29 January 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: The Most Important Meal

CHIAVARI, Italy - After an overnight train ride from Paris, Joe, Stephanie and I were starving when we arrived in Venice early in the morning. After we checked into our hotel the first thing we wanted to do was eat – preferably something that resembled breakfast. French food hadn’t particularly appealed to them, but Italian food they knew and they wanted some. Surely the Italians would have something delicious for the most important meal of the day.
 Breakfast Italian Style
 “I want pancakes Mom, even if it comes with a side of spaghetti,” said my daughter. “Me too,” said my son, “and a couple of sausages too.”

Thus began our unsuccessful adventure of breakfast hunting in Venice. There were plenty of bars but none of them advertised anything that resembled pancakes, let alone sausages or anything else that said breakfast to us. Then there it was, a bar with a sign that said “toast”.  We looked at each other and said, “okay, it’s not pancakes but if there’s toast they may have eggs, if they have eggs they may have sausage.”  It was definitely worth a try.

 Extra Flaky Sfogliatelle
The much anticipated “toast” turned out to be very thin, very flat, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. We ate them and ordered another round, raising more than a few eyebrows in the process. And so began our first lesson on breakfast in Italy.

Since then, I’ve come to appreciate, which doesn’t mean understand, Italian breakfasts. For a country that is so focused on fresh fruits and vegetables, cookies and milky coffee just doesn’t seem like a healthy way to start your day, but who am I to mess with tradition. So in the spirit of all things Italian, here is Italy’s prime food and wine magazine, Gambero Rosso’s list of the five top bars in Italy for the quintessential Italian breakfast, brioche/pastry and cappuccino.
 A Roman Speciality, Cream Filled Maritozzi
At the top of the Top 5 is Romoli Bar Pasticceria in Rome. This bar- bakery, located off of the Via Nomentana, has gladdened the hearts of Romans since 1952 when the founding family began churning out sweets, pastries and coffee. The stars of Romoli’s bakery are cream filled maritozzi, a typical Roman pastry. 
Caffe' San Marco, Trieste
In second place is one of Trieste’s historic bars, the Caffè San Marco. Among the specialties of the café, as well as the city of Trieste, is a small shot glass of rich coffee served with hot milk and a lot of foam, called Capo in B. Capo, in this case, stands for cappuccino, while B is for bicchiere, which is “a glass” in Italian. When you put them together you get a tiny cappuccino in a tiny glass.
 Bar of the Year 2015 - Bedussi, Brescia
Next, in third position is Badussi, a bar/cafeteria in the northern city of Brescia.  Bedussi was chosen by Gambero Rosso as the Bar of the Year 2015. Given the stiff competition you can be sure the quality of the pastries, plus the wide selection of good things to eat that are served at this sleek and modern bar, are over the top. 

 Cozy Pave', Milano
Fourth place goes to the Milanese bar, Pave’. Pave’ has that clubby, comfortable living room feel the Milanese like. Pair that homey atmosphere with an outstanding selection of pastries and cappuccino that will knock your socks off, and it’s easy to see why Pave’ qualified to be on this best of Italy list.   

The Biggest Parrozzo in the World
Finally, the Top 5 finishes with Caprice of Pescara, a classic Abruzzese bar that has been around for 80 plus years. The star of their pastry show is called Presentosa, aka Parrozzo, a dome shaped butter cake made with almond flour and covered in chocolate, an Abruzzese specialty. But that’s not all. Caprice also makes baby parrozzi, and 20 other different types of chocolate delights.

25 January 2015

LIFE: Rice is Nice but Risotto is Better Redux

CHIAVARI, Italy - The Milan Expo is set to open on 1 May, 2015. It’s a universal exposition and as the last time Milan hosted a World Expo was back in 1906, it’s big deal. The theme of the Expo is Feeding the Planet, and that got me thinking. I wonder if there ia anyone who contributed more to the idea of feeding the planet than Leonardo da Vinci. With a single mechanical design, he changed Italy, and if not the planet, at least Europe.
Milano, Italy

In 1482 da Vinci wrote to Ludovico Sforza, soon to be Duke of Milan, looking for work. Knowing Sforza was being threatened by the French, da Vinci said he could construct bridges, underground passages, armored wagons and even cannons that hurl small stones.  Sforza hired him.    

da Vinci proved to be an asset and when the French backed off, the Duke appointed him to organize and update the irrigation system within the dukedom.  After a careful examination of the waterways, Leonardo got to work. He designed a hinged watertight gate, a flood gate that could be used to control the amount of water released to irrigate the flat fields.  And then they planted rice.
 Rice Fields of Northern Italy

Today, more than 500 years later, they still grow rice in Lombardy and Piedmont. In fact there are areas where the rice fields stretch out as far as the eye can see.  And they still use the flood gate system designed Leonardo to irrigate the fields.

