Friday, November 30, 2007

Day 30 Amen...

So here we are at the end of NaBloPoMo. It wasn’t easy but we made it. I can’t help but think that this was an grand experiment like that movie Brewster’s Millions where Richard Pryor has to spend 30 Million dollars in 30 days and have nothing to show for it. This last week was tough. There were things I wanted to write about but I didn’t FEEL like writing anything. I’m pretty sure I’ll take this weekend off and I’ll post on Monday if and only if something interesting happens.
Yesterday there was a little excitement in these parts. My landlord called me! I think this was the second time in 4 years he’s ever called me, and this time I was at work. He said there was a lot of smoke coming from my water heater (it’s out on the balcony so you can see it from street). I rush home from work because he absolutely will not go in my (well, his actually) apartment with me not there. I hope he would if the apartment was on fire or at least he would let the firemen in (remember my front door can stop a Rhino. It would take the firemen forever to chop it down). I get home and there’s no smoke coming from the water heater. We play with the hot water and get it to come on. Sure enough it produces some smoke but I’m not alarmed at all. It was drizzling rain so there is 100% humidity in air and this just looks like some steam or condensation being produced. I had visions of black plumes of smoke rising from my balcony. It's nothing like that. Anyway the water heater guy was just at my place cleaning it a week or two ago so the landlord calls him convinced he didn’t do his job. They argue over the phone awhile and the landlord wins the argument because the bottom line is that I will have a rude awakening tomorrow morning. The water heater guy is coming again to check it out.

And so ends NaBloPoMo. Not much has changed though...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

My Country

I’ve decided that I want my own country. Why not? Everybody else does too! This train of thought started yesterday when I happened to catch a little BBC. They were talking about Belgium. Did you know that Belgium hasn’t had a government for 6 months? Why? Because the French speaking Flemish want their own country. Now I’ve heard of everything. Belgium wants to split up. Thank god I’m not a kid studying Geography these days. I thought European Geography was bad when Russia split up into a dozen countries (quick what's the capital of Latvia?). Is there anywhere in the world were people don’t want their own country? In Europe these days it REALLY doesn’t make any sense. So they would make their own flag and national anthem and then they would turn around and join the EU. Well, it would give the Italians more teams to crush in the European Championships (provided Northern Italy isn’t one of the new countries, Padania).
Asia and the Middle East are obviously full of countries that have small areas that want to split off, sometimes not so small areas like Tibet! North and South America seem pretty stable, if you don’t count Texas. Then again Canada has some Frenchies that would probably start their own country if given half a chance. Australia has been quiet for a while but I bet Tasmania is planning something we just don’t know about it yet. Actually Tasmania is probably where I’ll establish my new country. You have a little protection already because you’re surrounded with shark-infested waters and chock-a-block full of dangerous animals. See I already speak their language. I’d have to call my country something like Frigidland to keep nosey people out (look how well that has worked for Iceland). I would train the Tasmanian Devils to attack strangers and I’m done with security (although their name would be Frigidland Devils, that’s still pretty scary). I would be a good King. That’s right. Screw this democracy stuff!
This photo is Nello climbing up to the top shelf. This is his sanctuary away from Mara. Sometimes little sister can be annoying. Maybe up on the top shelf is Nelloland?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wines all around me...

Ok I thought I should do a little explanation of the wines of the Salento. I was going to say Puglia but then I did a little research and I realized I don’t know many of the wines from the Bari and Foggia area. Keep in mind I’m not an expert and I just drink a lot. Wait, that didn’t come out right. Anyway this is just a quick guide. Puglia is know for it’s wines that "for drinking" (i.e. more in quantity than quality) and there 25 DOC varieties and 6 IGT. Puglia alone produces twice as much wine as all of Australia so you have to drink a lot to get a handle on the different wines. The photo shows some of the bottles of wine that I like.

First the grapes and there’s THE BIG 3, Primitivo, Negroamaro, and Malvasia Nera, in Salento (for red wines).

The king of Puglian wine is the Primitivo, but not just any Primitivo. The Primitivo di Manduria is considered the best. So you have to have Manduria, a town between Taranto and Lecce near the Ionian coast, on the label if want to impress your friends with your knowledge of Salento wines. The Primitivo grape must be pretty tough because it can take the heat of Salento in the summer. I think most of the Primitivos are aged only about 12 months maybe a little more and you drink them within 4 or 6 years. I have to admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Primitivos at first but the taste has grown on me. The wine has bite, as I call it, because it’s usually 14% or 14.5% alcohol.

The next grape is Negroamaro (I’m not talking about the Italian rock band!) I think I read that it’s actually the most abundant grape in Puglia so some people would say it’s the most important grape variety around here. There are a many wines that use the Negroamaro grape as you’ll see. I like a good wine that’s 100% Negroamaro as it has what I call a good fruity flavor to it.

In third place among the 3 is the Malvasia Nera grape. Just this week was the first time I’ve ever had a wine that was 100% Malvasia Nera grapes. And Mino warned me that it was sweet and it is the sweetest of the Puglia red wines. It doesn’t seem like a very popular wine because usually Malvasia Nera grapes are blended into Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes to make other wines. There are also two varieties of Malvasia Nera one “di Brindisi” and other “di Lecce”. When you start blending, as you’ll see below the types of wines seem endless.

One of my personal favorites of this blending is Salice Salentino. Salice Salentino is a town between Brindisi and Lecce and it’s also the name for a wine that is a blend of 85% Negroamaro and 15% Malvasia Nera. I think I like Malvasia Nera best in a small amount like it is in this wine. So I’ve decided that 100% Malvasia Nera is a little too sweet for me but 15% is a good hint of sweetness.

Then comes Squinzano, another town between Brindisi and Lecce, that has a wine that’s 70% Negroamaro and 30% Malvasia Nera so you get the picture. I prefer the Salice Salentino to this wine in most cases. I guess this confirms that I’ve discovered my level of sweetness I like in my wine about 15% Malvasia Nera but 30% is ok.

