Archive for the ‘Living in Europe’ Category


This post isn’t about the results of today’s US election. It’s not about Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. It’s not about conservatism vs. liberalism, right vs. left, republican vs. democrat.

It’s about how I’ve come to the shocking realization that I’ve just spent the last year of my life lulled in a Facebook cradle. I let a social media vacuum swaddle me in a gigantic ‘preaching to the choir’ sense of security. I believed everyone was exactly like me when actually I’d just surrounded myself with like-minded people. You can “unfriend” someone, but that doesn’t make them disappear.

I wasn’t paying enough attention to the other side of the aisle. I didn’t engage in any meaningful discussions with people who saw things differently than I did. That’s how I got blindsided.

I was living in a blue bubble.

The wake-up call is quite jarring, but I accept the results of the election and I continue to believe in our system of democracy. I don’t particularly like it right now, but I still believe in it.

Some soul searching is now in order.



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Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m all about promoting my hometown of Orvieto, so I’m absolutely thrilled to repost the following article published today in the The Local Italy! A Rome-based, independent daily reporting/news service, The Local Italy offers English speakers a window on life in the bel paese. The Local is one of the largest English-language news networks in Europe with more than four million readers every month. 

If you’d like to be part of the Local Italy’s community and received daily updates, sign up for their newsletter – you can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks to the Editor and staff of the Local for passing the word about our little slice of heaven on a hill!  – Toni

An Italian hilltop gem: why you must visit magical Orvieto

The hilltop town of Orvieto, Umbria. Photo: Stefano Constantini

An Italian hilltop gem: why you must visit magical Orvieto

Published: 08 Jun 2016 07:00 GMT+02:00

With its rich history – it was an Etruscan stronghold – narrow streets, inspiring views, abundance of places to eat and drink, and friendly locals, Orvieto is definitely one to add to your Italy travel list.

DeBella, a freelance writer, gives us the inside take on what to do, where to stay and, most importantly, where to eat and drink:

Because I live in Orvieto and write a blog named after my obsession with this town, people often ask me to recommend things to do and see on their visits here. In an effort to avoid duplicating my efforts, I began compiling a list – a sort of “The Best of Orvieto” – that I could easily pass along to others.

Photo: Stephen Bugno

It’s not a complete and comprehensive list, but rather a collection of my own personal favourites: Things to see, do, places to stay, where to eat, drink and how to explore.

The beauty of all this information is you’re able to tailor your itinerary to match your time constraints and interests. For instance, if you find yourself only in town for the afternoon, I suggest you go straight to the “must sees”, stopping for a quick bite at a bar, café or gelateria.

If you’re staying for the entire weekend, you’ll have a lot more time to enjoy the region’s famous wines and cuisine. Languishing for a week or more? Take a morning hike around the Anello della Rupe or sign up for an Italian language course. No matter the duration of your stay, I’ve designed this guide in the hope that it will help you to get the most out of your time in Orvieto.

Photo: The Local Italy

Getting here…

Orvieto is located almost smack-bang in the centre of Italy, in the region of Umbria. It sits alongside the Autostrada A-1 (the spinal cord of the country’s highway system connecting Milan and Naples), so it’s easily accessible by car or train (it’s on the regional train line between Rome Termini station and Florence’s Santa Maria Novella).

If arriving by train…

From outside Orvieto’s train station take the funicolare (funicular rail car) that runs every 10 minutes up to town. From Piazza Cahen take the picturesque 15-minute stroll up the Corso Cavour to the historical center or hop on the bus that drops visitors off at the Duomo or Piazza della Repubblica.

If arriving by car…

There are several parking lots in town, but the easiest to access is the Forum Boario, a carpark on the western end of the town, accessible from the Strada della Stazione to Via delle Conce. The covered garage charges a fee of € 1.50 per hour and has an escalator (scala mobile) or elevator (ascensore) up to town.


Photo: Gerdy Ling

Duomo di Orvieto: This 14th century Roman Catholic cathedral is one of the most spectacular and important in Italy. Its Capello di Madonna di San Brizio contains Luca Signorelli’s (c. 1445 –1523) Last Judgment, considered by many to be his masterpiece.

