The God of Misrule – Farsinus

When I worked in Bangladesh, there were notices about being wary of mishap. One day, a local colleague came up to me and quietly asked me about the unlucky Mr. Mish Ap, as he seemed to be most unfortunate.

Ten years later, I find myself in a completely different world — in the Roman world of bureaucracy, calamity, inanity, and farce. For this, I’ve created a god named Farsinus. Yes, sounds bit like a fart (for the purile) and that other four letter F-word. I asked a Roman if there was a god of mischief, a cousin to the Nordic Loki, Lord of Misrule. I imagined it must be Bacchus, the god of wine and debauchery. I was confusing him with Faunus, or Pan to you G(r)eeks. Apparently, the Greeks had a goddess of mischief, Ate (“Ah-tay”). According to the great oracle in the ether, Wiki, Ate was “of mischief, delusion, ruin, and blind folly, rash action and reckless impulse who led men down the path of ruin. She also led both gods and men to rash and inconsiderate actions and to suffering. Até also refers to an action performed by a hero that leads to their death or downfall.”

Well, I may not be a hero, but I’ve been trying to become a devotee of the God Farsinus. To enjoy the calamity of life… and public transportation in Italy.

The chocolate fare was mostly about shopping.

The God Farsinus came to me when I was going to the Bastia Umbria (I’m told that if I don’t add the specifier Umbria, you might think I meant Sardenia — as if anyone has heard of Bastia, either one) for the Eurochocolate frenzy. I will start out by saying that, generally, it’s not like this. But, then, some days, it is, and the day will unravel like a standup sketch by Russel Howard. Or, Karl Pilkington. On the day in question, I needed to get to Bastia Umbria, but the train to Perugia did not stop there. So I had to take the train to Perugia and then take the train back to Rome which did stop in Bastia Umbria. I am not sure why I still think there is logic, but why do people from Perugia get to stop at Bastia Umbria but people traveling from Rome do not?

There was a small stall in the actual town of Perugia.

Next week, I’ll get back to talking about nice things.

Medusa

The water is so inviting in Salina.

“Help me! Help! A medusa!” The cries for help and “medusa” interrupted my hazy soporific sunny afternoon. I looked toward the sound of the cry for help. It came from the aquamarine water where bathers had been enjoying the warm water. The cries continued in a warbling plaintive and pleading cry as the swimmers splashed furiously to get out of the water.

The young woman pulled herself up on the ladder to the boat and the angry red striations were erupting across her chest, shoulders, and neck like wildfire.

Marco, the captain, on the sound of the cries for help, had raced to the back of the boat to help the jellyfish victim. While the husband of the victim dabbed her dry, Marco sprayed a medicinal tonic on the jellyfish bites. I do not have any photos of the bites as I was not taking photos of the victim. But the bites looked like long strings or red mosquito or wasp bites.

The spray that cools the sting.

This was last summer and I was enjoying the shade from inside the boat while the rest of the group were swimming off the shore of Salina island near Sicily. That’s when I learned that the Italian for jellyfish. Medusa.

Jellyfish in the Monterrey Aquarium in California.

The Most Beautiful Town in the World

Castel Mole has a fantastic arrival area overlooking the bay.

Of course it is in Italy. It is a little town perched above Taormina and we accidentally went to see it when we were traveling in Sicily. I thought we were going to the outlook in Taormina but instead the taxi driver took us to the town that looks out over Taormina.

In reality, the view is much more impressive than this.

The town above Taormina is called Castel Mole.

“Belvedere” is literally “beautiful to see” but there are lots of stairs everywhere to get there.

I am not sure who votes in the competition but it seems like there are endless beautiful towns all over Italy.

One of the signs indicates the status of the town as the most beautiful.

If you are planning a trip to this area, I recommend a local car service. They also do airport transfers. I found them when I wanted a ride from Taormina to Catania. 100 euro for a van. Divided up by a group, the price was about the same as the train plus taxi. But door to door.

This is a good car service. Stefania speaks English.

Foods of Piemonte

Russian salad.

One of the “chandelier” problems with Italy is that the food is delicious and one could spend a life time trying it all. That said, I have some food that I have liked more than others. I expected to like the cheeses of Piemonte as that is where much of the dairy farming happens. But, I found it not so exciting. Here is an article on some of the typical dishes to try. I only managed a few of them.

Agnolotti di plin.