And it goes on and on and on like this usually with Malvasia Nera as the smaller percentage. The next wine I plan to try is Platone by Al Bano Carrisi. It’s 50% Negroamaro and 50% Primitivo. I don’t think I’ve ever had a wine that was 50/50. Well I probably have but I just didn’t realize it at the time. Wow this is getting too long quickly. I didn’t even talk about using oak barrels or steel tanks or bottles to age the wine. I guess I should encourage you to experiment and find out what you like. Start with a Negroamaro or Primitivo and then try some of the blends. Enjoy

How about a little on white wines…

White wines are little easier. In the Salento they are generally cultivated in the hills of Locorotondo and Martina Franca. Their wines are made with the grape varieties Verdeca, Bianco d’Alessano, along with Fiano and Bombino Bianco. There are some other varieties of white wines in the Salento including Trebbiano, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Pinot Bianco. I think the Chardonnay and Sauvignon are catching on, as they are more recognizable to people outside Puglia. If they want to export wines they need the right names. There is a Salento Bianco IGT that’s 100% Chardonnay and another that’s 70% Sauvignon and 30% Chardonnay. I like the Verdeca from Locorotondo myself.

This image below I took from the site but the link to their source of it didn't work. It was from some government website. This link will take to an ungly but informative version of this image.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Near Heart Attack!

Ok I was about to have a heart attack when I saw the headline today “Poste Italiane diventa un operatore telefonica” (Poste Italiane to become a telephone operator) with a picture of Poste Italiane Mobile next to the headline. I thought they were going to offer a telephone network like Vodafone or something. I was thinking they would have ridiculous fees to receive calls, they would listen in on all your calls (after all they like to open your packages), and to would cost an arm and a leg to call someone. It turns out what they mean is that PI is coming up with a way to pay bills with your mobile phone. A truly good idea but it’s too bad that I fear the people in charge of it. I love the idea that I’m at trying to do some insane Italian paperwork (TV tax, hot water heater registration, apartment rental contract registration, etc….) and they say that I have to pay a bollettino to do it. Then I whip out my cell phone and punch in a few numbers and say, “Ha, it’s paid now give me my dam _____ (insert Italian thing here)”. Of course the big thing is going to be the security of this sending money by cell phone. I don’t know that people will trust it. I don’t, yet. We’ll see.
This morning walking to work I passed the cleanup of an accident. From the looks of it a scooter hit a car pretty hard. I would guess the kid is ok but I bet he has a broken leg. The car had the yield triangles in his direction so I assume he was at fault but I could be wrong. I’m still amazed that cars and scooters don’t hit more. I really think the kids spend so much time on their scooters that they are “good” drivers. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t mean good as in responsible. I mean good as in avoiding getting hit or hitting something. That’s why I don’t have a scooter. I would drive it responsibly and probably get knocked off it every day. The cars would assume I’m going slip in and out and when I didn’t they would be surprised and hit me. The kids drive like idiots but that’s all they know and it makes them tough to hit. I always signal when I’m turning right into my garage but I know one of these days a kid on scooter is going to be sliding past cars on the right and hit me. It’s been close a few times already but then again they always seen avoid the accident. That’s another thing I like about winter. Less kids on scooters.
Also back to the news. I see that Germany believes they can decrease their electricity usage by 40% by 2020 and England is working on lowering the amount used in households by 60% (but they say 80% is possible) by 2050. Meanwhile in the US we give the Green Car of the Year award to V8 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid that gets 22 mpg. Am I the only one that doesn't understand this?
This photo below I made it darker on purpose as I like the outline of the trees on the horizon for some reason.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rome pictures, Ok!

So I guess I need to get on with the trip to Rome. Looking back I didn’t take many photos although it seemed like I was at the time. I take a lot of “classic” photos. This one below is the classic Castel Sant’Angelo with the reflection in the Tevere (with the "Angel Bridge" as some call it) . A must have for every traveler to Rome.

I mentioned that I had to go up to the top of the San Pietro and I did. It was more of a walk than Manni and his wife were expecting. I think it was the best weather I’ve ever had up there. Light winds and the temperature was fine for just a sweater. In the winter it’s cold and windy but you can see forever so it’s good for photos but you don’t want to linger. In the summer it feels cool but there is a haze and you can’t see far. Before descending into San Pietro I stopped at the gift shop and bought something for Nonna (it turned out to be the only gift I bought on the trip). Inside San Pietro it felt crowded. There were tons of seats set up because the next day the Pope was ordaining some new bishops. So it was getting late and I had the feeling that they were going to start ushering people out so they could complete the preparations. Below is the typical shot of San Pietro from the top of San Pietro!

One of the surprises to me was that the interior of the Pantheon is no longer under restoration. I wasn’t even going to stop in there because I thought it would be a mess but instead it was fantastic. The walls and ceiling look beautiful. I never get tired of admiring things like the Pantheon. Why, oh, why can’t we build things like this these days? I overheard someone say that there is a piece of plastic covering the top now but I couldn’t tell. It might be a good idea after all the work they did and if I can’t tell then I’m for it.

A night stop at the Fontana di Trevi and then time to turn in after a drink at “The Nag’s Head” near Piazza Venezia.

Saturday I was going to shop but instead I headed to the Trastevere area of Rome. At Home in Rome’s backyard but she wasn’t at home in Rome, if that makes any sense… I was looking for Piazza de Mercanti and I found it but not the Taverna de Mercanti she mentioned. The piazza is a strange shape and very quiet.

This is an unconventional shot of myself on top of the San Pietro. After that Manni said he’d take a picture of me if I wanted. I broke down and let him. I look like crap in the photo so I ain’t puttin’ it up! I love running my own blog.