There are more than a dozen varieties of rice produced here, and to be honest about it, at times it is a bit overwhelming for an ex-Uncle Ben-er like me. But if I ask the right questions, the Italian mammas are always ready to help out. They seemed to know a lot about rice. 
Mondine at Work

I think some of my neighbors in Lombardy may have been “mondine”, which is what the women who worked in the rice fields were called.  The word “mondine” comes from “mondare”, a word that isn’t used in Italian any more, but it used to mean “to clean”. And up until the 1950’s, clean is what the women did in those fields, if you consider weeding a form of cleaning. 

Their job was a seasonal one, from the end of April until June. In June  the paddy fields were flooded with water so that the rice plants would not undergo severe temperature variations going from day into night. The job consisted of setting rice plants in the paddy fields and then going back to that field once the plants had taken hold and clearing it of weeds.  It was difficult work and something that only the women in really poor families did in order to earn money.
 Silvana Mangano in Bitter Rice

In a publicity photos for the 1949 Italian movie Bitter Rice, a buxom Silvana Mangano is shown standing in a flooded rice field. She plays the part of a young woman who works in the rice paddies of northern Italy. She looks sexy in her tight shorts and torn black stockings, with her hair falling over smoldering dark eyes. You might even get the impression that picking rice was a fun and romantic thing to do.

In reality, the women who worked in the rice fields didn’t have much time to think about looking sexy as they were constantly being assaulted - both above and below the water line. They would spend up to 12 hours a day, bent over in water up to their knees.  They did wear long black stockings, not to look sexy, but to protect their legs. They also wore big straw hats to protect them from the hot summer sun and the swarms of mosquitoes that constantly buzzed around them. From below, snakes of all sizes, lizards and slippery green frogs slithered through their legs as they worked.
 Bitter Rice

In the film, and in real life, the women were migrant workers traveling by bus from one northern Italian rice cooperative to another. They slept in specially built dormitories, spending months planting, weeding and harvesting rice. They worked in rows, moving backwards, controlled by an overseer who sometimes sat on an elevated chair like a tennis umpire, and other times walked behind the woman poking at them with his cane if they weren’t working fast enough.

 When the women got close to the end of a field, the overseer would call out and some of them would move away from the row in order to leave a space for the critters (which had been driven back as the women progressed down the field) to escape. They said the water churned like it was boiling as the frogs and snakes desperately scrambled to find a way out.

The women would often sing as they worked. The songs they sang have often been considered political but they actually were not. The women sang primarily to keep their spirits up, to take their minds off of the horrid working conditions, the heat, the bugs and mosquitoes and the slimy creatures under the water, and to lament the years they were wasting working in the fields. 
On days like today, when it’s raining outside and I’m in my cozy kitchen stirring up a fragrant saffron gold risotto Milanese for lunch, I think about Leonardo. I hope he knows the systems he created, and the canals he laid out to irrigate those rice paddies, are still in use.
Days in the Rice Paddies, Nights in the Cascina
And I think about those women who traveled from rice paddy to rice paddy and made Italy what it is today, the largest rice producer in Europe. It wasn’t until after World War II that they mechanized the rice fields and the women went home, got married and became respectable Signoras. Actually it wouldn’t surprise me if they were the same Italian mammas I run into in the grocery store, the very same ones who seem to know an awful lot about rice.

You can see life size models of 130 machines reproduced from da Vinci drawings at the National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan. It is the largest science and technology museum in Italy and it is dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci.  Some of his designs are truly fantastic: flying machines, tanks, submarines, cranes, and even robots. The man was well ahead of his time.

Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia
"Leonardo da Vinci"
Via San Vittore 21,
20123 Milano
Monday - Friday: 9.30 - 17.00
Saturday and holidays: 9.30 - 18.30


22 January 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: Mmmmm, Ossobuco

CHIAVARI, Italy – Here’s a word of warning: never say the word ossobuco, or l’ òs büüs in Milanese dialect, out loud in Milan. Just the name of this slow braised veal shank is enough to bring the strongest of the strong Milanese to tears. Mention that you paired it with risotto Milanese, that is risotto with saffron and parmigiano cheese, and you’ll have them on their knees.