Agnolotti di Plin are small stuffed pasta. The filling is usually a meat reduction and the one I had was surrounded by a chestnut paste adding to the gamey feel.

Raw meat. They love raw beef tartar.

Sausage stuffed vegetables.

An array of special appetizers with sausage, anchovy, truffles, cheese fondant, and eggs.

Egg frittata with cheese sauce.

Truffles.

Breadsticks. Grissini are apparently a specialty of the area.

Quail eggs and cooked tuna.

Russian salad. I actually liked this mayonnaise based salad of potatoes, carrots, and peas. The one I had was very fancy.

The pan pizza.

Deep Pan Pizza of Turin

As I have mentioned before, “pizza” is “bread” in Italy. There are many types of pizza and in Turin, I tried yet a different type. A personal sized deep pan pizza (for those who have had pizza in Pizza Hut in the United States, it is like those). It is called Pizza al Padellino.

In Turin (famous for the Shroud of Turin — which incidentally is so delicate that it will not be on show again until 2025), there is a type of pizza that is small, soft, and baked in a pan. The pan is about 10 centimeters across/7 inches across. The dough is airy and yeasty so rises to a pillow when baked.

The staff encouraged me to get the black pizza dough as it was special. The taste is the same but the dough is black due to charcoal. It looks special too.

The taste was as one imagines. Light, airy, yeasty, and with crunchy edges.

It was not my favorite because the dough had that “cookie dough” quality to it. and I am not into the cookie dough. I preferred it be cooked all the way through. But, if you like raw dough…

The Park of Monsters

Spoiler: It looks more amazing in photos, and in your imagination. But, it was still a fun outing.

This is the most monstrous of the sculptures.

The Bomarzo Monster Park in Lazio, a few hours from Rome, is supposedly where there be monsters. This article describes it quite well.

When done with all the other touristy places (what am I saying?), there will still be more places to explore near Rome. The monster park in the sacred wood, Bosco Sacro, is a place you can go wander around for a few hours. There is parking, bathrooms, and walkways. Most of the walkways are gravel and dirt and there are stairs so it is not a wheelchair friendly place.

The same architect worked on Villa D’este but this park is meant to be a fantasy world of the weird and scary.

On a bright sunny day, with children running around, this place does not seem scary. But, imagine if they opened it at night?

The Realities of Living in Rome

Just as I wrote about the great things about living in Rome, here are the less than great things about living in Rome.

How hard it is to get things done, like paying a bill. This can take a long time because sometimes you do not have the bill you need to pay, then you have the wrong number, then the wrong amount, then the reminder is sent through a system that you cannot access, and so on. But, once you get the bill, the solution is to get help from your local kiosk by showing them the bill and insisting that you want to pay!

The bureaucracy (actually this can be an advantage at times because speaking loudly enough can sometimes get things done).

The slow internet.

The power outages.

The traffic. It can be deadly. There is double, triple parking on many streets. There is little attention to lanes. Cars often stop at crosswalks but with the pedestrians also walking all over the streets, it is basically a melee.

Not disable friendly. The stairs and steps everywhere. Plus, the cobblestones and broken streets make walking quite difficult.

The heat in the summer. Romans tell me that up until a few years ago, the 90+/32+ days were a few weeks. Now it starts in May and ends in September/October.

Trash, double parking, and cobble stones make Rome a tough city for pedestrians.

The broken streets.

The trash. Rome is a dirty city.

The lack of international food of high standard.

The dubbing of films (which hinders people from learning foreign languages). WTF.

The Great Things About Living in Rome

Since the honeymoon is over for me, I thought I’d remind myself of why I chose to live in Rome.

It is Rome. The eternal city. The place that people dream of.

The sun shines almost every day.

The produce is fresh, local, and delicious.

The markets are great.

You can fill up your own bottles at certain wine stores. Even the box wine is good.

The olive oil is great.

Wine is cheap and good.

Romans are generally friendly. Speak English or act like a tourist and you will get a better reaction. Actually, just say hello first.

The taxis are not too expensive.

You can walk everywhere when it is not too hot.

The train system up and down Italy is fast and not expensive. Four hours from Rome to Milan. One and a half hours to Florence.

You can be a tourist in your own town.

Rome is an international city.

Many people speak English.

It is a big city so you can find almost anything that you want.

One can eat zucchini flowers almost every day.

The food is good.

And, if you like Roman history and ruins, this place has them everywhere, including in McDonalds and the department stores.

Later, I will write about the stuff that is not so great. For now, I’ll go out and enjoy Rome.

