Dreaming In Italian

Italian Driver’s License – Part 3

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

From my last post on the complex subject of obtaining an Italian driver’s license (click here to see that one) I noted that I was scheduled to take the test on the theory on October 1st. So I passed with only one error out of 40 questions (4 are allowed). So I felt pretty good about that and proceeded to the next part, the actual driving instruction. Six hours of instruction at a driving instruction are required by law. I pretty much scoffed at this and imagined that after the first day perhaps we could stop somewhere for coffee and a chat but I have definitely changed my mind.

Paolo, my instructor, is perhaps a little severe but I have come to think that it’s really good that he is. It’s kind of like boot camp to get me in shape to pass the actual exam. Since I’ve now been driving for 57 years I believe that I’m a good and careful driver. There are, however some significant differences between the rules of the road in Italy and those in the U.S. The major one is that many intersections, especially in cities are not controlled by any kind of signage. I had first really noticed this in Monopoli, a little town in Puglia south of Bari. No stop signs, yield signs or stoplights so what do you do? I really was confused and generally would give the right of way to anyone near the intersection. The rule is that if there is a car approaching the intersection on your right, they always have the right of way. It still drives me a little crazy when I’m riding with Laura in Torino where these uncontrolled intersections are everywhere except on really major streets. So that definitely takes a bit of getting used to. The other thing which is very common but actually very easy are the traffic circles of which we have very few in the U.S. The rule there is that basically once you’re in the traffic circle you have the right of way. Of course to enter to the traffic circle you need to give the right of way to those already there. It’s actually a much safer form of intersection since you don’t cross paths with other vehicles.

A monster traffic circle in Bologna which I have traversed many times

So anyway, Paolo is breaking me of any bad habits and especially is drilling me on what I always must do to pass the driving test – even though his constant nagging drives me a bit crazy at times. So now I’m scheduled to take the driving exam on November 22. I expect to pass and will become a little bit more Italian.

As long as we’re on the subject of traffic I recently revisited the Museum of Automobiles in Torino. The museum is fantastic and I really recommend it but I really liked the display of real and tongue in cheek traffic signs. Suggest your own ideas for captions.

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It’s the cheese!

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

One day not long ago Laura sent me an email with a link for “The Cheese”. Yes both words are capitalized and the website is Italian and the rest of the language is Italian. What is going on here? Well it turns out that the little city of Bra (population 20,000) which happens to be also the headquarters of Slow Food, sponsors a festival called “The Cheese” every two years. It’s the largest exposition of cheese in the world with usually at least 200,000 attendees during the 3 day weekend. Reading about it made me really start savoring the possibility of being immersed in cheese for a day. It also made me think of Wallace and Gromit.

Wallace is a BIG cheese fan

So we went somewhere where there is cheese – and lots of it. Bra is only about 60km ( 36 miles) from Torino but we decided to take the train. Rather than the hassle of driving there was the fact that there were likely to be a LOT of visitors even though we opted to go on Friday which would surely be a significantly smaller crowd. In fact the stands for cheese and other delicacies started only a short distance from the train station.

One of the first booths near the station – meats (especially rabbit) instead of cheese
The tent “pavilion” on the left – what you cannot see from this photo that the width of this pavilion is at least 4 of those tents wide

The major part of the cheeses on display (and available for tasting) were Italian with a significant part of those from Piemonte (the region – equivalent to our states) where Bra is located. That’s not a surprise since Italy is said to have the highest number of cheeses of any country in the world and also because it is the host country for this event. Of the estimated 2500 different cheeses in Italy there are 500 commercialized and of those 300 with protected origin status (think parmigiano-reggiano or gorgonzola) and also because it is the host country for this event. Still there were a lot of French cheeses, some from Switzerland, probably from Holand and even some from the Great Britain and the United States.

We started, well, at the start of the large, REALLY large long tent housing all of the displays of Italian cheeses. We tasted a lot and bought a few and were exhausted from seeing and tasting cheeses after only half of those on display. Since they started with Piemonte and seemed to work their way down the country we probably missed some spectacular cheese from the south. So we stopped for a light lunch. Naturally much of the food being offered was, well, cheese based. So we kept it light because we’d probably each consumed a fair amount of cheese just doing tasting.

