Moving Sale

It’s amazing how much “stuff” we collect in a lifetime…

We have lived in our house here in New Mexico for over 17 years (wow!).  Before I left for Bologna I went through all of our closets, starting the long process of sorting – this goes to Goodwill, this a gift to a friend, this other goes on Craig’s list (hesitantly – I get lots of weird/scam e-mails from Craig’s list)…  I was astonished at what was hiding in the nether-regions of our closets – things I had not seen in 17+ years and things I swear I had never seen before in my life (how does that happen?!).  Surprisingly, it was actually quite fun!  It was both a nostalgic walk down memory lane and, at the same time, a freeing semi-Buddhist ceremony of letting go.  More amazing than how much stuff we have is how little of it we really need.

Now that I am back I have picked up where I left off, but with an altered perspective as now I know that it is a HUGE pain to ship stuff to Italy and that our apartment has just about everything we need (and then some) (AND that this is an expensive enterprise, so the more we $ell, the better).  So now I weed things down even more –  the cookware, the chotchkies, the clothes (hey, it’s a good excuse to get rid of all the clothes I secretly hate but feel obliged to keep wearing!).  Some things present a dilemma – specifically gifts.  I remember who gave this to me/Steve/us and for what occasion – how can we possibly part with it?  Luckily, we can keep some of these sentimental objects here in the attic or the closet I claimed (we are keeping our house here).  We are shipping some of the sentimental things, as well as some clothes and other things that help a place feel “homey.”  (Steve gets a very small reimbursement for shipping, so we might as well use it).

So, this is really a post about letting go – a metaphorical/psychological “moving sale.”  However, to go along with the metaphysical, we will be having two actual moving sales – one now (for things we can manage without), one later for things we can’t (still have to sleep and drive till we leave!).  We’re having out first sale on Saturday, May 5 (Happy Cinco De Mayo!) – if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and say hi!  (And by all means, if you know anyone looking for furniture, kitchen stuff, a pool table, small art, etc. – pass the message on – THANKS)!   A sample:

A Trip to the Grocery

While  the grand finale of my “Assimilation” series continues to percolate, we will take a diversion back, again, to my favorite topic – FOOD!

Though the beautiful specialty shops and market stalls featured in earlier posts are still the more traditional and foodie way to shop in Italy, modern “American-style” grocery stores are popping up everywhere.  When you need several things and don’t have time for the pleasure of market shopping, a trip to the “supermercato” is in order.  Upon first glance, you might think you are in a grocery store in the US; however, you soon realize there are several subtle, but significant (and interesting) differences…

Produce – in Italy YOU weigh your own produce.  First, you take a pair of provided disposable plastic gloves, then you select your fruits/veggies and put them in a bag, you pay attention to the number on the bin as you will input it into the scale, you put your item on the scale, punch in the correct code, and out prints a label with the item/weight/price which you affix to the bag.  (As an aside, at the markets you never touch the produce, you ask the proprietor for what you would like).  For stranieri who don’t know the system and just put stuff in a bag and take it to the checkout, rolled eyes and a trip back to the produce department await.  However, as I discovered, there are exceptions…  One day I was buying artichokes (actually I bought artichokes MANY times – they are locally grown, plentiful, delicious and cheap) – I could not find a number on the bin anywhere – I searched and searched – leaving me with the dilemma of either giving up my beautiful artichokes or going to the checkout without a properly affixed tag….  Of course I wasn’t giving up my artichokes!  At that point I learned that some items have a fixed price per item and you needn’t weigh them (hence the missing number).  I got through checkout happily WITH my prized vegetable and WITHOUT having suffered any scorn!

(sorry no photos of weighing veggies, but here are some beautiful artichokes:)

Product selection – the grocery stores in Italy are pretty comprehensive, even more so since just a few years ago when we were there.  You can get almost anything you can get here (plus a ton of things you can’t get here).  You can even get Italy’s version of tortilla chips (“Amica Chips”), though they taste nothing like what you expect a tortilla chip to taste like.  It’s hard to explain – they have the same 3 ingredients – corn meal, oil and salt – yet they taste like slightly charred polenta and not at all like a Tostitos…  In any case, back to the main cultural difference…  You CANNOT buy any kind of medication whatsoever at a grocery or any other kind of store other than a “Farmacia.”  Nothing, nada, niente – no ibuprofen, no sore throat spray – nothing.  Any medicinal-like product at all requires a trip to the pharmacy and a request to a pharmacist (and a king’s ransom – 8 ibuprofen cost about as many dollars – the trade-off being, of course that doctors and prescriptions are free).

Checkout – this one still cracks me up.  In Italy, the checkout people sit in chairs and YOU are responsible for just about every part of the operation from unloading your cart to putting it away AND sacking your own groceries (either in the bag/cart you brought, which is the norm, or you have to ask for plastic bags for which you are charged).  And remember, you’ve already labeled and weighed everything as well. (You can take it a step further and use a self checkout lane, which are much more commonplace than the ones popping up here). While to us this may seem like a serious lack of customer service, it actually makes the (very long) lines go faster.  There are 2 sides where checked foods go, so while you are sacking your groceries the checkout person is already ringing up the next customer (and not having to weigh anything) and just putting their groceries down the alternate side.

