Monday, 31 August 2009


Saturday I went early morning grocery shopping and then came home, we had lunch and then went down on the number 62 bus to the Vatican Post Office. This bus starts at Piazza Bologna not far from where we live and comes down Via Nomentana across the city walls at Porta Pia and then on to Piazza Barberini and across down to the Tiber, as you cross the river on one of the many bridges this one to King Vittorio Emmanuelle II, on the one side you have Castle San Angelo, in front of you is the ceremonial Via della Conciliazione flanked by the different Embassies accredited to the Holy See and Palaces of the great families of Italy, at the end of which looms larger than life St-Peter's Basilica. Will had to mail a few things and being that Divine Providence works there, you know your mail will be delivered, unlike Post Italia where you do not know if or when it might get delivered.

On the way out of the Vatican Post Office which is snug between the great wall that runs along the Borgo neighborhood and the great colonnade of Bernini we went into the Piazza, it was strangely deserted, there could not be more than maybe 300 people, given the size of St-Peter's square, it looked empty. We crossed the Tiber river and returned to Piazza Venetia and again very few people around. The steps up to the Campidoglio, usually clogged with people, no one in site, strange for 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon. So we went shopping for clothes, fall and winter fashions are out. Will bought me a beautiful wool sweater at La Rinacente. You have to be careful in Rome buying clothes, so many cheap Chinese imports now masquerading for Italian fashion.
Even when they tell you it is made in Italy its not, what they mean is that it was sown together in a sweat shop in Italy by Chinese workers. The Mafia brings in container loads of pre-cut clothes each week through the Port at Naples illegally. We then went to our favorite ice cream shop near our house and got ourselves granita of watermelon, it was 34C Saturday, the granita was cold and sugary.

Sunday, we invited a few colleagues for lunch and Will made his famous signature Polenta crust plumb tomato and rugola pie.
We had a salad and chicken filet in lemon juice and for dessert white peaches cut up and served soaking in a glass full of white wine, that is an old Italian dessert and so refreshing.

On Sunday night, all our neighbors arrived back from their summer vacation at the same time, yes today is back to work, school starts on the 3rd. Already the city is more noisy and the gentle wailing of the ambulances going to the Polyclinico Umberto I are more frequent, parking is a little more difficult and yes some people have started to block sidewalks with their cars, etc....Ah! Rome, no wonder funny things happen on the way to the Forum.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

This and that

In Rome we have a few Chinese restaurants, some combine Chinese with Japanese and do a bad job of both.
The usual complaint is too much MSG which gives you dry mouth, a light head and or a bad headache for a few hours.
I avoid Chinese restaurants in Rome because after eating Chinese cuisine in the PRC it is difficult to find anything well done elsewhere. There is one restaurant near the Office, they do both Japanese and Chinese, the decor is typical ticky tacky Chinese decor, the service is surly, the staff speak neither Mandarin nor Cantonese, it seems more like another dialect from southern China possibly Fokkien. I cannot imagine their lives being terribly interesting in Italy, not much room is made for anyone who is not Italian or Italian speaking. They do speak Italian but just enough to take orders and that's it. I often think that their world is a lonely ghetto existence within their own community.

There is one restaurant on Via Cavour near the Roman Forum, know as a Gay Chinese Restaurant, the only one of its kind in Rome. Again weird Chinese decor, which is supposed to please the white folk who eat there. When you enter the restaurant the Hostess who is always in a state of excitement, will decide if you go left or right in the dining room based on if she thinks you are gay or not, it seems to work somehow and the patrons find this hilarious. The food is not bad but it is Italianized Chinese meaning without spices and fairly bland. There are a couple of Japanese restaurants but I have not gone to any of them yet. Though I read recently that Japanese tourism to Italy is down 50% in the last 12 months to 1.5 million visitors, due to a series of scandals involving restaurants and bars in Rome and elsewhere overcharging for meals and drinks. One restaurant charged a Japanese couple 700 Euros for lunch, the actual price of their meal was 40 Euros. The Minister of Tourism apologized to the couple in a Japanese newspaper for this incident and offered on behalf of the Italian Government to pay for their next vacation in Italy, they declined the offer. Japanese tourist spend a lot of money in Italy but there is no appreciation for their value as clients and visitors. Other tourist on Via Veneto have also been the target of such scams, usually it happens in high end restaurants and bars.

