decide to come the following Friday. I was hopeless, my husband was ready to start a war if we didn't get answers. We get there, and she is there!!!!!!!!!!!! Hallelujah! Granted, after giving us attitude for being there on a Friday and not Monday or Wednesday, after my husband cleverly explained his way into the office and she saw that he was Italian and I was American, she welcomed us in and was able to help us with our questions.

First of all, I just have to say, good luck if you are doing any paperwork here like me or possibly anywhere abroad. However, I don't imagine immigration or citizenship in the States being a bowl of sunshine either. Secondly, if you are an American, you have a huge advantage over other nations. I remember when I was doing my Permesso di Soggiorno, the guy was totally drooling over my new passport with the electronic chip and new colorful pages and started talking to me and asking if I voted and if I voted for Obama. He personally escorted us to the office we had to go to while I saw others being treated very rudely. This time, the lady was admiring my birth certificate and reading every English word out loud. Whatever makes her happy and gets the job done!

My personal advice is that you can't back down. I've learned that Italians are very clever and passionate, but part of that reason is because you can't get anything you want or anything done if you aren't. It is truly the matter of "eat or be eaten" here. Stand your ground, be forceful, and be confident or you will definitely be pushed to the back of the line and I mean that literally as well.

Sigh, and I thought the actual paperwork part was going to be the hard part. Good luck to my fellow expats who have to go through as much paperwork as I do! I think I am seriously a pro at it now. Hey, maybe I can fill in for her for the 364 days she isn't in the office.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When in Rome... Do as the Americans Would Do?

I was in Rome this past weekend and was excited to get some shopping done. Little did I know, it was the perfect medicine I needed for my homesickness. Where I live, there are no tourists let alone anyone I can converse with in English. I don't enjoy being in cities flooded with tourists but I also found comfort in Rome in blending in with the crowds rather than sticking out like a sore thumb. Rome gave me the perfect mix. I was still in beautiful Italy but amongst Americans and Italians. I would have preferred a little less of the tour groups taking over the streets but it felt nice to be lost in the crowd and doing my own thing without anyone staring or pondering in curiosity. I was able to converse with the people in the stores, bars and restaurants in Italian but I was also able to help any tourists who were lost in English. I finally felt like I was back in my comfort zone.

I believe that I am truly settling into my new hometown and do feel more comfortable and know more people and are a little more confident with speaking Italian, but Rome was such a different dynamic. A dynamic that I was more use to and it meshed with my life in L.A. We even went to Hard Rock Cafe to eat and that made me feel even more at home. It was filled with practically all American tourists, menus in English with descriptions in Italian, waiters speaking both languages, and All-American food. It made me realize how much I have settled in Italy and that I have truly made it my home and also the things that I miss back in the States. I felt like I got the best of both worlds.

I am happy to say that I am grateful for my life. That I adore both places and have come to realize what is most important to me and what I need to truly appreciate in life. I have realized that it isn't wrong for me to not want to fully blend in with the Italians because I should be proud that I have come from a different background. I value the fact that I have three different cultures that I can pass down to my kids. So, I'm sure a lot of you are thinking why would I be eating at Hard Rock Cafe when I am in Rome when I can be eating yummy, delicious Italian food, but I have the fortune of getting it everyday and was missing some good all-American food. =) So I did as the Americans would do, not the Romans...

How ironic, many go to Rome to see the monuments and museums, I went there and found my piece of America I needed.... =)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Guns N Roses - Rome Palalottomatico 2010

So I got to go to see Guns n Roses in concert Saturday night at the Rome Palalottomatico after waiting months in excitement. Not only are they one of my husband's favorite bands, but it was our first paid concert in Italy (a lot of them are in an open area and free), and plus, I was itching to get back to Rome. =)

First of all, my excitement these past few months turned into anxiety when I started reading about GnR's concerts in England and Dublin the last couple of days. Them being late, event coordinators cutting their show short, bottles thrown, them walking off the stage....drama... We got there around 7:00pm when the doors are suppose to open at 6:00pm only to see everyone in line all around the stadium at different entrances and crowds everywhere. First thing that came to my mind was that they wanted to make sure GnR was going to show up before letting everyone into the stadium.