Another unconventional photo. This photo was slightly out of focus so I decided to play with the chalk and charcoal effect.

The whole trip was rather uneventful. Nothing extraordinary. I didn't run into anyone famous or get robbed or etc. It did rain the minute I sat down to lunch on Saturday. When the rain stopped I finished my coffee and hit the road again. There is something about Rome that makes me walk and walk and walk. Why don't I take the buses or Metro or taxi more? Boh...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Where to start?

From the beginning of course. I would love to start showing you photos from Rome but let's start with the beginning. These photos are of the Puglia countryside. They were all taken on the train between Brindisi and Bari. The train was moving pretty fast and it was overcast so I couldn't get the focus and color I wanted. Also I was trying to find the cleanest window to shoot through. At Bari the train filled up and I had to sit in my assigned seat! Now I see why they want to have the Eurostar stop in Bari.

This one you can see how windy it was. I love how silver the underside of olive leaves are. You know it's windy when you see silver.

There's not just olive trees and vineyards in Puglia. There's also figs. See we have fall. The fig trees lose their leaves.

This one I like because the farmer is using he's land to the fullest. Most places leave the ground bare under the trees so they can rake up the olives.

Ok I did get one from Campania. You can tell because there are hills in this photo!!

Next time Rome...

Saturday, November 24, 2007


Ok this should be my last quickie blog from Rome. Tomorrow pictures and all the good stuff. I'm proud of myself as we haven't been ripped off by a Taxi. Twice I was sure that he was preparing to give us the Grand Tour but both times I was wrong. We went from Piazza Venezia to Duke's and it was only 10 euro. I couldn't argue with that.
Today I hope to do some shopping but I'm not a "shopper". It's just not in my blood. We'll see how long I last.
Well, wish you were here and the Pope says ciao.....

Friday, November 23, 2007


Well it looks like I'll keep the month of blogging goin but I don't have much time. I had Thanksgiving dinner at a place called Duke's. The people at the hotel said it was "American" so we gave it a try. It was not at all what we expected. Manni said it best, "I was expecting some place like Hooters." Instead it was a very nice restaurant with great food. Pretty expensive but then we did have desert and some good wine. It wasn't like any Thanksgiving back home but fun nonetheless.

Today we had THE big work meeting, which went better than expected. Then we were off to San Pietro. We arrived just in time to go up to the top of the cupola. Then on the walk back we stopped at the Pantheon. Can I just say that I'm thrilled that they are finished with the interior renovations. It looks amazing and to think I almost wasn't going to stop in because I ASSUMED it was still a work in progress. Never assume, right?
The weather may turn to crap tomorrow so the next post may be from home with photos.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Turkey Day

Well have a Happy Thanksgiving. I'm off to Rome but I'll leave with this Mohawk quote. I figure they always taught us in school that this whole holiday only happened thanks to the Indians....

To be a human is an honor, and we offer thanksgiving for all the gifts of life.
Mother Earth, we thank you for giving us everything we need.
Thank you deep blue waters around Mother Earth, for you are the force that takes thirst away from all living things.
We give thanks to green, green grasses that feel so good against our bare feet, for the cool beauty you bring to Mother Earth's floor.
Thank you, good foods from Mother Earth, our life sustainers, for making us happy when we are hungry.
Fruits and berries, we thanks you for your color and sweetness.
We are thankful to good medicine herbs, for healing us when we are sick.
Thank you, all the animals of the world, for keeping our precious forests clean.
All the trees of the world, we are thankful for the shade and warmth you give us. Thank you all the birds in the world, for signing your beautiful songs for all to enjoy.
We give thanks to you gentle Four Winds, for bringing clean air for us to breathe from the four directions.
Thank you, Grandfather Thunder Beings, for bringing rains to help all living things grow.
Elder Brother Sun, we send thanks for shining your light and warming Mother Earth.
Thank you Grandmother Moon, for growing full every month to light the darkness for children and sparkling waters.
We give you thanks, twinkling stars, for making the night sky so beautiful and sprinkling morning dew drops on the plants.
Spirit Protectors of our past and present we thank you for showing us ways to live in peace and harmony with one another.
And most of all, thank you Great Spirit, for giving us all these wonderful gifts, so we will be happy and healthy every day and every night.

Translation by Chief Jake Swamp

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More good stuff...

So tomorrow I’m heading up to Rome. I’m excited because I haven’t been there for a while and the weather is supposed to be great. I “sort of” have plans for Thanksgiving. I’m meeting up with a coworker and his wife in Rome since we’ll be at the same hotel for the same meeting Friday morning. I say sort of because neither of us is sure when we will be at the hotel and where we can go to eat. I hope it works out.

I’m also excited because I should be taking the train during the day so I’ll try to get some photos along the way. My biggest worry is NaBloPoMo! What if I don’t have time to find an Internet café and make a post Friday or Saturday? I could blow it all right here! At worst I’ll just pop into a café and say, “All is well, wish you were here and the Pope says ciao” and there won’t be any photos. Then I should be back in Brindisi Sunday so I can fill you in. I could drag out the photos from Rome and make the last few days of NaBloPoMo easy.

I also hope to do some Christmas shopping up there. After all IT IS that time of year! There is much more of a selection in the shops in Rome but I need to make sure I don’t get ripped off! And that’s frickin’ easy these days with the dollar trading even lower against Euro. I think a lot of my Christmas shopping will have to wait until I’m back in the US, right before Christmas. So maybe I should say I’ll be window shopping this weekend and trying to get some ideas. Man, do I need some ideas, as my friends and family have to be tired of getting olive oil and cheap wine as presents. I have to come up with something else. Last year was great though because I packed a 5 liter metal drum of my favorite olive oil in my big suitcase. It made it back to the US with no leaks (but it did have a big dent in it like they tried to bust it). Then I bought some glass bottles at World Market (made in Italy too) and proceeded to divide up the oil between several people. I could try that again. I won’t try bringing in a salami from Norcia again as that was taken away by the mean Customs guy in Newark. He probably enjoyed it. Bastardo.

