Category Archives: Italy

More of Everything

I first spotted this shop while waiting to meet a real estate agent across the street. At the time, I didn’t give it much thought, assuming it was a tiny shop selling shitty antiques.

When I was younger I loved going through antique stores. I’d look for old coins, books, or jewelry. As a young adult, I looked for art and furniture. However, after buying a dining table, bed frame, and a few chairs, I decided, , “Mollo Tutto!” (Enough! No more!) The furniture was rickety and the art work fell apart. It felt awful living with such precarious furnishings.

Later, reading an article in the Economist, I learned why that furniture made me feel so lousy: Wobbly furniture makes one feel uncertain and insecure.  Since then, I’ve bought nothing but new furniture. Even chairs from IKEA are stable at least.

So I mostly ignored the shop, Ditutto Dipiu. The name means “More of Everything.” After looking it up in google translate, I thought, “More like, more of everything I don’t want.”

But, then we (at-freaking-last) found an apartment we liked, and we decided to write a proposal. The apartment was not only unfurnished, but we’d have to install our own kitchen. I estimated the costs of buying everything, and suddenly, recycled furniture  seemed like it deserved another look.

Jole was the one who suggested I give Ditutto Dipiu a try. I was helping her come up with a lesson plan for her class, (why she asked me for help with such a task, I’ve no idea), and I asked if she knew of any good used furniture stores – brick n mortar, or online. She showed me subito.it, and then recommended I head over to Ditutto Dipiu. She said they had loads of stuff – and she assured me that much of it was of high quality.

So I stopped in on my way home. Holy cripes, she wasn’t lying. What looked like a tiny store front, gave way to a huge warehouse of everything you could imagine … that’s right … everything, and more.

A solid piece of furniture
A solid piece of furniture

The furniture wasn’t all rinky-dink and wobbly. Many pieces were solid and of top quality Italian craftsmanship.

 

I noted the furniture, snapping a few pictures as I went. This dresser/desk is 120 euros.

On that visit, I bought a salad spinner and radiator humidifier. Not for us – but to replace those that had broken at our temporary airBnB apartment.

8 euros to replace stuff we broke at the airBnB
8 euros to replace stuff we broke at the airBnB

Rather than asking for 8 euros, the clerk asked for my address and documents. Apparently, they didn’t allow purchases without registering. I wondered if that was a government policy.  I gave him our temporary apartment address and my  California drivers license.

He printed out a sticker, slapped it on the back of this card, scanned it, and handed it to me.

So now I’m all registered, legal, and set up to bargain hunt, ala Frugal Wood’s Style, here in Verona Italy.

Here are some items I spotted on a recent visit to Ditutto Dipiu.

Turns out, another family beat us to signing a proposal for the river apartment. We’ve since found a place across the river. It’s partially furnished, and comes with a fully installed kitchen. So finding furniture on the cheap is no longer urgent. Even so, I’m sure we’ll need to buy some stuff. When I do, I’ll be sure to start at More of Everything.

 

Verona Episode 2

verona_month_2

After nearly 2 months in Verona, we still haven’t found a home. Before moving here, I’d signed a contract to rent a beautiful top floor condo in Borgo Trento. But the owners sold it, and our contract was negated. We found out after arriving. We’ve gone from one airBnB to the next, all while apartment hunting. It seems every time we find a place, something goes wrong. On top of it all, we have to register with the questura (local police), arrange for all our boxes to be delivered, and get our son off to school every day.

In case you missed it, here’s Verona, Episode 1.

Note: As we began recording Verona Episode 2, I started a five minute countdown on my phone. After passing the four minute mark, Max became unresponsive as he focused on the timer. He seemed to think that we had to end exactly at 5 minutes, and he wanted to alert me when time was up. If he hadn’t diverted his attention so completely to the time, I think he would have answered our questions about Italian language and history classes. We’ll see how we do next time.

The apartment hunt continues; that’s no reason this kid can’t stop for some vino.

Christmas present spoiler alert for Michelle, my sister: Turn back now if you want to be surprised!

