Archive for the ‘Living in Europe’ Category
Posted in Americans Abroad, Expat in Italy, Living abroad, Living in Europe, Living in Italy, Orvieto, Travel, tagged duration calculator, Italian time, orvieto italy, space time continuum, travel, When Harry Met Sally on September 2, 2012 | 13 Comments »
One Day – Day 9 of 30 Days of Indie Travel Project
During this entire month of November Bootsnall is inviting bloggers from around the world to participate in 30 Days of Indie Travel : a daily blogging effort to look back on our past travel experiences. I am a bit behind in my efforts but Bootsnall invites everyone to participate in any amount they can. Here is my belated contribution…
If your tour guide totes a long stick with streamers in the colors of the French flag and speaks at you through a microphone transmitted to a speaker in your ear: it’s going to be a run of- the- mill travel day. On the other hand, if Christophe, a former pharmaceutical executive-turned fine art dealer (who knows Paris like the back of his hand), invites you for a spin around the City of Lights on the back of his motorbike: you’re about to have one of the best travel days of your life!
For the record let me say that weaving in and out of traffic on the streets of Paris is definitely not for the faint of heart. Caught off-guard by the unfathomable opportunity presented to me, I jumped at this once-in-a-lifetime offer before really thinking it through. Throwing caution to the wind, I chose to worry about the implications of my decision later. Hey, if things go badly, it would be a chance for me to experience the renowned French healthcare system firsthand.
I gripped the back handles of the bike tightly and attempted to relax as we zigzagged around gridlocked cars and stylishly-dressed pedestrians, ricocheting precariously into the roundabout encircling the Arc de Triomphe (which Christophe claims is the most dangerous place in Paris). We reached the Champs-Élysées alive and cruised down this legendary boulevard towards a day I will never forget. October 6, 2011: My best travel day ever!.
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Posted in Americans Abroad, Expat in Italy, France, Living abroad, Living in Europe, Travel, tagged Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, French lessons, How to be French, How to Become Parisan in One Hour, Montmartre, Notre Dame de Paris, Paris on October 22, 2011 | 15 Comments »
It has been nearly eight months since I’ve last set foot in Orvieto – a really, really, really long time in my book. Each and every visit back to Italy has developed its own particular flavor and personality. This trip took on a special “French twist” because it included a 4-day stopover in Paris.
Paris: The City of Lights.
The Eiffel Tower, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame de Paris, Montmartre, Foie gras, French wine and the pièce de résistance, French pastries. I loved this city from the moment I arrived. Parisians are so sophisticated, elegant, romantic, chic, and very COOL. I wanted to be cool just like them so I decided to become French.
Becoming French is not something you can do overnight — it takes a lot of time and effort. I was fortunate enough to be traveling with my French friend Manuela, staying in the apartment of her friends Christophe and Tiphaine and spending time with JC and Stephanie. I had round-the-clock exposure to daily life in France and I am happy to share with you some of the secrets I have learned.
Introduction: Fake it ‘Till you Make It
The first and most important thing you must do in order to become French is to stop being American immediately! You must hide all the characteristics that would tip people off to the fact that you are from the United States. (You know you’re making progress when someone accidentally mistakes you for a Canadian). It can be challenging, but if you put your mind to it I believe it can be achieved. By reading and following my step-by-step instructions, you too can be well on your way to becoming French, just like me!
5 Easy Steps to “Frenchdom”
Step #1: Shut up about it
If you don’t speak French fluently then don’t talk at all. (For those of you who know me personally, you understand that NOT talking was my biggest challenge). If you want to buy something, just point at it and grunt. Even a simple “Merci” will give you away. Believe me, your rudimentary high-school French isn’t going to help you here – you might as well write “Ugly American” across your forehead in Chanel lipstick, for God’s sake.
Step #2: Enchante`
Greet properly. Never hug anyone! Hugging is a dead give-away that you are American. Give two or three kisses on the cheek. Never shake hands when introduced to a person unless you are in a business setting or you’re meeting President Sarkozy. (I was severely admonished for extending my hand when presented to someone for the first time. Apparently I’d insulted him and had to give him extra kisses to make up for it).