Orvieto Underground: This tour leads you through an utterly fascinating subterranean network of medieval caves, tunnels and Etruscan wells.

Torre del Moro

Photo: Toni DeBella

 The 13th century clock tower chimes on the hour, half and quarter hours, so you’ll never need a wristwatch. Climb the 270 stairs to the top for a bird’s eye view of Orvieto’s terracotta rooftops and surrounding countryside.

Pozzo di San Patrizio (St. Patrick’s Well)

Photo: Emilio Pocaro

Dating back to 1537, the largest of the town’s subterranean wells measures 62-metres-deep and has two spiral staircases, one for descending and one for ascending, that provided residents essential access to the water source at its base.

Crocifisso del Tufo Etruscan Necropolis (Etruscan Tombs): One of only two Etruscan necropolises in Umbria, it dates back to the mid-sixth century B.C. and is an enlightening example of the engineering superiority of this ancient but highly advanced civilization.

Where to stay…

****Hotel Piccolomini, Piazza Ranieri, 36; Email: info@palazzopiccolomini.it; Tel: (+39) 0763 341743; Website: http://www.palazzopiccolomini.it/en/

***Albergo Filippeschi, Via Filippeschi, 19; Email: info@albergofilippeschi.it; Tel: (+39) 0763.343275; Website: http://www.albergofilippeschi.it

B&B Ripa Medici, Vicolo Ripa Medici, 14; Email: ripamedici@libero.it; Tel: (+39) 0763 341343; Website: http://www.ripamedici.it/IndexEng.html

B&B Sant’Angelo, Via Sant’Angelo, 42; Email: info@bborvieto.com; Tel: (+39) 0763 341959; Website: http://www.bborvieto.com/

B&B La Piazzetta, Via Angelo da Orvieto, 10; Email: lapiazzettaorvieto@gmail.com; Website: http://www.lapiazzettaorvieto.it/indexeng.html

B&B Casa Vera, Vicolo Albani, 8; Email: info@casaveraorvieto.it; Tel: (+39) 349.430.0167 – (+39) 347. 811.9725; Website: http://www.casaveraorvieto.it/en/

B&B Magnolia, Via del Duomo, 29; Email: info@bblamagnolia.it; Tel: (+39) 0763.342808 – (+39) 349.462.0733; Website: http://www.bblamagnolia.it/?lang=en

Where to eat…

Photo: Mike Cross

Trattoria La Palomba. La Palomba is a typical Umbrian trattoria with a strong local following that never disappoints. Mention “Silvia” recommended it (an inside joke). Via Cipriano Menente, 16; Tel: 0763 343395 (Closed Wednesdays)

Trattoria Del Moro Aronne. Christian and his family serve food and wine that are out-of-this-world without sending your wallet into orbit. Via San Leonardo, 7; Tel: 0763 342763 (Closed Tuesdays)

Ristorante Capitano del Popolo. Located on the famous square of Piazza del Popolo – once the hotbed of Medieval Orvieto’s civic government (and now the setting for the town’s biweekly, open-air market) – Chef Valentina Santanicchio proudly sources her produce, literally, at her doorstep. When it comes to ‘eating well’ in Orvieto, Capitano del Popolo keeps both your taste buds and your good health in mind. Ristorante Capitano del Popolo, Piazza del Popolo 7/8/9; Tel 320 9287474; Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/capitanodelpopolo/?fref=ts

Bistrotters. Opened in the winter of 2015, this trendy, not-your-average-trattoria-style restaurant has become one of my favorite haunts for dining or enjoying cocktails on their expansive outdoor covered patio (they have heaters in the wintertime). Located on the piazza opposite the Church of San Giuseppe, halfway between the Torre del Moro and the Duomo, it’s close to everything, but also a world away.

