Saturday, November 29, 2008

Find a Happy Place - in Italy

First of all I apologize for being absent for a few days but I have been having some problems with the internet and I will leave it at that. I have been thinking of all of my readers out there, whoever you are and this post is for you!

It has taken me awhile to find my happy place in Italy and I guess I just about stumbled upon it only recently realizing that it is my happy place. I will explain.
There is a particular road that descends, twisting and turning from near my home all the way down to the lake of Chiusi. It may be nothing special to someone else, but to me it has become my happy place. I drive down that road to think, when I am happy, when I am sad, when I want to be alone, when I want to relax, when I want to hide, when I want to rejoice. It is my happy place. Let me describe it to you:

It is an asfalted road. Right now it is aligned with trees that are still not completely bare. Leaves of orange, red, yellow and every tonality of these adorn these trees. There are as many leaves on the side of the road as on the trees. There are some homes here and there and some also somewhat hidden. Most of these homes are farmhouses, both restored and not restored.

The soft hills you can see from the road are full of olive groves and fruit trees. Sometimes there will be a farmer working the land. This road hardly ever has any cars but maybe a tractor once in awhile. Going further down the descent on the right side are some Etruscan tombs that are almost always closed so there are no tourists even around. There is one small turnaround with a wooden fence that I know well. It is where me and my husband go when we fight and when we want to talk.

At the end of the descent is the house of our gardner. I know it quite well as I study his beautiful landscaping and then quickly call him to ask if I too can get that flower or tree. Fabio will always respond "ok ok but not now since this is the busy time of year" or "ok ok but not now since it is not the time to plant." My pleas though will always get him to my home!

This happy place has become my happy place for two fabulous reasons. I used to walk it accompanied by my parents visiting from the USA when I was pregnant with my first child. Beautiful memories. Now I drive it to put my second child to sleep. It works like a charm. He must know it is mommy's happy place. As soon as we finish the descent, see Fabio's (the gardner's) house, my son is fast asleep like an angel.

Oh I won't tell you the name of this road as it is MY happy place. You are just going to have to find your own!!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How to Dress Italian and Look Good - Part II

In my first article "How to Dress Italian and Look Good" I wrote about what gives the Italian woman the edge on class, elegance and style. While the formula for looking good includes copying and then personalizing it, a crucial factor is being body conscious. An Italian woman for instance is very much in tune with her body weight, shape and height. She will follow fashion trends but not at the expense of looking worse.

Let's face it. The majority of us are not super models or athletes. We do not have never ending legs or perfect breasts. We cannot and should not wear everything we see in the magazines. You need to fine tune what you see and then personalize it depending on your body type.

Dress pants for large hips:
If you have large hips, wearing skin tight pants will NOT make you look thinner. Instead dress pants that flow, are not bell bottom and are not skinny look best for the woman who has large hips or large legs. The best colors are dark colors just because they do make you look slender. Dark blue, charcoal, black, dark emerald, dark red for example work really well.

Italian women understand and work with their bodies. They will not sacrifice how they look just for the latest trend. They will not wear for instance the "pant collant" or fuseux which is in style now if their bodies do not permit it. It is just not classy.

Dress pant length:
I wrote a little about how clothes should fit in "How to Dress Italian and Look Good"
but I need to stress that dress pants should not be too long nor too short. You need to get them fitted according to the shoes you will wear with them. Bring the shoes with you to the tailor when you go. The hem should be such that it just glides and barely touches the shoe in the front. When standing up, you should never see your socks or hose. If you do see them, they are too short. The hem in the back should never touch the floor. There should never be a break (visible lines) in the pant leg.If there is, they are too long.

Skirts:
Italian women do not wear mini skirts or full skirts if they have large hips and legs. Doing so just makes them look larger. So pleated skirts are out. Instead these women will wear fitted skirts (not skin tight) or A line skirts (if in style) which have give a slendering look. The hem of the skirt can be just below or just above the knee. A this time, very long straight or flowing skirts are not in style. In any event, long flowing skirts are not attractive for larger women.

Jackets and Shirts:
Here the word is fitted. Italian women do not wear non fitted jackets nor shirts because they just look lousy. They make you look like you don't care. A jacket or shirt that is not fitted means that it lies large like a sac over you and does not glide on your curves. Even if you are large, fitted looks better. You don't necessarily have to go to a tailor to get it fitted. You can buy it already fitted. The tailor will just make it look better. Look for shirts that have elastic (on label) in them which will help it cling to your body. It should not be skin tight.