I was just reading that Chris Brown 20 yrs old the ex-boyfriend of Rihanna 21 yrs old singer from Barbados has been sentenced to physical labour and probation for 5 yrs with counseling over his anger issues. Now I do not know who these two people are but according to Yahoo news they must rank on the same level as Bill Clinton or other world leaders and their lives are fascinating apparently. What struck me as funny was the fact that a record label owner and a pastor had written letters of support on his behalf to the Judge at sentencing. His career is over apparently and Rihanna thinks the punishment was too harsh, though he beat her up at least 3 times according to police reports. She appears to suffer from low self-estime. Brown blames his family for the violence he saw as he grew up, he appears to have lack maturity issues.
But why is it that each time one of those so called celebrities get in trouble, a pastor will pop-up as if that is the cure all.

Who will believe that Chris Brown found religion all of a sudden, pastors are a dime a dozen, you probably can rent one before sentencing in the hope of influencing the judge, a bit like the Twinkie defense.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


These last days of August are quiet ones in Rome, living outside of the immediate centre, just outside the Aurelian walls of the Eternal City, no tourists in sight, though there are things to see here too, but not so well known. Quiet residential neighborhoods were people live and work like in any other city, lots of dusty parked cars left by their owners while they are away. Everyone is gone or almost, some have started to return, come next Monday, all will be back to the routine, Romans call it the new Season, in French it is Le debut de la saison, meaning a new social year.
Will go back to a more formal wardrobe for the fall, light grey suits, tie and jacket, the heat wave is passing. No more short sleeve shirts or open collar shirts, no more casual looks. Here the last photos of this summer in a quiet Rome.
Photos taken in the afternoon around the area of Via Regina Margherita, Via Nomentana and Via Alessandria

Monday, 24 August 2009


Since we returned from our sea side vacation, Will has been busy cooking, first he made his signature dish, the Polenta and rocket crust tomato basil pie. Made with cherry tomatoes, it is very good and so nice as a starter for dinner. Tonight he made with more tomatoes, a garlic tomato soup, usually served hot but this time he wants to try it cold. I am sure it will be nice, it is far too hot to eat hot soup right now. But the cold soup I really want him to make is the Curried Zucchini soup with buttermilk, absolutely love that recipe. I don't think we can find buttermilk in Italy but I am going to ask at the office if anyone knows what it is called or then we can substitute if need be.

Now all the new colleagues have arrived, summer is almost over. The colleagues are all agog with the city, I tell them wait you'll see. Rome is a little busier this week, but still very quiet, next week school starts and everyone will be back on the same day, magically the roads will choked with traffic and noise, no parking anywhere available, not the good kind of magic. Anyway that is Rome, not the majestic Eternal city of Augustus but the crazy bag lady pushing her cart full of priceless memories.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Ms. Cuddles

Our little puppies are growing and now this week they are at the 6 month old mark. Eleonora aka Nora or Ms.Cuddles is near her first heat and Mr. Nicky is very interested but she is not and has been beating him up, sort of play like and he whines, she growls.
On Friday morning she is going to the Vets to get fixed. We do not want puppies and litters and all the responsibility that comes with it. We also did not want to have Nicky fixed because the consequence on a male dog in terms of change of personality etc.. are far more apparent. So I called the Vet this morning and arranged it all.
Nora is so cute and loveable, though it is a routine practice we are anxious about it.
Here are two pictures of them, one taken 4 months ago and one taken 2 weeks ago in the morning sun light. Nora has this far away look, while Nicky is sniffing her head.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Some wines

Italy is always thought of has a great wine country, in fact it is not or I should say it was not until about 25 yrs ago. When we first arrived in Rome we took some wine appreciation courses at the Wine Academy of Rome on the Spanish Steps. The sommelier of the Academy gave us a history of wines and their evolution in Italy. Romans in antiquity drank a lot of red wine, it was heavy and high in alcohol more than 16% in volume and was fermented in clay amphoras which gave the wine a very distinct earthy taste. People then would dilute their wine with water so it could become drinkable. For today's wine drinkers it would probably be undrinkable, too heavy and too pungent as a red wine, there was no white wines and no rosé back then.