Fortunately, at 7:30pm, they finally opened the doors. Phew! One breath I can finally take. We took our seats and took the scene in with a nice cold beer in our hands. Best part about this was that they had someone walking around that you can buy beer from rather than going outside. =) Anyways, after another hour of filling up the stadium, the opening band came out at 8:30pm. Murderdolls... Don't know if you have heard of them, but I was not loving them, at all.... To name a couple of their songs - a version of "Old McDonald", another called "Sex, Drugs, Rock n' Roll", and another one called "I love to say F*ck" and the lead singer walking around with an umbrella with the word written on top... it was not my cup of tea. Made me realize how much I don't appreciate Rock or Heavy Metal or constant head banging and there are no other bands like Guns n Roses out there. So after one loooong hour of playing, and GnR fans starting to booo them, they finally finished their act.

Then, something I have never seen, the stage crew comes out to change up the stage to get ready for GnR. Normally curtains are pulled or something but we got to see them do every bit of their stage assembly. This took about 20 minutes and it was now about 9:50pm. Waiting... waiting... Fans start to chant "Guns - n - Roses" and "Axl"... waiting waiting ... fans start booing ... waiting waiting ... fans chant "Guns - n - Roses" again ... waiting... then some more booing and couple cups and bottles thrown in the air and stage... Crap... please don't repeat the last couple of nights. Then, finally, at 10:30pm, lights go out and GnR comes out! Woooohoooo! Houston we have lift off.... Welcome to the Jungle! =)

The show was great. Axl was his usual self with his couple signature moves and sways and throwing of the mic stand. Happily accepted all the thongs and bras thrown at him. And even grabbed a couple of the banners and flags that fans had made. One said "Axl is God", but my personal favorite was a flag of Italy with "I wanna feel your serpentine" written on it. There are four guitar players in the band, plus drums, plus two on keyboards. The guitarists were absolutely amazing. Freaking beyond talented. They all got their solos and absolutely rocked it. There was fire and fireworks.

Highlight of the night for me was when Axl performed "November Rain" on the piano. Other song favorites were "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and the closing encore song "Paradise City".

It was a great night! It still blows my mind how they have so many fans all over the world as do a lot of singers and bands. But to be in a different city and continent watching them was priceless.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Eataly - A True Taste of Italy

Okay, so my blog has been about my Italian experiences in Italy, but here's a little change-up... Let's talk about Italian experiences in the States! I just read about Eataly opening in New York and think it was a long time coming and will be an absolute success. In one word, GENIUS! This multi-million dollar project that includes one of my favorite cooks, Mario Batali, sounds like something I have always wanted in Los Angeles. However, only makes sense that it has opened in Italy with the large Italian population. For anyone who lives there, please check it out and let me know how it is! I can't wait to get back there and this gives me more of a reason to and to show my husband that he can have a little of Italy in the States as well. =)

This building is truly a taste of Italy in one-stop. There's Italian restaurants, beer garden, cafe, pastry, vegetables, salumi and cheese, fish, travel agency, culinary school, pasta, pizza, bread, bookstore, houseware, wine store..... Basically, Italian heaven! Mamma mia! What I loved most is when Mario said, "Italian cooking is less elaborate in Italy (than in the US) and that's one of the greatnesses." It is so true! We Americans believe the more the better, the bigger the better... but the simplicity of authentic Italian dishes allow you to appreciate every fresh ingredient infused in the meal. True appreciation. The restaurants sound truly divine.

Let's be honest... Italian cuisine is one of the best out there. No bias... Pizza and pasta? Does it get any better than that? Those are nearly staples in any culture. I think Italian-Americans will find comfort in having this one-stop shop, tourists will feel like they got a taste of Italy in their trip as well, and everyone else can bask in this new experience and have a must-see.

Grazie mille Mario! I can't wait and neither can my stomach! Mmm Mmm goodness.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Fiat 500 Touring Club

My cousin came across this really cute site that organizes tours from Florence through the Tuscany area. This is sooooo ideal! First of all, you get to ride and drive in one of their classic Fiat 500s... The cutest car ever! I love this car and would pick it over a Mini Cooper or Smart any day. =) I mean it's as Italian as you get. =) Secondly, you get to have the experience of riding and driving in a car in Italy, through the mayhem and through the beauty. Thirdly, what is an Italian getaway without experiencing the beautiful Tuscan Hills and going wine tasting and such?

I think this is a great idea and so much better than the huge tourist groups and impersonal charter buses. You can still do those since these tours cover only 1 1/2 to 4 hours of the day but undoubtedly will be the highlight of your day and/or trip.

Check it out!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

To Kiss Kiss or To HUG?

Lately, I have been thinking about my trip back to L.A. and how great it is going to be to see my friends and family again. When I picture finally seeing them, I see myself giving them the biggest hug ever. The tighter the hug, the more I missed them dearly. Hugs make me feel better when I have a bad day, are the most comforting gestures from a loved one, and are simply important to me.