Shoes for larger women and / or short women:
I have studied the Italian women for years and although they love shoes and will follow every new shoe trend, they will not sacrifice what they look like for a fleeting trend. Mocassin shoes or flat shoes just don't look good on larger women or women who are not tall because they seem to accentuate your weight and your height, making you look larger and shorter. You may be able to get away with it if you are large and tall. On the most part larger women just look better with at least a little heel. The heel gives the perception of lengthening the leg and that is never a bad thing! If you just hate wearing heels, consider wedge heels that give you the height without sacrificing too much comfort. Nowadays both winter shoes and summer shoes are available with wedges. Some wedges are even invisible to the eye but implanted into the shoe.

Boots are a must for the winter for every woman. Italian women own at least one pair of black boots and if possible brown boots that they interchange according to the color of their clothes. Again these boots should have at least a little heel or a wedge. Boots can be worn with pants, skirts or dresses.

These are just a few of the important facts I have learned while studying the Italian woman and how they dress according to their body type, never sacrificing how they look for style.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Genuine Italian Pizza Dough- Recipe

The secret to a good pizza is making genuine Italian pizza dough. Can this only be learned through years of experience? Absolutely not. All you need is the right formula, the correct ingredients, and a good working oven. Unfortunately an Italian cook would never tell you that as it is a rare thing of an Italian to pass on a good, easy recipe. Well here is a real recipe on making genuine Italian pizza dough from an Italian...me!

You can literally make the dough in five minutes time.
Here are the ingredients:

Lucia's Genuine Italian Pizza Dough and Pizza

Dough
3 full cups of flour (type 0)
1 cube of fresh yeast
luke warm water (1 cup approx)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Dash of salt

Topping
tomato sauce or peeled tomatoes (1 can)
olive oil
dash of salt
dry mozzarella

Preheat oven at 400 degrees.

Makes approx 2 medium size pizzas.

Heat 1 cup of water with the fresh yeast. It should be only luke warm and not hot. Use a fork to break up the yeast as best as possible in the water.

Take a mixing bowl and add flour, make a hole in the middle where you will then add the water and yeast mixture slowly, working the flour first with a fork and then slowly with your hands. The mixture should be sticky and not dry. If it is dry, add more lukewarm water. If it is too liquidy, add more flour. The consistency is key. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to help knead the dough. Leave it in a ball in the same mixing bowl and cover with a clean dry kithen towel.

Let rise at least 1 hour, but two hours is best.

After dough has risen rework it kneading it and put some olive oil on your hands to work it.

Butter the pizza pan and then drizzle flour on it. You can now shape the dough on the pan. Use a bit of olive oil to help you shape it, making sure it does not tear. The dough should be thin but not so much as to tear.

Next place tomato mixture (tomato, olive oil, salt) on the dough evenly.
Lastly, evenly scatter grated mozzarella cheese over pizza

Bake in oven at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Raise bottom of pizza to make sure is not white.

Traditional Foods of Italy

People always ask me what are traditional foods of Italy. There are regional differences in what Italians eat but having lived and visited various parts of Italy, I can say that there are staples and ingredients that have become known as the traditional foods of Italy.
Throughout the peninsula of Italy you will find that Italians eat pasta in all shapes and sizes. Pasta is either homemade "fatto a mano" or machine made and is either with or without eggs. Everyone has their favorite manufacturer of pasta and they range in quality and also in price. Pasta is a staple and often eaten everyday at least once a day.
Other traditional foods of Italy include tomatoes, olive oil, and garlic. Tomatoes are both used as an important ingredient or eaten alone. Tomato sauce, cherry tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, ripe tomatoes, tomatoes for salads. There are a multitude of different types and uses. This is an essential vegetable in the Italian diet. Olive oil is also very important and is used at every meal both to cook with and to dress your favorite dish. One should not forget that garlic should always be present in every kitchen. Put the three together with the other essential staple, bread, and you have got a great "bruschetta".
In the bread category, pizza is up there on the list of traditional foods of Italy. Pizza originated in Naples and is eaten all over Italy with great enthusiasm. Again we have all types of pizza: "la margherita " cheese and tomato sauce, "caprese" white pizza with cherry tomatoes, "quattro stagione" pizza with four different toppings and so forth.
The lunch meats and cheeses are very important traditional foods of Italy and include prosciutto, salami, coppa, mortadella, etc. Finally the cheeses are made up of mozzarella, pecorino, and parmigiano to name only a few.
These are the staples that are never lacking in an Italian household. Of course Italians love meat, fish and vegetables but they are secondary to the aformentioned. No wonder they call them "i secondi" seconds and "i contorni" side dishes!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Italy Customs, Traditions, Lifestyle

Italy customs, traditions, and lifestyle are rather complex but if someone were to ask me to summarize them, I would say that these factors are based on pride, image, food, resilience and humor.