 Mmmmm, Ossobuco
Few dishes affect the ever-so-busy, ever-so-chic Milanese like this one does, and yet it is a simple dish to make. The traditional recipe calls for veal shanks and a finely chopped mix of celery, carrots, onion and parsley called soffritto in Italian. Patiently braise the meat and soffritto in white wine, add tomatoes and broth, cover and cook.    Serve with risotto alla Milanese, aka saffron risotto and there you have it – ossobuco alla Milanese.

If there was ever going to be a great ossobuco debate it would center on whether to use tomatoes or not. I happen to like tomatoes in this recipe, I think it adds another layer of flavor that goes well with saffon risotto or polenta, but there are others who don’t. It’s really a matter of taste.

It takes a couple of hours to prepare ossobuco but the results are worth it. While veal shanks would be the first choice of any Milanese cook, I’ve made ossobuco with turkey shanks and have had very good results. Here in Italy you can find turkey shanks in the poultry section of any supermarket, and at the butcher shop as well. It’s a nice, and inexpensive, alternative to veal.

The ring of meat around the shank bone (veal and turkey) is sweet and tender and has a delicious flavor. The choice of meat is up to you, but regardless which one you choose, it’s a good idea to leave the skin on the shanks otherwise they will fall apart when they are cooking.

 Veal Shanks
The veal shanks (or turkey) should be at least two inches thick. If they are too thin they will dry out, so in this case thicker is better regardless of how big they are.  If the shanks are very large, one per person should be enough otherwise you might need two or even three, if you are cooking for people with big appetites.

For many people the best part of the dish is the marrow. There is a special long-handled spoon called an esattore that the Italians use to dig the marrow from the center of the bone. But don’t despair marrow fans if you don’t happen to have an esattore on hand. Any small spoon like a baby spoon works just as well.

An Esattore at Work
In Milan the act of scooping the marrow out of the bone is called riscuotere le tasse or tax collecting, probably because of the determined way marrow eaters try to scrape every little bit of marrow out of the bone. Actually one of the secrets of making a really good risotto to go with the shanks is to mix in a spoonful of bone marrow in with the rice before you start adding broth.

The most traditional way to serve ossobuco and saffron risotto is with a simple condiment called gremolada. It is made from parsley, garlic, a little lemon zest and half an anchovy packed in oil, all finely chopped together. If you intend to eat the bone marrow try adding a little gremolada to the center of the shank bones just before serving the dish. If you like, you can also add a little to the sauce. Either way it adds a certain zing to the dish, or as the Italians say, la gremolada si sposa bene con ossobuco – gremolada is a good match with ossobuco.


18 January 2015

LIFE: Lovely Lavagna

CHIAVARI, Italy Poor little Lavagna, it’s kind of like the runt in a litter of adorable puppies. When you live in a neighborhood that includes towns like posh Santa Margherita, the much touted Cinque Terre, and that grand dame of all grand dames Portofino, it’s kind of hard to get anyone to pay any attention to you. To make matters even worse, it is stuck between snooty Chiavari and that belle of the bays – Sestri Levante.
 Church of Santo Stefano, Lavagna
But Lavagna is definitely worth taking a second look at, for the town has more going for it than you might think. After all it does have pastel peach and pink buildings, great food shops, a pretty impressive cathedral, a nice seaside park and beach area like all the other  “pretty” towns on this side of the Italian Riviera.  But while the other towns rely on their beauty to keep them in the game, Lavagna has always had other interests besides attracting tourists. One of them was, and still is, ardesia, also known as slate.  

The people of Lavagna have been mining slate from the mountains behind Lavagna for so long, it’s hard to remember a time when they didn’t. In the past, and I don’t mean a mere 1,000 years ago, I’m talking serious past, the Bronze Age, 3,000 BC, when the original Ligurians lived here, there is evidence that they used slate to make object that they used in their everyday life.  In more modern times, let’s say in the days of the Roman Empire, the slate that came from the mountains above Lavagna was used in a variety of ways, and you don’t have to look any further than right here in Chiavari for proof. 
 Slate and Marble Facade of Genoa's Cathedral of San Lorenzo
Between 1959 and 1969 a cemetery that pre-dated the Roman Empire, was discovered under one of the main streets of Chiavari. The cemetery contained one hundred and twenty-six tombs surrounded by a fence made of slate slabs. In each tomb they found slate cassettes characteristic of cassettes used in pre-Roman cremation burials and in some of the cassettes they found jewelry and other metal objects. The archeologists could tell by the type of slate used in that cemetery that it came from the hills behind Lavagna, as the slate found in Chiavari was of a different quality.