Brindisi also has a new place to eat. It’s not really a restaurant. It’s something I never thought I would see in this town. The name is “Hara” and they call it a “Finger Food/Sushi Bar”. That’s right kids we have ourselves a Sushi bar in Brindisi. I haven’t been in it yet. I asked my neighbor if she wanted to go (because she’s the only one I know that would try something like this) and she said yes but then hedged when came to deciding what night. I think she had second thoughts. Maybe we’ll go after one of us has heard something good about it. It shouldn’t take long for word to spread. It’s a small town.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Ok, I’ve been whining a lot again. Time to get back to good stuff. There are some things I like about winter and Italy. One is the new wines (that’s a given) but along with the vino novello there’s roast chestnuts. Here they go together like peanut butter and jelly (which by the way, don’t go together here in Italy!!) Now we’ve all heard in that Christmas tune “chestnuts roasting on a open fire” but I’m pretty sure that I’ve never had them until I arrived in Italy. Now everyday (from October until sometime in January) I pass the contraption you see in the photo. The veggie place has this super excellent chestnut-roasting machine made by Rosalba’s husband. It has a drum (with little fins) that rotates like a washing machine only slower and over flames that cook every castagna to perfection. I’ve never even tried to roast my own chestnuts and why should I with this thing just a few hundred feet from my front door? So many times I’m coming back from shopping or the gym and I catch that smoky sweet smell. It’s all over and I have to get at least 2 euros worth to snack on. Then at home I proceed to throw one of the shells on the floor to the delight of the cats. They bat it around until it either gets under something where they can’t reach it or I’m walking around and not paying attention and suddenly I hear a loud CRUNCH under my foot. Once they actually managed to push the shell under the throw rug in the hall. I almost fell on my ass at the surprise of stepping on a rug that crunched.

I may have mentioned it before but another thing I love is having the shudders open. The sun is our friend again. I would like to have the shudders open year round but I learned from the locals that in the summer that’s just not a good idea. Your apartment gets hot quickly and it won’t cool down. This time of year I get to welcome the sun in to try to warm the place up.

Another thing I love is how green the countryside is this time of year. For a couple months there in the summer it’s so dry and brown but now it’s nice and wet and green and it will be like that until May or June. It’s like Ireland. Ok maybe not that green but it’s all backwards to what I’m used to. In the Midwest by now all the trees are bare it’s looking bleak and winter like. You’re hoping for a snow to make the cold weather worthwhile. Here there are a few trees that loose their leaves so there are some trees that are bare like it’s winter but everything else is too green for me to accept that it’s winter. I mentioned how a large part of the park Torre Gauceto burned in August with the hot, dry summer we had but if you go out there now you can’t tell. Sure it doesn’t have the taller trees and some bushes it had but I think it will recover quicker than people are predicting. I also think the Gargano area will recover quickly too. I would like to drive up there to see. I bet the natural areas are recovering faster than the man made houses and businesses that burned. Mother nature is good like that.

This photo below is of an interesting sunset we had Sunday night. It was really low in the sky so it was almost hidden by the other buildings around me. The clouds were thick and just had this one hole that allowed sun through for about 5 or 10 minutes. Then right in the middle was this one palm tree that sticks up above the buildings. I’m taking this photo from the 4th floor (5th to you Americans) and that tree is about the same level as my apartment.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fast Food Italian Style

That was supposed to be the title yesterday! Let's just forget yesterday. Today's photo I call "cooking minestrone", pretty original. Hey I'm an Engineer. I'm better with acronyms!!
Well yesterday I guess I was trying to do too much with my poor computer. It just was running very slow and locking up all the time. A coworker game me 2 CDs of music and I was desperately trying to copy them so I could give them back today. Problem is these were homemade CDs and old. Some parts were just not readable. In the end I copied most of the songs. I saw that I did get one song that I’ve been dying to find (and don’t say iTunes as it’s not a song worth paying for). It’s “Gianna” by Rino Gaetano. There is a tribute band to Rino Gaetano here in Brindisi and when they play “Gianna” the place turns into that scene from Animal House when they play “Louie, Louie”. It’s hilarious so I now I have the original and I have to say the live local version is more fun. I need to learn the words but that won't happen listening to the song, so here they are:

Gianna Gianna Gianna sosteneva, tesi e illusioni
Gianna Gianna Gianna prometteva, pareti e fiumi
Gianna Gianna aveva un coccodrillo, ed un dottore
Gianna non perdeva neanche un minuto, per fare l'amore

Ma la notte la festa è finita, evviva la vita
La gente si sveste e comincia un mondo
un mondo diverso, ma fatto di sesso
e chi vivrà vedrà...

Gianna Gianna Gianna non cercava il suo pigmalione
Gianna difendeva il suo salario, dall'inflazione
Gianna Gianna Gianna non credeva a canzoni o UFO
Gianna aveva un fiuto eccezionale, per il tartufo

Ma la notte la festa è finita, evviva la vita
La gente si sveste e comincia un mondo
un mondo diverso, ma fatto di sesso
e chi vivrà vedrà...

Ma dove vai, vieni qua, ma che fai?
Dove vai, con chi ce l'hai? Vieni qua, ma che fai?
Dove vai, con chi ce l'hai? Di chi sei, ma che vuoi?
Dove vai, con chi ce l'hai? Butta la', vieni qua,
chi la prende e a chi la da!Dove sei, dove stai?
Fatti sempre i fatti tuoi!Di chi sei, ma che vuoi?
Il dottore non c'e' mai!Non c'e' mai! Non c'e' mai!
Tu non prendi se non dai! Vieni qua, ma che fai?
Dove vai, con chi ce l'hai? Butta la', vieni qua,
chi la prende e a chi la da!Dove sei, dove stai?
Fatti sempre i fatti tuoi!Di chi sei, ma che vuoi?
Il dottore non c'e' mai!Non c'e' mai! Non c'e' mai!
Tu non prendi se non dai! Vieni qua, ma che fai?