Pride is an attribute that lingers in Italy customs, traditions and lifestyle. Italians are proud of who they are. It is a boastful population but not in the negative sense but rather in a constructive way. They will boast about everything from their political party and why it is the best to why their olive oil is better than the neighbors'. They are proud of themselves but not necessarily of what they do. It is rare that you hear an Italian say that his profession is better than the other's. They are proud of their possessions which takes me to the next attribute.

Image and working on your image is probably one of the most visible traits of the Italian which is seen within Italy customs, traditions and lifestyle. It is no wonder that Italian design is considered the best for clothing, footwear, handbags, automobiles,etc. It is commonplace that you dress to be seen. You drive that car to be seen. This is how it has always been in Italy. The famous "passeggiata per il corso" or stroll along the main town street is what allows the Italian to be seen. Image is everything.

Alongside these traits is their food. Food is at the center of everything and Italy customs, traditions and lifestyle revolve around food. Doctor appointments, important company meetings, conferences revolve around food. You just do not make appointments anywhere near the time of a meal. You just do not. On the most part in Italy everything shuts down during that all important time of day...meal time. And just before meal time, there is a fervor of traffic and movement....to get to that meal. Oh and do not ever dare say "it's just food" which equates to saying something derogatory about a loved one!

There is no population more resilient than the Italian one. This is another trait that runs throughout Italy customs, traditions and lifestyle. A population that on the most part has to depend on itself without the help of a successful social or political structure. These are people who really know how to survive even with the meekest economy, year after year. These are people who get by. They will do what they have to do to make things work.

The last trait that runs rampant in Italy customs, traditions, and lifestyle is humor. Italians really know how to look at life, be positive, let things roll off their shoulder. Italy is not a place for panic, stress, anxiety or "having to get there on time". You get there when you get there. Italians have a way of using humor to alleviate problems. Italian humor is special, low key and not sarcastic. Often times they are laughing at themselves!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

In Italy, Celebrating Christmas

In Italy, celebrating Christmas has many meanings. No matter where you are in Italy, celebrating Christmas equates to being with the family, going to mass, exchanging gifts, seeing friends, eating and drinking.... a lot.

The backdrop is always the same in every household on Christmas day. The fireplace and Christmas tree are lit. There are opened gifts scattered all around. There is every type of food and drink available in all corners of the house. It is a lazy day that begins with opening gifts and eating a traditional Christmas "dolce" like torrone or panettone. Then you get very dressed up and go to mass at the local Church(if you don't go to midnight mass) and then stick around after mass to see and talk to all your friends.

In Italy, celebrating Christmas revolves around the meal. Some families have their Christmas meal in the afternoon as a lunch while others have their meal late in the evening as a dinner. One thing is for sure that there will be every type of food, drink, sweet imaginable. Often times huge big baskets of food are exchanged as gifts and these end up on the Christmas table....prosciutto, coppa, salami, pecorino fresco (fresh), pecorino stagionato (aged), etc etc.

After lunch or dinner comes dessert with the panettone in all its varieties ...chocolate, fruit, glazed, not glazed, with nuts, without nuts, vanilla flavor, lemon flavor, etc.

After the meal and dessert comes coffee and then the digestivo (digestive) which is usually grappa or limoncello. For those with weaker stomachs, chamomile tea is usually suitable!

To top off things in Italy, celebrating Christmas means a game at cards called tombola which is the typical Christmas game. Not sure why but it is only played this time of year.

Lastly, one hopes that celebrating Christmas means something special to Italians and that when everything is said and done and eaten, this holiday means being thankful and observant of their religion and Savior. Buon Natale.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Italy Naples Attractions

A positive outcome of the mess caused by the trash emergency is what has been called a rebirth of Naples Italy and the new and old attractions of this city. Naples has its problems, no doubt, but there are few cities in the world that have the incredible charm of Naples and its people.