Then wine continues to evolve but the technique to making wine did not change much for centuries in Italy, amphoras were used for a long time but with time oak casks started to appear has taste changed. But red wines dominated the scene because everyone could make it at home in the countryside, it was cheap and available to all. The Nobles of course wanted better for their table and this is what moved things along. The great wines though start to appear only in the 1970's when producers started to compete in Europe with other producers and also started to improve on the making of white wines. It was a process of refining and improving the wine making techniques. Italy now has great red wines and white wines and it is not the old cheap Chianti in the funny glass bottle you could stick a candle into once you had drank the contents.

So while we were in Pesaro, we visited an Enoteca called Pane al Pane, Vino al Vino in the old town in Palazzo Gradari, it is located in the cellars of the old Palace on Via Rossini near the Cathedral, they also occupy the courtyard of the palace and you can have a glass of wine with some olives and charcuterie. The owner showed us around and we bought a selection of white wines from Le Marche region, very nice wines produced locally, you cannot always find wines from all the regions in Rome's Enotecas unless you go to Tremani or to some large wine dealer and even then there is no guarantees.

Here is what we bought, Le Vele 2008 a Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Colle Paradiso, Ekeos 2007, and San Sisto 2004 by Fazi Battaglia,all Verdicchio which I find to be a delightful wine with fish or any white meat, we also bought a Tenuta Campioli, Bianchello del Metauro.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Ciao Pesaro, Ciao

Tonight we went to Bristolino restaurant owned by Lorenzo di Grazioli a wonderful seafood restaurant. The food in its preparation and presentation is outstanding, of the highest quality and Lorenzo is a wonderful host, greets everyone and fusses over them. The tables are beautiful set up and the decor is homey and seaside like and also elegant. There is no menu and no wine list, though they have 167 wine labels in their cellar. Lorenzo comes to greet you at the table and will ask you what you feel like eating, do you have a big appetite, do you want something special, do you want to try one of recipes. The guy is charming, so he proposed that we start with 4 antipastos of fish, all simple and just to taste then we could proceed to our main course. So we agreed to let him arrange this for us, his staff by the way are superb professionals, the lady sommelier simply asked you what type of white wine would you like, from the Marche region or something from the rest of Italy or something else. I simply asked for a wine from the Marche region since we are in Pesaro. She goes away and return with a wonderful white wine.

We started first with a dish of sword fish in ceviche, it was a big dish, and we were wondering if this is what he meant, then a second dish of seafood salad, then a third dish of scallop, then a fourth dish of large shrimps in panceta.
This was quite a lot of food to start, all excellent, beautifully presented with a change of ustensils for each dish. Then we had our main course, a turbot is presented first and then it is brought to the table on individual plates, served with black olives, tomatoes, potatoes, anis and radicchio.

We also had a beautifully baked foccacia freshly baked.

Then Lorenzo returns to tell us about is surprise dessert. Can he bring it to us. We had no idea what it was but we did see other tables being served what looked like a mountain of something. It was a very large dish, enough to feed 6 people of ice cream different flavours all mixed in with an incredible variety of fresh fruits and whipped cream. He also sent 2 after dinner bottles of digestif, one was limoncello and the other an amaro and coffee a variety of cakes.

When the bill came I was sure it was going to be like in Rome and was expecting an astronomical amount given the food we had eaten and the variety of fish and seafood, wine etc... something around 500 Euros.
I was so surprised to see that it was a fraction of what we were expecting, we were only charged for the wine and for 2 covers which basically was a prix fixe, it was yet another pleasant surprise, extremely reasonable. We highly recommend this restaurant in Pesaro for the quality of the food and atmosphere.

