The Money of Italy

Italy uses the Eurozone Euro. I heard that some people think that the Euro looks different in each country. Not true. The Euro is the same in all the countries in which it is used. Here is a list of the countries that use the Euro. For photos and more info, here’s a link. The Euro symbol is derived from the Greek letter, epsilon, and is also from the E in Europe while the two lines that cross it are a sign of equilibrium. When writing the symbol in English, the symbol goes first. In other languages, it goes behind the number. So €1 = one euro (“yu-roh”) or 1€ = un euro (“eh-oo-roh” or “aero”). The euro is divided into 100 cents.

Generally, other than housing and utilities, the prices in Rome are not too bad (compared to Washington, DC). In terms of rent, shared housing, like in DC and New York, seems to be the way to go. A single room is about 500 euro ($600). The thing that really costs is utilities — three times New York City prices! Internet costs around 15 euro per month but Netflix is 22 euro per month. Gas and cars are probably pricey but I don’t drive here. Due to the virus, there is no tourism so I don’t know what it costs to be a tourist. Eating outside is not allowed right now, but back in November, I sat outside for a meal and it cost 13 euro. No tipping required. Ready to go food is also not very expensive so why cook? Just kidding. An added bonus about food in Rome is that due to European regulations, most of the food is preservative free.

Remember when chicken tasted like chicken?

Of course, there are expensive things too. A custom made eco-friendly bed costs 4,000 euro, but Ikea is here so you can also get a bed for a few hundred euro. Imported items are pricey. Office supplies and paper is on the pricy side with office chairs running about 200 euro. Gelato is also not cheap. But, considering it’s artisanal and all natural, it’s not that expensive. The sizing in Rome is smaller than in the U.S. so a medium gelato is about the size of a small or child’s size in the U.S. But, hey, you probably appreciate the portion control?

Whole wheat toasted ice cream sandwich for four euro ($4.40)

Most small shops and restaurants prefer cash, Euro, as they pay a hefty fee when a customer uses a credit card. Some shops will only take cash, although this is rare. When I was “antiqueing” I found that I had to pay in installments as I didn’t have that much cash on me that day. If it’s early in the day, many small shops can’t make change for a 50 Euro so I try and mainly use 20 and lower. One ends up lugging around a lot of coins as the lowest paper bill is a €5. A €2 coin can get you a coffee.

Speaking of toilet paper (Weren’t we?), I recall once paying for the most expensive toilet paper I’ve every bought… until 2020. It was back in the 1980s and it was at the Vatican. I’m sure that I climbed to the top of the Vatican and saw the impressive St. Peter’s basilica inside but what I remember, is the 100 lira I had to pay for one sheet of single ply toilet paper. The piece of toilet paper was only slightly larger than the 100 lira bill. I am not sure why I didn’t spend more to spend a penny. To get some idea of how expensive that square of toilet was back then, it’s the equivalent to about 25 U.S. cents in today’s money.

Crave – Food at the Source

I know that it is the general convention that dishes, food, is best tasted at the source. I think that does some disservice to the diaspora and fusion food that has evolved over the millennia. That said, here is a list of food that I often crave. Actually, for many of the dishes, I prefer in their newer form. But, then again… some I prefer at the source.

Ceviche — I like the classic old fashioned version. The Peruvians love fusion. They are a fusion and so is their food. So now one can find “warm ceviche” and ceviche not made with fish.

“Ceviche classico” with “leche de tigre” (tiger’s milk) making the fish turn white.

Danish hotdog — I prefer them in Denmark. The actual hotdog is special, the ketchup is different, the dog is served with crunchy fried onions…
New York pizza — also, one of those things. Some say that the New York pizza is like a Neopolitan pizza from Naples, Italy. We shall see…
Hamburger — Some of the best I’ve had are in the United States. American beef and lack of gristle in the mix.
Banh mi — I’ve had good ones outside of Vietnam.
Pho — Also, good in the certain parts of the United States. Very bland in other places.
Korean BBQ — If one sticks to the pork belly, then it’s fairly easy to get good Korean barbecue in many countries. I think that many people think that bulgogi should be made with a high grade of beef and grilled at the table. Traditionally, bulgogi was created to use bad cuts of meat that required marinating. Usually the slices are so thin that grilling at the table dries them out. Some places use good cuts of steak and then one can dip them in sesame seed oil and salt. This is a delicious way to eat barbecue.
Chicken wings — Oddly, some of the best barbecue wings I’ve had were in a pizzeria in New Mexico.
Dim sum — can be good in many places outside China.

