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The Roman barista: a national resource PDF Print E-mail
Dec 15, 2013 at 07:18 PM

Image In New York, we have Starbucks, the chain of coffee shops that made its name with a series of coffee-based drinks flavored with a variety of what to the mind of a transplanted American like me are the most improbable tastes: espresso, cappuccino or frappuccino (a icy shaker drink) with sweet additions such as caramel, hazelnut, chocolate (or white chocolate), eggnog, peppermint and so on. Many Americans find Starbucks a pleasant place to go, not least for its free wifi. The “barista” in his or her obligatory green apron, is generally an obliging soul, willing to accommodate even the most eccentric of clients in his, or her, desire for ever-stranger concoctions.

But these “baristas” can’t hold a candle to the Roman barman, to my mind almost a national treasure. First of all, if you, like me, are a person who starts off the day with an espresso or cappuccino at the bar downstairs, the barista can set the tone for your entire day. For this reason, those who sulk or are unpleasant, must be avoided at any cost.  What you want is one of those Romans who, even when they aren’t talking about soccer, are capable of those witticisms for which the Romans are famous. You want a barman who can tell when you are upset about something and who will ask what’s going on and offer sympathy and even advice. And if you are lucky, your barista will also be one of those unparalleled professionals who somehow can remember what you and everyone else drinks, no easy task in a city where everyone has his or her own specific tastes: caffé lungo, American coffee, espresso corretto, that is with a drop of brandy or some other kind of alcohol, macchiato, caffé al vetro (in a glass rather than a cup) or a cappuccino that is light, dark, without foam etc. etc. etc. Not long ago a barista in Via Giubbonari said to an American girlfriend of mine, “the usual cappuccino, Signorina?” Pretty normal, except for the fact that she’d been away from Rome for over two years. She was so touched she almost wept.

For almost three decades, I went religiously to the same bar at the beginning of Vicolo del Cinque (these days, I am more eclectic and divide my coffee breaks among that same bar, Ombre Rosse in Piazza S. Egidio, and the Caffè della Scala, the closest to my current house.) But at that time, my barman of choice was Giancarlo (now retired) who did not actually come from Rome but who, after decades here, had picked up a lot of Roman characteristics.

Giancarlo often prepared my coffee – lots of extra water, milk on the side – as soon as he saw me come out of my doorway some fifty meters away so it would be waiting for me, steaming on the counter, when I arrived. I can assure you, this doesn’t happen at Starbucks. And I also doubt that a Starbucks barista would say to me on a Friday morning. “What are you doing here

Isn’t this your morning at the hairdresser?”  


 


Buone Feste in Via del Corso PDF Print E-mail
Dec 15, 2013 at 06:53 PM

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Where am I? Westside Story redux? PDF Print E-mail
Aug 20, 2013 at 05:47 PM

Sometimes I wonder what part of the world I am living in, Just imagine. You are on a beach at Praia a Mare in Calabria, a seaside resort frequented by many Neapolitans, and suddenly you see men brandishing revolvers and machineguns fanning out along the sand. Plainclothes police on a major anti-drug or anti-Mafia operation likely to endanger bathers and sun-worshipers? That would be bad enough. No. This happened yesterday and the gun-toting guys were men belonging to a Naples family called Pipolo who were seeking revenge against the killer of 62-year old Vincenzo Pipolo, reportedly a member of a rival group, the Marrazzos.

What had happened was that on Sunday, Vincenzo Pipolo, who was riding on his scooter, had seen Giovanni Marrazzo, an ex-con, driving by in his car and had taunted him, saying things like "why don't you go home to Naples" etc. etc. According to police, Marrazzo saw red and despite the fact that his 26-year old daughter was in the car with him, he started chasing Pipolo's scooter, eventually running him down and then stabbing him to death.

West Side Story? Hardly. More like the Sopranos as you can see watching the video showing enraged Pipolo family members as Vincenzo's body is taken away in a hearse.

Calabria is a favorite summer vacation spot for Italians uninterested or unable to go abroad during the August holidays. Remind me to avoid Praia a Mare. ?

