Mar 29, 2010

I can't help but compare things between America and Italy. It usually occurs of course, when I find myself thinking something should happen in a certain way and it doesn't. What am I talking about?

Okay, for instance, A was buying a magazine for which he has a subscription and I asked why. He said it didn't arrive in the mail. Naturally, I wondered why he didn't call the company and tell them it didn't arrive and have a replacement sent. Apparently he has had this problem in the past and they just tell him it's been mailed, end of subject. Tough luck. Ciao.

I know I've been able to call on my US subscriptions and Customer Service took care of of my problems. Either the missing issue was re-sent or the subscription was lengthened to make up for the lost month.

Then I realized what is really missing here...because this is not just an issue with magazines, but with service in general. Perhaps there is not enough competition to force companies to up their customer service levels, but service is definitely lacking.

What a strange thing, because once upon a time, service was paramount. As well as trust and working on an honor system. Personally I think that good service is being ruined by the introduction of the big companies, the large commercial centers and supermarkets. They don't HAVE to give good customer service because their one stop shopping offers a convenience that will draw people no matter what. Too bad.

I am one for convenience but I have this strong desire to go shopping at all the little stores instead. I like the personal attention and the customer service and I hate seeing the little businesses, that is so much a part of my image of Italy, go out of style.

Mar 26, 2010

Crazy March Weather

March isn't leaving much for April and its showers. A slight drizzle on Wednesday deepened into a shower by Thursday, that became a torrential downpour by Friday afternoon. I had driven to nearby (a geographically lower) Grignasco and missed this at home.


Note that plant, the lemon plant that is sitting in the driveway? We had only just put it out to get some rain, thinking the temps had begun to rise. And then it goes and hails.

Mar 24, 2010

Cooking show fires cook over Italian delicacy

At noon every day there is a cooking challenge, La Prova del Cuoco, where two cooks prepare their dishes in an alloted space of time. The hostess converses with each as they go through the steps before the on-show cook  judges the entries. Many times a wine connoisseur appears with suggestions for appropriate wines.

Beppe Bigazzi was a regular on the show, preparing various dishes and giving cooking pointers, up until the other day when he, out of the blue, started talking about a particular Tuscan delicacy. Stewed Cat. I am sure it came as a surprise to everyone...well, certainly for the hostess!

Someone was kind enough to put up a translation so you will understand what they are saying.

The Australian covered the story here.

Mar 16, 2010

Amici and America

I am almost in tears tonight. I am watching the transmission "Amici" which is a talent competition for both singers and dancers. It starts the season like a reality show where you see and hear all the behind the scenes commotion. I begin watching when the contestents are weened down to the final few and it's just the competition .

It's very much like American Idol where contestants are often noticed by recording companies and futures are made. On Amici, many a performers's dream materializes and just this moment, two dancers... two exceptional dancers...have been offered a year contract with a couple of American companies for the following year beginning in June. It's not even the finale tonight.

Both companies came to the show as guest company artists to perform with one of the dancers as they competed. At the end of their routines, the show made the announcement that Elena D'Amario and Stefano de Martino have been offered  contracts with the David Parsons Company and Desmond Richardson's Complexions respectively.

I can't help but feel happy that these two young people have had a helping hand to get ahead and continue with their hearts desire.

Mar 10, 2010

Meridian Line, Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli

Back in the day of Pope Clement XI, this larger than life sundial was constructed in the Basilica on the property where the southern facing Roman baths were already in place. Part of the reason was to have a Meridian line in Rome that was as important as the one already constructed in the Bologna's San Petronia Cathedral by Cassini. (Nothing like following the Joneses.)

Francesco Bianchini completed the task in 1702 and the Meridian was used to accurately predict Easter as well as to check the accuracy of the Gregorian reformation calendar.

Up high in one corner, sunlight enters through a small hole and falls along a line of bronze embedded in the marble floor that runs diagonally for about 147 feet. Figures of the zodiac decorate its edges.

I walked out of this place marvelling at how some minds work. My rusty little head can't get the grasp of some very simple mathematics...far less to think of measuring something abstract like time or for things that don't yet exist!