Some of Naples attractions that you should not miss include:
- the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina which has been open for three years and is the result of the restoration of Palazzo Regina on Via Settembrini.

-the doll hospital called "l'ospedale delle bambole" is a delightful place where broken toys are given new life.It is on Via San Biagio dei Librai 81.

One of the best attractions includes Naple's eateries. The locals have their preferences for just about everything and will boastfully tell you where you can get the best food, drinks, etc. In fact, just about everyone will agree that the locals prefer to have their coffee at Spaccanapoli, at bar Nilo, where they say there is no comparison.

Naples is also the birthplace of fried fast food which includes "crocchette,arancini, panzerotti". Again locals will tell you the best eatery for these is at Le Belle Figliole in Forcella. For those who have a sweet tooth "la sfogliatella" is in piazza San Domenico Maggiore at Scaturchio. For dinner don't miss Cicciotto at Marechiaro. Appetizers include fried mozzarella and fried baby octopus. For happy hour "il migliore" or the best is at Bufala Cafe' at Via Luca Giordano 33 after 7 pm.

Another attraction not to miss is the best place to see the sunset! Lungomare or seaside between Mergellina dn Castel dell'Ovo is the best place for this view. It is no wonder you will find a plethora of couples exchanging glances and embraces in this spot!

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Travel Throughout Italy on a Budget

With the world stuck in this financial crisis, it is no wonder that Italian tourism is suffering. Right now the only thing that can increase tourism and turn things around for the travel sector is the strengthening of the American dollar and the abundant travel bargains going on in Italy.

All throughout the Italian peninsula you can find special hotel, bed&breakfast, car rental packages and so forth.

Check out the following specials I found:

Bed & Breakfasts:
In Volterra (Pisa) you can get a double room in an apartment for about 40 euros per person. This is a 10 percent discount on their prices. Check out www.bbitalia.it for properties, pictures and prices. I suggest however that you try to get references before making reservations through the top travel forums. My favorites are www.italymag.co.uk and www.slowtrav.com.

Long Term Property Rentals:
Here is a partial list of some property rentals (long term) available right now in Umbria through www.diamanteimmobiliare.com:

-Castiglione del Lago vicinity: furnished apartment on the ground floor with large garden. Euro 500/month Ref.CDL0750
-Castiglione del Lago vicinity: furnished detached villa on two levels with garage,laundry, porch and garden. Euro 700/month Ref.CDL0729
-Citta' della Pieve vicinity: furnished apartment on the ground floor with private garden,cellar, and garage. Euro 500/month Ref.CDP0701
-Paciano: restored ground floor apartment with own entrance with living room, kitchenette,bedroom and bathroom. Nicely finished Euro 350/month.Ref.PA0631
-Cortona: unfurnished restored three story house with storage on the ground floor. Euro 450/month Ref.T0731

You can get more longterm property rental information through www.casa.it which lists all the major real estate agencies which on the most part also do property rentals.

Car rentals:
For car rentals, try www.italycar.net. You can rent an economy car for 23 euros per day. Again, get references from the travel forums if you can.

I will be on the lookout for more bargains..

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Where to Eat in Chiusi and Cetona When You Travel to Italy

It has taken awhile to know the best places to eat in and around my town of Chiusi (Siena) Italy. One of the advantages of being married with a Chiusino is knowing the ins and outs of the best eateries. Keep these places in mind should you visit the Valdichiana area.

Chiusi (Lake)
The Restaurant "Da Gino" is literally one minute from the lake. Don't be put off by the look of this restaurant as it looks more like a big cafeteria than a quaint Italian restaurant. The owners Claudio and his sister Manuela have been running this place with their family for over 30 years. This place is a favorite among locals. The pici pasta are extraordinary and made by hand and the grilled persico is a lake fish favorite. I suggest both. The meat is also very very good. Don't forget cantucci and order the house red wine which is usually very good.

Chiusi (lake) Directions:from freeway offramp go right toward Chiusi. You will see a sign on the left with Lago written on it before getting to old town. Turn left and follow all the curves and signs until you reach the lake. You cannot miss it. They are open for lunch and do make reservations for dinner as it is always crammed with people.