Personally, I love grocery shopping in Italy.  I feel like I am on a cultural excursion each and every time.  Not just because of the subtle differences in the process, but of course because of the selection of foods and the subtle differences even with similar products (portion size comes to mind).  Once I discovered the secret to shopping in Italy (go early to avoid the crowds), I looked forward to running out of things as an excuse for my next field trip.  I felt a bit defensive in class one day after we learned the difference between “fare la spesa” and “fare shopping.”   “Fare la spesa” signifies “doing the shopping,” but with an air of chore to it (it was explained as shopping you have to do – for food, cleaning supplies, etc.), whereas “fare shopping” entails the “fun” kind of shopping (for clothes, shoes, etc.).  One day a teacher asked a student what she did for fun over the weekend and when she said “fare la spesa” everyone giggled and her misuse of the language was corrected (fare shopping).  I still take issue with those definitions!

Photo Albums and other Forbidden Mail

Answer: Shoes, playing cards and photo albums

Question: What are just a few of the things you CANNOT mail to Italy!?

I would like to avoid any additional complications (and costs) with customs than I already learned to expect from my earlier box-mailing incident.  As I was informed by a very wealthy passenger on my  flight to here (who has a couple of homes in Italy), it is very difficult to get your stuff into Italy (I confess, I used my air miles to fly business class).  At the time I didn’t pay too much attention, because she was talking about the kind of “stuff” we really needn’t worry about – jewelery, expensive art, and other rich people things.  But after I had such trouble with my little box filled with books and green chile, I realized I needed to pay attention.   I have been carefully going through the list of things you are not allowed to send into Italy.  It is truly mind-boggling.  And while you may (as we did) laugh out loud,  this is not a joke….

This is a (partial) list from the United States Post Office’s website:

  • Albums of any kind (of photographs, postcards, postage stamps, etc.).
  • Articles of platinum or gold; jewelry; and other valuable articles unless sent as insured Priority Mail International parcels.
  • Artificial flowers and fruits and accessories for them.
  • Bells and other musical instruments and parts thereof.
  • Clocks and supplies for clocks.
  • Compound medicaments and medicines.
  • Coral mounted in any way.
  • Footwear of any kind.
  • Haberdashery and sewn articles of any kind, including trimmings and lace; handkerchiefs; scarves; shawls, needlework including stockings and gloves; bonnets, caps, and hats of any kind.
  • Hair and articles made of hair.
  • Leather goods.
  • Nutmeg, vanilla; sea salt, rock salt; saffron.
  • Perfumery goods of all kinds (except soap).
  • Playing cards of any kind.
  • Ribbons for typewriters.
  • Saccharin or products containing saccharin.
  • Toys not made wholly of wood.

SERIOUSLY!!!!!    As you can see, this technically means we can’t bring our photo albums (clearly restricted), our South Park characters (“toys” not made entirely of wood), our jackets (leather), our iHome (clock)… and our hair?!?!?   What I did learn from the woman on my flight is that you can bring many of these things as personal items  (think spare ibuprofen and my running shoes) in your luggage (she was right, they don’t check luggage), just don’t mail them.   While this list seems downright comical, there is (sort-of) an explanation…  Some of these things are just restricted products (saccharin?  [I can’t confirm this]), others are taxed (playing cards), and the majority are things that are or were traditionally manufactured in Italy and they basically use these restrictions to protect their economic interests in these manufactured goods (if you know more about these restrictions, PLEASE post a comment!).  From what I have learned, if you send over your own, personal, used items (pair of shoes), and clearly label every form, box, etc. as “effetti personali” (personal effects), you may be okay.  Then again, there are entire websites lamenting the loss of items (both restricted and not) somewhere in the Italian postal system… (They make this whole process look so much easier on “House Hunters International”).  Will let you know what we roll the dice and send, then what does or does not make it after we arrive!

Cucinare Con Ale (Cooking show)

Today I take a break from the profound to take a diversion and write about my favorite cooking show here – “Cucinare Con Ale.”

As you may know (or have figured out from the focus of much of my writing), I consider myself a foodie.  The Food Network and Cooking Channel are two of my favorite guilty pleasures (oh, and Bravo’s “Top Chef”).  The other is “House Hunter’s International” (big surprise).  I have found the equivalent of Italy’s combined HGN and Food Network – “Real Time.”  They play dubbed re-runs of Top Chef, lots of Gordon Ramsey and Cake Boss-based shows, and some of their own cooking (and cooking competition) shows.  (On a culturally embarrassing side-note, there is also a station that plays “Jersey Shore” reruns nearly round the clock).  My favorite cooking show is “Cucinare Con Ale” – I would say it’s like the first, more mellow, cooking show Guy Fieri did. Ale has a great personality, has fun cooking and is easy to follow.  I have actually learned a lot (of Italian cooking tips) and can follow most of the Italian – I think watching things I have a natural proclivity towards (food), or familiarity with (such as “Friends” dubbed), helps me with the language.  Here is a little taste of the show…some photos and a link to a clip making bruschetta…


Our New Home!

