Monday, April 30, 2012

Menu Roulette

When we first got here, we struggled with menus.  What are you going to get?  What do you think that is?  What is "rocket?"  These are things that inspired the term "menu roulette."  It's when you have no idea what you ordered.  To date, I think the funniest one was when our friend Nathan ordered a pizza which he thought had tweleve of something on it.  It turned out to be 12 things.  One of them being an egg.  When the waitress asked how he wanted it and he said 'si' I think she realized that we didn't understand.  She decided that she would cook it with the pizza, as the Italians like it.  So in the middle of the pizza was a half-cooked, runny egg.  Yeah, it was weird.

Living in a city which does not really speak your mother tongue or print their menus in multiple languages makes dining choices difficult.  We've now ordered enough bad things  to know what we should avoid (read a fried calzone 'ripieno fritto').

Lesson 1: 'Fritto' means fried.  How many times did I order something and go "son of b!  Fritto!  Ugh!"  Gut bomb seems to be the most applicable term.  I guess I was just surprised at the European love of fried food.  I thought it was just a State Fair type of thing in the US.  But no, it's big out here, too!

Lesson 2: Wurstel.  Hot dogs, or wurstel, are SO freaking popular in Europe.  The commercials of a party with a platter of just wurstel.  I mean, I know, commercials don't really portray reality (because I've tried to use Mentos to have men pick my car up when I'm parked in a tough spot and that did NOT work the way the commercial led me to believe it would.) but the presence of hot dogs in just about every food situation is notably strange.  There is a place down the street from us called 'Dog Out.'  Tom swears that Dog Out is the base of the best meal he's eaten in Italy.  A hot dog.  No, I'm not kidding.  The ever famous hot dog and french fry pizza is everywhere!  We tried it, because seriously?  It's a pizza with hot dogs and fries on it!  How could you NOT try it??  But, it turns out that it's pretty dry.  Instead of "sauce" (which my Jersey-native husband has informed me is the correct term for any tomato-based substance on a carb-based substance), it's panna, or this kind-of alfredo sauce, except a bit thicker and more bland.

Lesson 3: Anything "alla casa" is good.  Vino della casa?  Good.  Get it.  Antipasto della casa?  Good.  Get it.  Primi della casa?  Good.  Get it.  I think this is the thing that I will miss the most when we get back to the States.  A liter of house wine, made by someone's cousin who has a farm 20 minutes from where ever you happen to be (he's probably named Giuseppe) for 7 euro?  It's amazing.  Rocking up for dinner and just plopping down and ordering the house wine, the house antipasti is wonderful.  Antipasti come in two rounds, cold and then hot.  The cold stuff is normally sliced meat and cheese, some grilled or marinated veggies and olives.  The hot stuff is where it gets crazy!  Fried mozzarella, fried pizza dough (mmmmm delicious!) (also read aforemention 'fritto' lesson), these little rice balls with cheese in them.  Each place has a different collection of what you get when you order their house plates, so it's always fun.  Without any direction or specification, menu roulette or "what do you think this is?" becomes a fun game again!

In my soon-to-follow post about Toscana, or Tuscany for you fuzzy foreigners, I'll discuss my first ravioli in Italy and the exciting world of cinghiale (wild boar!).  Keep reading! 


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Out with the old...

Tom and I made a deal before we moved: the couches that I have hated since I met him wouldn't come to Italy with us.  This deal was not held up as the couches have been sitting in Italy (with the new pungent smell that they acquired on the trans-Atlantic journey) for ten months now. 

On January 26, 2012 we bought and paid for new couches from the Navy Exchange's Italian Furniture store.  At the time, the sales woman told us that the new couches would be delivered in 4-6 weeks.  Each time week after the sixth, I would call, and she would extend the completion date by 2 weeks.  Low and behold, after I had given up hope, cursed Italian furniture producers and come to terms with the blue chanille couches dating back to Tom's ex-girlfriend, they called. 

Tom and I very generously paid $61 (please pick a more random delivery fee), to have the couches delivered to our apartment in what is best described as "uptown Naples."  The road is narrow, always packed with cars and we sit on the 7th floor (technically they say we live on the 5th European floor, but we're up one past where the elevator goes + 1 for American standards). 

4 hours after the scheduled delivery time (and several episodes of Numb3ers later (I've become freakishly obsessed with the Epps brothers on that show.  Crime and math?? Win, win!)), my buzzer rang and they said "Ciao, Toemoss.  Furniture."  When I told my boss that I needed the afternoon off to accept my new couches, he laughed at me for being a rookie who actually waits at home at the correct time of furniture delivery and then said something about how two stick-thin Italian men would arrive with my couch sometime between 4 and 5 pm.  To be fair, there are 3 stick thin Italians but they did show up at 4:43pm for the 1:00 delivery. 