It has been a nice week but now we want to return to Miss Cuddles aka Nora and Mr Nicky who are waiting for us at home in Rome. We have a dinner party on arrival to go too. Busy social schedule.

Food & restaurants

Eating in Italy is big business and it is also a serious matter for Italians, I say this if by simply looking at the magazines and periodicals on food, restaurants and wines on any news stand anywhere, quality is very important not only in the ingredients but also how food is prepared and presented, it is the topic of endless conversations everywhere. Appreciation by your guests or customers is sought after, if people say that you are a good cook or that you know food, it is the same as saying that you are an educated person, a serious person of worth.

What I find difficult is when you sit in a restaurant and you look at the menu, some items may not be recognizable, per example fish names, what is merluze or astriche.
What about cuts of meat, filet is easy but then there are other cuts which you might not know the Italian name. So you have to ask, this will show that you are unfamiliar with the language, ok fine not everyone is a linguist. Now your waiter may suddenly think, oh I have a group of foreigners who may not like anything other than spaghetti, lasagna or pizza. So let's not suggest items on the menu which they may shy away from. So to get around this situation you have to quizz the waiter about the special of the day or a dish which is the specialty of the house. If you do so you will probably be rewarded with some very interesting and tasty suggestions not to mention an appreciation of you the customer as a person who, though a foreigner, has a love of food and quality. It is important to note that Italian restaurants are not known for their decor or atmosphere, Italians do not care for this sort of thing, what they care about over anything else is food quality. So the decor is usually very simple, no candles on tables, no fancy elaborate decor, what you may find are often family pictures on the wall, a photo of a favorite soccer team, a picture of a long dead pope or trophies of the kids sports achievement. Any elaborate decor means the owner is trying to please the foreign tourists and that may also signal poor quality in food dishes.

I always try to find out what is different on a menu of a restaurant, I try to stay away from the prosciutto and melon which I can have at home any day. Even in the small Tavola calda, a comment on the dishes offered will usually get its reward from the server. This is somewhat difficult to do when we have guests. They may be difficult eaters or may not want to try food they don`t think of as Italian or do not want to try for fear it is exotic or are looking too closely at the prices on the menu.

Last month we went for lunch with this lady in our group after an archeological visit to an ancient Roman site, she was going on about diet and not wanting to eat anything too fattening or too this or that. But on the other hand she wanted us, the other people at the table, to order the rich dishes with heavy sauces, etc... many of which are winter dishes no one wants to eat on a summer day. Same thing with dessert, I only wanted fresh fruit, nothing else but she wanted someone to order a fruit tort so she could try it, I just want a bite she says. Someone did order the tort and then past it on to her to try, oh no cannot do that, blah blah, she says, finally she tries the smallest of morcel and makes a face and goes on to say all kinds of disparaging things about it to the astonished looks around the table and from the waiter. Traditionally in Rome, desserts or sweets are not the thing, many restaurants will have them for the kids or the tourists, most Italians just skip them or will order a fresh fruit salad or pineapple or strawberries with a bit of lemon juice or one of my favorites white peaches diced up in a glass of white wine or pear in red wine.

In Italy if you go to the restaurant it is for eating and meeting friends and having a good conversation. You do not go to the restaurant if you are not hungry, or want just a coffee or if you are dieting, because this means you are sick and sick people have to diet for health reason or so goes Italian thinking. You can well imagine what happens when silly foreigners come to Italy, go to the restaurant and then start with I only want a small portion of this or I am going to share my dish with so and so or this is too rich or I only eat pizza line on the waiter, pizza is a snack food not a meal food. You will get a funny look or the waiter will ignore you all together. Such attitude towards food at the time of ordering from a customer is seen as rude and not respectful of the restaurant chef and owner or the family who runs the place. Many restaurants have been in the family for years often close to 100 years, they are institutions not chains owned by big corporations. Same with waiters they are usually men in their 40 or 50 and even older in some cases, it is a profession not a job you do because you have nothing better to do with your life. If you are not very hungry just ask the waiter to suggest a light dish to you, he will be happy to do so, often taking the approach of concern for your well being.

