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2.05.2012

Rome under the Snow: What it's Really Like!

The last time it snowed in Rome was back in 1986! So Romans are unprepared, and what happened is what I want to show you here. No photos of the Colosseum or St Peter's under the snow, I'm sure you've seen them on TV. What you're getting is an insider's view!

It all started around 1 pm Friday February 3rd. Looking out the window of my living room, this is what I saw:


Giuseppe (my husband) and I wanted to go to a museum - forget it! We decided to stay home and console ourselves with good food:


Yes, for those of you who think I'm a die-hard beer drinker (because of my post on beer-drinking in Rome), you're in for a surprise! I love wine and this was a fantastic bottle - the last one in our cellar: a Brunello di Montalcino 1981. Yes, that's not a typo... ok, we drank it because it was so old: it needed drinking before going off (actually it was perfect). We had it with a little foie-gras followed by two scrumptious Italian cheeses: an aged Gorgonzola and a moist Taleggio. And with that, a perfect pear:






There's an old saying in Italy: "al contadino non far sapere quant'è buono il formaggio con le pere" (roughly: "don't tell peasants how well cheese goes with pears"). To me, it smacks of a historical example of the 1% showing disdain for the 99%!

By 3 pm, it began snowing real hard:



We heard on TV that people going home that night had been blocked for hours - up to 8 hours on the beltway ("raccordo annulare") circling Rome. Imagine, 8 hours trapped in your car! Many are said to have walked away, abandoning their car and creating a yet bigger traffic jam. That event actually marked the beginning of a wave of protests against the authorities, in particular the Mayor for not having listened to weather forecasts and not heeded the warnings issued by the "Protezione Civile" (the Italian State Agency for Emergency Aid/Protection of Civilians).

That night, that's how our street looked like as we went to bed:


Next morning, our geraniums were buried under some 50 cm of snow and Rome looked like it had moved to Finland:


I ran down to the street and this is what I discovered:


Yes, it was already 11 am, and there had been no attempt to clear the street. No salt, no sand, no shovels, nothing. Some people tried (uselessly) to free their cars:


Motorcycles? Forget them! Here's one girl busy recording with her camera what must be her scooter. Nice color lady!






When I got to Piazza San Giovanni, people stood there waiting for a bus that wasn't coming (they said they'd been there for 45 minutes) and the taxi stand - usually filled with a dozen cabs - was empty except for one daredevil:





He told me he had wrapped a "sock" around his front tires - it's that yellow stuff:





He said it was easy to put on, that it gripped the road pretty well as long as the snow didn't turn to slush. If it did (and now it certainly looked like it would as the day wore on and temperatures went up), it would become ineffective as the slush insinuated itself in the "sock". He assured me he planned to drive very very slowly...

Walking further into Piazza San Giovanni, I was taken by the beauty:





Note that most people walked around in ski outfits. I only saw one lady in a fur coat...And of course snowmen were made left and right, including this one which shows that in Italy, art is never far away:





The young man kneeling behind is (I presume) the artist. And here's a truly spectacular view of the old Roman walls - first built by the ancient Romans and expanded through the Middle Ages:





Walking back home, I noticed the milk truck in front of our neighborhood supermarket:





It got there three hours late! As did the bread. And when I walked in, I discovered empty shelves: no meat, no milk, no eggs. People were assaulting the "gastronomia" counter where they sell select hams, cheese, pasta sauces and the like:


It felt like World War III. Everyone was buying huge amounts, acting as if no truck would ever reach Rome again. Of course, the truck drivers strike last week had already put everyone on edge. And the media later reported that dozens of villages in the mountains were cut off. Actually tens of thousands of people in Italy are going without electricity and water, sometimes up to three days...So Romans are (as always) rather privileged people...

But there's little doubt that the city authorities did nothing to clear up the streets...except for distributing free shovels to the citizens, expecting them to do the work themselves! Here's a neighbor who got one of those plastic shovels, proudly showing off:


And then - this being Italy - he is happy like a kid playing with it, throwing snow at his friends:





Not too much clearing of the sidewalks (though the next day he told me he had helped free several cars)...We had a late lunch and once again resorted to our favorite defense strategy: good food. This time it was sautéed shrimp in a white wine sauce with black olives and cherry tomatoes (if you'd like to have the recipe, click here):


By 3 pm, because this is Rome, the sun was back shining again on the trees in front of our windows:


Emergency over? No, the media warned us that temperatures would drop and we could expect ice. The next morning, Sunday 5 February, some snow had melted away, but much remained and all very icy and slippery:






This guy (holding the yellow shovel and walking away) tried to clear the sidewalk but it was iced over and hard and he gave up before finishing the job.

