28 October 2012

LIFE: Into Politics

SARONNO, Italy - There was an invitation in the mail the other day to the election night get together in Milan. This year it’s sponsored by Easy Milano, a slick, classified ad publication for the English speaking community in Milan. They didn’t say where the get together was going to be held but that there would be food and drink and a big screen TV so we, Republicans and Democrats, can watch the election results together.
 More, More, I Want More
I’ll be the first to admit I am a political junkie.  I love the game of politics: I love the stump speeches, the rallies, the ads, the polls and the debates – oh the polls and debates, they are my favorites, I never tire of them.  

Italian elections haven’t been any fun at all. They are over before you know it. There are hardly any ads on TV – too expensive according to my friend Andrea, and apparently nobody pays attention to them anyway. I asked him how the political parties raise money to fund the campaigns and he told me that they are reimbursed by the government – but only if they win. 

Apparently there are no super-pacs, lobbyists  or billionaires trying to influence the elections in Italy. How boring, especially if you think about this process in terms of a video game. In one video game there are sleazy billionaires buying shares in politicians, voter suppression and voter intimidation tactics, district realignments and labor union busting bad guys wielding vaginal probes challenging the super hero in a battle that never ends, and another video game that is a two week long fizzle with a few billboard advertisements about some guys in Armani suits, and maybe a debate or two on TV. I ask you, which would you buy?
Palazzo Montecitorio, Rome - Seat of Italian Government
On second thought it might be too difficult to even create an Italian Election Video Game because there are too many players. The last time I looked there were 28 political parties in Italy, 6 major parties and 22 minor parties, and that doesn’t include all of the regional parties. If I include them that brings the number up to 87, and that’s without the two parties abroad, the Associative Movement Italians Abroad (Movimento Associativo Italiani all’Estero) and the Italian Associations in South America (Associazioni Italiane in Sud America). And beside, the Italians don't have a super hero – or maybe they do.

Andrea said he’s going to watch the upcoming elections in Sicily very closely this time because he thinks some changes in the government are in the wind. In Sicily, the major contender is the Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, M5S), a populist, partially Eurosceptic, ecologist, pro-direct democracy, pro-free access to the internet and anti-corruption party. It was launched by Beppe Grillo, a popular comedian and blogger. I remember Mr. Grillo. I used to see him sometimes in the bar having coffee when I lived in Genoa Nevi. As far as I know, he still lives there.

Beppe Grillo, Leader of M5S
Mr. Grillo’s been banned from television for as long as I can remember, for being too political and speaking out against the government. Keep in mind that before Mr. Berlusconi launched his public television stations, Italy had three channels, all controlled by the government. So now we have six channels, three controlled by the government and three controlled by Mr. Berlusconi. It hasn't helped Mr. Grillo at all, he's still banned.

But Mr. Grillo isn’t a candidate, never has been. His role has been to shine a spotlight on corruption and rally the troups. He recently proposed that members of the Italian Parliament who have a criminal record should be barred from public office and that members of Parliament be limited to two terms of office after which they would not be eligible to run again. Ever. Actually that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. He may be on to something.
 What's This? The President of Italy Supporting M5S? Wow!
At any rate Mr. Grillo's Movimento 5 Stelle, M5S, is the only bright star on an otherwise dull political horizon. You can see why by checking out his blog at beppegrillo.it  It’s available in Italian, English and Japanese and has been ranked among the 10 most visited blogs in the world by Technorati. It's the real deal. Even The Guardian, one of England's top newspapers has called it one of the most powerful blogs in the world.   

So, as the American election draws to a close I’m a little more confident that this time that I won’t have to suffer as I have in past election years from the absence of my daily dose of spirited political news. While American elections only take place every four years, I may have found a new, all year, every year source of wonder and fascination, and it speaks Italian.
 Remember to Vote
p.s. sorry about not posting Auntie Pasta this week. I wrote it, it was ready to go, but in all the confusion that is swirling around me these days, I completely forgot to post it.

