Dreaming In Italian

What color is your state?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

That seems like an odd question – at least in the U.S. it would be strange unless related to politics, i.e. red state or blue state. Here it refers to the state of Covid in the various regions (equivalent of states) and sometimes the zones can include not the entire region but the province (like a county in most of the U.S.) or even a city. There are 20 regions in Italy and I live in Emilia-Romagna in the city and province of Bologna.

So the colors are white, yellow, orange and red. As they progress from white to red they indicate the level of Covid risk and consequently the restrictions on daily life that are in place. The risk is the measure of the infection rate a number called the Rt index. If it is over 1 it indicates that each infected person is on average infecting more than one other person. Obviously if that number is high then you have a rapid spread of infections, hospitalizations and deaths. The only way to combat that spread of infections (until we’re all vaccinated) is to limit the exposure from one person to another. For example if you are in a red zone (and Bologna right now is red) there is no restaurant dining indoors in any form. You can get take-out food up until 10 in the evening. The same goes for bars (the name for coffee shops here). You basically cannot go anywhere far from your home and visits with friends and family are severely limited both in number and frequency. Schools are closed as well as any non-essential business are closed. Obviously there are some exceptions but they are few. On the other end of the spectrum, white, just about everything is open. Only Sardinia is a white region. Of course masks are still obligatory just about everywhere. Unlike what seems to be the case in the U.S. there are penalties for not following the rules. “Freedom” does not mean that you can act irresponsibly and be a menace to your fellow citizens. You can get a pretty hefty ticket here for violating the rules.

So we are all bored but we eat well here at the house of Joe and Laura (I’m making some great chocolate chip cookies). Cooking is a good answer to boredom and thank goodness for the internet and especially streaming video. I only go out for food shopping. Even though the number of people allowed in a supermarket and other stores is limited I always go as soon as the stores open to avoid crowds. I take the garbage and recycling out on early Sunday morning when there is rarely anyone else moving about.

There is always a risk any time that you are near someone else. My good friend Gianluca has been careful but found last week that he was infected. Fortunately his symptoms are relatively mild but he cannot leave his apartment for (I think) 3 weeks. He has doctors that check in with him every 2 or 3 days and fortunately he has family members who don’t live very far away that have brought him food and other essentials.

The vaccine rollout is relatively slow here. I don’t know why we are so far behind the U.S. in getting people vaccinated but it seems to be a supply issue. Right now they are vaccinating essential workers, those at high risk and those over 80 and I’m hoping for my first vaccine shot in early April but don’t really know when that will be. I’m SO envious when I hear from friends in the U.S. that have already been vaccinated.

So I can just dream about a relatively normal life and have enough confidence in the state of things that I have already bought a plane ticket to make a fairly brief trip back to California in September.

And a pair of Baci quotes:

True happiness comes from the zest of creating new things.
La vera felicita’ deriva dall’entusiasmo di creare cose nuove.

Antoinde de Sainet-Exupery

Magic is believing in yourself.
La magia e’ credere in se stesso. (it was “noi stessi”)

Wofgang Goethe

Stay safe – it’s not a long wait now.

A breath of fresh air

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

We haven’t used Laura’s car for over two months and even then it was only to go to a supermarket outside the center. So that means that for over two months we’ve never been further than maybe 200 meters from our front door. Over the last month or so in fact it was against the law to travel outside your city except for some compelling reason (work, health, etc). I was getting a little worried that the car battery might be going dead. As of February 1st the rules were relaxed and it is now allowed to take a trip outside your own city and even to another region (except for two regions which still have a high rate of infections). So we decide to take a little trip.

I had once done a translation of a tourist brochure for the comune of Bologna about nearby points of interest so I knew that there was a relatively well preserved Etruscan village not too far away. After a Google search I found that it was at Marzabotto. Well, preserved is relative since the Etruscans left there about 2400 years ago and so the layout of the town with streets and foundations of houses are there but not much else. There is however a museum with a lot of Etruscan artifacts that were found at the site and surely a lot of other information. In any case Marzabotto is only about 30 Km from Bologna so it seemed like a good outing. Unfortunately all of the Etruscan stuff was closed due to the pandemic.

If interested you can find out more about the Etruscan site and museum here . We’ll be back.

