How (NOT) To Implement a Recycling Policy in Your Town

Posted by on Apr 30, 2010 in Lazio, Let Me Vent, Things that make me scratch my head | 7 comments

I’m a big fan of recycling, and I was really happy to hear that our town, Soriano nel Cimino, was planning on implementing a recycling program.  Better yet, it would include garbage pick-up. Cool!  The fact is, that much of Italy is full of litter, many towns have garbage bins that overflow, and the concept of responsible dissposal isn’t quite what I am accustomed to.  So this is fantastic, right?  Ummm… not so much.

There is a popular joke that compares the strengths and weaknesses of various European societies.  It goes like this:

Heaven is where the police are British, the chefs Italian, the mechanics German, the lovers French, and it’s all organized by the Swiss.

Hell is where the police are German, the chefs are British, the mechanics French, the lovers Swiss, and it’s all organized by the Italians.

If you are really familiar with these societies, this is quite funny.  The point here is that Italians are famous for being extremely disorganized, and that little problem often causes good ideas to turn into incredibly complicated nightmares.  The complexities cause people to ignore policy, and that causes the government to couple new programs with stiff non-compliance penalties.  So you end up with a bunch of complicated, impossible to understand or follow laws that have insane fines for non-compliance.  Such is my fear for our new recycling program that starts tomorrow.

The Way It Is Today

Before I get into the disaster that begins tomorrow, let me tell you how it is now.  There is no garbage pickup service. There are public bins all over town.  Residents generally keep a tiny trash can in their homes, and take the trash out daily.  This is good, since Italian homes are generally very small, so they don’t have room for large trashcans.  Some of the public locations have several bins, including various recycling containers.  It doesn’t matter much, because it is common that all bins get dumped in the same truck, anyway…  but we’ll not go there for now. The downside of this is obviously that some people have to walk a little to take their trash out, and the bins are unsightly… especially when they have not been emptied for days.

Soriano’s Recycling Extravaganza

Step right up and get a front-row ticket, ‘cuz this is gonna be the greatest show on earth! Tomorrow morning everything changes.  All public bins go the way of the Dodo.  Garbage pickup service begins.

Each home must now keep FIVE garbage cans in their home:

The standard can is for fruit, veggies, leftovers, coffee, tea bags, paper napkins and towels (only if dirty with water), etc.

Then you have a can with GREY bags that are provided by the city.  This is for most (but not all) plastic tableware, saran wrap, feminine pads, light bulbs, pens, cigarettes and lighters, rubber bands, feminine pads… I won’t do the whole list.

Next are the Light Blue bags, which are for other plastics that do not belong in the GREY bags. These include plastic bottles, Styrofoam, plastic bags, veggie and fruit nets…  again, I won’t go into the whole list, but be careful not to confuse plastic for the GREY bagswith plastic for the Light Blue bags.  That would be non-compliance.  See below for the penalty!

Then we have the Green Bin, which is for cans, glass, lids (what kind?), and foil.

Finally, we have the Yellow Bin. This is for papers, newspaper, magazines, milk cartons, etc.  Be careful not to throw paper towels or napkins in here!!!  Those are for the Standard Can.

No Need To Remember All Of This.  We Have Labels!

Law requires all products to have a label that will assist you, so if you are not sure if a paper towel should be thrown in Grey Bag or the Blue Bag, just go back to the packaging of the paper towels (you still have it, right?) and see which of the above symbols it has.  Then compare that symbol with the bins and bags you have, and you are all set.  Don’t forget to do this for every little item you throw away, because a mistake is punishable by law.

Don’t Get Your Days and Times Mixed Up

Now they won’t have an army of trucks running around each day.  Instead, there is a pickup day for each bag or bin.  We will have pickup service five days a week, and each day has a corresponding bag.  Be sure not to put your blue bag out on green day, or your yellow bag on grey day.  These are serious offenses, of course.  But wait!  That’s not all!  You are allowed to put your bags and bins out between 10:00 PM and 4:00 AM.  Not before, not after.  If you have any plans of going to bed early tomorrow night, forget about it.

