Friday, March 30, 2012

A Closer Look at Cosenza

High-end apartments in downtown Cosenza
We went to the Provincial Capital of Cosenza that is usually a 1.75 hr drive southeast in order to get some check-up exams not offered in our little hospital.  Cosenza sports a larger hospital with more specialists. Someday we’ll have to share our stories about health care in Italy. Suffice to say it takes about two weeks and lots of down time to get all the exams done and interpreted. (If you leave town, you’ll never hear from them again). On the bright side, it costs nothing.  Yes, nothing--even for us.

Imagine the sounds of horns!!
Since we had to be there anyway, why not check out the town.  In the past, we just blasted into town to do business with our Permesso di Soggiorno and never stopped to see the sights.  Driving is not fun in Cosenza with the heavy traffic, and parking can be difficult to find, so I look for easy access and private parking.

We found a great new 4 star hotel literally across the street from the hospital.  Hotel Vescovo Rosso is very nice and welcomed our dog Vince to stay as well. This place was a good choice as the other hotels are about 12 blocks away near the train station and much tougher to access with a car and parking would be tough.

Hotel, bar, and restaurant 


Cosenza is not a tourist destination--it's  a working city of 65,000 (maybe 100,000 including the suburbs) dominated by high-rise apartments except around centro and old town. Looking at some estate agent’s ads, I noticed apartments go from about €150.000 for 60 mq up to nearly €750.000 for a luxury unit of 150 mq. A unit like ours (70 mq or 700 sq ft) in the downtown zone was €530.000!!! Sounds like Rome. Cosenza is a business center with many professional people making higher salaries, etc. No wonder so many kids live with their parents until late 20's or 30's to afford such things.



A 6 block pedestrian corso is nice



There were a limited number of restaurants.  Including the Fratelli La Bufala in our hotel, we only spotted 4 others. The Fratelli is interesting as they specialize in meat and pizza; a la fillet and steak. A nice change from the standard Calabrian menu. They are a chain with 20 locations in Italy--one each in Japan and the US. We enjoyed the place --it was convenient. Good lunch specials – with veggies even – for €7,50…Vince just loved the leftovers! 

Another great find was Ristorante Cinese “Grande Cina” just 100 meters from the Questura (police station) where do our immigration papers.  We miss the cultural diversity in restaurants, so Chinese was a thrill. Nice to have “real” rice again vs. the stuff sold here for making risotto.  FYI, the Pakistani couple in our language class also struggle to find real rice.  The meal was bland compared to the Chinese and Thai food we like, but still a change.  Being in Italy, they also had to have some pasta selections!!


I found an all seafood place close to the hospital while Di had an exam. They had cold displays of fresh fish in the entrance that they served, but I stuck to a simple pasta dish. The spaghetti alle vongole was not as good as our “home” seafood place, and was priced higher, but I would return with Di and friends to try one of the large spigola sea bass they have on display.

Looking toward Centro Storico along the river.  Another river meets near the copper church tower
On another long outing, we walked to Centro Storico which is about 1.5 miles from the hotel.  It has some nicely preserved buildings and some quiet space on side streets, but I found the one-way street thru the place very disturbing with fast noisy drivers.  Not as serene as walking thru our village or old town Scalea.  I’m guessing old Scalea is older too, but didn’t look to see.

I’m glad I got to know the city better for future business trips, but I would not make it a destination for fun.  This reminds me that we never saw shopping centers, furniture stores and other heavy commercial things, so they must all be on the northern edges of Cosenza and in neighboring Rende.  It was so relaxing to get back to our quiet little town and to a much better bed.  Oh, one more observation: Cosenza is the same elevation as our town – 300 mt.  The swifts have returned there, but not here for some reason.  Perhaps the polizia di uccelli don't allow them until April like last year?!!

Ciao, Guido

Friday, March 16, 2012

Emerging

Ah, the warmest seats in town.


It has been a dry, but cold winter here and many of us are now emerging to welcome the warm sun.



Flowers and people are scrambling to share the warmth and it should hit 23C this weekend – higher at the beaches.  The sun is rising earlier each day and we all have bigger smiles as we walk about the village. On the way to language class yesterday, there were folks out walking everywhere enjoying the sun. Another clue about spring is the buzz of motor scooters that are parked all winter.


Back to the dermatologist--you are what you eat.




I wonder if this will be one of the final wood deliveries from Peppino the mule who takes a break to chat on the street.

Back to lunch on the Terrazzo...Guido





Friday, March 9, 2012

Che Donne!

The Mimosa is the Official Flower for La Festa Delle Donne
March 8 is called La Festa Delle Donne (Women's Day) and last year I mistakenly took it to be somewhat like Mother's Day. It's not. We learned in our Italian class from our enthused teacher that it's International Women's Day and it's serious stuff. Although the U.S. led (giving women the vote in August 1920) every wave of feminism that has occurred, we don't seem to make a big deal of this day. I found a summary of its history on an old U.N. website and discovered (probably) why.  It has a decidedly socialist and labor-oriented history starting on March 8 1857 when textile workers in New York staged a protest . Socialists in the U.S celebrated this movement with a day in February starting in 1909.  Italy has recognized the day since 1946 and the U.N. made it official as a day for peace and women's rights in 1977. Americans recently have been downplaying all things labor-oriented. We are lucky we still have Labor Day as a national holiday.



Obviously, since I thought the day was non-political (like Mother's Day), I'm not as yet a good overall judge of how seriously it's taken here. I know my Italian teacher was serious about it, but how about the men who buy their wives flowers that day?  I somehow doubt it. I think women in Europe are (like Americans) basically liberated but also have a lot of work to do if they so choose. The men won't choose to take care of it, so women here will have to push to make more progress on economic equality and domestic equality. I can see it's not there yet. Every time an Italian man addresses his conversation to Guido rather than me, or I see women here who are literally always at home, I realize there is work to do. While I certainly know I'm not going to be able to effect change in Italy, I can observe the progress and perhaps we can have a small effect.


