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Last weekend Paul and I took our first day trip in the new car. Up to Lake Bracciano, about an hour outside of Rome. It’s a lovely old village with a castle, actually the one where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were married. Naturally, I wanted to take a tour (because I like castles, not TomKat). So in my best Italian, I walked up to inquire about rates, time and language. After being told that the next tour would start a mezzo giorno, noon, tickets were sette Euros, seven, and that it would be en inglese, in English, we were sold. Money was exchanged. A few minutes were passed on a bench. But as we walked through the iron gates of the castle, we realized that only two of the above statements were correct…

For the next hour and a half, Paul and I wandered through the enormous castle listening to–but not understanding more than a word of–the tour in Italian. Here, it’s important to note that Italians are not known for keeping things brief. Each and every room, nook and cranny was fully described in more detail that I can possibly imagine it’s original residents might have been aware of.

So, by next summer, we need to be able to understand the language. At least enough to know when someone’s telling us the tour is in English…or not.





View from the top

Up top


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The best morning ever

In the continuing struggle that is my pre-natal care, I had an appointment with the midwife this morning. Today’s goal, blood tests. Testing what? Who knows. But this much is clear: our appointment was for 9am. The Birth Center is across town, approximately a 45-minute trip. So Paul and I got up early and hustled down there. Factoring in Italian Time we figured on a 15-minute delay before we’d see the pros in action. Oh how we underestimated. Thirty-five minutes later, the junior midwife arrived. After a brief apology, my blood was drawn and the bill payed. The entire process took approximately seven minutes.

Unfortunately, the second goal of the meeting was to discuss their payment process with the senior midwife who arrived at 9:40, after the receptionist called to remind her. Fantastic. Poor Paul headed into her office to talk turkey, for ten minutes. Next we were off to meet a man about a car so the chart making, insurance reimbursement and penny counting was brought to an abrupt end.

mercedesI’d arranged for us to see (and hopefully drive) a Mercedes A180 for sale through the Yahoo! online group for ex-pats; the owner does not speak English but a lovely friend of his (who also offered her services to us as a future babysitter) had agreed to be there as interpreter.

Ten minutes of waddling got us to FAO, unfortunately we were ten minutes late. First we searched the parking lot. No sign of them. As the minutes ticked by, we became later and later. Beginning to worry, we wondered if our tardiness caused the problem or was this the second meeting that would run more than half an hour late today? Changing location, we were finally approached out front by a man in a helmet and a petite brunette. Apparently they were just about to leave (the only two Italians not on Italian Time?) when they “saw the belly” and came over…to tell us the bad news. Due to something about a co-worker’s issue with opening up the bank where he works, the man was unable to drive the car into the city today. Instead he rode his scooter, which is not a gold Mercedes, nor for sale. They’d come in person to apologize–and to mention that they know a friend of a friend.

Our second brief apology inside of an hour and social connection made, here’s how we left it: Paul will meet them again tonight while I’m at bible study.

Hoping the day improves with time.

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Park place

With four days of leisure at our disposal, Paul, Carter and I strolled through Villa Borghese over Easter weekend.


Highlight: It’s already a beautiful place with fountains, museums and vast stretches of grass but now everything is starting to bloom.


Low point: A herd of unruly dogs, ever so lightly managed by their Italian owners, appeared as we stretched out on the grass. A spaniel took my shoe. Another trotted over and raised his leg, actually aiming for my right shin! I managed to shoo him away before any damage was done, at least not physically.

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Terror in the kitchen

I touched a chicken head today. And I didn’t like it.

On Thursday I stocked up on groceries for the long weekend, following Dan’s advice that everything would be closed on Easter Sunday and Monday. Maybe even Saturday. (You have to hand it to the Italians, they’ve got a knack for stretching out a holiday. Here in Rome, Paul will have a four-day weekend in honor of the occasion.) Strolling through the aisles, the usual suspects made their way into my cart: pasta, fruit, milk. When I saw the fresh chickens on special, I thought of a delicious dinner ahead, roasted chicken. Plus the leftovers: sandwiches and maybe a cold chicken salad with ginger dressing.  So I put the bird–shrink-wrapped and lying on a bed of styrofoam, just as it would be in the US–in with the other fixins.