Laksa — so far the best I’ve had, and even some of the mediocre, was in Singapore and Malaysia. What can I say?

Most of all, the food of other lands transports you to them.

Unexpected Things About Moving To Rome

Today is Boxing Day which is St. Stephen’s Day here in Italy. As we are on day three of red zone lockdown, I have time to reflect.

Moving to a new country has both its delights and irritations. Then, there are the things that I just hadn’t contemplated or expected.

Eating cookies for breakfast: that takes getting used to. They also eat croissants (un cornetto is a croissant) and pizza for breakfast. The breakfast pizza is a sandwich made with pizza bread which is like focaccia (the pizza can be many things here and is in many ways simply “bread”). Another thing is that mayonnaise for your sandwich for breakfast is okay, but most sandwiches are quite sparsely filled and have very little “lettuce, tomato,…” but instead the extremely popular bologna, mortadella, provides enough fat (there is a required amount of fat squares that must be visible) to butter the sandwich. Another thing is that you can get meatballs, ham with fresh mozzarella, sautéed broccoli greens, and almost anything in a sandwich. It just won’t be very tall.

Trash on the street: the trash dumpsters are communal and this means that there are trash dumpsters on every street. It’s all out there for everyone to see. Not hidden away in the bowels of the buildings or back alley.

Tupperware/food containers: I had not expected this to be so hard to find. I suppose it’s because Italians eat fresh food every day. Or at least they don’t cook up a storm on a Sunday and then neatly stack containers of food in the freezer. It’s not that Italians don’t have left overs. They do. They are extremely frugal. But, they just store it in some other way. I’m not sure what. On the other hand, I can easily find a pasta making board at the kitchen store.

Ham (proscuitto cotto): It’s so good here. And I’m not even talking about proscuitto and porchetta, and all those other lovely pork products. I just mean simple pink ham to go on my bread.

The freshness: fresh fruit is sold ripe here so it also goes bad a bit faster than in the U.S. Fruit is not stored in the fridge so it dries out or begins to molder. The clementines are lovely this time of year in Rome but I didn’t expect them to start going mushy on day five. One day I ate eight clementines to eat them all before they went bad. I could freeze the pulp but fresh juice is not as common here as in Peru. In Peru, one always new it was morning because of the sound of blenders whizzing all over Lima. In Peru, the method is to blitz the fruit and then sieve it. Here in Italy, the fruit, usually oranges, are pressed. The greens are really green and Italians love greens.

Preserved Fish: jarred tuna is in almost anything here — and on pizza. Anchovy: yes, on everything. Not gelato. But, the anchovy is good. Since Italian food is not that spicy, anchovy is the strong flavor. And it’s not that strong.

Prices: pizza is affordable ($4 for a personal pizza, no tipping so reasonable for lunch). Eating out/taking out is affordable (my pasta and a drink on Piazza Navona was 13 Euro). Christmas cards and stationery are pricey (4.5 Euro for a card). Taxis are not cheap as they run the meter from when they choose to take your ride, not when you get in the car. This makes it about 5 Euro per kilometer. But so worth it on these hard and ankle-mangling cobblestones. While the price of items in stores is higher than in the U.S., it is possible to shop at the many Chinese-run stores and buy the “made in China” straight from China. I went to one such store, loaded up my arms, and was shocked that it cost a total of 13 Euro. In contrast, my hot water kettle (it is fancy) cost 48 Euro.

English: I knew that most people would speak some English. They do. If not, they will probably find someone. But, it is possible to live in Rome without speaking Italian. Not as much fun, but possible.

Friendliness: I didn’t expect people to be so friendly. I never thought of Italians as friendly. Maybe it’s just in Rome? Maybe it’s because the shop owners and restaurant owners are so happy to see a customer after almost a year of COVID? Maybe it’s that unicorn called “customer service?” Maybe because I try to speak Italian? Or because I say “buongiorno” to everyone, even random people on the street… Whatever the reason, most people I interact with are friendly.

