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Category: Explaining Italy

The Hanging Dead of Palermo’s Catacombs

Let’s talk about dead people. Not all dead people, though — just the ones hanging on the walls of the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily (in Italy). They are seriously among the most interesting “still around” dead folk on this planet, and you should go see them, too.

But first — let’s talk about them.

The Capuchin Catacombs got their start in 1599, when the (above-ground) Capuchin Monastery’s cemetery was outgrown.  (more…)

A statue in The City of Como (Lake Como, Lombardy, Italy)

The Notorious Italian “Furbizia”

Since living in Italy, it’s become abundantly clear that there’s a cultural concept Jason and I are (and have been) entirely unaware of. It’s something Italian’s know well and are always on the lookout for, but we have been blind to.

It’s called: furbizia.

The word furbo often means “clever” — but also “sly”, “sharp”, “crafty”, and so on. It’s more sinister meaning is what typically prevails: clever in the sense of “taking advantage” for one’s own personal gain.

Which is a virtue in this country? I’m not sure.
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Coffee and cream at a bar in Perugia, Italy.

10 Rules Of The Italian “Bar”

In Italy, you can get your upper and your sedative in the same place. Morning, noon, and night. Want to make that a macchiato? How about a shot of brandy in it? And a pastry…with a glass of prosecco? And then another coffee in the afternoon to ward off the 3pm dull, before aperitivo rolls in around 5:00?

You only need to go to one place: a bar.

How the word bar worked its way into Italian language is a mystery to me (I imagine the French/anglicized term café is not used because it’s too close to the Italian word for coffee = caffé). But I do know that the culture, rules, and rituals of “bar” hopping differ greatly from what we anglophones are used to. So to help orient you for your next Italian travel, here are nine rules to help you navigate Italy’s infamous bar: (more…)

Running the race with Fernando's wife (Val di Non, Italy)

A Snowless Snowshoe Race: Val di Non’s “Ciaspolada”

The gun sounded and they were off. Their pronged snowshoes digging into the trail, sending snow spray in a zealous arc behind them. These were the die hard competitors, leaving the rest of us in the proverbial “dust” at Val di Non’s Ciaspolada snowshoe race that day.

I tried to take it all in — the news helicopters circling overhead, the building-sized sponsor banners, the fanfare and commotion of so many people at one winter sports event. And as I looked out at the land beyond the snowy trail, trying to gauge the distance to the finish line, all I could see was green.

That’s right: green (or greenish-brown, really). (more…)

Panorama of Panicale (Umbria, Italy)

10 Things To Love About Italy

Madness and mayhem aside, there are a ton of things to love about Italy. I could make countless lists. Lists of favorite foods, most memorable hilltop towns, top stunning views. Cultural quirks. Regional accents.

It goes on…

Instead, I’ll start with just one list: ten of the more memorable things Italy has to offer. Who knows…maybe this is just one of many lists to come. (more…)

Parked scooter in Naples (Italy)

Accidental Scooter Ride In Naples

Some friends of friends from Seattle welcomed us to their home in Naples, “We’ll order pizza!” they said. “We’ll invite all our friends! Come, come….” And so, thrilled to hang out with some genuine napoletani, Jason and I took the metro to their neighborhood.

And we waited for their call.

When Umberto showed up on a scooter, we hadn’t been prepared to hop on back, one-at-a-time, and weave through the streets and the traffic to get to their apartment. It may be the stuff people dream about when they dream of Italy…’Roman Holiday’ meets the millennium.

But I was palpably terrified. (more…)

Tractor Spreading Muck (Val di Non)

Muck Spreading Season

Val di Non summers are short and cool; the winters, longer and harsher than I was used to, coming from Seattle, WA (USA). That makes spring and fall these sort of brief, frenzied seasons that leave your head spinning. You’d think just four seasons would be enough to round out the year — but no. There’s a fifth season in Val di Non, one people don’t bring up, or fail to mention, or refuse to acknowledge at all.

Yet everyone knows it’s there.

So long as your olfactory senses are intact, you can hardly miss “muck spreading season”. You’ll be forced, in fact, to breathe it in and wonder about it every time it leaves you gagging, grasping for air. And as you ask, How long will it last, this time? (more…)

View of Downtown Seattle, WA (USA) from Kerry Park.

What We Talk About When We DON’T Talk About Amanda Knox

Merely mention that you lived in Seattle (USA) for 9 years, and you’ll likely get asked by the people of Perugia, Italy: Do you know Amanda Knox? As though, somehow, by living in the same city of 3.5+ million (where Amanda Knox now conducts her prison-free life), ones chances of knowing her are better than any Italian’s.

They’re not. And no, I don’t know her. Haven’t met her. Don’t plan to.

Nothing against the girl (and I won’t get into her guilt/innocence here), but the point is: if you’re an American traveling or living anywhere near Perugia, Italy: DON’T bring up Amanda Knox. Più, più, più! (more, more, more!)

A "Watch Your Step" sign on a train in Trentino (Italy).
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5 Things Italy Did Not Warn Me About

In most American’s minds, life in Italy could only be wonderful and marvelous. We must all be dancing around in the streets with our Fendi bags and pasta forks, waiting for the always-on-time train to whisk us to the blue sea for sun bathing and holidays.

This could not be farther from the truth. Plenty of parts of Italian living are uncustomary, if not outright baffling, even after living here over three years. So to help you in your travels or expat living, here’s a list of 5 things I wish I’d known about prior to moving here:

1. No exchanges, no returns

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On a countryside bike ride in Piedmont (Italy)

Bicyling The Piedmont Countryside

It felt like biking through a Van Gogh painting. The open fields. The poppies. The bucolic, pastoral scenes.

For two weeks in the spring of 2013 we drove around areas of North Italy in search of our new home. But when we realized we’d be in Piemonte (Piedmont in English) for my 32nd birthday, we wanted to make it special.

Yet Piedmont is such a simple place, I wondered. Will this birthday be any fun?

I hadn’t expected it to be a birthday I’d never forget. (more…)

Happy wood stacks
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HOW TO TALK ‘NONES’ – Making Friends (Part 3)

This post is one of the four-part HOW TO TALK ‘NONES’ series, including: 

As I mentioned in It’s A ‘Nones’ Life, the Nonesi can be a little hard to get to know — any real entry into Val di Non culture can be a bit of a challenge. As one of our [non-Val di Non] Italian friends living in in the valley explained to us: the Nonesi are as friendly as they need to be, with the expectation that you’ll soon be on your way, returning to wherever you came from.

This is precisely why I’ve put together a cheat sheet, of sorts: lists of things to prepare you for life (or extended travel) in Val di Non. Hopefully you’ll be better prepared than we were when arriving in 2012…as unsuspecting as fish in a stock pond. (more…)

Dirt motorbike

Spring In Val di Non (aka “Dirt Motorbike Season”)

Springtime, in most places, is a gentle season — a welcomed reprieve from winter’s frosty dull. Things start slowly coming alive, grasses poking their verdant heads above the warming soils, flowers opening like untended wishes. Winter is finally abating, as the landscape is almost imperceptibly colored in.

But springtime in Val di Non is not like this. It’s an outright assault to the senses. (more…)