Chiusi (near freeway offramp)adjacent to Il Patriarca Hotel
The locanda "La Taverna del Patriarca" is about five years old and has become a favorite of locals. The environment is quite nice, intimate and the owners have paid close attention to every rustic detail. My favorite dish here is Pasta con i Ceci, a garbanzo bean soup with homemade noodles. Very good.
Directions: from freeway offramp turn left. You will immediately see the Hotel Il Patriarca to the left. Turn into their parking area and the locanda will be to the right of the hotel.

Chiusi Scalo

There are two places that make a good pizza. Il Punto and Lo Scalo. I suggest either.
Directions: both are walking distance from the train station. Il Punto is directly perpendicular to the train station. Just walk straight and you will hit before reaching the Church. Lo Scalo is to the left of the train station.

Cetona
The restaurant "Da Nilo" is a must if you visit this area. The owners and cooks just know what they are doing and this place has been a favorite with the locals for many many years. The environment is nice, but loud. Be sure to order "pici a ragu" which is homemade pasta with a meaty tomato sauce.
Directions: once you have reached the cental piazza of Cetona on foot, on the left you will see a sign with the restaurant name. The restaurant is one minute by foot up the road on the left.
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Monday, November 17, 2008

Tips on Children & Italian School System

Many parents have asked me to discuss raising children in Italy and especially the school system. I am by no means an expert on the subject but can just write about what I personally have learned. I have to admit that the thought of placing my childen in school in Italy terrifies me largely because I am not familiar with it. I was born and raised in California and have no idea (aside from what my husband tells me) what schools are like here in Italy.

The system is quite different and is changing as I write this post. With new decrees becoming laws, the Italian school system will be facing new challenges. Right now for instance, elementary school children have multiple teachers for multiple courses. They learn English at 6 years old and many students attend school also on Saturday. It just all seems so different than when I was a student in Los Angeles.

What mostly concerns me is the quality. I have heard good and bad about this so cannot give a judgement. It depends of course on many factors: the school, the child, parents' involvement, the teachers, the materials, the environment, the school system etc. etc.

The single most important piece of advice I can give parents is to get informed and get involved. I found that once I got to know the teachers, the environment, many of my fears vanished. Now I make a point to try to be as involved as possible. When I can, I join parents' committees, take part in meetings or even donate my time in teaching English when I can to both teachers and students. Any involvement is highly appreciated by the school and teachers and I can become acquainted myself with them.

I see many parents who will be making the move to Italy on forums asking for advice, suggestions, feedback. This is great and an invaluable tool. Get to know what it is all about. Information is power. The more information you have, the more you will feel comfortable with your childen attending school in Italy.

Once your children are in school in Italy, do not stop speaking with them in their native language. This is important as you, the parent, in many cases will be the only person giving the child that second language.

I will keep blogging on this subject and pass on to you what I am learning here in Italy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poor Italy

Not all my posts are going to be on the upside. I read some alarming statistics regarding the poverty level of Italians and I thought I would pass the information on to you. The data is from Corriere della Sera Magazine (Nov.13 2008) with a photograph of an elderly woman (not a homeless person) going through trash looking for food:

1,000,000 is the number of jobs that are estimated to be lost in Italy in the next six months.

0 is the growth for Europe while Italy is in a recession.

35,000 is the estimated number of jobs to be lost in the next few months within the companies of Alitalia, Unicredit, Merloni, Telecom, Fiat and Natuzzi.

1000's are the workers who will lose their jobs within the small and medium sized companies that work in some way with the larger aformentioned companies.

84 of 100 are the families that are risking home foreclosure and are being saved by loans and other forms of special installment payments.

1 of every two is the Italian in June of this year that could not afford to eat in a pizzeria.

The article continues by stating that tens of thousands of families that once could count on two incomes (husband and wife) will have to make it with only one income. Incomes will be halved but it will not be possible to cut drastically the lifestyle because these are not families that lead a comfortable lifestyle and that will only have to sacrifice the superfluous. In the large part of the cases those who will be hit the hardest by the recession will be those who already had a hard time getting to the next paycheck. So naturally, having less money means consuming less and adding to the already contracting economy.

"This is the situation and it is only the beginning. The worst is yet to come."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fashion Trends in Italy this Autumn and Winter

Living in Italy gives you an advantage of knowing first hand what is in and what is out with regard to fashion trends. Without a doubt, if something is trendy it will be very visible both in boutique windows and on just about anyone walking the street. Here are a few of the many Autumn/Winter trends for accessories:

- the "pantacollant", the footless microfiber pantyhose that can be worn with either a long sweater just covering the backside or with a short full mini skirt. These pantyhose can be worn with either ankle high boots or pumps.