I played around last night doing the effect Kent told me about. I used a long exposure and them zoomed in with the shudder open (something the books all say never to do). I managed a few fun shots looking out my window.
This is multiple cars!
My favorite!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Well when I don't feel like cooking and I don't want to really go out for a long dinner there is an option, sort of. The photo is of two little trays of food I bought at the butcher place. These things are available in most butcher shoes or other food stores. I have one tray of stuffed cannoli pasta and the other is not just potatos. It's the wonderful potatos, rice, and cozze (black mussels).

I'll put up photos and write more just as soon as blogger stops screwing around. I'm worried I may not be able to post today if I don't post now.!!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Antitourism in Brindisi

Well I'm cooling down a little after being pissed off at Brindisi this morning (I have Nora Jones playing while I write this). I guess I got of bed with the wrong state of mind. I had my first person push "my button" this morning at 8:00 AM!!!!! Porca... Mannaa... I immediately remembered a little conversation with my landlord. He asked if was ok if the man to clean the caldaie (water heater) comes on Saturday morning. I foolishly said yes so there he was at exactly 8:00 AM ringing my bell! I jumped out of bed. I rang him into the building and threw clothes over my pajamas. Thirty minutes later he's gone and I think he spent most of the time writing the bill but that doesn't matter because now I can't go back to sleep.
I decide this a perfect chance to do something I've been meaning to do. You see the photo in this post is of the wonderful "Sailor's Monument" made by everyone's friend Mussolini. I have been tharwted at least three times from going up to the top to savour the wonderful views of Brindisi. This time I was going to be there in time. It's only open in the morning so Saturday morning is my only chance. I get over there and it's open but I can't up to the top. Why was I blocked? Because I had a camera! What?!! I was so upset (to put it nicely). He said you can't go up there with a camera! "It's a Zona Militare". This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. They're afraid you'll take a photo of Navy Base (an castle built by Frederick II around 1200s) across the bay. I wanted to argue just for the fun of it but I could see he was happy to enforce this stupid rule. Never mind that every Italian that goes up there has a cell phone with a camera on it (some have cameras of 5MP now!) and all of them take a few photos. He said if that's true then they are risking being arrested for spying. What a joke!

Then I went over to the Theater Verdi to see the ruins under theater that are now open. I asked if I could take pictures. Guess what. He asked to see my camera. I showed him my new Digital SLR proudly. He said, "With that camera, NO!" WHAT?! Because I have a good camera that takes good photos he said no! This time I argued. He buckled and said OK but if I don't take any "detailed photos". I planned on writing whole posts about these two tourist attractions but now I don't feel like it. This is the one good photo I got under the theater.
All I can say now is Brindisi is merda for tourism. Sorry about the language but what is a tourist going to think. You can come but don't bring a camera. Good job Brindisi. Theater Verdi no GOOD cameras, Svevo Castle closed to tourists because they still use it(it was built in 1200s come on splurge a little Italy), Sailor's Monument no cameras, the little Argonese Castle out in bay also still being used by the Italian Navy and closed (what the he** could they be using that little stone castle for these days).

Tomorrow maybe I'll talk about how Brindisi is being cut out of the tourism map anyway. Trains that are no longer coming here. Flights only to Bari. Maybe it's better that way. Brindisi is not ready for tourists.

There is good news. I stopped at the farmer's market and picked up some minestrone. Cosimo's sister was still cutting up the veggies for the perfect cold weather soup when I arrived. It was only then that I realized there is pumpkin in my minstrone. I knew there was carrot for orange color but I didn't realize there was pumpkin too. It doesn't have a real pumpkinny flavor.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sign Sign Everywhere a Sign!

A couple of strange things happened yesterday and I’m not sure what to make of it. The first thing occured when I went to the Sweet Sweet Way store. It’s a candy store on the main drag in town. I felt it was fitting that I go there the day after the dentist visit. The old guy working there said “Ciao, Jeff”. Now I don’t stop and converse with him like I do in other stores. I also don’t go in there nearly as often as other places but yet our relationship has moved up a notch. This is stranger because I don’t know his name. Then coming home from hanging out on the street, ok it’s not hanging out, it’s the passeggiata. I stopped to talk to some people that are always next door to the pizza place. Among this group there are 3 very young girls that are always talking to Antonio and Maurizio and just out of curiosity I asked their names because they are practically part of the pizzeria family so I should know who they are. The strange thing is that I remember their names, Rosella, Illaria, and Francesca. I wonder if remembering Italian names is becoming easier. I wonder if I’ve been exposed to these Italian names enough to make connections. I also commented that Rosella is very close to Rosetta (there is a Rosetta at work) and it worked. I seemed to be keeping them straight, for now.
Anyway I noticed another strange thing that is by far the strangest. My name is now on my button on the front of the building. Now you may say “Big Deal” but it’s very strange to me. I’ve been living in this same apartment for over 4 years and the whole time my name has been on that button but only because I wrote it on a piece of paper and then taped it on the button. The weather would take its toll and I would change it every few months. Now my name is printed in plastic and under the clear button cover like everyone else, but why now?