Piazza Gualterio, 2, Orvieto; Email: info@bistrotters.it Tel: (+39) 0763.343978; Website:http://www.bistrotters.it/en/bistrotters-orvieto/(Open everday for lunch and dinner)

Pizzeria Charlie. The Poggi family is passionate about pizza and beer. Their beautiful outdoor courtyard is an excellent spot for dining in warmer weather. Via Loggia dei Mercanti, 14; Email: info@pizzeriacharlieorvieto.it; Tel: 0763.344766; Website:http://www.pizzeriacharlieorvieto.it (Closed Tuesdays)

Gelateria Pasqualetti. Made with only the freshest ingredients and natural flavours, it’s considered one of the top gelaterie in the country. Note: Their coffee-flavoured gelato recently won an award in an International ice cream competition. Corso Cavour, 56; Tel: (+39) 329 837 6959

 Where to drink…

Il Vincaffe. A wonderful enoteca with an outstanding selection of regional wines, it’s a great place to meet friends for an aperitif or to enjoy a light dinner. Via Filippeschi, 39; Email: info@ilvincaffe.it; Tel: (+39) 0763 340099; Website:http://www.ilvincaffe.it (Closed Mondays)

FEBO – Officina del Gusto.

Coffee at FEBO. Photo: The Local Italy

This cute and cozy spot has a café upstairs that serves lunch and dinner. I go there so often in the mornings that I no longer need to bother ordering. I just sit down and my caffe latte arrives at my table – perfect as always! Ah, to be a local. Via G. Michelangeli 7; Email: febobistrot@gmail.com; Tel: 0763 341057; Website:http://www.officinafebo.it/

Blue Bar. During the winter of 2008/2009, this was my living room. Owners Romina and Anthony’s little bar is a favourite of the ‘young crowd’ (and those of us who want to sit in their quiet salon and work on their computers without being glared at). The most recent addition to the Blue Bar family…their son, Leonardo! Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 23 (Closed Sundays)

Caffe Cavour. To say this bar is ‘family-owned and operated’ would be an understatement. Roberto, his wife Luigia and their sons Simone and Giacomo work this brightly lit, warm-welcoming bar like it was part of their home. Offering outdoor seating on “The Corso” in warmer months (located just down from the intersection of Corso Cavour and Via del Duomo) and in a back room all-year-round, they not only serve coffee drinks and cocktails, but light meals and a great aperitivo as well! Corso Cavour 74; Tel 340 644 9360; Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Caffè-Cavour-1475679886059292/?fref=ts

Caffe ClanDestino. Right on the main street, you can sit at bistro tables underneath umbrellas for prime people watching. Corso Cavour 40; Email: caffe.clandestino@facebook.com; Tel: 0763 340868

Festivals and special events

Natale in Orvieto. Holiday time is my favourite season in Orvieto. There are free pop-up concerts galore and white lights strung on practically every street and lane. Magical.

Umbria Jazz Winter. One of the most important jazz festivals in the world, it takes place annually in late December to early January.

Corpus Domini. The Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena in 1263 prompted the construction ofOrvieto’s Duomo and established the Feast of Corpus Domini. Each summer the city commemorates the feast with a procession of over 400 costumes representing the municipal courts of the time, coats of arms, colored flags, armor, weapons, and helmets signifying Orvieto‘s military strength of that era.

Slowing it down

Orvieto has such a rich history – once Etruscan, then Medieval and now a vibrant, modern small city always buzzing with excitement, art, culture, music, food and wine. But it also offers a slower, peaceful pace that makes visitors feel as though they’ve stepped back in time…if only for a little while.

Toni DeBella is a freelance writer living in Orvieto. Her blog, Orvieto or Bust, is a collection of stories of a life in Italy.

For more news from Italy, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.it)

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Death Logs In is the second book in E. J. Simon’s techno-thriller crime series. The first, Death Never Sleeps was published in 2013 and rose to #2 on Amazon Kindle, as well as appeared on numerous bestseller lists in the U.S. and abroad. Initially self-published, Simon/Zef began publishing Death Never Sleeps after it moved over 80,000 copies in its first year.

Unfortunately, I was unable to read the first book in the series because both copies mailed to me never reached my home in Orvieto. Ahhh, the Italian postal service…talk about a shady organized crime syndicate!

Death Logs In book cover

“Some of the most powerful people in the world want to kill Michael Nicholas. Only his brother, Alex can save him – the problem is that Alex is dead. It’s been almost a year since Alex Nicholas, a Queens based underworld Boss, was gunned down. After Alex’s brutal murder, Michael inherited not only his brother’s business – but his enemies. Michael is now a key player in a world he once feared. By day, he is the head of a Fortune 500 company by night, the CEO of Tartarus, one of the worlds largest illegal gambling operations.” 