Feliz Navidad en Lima

While this year’s Christmas celebrations in Lima will be very different, I thought I would recount the lovely one that I had last year when I was invited to spend Christmas with my Peruvian family. Enjoy.

A Peruvian Christmas involves church for mass at 8 p.m. on December 24, followed by dinner. There will be ham, turkey, and there will be certain salads (involving mayonnaise) with rice and potatoes, but mainly there is dessert. From the Italians, the Peruvians eat panettone for Christmas. This a dry version of the British Christmas pudding, in many ways. There are certain brands that are more prestigious to give to one’s doorman, maid, or friends, and you will recognize them from the colors of the boxes. 

At midnight there will be fireworks but since private fireworks are illegal (the city will put on a show), many families will use sparklers instead. Christmas is during early summer in Lima, so it’s beach weather. That said, decorations will still be greenery, Christmas trees, and fake snow. It just doesn’t have the same feeling of a snowy cold wintery Christmas.

On the 25th, there will be more celebrations with other members of the family or friends. I was lucky to be invited out to a country house for the 25th. There were Marinera horses (they are trained to dance the national dance) to admire, games to play, a fully stocked bar, lots of traditional “creole” style food (served in traditional ceramics in this case — the hostess is the mostest, it must be said), and relaxed chatting. Oh, and Peruvian donuts, picarones.

My favorite were the appetizers of fried yuca with huancaina sauce and taquitos with guacamole. These are very Peruvian, at any time of year.

Being included in my friends’ family Christmas was the best gift one could imagine. Family, food, and friendship. Festive!

Even if you don’t celebrate anything at this time of year, I hope you still have a good one, even if it’s a dance around a festivus pole!

A Unique Time To Be A Tourist in Your Home Town

Where have all the beggars gone, long time missing? Maybe the way of the tourist trinket shops.

It’s a sadly unique time to be a tourist. The streets are empty in a way that one just would not have imagined. Normally, over 60 million tourists visit Italy. Due to the pandemic, not only the international, but also the intra-country tourists, are not here. Just the Romans.

I went to the Trevi Fountain and was one of three tourists. Not that there were no people there — there were. But they were working. I went to the Pantheon (well, to the square, as the Pantheon is closed), and finally got begged from. But only from two beggars. I also wonder where the pickpockets go during this time. I did not see any of them either.

At Piazza Navona (the big rectangular one with the three fountains), I finally saw more people. Once the tourists come back, I can imagine that this square will be wall to wall with people. As it was, there were only a few hawkers and they were not too aggressive. One greeted me with a phrase from the Lion King, which did catch my attention. But, in general, the hawkers seemed fairly listless, as they saw no reason to make much effort when there are no cash cows in town. Who knew that one would miss being milked?

Mealtimes in Italy

Okay, so mealtimes in Italy.

Colazione (breakfast): Breakfast is a cup of coffee with milk like a cappuccino. Maybe a croissant or a sandwich (triangular white sandwiches like the triples in Peru). Italians don’t really eat much for breakfast. They consider the milk in the coffee to be the “food.” But, later in the morning, they will have more coffee. Coffee is a small cup of coffee like an espresso. No coffee in Italy is ever the size of American coffees. Italians will have many coffees throughout the day, although milk in coffee is only for breakfast (so before 11 a.m.).

Around 10 or 11 a.m., Italians might have a small snack with their next coffee.

Pranzo (lunch): Lunch is generally eaten from noon to 2 p.m. but on a Sunday, lunch can be later.

Merenda (tea): At around 3 p.m., Italians (and certainly children) will have a snack. One could have a gelato… or some crackers and cheese.

Aperitivo (happy hour): after work, Italians may have a tapas/mezze style spread. Many judge the bar based on the selection of free nibbles. During the current COVID restrictions (restaurants close for in restaurant dining at 6 p.m.), many people are having aperitivo at 3 p.m. Why not?

Cena “che-na” (dinner): Dinner is generally at 8:30 p.m. or later. One had a snack earlier, thankfully.