- handbags are either large with a short handle or the clutch

- animal prints on everthing from handbags to purses to jewelry to pumps to lingerie

- lace covered handbags or footwear

- retro sunglasses are large and round

- pumps have pointed toe, are very high with a very thin heel

- denim on boots, sneakers, backpacks, handbags and caps


More to come...

No Electricity.

If you live in Italy then you have to grow accustomed to having your electrical and water supply turned off several times a year for about 4 hours each time. This occurs either because of a problem the providers are working on or because they are doing some kind of updating on their systems. You have to learn to organize yourselves around these inconveniences and if you work outside of the home there is usually little inconvenience. However if you are like me and are home and have small children to tend to, it can get a little annoying.

I however have become a pro at dealing with these matters. I have flashlights positioned in all corners of the house for particularly dark days not to mention a dozen or so candles. If I know ahead of time (and seldom you are given notice),I make sure I have used the appliances I need. It is dreadful being stuck with wet hair because you cannot use the hairdryer for instance. I make sure my cell phone is nearby because my cordless phone will not work.

It does not help to get angry that you cannot do the things you intended to do so you just have to make the best of it. Suffice to say on this particularly dark thunderstorm Thursday, I, my husband and our toddler had a very romantic lunch by candlelight!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Extracurricular Activities for Children in Italy

Many parents have asked me about what activities are available for children in Italy. I can speak of my area which I know of first hand. The larger cities of Florence, Rome and Milan have many activities for children.

In Chiusi and the surrounding areas there is nothing similar to what we have at home in the USA like My Gym or Gymboree which are classes for the toddlers and Pre K children that mix group exercise with play and following instructions in a fun enviornment. There is nothing available for the under 4 crowd in Chiusi but once they do turn 4 then there are activities available: sports, music, dance. The most popular athletic courses are swimming, soccer, judo followed by tennis and volleyball for the older kids. There is one woman who offers piano lessons in the neighborhood and there is one dance class in Chiusi. The best way to find out about courses is through the town hall (comune) of the town you will be staying in or moving to. Also get to know other parents of your town since word of mouth is still the best way to find reliable, fun, safe activities for your children. I have found that referrals is still the best way to go especially in small towns.

There is a wonderful website I have found that offers all kinds of information for children and activities. It is www.italiakids.com. It is divided by region and gives great tips about raising children in Italy and much much more. For instance, I have found that a trip to Florence is well worth the visit. There are two museums for children that I know of that are cited on the site: Institute and Museum of the History of Science and Museo Ragazzi (children’s museum).

I know that there is a lot more out there and I will keep my eyes and ears open to keep you posted on what I personally find.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Italy's Reaction to Obama Victory

It was very interesting to be on this side of the world taking in the reaction of Italians on the Obama victory. There were no festivities in the streets as we saw in the United States but the general concensus I think was a positive sigh of relief. The feeling has been that when the USA is sick, the world suffers the consequences. Italians are waiting for change.

The economic crisis is blatant all across the world and Italy has been in an economic mess for some time now. Unemployment is at an all time high, productivity and consumer spending are at an all time low. Many industries have been directly affected by the American financial crisis and specifically by the weak dollar. Tourism has been down for some time now and Americans admit that although they would love to visit the bel paese, it has just gotten too expensive. They opt for other countries or to stay at home. The Italian food, clothing, footwear industries are really suffering too. Exports have been down due to the weak dollar.

With this said, Italians are waiting for the recession to turn around in the USA so that they too can begin to benifit from a stronger America. All eyes are on the United States right now to turn things around. Italians like everyone are hoping it will be sooner rather than later but who knows?

Details about Daycare and Preschool in Italy

I received several requests for more information regarding what daycare and preschools are like in Italy so I thought I would give you some detailed data regarding my first hand experience in Chiusi.


Daycare

My youngest has been going to daycare for about a month now and I am pretty familiar with the premises as I also attended "mommy and me" classes there. The daycare is divided into two sections and each section has a total of 14 children with 3 daycare teachers for each section. One section is for the younger children ranging from 11 months to 2 years old while the second section is for children from 2 years old to 3 years old. The children arrive from 8:30 am and can stay either until lunch time (noon), after lunch (1:30), afternoon (4 pm or 6 pm). The fee is around 350 euros a month if the child stays for lunch and leaves by 1:30 pm. If the child stays all day the fee is around 380 euros. Daycare is from Mondays to Fridays from September to June and sometimes available in July.


