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Cose italiane (Italian things)

11 Apr

11 April 2017. This time of year I always think about cleaning out the closets, assessing spring and summer clothes, putting away the puffy jacket and wool sweaters. That inevitably made me think of how Italians do the seasonal cambio as well as other cultural difference. I hope you’ll enjoy this entry from a year ago. Happy Easter! Happy Spring!

The following was originally posted 11 April 2016.

Even after almost four years in Italy, there are things that strike me as uniquely Italian and a bit amusing.  

Cheek kissing

Funny how cheek kissing has become normal to us. You do not meet a friend on the street – male or female – without doing il bacetto, the little kiss. Even waiters and shopkeepers will do this with frequent and favorite customers. I’ve seen burly Carabinieri officers smooch my U.S. law enforcement colleagues. Famously, Italian politicians attempt to assault American presidents.  Il bacetto is a little air kiss, not a big wet smack and it takes some getting used to in order to execute one smoothly. When a group of friends breaks up after coffee, drinks, or dinner it can take a while for everyone to properly bid adieu as one cannot depart without giving il bacetto to each person. And then you have to say “Ciao, buonasera!” about a dozen times. No fast exits.  

 

President Bush doesn't quite know what to do when Italian Premier Berlusconi goes in for the bacetto. Remember: Always go to the right first!

President Bush doesn’t quite know what to do when Italian Premier Berlusconi goes in for the bacetto. Remember: Always go to the right first!

Il Cambio di stagione

Many Italians let the calendar decide their clothing. 80 degrees (F) in early April? Better keep a scarf around your neck just-in-case. You wouldn’t want to catch la cervicale (pain in the cervical vertebrae) or un colpo d’aria (literally “a hit of  air”)! These are Italian ailments that are hard to explain in English but are taken very seriously. A blast of air on your neck, throat, or head is the root cause of all illness. Although the temps have had Ric and I pulling out our short-sleeved attire, sending the wool sweaters to the dry cleaner, and assessing what new warm-weather clothes we need, we still see many Italians in their puffy winter jackets and heavy wools with scarf-wrapped necks. While in the morning it might be a pleasant 55F and the jacket is not too terribly hot, by afternoon it is 75F, way beyond needing the jacket. But it is too soon to do Il Cambio! Cold weather might come back!
When we lived in Portland, all of our clothes were in our substantial walk-in closet. I might shove the winter stuff to the back when warmer temps prevailed, and the short-sleeved tee-shirts came to the top of the drawer, but basically I could find warmer clothes in a couple of minutes.
The typical Italian household does not have a lot of closet space. We use wardrobes for what we are wearing now and some sort of under-the-bed or overhead storage for the other season. Typically, we have only about half of our clothes at hand. Il cambio (the seasonal change out of the closet) is a big thing twice each year. Sometime in April, but generally closer to May 1, Italians pull out the ladder to get things down from the overhead closets and unwrap the items in the under bed chests, deciding what to keep and what to recycle. Ric and I, in a decidedly non-Italian way, are well into il cambio but the temps did drop a bit the other day. I just hope we don’t freeze our necks when we go to dinner tonight. Maybe I’ll look for a scarf to wear with my spring jacket.
The only closets in our apartment are desigend for off-season storage, high overhead in the service hallway.

The only closets in our apartment are designed for off-season storage, high overhead in the service hallway.

Our bedroom wardrobes, one each, 100cm -- about 39 inches -- wide.

Our bedroom wardrobes, one each, 100cm — about 39 inches — wide.

Il cambio mostly compelte, my spring and summer clothes now fill my wardrobe.

Il cambio mostly complete, my spring and summer clothes now fill my wardrobe.

I love the wardrobe versus the American-style closet. I can see everything and I am forced into being quite orderly. 