Upon bringing the loveseat upstairs, they grunted about how heavy it was and then stood in silence, staring at my cat's "condo."  Just staring.  "Che cosa?" one of them whispered.  "Per gatti?"  Phones emerged from pockets as the three thin Italian movers began taking pictures of my three floor cat condo.  "Bellissimo..."  "It's amazing."  "I've never seen anything like it."  I gave them each a bottle of fizzy water, which they happily accepted, dropped off their European man-bags and kept staring.  "Per gatti.  Fantastico."   

They are moving the larger, supposedly 600 lb sofa up now.  It has a pillow-top queen sized pullout mattress on a steel frame inside.  I also requested that it be filled with gold boullion and bricks, just for ease of movement. 

Our next adventure will be the removal of the old couches, my previous buyer at the 6 week mark having fallen through.  What exciting adventures will be in store whence those get to be moved as well....

Fear not, dear readers, where there is awkward, I'm surely not far behind!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Trulli Wonderful

Eager to explore more of Bella Italia, I discussed travel plans with my beloved co-worker, Diego.  His mother is from the Puglia region and he prepared Tom and I an itinerary of ways to enjoy that region.  But first, let's have a quick geography lesson!

A: Naples.  B: Alberobello C: Fasano (Zoofari) D: Andria (Castel dell Monte)
 Naples is within the Campania region of Italy (one of 20 regions within the country).  We are on the front calf of the "boot."  Puglia (pronounced "pool-ya") is our eastern neighboring region.  Within Puglia, we stayed in the charming town of Alberobello, famous for their trulli cottages.  Trulli cottages are little, round, stone houses that are highly adorable. 

Tom's office decided that having a meeting at 4pm on a Friday was totally necessary, thereby destroying my departure plans.  (I was notably annoyed about this and made several comments like "MY office would NEVER have a meeting after 3pm on a Friday because they respect people's personal time..."  Despite these comments, Tom still had a 4 pm meeting.)  So at 5:15 pm, with our car loaded up with a remarkable amount of stuff and a thunderstorm pounding, off we went!  3.5 hours later, we were there!

We stayed in a trulli cottage, which was super cute!  Our first meal involved a number of "delicacies" which we didn't really love (including tripe and snails) and several others that we did really love (read my first meatballs in Italy!  Who knew they aren't as big of a thing in real Italy as they are in the American version???).  Each region also has their own unique types of pasta, orecchiette being the most famous in Puglia.  It was fun to see how food changes from region to region, the presence of different types of meat and vegetables that aren't popular or on the menu here in Campania.

We shopped and we shopped and we shopped!  From a trulli nativity scene (which I HAD to buy because it was SO ridiculous and hilarious!) to 3 new varieties of liqueurs (cactus-cello??  It's a thing!) to the requisite magnets and my beloved blue tiles, we shopped a lot!  The people were so friendly, just born sales people, they could sell you anything!  "Just looking?  No problem, please, come try!  You want to try this?  Please, come try!"  During a sudden downpour, we stayed in one shop for almost an hour, eating pizza flavors biscuits, trying (and buying) truffle spread to go on the biscuits (which we also bought) and then spicy salami wrapped in cavallo cheese.  Oh my heavens!  Everything tasted even better, wrapped in this blanket of absurdly friendly people!  When I thanked the shopkeeper for letting us ride out the storm she said "For nothing.  For nothing do you ever have to thank me.  It was nothing."  To the people of Puglia, I love you.  You are a breed of the kindest, warmest people I've met in Italy so far. 

Diego told me "Mrs. Lynne, you must go to Fasano to the Zoofari.  It is so funny!"  Skeptical that "funny" to an Italian normally means "super weird" to us, we went, me warning Tom the entire time "Keep your expectations low, this is sure to be weird."  Well, weird it definitely was!  But hilarious!  Oh my heavens!  The drive-thru zoo allowed you to feed animals whatever you like, an act which would result in any number of lawsuits in the US.  We had potato chips on hand and that was what we fed them.  From giraffes to zebras, camels and cows, our car was flooded with pushy animals, sticking their heads inside the windows or pecking at the dead bugs on the hood (damn emu.  I hate those evil birds!).  The actual park was a strange mixture of 1980's tiny theme park and assorted animals in fish tanks on wooden stands.  Parts were very sad and made me think of how the American zoos would be kinder to their animals.  Parts were really weird, like the pink castle ride with little heart shaped chairs, which turned out to be a scary ride with chain saws and cheesy Freddie Kruger guys.  "Why is it pink???"  It likely used to be something else, child appropriate. 

And then on Saturday night, we discovered that 7 fellow Americans were also in this little town and met up with them for dinner!  Tom discovered what "gnocchi nero" is (black gnocchi with bread crumbs and olives) and I discovered that I don't much care for it! 