Then that made me do what I love to do best... compare and contrast. Here in Italy, you greet someone with a kiss on the cheek to the right and then to the left... Kiss kiss... Pretty simple and cordial, right? Actually, when I first came here it was out of the norm for me. I felt it to be so intimate to actually go cheek to cheek with someone you barely met. I was so cautious at the beginning - advancing slowly to avoid having a cheekbone collision or suffer from beard prickles. Believe me, not common for Chinese people. =) American traditions call for a simple handshake on first encounter and for good friends a hug, a kiss, or a kiss and a hug combo.

Oh and I can't forget about that huge decision to kiss or not to kiss for someone who is an acquaintance that you have met before and now meet again after not seeing them for a while. Some would kiss, some would not.... It's great when I have someone right before me to make the call, but does this really need to be a huge decision? For Americans, if they aren't close friends, then a simple wave and "hey" would suffice... but here, it's like I don't want to make an.... a derriere... of myself.

The funny thing is, my outlook has completely reversed. I now feel the kiss kiss to be less intimate than a hug. I miss meeting my friends and family after a long time of not seeing them and just giving them a great big bear hug. Then when I come back to Italy after not seeing my family here, I have this urge to just hug them but hold back and give them the normal kiss kiss.

So what's more intimate? What do you prefer? What are you more comfortable with? I guess it is all relative and depends on what you were raised with as are many things... just another hole in the culture shock belt. =)


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Palio di Siena

The Palio di Siena is a horse race held twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th in Siena, Italy. I had the great honor of learning about it while studying abroad in Siena. It is one of the main things Siena is known for, along with it's medieval traditions, tuscan landscape, and chianti wine. Siena is separated into seventeen "Contradas". The contradas are all distinct areas of the city and are represented by certain colors and a mascot. If you visit, you will notice that each area has their contrada flags up and many trinkets are sold all around of the flag, handkerchiefs, keychains, etc. What I loved most is the pride that every contrada had and really put everyone in the competitive spirit. It is almost the equivalent we have for our different schools and sports teams but much more intense as they are all living next to each other. =) True rivalry!

The palio is held in the Piazza del Campo. This area is normally a great spot to relax, have a drink, and people-watch but on these two days, turns into an arena packed with spectators. At each of these two days... only ten of the seventeen contradas compete. They are chosen through a random draw of their "ball" that represents them with their colors. The jockey and horses make three rounds around the Campo and the race lasts no more than 90 seconds. One thing to note is that the race is won by the horse and not by the jockey. So if the jockey were to ever fall off the horse, the horse can still finish the race on its own and win.

For whatever contrada wins, they earn ultimate bragging rights for the year, the craziest celebrations and parades around the town. In fact, there were many times that I would be awaken by contradas marching by, singing and beating their drums and other instruments. A true spectacle!

One of my best memories was when we were invited to a contrada party. We were given one little ball which we handed over to be given a ceramic mug. With this mug, we could drink as much wine as we wanted. Just had to get it refilled every time. It was such a great time. Not just because we drank liters and liters, but the atmosphere was filled with laughter, unity and traditions. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.

My contrada when I lived there was Nicchio. The fighting shell! =) Okay, so it might not sound so fierce, but do not underestimate the strength and pride!. It was great to be part of such great history. Unfortunately, Tartuga won this last one... =(

Siena is truly a unique town and I hold it dearly to my heart. If you ever decide to visit Tuscany, do not miss it.

P.S. To more easily identify with it, it was also shown at the beginning of the 007 movie Casino Royale.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ferra-what? Ferragosto!

Ferragosto is an Italian holiday celebrated on August 15th of every year. Basically, it's a celebration of the middle of the summer and the end of hard labor in the fields from picking tomatoes, fruits and tobacco. Religiously, it is to commemorate the Virgin Mary. This day is spent with family eating away and going on vacation. Typically, Italians take from one week to the whole month of August off around Ferragosto. If you decide to come to Italy during this time, you will find that many stores, bars and restaurants completely close to go on holiday. Great for them, not so great for those not on holiday and needing those places. =)

Personally, I don't mind planning my holidays around Ferragosto to avoid inflated prices and traffic. However, for Italians, this is the perfect time to get away to avoid losing any major business and to escape to the mountains or beaches for some nice cool air. It's a great idea but definitely not something I am used to in the states. Can you imagine a store closing for a month? We have been meaning to re-do our kitchen bar area and now that we decide to move forward with it we can't because there are no local hardware stores open to help us! Yay or Nay on Ferragosto? Good for those who finally can take a vacation, bad for those who want to still be productive. Another reminder from good old Italy to just forget about it and enjoy life. =)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Love Letters to Romeo...or Prince Charming or Bob or hot guy passing by....