Now for a recipe. I love the Food Network, I just do. Since we arrived in Italy I’ve been trying to branch out but on this day, I settled on a Giada De Laurentiis recipe for Garlic and Citrus Chicken. She’s Italian, she’s got a show or two on the blessed network and Paul loves garlic. Perfect. I began slicing lemons, mincing garlic and finally unwrapping the roasting pan that Paul and I received as a wedding gift from friends Marie and Andrea (thanks again!)

Now every cook knows that you have to be careful with raw poultry. Don’t touch it, then handle other raw foods. Avoid dripping juices all over the counter. And above all, wash your hands before and after touching the dirty little beast. With these safety precautions in mind, I  sliced open the cellophane. Lifting up the bird, I started to rinse it clean when I felt something  underneath that I expected to be the neck and giblets. I was half right.

With my hand firmly grasping the mystery part (why so firm I’ll never know, but deeply regret), I flipped the bird over to find that I was indeed holding the neck…which was still attached to the head.

Yes, a dead chicken head.

With a beak.

And that little red wobbly thing.

In my hand.

As I let out a horrified gasp, another surprise: the feet were also included. I screamed and dropped the chicken.

Drawing a ragged breath I called for help, “Paul! I need you.” As I explained the situation, he chuckled but dutifully removed the offending parts from the carcass.  “It’s ready now,” he said as I cowered from the comfort of the living room. “Ok, but where is the head?,” I asked. “And the feet?” He’d put them safely in a plastic bag, with a paper towel on top so as to spare me from any further accidental exposure.

I know, it sounds pathetic but the combination of carnage, and my surprise contact with it, just proved too much. Even for someone who grew up on a farm as I did. But in my defense, we didn’t kill chickens at our little place. We collected their eggs. And actually we didn’t butcher anything. The good people from Willis Brothers came every spring to take care of that year’s pig and cow; butchering the entire animal before wrapping and labeling specific cuts of meat to keep in our locker, at their store. All I saw was a wax paper package with a sticker on it. And there certainly weren’t any chickens involved. That would be gross.

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Oh, Ikea

Certain things about life in Italy have surprised me. The c-section rate is extremely high. There are earthquakes. And everyone buys their furniture at Ikea.

Only this is not the Ikea that I remember. Either the Euro quality is higher or the place has done an overhaul on their products everywhere. Offering a vast selection of pretty much everything, one can buy nice things at Ikea and more importantly, not break the bank. This is how Paul and I found ourselves there, repeatedly. Unfortunately the process is not without its glitches.

Take our most recent purchase. Melissa and I rented a minivan and headed out to pick up small things like lamps and rugs, plus I ordered a bed frame for our room and a bed for the guest room (my mom was coming in 3 weeks). This was to be delivered in approximately 10 days. Here’s how the whole process worked:

  • Wander through the megastore, piling up enough lampshades, pillows and rugs to fill two carts each
  • Wobble up to the cash registers, fending off Italians who’d desperately like to cut in line, then place each item on the counter
  • 20 minutes of scanning go by and my Italian “credit card” is inexplicably denied
  • Two carts worth of items called “Hemnes” and “Lillesand” lay on the conveyor belt, unpaid for and uncertain as to their future
  • I try my American credit card but it’s also denied because we have a fraud alert set on high and I’ve never used the card before
  • Call Paul from checkout line
  • Face angry Italians
  • Use Melissa’s American credit card to pay for purchase
  • Wait for Melissa to complete her own two-cart transaction
  • Watch her Italian “credit card” get declined. She uses her US card as well
  • Frazzled but on my way out the door, am assured that the new bed, mattress and frames will be delivered within 10 days
  • 10 days pass: No delivery
  • Nothing
  • Nada
  • The week before my mom is to arrive, Amy who speaks fluent Italian calls Ikea for us
  • There’s “a problem with the order” and the only way to solve it is to return to the store!
  • I go to Ikea the next day
  • Wait in line for 20-30 minutes
  • Explain that we haven’t gotten the delivery and am once again promised delivery within 10 days. But my mom is coming in three days, I say. In that case, they agree to bring the items faster.
  • My mom arrives.
  • No beds.
  • Mom sleeps on the cot that our landlords have left us in the apartment. It’s not so bad but…
  • No delivery.
  • Nothing.
  • One week passes: My mom leaves.
  • Three more days: Ikea delivers the beds but no mattress
  • More calling, thank you Amy!
  • Once again visit the store. This time with Paul and a cargo van
  • Am promised for the third time that the mattress will arrive within 10 days
  • I declare that I’m not leaving the store without the mattress
  • 30 minutes later: A mattress is wheeled out from the warehouse
  • Bending the mattress in half, we manage to squeeze it into the small cargo van…and take it home!
  • Forty-two days after the bed-buying adventure began, Barb, Brendan and Colleen arrive, and have somewhere to sleep.

