Impulse Buy

Dear fellow Americans, you might relate to this post. 


Question: What did my eyes behold for 99 cents at the food store?

Answer: Milk’s favorite cookie.*

Question: What action ensued?

Answer: Impulse buy.

What can I say? Sometimes as an “expat”, any kind of small familiar thing takes on an exagerated meaning, and emotions take over.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some (double) stuff to do.

I apologize for propagating a corporate slogan on my blog. 

N.b.: Dear Michelle, next time try to remember that Oreos always give you a stomach ache. Especially when, like in this case, the whole package mysteriously disappears shortly after purchase.

N.b. 2: These are totally vegan, in case you thought we only ate fruit and vegetables 😀


Posted in Expat Life | 2 Comments

The Art of Taking a Break

Some travel stories about Italy are written by foreigners who express their incredulity at having to wait in a long line only to watch the employee at the counter leave to go have a smoke as soon as they get to the window, or, as I read recently, unwrap a sandwich, tie a napkin around his neck, and take a bite while a restless crowd of bank customers wait to be called on. I haven’t experienced anything near that colorful in my life here in Torino, but the following two episodes were strange enough to my American sensibilities to warrant a mention on my blog.

1. A few months ago I went to the post office and was sitting in one of the private offices with the postal employee while he helped me with a problem I was having. Besides talking about the routine business at hand, he started a friendly and personal conversation about where I was from, what I was doing in Italy, how I liked it, etc. Then he had to call the customer service number on the landline phone to try to solve my problem, and he was on hold for a while.

While he was on hold with the landline phone pressed against his ear, his cell phone rang and it was his mother. “Look!” he said, smiling, showing me the screen where MAMMA was displayed in big letters, with a facial expression that made it clear that when Mamma calls, there’s nothing to do but pick up. I’d say this guy was about forty-five years old. So he answered the phone and had a lively conversation with his mother, one phone pressed against each ear, while I watched and waited.

2. The last time I saw my hairdresser, in the middle of a haircut she asked me if I wanted a coffee, because they were ordering some espresso from the bar on the corner. It was around eleven in the morning. I politely declined (never did like the stuff). When it arrived, she excused herself to go drink her coffee, standing at the reception desk with her assistant and with a customer who got up from her chair to join them (wearing the black cape that protects your clothes and with her hair covered in pieces of aluminum foil from her highlighting job). I was actually sitting in my seat with half of my hair combed forward because she had been working on the layers, so it’s anyone’s guess how I was supposed to sip a coffee in that state anyway. So that’s how I had to wait until the coffee break was finished, about three minutes later.

I come from a country with a stricter code about not mixing the personal with the professional. I can’t imagine an American postal or bank employee chatting with me about my personal life, let alone talking to their mother on the phone in front of a customer, or a hairdresser leaving me stranded while she went to drink her very important mid-morning espresso.

When I worked at a newspaper in New Jersey, the boss said it was okay to call your mother from the office on her birthday, but to keep it short, and to otherwise not make personal calls while at work. That’s quite a different philosophy!

When my cousin came to Italy on vacation he couldn’t believe it when he saw business people having wine with their lunch. He said if he went back to work after having one drink he would be fired.

I supposed I could have gotten irritated by these two episodes, but I didn’t. I’m glad I live in a more relaxed country where taking a break is nothing to look down upon, where lunches (with wine) are lengthy, and where two-hour naps afterwards are encouraged.

Posted in Italian Life | 6 Comments

Compliments, Italian Style

Years ago, I nearly always spoke Italian with an ex-boyfriend of mine and was curious to have an English conversation with him. He came back one day from a series of work meetings in which he had to give presentations in English, and the following conversation in Italian ensued:

Me: “How’d your demonstration at work go?”

Him: “It went well.”

Me: “Were they Italians, or did you have to speak in English?”

Him: “I spoke in English.”

Me: “We can speak in English!!!”