The environment at daycare is very clean with appropriate toys and everything (tables,chairs) is sized for the little ones. The day's program is scheduled whereby they play, snack, play outdoors (weather permitting), eat lunch, nap, play. It is very well organized and the children know exactly what to expect as far as routines. There is a mailbox for each child and everyday the teacher writes a note to the parents saying if the child ate, slept, had a bowel movement. At a first sign of sickness the child's parents are immediately called to be taken home.


Although I had my personal doubts about sending my child to daycare, (He has his first daycare flu right now which is not pleasant) I have to say that the daycare here is very good.


Preschool

Here we have the option to choose between sending our children to the public preschool which is free or to private Catholic preschool which has a fee. We opted for the private preschool and this is our child's second year with the school. I cannot talk about the public preschool as I am not familiar with it but I can say I am happy with the private one.

Here the children are divided into two classes. There are 25 children in each class and each class has one teacher and an assistant. The children can stay until noon (lunch at home) or after 1:30 pm up until 4 pm with lunch served at school. The fee is 70 euros per month plus 5 euros for each meal they have. You do not pay extra if you stay until 4 pm.

Their activities are well organized between table work, group work, snack, exercise, outdoor play, lunch, work. The environment is clean and the staff welcomes parents to talk to the teachers about their children, if necessary. They organize two recitals plus a big party for carnival every year. Again I have to say that we are happy with this school and I would recommend it highly.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

American Patriotism is Alive in Italy

It is special to know that when you live abroad like I do, something fabulous happens with regard to how you feel about your native country. Although I live in Italy, am Italian American, my husband is Italian and I definitely have always had a strong Italian background growing up, I feel and believe my home is America. I have talked to many expats who feel the same no matter where they come from. It is not that I don't like Italy. I obviously would not be here if I did not! It is that being away from home makes you appreciate it all so much more.

With the recent presidential election between Obama and McCain, I have felt more and more wanting to be in the United States. I am so proud to see how many voters showed up in line to vote yesterday. I too voted absentee and am proud in doing so. The backbone of America is based on its people and it is sometimes difficult to explain to others who are not American that we Americans really believe in the American dream. We tell our children when they are young that they can aspire to be whatever they choose to be and with hard work they can succeed. This just is not understood in other countries mainly because it does not exist.

I taught English briefly at a middle school here in Chiusi. I remember telling the teenagers that learning English is important for their future. A boy raised his hand and stood up and said in Italian to me, "Teacher I do not need to learn English because I will never leave this town or do anything." I thought to myself who put that idea in his head? Why doesn't he think that he will do something grand as an adult! Why? Mostly because you really have to have the right contacts to do pretty much anything here. I am not bashing Italy but speaking from my heart and my experiences. Sometimes you get lucky and someone sees you actually have skills. It can happen and it did a couple times to me with two jobs I had. But I also had potential employers actually tell me that they could not hire me because they had to hire the nephew or cousin or son or etc of someone else. Yes this goes on also in the United States but I don't think it is so rampant as it is here in Italy.

Could it be a case of "grass is always greener?" Perhaps. I don't know for sure. All I know is that when Italians ask me what is it like being American, my eyes light up and shine. I say the American dream is alive and well and it is a good time to be American.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dealing with the Italian Language

I often get asked how I do with the Italian language. I have to say that I was fortunate since I was raised learning both Italian and English. We spoke both languages at home and like many Italian Americans we would go back and forth even within the same sentence in both languages. I also picked up a great deal of the dialect from Abruzzo since I am first generation American and my parents spoke both the dialect and Italian language at home. I also took Italian language courses in college and did a summer abroad in Perugia which all helped my Italian get better. Although I had all this background prep, I still am not completely fluent in the language.

In the early years of my being in Italy I would make many mistakes speaking. I still make mistakes. In fact not so long ago I went into the bank and said I needed to go into their safe! I meant to say I wanted to go into my safe deposit box. One little word gone wrong and they were about to call the police!