A major cheese shop from Torino had a booth. We bought aged castelmagno here
A little bit of farm style atmosphere for this booth
I know that we bought a cheese here but don’t remember which one. These cheeses come from Amatrice in Lazio which had a devastating earthquake in 2016
Flavor of cannabis (I couldn’t really taste it) at this foreign booth, maybe swiss. Note the loving sheep

After lunch we sought out the foreign “pavilion” – still the tents. We tasted and bought just one cheese there – a rather unique ball shaped Swiss cheese which is well aged and meant to be sliced like truffles over risotto or pasta. We did taste British and American cheeses but frankly they were not very impressive. I’m sure that the U.S. has the capacity to make great cheeses but they are just several hundred years behind in terms of experience.

Our haul – 5 cheeses and some chocolate truffles.

So we bought 5 cheeses and some chocolate truffles. Clockwise from top left, an aged caprino (goat cheese), a REALLY aged caprino from a different cheese maker (and the best one of all), the little round swiss cheese ( don’t know what kind of milk but it is very good, the aged (and pricey) castelmagno (cow’s milk) also very good, the truffles and I don’t remember, I think that the last one is a toma (cow’s milk) that seemed nothing particularly special. Probably good but nothing special compared to the others.

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Serendipity in Piemonte

Monday, September 30th, 2019

As any reader of my blog knows I spend a lot of time in Torino these days because my “girlfriend” (seems silly to call a 70 year old woman a girl) lives there. We alternate long weekends between Torino and Bologna. So on a recent weekend we were pondering what to do on a lazy Saturday. Another museum (boring), yet another posh residence of a king (tired of viewing their extravagances), return to a beach in Liguria (too rainy)? So we decided to visit a town near Torino which neither of us knew much about. We discussed Ivrea but settled on Susa.

You drive past Rivoli and continue on to Susa

I knew that there was a Porta Susa in Torino, name of one of the two major train stations. With a little research I found that the town of Susa is in a little valley at the foot of the alps and has a little river running through it. Plus it has a history that predates the Romans who came and left their marks there. And it’s only about 50 km (about 30 miles) from Torino.

It’s really a cute little town of about 6,000 inhabitants with the requisite Roman ruins. After a disappointing lunch we went looking for the Roman amphitheater. They could use some better signage for visitors but we finally found it after asking directions from a couple of locals. It was rather underwhelming but is used for various performances which surely makes it more interesting. From there we could see what looked like a very old fortress. I had read that there was a Roman arch in Susa but had seen nothing about a fortress. While we could see the fortress there were absolutely no signs. Again locals came to our rescue pointing to the road (more like a path) to take.

The Roman amphitheater was a little underwhelming

There was a fascinating little path that ran near the amphitheater. I now wish that I had explored it. I’m always curious about where these paths lead but for now it is the “road not taken”. Maybe the next time.

A path that ran along the side of the amphitheater.

There were actually 2 arches. The first was really more than one arch and was the support system for a roman aqueduct. Then we arrived at the triumphal Arch of Augustus build in 8 BC. I actually liked the big rough on the most.

While, yes, it is an arch it is actually part of an ancient roman aqueduct.
These is the triumphal arch. Very nice.

Oh yes, next to the triumphal arch is the fortress which I guess was actually a castle. Not much remains other than the wall but it’s an impressive wall.

As we walked around the town a did a bit of shopping I kept noticing violet and white ribbons bunched together and we seemingly everywhere. When I first saw these in the restaurant I thought that perhaps they were the celebration of a birth of a child but since they were also along the streets I finally asked a guy what they were about. Because of my heavily accented Italian he tried (without much success) to respond in English until I told him that Laura was Italian. So he explained to her (and I understood absolutely everything that he said) that these were the colors of the “borgo” (borough or district). With some research I found that each year there is a contest of medieval skills in, where else, the roman amphitheater. The competition is between the 6 borghi of the city. The violet and white are the colors of the Borgo Storico, which would be the city center – which won this year.

