Thursday, May 30, 2013

And finally, a festival

Rain clouds on their way

The annual lemon festival, which sort of "kicks off" the summer season and is the first of the various festivals throughout the summer, was delayed twice due to bad weather.  Finally, Sunday, the sun peeked out and the village covered itself in yellow.  Originally the week before, they moved the festival back a week due to the 100% chance of rain and thunderstorms, then moved it from Saturday to Sunday for the same reason, so it got a little muddled as to when the festival actually was.  The best part of the festival was the local children selling homemade lemonade and lemon cake to raise money for Padre Renato and the reconstruction of the monastery above the village, that sadly lost it's garden due to a landslide a few months ago.  Work is being done, by lifting equipment by helicopter from the parking lot in Via Fegina, up over the beach and to the hill where the mountain side needs to be reconstructed and secured before the containers can be removed that now cover the walkway connecting the old and new town of Monterosso.

 It's an incredible
 amount of work, and unique in the fact that helicoptering cement and equipment is the only way to get it done.  It can be disconcerting sitting on the beach (in the rain, of course) and having a helicopter swoop overhead and then turn back and do it all over again.  The pilot must be awfully bored - a 2 minute ride, then back again, then back again - all day long.
Lemon festival!
We were closed Sunday for the first communion of Manuel's nephew, which is celebrated here like a wedding.  A 7 hour, 13 course lunch later, and we stumbled full and tired through the festival back to our house and went to bed at 9pm.  Sometimes, you need a day off from your day off.
It was nice to have a day off that was sunny for a change, however, and it was nice to be a "tourist" for an event like the Lemon Festival, as opposed to working like a crazy person during it.  The weather has been constantly gloomy, and it's tough living at a beach when it's raining and chilly every day.  Normally, there is a line to sit at the seafront tables at the Cantina.  It says something of the temperature here when instead there is a line to sit inside, where it's warm.
This weekend brings the Infiorata, which is the festival when the streets are covered with flower petal mosaics.  I asked this year to help in making them, and assuming the sun will continue to shine on festival days, it's something I'm really looking forward to.  It's so strange, having all of these summer rituals, summer festivals starting, and having the temperature still feel like late October.  It's a funny trick with the mind.  Weather wise, it feels like the season is ending, but looking at the calendar, you have to remind yourself that it's only just begun.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Rainy movie days

The weather here has been so crummy I haven't had anything new to write because I haven't been doing anything, aside from going to work and coming home.  They cancelled the annual Lemon Festival last weekend and postponed it to this weekend due to the weather, but this weekend's forecast is unfortunately even worse - a low of 9 and rainy.  9 degrees - thats 48.2 F!  Unheard of.  It's almost June, and the weather here feels more like a rainy March.  It's a little depressing.  There are days where it's warm and sunny sporadically, like this Wednesday, but overall, it's more then a little bit of a bummer weather wise.
Due to all of these mean jokes Mother Nature is playing, and to a better internet connection, I've started renting movies on Itunes and watching them in Italian to help me practice.  I'm still pretty convinced my Italian is pitiful, though others often comment that after so little time it's actually quite good.  The "so little time" part is what gets me - I've lived here, in 3 days, officially for 2 years (ok, not quite officially, but more or less).  I think that in 2 years one should be able to learn a language reasonably fluently, but I guess Italian people know how darn complicated their language is, and are taking sympathy on me.
What I find interesting about Italian films, which I never realized until the other day, is that they are not subtitled in Italian, but done with voice overs.  And in these voice overs, the actors are usually all Italian.  Which explains why so many Italians don't pick up on the fact that certain actors and actresses are not, in fact, American.  Orlando Bloom is English?  Kiera Knightly?  My co-workers were floored the other day, and after watching some recent movies in Italian, you can see why.  An italian accent is an italian accent, and in a flim like Django, it can take you about 30 minutes to realize one of the actors is actually supposed to be german in the film.
Also interesting - the more famous actors, like Al Pacino grade actors, have the same voice over actor in every film, so their voice is standard.  Others will work as multiple actors.  I thought this was confusing, and also more evidence why we should watch American films at home in english then just put subtitles on.  There is no substitute in this world for the voice of Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Jeremy Irons, Christopher name a few.
I attribute this as the reason why anyone who speaks english as a mother language is referred to as "American", and anyone with a twinge of an accent is "Australian".  Poor New Zealand, South Africa, England, Ireland and so forth.  Imagine watching Crocodile Dundee and not knowing what an Australian accent sounds like?
The irony is that I've never been a movie buff.  I'm too restless.  I can sit through a TV show, but a movie usually loses my attention after about an hour.  Who knew it would take a rainy and cool spring in the Italian Riviera to get me to catch up on American cinema from the past 15 years?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Sunday

