Sunday, October 30, 2011

Truffle Festival in Bagnoli Irpino - Sadly, no pigs involved

A few weeks ago, my friend Molly mentioned how much she wanted to go to a Truffle Festival in October.  I found on online in Assisi but we figured that the trip would be too far for just one day, as Assisi is some four hours north of Napoli, and chalked the idea up to something to do next year.  On Friday, Molly found another truffle festival in Bagnoli Irpino, about an hour away.  We all hopped into their Alfa Romeo and off we went, making sure to note that this fesitval would, in no way, be as awesome as the one in Assisi.  I find that keeping expectations unusually low helps the end product seem significantly more awesome.

We finally arrived in Bagnoli Irpino after constantly reminding Molly that this festival was likely not even in the same town.  Alas, she was correct.  A long line of cars slowly formed into a line and wound its way through the town, around dozens of blocked off streets and up, up, up to a hill where Deacon parked the Alfa in a somewhat muddy patch of grass.  I thought it would be really smart to take pictures of the surroundings in case we had a hard time (read: too drunk to remember where the car was) later in the evening. 

Down the huge hill, into the town we went.  It was so cute and full of 124 numbered stands selling anything from truffle salad with olives to truffle beer (seriously, it happened) to lemons and raw pork.  Yeah, we didn't get anything from that last one and Tom feared that the lemon/pork truck would show up in his dreams at some point.  Truffles were the star of the event but apparently it was also a Sacred Chestnut Festival as well, as chestnut desserts were in a number of stands.  Tom declared that Chestnuts Roasting on an Open fire tasted decidedly less like Christmas and more like sand, sorry Nat King Cole fans for ruining the illusion of the holiday spirit!

To eat, we had provolone and truffle toast, a huge plate of meat and the poorly chosen truffle salad.  The latter taught us one thing, too many truffles can definitely turn into a bad thing.  We also enjoyed, WAY too much, the 50 centi glass of wine.  Each vendor had their own house blend and so no two tasted the same.  Some were excessively sweet, some excessively strong, some, well we stopped really tasting the wine after the first three or four. 

Towards the end of the evening, we met a couple wine tasting with their three kids.  It turns out that they used to live in San Diego and now work at Capodichino, where all of us work!  Enzo, the husband, even works in my building!  On the same floor!  Mamma mia!  This delighted the wine maker, Carlo, who invited us to come back to his winery near Avellino, next weekend.  Carlo showed me a secret bathroom and while there, we met a group of Italian students who are getting their master's degrees here in Napoli!  We made a drunken date to meet up with them and hopefully fulfill my goal of finding a friend who speaks Italian and wants someone to hang out with to teach her English.  "Your English is amazing!"  Well, I hope it is, it's pretty much my only language.  Allora!  Mario and Sonja, his fiance, who I'm fairly certain we told Mario he was lucky to have about 20 times ("Seriously, marrying her is a big upgrade for you, dude.  Do it!"  Tom, he's ever so supportive!), introduced us to Laura and Roberto who also agreed to meet us for dinner next Saturday.  I gave the whole group my email and told them to look me up on Facebook, so we'll keep expectations managed for our Italian native friends.

Molly, Amanda and I fell asleep on the long, scary drive back to Napoli.  Thank goodness for Tom, Deacon and the TomTom which got us back home safely.  Also, Deacon was so amazing for being our D.D.  It was like herding cats at the end of the night, so double thanks for patience!!!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Alarmingly Advanced Charades

My miming career has sadly not taken off the way that I had hoped.  Instead, I hope to launch "Charades: The Game Show" and hope that my active use of charades as a means of bridging the language gap in Italy will be good practice for sculpting the future charades savants of the world.  What brought about this life altering revelation, you may or may not be asking yourself right now?  Well, friend, sit right down and I'll tell you a little story about my 5 hour evening with three alarm technicians.  Not quite as kinky as it sounds, I promise.