I see hopeful things like angry Italian women on talk shows, a SKY TV series called Che Donne that reran some old American TV series about powerful women like "Wonder Woman" (okay so they included "Charlie's Angels", but at least that was a woman-only team). Progress can be painfully slow.





Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Libri of Winter


Our quiet winter of infrequent trips and get-togethers is about to end as visitors return with the good weather and our thoughts go to getting outdoors! However, if you are living in a northern clime, you still have a lot of reading time! I include here books about Italy (not including travel books, straight history books, cookbooks, or language books) I have read in the last three years. The opinions and mistakes are my own.

Good Writing and Editing 
Marlena di Blasi
A Thousand Days in Venice
A Thousand Days in Tuscany
The Lady in the Palazzo
That Summer in Sicily

Marlena is my favorite writer about life in Italy. I have to own up here to a bias for lyric prose and honest emotion. She combines these two into wonderful books that are especially pleasant to read. She also manages to avoid the patrician attitude prevalent in Frances Mayes’ writing. That said, nobody’s perfect and she admits herself that her second book (about her move to Tuscany after her marriage to a Venetian with a dream of getting the heck out of Venice) has a dumb title meant to sell books (it wasn’t a thousand days spent there). She does tend to romanticize Italian life a bit but not to the extent of a Frances Mayes. I think she is just a romantic, lyric type of person.
The Lady in the Palazzo is all about their final home. The “Sicily” book is a fine mix of present day life and historical fiction. She is a great cook and her American past was as a food writer. She also has written cookbooks.

Head over Heel-Seduced by Southern Italy-Chris Harrison
Doug and I both liked the honest evaluation of the Italian North-South split described with a sense of humor in this book.  Chris falls for an Italian woman from the south of Italy and they return together to her home in Puglia. The book blurb says it’s a “hilarious and captivating story”-I’d say it is captivating and witty. Hilarious is a strong word.

There are two well-written books by men who went to find their Italian roots in Southern Italy and a woman who took her northern Italian friends to find their roots in the south.
Dances with Luigi-Paul Paolicelli
Stolen Figs-Mark Rotella
Journey to the South-Annie Hawes

War in Val D’Orcia-Iris Origo
This is a truly elegant and fascinating diary of life near the end of WWII in Tuscany. An English woman married to an Italian man own a vast estate with many small farms managed by tenant contadini in the old Italian manner. They dodge Italian Fascists, Allied bombings, and the Gestapo while helping anyone who needed them--risking their own lives and survival.

Mediterranean Summer-Erol Munuz and David Shalleck
This book is about a chef who is hired by very rich Italians to cook for them aboard their huge yacht. It’s a surprisingly entertaining look into affluent Italian life.

Frances Mayes
Under the Tuscan Sun
Bella Tuscany

I enjoyed reading these books.  I had a dream of moving to Italy and Frances had already done it. If you have seen the film Under the Tuscan Sun, it is nothing at all like the book.  It’s better. The book is about a rich couple from San Francisco who throw a great deal of money at a villa in Tuscany.  Ditto Bella Tuscany. Ms. Mayes is a good writer and I suppose she can’t help being rich.



Famous Authors, Good Writing
Twilight in Italy-D.H. Lawrence
Old D.H. can really set a scene. That’s about ALL he does, however. I never got drawn in.  I have to admit I ended up skimming this.  I blame myself.  It’s plainly high quality stuff but I don’t like it.

A Room with a View-E.M. Forster
I admit I have seen the movie, twice, which makes me disposed in favor of the book. It’s not a great book about Italy because it’s mostly a study of the character of a group of English people who meet while on holiday in Italy. An Austen-like tale of old-fashioned manners.

Pictures from Italy-Charles Dickens
Mr. Dickens travels through France and the Italian Rivera at Genova. Reminds me of Mark Twain--funny, witty observations.  It’s especially fun to see what has and has not changed over the years.

Not about the Writing (Mostly Kindle self-published with vast editing lapses)
Most of the books below were found on Kindle.  I’m not sure if they are available via hard cover. These books depict in one form or another the experience of expatriate living in Italy—mostly in the south. They were entertaining for me because I mentally compared my experience to theirs but the writing is definitely sub-par. It’s too bad—I’m sure good editing could have improved many of these:

Scratching the Toe of Italy-Niall Allsop
All about making a life in southern Italy after retirement.

Pan’ e Pomodor-My passage to Puglia- Ian R McEwan
The Return of the Changling-From Puglia and Back-Marghaux Maye (these two Puglia books were written separately by a husband and wife. The husband writes better--both disappointed us with too many pictures of pets and not enough of their home restoration)

Coins in the Fountain-Judith Works
Life as expatriates in Rome.

Chasing la Bella Vita-Chris Ellis-Sobolev
(This one takes place in Santa Domenica Talao and Scalea).

Making Limonata-Lean and Peter Horrocks
I’m a bit sour on this, but it’s interesting enough I guess.

Too Much Tuscan Sun: Confessions of a Chianti Tour Guide-Dario Castagno
We read this hardcopy. We liked it for the funny anecdotes about his English-speaking clients and his involvement with a team competing in the famous Palio horse race in Siena where we have visited. His second book we both disliked.

Not my Cup of Espresso
Incontinent on the Continent-Jane Christmas
This is a story about a woman who brought her disabled mother on an ill-advised trip to Italy then did nothing but complain about the results. It’s supposed to be funny, but really…

One night in Rome-Michelle Merritt
This is a badly written book about a woman who falls in love in Rome—how original!


Happy reading!

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