Italian Mysteries September 15, 2006


September 15, 2006 In the five plus years living over here, I have gradually adjusted to things Italian. I now know not to try to get anything done in August. I have adjusted to the daily rhythms of the shops closing at 1:00 and not opening again until either 3:00 or 4:00. Hey, this was an easy adjustment–what better time for a nap. I’ve reconciled to the fact that when I go out to eat, I eat at an Italian restaurant. True, in the major population centers, Chinese and Japanese food can be found. But everywhere else, it is Italian, Italian, or Italian–formal, informal, or pizza. Forget Tex-Mex, Thai, Fusion, French, Greek, whatever. Here, it is “and what pasta would you like tonight?”

As I said before, I have adjusted to most everything. But I do have some questions.

Why can’t the Italians make a decent hamburger bun? They certainly know about hamburgers since McDonald’s are found throughout the country. They sell hamburger buns in the supermarkets, six to a package just like in the USA. The packaging even has an American flag to further identify its purpose. But you know they haven’t quite mastered the concept when you get this package home and realize that you have to cut the buns in half yourself. And then after you fry up the burger and trick it out with all your favorite ingredients, the bun lasts for about three bites, max, and then disintegrates. I’ve tried toasting, not toasting, lots of mayo, no mayo, but nothing seems to help. I end up using a fork to finish it off. Luckily, the hamburger cravings only hit about once every two months.

Why aren’t there ceiling fans everywhere? The Italian climate cries out for ceiling fans. In most areas, it doesn’t get hot enough to need air conditioning, but day after day of 80+ degrees can get to you after a while. A ceiling fan lowers the perceived temperature by about five degrees, changing a sweltering room into a pleasant place. I installed two fans in my apartment. I have seen one other in Sarnano. As near as I can tell, these are the only three ceiling fans in Sarnano, and I don’t remember seeing a single one during the three years that I lived in Verona. True, the ancient Romans got along without them, and maybe I’m just a comfort-addicted American, but it still seems strange not to see ceiling fans everywhere.

Why can’t you buy a washcloth in Italy? I first ran into this washcloth-free phenomenon when I began doing the travel business seventeen years ago. There were no washcloths in the hotel rooms, even the nice ones. I figured it was because the hotel management was afraid that such small items would get stolen. But then after moving over here, I tried to find one to buy. Impossibile! Hand towels? Yes. Bath towels? Of course. Beach towels? In all colors and styles. But a simple washcloth? Forget it.

Then there is the extension cord problem. In America, when you go to any hardware store, or even a supermarket for that matter, you have a dizzying number of extension cord choices–long, short, light, heavy duty and so on. This is decidedly not the case in Italy. In the guest room, there is a outlet in one corner. I needed to put a lamp in the other corner. No problem, I will just buy a 12-foot extension cord. Six months later. . . . I first tried the local hardware store. Nope. Supermarket? Nope. Ipermercato in the next big town? Nope. Four different elettrodomestici (appliance stores)? No, nope, never, niente. After I bought the car, I went to a special lighting store in Amandola that had been recommended to me. I looked all over the showroom but didn’t see any extension cords. So I told the saleswoman what I needed and she said that they didn’t carry them, but she would make one for me. Fifteen minutes later she came back with a wire heavy enough to run my power drill (this to power a 25w bulb), but with only the male end installed. She told me that she didn’t have any of the female ends, that I could buy one at any supermarket. And, surprisingly I was able to find one! And fifteen minutes of fiddling later, I was able to make the thing work. Let there be light!

And while we are on the subject of things electrical, there is also a confusing array of electrical plugs and adapters. All of you who travel know that Europe uses 220v and America doesn’t. You know that you have to buy an adapter if you are going to use any American appliances. What you may not know is that there are different size plugs for the 220. (We will not bring the clunky UK version into this discussion.) Northern Europe uses a plug with two fat prongs, and the Southern European variety uses skinny prongs. A skinny will go into some fat receptacles, but a fat one won’t go into any skinny receptacles. And since I have bought appliances from both north and south, I have both fat and skinny kinds, some with a third wire ground connection, others without. And to compound matters, before I remodeled the apartment, I had at least four different types of outlets. Now I’m down to two types but I must have at least ten adapter plugs lying around: 2-pronged fats to 3-prong skinny, 3-prong fats to 2-prong skinny and so on. Some I bought, others came with the appliances, and I “inherited” a few when I bought the apartment. And all get a periodic workout.

But if this is all I can find to bitch about, then life is not too bad! Now, what should I fix for dinner? Nah, I think I’ll go out. I wonder what pasta they are serving in the restaurant up the hill? (back)