Yesterday was my day off.  I spent the morning at the gym, getting a pedicure, buying things I don't really need (read Christmas cards.  Yeah, I know it's October) and getting groceries.  Our landlord had called us on Sunday night to ask if one of us could be there to let the alarm guys in on Monday at 2 (showing up at 3 was a big improvement for these guys who are normally 2-4 hours late).  I'm also pretty sure that our landlord's wife thought that we didn't understand him, as she was yelling English words in the background to help with the translating process, and encouraged him to send us a text saying exactly the same thing.  Regardless!  There I was, wrapping Tom's birthday presents (his birthday is at the end of November but he always seems to find his presents so if I wrap them early, all he finds is a box in pretty paper!  The old girl is learning!) when the group of alarm techs rocked up.  Each time they come, Paolo, the original alarm guy, brings one extra person with him.  They were up to 3 this time.  Paolo, his unnamed friend and a new guy, who was obviously the youngest, least intelligent and most "fluent" in English.  "Ok, let's go!" was his favorite by far.

We played the "How the hell do we say your name" game for a bit.  We settled on "Leeeen" as a sufficient pronunciation and they fiddled about in the other room, moving furniture and occasionally asking for a ladder (which I now know is 'scala' in Italian) or if the fierce allergic reaction they are having is because I have cats.  "Si, due..."  Whoops!  There is something about my house and my cats that seems to involve near death for workmen and my 4 year old nephew...

Five hours and endless games of "guess what I'm trying to ask you to do" charades later, the alarm was working, I had recorded my voice saying "Someone has broken into my house, please help" about 20 times and taught our technicians that "sand" is not the same word as "listen" in English.  They kept pointing to my phone and saying "sand. sand."  The guys finally left, after I gave them pumpkin bread, water, they watched me make dinner and moved my furniture all around the apartment.  I've not been so exhausted from charades in years!  Just you wait until my game show, people will leave there covered in sweat!  You'll be sure that you were watching an episode of "The Biggest Loser."  Count on It.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Italian Living: Lessons I've Learned after 4 Months in Italy

The lessons I've learned while living abroad are so many and so vast that I feel compelled to share them on a monthly basis until they become too mundane.

1. There is no 'y' in the Italian alphabet.  I work with half Americans and half Italians and started my job during August when all of the Italians were on vacation.  When they came back, I'd been here for a month already and was starting to get involved on projects and sneak into meetings and things and they all couldn't figure out where I came from.  "There's a girl in the office!  Have you seen her?"  I put my own name tag outside of my office door to help explain who I am and what I do and tried, though I wasn't entirely successful, to introduce myself to as many people in my office as possible.  So flash forward to mid-October.  I've been here just over 2 months and have daily conversations with my office mates about their love of Speedos, how I dress really fancy at work and most importantly, the art of Italian food.  (We'll get to that in a minute)  At this point, I know most of their names because I have a diagram of the office layout on my cork board and check each person's name before I wander about.  Diego, Silvio, Pamela, Silvanna, etc.  Yesterday, I sent a document to the printer and heard a great deal of buzz from that side of the office when I went to retrieve it.  "Miss, who is this person 'Linnay Kaenan?"  (I spelled that phonetically so you can see that my name is 'Linnay' here).  "Seriously?  I'm Lynne.  Lynne is me.  Mia chiama e Lynne."  I guess we aren't as close as I thought we were....  sigh....

2. Italian Perceptions of Global Food.  Diego is by far my biggest fan in my office.  He's super sweet and LOVES to talk about Italian food.  Tomatoes, pasta, bruschetta, different cuts of meat.  He makes me maps of the best places to go out in our neighborhood and a map of where to drive in Tuscany and a map of where to go outside of Rome to "feel the open road."  In our discussions, breakfast came up.  Here is our breakfast discussion: 

Diego: "What do you eat for breakfast in America?  You don't eat cornettos, so what do you eat?"
Me: Cereal or bagels or eggs.  We have bigger breakfast on the weekends with pancakes and sausage and eggs and things.  But, before work, just something small and fast.
Diego:  And this coffee cup of yours.  It's huge!  Do you know that your coffee has more caffeine in it than our espresso?  Because it goes through the grounds more than one time.