Square Pizza — Culture Shock in Italy

Culture shock seems like an outdated phrase from the 1980s, but then again, I find that the 1980s are still around… for example, when I was traveling in Kenya in 2012, the radio stations all played Michael Jackson’s songs as if they had just come out. Now in 2020 in Italy, the down jacket is back from the 1980s. Not really back, as it never left as it is still the fashion to dress like Hans Solo in certain other Latin countries.

In a way, the down jackets remind me of the “pizza bianca” or “white pizza” that is a common food here in Rome. It’s a bit shocking that the pizza is square, sold by weight, and can still be pizza — even if it has no sauce or cheese. Yes, it really can still be pizza. In a way, in its purest form if one reads the etymology of the word, pizza.

More shockers another time. I need to go get a pizza and put some cheese and ham on it, and call it a sandwich.

Whatsapp? Are You Zooming to a Google Meet For Quality Facetime?

For the past seven months, many of us have spent time socializing and working on Zoom, Google Meet, Whatsapp, Facetime, and more. I do not know which one is better, but here are few things I’ve learned about them.

Zoom is now a verb. That’s how big it is. For more than 50 people, someone needs to have a paid account. With the paid version, I have the option to “hide self view” which allows me to not have to look at myself when I am looking at the grid view. There are a few other features like the ability to change the view when sharing someone else’s “shared view.” The free version has a meeting limit of 40 minutes. Zoom allows you to share your screen and have a “green screen” virtual background. I enjoy this feature quite a bit. It allows me to travel every time I zoom.

The main plaza in Lima, Peru.

Google Meet, previously Google Hangouts, also requires a paid account and the non-Google emails must be “let in” to the meeting “room.” The professional account can host meetings of over 100 people.

Whatsapp now allows for up to eight faces to appear on your phone screen. The computer version of Whatsapp does not allow video. Whatsapp is owned by Facebook. One can also have video calls on Facebook Messenger. 

Facetime is the classic Apple iPhone product.

Skype was one of the revolutionary early products for video calling. It was acquired by eBay and it is now owned by Microsoft. Microsoft deactivated some of the features in 2017. Microsoft Teams seems to have take over many of the features. 

I find that I actually prefer using most of these video calling programs for audio only. I don’t need to see people’s faces when I talk to them. But, that may just be me. 

With friends and family all over the world, these various options are an important part of keeping in touch. My very informal and tiny survey of my friends is that they seem to prefer Zoom. They seem to feel that it connects better, and that is the point.

Mumbo Jumbo Italiano

That’s how it’s feeling in Italian class. The classic “Mambo Italiano” sung by Rosemary Clooney (whose nephew has a house on Lake Como in Italy), was written deliberately in incorrect Italian, so it is no help when trying to learn Italian. As I noted in my last posting about Italian for beginners, much of Italian seems to be the opposite of Spanish and English, while much is the same. I’m not sure why, but I was sort of pleased to learn that in Italian one does not “mount” one’s bicycle as one does in Spanish. One “goes on” a bike in Italian. But, then I realize that Italian has eight (8) ways to say “the” and I’m less pleased.

In order to try and study, I make flash cards by taking snapshots of my study notes, like the one shown here. This was a day when we steered our teacher into restaurant lingo as part of our cultural education. The Italians have a word for “spaghetti dinner” — una spaghettata — but it means a casual meal of pasta (keeping in mind that pasta can be a separate course). As opposed to a more formal meal. The idea is that a spaghettata is while there will only be a pasta course, there will be lots of it. Also, apparently, one should not take a bottle of wine to a dinner as wine is the host’s responsibility. As a guest, one should take flowers, or chocolate, or cake.

I also learned that restaurants will not split the bill (check in American English). You have to figure it out on your own. Apparently, they don’t do doggy bags either — as most portion sizes are small in Italy so you probably won’t have left overs.

Italian for Beginners

The title of this blog posting refers to a Danish movie from 2000, and my current activity. “Italian for Beginners” is a lighthearted entertaining movie about Danes who want something a bit more interesting in their lives so they go to Italian class. Romance and “viaggio” to Italy ensue.

Learning Italian is a bit topsy turvy for me as Italian is, in many ways, the opposite of English and Spanish. For example, the “che” is a “kah” sound and the “ci” is “cheh” sound as in “ciao.” The double ell in Spanish is spelled with a “gli” in Italian but the double ell like in “bello” is a really forceful ell sound. The ñ in Spanish is spelled “gn” in Italian so that “gnocchi” is “ñ-o-key” — and so on.