Step #3: Look the part
Wear scarves, dress in all black and be short.
Step #4: Smoke
I know smoking is detrimental to your health and makes your clothes and hair smell bad, but if you don’t, you will be left alone at tables in restaurants while everyone else is outside smoking their cigarettes and having fun. You don’t want that! I am proud to say that before coming to Paris I didn’t smoke at all and now I am up to half a pack a day.
Step #5: Eat, Pray, Gag
In order to survive one must eat. To be French means you will be consuming large amounts of animal organs and garden pests on a regular basis. If you can’t read a French menu you are in serious trouble because you are likely to be served a dish that is made from a lamb’s brain or its intestinal tract. Pouring ketchup over them to mask the flavor will only draw attention to your “Americanism” (See Introduction above). Thank God the cheese and bread in France are second to none. Bon Appetite.
Being the good friend that she is, Manuela could see I was struggling with my “Frenchness” so she enrolled me in an intensive, crash-course entitled “How to Become a Parisian in One Hour?” (Some say this is actually a one-man comedy show, but whatever). It is presented entirely in English because if you speak the French language you don’t need this course — you are probably already Parisian. The teacher/comedian Olivier Giraud, teaches you how to be Parisian in a shop, restaurant, taxi, metro and even in bed! Just as Olivier promised, after the one-hour class/show I was hardly recognizable to my family and friends! I had actually become Parisian in just one hour!
I still love my Italy and will continue to live there. I have to admit that it can be very problematic being French and Italian at the same time. When I returned to Italy, I was quite confused and disoriented. I forgot that I needed to speak louder in order to be heard over the yelling and I’ve caught myself more than once complaining about the perfect Italian weather. Fortunately, I never seem to have trouble adjusting to the sea of devastatingly handsome Italian men. I am so torn, conflicted, and split over these two beautiful countries, but I think I’ve come up with a solution to my dilemma. I will be “married” to one (Italy) and have a “love affair” with the other (France). Isn’t that so French of me?
*”How to Become a Parisian in One Hour?” By Olivier Giraud is playing every Tuesday & Wednesday-8:30pm, Saturday-7pm, Sunday-5:30pm at Theatre De La Main D’Or, 15 passage de la main d’or-75011 Paris-Metro Ledru Rollin L8. Reservations: 06 98 57 45 96 www.oliviergiraud.com
by Toni DeBella
Posted in Americans Abroad, Culture, Expat in Italy, Italians, Italy, Living abroad, Living in Europe, Living in Italy, Orvieto, Rome, Travel, tagged Federico Moccia, Fiume di Tevere, Love in Rome, Ponte Milvio, Tiber River on October 13, 2011 | 2 Comments »
For years young lovers have come to Il Ponte Milvio (Mulvian Bridge) in the north of Rome to declare their undying affection by writing their names on a lock, attaching it to a lamppost on the bridge and then throwing the key into the Fiume di Tevere (Tiber River) below. It’s a iron-clad promise to love each other until the end of time. Eternity ain’t what it used to be!
The bridge started attracting sweethearts to it after the publishing of Federico Moccia‘s popular book and film ““Ho Voglia di Te” (“I Want You”) in 2006. Unfortunately the barrage of locks started to bend the lampposts and the practice had to be limited to steel posts added by the Mayor. When the posts become filled, the locks must be removed to make room for newly-passionate visitors.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times? Along with the City’s reasonable attempt to keep its infrastructure from crumbling under the weight of thousands of metal locks, the solution perhaps mirrors the devotion and commitment of modern couples these days. Happily ever after is hard to come by and having your declaration to the one you adore chopped-off by an orange suited city worker with a wire cutter seems to underscore the changing landscape of amore a Roma.
But being the hopeless romantic that I am, I like to imagine that someday an old couple will walk arm-and-arm across the Ponte Milvio and recall when they too placed a lock on this bridge to commemorate the beginning of their love story. They’ll smile because they’ll know that love can last even when the symbol of that love has long gone.