Unresolved Questions

There are more questions, of course.  So Paola made a call to the City Hall office that deals with these things.  The city will provide us with a certain number of bags.  Will they provide them regularly?  We don’t know.  What if we need more?  We don’t know. Are they rationed?  We don’t know. What if my bin is lost or stolen?  We don’t know.

The Old Lady and the Storm

Soriano is a hill town.  Tiny streets, winding curves, cobblestones and lots of hills.  I can imagine a winter storm (often) that would wash these bins all down the hills.  They will be everywhere.  They will be thrown together… it will be a mess.  The hills are filled with elderly women that have lived there for ages.  How will they find their bins?  We don’t know. How will this be dealt with?  We don’t know.

Penalty of Non-Compliance

Ok, I saved it for the end.  It is all so much more complicated than what I am saying here.  And Italians are great at ignoring laws, so you must strike fear in their hearts.  Should you elect not to comply with the above, you are to be fined €500.00.  That is roughly $700.00.

Is it just me, or is a disaster in the making?

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Man Dies: Caught The Cold in Stomach

Posted by on Mar 30, 2010 in Culture, Food, Let Me Vent, Things that make me scratch my head | 18 comments

Traveling to Italy, some visitors notice various oddities about Italian culture that seem to defy explanation.  Some are rooted in the socio-political history of the country, some are rooted in religious tradition, and others… the ones that are often the most seemingly nonsensical,  grew out of old wives tales.

One that has frustrated me for years is how Italians fear the dreaded ‘cold in your stomach’ and the almost-as-tragic ‘draft’ (colpo d’aria).  It can kill you, and the causes are many.  Did he swim too soon after having eaten?  Did he have a cold beverage on a hot day?  Did she leave the house with wet hair?  Did he sleep in an air conditioned room?  All of these things are sufficient for most self-respecting Italians to shrug and utter the word ‘Beh’ while hearing your fate, signaling to all within earshot that everyone is in agreement:  Whatever happened to you, you were asking for it!

A Californian Might Cramp Up

When I was growing up in Los Angeles, our mothers loosely passed own a twenty minute rule.  It was the amount of time we must wait before jumping back in the ocean or pool after having eaten lunch.  They worried that we might get a cramp, which could actually be a big deal in the cold Pacific Ocean with its strong currents.  Some of my friends had no such rule, while others had as much as a one hour rule.  Whatever it was, it was never respected, and never enforced.

Is there any validity to the rule?  I really cannot say.  But I am a person who spent years of his life going to the beach practically every day.  I’ve never seen it.  Not once.  And if it is going to happen, the cold Pacific waters would be the perfect place. Keep in mind that I am not talking about someone getting pulled down in the cold current.  This is something completely different.

Sound The Alarm!  They Are Swimming At 2PM!

Italians have their own ‘when to swim after you eat’ rule, and they take is very seriously.  The general rule is 2 1/2 hours.  Let’s say that slowly: TWO-AND-ONE-HALF-HOURS.  Children are raised with this rule, not being told that they risk a little cramp.  No, they risk the killer of thousands.  The Cold In The Stomach. You can get it.. and you can die!   Mothers obey the law.  Fathers live by it, Doctors defend it, and lifeguards at the beach may actually defend you from it.

This may not seem like such a big deal, but think about it like this:  You take your family on a vacation to the beach. The kids are excited.  Each day you wake up at 8:00 AM.  You have a bite to eat at 9AM, and head to the beach.  The clock starts.  The kids had food, so they are trapped by the sand, looking at the water until 11:30AM.  Lunch is at 1:00PM, so you need to start heading back by 12:30PM.  You finish lunch by 2:00PM.  The clock starts again, meaning no water until 4:30 PM.  If the kids are lucky, mom and dad may give them another hour in the water.  If not, they may deem the air too cold for swimming by that time.  Fear of the cold in the stomach means that the kids only got 1 or 2 hours in the water.  But at least they are alive, right?