I love the iphone's panorama feature almost as I love this rock.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The infamous Colpo D'Aria

After coming home from work the other night, as soon as I got into bed I was struck by a weird headache in the left side of my head.  It lasted about 2 hours, and felt like someone punched me in the head with a hammer, which is needless to say, not a pleasant feeling.  I've never had a headache like this before, and the next day when I went to my therapy, I discussed it with my physical therapist.  He listened, nodding, and reasoned that it might very well be that I got a little colpo d'aria.  Manuel's mother, upon hearing the symptoms, confirmed the diagnosis.  I sighed, and laughed, and walked away as everyone started chiding me about proper clothing at night and leaving necks uncovered and other dangerous things in Italy, as they already know my feelings about the infamous Italian malady, the colpo d'aria, or "hit of air".

I first heard about this dangerous hit of air a few years ago, and laughed for a solid five minutes, chalking it up to another odd Italian health quirk, like not eating peppers for dinner or eating pasta with butter and cheese to clear up your skin.  Long in the habit of leaving my house with damp hair (curly hair does not work well completely blow dried, I'm sorry), I've been a target of older women and even some men, chiding me about making myself susceptible to illness, chills, pains, and other colpo d'aria symptoms.  

The common wisdom is that this mysterious hit of air, something akin to getting a chill on your neck, can cause any number of ailments and sicknesses.  Sweating during the summer then disrobing makes you especially prone to wind gusts "hitting" you.  A girl last summer in the Cantina ate dinner after splitting 3 bottles of wine with her 2 friends, then went outside to smoke and promptly got ill.  The cause?  Not the wine, no, or the cigarette - but that she went outside and got a colpo d'aria, and the sudden cold wind made her sick.  I've heard this mysterious Italian hit of wind blamed for everything from fever, to sore bones, to stomach problems, headaches, and, of course, general fatigue.  

My friend from Calabria asked me last year how you translate it in English.  I responded that it doesn't exist.  You can catch a "chill", I explained, but it's not enough to cause you digestive problems, a migraine, swollen wrists and heart palpitations all at once.  He refused to believe me, then asked me if it's because we have different air.  I tried to very politely explain that we don't have it because maybe for us it is something of an illness that isn't exactly, for lack of a better word, real.

He shook his head.  "Americans," he muttered, again annoyed and befuddled about our odd little ways of doing things, as I laughed for the exact same reason about Italy.

When you see the population of Monterosso in these early May days, when it gets chilly at night and as soon as the sun slides behind Punta Mesco, it's disturbingly easy to pinpoint locals and tourists.  Older women from the village are still wearing winter coats, scarves, jackets and layers.  I've long joked that part of the Italian woman uniform is a scarf, especially at night.  This is to ward off any sneaky little air gusts coming your way.  American girls studying abroad are ok in a bikini top and jean shorts.  As they walk by, eyes narrow.  I know those old women are internally thinking "colpo d'aria victim" as they saunter on by.

Another weird one is the mysterious pain of cervicale, which is a neck pain that can bring on anything from headaches to that old favorite, general sluggishness.  I tried to explain that I've never even heard of such a thing, though every single woman I know here suffers from it, and I was told that it's because we don't have the same sea air in America.  Hm.  My continued efforts to explain that these ailments simply do not exist in America are constantly responded by shocked, blank stares.  Here, when the air changes, people who suffer from cervicale are susceptible to it's pain, and though I'm not diminishing anyone's discomfort or doubting that people are not feeling well, it's just always interesting to see how different cultures reason through these symptoms.  

Since I am American, I have decided that I am officially immune to evil wind gusts and sea air neck pain, and have continued trying to leave the house with my 80% dry hair and little cardigan, though my efforts are sometimes thwarted.  Last week, the saleslady in the store next to the Cantina flipped out that I wasn't dressed appropriately enough for the cold air breeze that I didn't feel, and made me wear her sweater the rest of the day.  Sighing, I have no other option but to go along, and to avoid having to wear someone else's sweater, I have now started dressing myself in more layers then I need just to avoid the discussion.  