Posted in Americans Abroad, Culture, Expat in Italy, Italian Culture, Italian-Americans, Italians, italo americano, Living abroad, Living in Europe, Living in Italy, Orvieto, Travel, Umbria, tagged Commissario Montablano, Enrico Papi, Gerry Scotti, Groucho Marx, La Routa della Futura, Learn Italian, Millionario, Pat Sajak, Ryan Seacrest, Television, Tower of Babel, Victoria Silvstedt, Wheel of Fortune, Who wants to be a Millionare on September 24, 2011 | 12 Comments »
“I find television to be very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go in the other room and read a book.” -Groucho Marx
Television as a way to learn a foreign language is by no means a new concept. Since its inception in the late 1940s, newcomers have been using TV as a means to help them absorb their new language, and more importantly, to assimilate into their new culture. The conventional wisdom of linguists is there is no relationship between watching television and mastering a language. I beg to differ. Based on only nonscientific anecdotal evidence (me), I assert that TV watching is a super supplement to other means of learning because it gives the viewer verbal as well as visual cues. You can look at it as a “workbook” in a box. With respect to colloquialisms that are spoken in daily life, what better place to soak up the slang than from a reality show or afternoon soap opera? After all, if it’s your intention to fit-in and become part of your community, you’ll want to become familiar with the common vernacular.
Pantofolaio (Couch Potato) Beware!
Of course, it’s important to take an interactive role in your “boob tubing”. Passively sitting back and letting the information wash over you isn’t going to cut it. Obviously television alone cannot replace formal training in grammar, vocabulary and mechanics. However, if used deliberately and thoughtfully to its optimum potential, TV can be an effective way to enhance your proficiency in three particular areas: pronunciation, commonly used expressions/vocabulary, and popular culture/trends.
Italian All day, Everyday
Wake up and turn on your television set. You don’t necessarily have to be watching it to get the benefit – the background noise of Italians in conversation is seeping in. By bombarding your brain with the spoken word, you can train your “ear” to the musical rhythm/cadence of this beautiful language. Repetitive listening and repeating out loud helps with pronunciation. It’s like gymnastics for your tongue while reminding you the importance of enunciating each and every letter to avoid changing a word’s meaning entirely as in penne (a kind of pasta) and pene (penis). Otherwise, dialogue at the supermarket could get interesting.
Are you Listening to Me?
Eavesdropping in public places – awkward. Watching a talk show in your living room – a much more relaxing way to pick up idioms in context (and with the accompanying hand gestures). Once I’d heard a phase used over and over, I would ask a friend its meaning and how to use it. For example, “Secondo me” came up a lot on political talk shows. I learned it meant “in my opinion/in my view”. Once it made sense to me in its proper context, I could begin using it with confidence in my own conversations.
Around the Water Cooler
You get a pretty good idea of the political climate of the country, its mores, values and attitudes with a healthy diet of current affairs programming. Who and what are in fashion can easily be gleaned from entertainment news and nighttime talk shows.
CATEGORICALLY SPEAKING…Types of Shows that give you the most “bang for your buck”:
#1 – Trivial Pursuit (Trivia Shows)
Millionario is one of my favorites. Gerry Scotti, (the Ryan Seacrest of Italy) hosts this country’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. The beauty of this show is that along with the questions posed to the contestant, you can read the question and possible answers on the screen. Are you a genius in English and Italian?
La Routa della Fortuna is the Italian “Wheel of Fortune”. Enrico Papi is clever and better looking than Pat Sajak, but the real fun is kooky Victoria Silvstedt, a former Swedish Playboy Playmate ( “Vanna White‘s” counterpart). It turns out crossword puzzles are a lot easier in your native tongue. This show is a surprising mixture of trash TV and educational programming rolled into one crazy format. A wacky way to learn vocabulary!
There is a plethora of serial dramas and sitcoms, many imported from America, that are broadcast weekly (Commissario Montablano, CSI, Law and Order, House, Friends, etc.). I discovered that you can set most televisions to the closed captioning mode which allows you to watch and read the programs in Italian at the same time. It really works!
