31 January 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: Dangerous Territory

CHIAVARI, Italy – I don’t know how to tell you this but there is a very dangerous street I have to walk down in order to get to my bank. It’s called Corso Dante. It looks a lot like the other streets here in Chiavari, but don’t be fooled. Oh it starts out innocent enough at the beginning where there is a sweet looking cafĂ©’ with a big glass door that invites you in,  and then there’s the bakery with its window full of whipped cream cherry topped creations and chocolate cakes that look so delicious they make you want to swoon. But if you close your eyes and walk fast you can make it past them without being too distracted  - that is until you get to Olga’s.

Gastronomia Olga
Olga’s is a hole in the wall shop with an entrance crowded with signs advertising the special of the day. I think that’s called ‘setting the trap’ in advertising parlance. Take last Friday for example.  Last Friday’s special was asado. Asado?  That spicy braised beef dish you find in Mexico, Brazil, the Philippines and China asado? How can that be? There are no Mexicans here and only 44 Chinese and 25 Brazilians in all of Chiavari. And as for the South Americans, I’m not sure the 140 Peruvians even eat asado. So of course that intrigues you enough to want to go in and see what other surprises there are. That’s called ‘the trap is sprung’.

Olga's Den of Deliciousness
Once inside things get complicated. I can tell you from my own experiences that you will want everything they have. You’ll want to sit right down with a fork and a spoon and a great big bowl and start eating everything in the display case from left to right, or right to left, it doesn’t matter. Just bring it on. 

Seafood Salad and Stuffed Mussels
And the problem is everything is as delicious as it looks, from the fennel torte, to the roasted potatoes, stuffed mussels, fried fish (my favorite), paella, roast pork, roast beef, mouthwatering lasagna alla Bolognese or alla Ligure with pesto and pine nuts, and of course all the Ligurian specialties like pesto and farinata too. I tell you it makes you want to drag your bed and books and set up camp right then and there and never leave.

Eloise Hard at Work
The last time I was there Andrea and Eloise were manning the counter. I think they were a little surprised when I told them I wanted to write about the shop on my blog. For them, surrounded by all this deliciousness day in and day out, it must be like people who work in a chocolate factory who have no trouble resisting chocolate. But for me, I know when I’ve found a treasure. 

 Andrea Wrapping My Fish
But don't take my word for it. If you are ever near Chiavari, check it out for yourself.

Gastronomia Olga
Corso Dante, 48
Chiavari (GE)

27 January 2013

LIFE: This is Me

CHIAVARI, Italy - It’s been a week of one step forward and three steps back.  I’ve been trying to accomplish one thing per day, which has turned out to be an unattainable goal. Part of the problem is even after all these years I still don’t know what documents I’m going to need to do something – something that should be relatively simple like registering as a resident of Chiavari.

Chiavari City Hall
Under Italian law everyone legally living in Italy is issued an Identity Card by the town they are living in. Of course if you are here illegally as I was during my first eight years in Italy, you kind of skulk around and pretend you have just arrived and are still within the three month visa period afforded all tourists. In my case, which was pre-European Union days, it meant traveling to the south of France and reentering Italy every three months for a new entry stamp on my passport.  Hello! Here I am again.

But even in my status as ‘clandestina’, I managed to rent two apartments, one in Genova and one in Milan, open a checking account with one of the largest banks in the country, apply for and receive a social security number and a license to do business.  The only two things I could not do was participate in the national health care system and vote.

 Italian Social Security Card
The barrier to my legal status was that I was not employed by an entity, but worked as a freelance writer/translator. It was a simple matter of semantics. Italians, the Italian government in particular, consider ‘freelance’ as the status of being employed by a company but not having a full time, permanent position, and the question they kept asking me was ‘who do you work for’.

How could I say ‘everybody’ and ‘anybody’ who wants my services?  How do you delicately  say that you provide a service that you then offer to the public and if they decide to buy your service you then do whatever they want – linguistically speaking of course.  You can well imagine the challenge of trying to explain that in faltering Italian to a suited and booted Carabineri with an gold exploding hand grenade insignia on his hat and a Baretta automatic pistol strapped to his body with a big white belt.

See the Hand Granade and the White Belt?

 Believe me, it was easier to go to France.

I always knew that I would eventually become a legal resident, I just didn’t know when or how I was going to manage that. But that’s another story for another day.  Sufficient to say that it did happen and now I too am the proud owner of an Italian Identity Card.  I’ve even used it in the United States and had it accepted as ‘official’ identification.  

 Italian Identity Card

I had been putting off the trip to the Anagraphe or Registry Office to register because I thought I had to bring a copy of my rental contract. But on Wednesday I decided to just go and see if I couldn’t register without it. I have my Identity Card from Saronno, so obviously at some point I’ve provided all the necessary documents to register, so how difficult can it be.

