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I’m happy to report that because the end of the world didn’t come this week, my tour of the Christmas lights in Rome was able to go forward as planned.  In fact, my personal “guide” for the evening had a new prophecy for me:

“I predict you are going to come to Rome very, very soon…and be astonished from the lights all over, thinking it was the effect of that good wine you just had.” 

IMG_1503Maybe it was the wine, or it might have been those sparkling blue and white jellyfish that floated above my head, or the draping of light bulbs that covered an entire boulevard from end-to-end, or the gigantic trees in every piazza…

Whatever the reason, I was totally astonished and also extremely grateful to be here in Italy for this glittery Roman holiday tradition.

Last night Rome was so bright, I should have worn shades.

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by Toni DeBella

 

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It’s already bad enough that I have to be so far away from Italy right now, but on top of that, I’m completely tortured by the separation from the food in her restaurants!

San Francisco is a big, big foodie city known for its fine, cutting-edge dining, exquisite winemaking, and a strong, Italian-American heritage.  Whenever possible, I eat in Italian restaurants but honestly, lately there seems to be something missing.  The Olive Garden just isn’t cutting it for me any more.

Dining in Italy is the sum of its parts; a package deal where food and wine don’t tell the whole story – relationship, personal connection and graciousness are also part of the equation.  When I am in San Francisco it’s not so surprising then, that the places I feel the most comfortable and want to frequent are those owned, operated and staffed by native Italians. Ristorante Ideale in North Beach is one of my favorites. (Read 7 Tastes of Italy).  Owner and Chef Maurizio Bruschi creates a scene that makes the walk through his door, a walk into Rome. 

…and then there was dinner last evening at Ristobar in the Marina District.  The food was amazing in taste and presentation, but the icing on the cake was a personal visit to the table from the new Chef de Cuisine, Michele Belotti from Bergamo – young, talented and an artist with food.  I was transported again…this time just a little farther to the north.

Ristorante Ideale: http://www.idealerestaurant.com/; 1315 Grant Ave, SF 94133 (415)391-4129

Ristobar: http://www.ristobarsf.com/; 300 Chestnut Street, SF 94123; (415) 923-6464 

by Toni DeBella 

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LOOKING FOR WORK IN ITALY:

Background and Education:

University Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Performance (Physical Education – don’t get any funny ideas), Graduate Degree from School of Hard Knocks.

 

Prior Work Experience:

Freelance Legal/Executive Administrative Assistant (yeah, Secretary), Single Mom (yes, it’s a “real” job), Mural/Faux Finishing business owner since 1991, Government Affairs Regulatory Assistant (really), Commercial/Television Actress (yes, really).

 

Recent Work Experience:

Blogger, Freelance Travel Writer, Copywriter, Editor (knows the difference between favorite and favourite), TEFL Certified English Teacher (who isn’t?), Personal Assistant, Olive Oil Sales Rep, Relocation Coordinator, Vacation Concierge, Video Travel Host, and International Pet Escort.

 

Hobbies and Interests:

Italy.  Available Immediately.

by Toni DeBella

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“Nothing is as obnoxious as other people’s luck.”― F. Scott Fitzgerald

Envy is a malicious emotion in which a miserable and narcissistic person craves the misfortune of others and begrudges their success. From the Latin word Invidia, envy is considered so nefarious it’s ranked number six among the Seven Deadly Sins. Some days I admit it – I’m a sinner…I envy the entire population of Italy.  

 “Envy is for people who don’t have the self-esteem to be jealous.”― Benson Bruno

Jealousy, similar to envy, is often defined as “resentment against a rival, suspicion or fear of losing someone or something you love.”  Hummm…

You know, I am not going to allow myself to linger any longer in these emotional black holes.  When I find myself in this unhealthy state of mind, I’ll just remember that the merry-go-round of life spins and spins and there are more than enough brass rings to go around.  I’ll wait and be patient for I am about to come around again for another grab at the prize. Negative moods are neither good for your soul nor your skin. 

Envious or jealous is just no way to be.

by Toni DeBella

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Proper Bathroom Etiquette

I put my euro into the slot at the automatic gate and a high-pitched alarm sounded. The gate wouldn’t open so I started fiddling with the coin return button in an attempt to make the buzzing stop!  Fifteen seconds of that ear-piercing noise brought out the bathroom attendant who shouted at me in Italian to move my bag. “Can’t you see that your suitcase is too close to the gate and that’s what’s causing the commotion?” he growled at me menacingly.

Big Fat Chicken

I’ve never been very good at confrontations; I get really nervous in tense situations, which usually renders me completely inarticulate. If someone is aggressive or mean to me I dummy-up, only to think of a pithy comeback later when it’s too late.

Parlo Italiano un po’

But something strange happens when I speak Italian: my personality changes and my communications become more direct and my tone tougher. Perhaps because my vocabulary is limited I don’t mince words. What finally comes out of my mouth is basic and instinctual. In Italian, I don’t pull any punches.