I also found that Marzabotto is noted for something more somber. In and around Marzabotto between September 29 and October 5 1944 the Nazis massacred at least 770 people, the entire populations of some little towns; men, women, children, seniors, priests, everybody. The idea was to terrorize the population to convince them to not support the partigiani (the Italian partisan guerrilla fighters). I suspect that such cruelty served to increase the recruitment of partigiani and supporters. In any case there is a memorial museum in Barzabotto and as you might guess, it too was closed.

The wall at the entrance to the museum with photos (if they were available) of those killed in the massacre.

At least it prompted us to watch a film on Amazon Prime the next day “L’uomo che verrà” (The Man Who Will Come) on the subject of the massacre. It is only available here with Italian spoken language and Italian subtitles. The subtitles are necessary not only for me, but also for most Italians since much of the dialog is an a local dialect. If interested in learning more about the massacre you can follow this link

Then we had our first restaurant meal for 4 months. I had researched restaurants in the area and found that there were some good ones in Sasso Marconi which is larger than Marzabotto and and only 8 km away. The meal was good, the restaurant was very welcoming and the price was incredibly low for the quality of the food. We decided to splurge and has an antipasto (sformato – “flan”), a primo (tortelloni- a fresh stuffed pasta but the size of big ravioli), a secondo (scaloppine) and a contorno (verdure fritte – fried vegetables), plus a half liter of the house red and water and coffee at the end of the meal. The total for everything was 50 euros. It was all good (although the fried veggies weren’t great).

Sformato of potatoes and mushrooms with a parmigiano cream with black truffles.
Scaloppini with porcini mushrooms
The fried veggies
At the end, a free small piece of cake and a kind of creamy limoncello in the green bottle (also free) and coffees for Laura and I

So since we’ll need to go back sometime to see the museums we’ll definitely eat at Osteria dei Sani again.

As we were almost home I was almost overwhelmed by the feeling of being able to have at least a taste of a normal life. It was like taking a deep breath of the early morning air. Don’t we all wish so much for a return to normal – whatever that is – or will be.

What have I been doing lately (cosa ho combinato ultimamente)

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

Sometimes life gets a little boring when I need to stay home almost all of the time. Fortunately I always have little projects. One you can see when you look at this page. I added a feature and did some rearranging. The addition is the ability to translate the entire post for those who don’t read English well (I’m looking at you Laura). As long as I was at it I threw in French, Spanish and German just for kicks. I know one person who reads my blog who’s fluent in German and don’t know about the other languages. The free version of this plug-in uses Google translate and I know that the translations, at least into Italian are, let’s say, imprecise. Still Laura can read the blog now rather than just look at the pictures. If I get any comments in the other languages in the next couple of months I’ll keep them otherwise I will narrow the number of languages to English and Italian. And I will hope that Google keeps improving the translation into Italian. Click on a flag at the top left corner. Hovering over a flag shows the language if you don’t recognize the flag. I also moved some stuff that was on the right side of the page to the left side since all of that stuff disappears when viewed on an iPad. This includes the place where one can subscribe by mail (hint, hint).

One way to relieve boredom for me is to cook. I like to do it and I like to eat the results. This week when I was at the great vegetable market near us named Verdura (vegetable in Italian) I admired a squash that I had never seen before and thought that I could do something with it.

Zucca Delica – I found that it originally came from Japan. You just about need a samurai sword to cut it.

I thought a hearty soup since it is winter after all. It’s a big and heavy sucker. I could use it as a weapon if need be. I also found that it is really tough in the sense that cutting it was a real challenge. I have a good quality 10 inch chef knife that I keep well sharpened and it was a challenge even with that. I tried using a vegetable peeler to peel it and found that was really not going to be a good option so I cut it into slices and roasted it for about 30 minutes in the oven so that I could easily cut off the peel and make it into chunks. Since soups are very forgiving you can add a lot of different stuff (of course there are limits) so I had half a head of left-over cauliflower and a couple of potatoes that were getting pretty old and for something green I had some tuscan kale as it’s called in the U.S. or sometimes called dinosaur kale. Here it’s cavolo nero. I always have broth available and the trinity of aromatic vegetable – celery, onion and carrots so I was all set. Fortunately it is really tasty. I say fortunately because I made a LOT of it.