It turned out that it wasn’t difficult at all, except the clerk wanted to see my permanent residency papers and my passport. So much for my one thing/one day goal. I had to dig through the pile of unopened boxes to find what he wanted, but I did, and he was happy.

He was particularly enthralled with my passport and took his time going through the pages looking at the images of America and saying, ‘ma, che bello’ – how beautiful America is. He also gave me a document to take to the National Health Service Office so I could choose my primary care physician.  Perfect. He said that a Vigili, a Municipal Police person would come by my apartment to verify that I actually live there, and she did on Saturday morning.  I don’t get that part, but that must be the reason why they don’t ask to see a rental contract.

 Italian Municipal Police

So now I am officially here, I have a new doctor and there is a huge dent in the Things to Do pile on my table.  Now all I have to resolve is the problem with my telephone, find a store that sells kitchen sinks, buy one and have it installed, buy some light fixtures for the apartment and have them installed and finish notifying all those that I have to notify of my change of address, and that’s it – I hope.

24 January 2013

AUNTIE PASTA: The Food Scene

CHIAVARI, Italy – There was a moment this week when I actually thought I would be able to put together a post at least for the Auntie Pasta page of this blog, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. Instead I’ve still been entangled in the web of bureaucratic folderol that has occupied most of my time since I moved here almost two weeks ago.

 One of the Food Truck Things
That’s not to say there haven’t been some interesting developments on the food scene however, starting with the fruit and vegetable market that takes place every day in the piazza behind City Hall. There are also a couple of rolling food trucks, I don’t really know what the technical name for them is, but there is one that sells meat and another that sells cheese and other dairy products.   

Yesterday there was another food market in Chiavari, a farmer’s market, set up in another piazza where honey, cheese and vegetables were on offer by local growers. There were not a lot of people at the farmer’s market, it could have been the hour or it could have been that is wasn’t well publicized.  I didn’t know it was happening and happened to find it on my way to the bank, but then again I’m always the last to know what’s going on no matter where I live so I’m not surprised when I don’t know when an event is taking place .

 A Cook's Paradise
In these early days of living here I am finding things on my way to somewhere else. It didn’t just happen yesterday with the farmer’s market, it happened last week too when I was looking for a hardware store and in doing that found a shop run by Sara, an Ecuadorian lady  selling food items from South America and another shop practically next door to her run by a really nice guy from Morocco whose name I didn’t get, selling Middle Eastern foods and spices as well as PG Tips tea and other English staples.

The grocery store situation here in Chiavari is rather odd. There are no large supermarkets, instead there are little mini-marts all over town. As in Saronno there are no Italian grocery stores here either, Italian in the sense of being owned by an Italian company.  Carrefour, which has at least four or five mini-marts scattered throughout the town is a French chain,  and Billa, which has the largest store in town although it is not large by any stretch of the imagination, is an Austrian food chain. There is one other store calls Ins, but I have no idea who owns it.

The Streets of Old Chiavari
Ins carries brands that I’ve never heard of, and they also have the cheapest prices. Billa is just as expensive here as it is in Saronno and the same goes for Carrefour. There is an outdoor fish market a block or so from where I live, and Billa also has a fresh fish department. There are also quite a few small, fruit and vegetable stands scattered throughout town practically outside my door.

What seems very strange to me is that here in Liguria I can’t find Ligurian olive oil in the grocery stores, and olive il is one of the regions primary products. All I can find are the mass produced olive oils of dubious origin which is prompting me to write to my favorite olive oil company and ask them where their products are sold in Chiavari.

The Streets of  Chiavari

The other thing in short supply is pesto, the stores do carry pesto but  I have been looking for pesto that looks like basil pesto instead of fluorescent green goop.  I finally found some at one of the Carrefour shops. Back before Carrefour took over the Italian GS store, the GS brand of pesto was better than any homemade pesto I had ever tasted. When GS ceased to exist, I reluctantly tried the Carrefour brand, and while it isn’t as good as the GS brand was, it was heads and shoulders above other ‘brand’ name pesto like Giovanni Rana.

My problem is I am a big store shopper. I really do not enjoy going from little shop to little shop each with a selection of three. It just takes too much time. But I suspect that is exactly how I’m going to have to shop if I plan on having regular meals on a regular basis.

So that is the food situation as I find it today. It could be I just haven’t found the right street yet, but I don’t think that is true because there are not that many streets to find in Chiavari. I do know there are some really lovely food shops here where they sell absolutely scrumptious things to eat, Olga’s being one of them.  Olga’s food is so good I may give up cooking – which is what crossed my mind the other day as I feasted on some of Olga’s lasagna alla Bolognese followed by fried fish that was so delicious it would bring tears to the eyes of any devoted foodie.

 And at the End of the Day...
So, as you can see the food situation in Chiavari is going to take some serious thinking and some serious tasting, and I can’t think of a better place to do it.