21 October 2012

LIFE: On the Move

SARONNO, Italy - Well, it's done. This is the last post from Saronno, I think.  From what I know, as much as you can know anything in advance here in Italy, next week at this time I will be back to the Italian Riviera, where this Italian adventure first started. I've loved my time in Milan and Saronno, but the sun and the sea have been whispering in my ear for a few years now, and I decided it was time to answer.

Because this is Italy, and because the Italians are famous for not confirming anything until the last possible minute, I don't have a whole lot of information about this move. I know that sounds crazy, especially to my fellow Americans, but it is what is is. Some, like Frances Mayes, author of  Under the Tuscan Sun, have made a lot of money writing about the quirkiness of the Italians and their Byzantine systems. She thought it charming, but she doesn't live here. It drives me crazy.

But the point of this blog is not to complain, not at all.  I feel very fortunate. And now, as I have to get out of this chair and continuing packing, I will leave you with some images of where you will soon find me. I will keep you posted.
  Porto Antico in Genoa

Hotel in Portofino
Lavagna City Hall
Hillside Restaurant in Lavagna
 Chiavari - Daily Food Market
 Chiavari Court House
 Ernest Hemingway's Home Away from Home, Rapallo
 Rapallo Castle
 Fishing Boats, Rapallo

18 October 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: A Taste of Rome, Trastevere Style

SARONNO, Italy - Between  753 and 509 BC, the area across the Tiber that we now call Trestevere, was not part of Rome at all. It belonged to the pesky Etruscans and was called Ripa Etrusca (Etruscan bank).  
 Daily Life in Trastevere
When Rome conquered the area in order to gain control of, and access to, the river from both banks, it was because it was interested in building on that side of the river. In fact, the only connection there was between Trastevere and the rest of the city was a small wooden bridge called the Pons Sublicius  (Latin: "bridge built on wooden piles"). And it remained that way for a very long time.
  Trastevere is Known for its Narrow, Winding Streets
But are 509 BC, the number of sailors and fishermen living and working on the river had increased.  Immigrants from the East had also settled there, primarily Jews and Syrians. It was only when Julius Caesar and other important Romans built villas in Trastevere, that the neighborhood began to change. However, it wasn’t until  43 BC (more or less), when the Roman Emperor Augustus divided Rome into 14 regions (regiones in Latin), that Trastevere was officially considered a part of the city.  Modern Trastevere was Region No. XIV and was called Trans Tiberim.  
  Cobblestone Streets of Trestevere
The streets and alleys remained unpaved till 1400, when Pope Sixtus IV had bricks laid. However proving unsuited to wagon wheels, they were later replaced by the "Sampietrini" (cobblestones), which remain to this day, making navigation by bicycle and moped, a hazardous undertaking.

Today’s recipe is for a delicious Trastevere style risotto, which unites the taste of northern Italy and the robust flavors of middle Italy. 



Serves 4

1 lb rice
3 oz butter
1 ¾ oz onion
3 ½ oz Parmigiano Reggiano cheese   
3 ½ oz pancetta (italian bacon), smoked
3 ½ oz chicken livers
3 ½ oz boiled ham
½ oz vegetable broth
1 ½ oz Marsala wine
salt and pepper to taste 

Step 1 - Cut the pancetta into strips, put it into a casserole with 30 gr of butter and the finely chopped onion, and sauté.

Step 2 - Pour in the Marsala, allow to evaporate, and add the diced prosciutto.

Step 3 - Add the diced chicken livers

Step 4 - Add the rice and toast it.

Step 5 - Pour the stock over the rice and stir with a wooden spoon. The stock must be added little by little until the rice is cooked “al dente”. Adjust the seasoning, firstly with some pepper, and then the salt.

Step 6 - With the heat off, add the remaining butter and stir in the Parmesan cheese.