Starting from the second half of the nineteenth century, Lavagna became a major center for slate and the town’s port developed into a major shipping hub on the sea. From the hills above the town where the slate quarries were, women would carry the heavy pieces of slate on their heads, down the “slate road” to the port of Lavagna. From there the slate was loaded onto single sail boats called leudi, and transported to Genoa and sold.

 Cavi di Lavagna - The End of the Slate Road
Over the centuries the slate of Lavagna has been used for small things like table tops, pool tables and blackboards and big things like roofs and sidewalks and as a building material. Many of the black ardesia and white striped marble buildings of Liguria, like the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa, are considered among the most beautiful in Italy. The slate industry sustained this small community for centuries, and even though there isn’t as much call for slate these days, it’s still considered a local industry.

The harbor seems to play a bigger role now than it did the past. With slots for 1,500 boats, it’s one of the biggest harbors in the area, and along with it a multitude of connected industries have sprung up. You’ll find most anything and everything that has to do with boats in Lavagna, from renting and buying them to repairing them and building them, hardware and fabric for interior design and all the other bits and bobs that are part of that world. 

 Hanging Out in Lavagna
What’s funny is when you are walking around town, you really don’t see much of that nautical world, but it’s all there if you want to take the time to look for it. Liguria is like that. Nothing is obvious. Not that it’s hidden, it just takes forever to understand all that goes on, or has gone on, here.

Sometimes, when I’m sitting out at a local café having a coffee, or maybe just hanging around down by the harbor taking some photos, I pick up bits of conversation, the shooshy sounds of Genovese dialect that rolls off the tongues of the locals like, well like water off a duck’s back. I like the sound of it even if I don’t understand a single word. There is an old Genovese saying that strikes me as being only partially true - Son zeneize, rizo ræo, strenzo i denti e parlo ciæo. = "I'm Genoese, I seldom laugh, I grind my teeth, and I say what I mean".
 It's a Pretty Little Town
I don’t know about the grinding their teeth part, but they are serious and it’s been my experience that they do say what they mean, even if they don’t always say everything that they mean. But maybe if I had grown up in a place that has been invaded, occupied, burned to the ground, rebuilt and invaded, occupied and burned to the ground again and again, if `i would say everything I meant, or thought, either.

14 January 2015

AUNTIE PASTA: The Great Debate - Pasta or Macaroni

CHIAVARI, - Italy – This is a story about pasta. Pasta is the generic name of the flour and water (and sometimes egg) dough that lends itself to many shapes and names, one of which is macaroni. So while all macaroni is pasta, not all pasta is macaroni. Spaghetti and rigatoni are also pasta, but pasta is more than just macaroni, spaghetti and rigatoni.

 Pasta, Pasta Everywhere
Pasta can also be curly, wavy, short and stubby, it can be thick, thin, flat or round. Pasta can be shaped like little bells, or ears or shells or elbows, even like butterflies and lilies. But no matter the shape or the size, if it’s made from a flour and water (and sometimes egg) dough, it’s all pasta. This is a universal truth, unless you are Chinese or Asian. Chinese and Asian pasta is generally called noodles. Italian pasta does include noodles as well. If you are interested in knowing just how many Italian pasta shapes there are, and there are many, here’s a link to a list on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pasta

Marco Polo generally gets the credit for introducing pasta to his fellow Italians. The story is he brought the idea back to Italy from his Asian travels in 1292 AD.  But the truth is the origins of pasta in Italy go back to the days of the ancient Romans who gave the credit to the Gods.  They believed that pasta was invented by the Roman God of fire, Vulcanus.  While I’m the first to admit that pasta can indeed be heavenly, I’m not 100% convinced it is true. 
 Mmmm, Lasagna
What is true is that even the ancient Greeks ate pasta. One type they liked was a broad noodle called 'laganon' which sounds a lot like lasagna. The only difference is the Greeks didn’t boil their pasta, they cooked it on hot stones or roasted it in ovens and ate it like pizza. I guess that’s why when people eat pasta today, it’s not Greece they think of. 