Review of Death Logs In….

Thrillers and crime novels aren’t really my thing, but I wanted to keep an open mind as I began reading E. J. Simon’s newest novel, Death Logs In

Death Logs In has all the makings of a great crime/mob thriller. There’s protagonist, Michael “just when I though I was out, they pulled me back in” Nicholas – a reluctant gangster who was left to run his brother’s gambling empire after his death. Sindy Steele is a femme fatale bodyguard with more secrets than the Vatican has gold leaf, and Michael’s wife Samantha, who likes to shop but doesn’t much care for Michael and Sindy’s business association. The cast of characters are rounded-out by two meathead bookies from Queens, a whiney but deadly assassin stuck in exile at one of Rome’s finest hotels, and a gaggle of high-powered Catholic priests whose dealings have nothing to do with “God’s work”. It’s The Godfather-meets-Goodfellas-meets-The DaVinci Code

I had some trouble, initially, getting past the artificial intelligence premise on which the story is based. To be fair to the author, I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic – especially when it comes to future shock/conspiracy theories. If a Stephen Hawking had come to me personally to explain “AI” principle, I might be more receptive to the idea…but then again, maybe not.

The improbable plot aside, I also struggled with the schizophrenic quality of the storyline. Locations changed and jumped around a lot and some chapters were way too short, making the plot extremely difficult to follow. The sanitized dialog stuck out like a sore thumb – not one single F-bomb in a book full of mobsters? A novel about a criminal underworld should have a little edge.

Finally, the world-class destinations such as New York, London, Rome and Paris were underused. Scenes were invariably set inside restaurants, bars or hotel rooms instead of taking the reader on a clandestine gondola ride on the Grand Canal, a car chase through the streets of Rome, or a cliff-hanging murder scene atop the Eiffel Tower. It might have been contrived and cliché, but at least it would have been fun.

Regrettably, Death Logs In is a book I’m less than enthusiastic about. In my opinion, the author didn’t take the story of racketeering and church corruption quite far enough. But as I said earlier, crime thrillers aren’t really my thing…they could however, really be yours.

Meet the Author: 

E.J. Simon photo

E.J. Simon was the CEO of GMAC Global Relocation Services (a division of GM) and the Managing Director of Douglas Elliman, the largest real estate company in NY.

He is a consultant to many leading private equity firms and has held senior level positions at prominent financial services companies.

He is a world traveler, food enthusiast and lives in Connecticut.Death Never Sleeps is his first novel. His second novel, Death Logs In, will be available in October 2014.

Connect with him:  Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter



Where to buy the book:


Barnes and Noble

Chapters Indigo

Death Never Sleeps – Amazon.it / Amazon.fr

Death Logs In – Amazon.it / Amazon.fr

TO READ OTHER REVIEWS OF Death Logs In click on the links below.

Tour Schedule:

Dec 12 – Monica Cesarato – review Death Logs In

Dec 17 – The Good Life France – review of Death Logs In / author interview

Dec 17 – Curiosity and a Carry On – review of Death Logs In

Dec 22 – Why Roam? – Book Spotlight / guest post

Dec 29 – The Good Life France – giveaway

Jan 5 – Young in Rome – review Death Never Sleeps

Jan 7 – Orvieto or Bust – review Death Logs In

Jan – Young in Rome – review Death Logs In

Jan – The Venice Experience – review Death Never Sleeps

Jan – The Venice Experience – review Death Logs In

Jan – Erica Firpo – review Death Never Sleeps

Jan – Erica Firpo – review Death Logs In


Italy Book Tours Logo jpeg 225 pixels

Italy Book Tours gets books in the hands of readers who love everything Italian. They offer professional virtual book tours to authors and publishers whose books are set in Italy, have an Italian theme, are written by an Italian author or translated from Italian. For more information you can contact Laura Fabiani at http://www.italybooktours.com.

 by Toni DeBella

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60 days, 8 weeks, 1440 hours, 86,400 minutes and 5,184,000 seconds…

Everyday I obsessively enter my impending departure date into a duration calculator, but strangely the “days remaining until I arrive in Italy” number never seems to decrease. Time is not just dragging, it has come to a screeching halt and I’ve begun to wonder if my new life in Orvieto will ever begin? I fear I could be trapped in some kind of weird vortex or bizarre Italian space-time continuum!