Actually, the phrase I’ve learned the best is “attenta su pronuncia” – watch your pronunciation.

But, it’s most important to say hello, goodbye, please, and thank you. So far I’ve learned that the Italians are very formal so one should not use “ciao” unless you are family or you are close friends. (Also, “Ciao” derives from an old Venetian saying for “I’m your slave.”)

Hello: “buongiorno” (bwon-jorno) until sundown and then it’s “buona sera” (bwon-ah sarah)

Goodbye: “arrivederci” (a-riv-eh-dare-chi)

Please: “per favore” (pear fa-vore-eh) or “per piacere” (pear pah-chair-ee)

Thank you: “grazie” (gra-ts-ee-ay)

Excuse me: “scusi” (skoo-zee) is the formal form and “scusa” is the informal.

One thing I have learned about Italian is how to say “good luck!” Contrary to direct translation, it is not “buona fortuna!” Instead, it’s “jump inot the mouth of the wolf!” Or “In bocca al lupo!” This is the equivalent to “break a leg” in Italian.

Top 10 Mexican Restaurants in Rome

Tostada from a private Mexican dinner in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

One of the constant questions I get on my blog is, “Where is the best Mexican restaurant in…?” Most of my readers are hankering for Tex-Mex or Chipotle, so I follow the trend of Tex-Mex for my readers. When I lived in Dhaka, Bangladesh, there was only one Mexican restaurant and avocados were not easy to find. I recall once going to that restaurant with my restaurant group, only to find that they had no avocados. That night was epic in many ways as due to road works and Dhaka traffic, it took 90 minutes to travel one mile. So to arrive hungry at 9 p.m. to find that the place had no guacamole, was a let down. We ended up setting up our private Mexican restaurant at a different restaurant. In Dhaka, I also recall buying avocados for party and paying $50 for them, only to find that they were rock hard and no amount of time in a paper bag with bananas, or even boiling, made them edible. When I live in Bogota, I went to the Mexican restaurants as they opened up, and in Lima, I also followed the trend.

Carnitas taco from El Mexicano in Lima, Peru.

To get ahead of the question for Rome, I have googled the question. I have a friend who has great faith in the collective opinions of Google reviewers, on the assumption that if 300 people have reviewed a restaurant, then their collective rating is probably reliable. So here are the top ten (okay, eleven) Mexican restaurants in Rome.

Amigos Mexican Grill, 5 stars

Sabor Latino, 5 stars 

Il Calavera Fiesta, 4.8 stars

Mr Tabu Tacos e Burritos, 4.8 stars

Coney Island Street Food Roma, 4.8 stars

Casa Sanchez, 4.7 stars

El Jalapeno, 4.7 stars

Quiero Tacos, 4.6 stars

Pico’s Taqueria, 4.5 stars

Gustamundo, 4.5 stars

Maybu – Margaritas y Burritos, 4.5 stars

Fish taco from Jeronimo restaurant in Lima, Peru.

When I’m in Rome, I’ll check some of these places out… maybe. I will have lots of other things to try, so maybe not.

Take-out tacos, including fish, Korean barbecue, and carnitas, in the USA.

Do a Little Good While Shopping

A few friends told me about Amazon Smile, smile.amazon.com, where for every purchase you make through Amazon’s charity, a percentage of the cost on eligible items goes to the charity of your choice. You have to go to smile.amazon.com and choose your charity and then from then on, shop through that portal. Easy peasy. At 0.5 percent, it might not seem like a lot, but I bought a book recently and $13 went to my charity of choice.

In preparation for my move to a new adventure, where all roads lead to, I am buying lots of visual storytelling equipment, and now I am doing a little good at the same time (pats self on back). If you want to use it on your iPhone app, you will have to allow notifications. I prefer to use smile.amazon.com from my computer.

IMG_4437

As an aside, I bought a bespoke iPhone SE 2020 case on Amazon Smile from MTRONX Direct. The ink job on the case is well done and the case has the flat sides, like the iPhone design from the 5 SE. Good old days. It took almost two weeks to get the order, but it was worth the wait. Plus, the little holes for my lanyard/hand leash are an added bonus.