Strange isn’t it. My name just doesn’t seem to go along with the others. You’ll notice something that maybe you didn’t know. There are two last names for most apartments. That’s because Italian women almost never take their husband’s last name. That throws a lot of foreigners off when they come to Italy and do paperwork. If you’re married they are still expecting two different last names. Most of my readers probably know this but I thought it was worth a mention. Also notice how my name has a hyphen in it like everyone else’s. I guess there is one person living here with the last name Jeff and he or she is married to someone with the last name Gromen. It could happen. We foreigners have strange names, not like Italians. See Cacciapaglia that literally means strawhunt or huntstraw in the order it is here.
Maybe my landlord has grand designs that I’m going to buy that apartment. He says he’s going to sell it when I move out. I was a little curious about buying it and then I asked Marco what he thinks the guy would ask for and then I went into a state of shock. The thought escaped my mind very quickly. It would be 3 times the cost of my house in the US, no 4 times with the current exchange rates!!!!
This last photo is exchange from the old passport to the new. The old one can barely stand these days. The new one is ready to see the world. I hope!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Goodbye Old Friend

Well it’s time to say good-bye to an old friend. But this is a happy parting of ways. He's been there for me for 10 years now and he deserves a break. Ohh, the places we’ve been. I’m talking about my old passport, of course. I finally received my new passport today. It wasn’t as easy as it should be. You see for me I’m supposed to send my old passport, the fee, the pictures, and the paperwork to the US Consulate in Naples. I called them about how to do this several times I was never impressed with their knowledge. If you go to website of the consulate in Milan they have everything spelled out for you and they look efficient. The Naples website is, let’s just say, not so impressive. I used my judgment and decided to go another route. I wanted to make sure I had a passport in time to go home for Christmas. I sent everything I needed to my parents in the US. My mom sent the stuff in and received the new passport there. Then my mom sent the passport to me in Italy. It worked almost perfectly. There is one thing I forgot. My mom is too honest sometimes (now I know where I got it). When she sent me the passport she made the mistake of writing what is ACTUALLY in the package. When Italian customs realized they had something of value to me they started to think about how they could use this to their advantage. I’m not sure how it worked out. Maybe it was a miracle but in the end they agreed with my rationale that this passport has no commercial value so they delivered it with NO customs fee. I believe that qualifies as a miracle.
It must have something to do with my birthday. Last year I received my renewed permesso di soggiorno (permit to live in Italy) on my birthday. It was the best present I could get from anyone. The importance of getting my permesso has increased exponentially because immediately after I got mine the process has done nothing but turn into a BIG MESS. There are hundreds of thousands of permessos waiting to be processed. Italy went to this really nice credit card like permesso but the system is seriously flawed. Thank god I got mine when I did. So I’ve had two paperwork miracles in two years. Am I ready for sainthood yet?
This new passport is strange. The cover is much thicker cardboard and the photo seems to be printed into the page instead of laminated on like it was 10 years ago. It’s also the new electronic passport with a chip in it so whenever that’s required then I’m already legal.
The photo today is from when I went to Ostuni a while ago with another Couchsurfer. She just put up some of her photos on Flickr here. Again it seems other people find beauty in Brindisi in ways I wouldn’t think of. She has one photo of me in the group, one of Cosimo at the Pizza place, and one of fishermen in Brindisi. When showing her around I decided to take a photo above out towards the sea (instead of towards Ostuni). I don’t know what that building is in the foreground, but I love the expanse of carefully trimmed olive trees that go out in all directions until you get to the sea.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Pain is over, yeah!!! I hope....

First, doesn't my helicopter look cool in flight? The thing has been broken twice so far but my amazing engineering skills have rebuilt it. It still flys after ONE WEEK. It's been one week since.... (come on you know that song). I guess I've already got my money's worth! I could use some spare parts though, if I find a place that carries them.
I'm feeling ok, now. The second trip to the evil dentist is over. My teeth are better than new. A few things you should know about the trip. The road from Ostuni to Martina Franca is BEAUTIFUL. A winding road on low rolling hills in the Valle d'Itria with grape leaves changing color, olive trees, and trulli scattered about in the countryside. I highly recommend it, but not at night. At night it sucks as you can't see a damn thing so I took the less direct route, Brindisi-Francaville Fontana-Ceglie-Martina Franca. Since this route is a little new to me I've noticed a few things. One is that people are ALWAYS burning olive cuttings around Latiano. I love the smell of burning olive wood but it rained most of the day so I'm amazed that the smell and smoke was as thick as ever around there. I thought they would wait a day for the wood to dry out a little, or something. Second, I hereby award Ceglie the distinction of having the most traffic lights per inhabitants for any town in Puglia. Italians aren't keen on traffic lights and now that I've had a ticket for running a red light I pay more attention to them. Well, Ceglie must have a traffic light factory nearby.
I also love the fact that they have a sign in Ceglie pointing to the left saying Brindisi 44 (44 kms). Thankfully I've never fallen for that trick. If you take that left you get 44 kms of side roads full of "apes" (little 3 wheel trucks) that will drive you crazy. The drive is much easier if you go to Francaville Fontana and get one real road.
That's my driving tips for today. Stay out of Ceglie and don't do the Ostuni to Martina Franca road at night.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Phoning it in

I'll admit it this isn't one for the books. A little busy today. Wait, I have something. In the gym I've noticed we've changed radio stations from Radio DeeJay to Manbassa. Why is this important? Because Friday night I was working out to Huey Lewis and the News singing "I want a New Drug!" The memories came flooding back. Then last night I did the John Stewart "Whaaaaattt?" when Shania Twain came on with that song "I feel like a woman". I didn't know American country music was on any station in Italy.
The photo is the ferry to Albania. The one in the background goes to Greece. I really need to that trip. One of these days!!!!!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Day 12 Enter at Your Own Risk