The first record of noodles cooked in boiling water is in the Palestinian Talmud, written in Aramaic in the 5th century AD. The word used for noodles back then was itriyah. In Arabic this word refers to dried noodles. It is quite possible that pasta was brought to Sicily as a food supply by the Arabs when they were conquering the island. An Arab geographer, Al Idrisi, later wrote that a flour-based product in the shape of strings was produced in the Arab colony of Palermo.  Even now, thousands of years later, Palermitans are still making flour based products in the shape of strings, but they don’t call them strings any more, they actually have a lot of different names for them. They also cook them in a variety of ways and one of them is strings with chickpeas which is also known as vermicelli Tria.
"Strings" Are Good
Names of things do change over time. For example, it is quite probable that the Sicilian word "maccaruni" which translates as "made into dough by force" is the origin of the word macaroni.  Also the meaning of the word “force” has changed. In Sicilian it used to mean kneading dough with the feet, which is how they used to make pasta dough back in the 1600’s. The pasta maker sat on a long bench and used his feet to mix and knead the dough, a process that took an entire day.  
Then, Ferdinando II, who was the king of Naples at the time, hired a famous engineer to come up with a better system. Perhaps the King wasn’t fond of the “ode d’ stinky feet” left behind using the “force” method of kneading.  The engineer got busy and worked and worked on different designs, after all he couldn’t say no to the King. It took a while but he finally came up with a kneading machine made of bronze, and the guy kneading the King’s pasta dough by foot retired.
This Looks Interesting
Recipes from the 15th and 16th centuries advised chefs to cook macaroni in fatty meat broth or on meatless days, in salted water made more flavorful by adding fresh butter, sweetened almond milk or goat's milk. Initially, chefs seasoned pasta with butter, cheese, sugar and cinnamon. Then something changed. Instead of sweet pasta, cheese became the topping of choice. In 1584, the author Giordano Bruno quotes a Neapolitan saying, " è cascato il maccarone dentro il formaggio " (the maccherone has fallen into the cheese).

Fast forward a hundred years and tomatoes are still not the first choice of pasta eaters. In Naples, which would soon become the home of macaroni with pummarola (tomato sauce), they were still eating pasta with a sprinkling of cheese. There are photos taken in the early 1800’s showing street stands with large cauldrons of hot water used to cook macaroni and pyramids of freshly grated cheese speckled with black pepper. The cook would lift the macaroni out of the boiling water with a fork and immediately shake a handful of cheese over it. It was street food Neapolitan style that you carried off in a paper cone and ate with your fingers. Tomato sauce or “sughillo”, meat sauce, with or without tomatoes, was a luxury few could afford.
 Making "Little Ears"
So that’s the story. Pasta is not some la dee dah yuppie name for macaroni or spaghetti, pasta has actually been around longer than either one of them. Today, here in Italy, you can buy pasta for pizza in the supermarket or at your friendly fornaio, for pasta is, and always has been, that magical mix of flour, water (and sometimes eggs) that can be transformed into hundreds of fanciful shapes and served in so many ways that it boggles the mind.


11 January 2015

LIFE: The Wonderful World of Renting

CHIAVARI, Italy - When I first moved to Italy back in 1990, my number one priority was to find an apartment. Little did I know what was in store for me as I bravely, and blindly, stepped into the wonderful world of Italian real estate.
 Positano, Amalfi Coast
I found the Italian real estate system confusing, and sometimes I still do. So for those of you who have asked me about renting an apartment in Italy, and for those of you who might be thinking about it,  here’s a handy guide to help you figure out the real estate ads. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a start. And here is a link to a national rental web site in Italy. It’s set for rentals in Chiavari but you can type in any Italian city or town you are interested in.  http://www.casa.it/affitti-residenziale/in-chiavari%2c+ge%2c+liguria/lista-1?source=location-search# These rules and regs only apply to long term leases for those who live here, not for short term ones for vacationers.

Here we go:

1. Watch Your Language: They use local dialect in real estate ads. What was confusing was that I never saw the word “rooms” as in “number” of rooms.” Why? Because in Genoa the word for rooms is “vani”. In Milan it’s “locali”.

2. Please Sit – Oh Never Mind. Some apartments don’t have living rooms. My first furnished (arredato) apartment in Italy was in the tiny borgo of Santa Maria Quezzi, up in the hills behind Genoa. I was told it was a two bedroom apartment, but there were only three rooms.  

A Villa in Tuscany Might be Nice
Hmmmm. One room was definitely the bedroom; the second room had a bookcase/storage unit on one wall and a sofa. The third room was a dining room with a round table and four chairs, an easy chair and a TV stand. Since the easy chair matched the sofa in the dining room, I moved it into the room where the sofa was, and made that the living room. But then I began to notice something odd. Visitors were always very uncomfortable when I took them into my “living room”. It eventually dawned on me that I was actually entertaining my guests in what they thought of as a bedroom, but they were just too polite to say anything. Ooops.