This fact has been repeated to me by just about every Italian in my office.  When I don't join them for their thrice-daily caffe break, because "I already had my coffee today" they remind me that if I had a caffe (read espresso), I would not get the jitters because the water only passes through the grounds once when making espresso.  "Si, si, si."

3. Mistakes I've made with Italian phrases.  I took an Italian class when we first got here and really thought that when you are leaving, when you want to say something like "Have a good day tomorrow" it was "buona giornale."  That actually means "good newspaper."  No wonder I got so many looks of "what the hell are you talking about?"  So here I've been, telling people about good newspapers for a few months, looking like a complete fool.  The correct phrase is "buona giornata."  Which means "have a good tomorrow." 

Gianni, not our gas station attendant but a guy at the front desk of my building, always yells "CiaoLin!" when I walk by.  He is actually saying "Ciao, Lynne" but he says it so fast and with such fervor that it always comes out like one word.  "Ciao, Gianni!"  So, after the pleasantries of "CiaoLin!", Gianni yelled something after me as I was leaving.  I thought he was saying "tra poco" which means "shortly" or "up next."  I didn't understand.  In reality, he was saying "tutto posto" which means "is everything ok?"  The answer is always "si" but I sometimes still make the mistake of responding with "va bene" which means "It's good."  I guess that works too..

4. My head has gotten unnaturally large.  Now, let's not confuse this with the jokes about my freakishly large head as a child.  To this day, "Big Head" is a name I fear I won't live down, but I digress.  My Italian office mates have been way too friendly with their compliments and I fear that I may have a hard time going back to America and realizing that I'm not actually as beautiful as Heidi Klum.  For example, Mena is the receptionist in my office and asked me yesterday if I was in beauty pageants in America.  Haha, no...  Franco and Diego in my office started clapping on Friday when I walked into the office in my fancy Zara blazer from Germany and my new Michael Kors loafers.  "Brava, Linnay, you look Italian today!" 

5. My American curling iron will work on a converter.  This is perhaps the least exciting news, but it was a valuable lesson as my hair continues to look atrocious most days of the week and will likely be snatched up by birds soon to make their nest out of.  By adding both heat and product, I hope to improve the situation but have obviously not met positive results.  On the plus side, I found out that my beloved American curling iron will in fact not fry to bits when plugged into a converter.  Great success.

Also, it is with great sadness that I learned today that Ella, the adorable dog who lives at our gas station/parking lot, was hit by a car this morning.  When I came home, she had a cast on her hind paw and was being lead over to our car by one of the gas station attendants because they know that we keep treats in the glove box.  I gave her about 10 of them, as my heart melted for the poor girl and the elder gas station attendant played "Oh Susannah" on his harmonica.  And then I thought, this is really strange that we're having a little Oh Sussanah party in the parking lot....  He told me, I think, that he learned it for the Americans (read Tom and I).  It made me smile and I gave them all a big air kiss.  "Buona giornale!"  I'm just kidding!  I said the right thing... I think!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

American Holidays = Roman Holidays

For some reason which defies logic, Tom and I have taken to using American federal holidays as an excuse to go to Rome.  This time, we used our good friend, Chris Columbus, as an excuse.  So off we went from Capodichino to the Napoli Centrale train station via the Alibus on Saturday morning.  The fast train, which is 45 Euro and takes an hour, was leaving at 9 am and Tom decided with all included means of transport, it would take us an hour to reach the train station from our apartment.  Oh Tom...  When we got to the Capodichino Airport to catch the 3 Euro Alibus downtown, we realized that we had just missed that last bus by 2 minutes.  The next one would arrive in 20 minutes and if it took 15 minutes, would get us downtown in time.  Alas, it did not.  We did, however, stand in line, at length, with the angriest Italian man of all time.  He wore a "Veni Vedi Vici" shirt and jorts and screamed on his phone and at his wife for the full 30 minutes that we waited, though he broke up the monotony by punching and/or kicking a nearby wall.  When Italians give you the "woah, dude, calm down" face, you know you're bad!