While my wife is Italian, she quickly learned of the deception she had grown up with after moving to the states.  Still, we always spent our summers in Italy.  One day at the beach, our child jumped in the water at about 2:00 PM.  Almost instantly, a lifeguard started running, as if to save her.  She cannot swim now.  It is too soon after lunch! Don’t you know she will catch the cold her her stomach?  Paola went on to say that she hadn’t had any lunch, but it didn’t matter.  It would seem that since the collective of Italy had just eaten, she could somehow catch the cold in her stomach by proxy.  We have seen it countless times.  If we are swimming at a time that doesn’t sync up correctly with cold-free times, people look at us as though we are from Mars.

Five Out of Five Doctors Agree

I’ve spoken with Italian doctors over and over, and they talk about all the medical evidence for the 2 1/2 hour rule.  In order to properly digest, we need X amount of time, and going into the water will cause the digestion to cease, thereby causing a — blah blah blah blah blah — you can die.  Each and every time I look at them and ask how it is that in my country of 300 million people, more than 20,000 kilometers of beaches, and over 10 million swimming pools, we have no such rule?  Are our doctors idiots?  Are we misdiagnosing thousands of people?  Was that jellyfish sting I got out at Zuma Beach really a symptom of the cold in my stomach?  Invariably they look at me in disbelief.  Somehow I must be misinformed, because this is a serious condition.

And Then It Hit Her… She Had Been Living a Lie

Wanna have some fun?  Take a visiting Italian to the beach, and don’t forget to bring a video camera.  Years ago we had an 18 year old girl named Catia visiting us from Italy.  One day we all went to Raging Waters, a water park just outside of Los Angeles.  We all spent the morning having a blast, and around 1:00 we had some sandwiches for lunch.  Our toddler daughter wolfed it down, and was chomping at the bit to get back in the water.  Paola and I did the same.  As we went back toward the water, we looked back and saw Catia holding back where we had been eating.  She said she didn’t feel like going back in.  We knew what was going on, of course.

We went on to explain that we had no such rule here, but she kept shaking her head in disbelief.  All the doctors say it, after all. Why would they if it were untrue?  Everyone knows this!  We finally gave up and said “Look at all of those people.  By this time, all of them have had something to eat.  Do you see anyone screaming in agony?  Do you see an ambulance anywhere?  We’re going back in the water, and if you want, you can stay here with your belief.”

We proceeded to go back into the water.  After about ten minutes we saw her edging closer and closer with a look of utter confusion on her face.  You could see her looking around, noticing that people were, in fact, not dropping like flies.  Finally she got to the edge of the water, and actually dipped her toe in, then quickly pulled back.  It was as though getting the toe wet would be the ultimate test.  She was still alive.  Then she walked in to her ankles.  Still alive.  Knees.  Still alive.  Waist deep.  Still alive.  By the time she was fully in the water, she had an expression that I’ll never forget.  She had been living a lie.  She went on to enjoy the rest of the day.

On the way home that evening, she was in absolute shock.  How was this possible?  When she went back to Italy, she told people. Naturally, people told her she had just been lucky to have survived that time, but I’m pretty sure she was now cured.

There Are Easier Ways To Get Killed By The Cold

I’ve been going on about swimming, but if you want, there are far more efficient ways to off yourself.

Beware of Ice

You will find while traveling in Italy, you will not get ice in your beverage, with few exceptions.  Nowadays, the ice in your drink rule has been relaxed, but you will still see it in more remote villages.  The belief is that, especially on a hot day, ice in your beverage will cause it to get too cold.  When the super-cooled liquid comes in contact with your warm stomach, you will have caught the cold in your stomach, as if you had been swimming after having eaten.  I have had people refuse to give me ice for this reason… out of concern for me!  What I have never been able to grasp is why the same person that would refuse me ice would happily serve me a Gelato (Ice Cream) or Granita (Essentially a Slurpee).  In some twisted reasoning, that is somehow different?