When I walked in the supermarket to get some bread and potatoes, I was in for a big surprise:


Empty shelves, worse than the day before! No fruits and vegetables, no bread, no milk, no water, nothing. The media are reassuring: trucks should reach Rome by Monday - the only people in trouble (as always) are those in the mountains, without road access, electricity or water...




Meantime, the streets around us continued to be covered with snow and ice with no sign of any help coming from the city authorities. And small wonder: on the 12 o'clock news, I heard a special team of 400 people had been sent out with heavy equipment to clear the football stadium and area around it because of the big Roma-Inter match coming up in the afternoon.

In Italy, your best bet is to be a soccer fan!

For more pictures, go to my Picasa Album: click here.


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2.03.2012

I've just created a QuickQuiz - 5 Questions About Heredity

Fear of the past, anyone? Here's the lion that inspired the first book cover of my Sicilian epic, originally called Fear of the Past and now out with a different cover and title: The Phoenix Heritage. This lion is old, the model goes back to the Phoenicians, it's a typical hieratic Sicilian statue. 

And here's the Quiz I created (linked to the book's central theme):


Click it and play this QuickQuiz now and test your knowledge!


You'll discover that some very famous people were impacted by genetic inheritance, perhaps some you never suspected like Jane Fonda or Queen Victoria

If you're wondering why I picked heredity as a subject for the quiz, that's easy! It's something I've always been fascinated with: the issue of nature vs. nurture. Are we born as a clean slate and therefore become the product of our education and experience (nurture) or have we inherited family traits that determine who we are and how we act (nature)?

Anyone who's read my FEAR OF THE PAST (published in 2011 in 3 installments published as separate ebooks or THE PHOENIX HERITAGE (out in 2012) knows the book is really about the weight of heredity and whether one can shake it off and become free from the past.

We all have seen our parents or grandparents in our children. Don't you wonder sometimes who you really look like? If you look like someone in your family who was a happy, successful person, good for you! 

Suppose you realize you look like a family member who notoriously messed up his life, who had a tendency to love the wrong woman or sink in depression and alcoholism...or worse, committed suicide? How would you feel then? 

In THE PHOENIX HERITAGE, Tony Bellomo, a young Italo-American suffering from burnout undertakes a unique journey into self discovery: he falls in a Time Trap in Sicily (his deceased father's home) and meets the ghosts of his ancestors waiting for Judgment Day. You'd think this is a marvelous opportunity for Tony to learn more about which forebears he looks like and discover who he really is. Most of us can't go back 900 years like Tony... But this very knowledge will torment Tony in the worst possible way. 

Here's the place where he found the ghosts of his ancestors roaming about: the Circolo di Conversazione, a "conversation club": 


This place actually exists in Ragusa. Such clubs existed all over Sicily in the 19th century. The lion I used for the cover is on top of the building:



Here is the inside:


A perfect place for ghosts and a marvelous opportunity for Tony to learn about himself... but  a scary one. He discovers he shares everything - both looks and emotions - with a certain Francis Leckie, an English adventurer who settled in Sicily in the 1800s. An attractive dare-devil and an innovative entrepreneur, alas, he met nothing but failure: he went bankrupt and the woman he loved, the beautiful Duchess of Floridia (a real historical character), left him for another (actually she married the King of Naples in 1814)...

The story unfolds on another, deeper level. Tony worries that his resemblance to the Englishman also marks him out as a failure. Can he avoid making the same mistakes?

The real question is: can Tony play the cards heredity has bestowed on him in a different way? Or is he condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past? 

Do you know anyone who's the prisoner of his family heredity? Is there a way to escape it? Tony, by the last page of the last book has found his way...Find out how he did it and be prepared for surprises: this novel takes you to many unpredictable places and situations!