Television Tower of Babel
It all comes down to one thing: communicating. It seems television has become our modern-day Tower of Babel — promoting understanding by uniting people while acting as a sort of cultural equalizer, making the world not just smaller, but downright miniscule. So, stay tuned!
by Toni DeBella
Posted in Americans Abroad, Culture, Expat in Italy, Italian Citizenship, Italian-Americans, Italians, italo americano, Italy, Living abroad, Living in Europe, Living in Italy, Orvieto, Sicily, tagged citizen of Italy, Consolato Generale D'Italia a San Francisco, Contessa Entellina, Corleone, DeBella, How to become an Italian Citizen, Italian citizenship, Italian dual citizenship, Sicily on September 11, 2011 | 14 Comments »
The letter from the Consolato Generale D’Italia a San Francisco arrived in the mail today. The words inside this envelope were a culmination of three long years of hard work and dogged determination:
Dear Ms. DeBella:
“I am pleased to notify you that your Italian citizenship has been recognized and that your certificate(s) have been forwarded to the Italian municipality of CORLEONE (PA) for recording.”
Somehow I envisioned this auspicious occasion much differently. There were times when I wondered if this day would ever come, and if it did arrive I imagined it would be filled with much fanfare, jumping up and down and screaming. Instead it was a quiet moment, a solitary moment — a very personal moment. It was my time to reflect on what it took for me to get to this place: patience, tenacity, belief, humor and a clear intention. August 31, 2011: the day I became a citizen of Italy.
Italian by Blood
Jure sanguinis (“right of blood”) contrasts with jus soli (Latin: “right of soil”) in that citizenship is not determined by place of birth, but by having a parent or parents who are citizens of a nation. In Italy there is no limit to the generations that can obtain citizenship via blood (except for specific constraints which obviously did not apply to me). And because the U.S. and Italy have a reciprocity agreement, one is allowed dual citizenship.
So, after tracking down my grandparents’ birth certificates (likely located in books archived in church basements of Corleone and Contessa Entellina), I gathered together some twenty documents of the birth, death, and divorce certificates for myself and each member of my immediate family. Apostilles and translations into Italian for each followed, along with a list of discrepancies (misspelled names of which there were many). And don’t even get me started about the rabbit-hole that is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security! This portion of the process took a little over a year to complete. Then there was the waiting period — one-and-a-half years to be exact — for the appointment to submit my application to the Consulate.
The procedure was daunting, frustrating and at times discouraging. When I felt like giving up, I thought about the finish line – life in Italy — and it helped to spur me on. I guess if becoming a citizen of a country were easy, then everyone would do it. You really have to want it!
Throughout these three years I’ve been very fortunate to have the support and encouragement of my Mom Nancy, my Dad (from Heaven) Luke, my son Andrew, and my dear friends, both in the U.S. and Italy. But it is my grandparents Jake (Gioachino) DiBella and Emma (Ninfa) Pizzo who deserve my utmost thanks and gratitude, for without them none of this would be possible. In the late 1880s they came to this country as young immigrants from Sicily. They married, worked very hard and raised a family of ten children and “hundreds” of grandchildren. I wonder what they’d think about their granddaughter one day returning to the land they left behind. It appears that the DeBella family, in the not-too-distant future, is about to come full circle.
Posted in Culture, Italian Culture, Italian Superstitions, Italian-Americans, Italians, italo americano, Italy, Living abroad, Living in Europe, Living in Italy, Orvieto, Rome, Sicily, Travel, Umbria, tagged 4-leaf clover, Chinese coin, Contessa Entellina, Italian Superstitions, Judith Viorst, Malocchio, Mati, Palazzo in Orvieto, Palermo, St. Peter's Square on September 3, 2011 | 4 Comments »
I have never been overly-superstitious and take great pride in my healthy cynicism. I don’t throw salt over my shoulder or avoid black cats. As a muralist, I walk under ladders frequently and don’t believe I have ever fallen victim to the evil eye. Thinking or saying something out loud does not make it come true. If it did, I’d be a size 6, rich and living in a palazzo in Orvieto. But I digress.