Cover Your Children

In a practice that I believe borders on child abuse, you will find that many Italian mothers believe that they must always dress their children in warm clothing, even in blistering summer heat.  Go to Rome on a 95 degree day, and you will see women pushing strollers with toddlers that are dressed for winter.  Their stomachs must be completely covered to protect them from the cold in the stomach, and the rest of their body (especially the neck) must be protected from the draft.  That same mother will then hop in the car and let her toddler roam free with no car seat, and no seat belt.  Perhaps all of the extra clothing will protect them in a crash?

Air Conditioning Fa Male

Now we are getting away from the cold in your stomach, and into the realm of the ‘draft’.  Air conditioning is gaining more and more popularity in Italy, but when we remodeled our house ten years ago, we were the first in our area to have it.  Growing up in Southern California, I never knew life without central air.  But when I first liven in Italy, it was prohibitively expensive.   People used to say that they didn’t have a/c because ‘fa male’, meaning it is bad for you.  Falling prices have made it popular, so it appears that they meant to say ‘it is bad for your wallet’.  Anyhow, Having air conditioning is one thing.  Using it… well, that is quite another thing.

Air conditioning produces cold air.  As long as you are moving around, apparently you are fine.  But at night, when you are laying still, you have a problem. The warmer the ambient temperature without the a/c, the worse the problem.  The cold air will come in contact with you (pray to God it is not your stomach!), and you will get the  ‘colpo d’aria’.. the draft.  While not likely to kill you, you are certain to wake with temporary paralysis that can last days.  You will likely suffer from a bad case of Bronchitis, and life will be utterly miserable.  Is it worth it?

Some will argue that you risk a similar fate if you turn on a fan or open the window, so take such risks a fair amount of caution ;-).  Now try to imagine living life in the hot summer with no a/c and closed windows! Doesn’t suffocation ‘fa male’ ?   In fact, you will find a very small selection of ceiling fans in Italy!

Wet Hair At The Beach: OK!  Wet Hair At Home: Beware!

I used to own a motorcycle in Italy.  I would wake up in the morning, get showered, get ready, and ride into town. My hair would still be a little wet, since I have always had short hair. People would look at me as though I had been skydiving with a hefty bag as a parachute.  That crazy American!  He’s certainly going to get himself sick or die from the draft with wet hair!  So i would ask:  What do you do when you are at the beach?  When you have been swimming, do you run somewhere to blow dry your hair?  How on earth do you survive otherwise?  The universal response:  Beh, that’s different.  How?

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Having a craving for Grilled Flesh

Posted by on Oct 3, 2006 in Culinary, Culture, Food, Let Me Vent, Things that make me scratch my head | 4 comments

Grilled Flesh… YUM!

When I lived here in Soriano, I was, quite simply, ‘The American”. In fact, the immigrant population of the area consisted of me, two Brits and a Brazilian. Outside of that, nobody spoke a word of English. My, how things can change over the course of 20+ years.

A few years ago a company bought a beautiful palace in the town and converted it into a hotel, which is marketed toward Brits and Americans. One night I was eating in one of the local cafes, and every table surrounding mine was occupied by Brits and Americans. It just felt wrong. 20 years ago, I used to eat at this place regularly. It was a little place for the locals. Now they even have an English menu.