We’ve been utter failures at finding a place to live here in Verona. I’ll detail the experience in a later post. Suffice to say it’s been a few months, we’re living in a temporary hovel, and I’m coming both unhinged and unglued. Two days ago, we toured an apartment that’s kind of meh but good enough. Capitulating, we asked to sign a contract.  I received it in email last night.

However ….

Yesterday, after my penultimate Italian class at Inclasse of Verona, Dirk and I met with the owner of our temporary/bridge-to-home/hovel airBnb to sign a contract for this month. He was surprised to learn that his friend, Paola, hadn’t called us yet to arrange to see her apartment, which she intended to rent. He explained that this apartment was just about his favorite place in the city, and we really must see it. Top floor, terraces, the works. FFS.

But we got to talking tax and maritime law, and you know how that goes. That’s right, it was difficult to move on from such intoxicating subjects.

As he assembled his belongings, I asked him to call Paola on our behalf. Come to find out they’ve been renovating and her mother in law didn’t want to show the apartment until it was perfect. Paola explained, “You know how mother in laws can be.” Sarcastically, I said, “nooooo. I wouldn’t know at all.”* She didn’t pick up on my tone, however, and continued to explain how mother in laws could be.

*To be completely honest – my knowledge of bad in-laws comes second-hand. My mother in law is wonderful. I won the in-law lottery. And I’m not writing this to cover my ass. It’s absolutely true. Helen is a sweetheart.

Reminder: Italian humor != British humor.

She asked to meet to talk, and proposed 4pm at school. Her 11 yr old son also attends, and she picks him up at the same time we pick up DS. At that time we could arrange the viewing.

Ruh roh. But … but …. I had my class field trip to a Valpolicella winery at 2:30. What to do? It took all of 2 seconds to resolve the matter. Send husband as family ambassador to meet Paola.

Dirk accompanied me to my meeting spot with the class. As we discussed his meeting, I said, “act normal!” (as in Little Miss Sunshine). No one got the reference, but the Aussies thought it was funny. The Italians? Not so much.

Meeting my classmates at Ponte Vittoria
Meeting my classmates at Ponte Vittoria

Valpolicella is gorgeous. It’s a small valley to the northwest of Verona. We toured the grape processing, wine fermenting, and bottling facilities of Terre di Leone.

Obligatory Grape Shot:

Loading grapes into the stem separator ( later I learned that guy up there is the winery owner ):

My adorbs* teacher, Giacomo, complete with wild-n-crazy hair, snapping a photo:

Here’s our tour guide explaining the effect oak barrels have on the wine. I understood nothing (except for where the barrel maker’s label is located (Answer: at the very top of the lid)).

Here’s our tour guide explaining the complex process that went into each of the six bottles we were about to test. I understood nothing.

When a call came in from a realtor, suddenly, my brain snapped to attention. Over the phone, I held a full convo. We agreed to meet at 2pm Friday. When I returned to the wine tasting room, it was back to hearing the Peanuts teacher – wah wah wah wah wah.

One day it will be effortless (it has to be, right?), this comprehending of a foreign tongue. But that day ain’t today. Nor do I suspect it will be tomorrow. But one day. I have to tackle that Elena Ferrante novel, after all. Laudable goals here. Nothing but laudable goals.

I discovered that I possess the refined tastes of the proletariat.

We tried small pours from 6 bottles. From left to right:

1. Table wine. Valpolicella Classico. Aged in casks 4 months.
2. Ripasso. Where the cheap table wine went through 2 stages of fermentation.
3. Classico Superiore. similar to #1 but aged 10 months.
4. Calssico Superiore Ripasso. #3 taken through fermentation 2x.
5. Amarone #1 aged for years
6. Amarone #2 aged > 4 years.

My fave? 1 & 3. Nearly everyone else raved about the Ripasso – #2. That was my least favorite.

#3 reminded me of a wine that my sister loved. I don’t remember the name of it, but that right there was the taste.

We stood around in the cold, and Maria – a substitute teacher who I hadn’t met until the tour* – asked me questions. Like so many other Italians, her eyes widened, just so slightly, upon the mention of my son’s school. I interrogated. Her opinion: parents pay for grades. She knew a teacher who was pressured to inflate grades. I made a mental note to let DS’s teacher know that we did not want inflated grades. If DS earns a C, we’ll teach him how to handle a C. Better to learn how to deal with reality. The world ain’t made up of gentle and inflated As and Bs.