In the end, we got our beds (below) but as Amy said, it was Italy versus Ikea. Italy won.

Guest bed

new bed number one

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Drama mia

As reported on Facebook, we discovered shortly after moving in that two of our three kitchen appliances don’t work. Well, don’t work the way they should. In the 21st century. In the price range of our rent.

To elaborate, the dishwasher doesn’t wash any dishes. Rather, just sloshes a little water around for approximately 2 hours. (Turns out that a pipe is filled with calcium–a huge issue for tap water in Rome–therefore the water source is depleted.) The stove is an entirely different matter. An entirely different era, actually. It’s white. It’s rickety. And my favorite part, you have to light the burners with a match! Feel like a serf in feudal times, and not in a romantic way, more like someone who’s preparing a bowl of gruel.

So after pointing out that all of the other apartments that we’d seen came with updated appliances, and shedding a tear or two (Hormones? More likely just my normal reaction. Poor Paul.) the landlords graciously agreed to replace both this week. Hooray! The celebration however, ended abruptly when it came time to arrange for the installation. Behold, today’s email from our landlords who inexplicably made a same-day appointment and, well, you can see for yourself…

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: xxxx@tiscali.it
Date: Tue, Feb 10, 2009 at 5:13 PM
Subject: Flat V. Nizza
To: paulgmathews@gmail.com

To Charity and Paul

We have been trying to get in touch with you by phone since
yesterday, but it seems impossible to have an answer from you. Ione has
ordered the new dishwasher and a gas-cooker. Delivery is only possible
on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday between 11.00 and 4.00. But before
delivery a new plug has to be applied in the wall by the electrician
for the gas-cooker. We had managed to obtain an appointment by the
electrician for today, but having had no answer from you we had to
cancel it.
So the whole thing has to be reorganized again. In any case the
electrician is not available for tomorrow (Wednesday) and he always can
come only afer 4.30 pm.
Let us know how to procede, considering that  making any arrangement
with these people is a nightmare.On our part we can only offer to
receive your keys if you cannot be present when they come.
Consider that at present our PC is still not working.


Ione and Massimo Roccas

Pleasant. Perhaps the subject line could have been: Molto put out.

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Italian lessons save money

There’s a sandwich and pizza shop around the corner from us that’s always packed. Yesterday I decided to try it out. But unfortunately my Italian, which is rudimentary at best, gets much worse when my blood sugar is low. Plus there’s a certain amount of pressure that builds up as you’re waiting your turn in a busy lunch spot.

It was under these conditions that I clumbsily explained my request through a combination of Italian (10%), English (30%) and hand gestures (60%). The sign above the sandwich (panino) clearly said 1 Euro and 30 cents. But thanks to my extremely American communication style, I was charged 2 Euros. No matter. This happens often; tourists have a different rate. Once you get to know a place, become a regular or at least a fluent local, the prices magically come down. Except for today.

Back for more I ordered the same sandwich–in Italian–answered the 5 or so sandwich related questions–in Italian–but let a single “yes” slip. That was it.  The man behind the counter actually repeated it quietly and almost playfully, “yes, yes, yes” as he took the panino from the deli case to the oven.

Then he charged me 2 Euros 40 cents.

Thank heavens that my language lessons start in January. Our bank account depends on it.

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