3. What is This? If you are renting a standard unfurnished apartment it won’t have a kitchen – what I mean is you will not find a stove, a refrigerator, a sink, cupboards or countertop. What you will find is an empty room with water and gas pipes sticking out from one wall. It’s up to you to put in the rest. Why? Beats me. And don’t forget, if you move you take your “kitchen” with you and hopefully it will fit into your new apartment.  Of course it hardly never does, fit that is, but . . . . . . .

 Umbria Anyone?
4. I’ll Just Lean Here. If an apartment is listed as semi-furnished it will have a kitchen with a stove, sink, refrigerator, cupboards and countertop. But no actual furniture like tables and chairs.

5. Let the Séance Begin. Do not expect to find light fixtures – anywhere in the apartment.  Just wires sticking out of holes, color coded ghosts of illuminations past. It’s up to you to buy fixtures and find an electrician to install them. And keep his number because you’ll need him to remove the fixtures when you move.

6. Can’t Hold Your Water? Double service (doppio servizi) means two bathrooms.

7. Drip Dry. No towel racks or toothbrush/glass holders but lots and lots of holes where previous tenants hung theirs. Good luck trying to match up the whattacallthem fastener things of your new towel racks and toothbrush/glass holders with the old holes.
 How About a Truilli in Puglia?
8. Just Put the Aspirin Bottle, ahhh ….Maybe there? Your Italian bathroom will not have a medicine cabinet, or a mirror, or a cabinet under the sink or a linen closet either. But it will have a bidet.

9. Walk In? Not Exactly. You will marvel at the amount of space needed to put up an armoire that will give you 1/5 of the closet space you could have if they would just hang a rod and put a door in front of it. You will need a handyman/carpenter to assemble and disassemble your closets when you move in and move out, unless of course your moving man can will do it.

10. Roll On. Apartment in dire need of a paint job? It’s on you.  If you don’t have friends who can recommend a painter, your local paint store is the next best place to go. If you are doing this in August, save your breath, the paint store will most likely be closed. It doesn’t matter because all the painters are on vacation anyway and you won’t see hide ‘nor hair of them until mid September.
Now That's What I Call a Room with a View
11. Put a Lid On It. Garages are called boxes. Some apartments may have a dispensa, which is a pantry, a ripostiglio, a broom closet and/or a tinello, which is an ante-camera between the kitchen and the living room for informal entertaining.

12. Four Plus Four. A normal rental contract is four years plus four more years for a total of eight, or it can be four plus three, or three plus two. There is no standard contract, but then again you really didn’t expect there to be one, did you?  Your contract must be registered with the Comune (City Hall) in order for it to be legal – and for you to have any rights as a tenant. If you want to cancel the contract you must send your landlord a registered letter 6 months prior to the expiration date.

13. Contrato Transitorio – the owner is not interested in a permanent tenant. The rental contract is for 12 months max.  That type of a rental contract doesn’t work for someone like me because you can’t claim the apartment as your primary residence, which is something I need to do if I want National Health Care coverage, which I do.  I suspect landlords do this so they don’t get stuck with a tenant who doesn’t pay the rent.  Evidently tenants who skip out without paying the rent is a big problem here or else it’s just the Italians being their usual overly cautious selves. I’ve been told – by real estate agents – that if you are good – good meaning you pay your rent in full and on time, you can most likely convert that transitorio contract into a regular contract.
 Or Maybe Rome Suits Your Fancy
14. Riscaldamento Autonomo - Loosely translated means you control your heat as opposed to riscaldamento centralizzato, which means the condominium controls the heat, which I have found less than agreeable since I don’t operate on an Italian timetable. I get up early, I like to write in the morning, five o’clock is not too early for me. This presents a problem because the heat doesn’t usually come on until close to seven and for some odd reason I find it hard to drink my morning coffee when my teeth are chattering let alone trying to type with frozen fingers.

Now if this all sounds a bit intimidating and you would rather not have the hassle of trying to decipher real estate ads in Italian, you can Google summer rentals in Italy – there are hundreds of sites in English. You will pay a little more, but that’s not terrible. In fact it's good because they are fully furnished. Either way, what your Italian apartment will most likely have (depending where in Italy it is) are marble floors, very high ceilings, a huge bathtub, unlimited hot water thanks to a very clever water heating system, at least one balcony but usually two or three, an interesting history if you are lucky, and best of all - when you step outw the door - you will be in Italy, and that is priceless.