I had big ranting blog post written but I’ve just read the rest of the story about Lazio fan that was killed yesterday. It was just simply a “tragic accident”. The police officer started by firing a warning shot in the air because fans were starting to fight. A warning shot is allowed according to police procedure. Also according to police procedure he should have put his gun in the holster while running but he didn’t. He started to run to the site of the fight with his gun in hand and his gun went off accidentally. This second shot is what killed the Lazio fan. The fan by the way was inside a car between two other people. It was just incredibly bad luck that the mistakenly fired bullet managed to kill. So the officer is in big trouble because he acted recklessly and well…we'll see. So in the end it was not a case of the police being violent towards fans. So what do all these fans have to say for themselves? Do they still feel their terrorizing of the area around Rome’s stadium was justified yesterday? Do they really believe that they can act as a mob and get revenge by destroying the stadium or police property? This only creates more tension between fans and police and it increases the likelihood that another officer will pull out his gun. In fact it’s more likely that police officer will feel he needs his gun for protection. If history is an indication then only more violence will follow unless they stop the games. Maybe for the rest of the year? I love watching the games but I definitely will not go to a game ever again. I don’t want to get caught up in a melee that could break out anywhere at anytime. Maybe we need the opposite. No police at the stadium and let the fans fight all they want inside and out. Enter at your own risk.
On the lighter side of the news I was only going to blog about a funny article that I saw in the newspaper yesterday. It was titled “Due nonnini a bastonate sventato rapina in banca” that translates to “Two old men with canes thwart bank robbery”. It seems two old men 72 and 75 years old saw a guy in a ski mask coming out of bank. They blocked his escape and beat him with their canes until the robber dropped the money and then managed to escape. So he still got away but without the money. Maybe the banks need to start employing two old guys with canes to be the security guards.
Also for the photo. What is this seed? They arrived in hundreds on a windy Saturday afternoon. The wind calmed down on Sunday so I could go out and sweep them up.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Day 11 The Big Game

I've never been a big fan of rugby until I saw it on TV and learned the rules. Now I find it very interesting because I know there are only certain aspects of the game that are brutal. There's also a lot of discipline and ball handling skills required. So, today I went to a Brindisi Rugby match. My friend Matteo plays for Brindisi and he always tells us about the game but somehow on Sunday afternoon everyone's occupied by soccer or sleeping. I awoke to a beautiful day and I knew I had to make it to this game (usually the weather can be real crap too). It was a well played game on our side especially because Brindisi trashed Lecce by about 28 to 11. I know Brindisi had at least 28 but I couldn't tell if some of the kicks were good or not. There was no scoreboard or announcer to tell you what was going on. It was a great game to watch but only because I know the rules now. If I hadn't watched it on TV I would have been frustrated not knowing why they stopped.
Brindisi really did well in all aspects of the game.

Brindisi scored its first 3 points on a penalty.

My buddy Matteo is about to kill that guy if he picks up the ball at the edge of the scrum. In the end the guy wussed out.

The Lecce player gets up high on a lineout.

The Brindisi team is made up of kids and adults. They have plenty of subs which really worn down Lecce. I was worried at the start because the Lecce team is a university team so they're all about the same age and appeared to have played together more.

I call this one "trouble". Time to pass the ball kid!!!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Day 10 Recipe from Jeff?

So today I thought I would do a food blog. It kind of came to me last night. I was coming back from the gym and I stopped in the veggie place. I joked with Rosalba that I wanted to make rape but I didn't have any orecchiette at home (and I was too lazy to walk the other direction and get some). She says, "That's OK. You can make "Rape Stuffate" This was a new one for me. What's it take?
Picture of the ingredients

The list of ingredients:
1 kilo of cleaned Rape (turned out to be way to much for me so I have some for lunch today)
2-3 tomatoes (I used 5 or 6 cherry tomatoes because I wanted to buy a big bag of cherry tomatoes for the weekend)
1-2 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves (Foglia d'alloro, sometimes I call these "foglia d'oro" or "leaves of gold" because I could swear that's what they say)
olive oil

You heat up about 2 cups of water (with a little salt) and add all the above cook for about 10-15 minutes and there you have "Rape Stuffate".

Just like she mentioned the smell when it's cooking is great. I was a little disappointed how it looked at the end. The red of the tomatoes tends to wash out the dark green of the rape. Maybe I did something wrong and the tomatoes were supposed to be added later. I don't know. Hey this isn't a foodie blog!!! It tasted good but then again it's all ingredients I like so I expect it to.

Friday, November 09, 2007


If you’re squeamish then close your eyes when you read this one. It all started on Sunday night after my mom called. I get second call from someone I haven’t talked to in a while and it caught me completely off guard. The conversation was something like.

Me: “PPrrrroonto” (in a happy tone)
Him: “Hi Jeff. It’s Martin. How are you doing?”
Me: “I’m doing ok. How are things in Martina Franca?” (Slightly cautious now)
Him: “Ok. Listen. It’s been over 6 months since you were here last.”
Me: “OH really. (@#$%!#%$#^%$#^#$^#!*) It’s been that long. You don’t say…” (Trying not to show fear or anxiety)

Yes Martin is my evil dentist. Sorry, I’ve associated “evil” with “dentist” for a long time and for the sake of this blog I’ll try to refrain from saying evil dentist. I think I’ve made it clear that as a kid I liked the sweets and some things you never outgrow. My visits to the dentist were never fun. So the rest of the call is a blur. Me agreeing he’s right I need to get in there for a visit and me also thinking “How do I put this off for the maximum time possible?” In the end the appointment was made for Thursday night. I would have to go to Martin the English Dentist in Martina Franca unless a meteorite hit me, but that didn’t happen.
Just to make this visit more interesting he changed the location of his office. He gave me directions over the phone but I was so upset about my lack of excuses that I didn’t take very good notes. I had basically written down. “By the orange tower of the Citroen dealership. On the left. Ground floor.” Looking at the paper Wednesday night I thought, “I have no idea where I’m going.” I did a search for the Citroen dealership on Pagine Gialle (the Italian Yellow Pages online). I highly recommend this site. Holy crap they are good. It’s like Mapquest and the Yellow Pages together. So I find the Citroen dealership in Pagine Gialle and it looks easy enough. At least I could get there and then call him to guide me in from there. That’s exactly how it went too.
Now this visit was supposed to be a cleaning so why does my jaw ache this morning? I’ll tell you why, because I’m paying twice for my love of sweets. The fillings that I got some 20 odd years ago are wearing out and last night he (the evil dentist) had to drill one out and put a new one in. So let this be a lesson to all you kids out there. Brush your dam teeth! And listen to your mother about sweets! Still poor “Ozzies” by my elementary school might have gone out of business if it wasn’t for a few hundred sugar hungry kids and me….
The photo below is, yes, in my mouth!! The silver thing you see is the next to go. Next…. Wednesday…. AAAAHHHHH…. I HAVE TO GO BACK. The tooth right in front of it is one he did last night. At least now my teeth look better.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Day 8 That cat is nothing but trouble