The finished product

Next I made some chocolate chip cookies, a very American thing that it turns out seems to have taken root in Italy if not the world. I found a bunch of Italian recipes for these in addition to all of those from american sites. They look a little funny but they are pretty much what I wanted – a little crunchy rather than soft in the center. I can hardly wait to make another batch since I learned a lot from this one.

Kind of ugly but good. The chocolate ships here are a lot smaller. I’m going to make the next batch with chunks of extra dark chocolate.

And of course there is a little silliness. Since I am an early riser after I have breakfast I set everything order so that when Laura finally comes into the kitchen everything is ready for her breakfast. So I have a little fun with it from time to time.

We all need some silliness in our lives.

I mentioned in the last post that Laura had order a ton of stuff from the Coop supermarket. That includes our preferred beer.

There were 30 bottles total when delivered.

And of course a Baci quote:

Life is too important to be taken seriously.
La vita e troppo importante per essere presa sul serio

Oscar Wilde

That’s all folks. I’ll continue to lie low and wait for the vaccine.

An eventful week

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

Yes, eventful. Of course there was a new president in the U.S. but there were also events at casa Joe and Laura.

So first things first: the inauguration. All things considered (like 25,000 national guard locking down the capital) it was a pretty good show. Lady Gaga, Garth Brooks and Jennifer Lopez providing the songs, the flags commemorating the 400,000 who have died from Covid in the U.S. due to extremely poor management of the epidemic on the national level and the huge national and international sigh of relief to have a sane person as president. I especially like J.Lo singing “This is land is your land”. It’s the only song that really provokes an emotional reaction for my country of origin and I think would be a good replacement for the current national anthem. I tried to stream the video via the New York Times but there must have been millions of others trying to do the same because it broke up so much that it was worthless. During the same period Laura streamed the whole thing from the La Stampa website without a hitch but of course didn’t understand a thing since there were no subtitles. That would be a good project for the Google guys to do real time subtitles in another language – a difficult technical task but those guys are pretty good at technology. Go for it Googlers.

Next was the caldaia (water heater). It ceased to work some time on Monday afternoon (January 18).

The caldaia in the kitchen

The lack of hot water was an annoyance but the water heater also provides heat for the house which made it much more urgent with winter temperatures. It showed an “error 3” on the display. I looked in the manual that I had downloaded months ago and it said to call for a repair person. So Laura called them and they came out the next afternoon and fixed it. Since we are renting the landlord will pay the bill – only 80 euros. It seems that there was some blockage in the exhaust pipe which required a fair amount of disassembly and reassembly and they also lubricated some moving parts in the process. One somewhat nice thing about the heat is that even in winter it doesn’t get too cold in the house. That’s probably because the building is over 500 years old and has thick walls. The thermostat is set at 20 C (68 F) during the day and at 16 C (61 F) at night but even in these days when the temperature is below freezing at night it almost never falls below 66 F (19 C) but when the heat comes on in the morning at 5 AM it takes about 5 hours to recover that one degree to reach the daytime temperature. So in any case now we’re back to normal

The other notable thing is that since we have two cats we also need a constant supply of kitty litter. Each sack of litter weighs about 15 pounds so it is really a chore to buy and transport it. So Laura ordered a bunch (10 sacks) from a major supermarket chain, Coop, for delivery to our door. She also ordered enough other stuff to bring the total above the level where we need to pay for delivery, I think that’s something like 75 euros. We have the litter stashed in unlikely places but it’s still a lot more convenient than a trek to the store. I think that we’ll be regular customers for home delivery from Coop.

And finally there is the greenhouse (“serra” in Italian) that Laura ordered. We have a very small one for herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme, etc) but it is really too small so Laura ordered another one. So yesterday afternoon I decided it would be a good project to assemble it. I thought an hour maximum since there are no tools required. It was made by a German company and so you’d think that since there Germans are so precise that the instructions would be clear – something like those from Ikea. Well, you can look at the photos below and judge for yourself.

There are a total of 154 total pieces not counting the shelves and the cover. This is the front of the instruction page.
Pretty clear, huh?

The Germans must assume that everyone is an engineer. Fortunately I am one and only made two or 3 errors none of which required too much time to correct. For the record it took just over 2 hours to assemble. Today I’ll put the cover on it.

And a new Baci quote that seems particularly apt for this period (and maybe every period),

Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn.
Ogni tramonte porta la promessa di una nuova alba.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

A penny for your thoughts – as in comments ;^)