Him: “Noooooooo, I spoke in English alllllllllllll day [gives a dramatic, tired look of having had enough.] Look at my face!”

Me: “I’ve been speaking only Italian for months now! How’s my face?!?”

Him: [pause…] “Bella!

[Sigh] Gotta love Italians.

Posted in Italian Life | 2 Comments

Setting the Record Straight

This is a post I wrote in 2011 but hadn’t yet published…

blog-1A while ago I went to the comune (city hall) in Torino to pick up a document for my sister, but it wasn’t available. I didn’t leave empty-handed though. I picked up my certificate of Italian citizenship and a transcription of my birth record. When I was about to leave, I realized that my mother’s last name was spelled incorrectly on the birth record transcription.

These kinds of errors are so easy to make, and they happen all the time. The reason the transcription contained a misspelling is because when I was born, someone recorded my mother’s name wrong on my birth certificate. Stapled to the original certificate was a correction, but the clerk in the comune didn’t bother to turn the page and thus copied down the erroneous name.

I wanted to go home so I almost let it slide, but something inside of me just wouldn’t let me leave without correcting the mistake. A little voice inside my head told me that it was important to fix it, and I understand where it was coming from.

I learned firsthand that such mistakes can make genealogy research much more convoluted than it might otherwise be.

I got a generous dose of this while researching my roots in Philadelphia in preparation for applying for dual citizenship. A lot of inaccuracies occurred when non-English speaking immigrants and American officials had to communicate during the years of mass immigration at the turn of the century, and my family was no exception. I ended up doing a lot more work than would have been necessary had all the records been correct.

Just performing an index search in an archives became several times more time-consuming because along with searching for the correct spelling of a surname, I had to search for its known (and possible) variations. This makes a difference when you’re scrolling through microfilm.

Finding information for one of my great-great grandfathers is a good example of what I experienced. The first time I went to Philadelphia City Hall, prepared with the names and marriage date of my great-great grandparents, the clerk was unable to locate their last name in the ancient index for that year in the late 1800s. That might not have been a problem as the records were also recorded under the bride’s maiden name, but there was no sign of her either. I found out later that this was because both names were misspelled!

The thoroughly nice and helpful clerk found a clue on the only document I actually had for that great-great grandfather (the clue was the address of the priest who married them in the 1800s), and he told me what to do to start finding more information about them. His tip led me on a long and emotional hunt all over the city. In the end, I pieced together enough clues to identify my ancestors in a different way, and the clerk then found their (misspelled) names in the index of the exact same dusty old book he had looked through earlier.

Inaccuracies are not allowed in the documents used to apply for dual citizenship, which meant that several of my family’s records had to be corrected. This was a time-consuming and expensive process. To correct the bride and groom’s last names on the marriage certificate, my sister and I studied booklets of court rules to learn how to change a record, and we successfully petitioned the court ourselves.

I don’t mind all of this now, since playing detective was fun and I learned a lot of information about these ancestors that has great personal value for my family, but at the time it was frustrating not knowing whether I would be able to find the necessary documentation to reach my goal.

Over a year later, with experiences like this behind me, something just wouldn’t let me leave the comune without correcting my mother’s misspelled name.

Researching my roots has helped me feel more connected to where I come from, and part of a larger reality that has existed long before I was born and will continue to exist long after I’m gone. What we do and who we are have implications that reach far beyond what we will experience in our lifetimes.

The correction was a simple process that took about five minutes, but who knows? It may save more time and frustration for a distant descendant trying to set the record straight.

Posted in Genealogy | 2 Comments

You’re Laughing at Them, but They’re Laughing at You… Kids’ Version

Fontanarossa-1One of my ancestral towns, Fontanarossa, where my great-great grandfather lived in Liguria

When I was in the US over the holidays, my sister asked me to give a presentation about the search for my Italian ancestors to my niece’s 3rd grade Brownie girl scout troop. I agreed and prepared a little talk about immigration to the US at the turn of the century, my search for my ancestors in Philadelphia and Italy, visiting my ancestral towns, and life in Italy in general.