So I was sitting and talking with my mother-in-law about the old days and about how a lot of women of her time and before didn't know how to write. And I was absolutely flabberghasted. I am aware that times were different back then, but just the idea of not being able to read some of the most amazing books out there or even to write and express yourself in words seems so suppressing.

She then continued to say that the reason why was because woman were not allowed to go to school in the old days because the men didn't want them to know how to write or else they would write to their lovers. That fact doesn't surprise me but it still makes me shake my head. But it also makes me smirk a bit to see that it was more about men's insecurities than it was about inadequate facilities. I think we would do a lot of good to experience a lot of the simplicities life has had back then and sometimes I wish life could be that simple but let's keep plowing forward with sexual equality. ;)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Random Fact of the Day

Toilet Plunger - 2

Okay, this is as the title says... random. The normal Italian kitchen does not have a garbage disposal. Although this may seem like a frivolous fact, it is also something that is normal for us Americans. I actually miss being able to throw any foods down the drain without having to dump it in the trash and leak and such. Oh wells.... The funny thing is that more Italian families use their plunger in the kitchen rather than the bathroom. They use it to suck up any food that does clog up the drain. On that note, there was one time when we just moved in and our toilet got clogged and we didn't have a plunger. Our neighbor came over, got a mop and stuffed it in the toilet and totally unclogged it with one swift push and pull. Talk about new experiences... =)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Italian 101

Okay folks, don't get confused by my last post... That was "Italy 101" and this is "Italian 101". So I have not lost my marbles... hehe. My good friend, along with anyone else traveling to Italy, should at least know some basic words to help you get by. I think the majority of you can get by with just English since it is the universal language and all major cities are accustomed to the occasional lost tourist, but it is always good to get the basics down... if not for use, but to be more "worldly" and experienced. =)

Italian 101

Who - Chi (kee)
What - Che (keh)
When - Quando
Where - Dove (doh-veh)
Why - Perche
How - Come (koh-meh)

Where is the bathroom? - Dove toilette/bagno? (doh-veh twah-leht/Bah-ngo)
Train - Treno (treh-noh)
Bus - Autobus (ow-toh-boos)
Airplace - Aereo (ah-eh-ree-oh)
Airport - Aeroporto (ah-eh-roh-por-toh)
What time is the train/bus? - A che ora il treno/autobus?
Baggage/Luggage - Bagaglia/Valigie
How much? - Quanto costa?
Hi/Bye - Ciao
Goodbye (formal) - Arrivederci
Thank You...very much - Grazie...mille (grah-zee-eh ... mee-leh)
Excuse me - Scusa
Please - per favore/pia piacere
Help - Aiuto (ai-yu-toh)
Where is Hotel...? - Dove albergo...?
Go - vai
Platform (for train station) - binario (bee-nah-ree-oh)
Straight - Diritto (dreet-toh)
Right - Destra (deh-strah)
Left - Sinistra (see-nee-strah)
Meters - Metri (meh-tree)
Kilometers - kilometri (0.62 miles) (kee-loh-meh-tree)
Euro - Euro (eh-uh-ro)
Sir - Signore
M'am - Signora
Miss - Signorina
Welcome/You're welcome/Enter - Prego
I need... - Ho bisogno di.... (oh bee-sogn-ngo dee)
ATM - Bancomat (bahn-koh-mat)

1 - uno
2 - due (dweh)
3 - tre (threh)
4 - quattro
5 - cinque (cheen-kweh)
6 - sei
7 - sette
8 - otto
9 - nove
10 - dieci (dee-eh-chee)
11 - undici (oohn-duh-chee)
12 - dodici (doh-duh-chee)
13 - tredici (threh-duh-chee)
14 - quattrodici (kwah-tor-duh-chee)
15 - quindici (kween-duh-chee)
16 - seidici (say-duh-chee)
17 - diciasette (dee-chuh-set-teh)
18 - diciotto (dee-choh-toh)
19 - dicianove (dee-chah-noh-veh)
20 - veinti (vain-tee)
30 - trenta (thrain-tah)
100 - cento (chen-toh)

Okay, I don't want to make this too long or it will be too overwhelming... but I hope this will help you with the basic language to get you through your trip and hopefully you won't be in any dilemma to use it. =)

Buon viaggio!