I have been writing Part II of my “assimilation” series, but am still sorting out my thoughts.  So…

Here it is, the moment you’ve been waiting for…  Some information about and pictures of our new Italian home (and perhaps your guest bedroom/bath…?).

Okay, now remember I have already told you this place is a bit old-fashioned looking (and that “furnished” in Italy is an understatement). Just picture this with a few less of the owner’s chotchkies and with some of my photos and our art collected from our travels (and of course a well-placed Muppet or South Park figure for good measure).

Aside from the 4 flights of stairs (which we see as the replacement of our current gym memberships), it really is pretty sweet.  It is very light and bright, and the funky layout makes it hip.  The owner agreed to install some ac units (a rare commodity in Italy), so we got everything we were hoping for.  You can’t tell from these few photos, but there is a weird office space with a loft – not quite sure what we’re going to do with it other than store the owner’s stuff, but if kids ever come to visit they will think it is THE coolest secret hide-out/”tree” house.  The guest bedroom (also not pictured) is the top of the building (we have 2 stories – top floor and attic/roof), so it’s got a pitched ceiling with beams (picture every other old European place you’ve seen on “House Hunters International”).  The window in that room looks out onto the bottom of the roof deck; the roof deck has 360 degree views – this is my Italian dream place for morning cappuccinos and evening glasses of wine.  The big bathroom pictured is on the floor with the guest bedroom (lucky guests); the other is on the main floor.

You may notice that there is an entire wall of bookshelves – with books!  I am guessing these will still be there when we arrive and am curious to see what our new library looks like – reminds me of the scene I love from Beauty and the Beast.  Finally, the kitchen is nice and well-equipped – just waiting for my Italian culinary skills (or more likely, trying to simulate New Mexican and other hard-to-find cuisines).

For those of you familiar with Florence (or on mapquest), the apartment is in the Piazza Beccaria neighborhood – 2.5km’s from Steve’s school, and just a few blocks away from the most authentic food market in Florence – Sant’ Ambrogio (some info about it here:, see short clip here:

If the photos don’t do it justice (and they don’t), you will just need to come see for yourself!

McDonald’s (and other “restaurants”)

I had no idea having a blog was going to feel like such a responsibility!  I don’t want to waste your time with trivial posts, but at the same time, I can only be profound part of the time.  Today, we talk about McDonald’s, next time something more substantive…

Somehow the Europeans have managed to make even McDonald’s chyc…

Last time we were in Bologna there was a McDonald’s (much to our surprise)  – now there are two!  But the more interesting thing is how chyc they are – there is an outdoor patio that looks like every other cafe in Italy and well-dressed people spending an hour+ eating their McDonald’s tiramisu and sipping their McDonald’s cafe macchiatos (yes, they also have hamburgers and fries).  The McDonald’s usually manage to be in the swankiest places and make for the least expensive opportunity to sit in a cafe and people-watch.

Okay, I have to admit, though don’t tell anyone (oh, yeah, public blog…)  I actually grabbed some fries from a McDonald’s late one night on my way back from apartment hunting (audible GASPS go here).  Seriously, though, if our McDonald’s looked like this we might feel differently about them:

Lest you worry about my culinary sensibilities, I also had the MOST magnificent seafood risotto here (see photos at bottom):

And enjoyed a tasting plate of seafood crudo and handmade pasta with vongole (clams) and mussels here:

Finally, I must add that the stereo-type of Italians eating late is very true – went to dinner at 8:00 one night and we were the VERY first people there!  Since I couldn’t get used to people saying we should meet at 9:00 to GO to dinner, I mostly ate lunch.  Buon Appetito!



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Seriously, you knew my blog about Italy could not go long without a shout-out to one of my all-time favorite foods – GELATO!   As many of you may know (as I go on and on about it), Bologna has THE best gelateria in the WORLD (seriously, Food and Wine Magazine said so!).  The Sorbetteria Castiglione just does it like no one else and I have made it my sacred quest (think Monty Python’s Holy Grail) to work my way through all the flavors.   Luckily for me, there is an Italian custom of having at LEAST 2 flavors at once. I have no idea why, but you simply cannot order just one flavor – well, I don’t think it’s as verboten as putting cheese on you spaghetti with vongole (clams), but akin to asking for a bottle of ketchup at a fancy NY steakhouse – if you persist, you will likely be accommodated, but not without accompanying scornful looks.

I have not taken any photos (lest you be jealous – and it’s also hard to photograph with a cone of gelato in your hands), but here is their website (a click on upper right British flag will get you the English version)…

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