Fontanarossa-71,000 year old church in Fontanarossa

The kids seemed interested in what I said and they asked a lot of questions and contributed their own family stories. They enjoyed looking at the photocopies of old immigration documents I passed around, the photos I printed of some of the towns my great and great-great grandparents lived in in Italy, and my two passports, Italian ID card, and colorful Euro money (the whole twelve Euros and twelve cents I was able to find in my purse).

Fontanarossa-16Chickens in a yard in Fontanarossa… the kids’ favorite picture

The best part was at the end when I talked about some of the ways people do things differently in Italy and the United States. I wanted the kids to understand that there are many ways of doing things in different parts of the world, and those things are not better or worse than other ways, but just different.

I started by telling them that there are many things Italian people do that might seem strange or funny to us. For example:

-Italian parents say to wait four hours after eating lunch on the beach before going swimming (instead of the twenty or thirty minutes we hear about in the US).
-Italians eat an entire pizza by themselves and they eat it with a fork and a knife.
-Italians say not to take a shower after you eat, not to sit under an open window, and to wear a scarf if it’s windy even if it’s not cold.
-Italians hang up all their laundry on a line outside or on a drying rack.
-Children finish school at different times each day, for example at 4:30pm on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and at 12:30pm on Tuesday and Thursday, and they don’t eat lunch at school every day.

The laughter was increasing with each item on the list and I had a lot of fun watching them laugh and learn something about life in another country.

However, their laughter turned even louder and was mixed with howls of incredulity when I turned the list around and told them that, while Italians do things that seem funny to them, we Americans also do things that seem strange or funny to Italians. Such as:

-Wearing flip flops in the summer time when you’re not actually on the beach or at the pool
-Eating salad before the main course instead of after it
-Putting salad dressing on your salad instead of oil, vinegar, salt and pepper
-Putting ice in your drinks
-Eating lots of ketchup
-Going outside with wet hair after a shower
-And… putting meatballs on top of your spaghetti

I hope the kids went away with the perspective that if they are laughing because they think an Italian (or whoever) is doing something weird or funny, the Italian (or whoever) is also probably laughing because they think they are doing something weird or funny too. And that different isn’t bad or good, but different.

I gave the kids a little project to work on before their parents picked them up and they drew pictures and wrote about special food they eat with their families that comes from the country their ancestors came from. They had great answers and they all earned their ancestry patch by the end of the afternoon.

I had to do my best to deliver my presentation in a way eight-year-olds could understand. The part I won’t forget was when I started talking and tried to explain to the kids that I went to Italy to look for information about my long-dead relatives.

What I said in reality was, “I went to Italy to search for my ancestors.”

Once child piped up and sweetly asked, “Did you find them?”

IMG_4471  IMG_4477These two pictures show people who lived in Fontanarossa at the time.

Posted in Genealogy, Italian Life | 10 Comments

Carpenter at Work

IMG_6444-2My friend and I stopped by her father’s carpentry studio one day, and since her father was out we chatted with his colleague. He was working on some cabinet doors in the front room of the studio, which opens directly onto the street and is well lit with natural light coming in the front door and windows.

This scene made an impression on me and, while I almost went away without asking because I didn’t want to bother him, in the end I asked the carpenter if I could take a quick photo.

This man reminds me of my grandfather who loved to work with wood as well as draw and paint, take photographs, and play music. I love how the man is working with his hands with the tools he’s used for decades. He’s wearing an old white tee shirt with a hole in it and his pants are splattered with paint. The saw horses the cabinets are resting upon are covered with years and years of accumulated paint.

Artistic, artisanal, and creative work in general holds special meaning to me, and I think it’s important to pass this kind of knowledge down to kids and younger generations and give them time to create (without the distraction of modern electronic devices).