Sari's new e-book on living (and loving) in Rome PDF Print E-mail
Aug 01, 2013 at 10:34 PM

ImageI just wanted to let Stranitalia readers know that I have finally put on line, at Amazon's Kindle Store, a book I have been working on for some time now. The title is: "My Home Sweet Rome: Living (and Loving) in the Eternal City. The link is:

http://www.amazon.com/My-Home-Sweet-Rome-ebook/dp/B00E3G9IQO/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1374579120&sr=1-1&keywords=my+home+sweet+rome

It's about my experiences in Rome as a woman, an American and a foreigner. So while it will tell you a lot about me (maybe even more than you wanted to know), the book's main purpose is to give readers a really good look at Italy. Not just the place that's so nice to visit, but a place where putting down roots can also be a real challenge. Life in Italy is not easy and often Italians who themselves are fed up with many aspects of life here say to me: What? You gave up New York to move to Rome? Why ever would you do that? Actually, there were  -- and are -- many good reasons for doing that. So read the book and find out!

 

Romina Power is "finding her father", Tyrone. PDF Print E-mail
Jun 30, 2013 at 04:33 PM

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Romina and Al Bano back then
Anyone who has lived in Italy as long as I have could not but know who Romina Power is. By the mid-1970s, the eldest daughter of deceased American movie actor icon, Tyrone Power, was more or less a household name in this country, having soared to the top of the charts as part of a highly successful music and dance team with her then husband, a Pugliese singer almost ten years her senior who went - and goes - by the name Al Bano.

I happen to know Romina personally since following her separation and divorce in the mid nineties, she moved to theTrastevere neighborhood of Rome where I live and took to breakfasting in the same café that I frequented; nowhere as slim as when she held center-stage as Italy's darling, but with the same long hair down her back, she'd come into the café with her dog Floppy and, as fellow Americans, we would share chit-chat and laughs.

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Romina today
She was friendly, down to earth, and generally smiling, and this despite a childhood marked by her parents' divorce (her mother was actress Linda Christian) and her father's premature death at age 44 and the real tragedy of her life, the as yet unexplained 1994 disappearance in New Orleans of her 24-year old daughter, Ylenia, the eldest of her  four children.

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Tyrone Power
Romina, who these days lives primarily in the U.S., does not like to talk about Ylenia but as far as I know still has hopes of someday finding her. But one thing she has done now is to confront the specter of the father who abandoned her forever that day in Madrid on the on the set of "Solomon and Sheba" (the role was taken over by Yul Brynner).

Using her own memories, interviews with people who knew him and worked with him, and the countless letters that the actor wrote to his friends and family, Romina has now published "Finding my Father" (Bettie Youngs Books, 2013), which the publisher describes as"a work of love, where memories and dreams combine to give readers a truth that only the eyes of a daughter could capture".

A day in court: Dreaming of Judge Judy PDF Print E-mail
May 08, 2013 at 12:56 PM

ImageOver the years, I have covered a lot of Italian criminal cases: Mafia, political murders or kneecappings, papal assassination attempts and international conspiracies such as the so-called Bulgarian Connection that had the KGB behind the unsuccessful attempt to kill John Paul II. Some of these trials, admittedly, have been ludicrous, or at least ludicrous by our terms. Unconscionable delays, Mediterranean drama, flowing black robes (no wigs, fortunately) interminable delays, rules that by our standards seem odd: For instance, witnesses are required by law to swear to tell the whole truth, but defendants are not, that is they are allowed (expected) to lie.

More about this later. As to  my own personal experiences with the legal system, these have been very limited. I have never been charged with anything and until last week, my only experiences with the court system have been: A suit I filed against my former newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore (I won the first round and am now waiting for next month's final hearing in the appeals trial my lawyer and I filed, since our initial victory was only partial); A suit filed by myself and my cleaner after he was seriously injured in a traffic accident when he was riding a motorbike owned by me. The accident was in December, 2009 and the final hearing (we will definitely win) was supposed to be last September but that day Italy's magistrates decided to hold a strike and the case was postponed until April 30, so we are now waiting with baited breath for the final sentence..

But now I've had another frustrating experience, which took place on April 16th when I went to the equivalent of small claims court - done here by the Giudice della Pace, the Justice of the Peace - for a hearing in my suit against a plumber who last summer cheated me out of €600.