A few weeks ago we had another guest who was visiting with an old friend of ours, she started to complain that her hotel room had no automatic coffee machine, sorry but this is not a common thing in Italy, if you want a coffee you go to the Cafe usually next to your hotel or to the bar of the hotel off the lobby and get one. We took this person to one of our personal favorite restaurant in Rome on the other side of the Tiber river. It is family owned and the 2 old brothers run the place while their wifes who tend the cash register and greet customers, one fellow is the server, he is in his 70's, his brother cooks. Menus are given to us, she did not appear to know what she wanted to eat and then declared she only wanted a main dish. When ordering you have to specify to the waiter if you want a primi or a secundi, pasta or fish or meat, you do not say I want a main dish. You should also have an antipasti to start which can be easily nothing more than a few olives or grilled vegetables on a small plate, then you can order your main.

So this guest of ours, says to the waiter that she is Italian, ok good, but she does not speak the language, that in itself is strange to an Italian in general, they will think that you will speak the dialect of the village or region you come from, which is true of most italians whose family immigrated to North America 50 years ago or more, but she did not speak the language of her region either. Italians are as a rule very clannish and stick together so they will speak the dialect of their region, so how come you do not speak the lingua franca?

So I asked her what she wanted to eat because the menu was in Italian only and had to translate for her the dishes and explain what they were. Now the waiter is watching me an obvious non-Italian explain to a self-proclaimed Italian the food of Italy. Our waiter was highly suspicous of this person, this was a fraud, bad enough you do not speak the lingua but you do not know the food of your Italian ancestors, what an Insult.

So I order the mix antipasti which is a bit of olives, prosciutto, some cheese and a few grilled vegetables, the plate arrives and we share this amongst ourselves, you eat what you want sort of a thing. The first thing she says, is this is too much food take it away, not thinking of us at the table with whom she is to share this antipasto, the waiter looks at me with a look of despair. Next comes the specialty of the house which in this restaurant is fettucini a la carbonara, she ordered this dish saying she loved it, this small restaurant is known in Rome for its fettucini, made on the premises for decades, it's a family dish. Many Officials from the Vatican also come to eat at this restaurant, it is that good. Again our guest pipes up, oh this is far too rich, too much for me, I cannot eat it all, oh no take it away. Well at that point I did not want to look at the waiter but after that he ignored our table, I was so embarrassed.

The final coup de grace came with coffee, either you have one or you don't which is fine, by law in Rome coffee is not made in a restaurant since only Cafe are allowed to sell coffee, so they send a boy, in this case the nephew around the corner for the coffee and he brings it back. Our guest asked the waiter, I want an American coffee because I can't drink that espresso stuff. Coffee in Italy is another sacred cow, you cannot compare what is considered a cheap imitation, American coffee, to the real thing which is Italian espresso coffee. Well we will not be going back to that restaurant for 6 months in the hope that the waiter will forget and forgive or maybe he will retire and it will be ok to go back. My question is why is it that for North Americans, eating has become a thing you must do to stay alive instead of a pleasure to be enjoyed.

Pesaro routine

We have spent almost a week here and have developed a daily routine. In the morning we walke down Via Trieste to Piazza de la Liberta which is a park on the sea, around it beautiful villas from 1900 and cafes offering a selection of fresh squeeze juices (spremuta) and coffees and croissants and other pastries. Then we walk back to the hotel for a dip in the pool, which is one of those designer pools you see in photo spreads in magazines. Then lunch at this very small cafe on the beach with wonderful seafood and pasta and salads called H2CO and the friendliest staff and owner Andrea Corsini then back to the hotel for an afternoon snooze and by 7pm off we go to the Opera. After the opera around 11PM we go to dinner in one of the many restaurants who are just waiting for the crowds who come after the show.
They stay open until 2 am and serve full dinner menus.
Today we did not have the opera in the evening so we modified the schedule a bit and after breakfast we went shopping for foods from Le Marche region, lots of goodies, sauces for pasta, marmalade, chocolates and candies, wines and liqueurs, pasta, polenta, cured meats like salamis of all kinds and hams prosciuttos
etc... We also went to an enoteca (wine library) to buy wines from Le Marche.