 

Scarves & sundresses

As I mentioned above, a scarf is a way of protecting you from la cervicale. If the wind blows on your neck, you could become very ill. (Yes, you can call in sick with la cervicale. Try to explain that to your U.S. or U.K. supervisor.) You can also get colpo d’aria. So you will see women wearing scarves with sundresses. Air conditioning is generally considered to be a hazard to health, so if you have to go into somewhere cold (i.e., below about 80F) you want to be protected.
She is not taking any chances at developing cervicale!

She is not taking any chances of developing la cervicale!

Cornetti in the hand

When an Italian goes into a bar and orders a cornetto (croissant) and un caffè, typically the barista will grab the cornetto with a napkin and hand it to the patron, then turn to make the requisite espresso. The cornetto is generally eaten standing up, using the napkin to hold it, and is eaten before downing the shot of espresso, which is liberally laced with sugar. It’s all very fast, maybe 2 or 3 minutes for consuming the pastry as well as drinking the coffee. In fact, Starbucks cannot make a shot as fast as an Italian can consume this entire meal in a bar.
While we indulged in a seated caffè e cornetto today, Ric demos the technique. ONe always eats oneàs corentto wrappedin a napkin. More sanitary.

While we indulged in a seated caffè e cornetto today, Ric demos the technique. One always eats oneàs cornetto wrapped in a napkin. More sanitary.

When we go into the bar and order cornetti, 95% of the time they pull out plates and set our pastries on them. I actually like that as we tend to linger a bit more, but isn’t it funny in this land of slow paced living and reverence for food, the bar breakfast is consumed at lightning speed? And how do they metabolize all that sugar every day? We can’t do it and we walk 6-7 kilometers a day.

 

August

August is a weird month. So many people go on vacation at the same time that the nightmare traffic disappears and parking places are everywhere. How can so many people arrange their lives to be on vacation at the same time? Hospitals send patients home. Doctors’ offices close. Restaurants close so the entire staff can be gone at the same time. Buses are on a reduced schedule , special for August.
I love it. You can’t get anything done, but the city is so empty it is marvelous. You have to live it to believe it. And this does not happen in the center, in the tourist area. That remains hopping.
This is Viale Parioli, the major shopping street a few minutes walk from our apartment, in August at 17:30 in the evening,. Usually it is a hubbub of cars, motorcycles, buses and people scurrying to do their shopping.

This is Viale Parioli, the major shopping street a few minutes walk from our apartment, in August at 17:30 in the evening. Usually, it is a hubbub of cars, motorcycles, buses and people scurrying to do their shopping.

Portieri

When I was young and watched movies set in New York City, I would marvel at apartment buildings with “supers” and doormen. We had no such thing as far as I knew in St. Paul, Minnesota. How glamorous would it be to live that way!
In Italy, we have portieri. A portiere is a combination caretaker-concierge-postman-security guard. He – or she – will clean the common areas, collect your mail and packages, keep an eye out for trouble ensuring unsavory elements stay out of the building, and give advice. He’ll help you carry heavy packages to your door, assist the elderly up-and-down the stairs, and in our case, give the occasional Italian lesson.
One evening we lamented to Italian friends the problems we had with trying a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription because they’d deliver when we were not home and the produce would wilt in the sun in our driveway. Our friend  was shocked to hear we did not have a portiere to take the delivery in for us.
It is traditional to give the portiere a gift three times a year: Christmas, Easter, and Ferragosto. The latter is the mid-August holiday initiated by Caesar Augustus. Why then? Because the portiere stays on duty to ensure the safety of the property while everyone else is on vacation. If you have a portiere the incidence of burglaries is reduced.
Nothing happens in our building, on our street, or even in the neighborhood that our portiere doesn’t know about. He’s a font of intel when we need it.
Our fabulous portiere Pellegrino. Actually his wife is the portiera, and he is retired...but still helping us out every day. He calls himself "The Sheriff" and he is alwasy watching out for us.

Our fabulous portiere Pellegrino. Actually his wife is the portiera, and he is retired…but still helping us out every day. He calls himself “The Sheriff” and he is always watching out for us.