Sunday, we drove to Andria to see the Castel dell Monte.  It was built for the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II in the 1240's as a hunting lodge (so some believe).  Later, it fell into disrepair and those stinking Bourbon's came in and stole all of the marble for... the Caserta Palace in Campania (about 20 minutes north of Naples)!  The entire castle is now empty, devoid of all ornamentation.  It stands atop a hill in the middle of a flat landscape, visible from 15 km.  The views from the hilltop, of the ocean, the countryside, the lovely little monetary, were breathtaking.  And then this monstrous castle!  Mamma mia! 

Our trip was like a dream.  I find myself sighing with the thought of the rolling hills, more vibrantly green than I could ever have imagined.  After living in the hustle and bustle of the city for so long, stepping into this quaint little farming town was like stepping back in time and I loved every moment of it! 

Until we meet again, Puglia, you'll remain in my memory ever so fondly!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Yachting, the new Easter Tradition

Easter in Italy is an event.  There are cakes and fireworks, special hand painted eggs that cost  a small fortune and bizarre rules about how it's suddenly ok to eat lamb.  However, Easter this year brought another exciting event: the America's Cup races. 

Downtown Naples has been shut down to street traffic along its busiest road to make way for tents and stadium seating, bands and loads of vendors.  It's like a classy street fair!  Our place, high atop the hill of Vomero, has the most amazing view of the Bay of Naples, perfect for watching the races.  To this end, and because of my deep, deep love of themed parties, Easter Brunch became "Easter Aboard the Yacht."  Complete with themed costumes and elegant finger food, belinis and Bloody Mary's - because a themed party always needs cocktails. 

My dear, wonderful, amazing friend, Molly, spent hours helping me make the perfect tiny finger sandwiches for said party on Saturday afternoon.  We made tiny caprese salads on toothpicks, stuffed mushrooms, strawberry bruschetta and on and on and on, whilst watching Lord of the Rings (my favorite movie series of all time.  Go ahead and judge, but I love them).

Just to show that we haven't become too European (as if that was ever a concern), I decorated our bidet.  That's right, bidet decor is huge here with ex-pats.  One of my friends put gold-painted pine cones in her bidet for Christmas and I thought it was brilliant.  Somehow (read drunkenly) the idea for a bidet Easter Egg Hunt came about.  20 Euro centi and a "Mon Cheri" (chocolate covered cherry) were hidden in an egg in the bidet and the hunt was on.  I'm completely embarassed to know that several of our friends spent about 20 minutes searching through the plastic Easter Eggs in our bidet to find such a ridiculous prize. 

Buona Pasqua (Happy Easter) a few days late from Team Keenan here in Bella Italia! 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fire and Ice

My troubles with showers in Europe seem to be a recurring problem.  The simple act of bathing, which I have oft thought myself to be profiecient in back in the US seems to give me more trouble here in Europe.  Our own home is no different.

During the week, we are up freakishly early by Italian standards.  To be at work by 7, I'm normally awake, or grumbling about how I don't want to be awake, at 5:31 AM.  At this time, the only Italian I know to be awake is the gentleman who plays his talk radio excessively loud.  Monday through Friday, I take my morning shower and all is va bene.  Then comes the weekend.  Or those rare days when I am home in the middle of the day and have a desire to bathe.  Those days, it gets bad.

I have 2 theories.  Theory 1: we are sharing a hot water heater with someone in our building.  Theory 2: there is a tiny gerbil hidden in our house who runs on a tiny wheel, thereby heating our water.  By 10 AM, said gerbil, let's call him Gary, is having a little nap and can't run on his little wheel without sufficient notice to make hot water.  Poor Gary, I haven't even found him to feed him....

Theory 1, the shared hot water heater theory, is probably more likely.  On days like today, as I had the audacity to sleep in and attempt to take a shower at 10, the water was fine for exactly 1 minute.  1:01, it went ice cold.  This normally happens post-shampoo rinse out, during the conditioner phase.  Or right as I've suds up.  It's always SUPER inconvenient.  "#)$^*$!!!!  $)%*#&!!!!!"  Explative upon explative fall out of my mouth and my shower has now become unpleasant.  I normally fiddle with the handle, though it mocks me as it no longer has any control over water pressure or temperature.  And then, like Lindsey Lohan's career, it's briefly hot again, giving you the hope that she will leave all of that drug business behind.  Oh wait, I've taken that metaphor a bit too far...

So here I sit, half-conditioned, mostly cleaned in my enormously puffy bathrobe, hoping to heat back up and also that the welts from scalding hot water go down before I decide to wear anything that would show my shoulers.  I mean, it's pretty clearly a first world problem of the most epic proportions, but that certainly won't stop me from complaining about it.

Brrrr... Ahhh!  Hot!