So 30 minutes and one missed train later, we were on the cheaper, slower train to Rome.  Our car was shared by a family of three with perhaps the most adorable and intelligent little girl.  Her mom was checking her homework and she was staring at Tom and I with such intense awe and confusion that made me giggle.  When Tom broke out the Italian flashcards that I made him, she stared even more, to the point that Tom put them away out of sheer intimidation. 

We arrived in Rome and set off for the Vatican with a stop for lunch first.  Frommer's had recommended this hole in the wall place near the Pantheon and upon arrival we saw about 50 Americans with either Frommer's or Rick Steves' clutched like the bible and very few Italians.  We quickly noted that if your establishment makes it into one of these books, you are both guaranteed a great fiscal year and probably going to lose a significant number of your locals.  Also, your English or your patience with foreigners would have to greatly improve.  Listening to two Japense girls order lasagna and a bottle of wine was humorous, though understandably frustrating for all parties.

On Sunday, we met up with a fellow Gamma Phi and UVA Alum, Megan, who lives with her husband in London.  The two were in town for their anniversary (which Tom and I apologetically crashed.  After also accidentally crashing a wedding and mass while we tried to pop in to visit a churches.  Whoops!)  Telling stories of living abroad, their quest for Cheez-Its and the ever-difficult task of figuring out bathrooms in a foreign country (insert judgement for my epic shower failure this morning in our hotel.  It turns out, when there are three different shower heads, it's really difficult to figure out which nob goes to which and can result in covering the entire bathroom in water.  Whoops, again!).  I keep hoping to one day become that confident traveler that Rick Steves' wants me to be.  One day, Rick, one day...

Our trip back, on the fast train, was uneventful but speedy.  We had such a great time in the Eternal City and enjoyed getting to spend more time learning about Roman culture.  Also, Tom discovered that most times when he asks me what the Latin says on a building, that I normally am lying.  "Really?  That says 'Glory to God' too???" 

I'm heading back in November to pick up my sister, Lauri, from the airport and simply cannot wait!!!!!  Think of all of the useless knowledge that I can impart on her!  You're welcome in advance, sister!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Irish Eyes Are Smiling

Onward our travels through Europe have taken us!  In an attempt to live up to Tom's very Irish heritage, we decided to travel to his homeland and see what all the fuss is about.  Being both Irish and from Jersey, Tom's level of Irish pride is very high and being from Virginia and not at all Irish, my level of understanding of the matter was very low.  But for some reason, I felt like I needed more of an excuse to go there so I found a half marathon in Valentia Island, about 4 hours west of Dublin, for an added level of fun! 

Flights to Dublin from Naples were few and expensive between, so Tom, Julie and I opted for the Rome departure option.  Like most things in Italy, airline travel is in serious need of a systems engineer to iron out the many kinks in their system.  We waited in three different lines trying to check into our flight and only did so 7 minutes before they closed it!  We then rushed through the least secure security check then passport checks then waited in a long line to a catch a bus from the gate to the plane.  When all was said and done our plane was nearly an hour late departing, which is about on time in Italian.  Ryan Air, like Easy Jet, has no assigned seating and the mass pandemoneum of boarding was made even worse by 5 Italian guys who thought that the Jersey Shore is the end all be all of both fashion and behavior.  They pretended to not understand English when their bag wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment but miraculously understood and spoke it well enough to get drinks and food later in the flight.  Thankfully we lost them after getting our passports stamped in Dublin and ran into only the sweetest, most adorable Irish folks for the duration of our time out of the country.