Harry’s touching sentiment in the film, When Harry Met Sally echoes my own:

“…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone (or, in my case, somewhere), you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

Unfortunately like a pot, a watched country never boils.

by Toni DeBella


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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!.

Photographs  by Manuela Calvet and Toni DeBella

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by Toni DeBella

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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 super 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 friend Manuela, staying with her friends, Christophe and Tiphaine, and hanging out with JC and Stephanie: all Frenchies to the hilt. I had round-the-clock exposure to daily life in France and am happy to pass along some of the secrets to be French that I 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 characteristics that would tip people off that you’re from the United States. (You know you’re making progress when someone accidentally mistakes you for a Canadian). It can be quite 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 may 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 speak at all. (For those of you who know me personally, that was the 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’re not from around here. Give two or three kisses on the cheek; never shake hands when introduced unless you’re in a business setting or meeting the President of France.

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 smoke you’ll be left alone in the restaurant while everyone else is outside smoking cigarettes and laughing. You don’t want that! I’m proud to say that before coming to Paris I didn’t smoke at all and now I’m 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’re likely to be served a dish that is made from lamb’s brains or its intestinal tract. Pouring ketchup over them to mask the flavor will only draw attention to your “Americanism” (See Introduction above). Thank goodness cheese and bread in France are second to none. Bon Appetite.

Parisian “CliffsNotes”

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 a one-man comedy show, but whatever). The lesson is presented entirely in English because, if you speak the French, you don’t need this course – you’re probably already Parisian. The teacher/comedian, Olivier Giraud, teaches us 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!

En Conclusion

I still love 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 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. I’m 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

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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 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.

by Toni DeBella

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“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’s no relationship between watching television and mastering a language.  I beg to differ.  Based on only nonscientific anecdotal evidence (me), I assert that watching TV 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 everyday life, what better place to soak up 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 and vocabulary.  However, if used deliberately and thoughtfully, TV can be an effective way to enhance your proficiency in three particular areas: pronunciation, commonly used expressions/vocabulary and popular trends.

Italian All day, every day

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 and cadence of this beautiful language, and repeating words and phrases out loud helps with pronunciation.  It’s like gymnastics for your tongue – reminding you of the importance of enunciating each and every letter to avoid changing a word’s meaning entirely, i.e., penne (a kind of pasta) and pene (penis).  Otherwise, dialogue at the supermarket could get pretty 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 that 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?

#2 -Games People Play (Game Shows)

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!

#3 – Series, Seriously (Episodic Series)

There’s 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 that works to promote understanding by uniting people while acting as a sort of cultural equalizer. TV can make the world seem not just smaller, but downright miniscule.  So, stay tuned!
by Toni DeBella

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The letter from the Consolato Generale D’Italia a San Francisco arrived in the mail today. The words inside the envelope were a culmination of three long years of hard work and dogged determination: 31/08/11 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 a 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 is 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 rather by having a parent (or decendent) who is a citizen of a nation. In Italy there’s no limit to the generations that can obtain citizenship via blood (except for specific constraints which did not apply to me). Furthermore, because the U.S. and Italy have a reciprocity agreement, one is allowed dual citizenship.

After tracking down my grandparents’ birth certificates (likely located in books archived in church basements of Corleone and Contessa Entellina), respectively, I gathered together some twenty other documents (i.e., birth, death, divorce) for both myself and members of my immediate family. Translations and Apostilles followed, along with a list of discrepancies and misspelled names (of which there were many). And don’t even get me started on the rabbit hole that is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security! This part  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 an appointment to personally submit my application to the Italian 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 — which helped to spur me on. I suppose that if becoming a citizen of a country were easy, everyone would do it. You really have to want it!

The Gift

I Nonni DeBella, San Jose, California

Throughout these three years I’ve been fortunate to have the support and encouragement of friends and family, both in the U.S. and Italy. But it was 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 hard, and raised a family of ten children. I wonder what they would have thought 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.

by Toni DeBella

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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.

Superstitious Minds

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

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