The change has come…

Without missing a beat or hesitating one millisecond, it came over me — a reaction as natural and spontaneous as I’ve ever had. “Eh, no, non ho capito perche’ il problema non e’ ovvio, SCUSA!” I yelled back at the attendant, adding the appropriate hand gestures for greater effect.  He backed off. Maybe this place is rubbing off on me?

by Toni DeBella

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La Barcaccia, Piazza di Spagna

Rome in late summer can have days so stiflingly and oppressively hot you can think of nothing else but the record high temperatures. Everywhere people are in a fever-induced trance, like melting zombies repeating the same phrases to whomever is within earshot: “Fa caldo!” “E’ caldo come un forno!”. With dead eyes we respond only with a weak, “Si, si”.

I find a small piece of shade near a piazza and sit down on the curb to rest for a minute. The undulating refraction of air rising from the burning pavement creates a mirage. When I stare at one spot long enough, I think I see a figure of the devil forming above a manhole. Hallucination is the first symptom of heat stroke. The soles of my shoes are melting, the mosquitoes that have been gnawing at my ankles have left large red welts on my skin and I’m so dehydrated that my mouth feels filled with cotton balls. Then, not too far in the distance I see it…a drinking fountain! If I weren’t so faint from the heat and humidity I would run toward it like a nomad to an oasis in the Sahara.

Archaeologists believe that the technology for moving water into and around a city originally came from the east, however Romans are unquestionably credited with perfecting the process (i.e., the invention of the aqueduct). This brilliant engineering feat goes unmatched in the ancient world and earned Rome the distinction of having the most available, purest, best-tasting water on the planet. You’ll find Nasone (big nose) fountains scattered throughout the Eternal City – there are about 280 inside its walls alone. On a scorching hot day like this one, all you need to do is simply bend over, stick out your tongue and take a long, cool drink from its glassy stream. L’Acqua di Roma: Liquid of the Gods!

by Toni DeBella

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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.  Trying desperately to keep up with my fellow bloggers (failing miserably), I am reposting this piece from April 2011.  My justification for the short-cut – I am being “Green” – Reduce, recycle, reuse!!!!  Today’s Topic: BUDGET.  Here is TRAVELING ON A BUDGET “ALLA TONI”…

One of my great fortunes in life is having two close friends who work as Flight Attendants for major international airlines.  These two women both collectively and single-handedly enable me to feed my addiction to Italy (or as I sometimes like to refer to it, “my crack”).  The companion fare or “buddy pass”: a way of traveling that is not for the faint of heart.  It requires nerves of steel, the patience of Job, the imagination of Sherlock Holmes, and the ingenuity and resourcefulness of MacGyver.  It also helps to have an innate ability to build alliances and form coalitions with the other “buddies” in line for the few choice “non-revenue” seats.  It’s sort of like “Survivor”, but in an airport.

Companion fares are a fraction of the cost of a regular ticket, but as the old adage goes, “You Get What You Pay For.”  Don’t misunderstand me, I am eternally grateful to my friends for sharing their privileges with me.  However, if you are planning to travel this way you must go in with your eyes wide open and accept its cruel game of “standby roulette”.  I have sat many a time at the gate testing the theory that I can telepathically compel myself onto the airplane by chanting  over and over again “please call my name, please call my name, please call my name” like some twisted mantra, in an effort to will the gate agent, (who’s forehead I have just burned a hole through) to say those seven magic words, “passenger DeBella, please come to the podium”.

Ah, the sweet glory of nabbing a seat in business class from New York to Rome! Warm nuts, champagne, fluffy socks, a blanket made of natural fiber and, the pièce de résistance, a seat that reclines almost flat.  Once you have flown business class, it’s hard to return to coach.  In the back (an airline industry term for “where the losers sit”) I feel like an immigrant crammed into steerage on the Titanic.  Should things go awry, I am convinced any real lifesaving procedures will be afforded to the platinum American Express cardholders first.  But I’m not thinking about that today – today I am one of them.  The cabin crew addresses me as Ms. DeBella.  “Ms. DeBella, what would you like as your entree?” “Ms. DeBella, would you like a warm towel?” “May I get you another pillow, Ms. DeBella?” They don’t call it business class for nothing.

But there’s a dark side to “standby, non-rev” (another airline term for “cheapskates who sponge-off their friends and family”).  I’ve been stranded in Milan for 3 days (my traveling companion was a high-strung, hot-tempered, not-so-easy-going Italian – very stressful!), Rome – 3 days (I finally resorted to tears and someone took pity on me), New York – 5 days (Icelandic volcano eruption – seven million other passengers and me marooned, so I don’t really count that one).  I have slept overnight on a bench in a food court at Frankfurt airport, aligned with 8 other rebuffed “buddies” (we filled an entire B&B in Fumicino, Italy) and naively accepted an offer from Domenico, a complete stranger I sat next to on a flight from Hahn to Campino, to drive me to Orvieto on his way to Viterbo.   He could have been an ax-murderer, but as it turned out, he was a really lovely guy.

The bottom line is I will take the opportunity to travel anyway I can get it.  I love airports – they are happy places for me.  When I am in one I’m either going somewhere far away or returning from a wonderful and unique adventure.  It’s certainly challenging to fly around the world without a structure or a guarantee.  Honestly I sort of enjoy the game – it feels like a test of my character and determination.  Over the years I have managed to overcome a lot of obstacles, so perhaps the hardships make arriving at my destination all the more satisfying.  So, like the title of this blog implies, I will beg, borrow and steal to get where I am going.  Buon Viaggio!

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