The Digestivo Will Cure You

An digestif made from arugula. I can’t recall what the other one was made from.

As they say, what does not kill you, will make you better. I am always suspicious of things that are supposedly really good for you or things that will increase my sexual stamina. Usually these things are things that are terrible tasting.

Often, you are offered a limoncello at the end of the meal.

Italians have an obsession with their intestinal and gut health. Drinking a little digestif, digestivo, is something many of them are accustomed to.

“Amaro” is bitter. No kidding.

Digestifs are usually an alcoholic beverage that you enjoy at the end of meal. It is not meant to be downed like a shot. As with many things in Italy, most of the Italian digestifs are bitter. Oh how they love bitter here!

I have tried a few. Some made from walnuts and some made from arugula. The one made from arugula is a specialty of Ischia, an island near Capri.

If they are not too bitter, then they are often too sweet. When I tried the Ratafia, I was delighted because while sweet, it at least tasted good.

The “elixir from Abruzzo” was quite good.

The Nine Levels of Life In Italy

Some countries are great for tourists. Italy is one of them. Is it this way for everyone? Here is my list of diminishing joy.

The Amalfi Coast.

Tourists: At the top, tourists. To be a tourist in Italy is a delight. All the mechanisms are here, from ATMs, efficient trains, to affordable food to make you spend your money! The average salary in the United States is almost double that of the average Italian salary, making American dollars welcome.

An Aperol Spritz during aperativo.

Exchange students: With the benefit of home and host nation working to make your study abroad semester ah-maze-balls, this is clearly a great place to be. A semester is like a long holiday filled with movie sets, people flirting with you, free things (sample this, take this, have this), and the massive moshpit of AYCE other students all here to find the dolce vita, or meet Romeo, or feel inspired by Raphael, in a land of where wine is part of daily life (and gives no hangovers because of the rules limited wine production to grapes). Every year, Florence receives over 7,000 American exchange students (80 percent women).

The streets are cute here. Even in big cities like Florence. Sorry, “Firenze.”

Digital Nomads: This new group of people will find Italy a great place to be. The limits on sitting in cafes and restaurants is fairly limitless, the Internet speed is not bad, WIFI is almost everywhere and free, and overall prices are not too high.

International organization employees: Life in Italy with the aid of your home and host nation to smooth out the transitions makes life in Italy a cushy place. Depending on how many years one is assigned to Rome, reality may set in.

Some locations just blow your mind. Yes, one of those wine jugs would be a perfect souvenir (it’s the size of a carryon suitcase).

Native born white Italians: Yes, life is sweet. The bureaucracy is just a reminder to slow down…

Students: This includes non-exchange students, Italian and foreign. Being a student in Italy is a life filled with optimism and discounts.

Expats/binationals: For these long term residents of Italy, it is a great place but you still have to deal with the bureaucracy which may drive you absolutely bonkers at times, but then, after a stop at a coffee bar, it will seem all okay.

This pizza can be had at the Napoli train station! Upstairs in the food court.

Long term white immigrants who speak fluent Italian: Life is good, even sweet at times.

Newly arrived immigrants: For those who are not white and do not speak Italian, life in Italy is confusing but it will get better.

The water that pours from the fountains is potable. It tastes pretty good and is usually cold.

There are currently 60 million Italians. In 2019, 65 million tourists visited Italy. It may seem like there is no more room, but actually, there is. Try visiting Le Marche, Abruzzo, Basilicata, Sicily, Calabria… or visit in the off season.

Ten Unknown Local Dishes to Try

While there are many local specialties that everyone will recommend, like orecchiette in Apulia, I want to mention some that do not get mentioned as often.

Egg soup, Salina: A soup with poached eggs and vegetables.

Egg soup

Fried cheese, Abruzzo (and other areas): This fried cheese is a bit like haloumi in Greece, but not as salty. Served melted from the oven. In Salina, it is deep fried.

Fried cheese

Pizzeli (wine cookies): Most regions of Italy have round hard not sweet crackers that are for dipping in wine.

Egg cheese balls, Abruzzo: These were like a cheese egg souffle in a round donut hole size and shape. Served with red tomato sauce.

Raw artichoke salad: Actually, try any of the salads and vegetables that you have never tried before like raw fennel or artichoke.

Fried egg tart, Campania: A frittata which is then deep fried.

Taralla (Napoli): These are another baked bread twist. Many places in Italy make them like a small ring but in Naples, they are longer.