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A day in court: Dreaming of Judge Judy PDF Print E-mail
May 08, 2013 at 12:56 PM
Over the years, I have covered a lot of Italian criminal cases: Mafia, political murders or kneecappings, papal assassination attempts and international conspiracies such as the so-called Bulgarian Connection that had the KGB behind the unsuccessful attempt to kill John Paul II. Some of these trials, admittedly, have been ludicrous, or at least ludicrous by our terms. Unconscionable delays, Mediterranean drama, flowing black robes (no wigs, fortunately) interminable delays, rules that by our standards seem odd: For instance, witnesses are required by law to swear to tell the whole truth, but defendants are not, that is they are allowed (expected) to lie.
More about this later, but my own personal experiences with the legal system have been very limited. I have never been charged with anything and until last week, my only experiences with the court system are: A suit I filed against my former newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore (I won the first round and am now waiting for next month's final hearing in the appeals trial my lawyer and I filed, since our initial victory was only partial); A suit filed by myself and my cleaner after he was seriously injured in a traffic accident when he was riding a motorbike owned by me. The accident was in December, 2009 and the final hearing (we will definitely win) was supposed to be last September but that day Italy's magistrates decided to hold a strike and the case was postponed until April 30, so we are now waiting with baited breath.
But now I've had another frustrating experience, which took place on April 16th when I went to the equivalent of small claims court - done here by the Giudice della Pace, the Justice of the Peace - for a hearing in my suit against a plumber who last summer cheated me out of €600.
I filed the suit in February in the courthouse of a town called Montefiascone that has jurisdiction over Bolsena, the even smaller town where the evil deed occurred in August of last year. The judge who took my complaint was very nice, suggested it might be better if I had a lawyer (but, I said, if I had to pay a lawyer there was no point in filing the suit), wrote down my account of the case, took the papers I had on hand (correspondence between the evildoer and a lawyer friend who didn't charge me), and set the hearing for 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 16. Next I had to go see the court clerk, Giuliano, who sent me out to the tabaccheria buy two €5.32 marche da bollo (these are government stamps often required for official documents) had me fill out some papers and told me I would have to go down the hall to the ufficiale giudiziario (a sort of bailiff) to pay a small fee so that an official notification would be sent to the party I was suing. As it was after 1p.m., the office was closed. But the bailiff, Tonino, just happened in and (and this is Italy at its best) told me to come along anyway.
So all seemed to be well and good until, two weeks later, I mistakenly booked a ticket to London on April 16th. Once I realized my mistake, I called the office and they told me to write a letter to the judge to whom the case had been assigned (regrettably not the first one I had met but a woman who can only be described as a dried-out prune) asking for a postponement. She turned it down and so I gritted my teeth and paid €50 extra to change my flight to the following day.
Naturally, given this development, I imagined that the scheduled hearing was precisely that, MY hearing. I wasn't feeling too worried about the outcome, not just because the case was fairly shut and dry, but because in the meantime the counterpart had refused to accept the notification which meant, my lawyer friend said, that he had renounced his right to defend himself.
So imagine my surprise when I showed up at 8:30 to file one more document and was sent to the tiny courtroom only to find it packed to the gills with at least 60 other people. At 10:00 (promptly) Giuliano came in with a stack of pink or blue folders (these fascicoli, pronounced fash-i-coli, are a fixture of any Italian court office) and read off the names, mine being third or fourth to last. "Oh no", I thought. Please don't let this be the order in which the cases will be taken!" But, instead, it was.
What a bore! As far as I could tell, most of the people present were there to contest traffic fines of one sort or the other. But there was no way of telling for sure since there were so many people in the room that you couldn't even see the judge sitting at her desk in the forecourt, where there were also desks for lawyers. Every half hour or so, Giuliano would call out a series of names and those called would move from the back part of the room where there were five rows of seats to beyond the partition separating the area reserved for lawyers and, of course, the judge. They would huddle, standing, behind Giuliano's desk to the right of the judge, and wait to be called. Most cases didn't take that long and as far as I could make out most people were being given a web address where they could look in the next few days to see how their cases had been adjudicated. Finally, next to last, my name was called (and seriously mispronounced) by the judge who then, however, decided she had to go make a phone call, leaving me standing in the forecourt with all my papers.
When she got back she, first, lambasted me for not having a lawyer because it meant she had to take extra time to explain things to me (and this was weird because Italian law says I can, indeed, come before the Justice of the Peace without a lawyer), then added the additional papers I had brought to my fascicolo, and then insisted (quite irregularly, my lawyer friend says) that I had to notify the plumber a second time, and set a second hearing for 11 a.m. on July 16th.
So guess what I did last week, after my return from London? Yep. Back to Montefiascone from Rome, back to Giuliano, back to the tabaccheria for two more marche a bollo, back to the ufficiale giudiziario where, although it was again after 1 pm, another bailiff (Tonino was on vacation) agreed to take the info and arrange for the notifica to be sent.
All in all, a totally wasted morning and an inside look at the Italian justice system. But then again, what did I expect? Just last month, some research organization released a horrifying statistic. At the moment, in Italy, 5,300,000 civil cases are pending and unresolved.
All this, of course, has nothing or little to do with the penal court system which many non-Italians became really aware of during the first and second Amanda Knox trials. With a third trial coming up, watch this space for my views on some of the injustices committed both during the preceding trials and, equally, in the pages of the foreign press.
An ecumenical pope in a non-ecumenical country? PDF Print E-mail
Mar 27, 2013 at 12:25 PM

ImageSome of you have asked why I haven't written about the recent election of Pope Francis. The answer is that there was so much coverage - never-ending it seemed - that there really wasn't much to say. Two weeks after his election, while it is far too soon to know if he will have any luck in making significant change inside the Vatican, it does seem that he has a good chance of becoming a very beloved Pope.

