Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Open Mic Night

I never went to an open-mic while living in California.  While there was a regular one down the street, it seemed too kitchy to show up with a ukulele and assortment of novelty songs.  But having received an invitation, and as I've been looking for fun, purpose, and friends in Italy -- I decided to go!

Part I:  Others
I greeted my friend on the street and met some people:
     "I just got a ukulele too!"
     "I play guitar, is that similar?"
     "I don't really play, but your ukulele looks cool!"
     "Is that the same as a mandolin?"
     "Here's my business card.  I hate boring classical and folk music, but sing my own rock songs with my guitarlele*!"
*The Yamaha guitarlele is a well-intentioned, whimsical cross between a ukulele and a guitar.  While fun to noodle on, they typically lack both the bass of a good guitar and the treble clarity of a good ukulele.  Fortunately most are lacking amplification, so players can usually just annoy others in the same immediate area.

Entering the bar, I bought a beer and settled in to be supportive.  Some of the folks were pretty decent.  I sipped some beer and enjoyed some Portuguese songs crooned by an older Italian gentleman as he strummed an inaudible guitar, accompanied indifferently by a too-loud electric bass and a cajon*.
*a box that one sits on and beats with hands and feet.

I imbibed more beer and endured a balding, rotund intellectual whisper his Italian poetry somewhere near a microphone, accompanied by the booming electric bass and excited cajon.

I guzzled more beer and listened to a very pretty Brazilian girl screech and teach herself to play guitar, all at once, all while being drowned out by the off-key electric bass and frenetic cajon.

As the guitarlele rocker commenced her lengthy set-up process, the bassist and drummer decided to take a well-earned smoke break.  And during her second, um, song...as I noticed that the rest of the patrons had also left for a smoke, I ran out of beer.

I thought to myself -- it's 11:30, I could probably drink another before biking home.  But as she continued into her third song, I realized that beer alone couldn't keep a supportive smile on my face.  I stepped out also.  My friend congratulated me on my endurance.

     "Usually I stay for one of her songs.  If she sings two, I go for a cigarette.  If she sings three, I switch to cannabis!"

Seriously -- playing an instrument that society devalues does not entitle you to not practice, not listen to yourself, or not to take a hint.  I'm sure that this applies to me as well, but...oh my lord...

Part II:  Me?
There was no formal host, sign-up sheet, or list of guidelines, but I'd let it be known that I wanted to play.  I figured that surviving the bass-less cacophony qualified me for sainthood, or at least a spot in line.  My dream came true around midnight.

As the bar keep kicked us "musicians" downstairs to the basement, I got asked to play!

You know how in some meetings, the organizer will say, "No laptops or cell phones, please!"  I wish I'd done the same:
     "Let me just do one by myself..."

But I didn't want to offend, and probably couldn't say it right in Italian anyhow, so I let it go.  This wa not smart.  As I began my first song, I had a terrible feeling that my playing was totally off.  All I could hear were wrong notes.  As this isn't surprising with ukulele players in general or me in particular, I was mortified, but I sort of expected it...  Here I was, in the room full of my future musician best-friends, and I was terrible!

I think I realized towards the end of my song that the notes I played had nothing to do with the notes that came out of the amp.  As I prepared a second song, I quizzically looked around the room and spotted a creative guy who'd plugged in what looked like a homemade, fretless, cigar-box, 3-string dulcimer.

     "What is that?" I asked, hoping he'd get the hint and stop.  I didn't even ask it as "What IS that!?"
     "I don't know, somebody handed it to me!"

I think he got the message, as my second song was only additionally butchered by bass and cajon!

I stayed for a bit after I finished, but as I received a goodnight text from my fiancée, I decided to call it a night.

WTF, open-mic night!

Friday, March 4, 2016

WTF, America!?

Some things we ought to have (or have as accessible) in America, but don't.  WTF, America!?  I know that life is frequently a trade-off.  Sometimes your packages arrive, and sometimes not-so-much... (to be addressed in a later post, it's just too soon).  Sometimes you find an artisanal gelato place; sometimes you just step in dog shit!  

Today I got lucky!  
me holding banana and strawberry gelato outside Pianeta Gelato in Torino, Italy
After a scrumptious lunch of mackerel, artichokes and potatoes with some good friends (grazie, Mauro e Stefano!) I stumbled upon a wonderful gelateria, or ice cream shop.  As is common in Italy, they make their own gelato from scratch daily.   Today, their flavors included fresh banana and strawberry!  As I only go for the non-dairy, this hit the spot.  Absolutely wonderful!
Here's their counter:  I can't wait to go back during the summertime!

As I haven't joined a gym yet, this place is fortuitously closer to my fiancee's work than to our house!

Here's another great idea:

Who'd have thought of a condom vending machine!??  Even if the pharmacy is closed, this is available to prevent unwanted children!  I didn't check for size XXL, though...  I brought a stash from the US.  Don't worry, only my brothers are having kids so far!

I mentioned Roberto, my vegetable vendor, in my first post -- but he makes a return today!  I stopped by his stand today on my way home.  I'd picked up a few things at Eataly, but wanted to get some fresh produce for the weekend.  I left burdened with too much -- all for about $10!  Eggplants; little tomatoes grown with salt water (so the flavor is super-intense); a few varieties of radicchio; tender, young fava beans; Italy's best strawberries; gifts of parsley and oranges; and a weird, new vegetable called agretti, or friar's beard (Fra barba)

I tried Roberto's suggestion of sautéing it in butter/olive oil with smashed garlic, maybe with a little lemon juice or parmeggiano on top.  Well, I forgot the garlic.  But it tasted amazing!