Fish balls, Salina: On this island off of Sicily, one can try tender fish balls. Try them. They are surprisingly good.

Fish balls

Pizzette (small pizzas), Rome: Many bakeries sell mini pizzas (many with no cheese or red sauce as a pizza just means a type of bread). These pizzette are often served at happy hour.

Pane Cunzatu, Salina: This is like a giant garlic bread. The plate-sized bread is toasted and smothered in toppings. Absolutely awesome!

Cunzatu

The melon-cucumber of Apulia: I wrote about this before. When in season, it is served as the “vegetable” but only to locals so make sure to ask!

Melon cucumber slices served with radishes

The “Busy” Scene on the Aeolian Islands

Fresh prawns.

The Aeolian islands are called the gourmet islands. I think they may have styled themselves as this as a tourist attraction. Conde Naste Traveler magazine called them this and based the article around a female Michelin star chef who owns Signum on the island of Salina, the second largest of the Aeolian islands. Lipari is the biggest.

The upstairs of the catamaran.

Getting to the islands is by boat or catamaran. Of helicopter if you want. The catamaran from Milazzo on Sicily took under two hours. The port restaurant at Milazzo is really good. Best bread I’ve had, excellent sandwiches, good beer, and well, overall better than they need to be for having a captive audience. The ferry from or to Naples from Salina is about six hours and I wouldn’t recommend it. The air conditioning only worked well on one side and because the Italians have a severe fear of upsetting their digestion, those that had sat over there were wearing their jackets and scarves but refused to move. Even in the windy cold side of the boat, it was still only 80 F or 27 C. The hot side of the boat was 99 F or 37 C (I carry a thermometer with me for just this sort of situation). When I opened up some of the vents to get more air, I had many fingers waggled at me to stop. The toilet also became somewhat of a fetid horror.

A view from one of the Relax Salina Boats.

Getting to and from the islands is fairly easy as there are ferries and local boat companies that stop at the various islands including Stromboli, famous volcanic island. Ask at your hotel or B&B. Everyone knows everyone on these islands so they will all have a cousin or brother or son who has a boat.

The social media director was way fly and hip looking.

But, the islands are famous for their food scene. The restaurants I liked in Santa Marina on Salina were Lo Schiavo, nni’ Lausta, and Mamma Santina. Down in Lingua, there is a restaurant, Il Gambero, on the harbor which runs a shuttle (the dad runs it) to Santa Marina. Try the local speciality called “pane cunzato” a sort of large garlic bread with various toppings. I loved it because they used raw garlic. Although seafood is the speciality, there are vegetarian options on all the menus.

Imagine this fresh tuna from the fish shop.

If you have an opportunity, buy the fresh tuna tartare at the fish shop, Pescharia A Lampara (there is only one fish shop). It’s so fresh and glistens like rubies.

Linen in all sizes.

While resting between meals, buy linen and crochet. If you can afford it. Some of the nice dresses were handmade and cost 700 euro. Be aware that this is small town life so many shops close for lunch. But a few don’t and most have air conditioning. The people are generally friendly. The main street of Santa Marina is mainly pedestrian making for good shopping and eating. And people watching.

View from Hotel Mercanti di Mari

For happy hour, go to the Hotel Mercanti di Mari by the harbor where they have a make your own bruschetta station. Drink wine and admire the view of the harbor.

Unusual bread at the local bakery.

If you want a nightclub, go to the Porto Bello restaurant by the dock. Just be aware that any shenanigans you take home with you will be known all over the island. If you don’t mind adding to the local action, then never mind.

The main street in the morning when the delivery trucks are allowed in. Nni’ Lausta on the left has a secret garden.

The reason many go is for the food and one could just visit Salina and eat well. But, stay a while longer, and become part of the local soap opera scene… I befriended a local, not knowing that he was a local passionate about more than fish. When I described this local casanova to the manager at the place where I was staying, she said with a wise nod that she knew who I was talking about . She added, “he is busy busy all the time”… on an island with as many bikini clad tourists as this one, one can see how he constantly had a fresh “catch.”

One of the many gourmet food stores.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy chatting with the locals and soaking up the local. If you imagine a BBC feel-good romantic comedy, then you get an idea of what I saw in this little island buzzing with flashing smiles, bronzed arms, and twinkling glances.

Nni’ Lausta’s upstairs terrace is perfect for an assignation. Or just a rest from the heat of the day.