By the way the Marche region is where Pompey the Great came from, he was Julius Caesar rival. Old Julius had Pompey assassinated in Egypt only to die himself in Rome 4 years later, bludgeon to death at the foot of the statue of Pompey, how is that for a coincidence. Le Marche is the other Tuscany in Italy, few people outside of Italy know of it, a lovely place. Tomorrow is the 15 August the Feast of Assumption of the Virgin Mary or Saint-Napoleon Bonaparte depending on your taste, all will be closed in Italy this is the major summer holiday, so we will stay by the pool and go to our little cafe on the beach for lunch. We made dinner reservations because everybody and his old aunt will be out for dinner. We found this restaurant on the beach at the Bristol Hotel which is a 4 star but looks like a dive, the restaurant is quite lovely and it specialty is seafood, the owner is Lorenzo Di Grazioli who has been in business with his brother since 1993.

We were suppose to go to other towns near us to visit, like Rimini and Fano and even Ravenna but decided to be lazy and spend our time at the pool admiring the perfect Italian suntans on the beach. You have to give it to the Italians, how do they do it, men and women in their forties and fifties with really fit bodies. Women who had 2 to 3 kids and do not show it at all. I did notice that at the restaurants they will eat a lot of vegetables, fresh fruits and small portions of meat or pasta, many have only one big meal a day, breakfast is fresh fruit, freshly squeezed orange juice and a coffee read espresso. Lunch is a big green salad with olive oil dressing and a bit of tuna, dinner a pasta with a seafood sauce or tomato sauce and a salad or grilled vegetables. Maybe that is the secret. What I do notice is everyone drinks about one liter of water per meal with one glass of wine, no diet coke here even for kids its water, no soft drinks. No desserts and no heavy creamy dressings, though people will eat bread, it is usually a heavy grain bread with a thick hard crust.

I am going on a strict Italian diet when we return to Rome on Sunday, la bella figura that is what it is all about.


Road to Pesaro, we left Rome at 10 am on Saturday morning 09 August and by noon time we had arrived at the East coast of Italy on the shimmering blue Adriatic. I was expecting a lot of traffic on the road and in fact some congestion, the highway is still under renovation in large parts, however we were almost alone on the road and it felt strange, I was wondering where are all the Italians on holiday, were did they all go. I think a lot of people have stayed home this year, cannot afford a vacation with the kids to the beach. We stopped in Ancona for lunch at a restaurant we found in our food guide for Italy, the celebrated Gambero Rosso (red shrimp). It was a nice lunch, fish and salad, meat and vegetable and fresh fruit for dessert and mineral water.

The last leg of the trip after lunch took us through beautiful Fano which is a few kilometers from Pesaro. Our hotel The Alexander Museum Palace Hotel is on the beach, it is own by a Count, formely an Italian Ambassador and an Art connaisseur. The hotel is formal and somewhat sterile in a minimalist style, all white, contemporary art everywhere, even in the underground garage. You feel you are invited to stay but do not touch anything. There are many rules imposed by the owner, today we were at the pool, which is beautiful like a magazine picture perfect, the attendant comes to us and says that the umbrella shading us from the sun has to be taken away because it might rain, the owner does not want his white umbrellas to get dirty. It seems that the comfort of the guests is secondary. The hotel though beautiful and clean appears strangely empty. It is pretentious for no reason.

Pesaro is two cities, one is the beach resort, the other is the old fortified city of the Sforza Family, the city of the arts with its G. Rossini music festival. The economic crisis though has had a negative impact on merchants and the city. Things are difficult and there are many good sales. The beach is not crowded and in fact half empty, people are staying away and it is the height of the vacation season, not a good sign. Many of the old villas built around 1900 have been renovated and are now for sale for a handsome price. I wish I had 3 million euros to spare, they are so beautiful and elegant.

