Posts about: Culture & Language

Life

Rome’s coast: Beach, or outdoor living room?

This is what you probably don’t associate with a relaxing day at the beach: Forty-five minutes in the car, windows down, hot air streaming in. Traffic; a long, slow snarl that snakes towards the coast, tangling up hopelessly at every on-ramp and poorly-placed stoplight. And a painful hunt for an acceptable parking space; a space where you might have a chance of actually extracting the car at the end of the day. It feels like a mass-exodus from Rome, and in a way, it is. It’s the weekend; the city is relocating to the sea. The Roman coastline, or the litorale romano as...

Food  |  Life

Ending 2016 at the table

January. I always feel vaguely divided about this month, torn between liking the freshness of a new year and feeling somehow let down by the fact that the cozy, festive initial part of winter is already over while the colder, bleaker part of the season will be settling in for the next few months. January means that it’s time to box up the decorations, to start being productive again, to stop buying industrial quantities of panettone and then demolishing it all within a couple of days, and, in general, to stop eating all the time – a feat that feels sort of like...

Travel

Sicily: Extreme South

On a still, muggy morning in the first week of August, we crammed the car with bags and suitcases and set off down the autostrada, direction South, just as the sun pushed its way over the horizon. We had somewhere in the vicinity of nine and a half hours on the road ahead of us – more if we factored in all the inevitable Autogrill coffee stops and greasy panini wolfed down in parking lots and that hour we spent stopped, bumper-to-bumper, just outside of Salerno – an entire day where we would do nothing but watch the scenery evolve...

Life

Parking alla Romana

This morning, walking towards Campo de’ Fiori, I heard the distinct crunching noise of plastic forcibly contacting more plastic. I stopped, turned, and immediately spotted the source of the sound: A car wedged partway into a parking space considerably too small for its length, its bumper pressed up firmly against the car in front of it. My first thought was that the driver had returned to his car, which he had perhaps parked perfectly normally the night before, to find it thoroughly boxed in on either end by later arrivals. This, therefore, would give the driver little choice but to nudge...

Food  |  Travel

Streets of food: Naples in a day

A few Saturdays ago, at 7:30am, I found myself sitting on a Frecciarossa train as it streaked towards Naples; Lazio blurring into Campania as green hills flashed by. I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet – just a quick cappuccino downed in the train station – and the edges of my mind still felt heavy with sleep, but I was already contemplating the pizza I would be eating for lunch and the sfogliatelle that would precede it, as one does during a spontaneous, food-motivated day trip to Naples. This would be my third such trip to the city (early train in, whirlwind morning and afternoon,...

Food

Artichokes, Roman-style: Learning to love a traditional food

I had been suspicious of artichokes for a long time. As far as foods go, they’re rather bizarre and thoroughly inhospitable; between the hard, thorn-tipped outer layers and the puff of inedible cottony fluff at the centre, there’s not much about the artichoke that might convince you to turn it into a quick and easy weekday dinner. When I was still living in Canada, I didn’t think I particularly liked artichokes. The fresh version almost never made an appearance in local grocery stores, and the jarred version, free of any thorns but swimming in an oily liquid, seemed to exist exclusively...

Travel

Moments from a weekend on Procida

One: Lemon salad We were on the bus, jolting down a terrifyingly narrow street, when I learned how to make lemon salad. I was perched sideways on a slippery plastic bucket seat that made cracking noises whenever the bus hit a pothole or a poorly placed cobblestone, and Alessandro was wedged in the back with a young family. Like us, everyone on the bus was on their way to the beach and generally looking very relaxed and jovial in the way a person does when they know that they’re minutes from a lounge chair next to the sea. I can’t remember exactly...

Travel

See Naples and die… in a taxi

I’m sure there are normal drivers in Naples. There must be. The entire city can’t possibly be made up of people who act like they honestly believe they’re in a high-speed car chase as soon as they slide into the driver's seat, although after several (albeit brief) visits to the city, I have yet to see any evidence that this might be true. In fact, I’m convinced that the phrase “see Naples and die” first came to mind in the backseat of a taxi*. Last weekend, Alessandro and I took a short trip to Procida (which merits its own post, free...

Life

The Roman beach experience: Culture shock all over again

I'll let you in on a secret: I don't really like going to the beach. Or at least I didn't, until very recently. It doesn't make sense, of course – I really should have loved the beach. I grew up on an island; I lived within walking distance of not just one, but an entire selection of beaches, and family vacations at the beach were a regular occurrence all throughout childhood. The typical Victoria beach experience, though, involves swaths of pebbles streaked with dried seaweed and clumps of kelp in varying stages of decomposition, heaps of tangled driftwood occupying most of...

Life

Cashing in

A few mornings ago, while pulling out my wallet to pay for a cappuccino, I came to the dismaying realization that I had absolutely no money left. Of course, that's not entirely true. In reality, there was a little wad of several fifty-Euro bills tucked between my Visa card and my bank card, the Visa having laid nearly dormant since my arrival in Rome and the bank card useless except as a means to withdraw still more fifty-Euro bills from the ATM. The problem was that any attempt to use one of those bills to buy something costing less than, say,...

Life

Linguistic blunders

It was this afternoon, while placing an order at the panificio, that I discovered I had been mispronouncing the Italian word for "onion" for the past five months. Cipolla. It's a simple enough word – short, no tricky "r" sounds to roll around on the tongue – but I had learned it wrong from day one, read it wrong straight out of the textbook and burned that incorrect pronunciation directly into my brain before putting it to almost daily use at markets all across the city. Five months' worth of onions. Five months' worth of awkward mispronunciation. Even now, as I type all...

Life

Dinner with Italians: The outsider’s cultural minefield

When you're living on your own, it's easy to forget just how much a social situation can call out and underline cultural differences, the kind of differences that tend to slide into the background during day-to-day life and then rear up conspicuously in group settings. Generally, it's the little things that tend to shout the loudest – subtleties, slight confusions; a mountain of tiny misunderstandings. And the best way to put these differences on show? Clearly, dinner at a restaurant with a large group of Italians. Let's start with the kisses. Nothing presents an environment more rife with opportunities for extreme social...

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