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19 Responses to “Cose italiane (Italian things)”

  1. Marcia Miller Kakiuchi April 12, 2017 at 16:41 #

    I still don’t get the sundress scarf thing. Seems an oxi-Moran.

    And the European closets are so small no wonder you had to exchange or Cambio seasons.

    We are totally enjoying the great USA this year and things we’ve never experienced.

    Like

    • Laurel Barton April 12, 2017 at 17:17 #

      It’s so fun to follow your trip on Facebook! Yes, still many things perplex us about Italy even after years of living there, but viva la difference!

      Like

      • Kathy April 12, 2017 at 19:11 #

        My dermatologist recommended that I wear a scarf and hat during my upcoming trip to Italy to protect my face and décolletage. I recently had some precancerous cells on these areas. So it is not only a fashion statement, but preventative health benefit. Just fyi, there was very little evidence, so go for yearly skin check-ups and catch it early!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathy April 12, 2017 at 08:09 #

    I contacted you through Rick Steves’ travel forum before. Is that the best way?

    Like

  3. Kathy April 12, 2017 at 04:03 #

    I love your stories about living in Italy and the different culture! We are going back for our second trip there in May. We will be staying at one of your recommended hotels in Ortisei. I am so looking forward to seeing the beautiful sights and learning more about the Italian way of life. I am working harder to learn Italian for this trip. Duolingo.com is a great website for learning basic words and phrases. Looking forward to. your next post. Ciao!

    Like

    • Laurel Barton April 12, 2017 at 07:43 #

      Oh Kathy, I cannot wait to hear about your trip! Have a wonderful time and reach out if you need anything. Do you have my email address?

      Like

  4. Jean Claude April 11, 2017 at 22:33 #

    The French have the same “health issues” connected with…weather and winds of all kinds. Reading your detailed explanations gave me an answer to our similarities : may be it comes from our Roman occupation…way back! and we are still copying them…!
    Jean Claude

    Like

    • Laurel Barton April 12, 2017 at 07:40 #

      It may be so, JC! And France has some of the best Roman ruins, too! Buona Pasqua!

      Like

  5. Maarja April 11, 2017 at 22:17 #

    It was great to read this again Laurel! It’s April here in Provence and temperature is in upper 70’s and I still see people wrapped in puffy jackets, wool coats and scarves! All of the shop windows though have spring clothes on display!

    Like

    • Laurel Barton April 12, 2017 at 07:37 #

      We were in Venice in March last year and it was lovely weather. Made me wistful. But I find that anything below 60 degrees has me grabbing a warm coat. I have given up bundling up with a scarf and gloves, though. Buona Pasqua, Cara!

      Like

  6. Chloe April 11, 2017 at 20:31 #

    When i lived there, il bacetto didn’t happen. Everyone shook hands, always with the bare hand: never wearing a glove. The illness of the time was blamed on il fegato. It could be a toothache and it was still caused by il fegato. So nice to see the lovely Parioli district. It is still one of my favorite areas, although I also love the Prati district. I do hope that you are enjoying the Oregon coast. Surely it will stop raining on our west coast sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laurel Barton April 12, 2017 at 07:35 #

      I forgot to mention il fegato! Italians still say things like “My liver hurts” while we just say “I have a stomach ache.” They are very tuned-in to their bodies and have more knowledge of human biology than most of us. We are looking forward to summer: less rain but cool and comfortable!

      Like

  7. William April 11, 2017 at 19:48 #

    Rome/Italy was so beautiful – but so is Arlington! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laurel Barton April 12, 2017 at 07:31 #

      I think you’ve had a nicer spring than we have, Bill. Looking forward to summer on the coast though!

      Like

  8. Jane Norton April 11, 2017 at 16:53 #

    You are so good at this Laurel–you transport me to Italy every time

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Laurel Barton April 11, 2017 at 16:29 #

    Sometimes I miss making them, too! 🙂

    Like

  10. mvaden1948 April 11, 2017 at 16:19 #

    I miss your dispatches from Rome.

    Liked by 1 person

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