A KDP Select title, exclusively available on Amazon. Click here to buy

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1.31.2012

Italian Design's Best Kept Secret: How the Old Helps the New

On a recent Sunday evening I was given an unusual insight in what makes Italian design so successful. It happened at the fair for young Italian designers, the A.I.Fair (it stands for Artisanal Intelligence) held on 29 January in Emperor Hadrian's Temple in the suggestive Piazza di Pietra in old Rome.

A eureka moment!

But I didn't know that when I got there with my husband around 7 pm. It was a beautiful night, with a young moon in the clear sky and I felt relaxed and romantic. And mildly curious. Here's the Temple:


Majestic! And here's the entrance, hidden among the ancient columns:


Once in, we were met by a noisy and colorful crowd, with a big video screen at one end of the vast hall:


Lots of stands manned by young people, all showing the most eclectic and inventive array of design and fashion products, ranging from weird hats:


to a variety of rings:


necklaces:


shoes:


Hummm, a bit heavy, those heels...and when I climbed up to the mezzanine that girds the big hall, I discovered amazing dresses like this one:



Later I was told that these were the original dresses used in Piero Tosi's film "Barbarella" that got 5 Oscar nominations. These dresses are usually not shown to the  public, so that was a rare occasion. Then I came across this one: 


Wondering whether this particular one was meant for a one-breast Amazon, I walked over to the balustrade and took a shot of the hall seen from above:


Here you can really appreciate how the "old helps the young": this country has amazing architectural remnants of its long and glorious history that can be used to showcase the work of innovative, young designers. No doubt they're good and inventive, but this kind of environment really helps to set their work off! Old Hadrian called on to support the inventiveness of young Romans...The Temple allure makes the design ideas look elegant and trendy, even if some of them probably aren't.

It's quite a trick to pull off and no doubt one of the elements that help explain the success of Italian design worldwide. Yes, it is one of Italian design's best kept secret: how they are able to exploit the old to the benefit of the new. And of course, how they are inspired by the past to look to the future and invent news ways to do old things.

In one corner of the hall, I came across this surprising stand that confirmed my insight. Here it is:


Set between two small columns, a big "C" on a black background stands out  - the trademark for Archivio Cicconi, a collection of over 7 million photographs spanning the whole of the 20th century. It is reminiscent of Gucci's double "G" but much starker in its simplicity. Next two it are two of the products one young and inspired artist has ingeniously derived from the old photographs, with a process that was in use at the end of the 19th century.

Here's the artist, Edoardo Cicconi:



He explained to us that since these photos are reproduced with a handmade process, no two photos are ever alike, thus ensuring that it is an unrepeatable artwork. And they can be made any size, even big enough to cover a whole wall in your living room!

Here is one, derived from a photograph of models in 1948:



And here's the bizarre zeppelin floating above Piazza Venezia, looking surprisingly ominous:


And here's the most extraordinary of the three - a procession of nuns walking through Rome in 1950, like a black pond filled with white balls:


And here's a close up of the material on which the photographs are printed - 100% cotton and you can clearly see the brush work that leaks beyond the edge of the photo:


There were also other interesting things on the Cicconi Archives stand, like this old camera:


There were piles of their new catalogue - here's the cover:


Gregory Peck in 1959 - on the terrace of the Hassler Hotel, with St Peter's in the background. Inside, lots of American celebrities - including this one of Louis Armstrong and his wife, vacationing in Rome:


And here's Pino er Pasticciere (Pino the Pastry chef) serenading a very young  Ursula Andress:
 
 
We're in 1958...I met Pino at a party many years later (he came to our house in 1986) and he still had a remarkable voice and oodles of charm.

By 8 pm, the fair closed and we were out on the streets hunting for a restaurant. Actually, there were many, and since the temperature was so mild - in spite of this being January - many people were dining outdoors:
 
 
 
I prefer indoors in winter, no matter what. So we walked on and came to the Pantheon:


Turning the corner, on Via del Seminario, we came to this old restaurant (established in 1946) that my husband knew from his Dolce Vita days (!):



He told me their pizzas were excellent, and so they were:

Crisp and tasty - that stuff on the left side of the pizza are zucchini flowers...What struck me though was the fact that this restaurant is still in the hands of the same family. Now the third generation, and still fondly looking after their clients:



The family touch...that's what makes the difference!












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