My grandmother was normally a very serious and solemn woman. One day a year she would transform into a madwoman, wielding a broom and running in circles shouting and screaming like a banshee in an effort to ward off the evil spirits who had apparently taken up residence in our cellar. It was spring cleaning run amok. I don’t know much about the tradition that had this small, fragile and shy lady fearlessly take on a bunch of ghosts in the basement of our house. I wonder if it was folklore passed down from her childhood in Contessa Entellina, a small Sicilian town 80km from Palermo. I did a little research and found quite a few references to sweeping away evil spirits with a broom — a common practice especially among southern Italians, but was unable to find any mention of the “screaming and running around” part. Perhaps that was my grandmother’s own personal stamp on the custom.
A superstition is a belief in something that has no rational foundation in science and is most often based on the prevailing religion or culture that contains these otherworldly beliefs. The word comes from the classical Latin superstitio, meaning “a standing over [in amazement]“. Greek and Roman pagans were believed to have scorned men who displayed a fear of the gods and thus, the behavior came to be referred to as superstition. This could explain why Greeks and Italians are famously known for their mythology and have a common legend in the “evil eye” – Malocchio in Italian, Mati in Greek.
When I wrote earlier that I am not particularly superstitious, I wasn’t being completely honest with you. The fact is that in the last few years I have come to believe a certain necklace I own has developed supernatural powers that, if worn daily, will someday bring me good luck.
It started out as a simple chain with a silver bar hanging from it. One afternoon while in St. Peter’s Square I looked down to see something glittering in the sun. I removed it from between the cobblestones to discover it was a tiny medallion of the Madonna. Convinced this was an omen, I instinctively hung it onto my necklace. A birthday present of a charm with the word “Friend” engraved on it followed — then a Chinese coin and a 4-leaf clover. On one arrival in Rome I wrote the message to my friend Angelo, “Io sono in Italia…mi sento come una farfalla” (I am in Italy…I feel like a butterfly). When he presented me with the gift of a tiny crystal butterfly dangling from a pink heart of course I had to add it to my collection. This “chain of fortune” is getting rather heavy!
Out of the 365 days in a year, I probably wear the necklace 360 of them. The other 5 days I just don’t feel quite right without it. Could I have inherited from Grandma this propensity to make weak associations of cause and effect where there are none? What can I say? I don’t like tempting fate. Writer Judith Viorst said it very well: “Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational — but how much does it cost you to knock on wood?”
by Toni DeBella
Posted in Artists on Piazza Navona, Expat in Italy, Italians, Italy, Living in Europe, Living in Italy, Piazza Navona, Rome, tagged Bernini, Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, Fountain of the Four Rivers, George Bernard Shaw, Massimilliano Balletti, Painters on Piazza Navona, Piazza Navona, renaissance, Rome on August 13, 2011 | 3 Comments »
“A picture is a poem without words.” -Horace
A revolution has been brewing for almost a decade on the Piazza Navona, one of the most famous and historic squares in Europe. Millions arrive to see Bernini’s magnificent Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (The Fountain of 4 Rivers) and to stroll along the road, hoping to acquire an original picture of a Roman scene painted and signed by the artist in front of them. Now the tensions are high: real artist are pitted against counterfeit ones.
“Art is not a thing, it is a way.”- Elbert Hubbard
I can’t intelligently speak to the political or economic ramifications of the most recent decree approved by the City of Rome to regulate painters and street artists on the piazza. What I can say with certainty is that I believe society is obligated to defend those among us who have the ability to suspend reality and, with a brush in hand, transfer it onto a canvas to make a thing more beautiful – to make l’arte. George Bernard Shaw said it best when he wrote,“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
In 2005, the Mayor and Council approved a ban prohibiting any type of commercial activity in the center of Piazza Navona. It was declared that permits would no longer be issued to paint in the city. Then came a resolution to govern the artistic profession, but nothing came of it. Nearly 6 years later the absence of rules means anyone (real artists and fakers) can enter and do what they want. The result has been a dilution of creativity and a strengthening of chaos and clutter. The legitimate are at a disadvantage to the counterfeiters who defraud tourists by peddling reproductions passed-off as originals. But why should the artists, some of whom have been on the Piazza since the 1960s, pay the price for the City’s failure to control those who bring urban decay to this beautiful place? Why should the people who have promoted all that is good about the Eternal City and have contributed to its charm and mystique now be threatened with displacement? Leonardo is turning in his grave!