Much to my amusement, after googling the odd colpo d'aria, I discovered I'm not the only American/English/Australian ex-pat who giggles at this quirky piece of Italian health information.  The following articles elaborate more the health-folklore-wisdom that you run into every day here.  And by no means is it something I'm making fun of to be spiteful or to poke fun at Italians - I do not think people are making up pain and I'm sorry that people feel terrible- it's just a little cultural quirk I thought I'd share, lest anyone even think of stepping foot in this country without a scarf and cardigan.

Note: while writing this, Manuel wanted to remind me that it is ridiculous to even write about something like this.  It is totally logical, not interesting, and further added that colpo d'aria is something very serious.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Here I Am!

Empty beach - they don't know what they're missing!
What a month!
Water is freezing cold but crystal clear.  

I haven't written so much recently because between work and back rehab stuff and just general first month of opening kinks, I've been busy and super exhausted.  Plus, the weather has been downright crummy.  Rain, rain and more rain, and it's made for some sad villagers and tourists.

It seems like we've had a day of sun every three days, and sometimes it feels more like I live in Ireland then in the Italian Riviera.  Like most beach towns, bad weather means slow business.  Throw in an Italian economic crisis, sprinkle in a landslide, and then a smattering of misinformation about hiking trails, and now we have a recipe for a slow start to the season.  For a little village still coming off the financial after effects of rebuilding everything after being destroyed by a flood, this is enough to make people more then a little nervous.

Restaurant workers in Italy get paid a fixed stipend, which can sometimes explain why service in certain places may be a little lackluster for someone coming from a country that works on tips.  Workers here do not make more or less if there are more guests or less guests in the restaurant, or if the guests go away happy or upset.  Their salary is decided upon at the start of their work contract.  If no one comes in, and they just sit around all day, they make the same as they do if the restaurant has a 2 hour wait for a table.  This means that when you start hiring staff, a few slow weeks mean that you have too much staff just sitting around getting paid full salaries to just look at each other.  It's a tough balance, taking on too much staff, or taking the risk of being dramatically understaffed and providing poor service.  Without a crystal ball, you can't see how it's going to pan out.  And since I've already lamented about the inaccuracy of weather reports here, you literally are just guessing most of the time.  Except the past month, where guessing "rain" is usually pretty accurate.
chocolate chip cookies
Chocolate Stout cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

In spite of the past month's bad weather and slow business, the past week following the Italian "labor day" has been wonderful, and thankfully May brings a smile and some sun.  The Parco Nazionale (national park) has reopened the hiking trail from Monterosso to Vernazza, the weather has been more or less cooperating, and the village thankfully full but tranquil.  People don't seem to realize that even if the whole trail 2 is closed, there are so many other amazing and free hikes you can do in the Cinque Terre.  It's incredible how many people come to the Cantina, depressed that they can't hike, only to wind up shocked about how much they actually CAN hike.  There are tons of trails here!   It's nice seeing the relief on some faces when they realize their vacation isn't totally ruined.

May is still kind of a shoulder season, which means lots of my favorite guests from Norway and Sweden, Australia, America and lots of chances to practice my elementary French (another benefit of breaking your back-  J'essaie d'apprendere le francais!)

Also, with all this rainy downtime, I've been baking up a storm.  Chocolate chip cookies, Chocolate Stout cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, and so forth.  We've also built our beer list in the Cantina up to 45 artigianale Italian craft beers, which makes us the only bar in this part of Italy with that many craft beers.

And further more, I am back brace free!  Rain, again, not helping the pain situation, which I hear is quite normal after a fracture when the humidity and weather changes, but I'm doing really great.  My doctor and therapist are both really happy with how I healed, and aside from lifting anything heavy, or twisting my torso in any way, I'm more or less back to normal.  Thanks to my awesome ex-yoga teacher in New York (Strala Yoga is amazing) I've been doing some hip stuff for a few weeks in bed, but I got the green light to go ahead and start working on back lengthening and so forth.  By June, the fractures should be 100% healed.

Once the water warms up, swimming is my therapy, so I'm pretty happy about that too.  I finally just jumped in the other day, just to get the first swim of the season out of the way and mentally kick off summer, but it took me a good 5 tries to get the fortitude to dunk my head under the icy water.  My doctor, who is a specialist in Milan, asked if there was a swimming pool near by that I could work out in.  I smiled.  I have the most amazing swimming pool right in front of me.

Now, if the weather would cooperate for more then a few days, I can get out of the kitchen and into the sea!

new beers and new organic "bio" sodas