For breakfast in the morning, we walk down Via Trieste to a beach front cafe for cappuccino and chocolate croissants. Lots of melted chocolate inside, so good.
The waiter was the same as last year, totally uninterested in his job, no smile, just a shrug. We left him a small tip, got a big smile from him, a thank you and good wishes for FerrAgosto. Italians are so funny, they can be at first glance indifferent but if they think you are interested in them or show kindness then they become friendly and animated. We also found out in this case that his mother owns the place and makes him work the tables, must obey la mama!

Friday, 7 August 2009

learned something today

Today is the Friday before the long summer holiday of FerAgosto. Businesses that have not shut down yet, as this period starts more or less around 20 July, will do so today. From Banks to small shops, everyone is going on vacation. The Pope left the Vatican for his summer Palace at Castel Gandolfo, the President of Italy has also gone to the Summer Presidential Palace, a former Royal palace, the Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi is apparently still at work, but his summer house in Sardinia is waiting for him.
So I went to coffee this morning across the street from the office as always, they are closing too, but for renovations, said my goodbyes, Mario the owner and his sister asked me where I was going on vacation, wish me well and see you in September. I had said my goodbyes last week to my barber who is going to his house on the sea near Naples. Same for my butcher, the dry cleaner, etc.. Same with the cashier at the supermarket, she too is leaving, they are on special summer hours like all supermarkets in the city open only from 10am to 1pm and may be open or closed on Saturdays and Sundays until 03 September. The pharmacies are all closed except for those who remain open a handful in this city of 3 million people. You can find out which ones are open and where by asking your pharmacist ahead of time what the schedule is for August. The Vet is also partially closed 3 hours a day only. As for doctors and dentists well just don't get sick in August it is not fashionable. The gas stations are also closing, you cannot get your car washed and gas is available only at certain hours in designated stations. Some are only operated by automatic dispenser pump machines, you pay the machine, let's say you want 10 euro worth of gas which is the equivalent of 5 liters more of less, you put your paper money into the machine, it gives no change, must be exact, and you then ask the nice Sri Lankan man to pump the amount. This is what they are for, every gas station in Rome has 2 or 4 Sri Lankan men who sit there all day until midnight waiting for people to come feed the machine money for gas and then they pump the amount for you, you are not allowed to touch the gas pumps. The men are probably the chief export from their country Sri Lanka except for tea.

It is hard to believe that in this day and age, a country shuts down for a month to go on holiday. However this is what I like about living in Italy, the rituals of life, each seasons brings a ritual and everyone knows it. Only the foreigners are surprised by these rituals. If you visit Rome in August you will probably not realize what is going on, the centre of Rome is open for the tourists, but the prices are high because they provide a premium service. Example a coffee (espresso) usually 0.70 cents, for you nice tourist 2.50 Euros, a sandwich, usually 1.20 Euros for you only 5 Euros, bag of chips small, usually 1.50 for you only 6 Euros. There are still bargains but you have to know what to look for outside of the centre. Gelato is the big rip off, in the historical centre many places will sell gelato, however it is not the homemade stuff we buy in the neighborhood made on the premises in the morning, it is made in a factory somewhere with a lot of sugar and other products and sold at 4 times the price. The tell tale sign is the flavours, Gelato is made from fresh fruits in season, you also have the chocolate and pistachio but they will not have that terribly sweet taste, in fact the chocolate has a coco taste a little bitter, we all know the tourists will not like that so given them the factory stuff.

By going to Pesaro, we will be in tourist mecca on the coast with all of Italy, we will pay the higher prices of course because it is the season, but the clientele being Italians will get a little extra, it is part of life and is expected. So we just have to pack our bags tomorrow and off we go.