“No heirloom of humankind captures the past as do art and language.” – Theodore Bikel
What is at stake on the Piazza Navona is the keepsake of a city. Art has defined Italy since the renaissance and just like the oxygen in our atmosphere, civilization and Rome need it to survive.
Photographs by Toni DeBella and Massimilliano Balletti
Paintings by Massimilliano Balletti
Posted in Americans Abroad, Culture, Expat in Italy, Italy, Living abroad, Living in Europe, Living in Italy, tagged Brangelina, Elisabetta Canalis, expatriates, George Clooney, Ketchup, Peanut Butter on August 6, 2011 | 14 Comments »
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author (me) and may not reflect the opinions of the reader (you). There is absolutely no assurance that any statement contained in this article is true, correct or reliable. The opinions are based solely on observation and personal experience. The foregoing is presented from the point of view of the author (me). …”usate il sale in zucca” (an idiom loosely translated means “take it with a grain of salt”).***
The Grass is Always Greener
I want to begin by saying that I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it at one time or another. We really must stop doing it: expatriates sitting around moaning and groaning about how things function (or don’t function) in Italy. First of all, can you imagine how we must sound to Italians within ear-shot of our tasteless and unflattering belly-aching? Openly criticizing the country and people who have welcomed us into their “home” is not only impolite, it’s incredibly tacky. We made a choice to leave our native land and relocate to another, did our research and knew what to expect when we took the leap.
An analogy to illustrate my point: George Clooney has infamously left a long line of beautiful starlets in his wake. Elisabetta Canalis is out and now you are George’s new girlfriend. He is so charming, handsome, rich and powerful. You attend red carpet events on his arm in Versace, appear on the cover of People magazine and spend long weekends on Lake Como with “Brangelina”. Of course he eventually dumps you and deep-down inside you’re not surprised – this is who he is and what he does. Expats in Italy…we knew what we were getting into - Italia is who she is and what she does – let’s lighten up and stop complaining already!
We Aren’t in Kansas Anymore
It’s an exercise in futility to compare our homeland to Italy. Italy is different – isn’t that one of the reasons we decided to pack up and move in the first place? Heinz ketchup, Mexican food, peanut butter – the list of things from home that you can’t get in Italy is as long as my arm (and vice versa, I might add). I’m guilty, I admit it. I’ve been a “mule” for friends – bringing back suitcases full of taco seasoning, ranch dressing, vanilla extract and ibuprofen. Comforts from home are really lovely to have, nevertheless we should try to be more adaptable and use the products available …conform, fit in, go native!
This one is so obvious, I shouldn’t have to say it: speak Italian. When we live abroad of course we gravitate towards a crowd with a common culture and background. I try not to use my English-speaking friends as a crutch to avoid Italian proficiency because I know that I can never, ever form lasting and deep relationships with Italians if I don’t speak their language. Unfortunately there is only one way to accomplish this…open our mouths and talk. My Italian is substandard to say the least and I make errors constantly. I once told a man that my grandfather was born in “coglione” (which means “testicles”). We both laughed until we cried. May I recommend the “Italian by Osmosis” system? Watch weird Italian television, read the local newspaper, listen to pop music on the car radio, try telling a joke in Italian and above all, be willing to feel awkward and sound stupid. Italians are very gracious and will appreciate the effort.
Home is Where the Heart Is
It seems to me that life is full of wonderful opportunities to evolve and expand our horizons. Living abroad is something that takes a certain kind of daring individual with lots of resilience and an open heart. Make fun of yourself and the absurdity of it all. Relax, enjoy, grin and bear it and REJOICE…you live in Italy for God’s sake!
***No actual expatriates were harmed in the writing of this article.