When Laura asked about the “games” he said with a laugh, “it’s not a game it’s WAR!”. Anyway it’s held in July and I really want to go next year. I recommend that you click on this link to see some photos of the 2010 games. Lots of pageantry plus the games, at least the jousting, archery and tug of war.

Of course I love comments so if you liked this one (or if you didn’t) let me know.

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Italian Driver’s License – Part 2 – the process.

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019

I started studying for the test on theory in July and did some web research on the process for getting a patente (license). Well, there are several fundamental steps. Get all of your required documents in order. In my case that includes my permesso di soggiorno and my carte d’identita’ (Identity card). And oh, yes, be prepared to spend a bunch of money.

  1. Fill out forms. In any country you surely have to fill out forms but as usual Italy takes things to a new level. Theoretically you can just drop into the local Motorizzazione (DMV) and ask for a set of forms and go it alone. That saves some money but it’s a difficult and treacherous path. I went to the DMV here which is well outside the center. There was really only one bus that I could take and I rode that for 30 minutes to get to the nearest stop. It was unclear exactly how I would arrive from the stop so I had to wander around for awhile (signs! We don’t need no stinkin’ signs!) before I found an entrance and then more time to find the part for information on the patente. So I asked for a package of all of the forms. The guy there said, well, the first appointment available is the first week of November (this was in late August). Ooh, that sounds bad to start with. So I said well I’ll just take the forms and ponder the next step. He wouldn’t give them to me and said come back in November. I wasn’t secure enough in my Italian to point out how absurd this was and besides I could see right away that going it alone was going to be huge pain in the ass and possibly take MONTHs to get a license. So I did what most people do; I went shopping for a driving school.
  2. Going the route of a driving school makes some sense anyway since ultimately you are legally required to take 6 hours of driving instruction with an school. I smell a driving school lobby somewhere in Italy. In any case the DMV (Motorizzazione- try saying that!) seems to offload a lot of their duties to the driving schools. You can go there to renew you driver’s license, register your vehicle and god knows what else related to cars (or motorcycles) and driving. So they have all of the forms you need and know all the bureaucratic levers to pull and even provide one of the physician statements. This one amounts to an eye test and nothing more. The other one is a form that you take to your general practitioner (medico di base) and has something like 10 questions asking if you have some malady that makes it unsafe to drive: are you crazy, drug addicted, missing a limb, basic stuff like that. So my doctor took my blood pressure and listened to my chest with a stethoscope and signed the form (I had already marked NO to all of the questions). Cost – 40 euros. Enroll in the school – 100 euros. This 100 euros theoretically provides classroom instruction probably using the same language that they used for the test. It’s sort of like if the written test in California was written in Olde English and often used double negatives. So I will not be attending the classroom sessions. Come back with the your doctor’s form, pay another 94 euros for some fees and the eye test.
  3. Next step schedule an appointment to take the test on theory. If you’ve read the previous post you will know that I think that the majority of the questions are about basically useless shit but that’s the next step and it for some also ridiculous reason must be at least a month after asking to have it scheduled. So after a week I received a text message that my test was scheduled for the first of October at 10 in the morning at the dreaded Motorizzazione. Ah, but there was an option; I could arrive there on my own by 9:30 in the morning or arrive at the driving school at 9:00 and they would take me there. Easy choice. Oh yes, taking the test costs 125 euros.
  4. Once I pass the test – and I’m becoming quite confident that I will, then there are the 6 hours of driving with a driving school instructor at 35 euros an hour so that adds another 210 euros to the bill. And of course the driving test itself costs another 125 euros.

So I pass both tests on the first try I will have a license in hand and the total cost is around 700 euros. I grumpily described all of these costs to my friend Marco and he said, that’s pretty good because a lot of times it can be as much as 1000.

Ah “Benvento in Italia!” And there is more absurdity to come. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place despite the absurdities.

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