I thanked her for being candid, then explained my understanding of the school. (I forget if I’ve written about it). Briefly: there are two tracks – regular Italian certificate, and IB. For kids on the IB track, there’s no getting around the tests. Grades really don’t matter. We intend for DS to be in the IB track, so we should be okay. She added that as far as she knew, they hired really good teachers. It was mostly the administration that had a bad rep. This aligns with what Jole had told me.

Giacomo announced it was time to go? But wait, we hadn’t been shuttled into a retail room to buy wine. “Oh you want to buy wine?” he asked. He called out for our host.

OMG how refreshing!  Not being herded like cattle into the retail funnel.

I bought 2 bottles of #3 for Christmas gifts (one for my sister), and one bottle of #1 for me to enjoy, prolly this weekend.

When I returned home, I asked DH about meeting Paola. He said the apartment is 4 bedroom, 2 floors, 2 terraces, a bit up the hill in Valdegona. She’s going to pick us up at 9am Friday (4 hrs from now as I write), to come have a look. We’ll see.

For your viewing pleasure, one more obligatory grape shot:

*Why do  I still use the word, “adorbs?” Because, in addition to being adorbs itself, I get to imagine the 20 something kids of the family recoiling and cringing upon reading it. It’s a win win.

I drink more wine in Italy (duh)

When we were living in Malaysia, I reduced my wine purchases to a few bottles a month, as drinkable wine could set you back 100ringgit a pop. At an exchange rate of 4ringgit to the dollar, that’s a $25 bottle of wine. Back in the US, $7-$12 was more the range I went for.

Eventually, I found a bang-for-the-buck value wine. Piccini Chinati, from Italy, sold for 72 ringgit a bottle. It offered the optimized balance of drinkability and affordability. Still, $18USD, so ouch.

Imagine my surprise/horror, when, soon after moving to Italy, I encountered this display in the local grocery shop near our apartment in Verona:
3€ ($3.40) for wine that cost me 15€ or $18USD or 70 ringgit back in Malaysia

Did you do the math? That’s right, this bottle of wine is 5x more expensive in Malaysia.

I think it’s time to celebrate this discovery with a financially-guilt-free glass of vino. Salute.

Revisiting my Cautionary Tale and Mentor … in Verona

Maria Callas was neither the voice, nor the diva to me. To me, she was a mix of cautionary tale, and mentor. 

Here, in Verona, I first noticed the Maria Callas Exhibition during a house hunting trip back in May. Yesterday, I bought a ticket, slipped the audio tour headphones over my ears, and slowly progressed through each exhibit room at the Palazzo Forti Verona. Each display was mildly interesting, but two specific displays brought back vivid memories. 

One detailed the timeline of Callas’s relationship with Aristotle Onassis. The other, a room of manikins wearing dresses – Biki, Yves Saint Laurent – from her post-fat diva life. 

In December 1996, I was 24 years old, and just six months into my new career at a silicon valley semiconductor company. I flew to Boston and presented at a conference in Boston’s Copley center. My talk was on using configurable processors, simple chains of multipliers and adders, to implement filters commonly used in DSP algorithms. Applications ranged from radar communications to video manipulation. I was a green engineer. My talk was mediocre, and it was at a conference organized by the company my father was a director at. So my notions of grandeur were tempered somewhat. Still, I remember wanting to feel important, like a contributor to the Science. After the talk, to about nine attendees, in a small room off to the side of the convention, I didn’t feel terribly important. But – I didn’t feel small either. I’d answered most of the questions well enough, and a couple attendees said the presentation was informative. Good enough for me – I was on my way. 

My parents were staying in a room down the hall from me. I still felt like a college student – with my parents paying for dinners and chaperoning me around. One day, my mom noted that I dressed like what a college student might think a professional dressed like, and suggested we go shopping. She noted that I now had a silicon valley salary,* so why not spend it? I responded as I usually did with my mother: I tacitly agreed that it sounded a good idea, but I took no action. 