So what of this ‘ENGLISH MENU’?
This is not the only place to have one. Every restaurant and cafe in town has a translated menu. The problem is that the rush of english-speaking tourists is new to them, and they haven’t quite gotten their act together yet. Every menu in town is poorly translated. For example, one place (this one beats all in the bad translation contest) offers ‘Bistecca alla griglia’. The correct translation is ‘Grilled Steak’. Unfortunately, whoever it was that looked up the word ‘Bistecca’ made a critical error, as they translated it to ‘FLESH‘. So, while in Soriano Nel Cimino, you can order Grilled Flesh at a local cafe. Tasty! Other menu items to be found include ‘Pizza’s Pocket’ (for Calzone), ‘Tomato’s Cherry’ for ‘Cherry Tomatoes’, etc. It goes on and on.

I think whoever is doing the translations is having a blast with Babelfish. The problem is that this covers official translations as well. You will find placards next to historical monuments that have unintelligible descriptions. For example, the town tourist board’s home page offers this delightful description of Soriano nel Cimino:

“The lucky hilly position, the mild climate, the wood’s healthy air, together with its history, arts and tradition, make Soriano nel Cimino the ideal place where to spend a serene and pleasant stay or a vacation in every season”

One would think they might find someone that actually speaks English  (Hey look! There is Michael!)… We do exist, after all.  Hmmm, no, not Michael… He speaks ‘American’, not English.  Ugh!
Nonetheless, it is all part of the charm and certainly makes for great fun.

Ciao,

Michael

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Baseball, Italian Style

Posted by on Sep 29, 2006 in Culture, Sports, Tuscany | 0 comments

On my last trip to Italy, I was hoping to attend an Italian NFL football game. Actually, it was the ‘Silverbowl’. Unfortunately, Paola wasn’t feeling well, so we ended up skipping it. Still, while browsing one of the sites, I followed a few links. One of them brought me to the Italian Baseball League. I discovered that there was a game on July 1st ina town not too far from where I am (Actually, it ended up being about 80 miles away).

  Grosseto Baseball Stadium

The Grosseto Baseball Stadium

So I figured, what the hell! It is important to note that the Italians have 3 major sports: Soccer, Soccer and Soccer. Well, to be perfectly fair, they also follow Soccer. So, the fact that I discovered a baseball league was something I couldn’t pass up. So I made the trek to Grosseto, home of the ‘Grosseto Prink Orioles’, the team that just won the European World Cup of Baseball, as well as the Italian Championships last year. They are in the Italian version of the majors (Series A1). What I discovered when I arrived at the ballpark was awesome!! The ‘stadium’ was much larger than I had anticipated. I would say that it could stand against many minor league fields in the US. More impressive was the crowd… THEY HAD ONE! Remember, if you ask 1,000 Italians, maybe ONE can tell you the difference between a strike and a ball. OK, so there is probably curiosity factor. Still, it is a crowd.

The game is about to start, and Mickey Mouse (really) throws the first pitch. The game starts, and I very quickly realize that these fans (around 1500 – 2000 of them) are real fans. They know the game, and are there for their team. No curiosity factor here.

The game moves on scoreless… inning after inning. The players were pretty good. I wouldn’t say any were good enough for U.S. Minors, but pretty close.

Grosseto Baseball Stadium

Grosseto Baseball Stadium

All the while, I am there with a local friend of mine, to whom I am teaching the ins and outs of baseball. As the top of the 7th is about to end, I tell him about a tradition we call the 7th inning stretch. While I am still explaining it, the batter strikes out and all of the sudden they start playing ‘Take me out to the ball game’ over the loudspeakers as the announcer announces the 7th inning stretch. Too cool!

After the song, the announcer mentions the presence of some Americans from Boston at the game. Apparently that was somewhat akin to mentioning the presence of a few rock stars :-)

I ended up meeting the Americans, as well as the announcer (Ciao Guido), and he ends up announcing yet another American from Los Angeles… Wow! I’m famous now!

In any case, we get to the bottom of the 9th, still scoreless and go into extra innings. The game finally ends at around midnight at the bottom of the 12th, the home team victorious.

Believe it or not, it was more fun than any Dodgers game I have ever been to!

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