Nello is getting in the way so I’ve decided to store him in this drawer for the month. Just kidding.
He is always trying to get into things and this is the latest story. I wake up in the middle of the night because I here all kinds of scraping (later I realize it’s his claws and the drawer sliding slowly out) coming from the “cassetto” right next to the bed. I’m naturally in a mood of “What the hell is going on in here!!!” I wake up to see the situation in the photo today. He’s learned how to get into something else!!! Ugh that _____ cat! So the angry mood changes to laughter as I see how excited he is to have ANOTHER place to sleep. Now, if chase him out of it then I close the drawer and watch him with my "you-better-not-do-it-look" he will sit by the magic drawer and cry as if to say, “Can I open it? Pleeeeaaasseee.”

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Day 7 How to get a job in Italy

From now on when someone asks “How did I end up here?” I’ll point them to this post

It’s quite simple. It starts back when I was born in the quiet suburbs of Cincinnati. Ok, maybe that’s going back too far. The short version is I’ve always loved airplanes and anything that flies. So to me it was obvious that in college I would study Aerospace Engineering (by the way I don’t recommend this, study Mechanical Engineering instead, trust me on this!). After university I got very lucky and found a job in the aerospace industry almost right away. Most of my classmates didn’t even try to go into the workforce because the job market was so bad back then. I took a contract job at a jet engine manufacturer in Indianapolis that turned into a direct job. Then I quietly spent almost 10 years designing jet engines in Indianapolis. I liked it but I wanted to play with the whole engine and see the world. In the design department you need to specialize in one area of the engine to be able to handle everything but only in “your area”. I was tired and worried about being too specialized, so I decided to get out and see engines in the wild. The Italian Government at the same time was deciding that they were going to buy some new aircraft for their Air Force with new engines, IF (that’s a big if) they were allowed to repair the engines in Italy. So my company said, “Ok, we’ll let you repair your engines in Italy, IF (that’s a big if) you agree to have someone from our company there to help you learn this engine.” The deal was made and a job created. I saw the advertisement for the job in our company newsletter and put in for it because it was exactly the combination of things I wanted, a new adventure at work and home. After a tough round of interviews they picked me. It was an easy choice for them because the engine that the Italians bought is one of the engine models that I worked on for most of the 10 years in design. So you see that’s how I was able to legally live and work in Italy. I had experience with a jet engine that was designed and built in the USA so there was no EU citizen that could do the job I was contracted to do. Not easy but I got in. I do recommend working for a big international company that has offices or businesses around the world if you are seeking a position in another country. That is your good way of getting a job in the country of your choice. By the way the company I work for and the Italian company are not part of the military but they both work a lot with the military.

A couple of interesting side notes to my story.
I had never visited Italy before I accepted the job in Brindisi. I did have a pre-work visit but at that point I was committed to coming and would have looked bad if I refused. I reasoned that with the Italian side of my family I already knew what it was like to live in Italy. I think that was true…to a small extent.
The day I was offered the job was also the same day that I had a first date with a woman I had known for a while in Indianapolis. In my excitement we went to an Italian restaurant called Amici. I announced how excited I was to be moving to Italy and that was our one and only date. Did I mention that I’m not good at maintaining a relationship?
My original contract was for 3 years and I’ve just finished 4 years. My contract runs out in September of 2008 but NOTHING has gone to schedule in Italy. All good things must come to end. I’m also not sure what comes next. That’s the subject of a post by itself, someday, when it’s clearer.
The job requirements should have included, “must at least like soccer, preferable to have playing experience and a desire to play in situations that are as serious as life and death.” If I didn’t play soccer then the working life here would have been much tougher. When I would go into new area of the Italian company there would be somebody there that was in the company league and therefore I was not a complete stranger or outsider.

The photo is the miniature radio controlled helicopter I bought myself for my birthday. It's soo frickin' cool but the cats better stop looking at it with a gleam in their eyes.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Day 6 No Comment

The photo today is from my birthday party LAST YEAR. There is NO party this year. I’m officially closer to 40 than 30 now, and that doesn’t sit too well. Getting old sucks. I did bring in cornetti and pasticciotto for my coworkers but that's required by law. I was a big supporter of bringing in doughnuts for your birthday in the US so I understand the importance of cornetti.
As a little celebration I’ll add the words to “Happy Birthday to Me” by Cracker. The song is hilarious even if it doesn’t make any sense. It just has some good lines in it.

I was having a good sleep…in my car
In the, parking lot of the…Showboat Casino hotel

I say, "I remember you…you drive like a PTA mother"
You brought me draft beer…in a plastic cup

I'm feeling thankful for the small things, today
I'm feeling thankful for the small things, today

Happy, Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me and to you

Happy, Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me and to you-ah

I'm feeling thankful for the small things, today
I'm feeling thankful for the small things, today

I remember you…I crashed your wedding
With some, orange crepe paper…and some Halloween candy

A sometimes…I wish I were Catholic
I don't know why
I guess I'm happy to see your face…at a time like this

Happy, Happy Birthday to me
Happy Birthday to me and to you-ah

So Happy Birthday to me and to all the other cool people that have birthdays today. For famous people born on this day I found only Ethan Hawke and John Phillip Sousa.