One night, my mom and I took in a play at Boston’s Wilbur Theater. It was Master Class by Terrence McNally. Faye Dunaway played Marie Callas. It was, if I recall correctly, the first time I’d ever heard of the opera singer. But I knew Faye Dunaway from Bonnie and Clyde. 

The story was set in Juilliard in the mid 1970s, at the end of Ms. Callas’s career. By then she’d lost her voice, as well as all the people she’d ever loved. She was unreserved and harsh as she dispensed curt advice to her students. She admonished them for childish notions such as sentimentality or not giving every performance the full measure of their hearts. As each student began a song, the stage would go dark, all except for a single spotlight on Faye Dunaway, and she’d reflect on her life. Two recurring topics were Aristotle Onassis and fashion. 

Numerous times, she referred to her role in her relationship with Aristotle as being that of a bird in a cage. She was his trophy, his prize to possess. She was on display for him. She filled this role easily, as she was the preeminent songbird of their time. 

I discovered, in the Maria Callas exhibition, that, prior to meeting Arno, she’d spent a couple years losing close to 40lbs. She’d cultivated a diva persona, and taken on the role of fashionista. To match the voice, she’d groomed her plumage to match.

Ultimately, however, there was a cage between Maria and her lover, and even as she hoped to be let out, she privately knew she never would. Confirmation came when reading the paper one morning. He’d married Jacqueline Kennedy. Faye Dunaway reenacted the scene on stage. It was heartbreaking to watch, but I couldn’t help but think she was an idiot all the same. Why would you choose to get your personal fulfillment by being someone’s bird in a cage? That imagery has stayed wth me for two decades. As has the motto of Blanche in Streetcar Named Desire**, “I always rely on the kindness of strangers.” Damned fools! 

Walking through the exhibit, I discovered new information about her relationship. For example, she renounced her US citizenship in order to be legally available to marry Mr. Onassis, should he ask her. He never asked her. Also, she had his child, but Homer failed to thrive, and only lived a few hours after birth. After Ari, and the death of her baby, she was never the same. From then on, a haunting emotion came through when she sang. Watch and listen to this 1973 performance in London.  The voice, the song, the feeling. Bellissima. And Gah – that gown. I love it. 

In the play, when she snapped back to coldly lecturing her students, she gave them her thoughts on fashion, being a diva, and how to make an impression on people. She advised wearing understated but well fitting and top quality clothing. And a scarf. A scarf that said who you were – that you could wear with purpose and conviction. She configured it through the class depending on her mood, and it somehow boosted her presence. 

The next day, my mom asked me if I wanted to go shopping. I readily agreed. $300 later I owned a new, perfectly tailored suit, a couple sleek blouses, and a scarf. To this day, I’m particular about wearing clothes that fit. I tend toward pieces that convey an understated message of confidence. When the air has a bit of a chill, I wear a scarf. I still have the scarf that I bought in Boston that week I saw Maria Callas.

*note: SI Valley salaries were high back then, but nowhere near what new engineers are paid today.

** Oh Marlon Brando. Swoon. 

Verona Episode 1

Verona-Episode1

Two weeks ago, my husband, my son, and I moved to Verona Italy. This is the first in a series of podcasts about a family of Americans adjusting to life in Italy.

It’s our second overseas jaunt. We come here by way of Penang, Malaysia, where we lived for four years. The first two years were as employees of a semiconductor firm. We’d moved there on an expat assignment, having worked for many years at the same Silicon Valley semiconductor company. After two years in Malaysia, we quit our jobs and began living off of savings. This is what people in the early retirement community refer to as FIRE (Financial Independence / Retire Early). But after four years of perpetual summer, I couldn’t take it anymore. My husband, Dirk, didn’t want to move back to the states, so I chose Italy. Now, here we are. And this is our story.

Want to know what happens next? Here’s Verona Episode 2.

Sanremo

Pictures from Sanremo July 2015 – I took Italian classes at Omnilingua.  My teacher, Carmen was adorable, and my classmates were there to learn.  I learned to cook risotto from an experienced Sanremo chef – hint: boil the hell out of the tomatoes before squooshing them into a sauce to then boil down with the risotto.