We are driving early Sunday morning to Pesaro on the Adriatic and I checked the weather and it shows rain on Sunday in Rome as of noon time, then in Pesaro rain on the coast on Tuesday and Wednesday, maybe we will miss it out, keeping my fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

the view from my office window

In a few days we are driving in the morning to the Adriatic first to Ancona and then will make a left turn unto the Adriatic highway North towards the city of the great Italian Opera composer Gioachino Rossini's birth, Pesaro. We are going to the Summer Opera Festival of Pesaro featuring the native son's works. Le Conte Ory, one of his French works, Zelmira and La Scala di seta (the silk ladder). Gioachino Rossini was born in Pesaro in what was then Pontifical States in 1792 and died in Paris in 1868. Italy has a unified country only appeared on the map in 1860, so most of his life he was a subject of the Pope and not an Italian, that would happen once the Pope was forced to give up his estate which was most of Italy to the new Italian Kingdom. This year in Pesaro Juan Diego Flores is the featured tenor, he has a marvelous voice.

Crossing Italy from West to East is a very nice drive as the highway goes through a series of long tunnels such as the Gran Sasso (big pebble) and through a National Park in the Abruzzo. The Adriatic highway is high above the sea and offers spectacular views on the passengers side. The picture is not a view from my office window, though I wish it was, but a view from a Palace in Ancona, a city founded by the Greeks and called Ankon or elbow because it is geographically shaped like an elbow.

Pesaro is a small seaside town and has lots of charm, Rossini's birth place is located in a small house on the main street. He became fabulously rich and being a clever businessman was able to get many commissions from Kings and Emperors by composing works to their glory. Napoleon III in France decorated him with a legion of honour after he composed an air to the eternal glory of the French Emperor.

We will also do a day trip further North to Rimini, birth place of my favorite movie producer Federico Fellini. One of my favorite movies is Amarcord, The movie features Rimini in the 1920's and is semi-biographical.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

November in Berlin

Though we leave in a few days for the Adriatic coast on the other side of Italy, it sounds far but in fact it is only 2 hrs away from Rome, we are already thinking about our next trip, a long weekend in Berlin in November.
We have been going to Berlin since 1999 and we should have been going more often. An incredible city, reborn from it's dark past in the 20th Century. I am sorry that most people can only think of Berlin as the city where Hitler ruled or where the Wall stood. This fascination with the 12 years of the Nazi dictatorship is silly and does not in anyway tell the story of this city which is more than 800 years old. Luckily the Government of Germany and of the City of Berlin have recast the city as the model it was during the baroque period and the age of Enlightenment, a liberal city, open to all, a city of ideas and since 1989, of architects from around the world who have been able to develop new forms of architecture and renovate and rebuild old buildings while conserving the traces of past conflicts. Berlin is a city of opera houses, concert halls, theaters, museums and art galleries, fine restaurants and rivers, lakes and parks, not to mention the excellent public transport system.

In October the last of the museums on the Island beside the Protestant Cathedral will re-open after many long years of extensive rebuilding and renovation by David Chipperfield. The Neues Museum which was built in 1855 on a neo-classical design by Friedrich A. Stüler to house part of the vast collections in the other Museums like the Altes Museum. This collection of museums all gathered together has impressive art collections and is a wonder to visit. I have seen through the years the resurrection of this complex and of the Cathedral. In the years to come the gigantic Imperial City Palace will also be rebuilt to complete the design of the whole area. The Second World War devastated 80% of Berlin and if tourists want to know what the Nazi legacy was, then they can see it in the massive destruction of this beautiful city.

I wish I could live in Berlin, it is such a fun place and full of energy. So much to do and see, so many beautiful parks and Berlin unlike so many other German cities, has a character all its own and a way of thinking and being which is unlike any other place in Germany. The Berliners are different, Frederick II the Great, distrusted them and found them to be lazy and bohemian. Then again he is the one who invited Jews and French Protestants to come and live in Berlin and enjoy a level of freedom unknown elsewhere in Europe at the time and in turn this attracted artists and philosophers like Voltaire to the City.

I looked at hotels and found in the Mitte area (centre) a good hotel at 115 euros per night with breakfast included. I usually like to stay in the Western part of the city near the Zoo, the KaDeWe store on the Kurfürstendamm but this time decided to be more on the East side near the historical part of old Berlin and Unter den Liden.

Now I have to look at flights and Easy Jet has some good rates, though I did notice that they then charge for everything else.
In the end the price is still cheap compared to other airlines.

Another city we also love to see again is Dresden and Will and I have plans to return there.