One thing that has struck everyone so far is his humility and dislike of too much pomp; apparently, he may not even move into the papal apartments but remain in the Santa Marta Domus where another 50 or so prelates live. What has impressed me the most so far is his strong sense of the ecumenical, which is something often sorely lacking in Italy. Most of you may not know this but Italy is a country where less-educated people frequently use the word "cristiano" (Christian) as a synonym for human being! This should have never happened given that ever since Roman times, there was always an important, if small, Jewish community in Italy. But now, when eight percent of the population is foreign born, and at least half of these new Italians are not Roman Catholics, it borders on the offensive.

The fact is that Italy is still not a truly lay or secular country. And it one had any doubts about that then witness the fact that yesterday ATAC, the Rome public transportation company announced it will be issuing (with public monies) a series of bus tickets with Francis' picture on the back. Personally, I have mixed feelings about it. Yes, the Pope sits in Vatican City which, although it is basically extraterritorial, is located smack in the middle of Rome. Yes, the pope, any pope, is also the bishop of Rome, and Francis has been referring to himself frequently in this way. Yes, an overwhelming majority of Italians are baptized Roman Catholics (even though most go to Church only on Christmas, Easter and for baptisms, marriages and funerals).

But, although sometimes it is hard to tell, Roman Catholicism is NOT the state religion of Italy and church and state are supposed (sic!) to be separate entities. So I don't really like the idea of the bus tickets with Francis' picture on them. But then again I also don't appreciate going to police and Carabinieri stations as well as hospitals and finding crucifixes on the walls. Secular Italy exists but sometimes it's hard to find it!


Murder trial redux PDF Print E-mail
Mar 26, 2013 at 10:33 PM
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Will this happen again?
 This morning the news hit that the Italian Court of Cassation, the highest review tribunal in the country, has annulled the sentences of the Perugia appeals court that on October 3, 2011 acquitted American student Amanda Knox and her former Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito of murder charges. A new trial will thus be held sometime in the not so distant future, this time in the Appeals court of Florence since Perugia only has a one-section Appeals court and they cannot be asked to reconsider their own verdict.
Amanda and Raffaele, along with a third person, Rudy Guede, who is currently serving a 16 year sentence, had been convicted in December 2009 of the murder of Amanda's roommate, Meredith Kercher, on the night of November 1, 2007. The two have always maintained their innocence but in the first trial were convicted on the basis of forensic evidence that seemed to indicate their presence at and during the murder.
At the moment, it is not known exactly what the "motivations" of today's decision by the Cassazione were; whether it takes issue with the acquittals themselves or with more formal aspects of the trial. I myself never followed the ins and outs of the trial since I was not then working for a newspaper that required constant coverage and it was hard - at least for me - to make a judgement in the matter. What I did find outrageous was the general attitude of the U.S. media which consistently treated the Italy as if it were a backwater banana republic.
Now, there is no doubt that the Italian justice system leaves a lot, and I mean a lot, to be desired. It is incredibly slow, overly bureaucratic and probably its prosecutors, or at least a good number of them, are older people who are unschooled in the more modern investigative techniques. One analyst I heard speaking today on television, believes in fact, that the main defect of the two trials held so far - primarily that staged by the regular tribunal (which in Italy is the first stage of justice) and then again the appeals court - did not do enough to investigate who else might have been involved, since there seems to be little doubt that three people played some sort of role in Meredith' untimely murder and only one, Mr. Guede, has been convicted. But to turn the whole affair into a sort of nationalistic battle - US vs Italy - was unfair and unseemly. And let us not forget how many bloopers the U.S. justice system has committed over the decades; just to cite some fairly recent cases, the failure to find the murderer of Jonbenet Ramsey, O.J. Simpson's getting away scot free, and the scores of people convicted (and some executed) because of legal mistakes or worse.
By the way, it is also unclear if Amanda would  have to do jail time even if the second Appeals trial were to find her guilty once again. Italy would have to try and extradite her and the US might refuse.
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