Mar 8, 2010

Agriturismo Il Cavenago, Ghemme Italia

Yesterday we woke up to another snowy day, right after we'd put out our more fragile plants for a nice sunning and then killed them. It seemed a good enough reason to go in search of comfort food and we headed for the Cascina Cavenago or Agriturismo Cavenago owned by the Martinoli family of Ghemme.

The Castle's summer look

The property, and old castle, stands on a little hill overlooking the town itself with acres for animals and kids to run rampant. Tall iron gates opened into a courtyard surrounded by high walls and filled with antique machinery that once mashed grapes to a pulp. Ancient tools were loaded into old shelving: all incredibly fascinating and if it weren't so cold and I wasn't so hungry, I'd have looked them all over.

We were lucky, there was just one table left. I'll highly suggest making a reservation here because the food was delicious, the ambience was that of the old world, with richly woven floor to ceiling curtains gently swagged around doorwarys and the enormous mouth of a fireplace yawning at one end of the room.

It was the little details that made this place a delight, the parchment menu on the table, the dishes and their placement, the wine, the service, the decor. It all added up to make Sunday lunch an amazing experience and a delight. We are certain to go back again.

And if you want to stay? Here is an idea of what you might be in for. Check out their site at Il Cavenago

Here is their Cavenago site...and  you can even stay here too if you fancy it. 


Mar 6, 2010

Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli

Basilica of Saint Mary and the Angels and Martyrs at the Piazza della Repubblica in Rome.

Photo by Ricardo André Frantz

We took a quick weekend trip to Rome, taking the high speed Freccia Rossa train from Milan. On one of our aimless walks, just following distant monuments and signs, we passed the Piazza della Repubblica and the nearby Basilica. It is another monument that testifies to the genius of Michaelangelo. Luigi Vanvitelli was another contributing architect and Igor Mitoraj, a Polish sculptor, created the bronze doors in 2006. 

A sense of the Basilica's grandeur


Mar 3, 2010

60th San Remo Music Festival 2010

This is my second year experiencing the popular San Remo Music Festival and I was propelled to attempt to understand the process better. Why? Because two of the three winners had been eliminated during the first two days of the competition!!! I guess only in Italy can two booted contestants find their way into the winner's circle.

The week following the competition you couldn't turn to a single channel without hearing something about the oddity of the winning three and the assumption that the show had been set-up. I just can't get over the fact that if a person is voted off, why are they allowed to continue competing?

The "winners" are:
1. Valerio Scanu with "Per tutte le volte che..." (For all the times that...)
2. Pupo, Emanuele Filiberto and Luca Canonici with "Italia amore mio" (Italy my love)
3. Marco Mengoni with "Credimi Ancora" (Believe in me still)

Valerio Scanu (eliminated in the second round but wins the title)

Pupo Filiberto and Canonici (eliminated in the first round but comes in second)
I can't find a video clip of their stage performance now. There are only parody after parody of this group's performance online. Italy is having fun at their expense! And some make it very obvious that a portion of the song copies the beginning bars of "Somewhere over the Rainbow".

Just about everyone considers Emanuele Filiberto to be an idiot or as they like to say here, un cretino. He is known as the Prince of Savoy, whose family had been exiled from Italy generations ago, who was allowed back into the country in 2002 and who has had the audacity to ask the State to pay him 90 million euro in financial damages for having suffered moral injustice during his exile). I like the sound of cretino, especially when you roll the "r" a lot.

The trio sings about believing in Italy, on working, in justice, tradition, believing in religion and Italy's culture, on ideals and how much Italy is their love.

Anyway, he can't sing for anything and in an interview after San Remo, he publicly announced that he will quit. Will he be a man of his word?

I think it is an interesting reaction on the part of the orchestra at the finale, that when the group announced as a finalist, the orchestra crumpled up their music sheets and threw them onstage.

Marco Mengoni (shame he wasn't just competing against the contestants, but against the powers that be)

Apparently after the third round, when Scanu sang his song as a duet with the very current and popular Alessandra Amoroso, he got voted back into the contest. Now who exactly were they voting for? Him, who is in the contest or her, who is the guest? But my question still remains, why was he even there on the third night.