Ireland is one of the most picturesque places that I've been to thus far.  While the Amalfi Coast has staggering views and dramatic island formations, the Irish countryside was so subtley scenic that I longed for a flock of sheep, a bit of Earth to tend (or to pay someone to tend for me) and a B&B of my very own.  From the Hertz agent to the girl who we asked for directions to the salty fisherman who we asked for more directions, each person on our journey was friendly, cheerful and accomodating.  I think they may breath cleaner, friendlier air up there.  Or there's valium in their water supply, along with whatever is in there that made my hair return to it's silky pre-Italian state.  I really can't be sure but I loved every minute of it!

Mary, the owner of the Shealane Inn, a B&B in Valentia Island, was a warm, adorable little Irish woman who could likely talk to a log and make it feel both important and welcome in her home.  She giggled and smiled through our conversation and filled our bellies with French Toast and full Irish breakfast each morning.  She recommended that we go into Portmagee, a small fishing village about 1/2 a mile from her establishment to see their Shanty Festival and have dinner at the Bridge Bar.  Once inside, we listened to several groups of Irish singers sharing stories and songs about the ocean, boats, fishing and women and the drinking that occured in conjunction with all of the above.    It was all in support of a new Life Boat that was being unveiled that weekend by the Coast Guard.  Also included in this festival was a scavenger hunt, parade, photography contest and a Coast Guard fly-over, though that was cancelled due to weather concerns.  I couldn't believe how much the community came together over a Life Boat!

On Saturday Julie and I picked up our race packets and toured around the Island before the noon start.  At the start line, we were highly intimidated by the number of very serious looking runners.  I was dropped off with a car full of 4 Irish women at the half way mark, as Julie and I were doing the race as a two man relay team because we hadn't trained quite as well as our ambitions had lead us to believe.  So there I stood, in the wind, looking out at the skellig islands off the coast and hoping that the race would start on time.  The other ladies were just as positive about their childhood experiences in Ireland and described just about everything as "quite lovely, really."  The race was, a race!  Having both finished more than one half marathon and a marathon, Julie and I didn't feel like our pride would get in the way of strolling or taking pictures along the race course when the desire came over us.  I got pictures of cows and mile markers, hills and bushes, depending on my skill with my iPhone at the time. 

On our way back to Dublin on Sunday, we stopped in at an old castle, the name of which I won't even try to remember.  Tom climbed the staircase to the highest tower and took about 30,000 pictures in the drizzle while Julie and I smiled from below reminding him that our rental car was due back at 3 and the battery wouldn't last forever in the camera.  Sorry, honey!  Tom, it must be noted, is the biggest lover of a roadside attraction, and can find a photo opportunity in just about any county the world over.  "Look at that!  It's a shaggy pony!  Picture!"  Alas, the "shaggy pony" photo was never realized and I think the point of some consternation.

We did, in the end, arrive back in Dublin, dropped of our rental car, took a bus from the airport to the City Center, walked 12 blocks with our bags (which was much further than the cheery girl on the bus lead us to believe) and then strolled the streets before stopping for Thai food for dinner.  We all agreed that Irish food (and their Thai for that matter) was much better than we had anticipated and loved eating such hearty, comforting meals, though we did eat quite a bit more than we'd been eating in Italy!  On Monday, we toured the grounds of the Dublin Castle and then the Guinness Storehouse before we caught the friendliest cab to the airport and headed home.  Both the Dublin Castle and the Guinness Storehouse were very impressive, very well maintained sites and we would have loved to have spent more time in both. 

It was a "lovely" trip and on the tarmac heading back to Rome, I turned to Tom and said "I wish we didn't have to leave."  "It's ok, we'll be back."  Indeed, we'll have to!  But make sure to head to the Blarney Castle and Co. Cork next time as well!