As a side note, Marco, Roberto's son, says that "Che barba!" means something is annoying...  You have to sweep up tonight instead of going out?  "Che barba"!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I got a package!!!

I actually received my coffee maker!!!!  The AeroPress is AMAZING!  Seriously, I know that not everybody typically weighs their coffee and hot water; nor measures temperatures; pre-soaks the paper filter; times the bloom time and infusion time; and definitely remembers to stir the grounds and water mixture as it's draining through the filter...  But this is so easy and so good!!

Step 1:  Grind 100% arabica coffee with this Hario grinder (Thanks, Tabish!!).  I don't have my scale yet (Poste Italia...), so I use the 1-cup measure that's helpfully inscribed on the grinder.

Step 2: Put water and ground coffee in the bottom of the plunger.  Wait a couple seconds, and then use your hairy arms and slowly press the plunger down, producing an EXCELLENT cup of coffee!  Not bitter, not acidic, actually fruity and delicious!

Step 3:  Clean up by pushing out the "puck" of coffee directly into the trash.  Rinse everything under the sink.  Done!

Backstory -- the delivery:
So, when the delivery guy finally came yesterday (after I waited all day at home on Thursday, Friday, Monday, and then Tuesday...) he was insanely nice.  Smiling, laughing, talking to me at length.  And then he finished the delivery with "Hai patienza!"  (Have patience!)  

It's a good thing that he was so wonderful, or I would've been tempted to punch him.  WTF, ITALY?

Old Wild West Restaurant and Saloon

Because every Italian train station needs some hilarious cultural appropriation!    

Here we have a teepee, totem poles, cacti (I think that totem poles were from northern tribes, while cacti were much harder to carve...  

Monday, February 22, 2016

In Italia le cose più simplici diventano sempre difficili

This evening I took a photo of the post office close to our apartment:

Isn't it lovely with the yellow lights shining, people of all ages standing together? All different models of cars were double-parked all up-and-down the street with people spilling out, going to the post office together!  Inside, one window is for mail and packages, all the others are for various forms of payment that must be done at the post office, like your garbage bill.  There is no order, but an unlabeled digital sign at the far-right reads:

4 E45
1 P20
2 D18
3 E39

As my friend Patrizia says, "In Italia le cose più simplici diventano sempre difficili"  (In Italy the most simple things always become difficult.)  You enter the post office, find the ticket machine, get a ticket corresponding to the type of business you wish to conduct, and...wait for your number to appear at the correct window!  This is not an indictment of public workers in Turin, but at any time, the folks "working" on the inside are talking, checking their cell phones, and avoiding the folks waiting in line.  They appear to have taken the all the lessons learned from the California DMV, the TSA, Customs, and every bank with tellers in the world -- and forgotten them.  

As a follow-up to earlier today:  no package delivery.  WTF, Italy!?

First Post -- Waiting For My Coffee Maker!

Italy is a charming country, filled with the nicest, warmest people.  The fruits and vegetables are uncommonly delicious. Roberto and his wife Lucia, my vegetable vendors in Turin’s Spezia open-air farmers market, are uncommonly warm and kind.  I almost don’t want to buy potatoes if his hands haven’t selected them for me.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but try, then judge.  Same with artichokes, green beans, eggplant, tomatoes, parsley, catalonia (an alien-looking salad green).  My butcher, Nicola, is similarly fantastic.  Despite his anti-immigrant stance (who’s he talking to?  I wasn’t born here), his little packs of 6 eggs for 1€ are fresh, his pork is freshly-sliced and tender.

Unfortunately, I will be seeing none of these people today, Monday.  I’m waiting for a package to maybe show up.  Same as Friday.  Same as Thursday.  Surprisingly, same as much of last week!  If you are not home when you ring your doorbell, the package goes either to package-purgatorio, an SDA (delivery) warehouse in Settesimo Torinese, a nearby town; perhaps to some older Italian gentlemen wearing blue suits, fedoras, and carrying violin cases; or maybe you get lucky and it goes back to the original shipper again.  If you’re my dad and shipped me 3 boxes of my kitchen supplies, say goodbye to several hundred dollars. Thanks, Dad!

You may think that a phone call to the shipping company might help.  Hahahahaha!  First, be sure to add money to your cell phone, because calls to customer support cost money.  They’re like 1-900 calls in Italy, except you don’t get a happy ending.  Take today’s call(s) to GLS, the shipping company currently delivering my coffee maker, which I forever regret ordering because of this shipping thing.

Ring, Ring:

OK, having been to their non-functional website, I press 1.

Per servizio in italiano, 1. For service in English 2

Woo-hoo!   I get service in English!

Operatorio numero Uno-Tre-Cinque-Sette-Due (1, 3-5, 7, 2)”, a pause, *click*

I’m disconnected.

A message pops up on my cell phone saying that the call has cost 1.36€.  

I try this repeatedly until I get a person to answer.  She only speaks Italian, so I struggle through in my 1st year Italian.  “I have package.  I home.  Where package?”  She quickly reassures me that despite what the website says (I express surprise that the website works for her), my package is sent out for delivery today.  By quickly, I mean, she speaks like she just contracted diarrhea and needs to finish the call before she can sprint to the bathroom.

It turns out that SPEAKING  LOUDLY  AND  SLOWLY is not terrible guidance for speaking to foreigners.  Try it if you find a non-native English speaker.  Maybe they won’t reply with “Yes!” the way that I seem to with this lady.  I let her know that I’d like some sort of delivery window so I can see Roberto and Lucia, maybe even have lunch with friends.

“Ha patienza.  L’autista arriverá oggi.”

Have patience, the driver will arrive today.  WTF, Italy!?