For me, the carpenter at work was a timeless and multi-layered scene, and I tried to capture some of that in this environmental portrait.


Posted in Simple Photo | 4 Comments

Italy Magazine’s 2015 Blog Awards – Vote for Me!

Untitled-1I was pleased to find out this morning that I have been nominated for an Italy Magazine 2015 Blog Award in the “Best Photography in a Blog” category.

So exciting and I’m very grateful!

If you’d like to vote for me, you can do so here.


Feel free to check out Turin mamma’s blog, she writes informative articles about Italian food and their backstory and was nominated for Best New Blog and Best Food Blog.



Posted in Photography, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Palle di Neve – Snowball Cookies

1Yesterday I made my first holiday cookies of the season! They are called palle di neve (snowballs) and are one of many types of traditional Italian Christmas desserts.

2Palle di neve are small, softish cookies flavored with ground almonds and orange peel. They sure fit the season. The powdered sugar sprinkled on top looks like a fluffy dusting of snow. Oranges/tangerines/clementines and nuts of any kind never fail to remind me of the holidays, since they both were always on the table after dinners with my Italian-American extended family.

3The recipe has only six ingredients and I like how it uses actual almonds and orange peel; I feel better cooking with whole foods whenever possible. The resulting flavor is subtle and pleasing, and the powdered sugar adds the right amount of sweetness.

I’m interested in simple, traditional recipes like this one. I like the idea of getting back to the basics, appreciating purer flavors, and carrying on historical traditions.

4I found this recipe online and you can see it here if you wish to see the original Italian. I’ve translated it for my English-speaking readers and added more detail. The recipe calls for butter. I used margarine instead, but if you’re not vegan you can use butter if you prefer.

Palle di neve (Snowballs)

-100g (about 7 tbsp) butter/margarine
-75 grams (about 9.5 tbsp) powdered sugar
-150 grams (about 1 cup + 1 tbsp) flour
-100 grams (1 cup) ground almonds*
-1/2 tsp baking powder**
-Grated peel of one orange***

*I threw whole, shelled almonds in the food processor for a few seconds.
**The original recipe calls for vanilla-flavored baking powder, which is sold in Italy. If you can find it, use it, otherwise the regular stuff is fine.
***Organic or at least with a non-treated surface

1. Place flour, almonds, baking powder, and orange peel in a bowl and mix well.
2. Cut/separate the butter/margarine into small chunks and lay them on the counter (or a wooden pasta board) with the powdered sugar.
3. Start pinching the butter/margarine and sugar together with your fingers until the mixture starts sticking together and forming chunks. Keep doing that while the heat from your hands melts the butter/margarine slightly. When the dough starts to come together more (be patient), add the other ingredients and keep pinching and pushing the dough together with your hands until you are able to form a single ball of dough. Work quickly because if the butter/margarine melts too much, it will be a sticky mess.
4. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and let it chill and harden in the refrigerator for at least a half an hour (the longer the better so it will be easier to form the small cookie balls).
5. Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F). Line a baking sheet with oven paper.
6. Pinch off small pieces of dough and form balls about 2 cm (about 3/4″) in diameter. The size can vary but make sure they are all roughly the same.
7. Lay the balls on the baking sheet. You don’t have to leave a lot of space between them because they don’t melt and flatten out that much like I expected.
8. Bake for about ten minutes.
9. Let cool and cover with powdered sugar.

Try not to eat them all at once. They are even better the next day!

5What they look like before covering them with powdered sugar

6Buon appetito!

Posted in Photography, Recipes | 10 Comments

Italian Scene

IMG_0015I was shooting a wedding at Lago d’Orta last summer when I took this picture with my long lens. The bride and groom and the guests had come out of the church and we were taking pictures in the piazza in front of the church. These two signore were looking out of an upper-story window of a building that looked down on the piazza, watching the wedding festivities. It struck me as such an Italian scene.

Posted in Italian Life, Simple Photo | Leave a comment