Italians I have to say are helpful on the most part. You can tell from their faces if they are not understanding something. You get that strange look like something is not quite right. Funny thing, they really do not correct you but just nod their head and try to understand what you are saying. Maybe they think correcting you is rude. I am not sure.
I still sometimes have problems with knowing which new words are feminine or masculine. It is a matter of memorizing them on the most part. Why for instance is table "il tavolo" masculine while chair "la sedia" is feminine?? My son keeps asking me these questions and I just don't have a logical answer for him!
In the early years the use of the word "Dottore" baffled me. It seemed everyone had a title and had to be called "Dottore". This is much more prevalent in the South I believe as titles are big there. If you graduate from University which is a great feat in itself, you are given the title of "Dottore". Now I stubbornly only call the medical doctor "Dottore."
"Dare del Lei e tu." It is considered impolite to address a person you don't know, a professional, an older person with the word "tu" or you. You must address them with the word "Lei". To stay on the safe side I use "tu" only with close friends and family.
Italian is not an easy language to learn and experience has shown me it is also how you speak and not what you say! I try speaking with confidence in a loud voice and surely I am given the attention I deserve. I guess body language has a lot to do with it but that will be for another post...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bargain Shopping in Italy

People think that if you want to dress stylish, you have to spend a lot of money. I see more and more here in Italy women who dress well and who bargain shop. So it can be done. Women here love to shop and with the financial crisis no better in Italy then anywhere else in the world, money is spent wisely.


The local markets

In fact the local outdoor markets or "mercato" are packed full of locals and tourists with people walking away with bags of clothing, shoes, accessories, food, housewares, etc. There is a bargain to be had. In Italy you can find really nice clothing for instance at these local markets. My trick is that I go to the vendors where I see the more elegant women hanging out. Remember when I spoke of copying others in "How to Dress Italian and Look Good." These vendors have the nice articles at good prices. Granted you cannot find much stuff made in Italy but that is also the case for the stores which often times have price tags two or three times more than the local markets.


Stores

It is not so much where you shop, but more when you shop. You should know if you are an avid shopper to plan your trip to Italy around this tip: there are two major sale seasons in Italy. One sale is at the end of the Summer and the other is the after Christmas/end of Winter sale. The end of Summer sale begins after August 15th (holiday) and lasts until mid/end of September. During this period you can find all the summer clothes or footwear at great prices. Sales begin at 10% off the first week and then get slashed down to 50% and even more sometimes. The after Christmas or end of Winter sale begins after January 6th (holiday) and ends by the end of February. During this time period you can find all winter wear and footwear at fantastic prices. Again the first week you can save 10% and then more in the subsequent weeks.

Outlets

Italians now know where to go for factory direct, better priced products. Having lived in Arezzo for several years, I quickly learned from my Italian girlfriends where to go and I return the favour as only a true American would do to my visiting friends. Ditching the museums, we substitute culture for couture!

Designer Clothing & Footwear

I Pellettieri d’Italia or Prada is located at Localit√† Levanella, SS69 in Montevarchi Levanella (Arezzo). Prada speaks for itself and this outlet is no longer a secret seeing the hordes of tourists waiting for its doors to open each day. This warehouse offers suits, coats, shirts, bags and shoes. You do have to really hunt since many items can still be very pricey. However you can take home a beautiful Prada pair of shoes for as little as €60. The outlet carries much apparel and accessories from past seasons and it is not always easy to know what is the most recent. But the vast assortment with that beautiful Prada label makes the search all worthwhile.

The Mall which is near the town of Incisa, just south east of Florence, is at Via Europa, 8 in Leccio Reggello (Florence). This includes outlets of Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Sergio Rossi. It is conveniently located since it is a short distance from the Fendi and D&C outlets.

Dolce & Gabbana Outlet, Loc.S.Maria Maddalena in Pian dell’Isola (Florence)
Fendi Outlet, Via Pian dell’Isola 66/33 in Rignano sull’Arno (Florence)
Village Outlet at Sinalunga (Valdichiana). There are hundreds of stores some designer but many pronto modo or knock offs of designers. For instance there is an outlet store called The End where you can buy (I did) 4 winter sweaters for under 100 euros total. You cannot beat that.

Of course bargain shopping entails patience and each time you come to Italy you will learn where to go and not to go to buy things. It has taken me ten years to know where to go if I don't want to be ripped off! Also often times the chain clothing stores offer decent quality clothes at decent prices: Benetton, Sisley, Stefanel, Luisa Spagnoli, etc. Let me know what you have found bargain shopping in Italy!