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Letter to the owner of the Italian Trash Company

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Italian trash on the streets

Italian trash on the streets

When I landed in Rome, finally home after five months, there were three things I noticed on the way back from the airport:

  1. A beautiful sunset, the kind you only see in Italy;
  2. I had no mobile phone signal most of the way;
  3. Trash piled up everywhere next to the waste bins.

Sunsets, we always cover extensively here on The Road. The paleolithic Italian mobile phone coverage, is a subject I will bitch about later. But the garbage problem, I have to revisit now. After all, it was the UN World Environment Day yesterday.

First, let me get this clear: I love living in Italy. But I never got my head around the fact why garbage is such a problem here. I mean, I don’t live in a slum area, but in a village close to the capital, known as a weekend resort for the rich and famous – how much I fall out of that category. Still, trash piles up as if we lived in a slum…

And it is not as if people don’t mind: People stopped I was walking around to take pictures of the three trash bins around my house. They looked at me, and at the rubble, only to sigh “A disgrace, isn’t it?”. One elder woman says: “Yes, young man, take pictures, document it, and do something about this scandal!”.
So I will.

Problem is, where to start? Luckily, one of the trash skips had a man’s picture on it:

Italian trash

With my limited Italian, I understand this Mister Armeni must be the proud owner of the trash company called “Forza Italia”.

I guess the mother company is called “Il Popolo della Liberta – Berlusconi”. Probably “Berlusconi” must be the overall umbrella of all Italian trash companies, then. At least that was the old lady’s claim: “Berlusconi: Rifiuti! Rigiuti!”

As this Mister Armeni kindly displayed his picture on his company’s trash cans, I gather he was asking for feedback. So I wrote him a letter:

To: Mister Armeni
Owner Regional Trash company
“Forze Ragione Regione”
Member of National Trash company “Forza Italia”

Dear Mister Armeni,

Thank you for soliciting feedback on the services of your trash company. I would like to tell you how much I appreciate you must be owning a lot of wastage, and as part of the national trash conglomerate “Forza Italia”, I am sure it must be a real challenge to daily hide garbage from the public eye.

Still, I would like to tell you that despite your best efforts, garbage seems to pile up more and more since you took over the company. I hope you will soon deal with the situation, or speed up selling out your company to the well-known South Italian alliance specializing in the disposal of (radio active) trash (in the Mediterranean). I heard that company is already part of the National Trash company “Forza Italia” anyways…

Looking forward to see progress in your national programme “Trash Italy Fast”!


Written by Peter

June 8th, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Posted in Funny,Ranting,Soapbox

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Living in Italy – Part 15: What makes food in Italy taste so good?

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fruits and vegetablesIn principle, this could be the shortest blogpost I ever wrote:

Question: “What makes food in Italy taste so good?”
Answer: “The ingredients”

Here is the longer version:

In a world where as a consumer, we want to have any type of vegetable or fruit in the shop, at any time during the year, we gradually slide into the habit of eating “plastic”. There is no other word for a fruit or vegetable which was picked while unripe, only growing to its mature size (and of course its perfect look) while transported in an under-cooled container.

I remember the perfect December strawberries at breakfast in New York: shiny bright red on the outside, and white on the inside. Nothing but water. No taste whatsoever.
Same – or even more so – in Dubai, where fresh vegetables were almost non-existent. As local living habits were on the route to become North American, so were the eating habits. In the supermarkets, it all looked perfect: apples, asparagus, berries, oranges. Big sizes too. But taste like water.

And on top of that, upon popular demand by the consumer, fruits and veggies can not go off fast. We should be able to keep them in the fridge for three weeks at least… Plastic goes for ever, no? God knows what they treat veggies with to keep “fresh” for a month.

Not so in Italy. In general, you can only buy fruits and vegetables which are in season. The taste is like I have never experienced before. But you have to use it within the next days, as they go off in no time.

Look at this freshly picked Tuscan tomato a friend brought from her garden. See its colour, its firmness?

Tuscan Tomatoe
Freshly picked, it made a lovely meal by itself. But, amongst the two dozen tomatoes, there was one unripe tomato. Still firm green. Just for the curiosity, I left it on the cupboard for four weeks. When eventually it was ripe, it looked perfect, just like the others, but tasted like nothing. Why? It did not ripen in the sun, on its vine as the other tomatoes did. It grew to maturity on my cupboard.

Look at this salsa I made: the only ingredient were freshly picked Tuscan tomatoes. I added some herbs and let it all broil for two hours. Look at the intensity of the colour, look how firm it is. If I’d do this with Belgian tomatoes, it would be all watery with only a hint of red.

And that is one of the reason I love to live in Italy.

More about Living in Italy on The Road

Top picture courtesy Nanaimo Info Blog

Written by Peter

October 10th, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Posted in Stories

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Living in Italy: More on Italian appointments

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Italian hairdresser

As I came back from my failed “appuntamento” (appointment) with the garage, I headed for the centre of Rome. We were early July, schools were already in their summer break, so traffic was a breeze. I arrived almost an hour early for my appointment with the physio-therapist. I wanted him to straighten out my back before the start of the holidays…

I walked a couple of blocks and found a bar. Don’t get me wrong, yes- it was early in the morning, about 9:30 AM, but a “bar” in Italy is more a coffee shop than a place where you buy alcohol…

As I was sipping my café, I noticed a “parrucchiere”, a hair dresser, next door. The lady was standing outside, smoking a cigarette, so they could not have been very busy. I needed a hair cut badly.. I asked her if she had time, did not need much of a designer cut, so fifteen minutes would do it.. She looked at me, and said she did not have time now, but I could make an appuntamento for 11:15. That synchronized nicely with my appointment with the physio session, so I agreed eagerly.

After my vertebrae and joints were all cracked back in place, I went back to the hair dresser. I was fifteen minutes early, so she asked me to wait for a bit. I took out my laptop and started working outside, on a bench right in front the shop. “I will call you when I am ready”, the hair dresser nodded..

The next time I looked at my watch, it was 1:15 PM… I had been sitting there for two and a half hours and forgot all about time. Laptop in hand, I stormed back into the shop, to find it filled to the brim with ladies. And two sweating hair dressers… One of them looked at me and shook his head.
– “No time today!”
– “But I have an appuntamento for 11:15”
– [nod] “No time today!”
– “But I came here at 9:30 and we made an appuntamento for 11:15. I have now been waiting here for two and a half hours.”
– “What can I say? No time today!”.
– “But could you not have told me earlier?”
– “What difference would it make? I told you, I have no time today. What more do you want me to say? I – have – no – time – today…”
– “I – say – bollocks – bollocks – bollocks -…”

I gesticulated wildly, raised my voice, and then retreated in apathy, to the great amusement of the dozen later-aged ladies. Who all confirmed what the parrucchiere said: “He has no time today”…

That day, I had three appuntamente. One with the garage, one with a hair dresser and one with the physio-therapist. Only the latter worked out. And he is Belgian.

More about Living in Italy on The Road

Picture courtesy J.Cangiano

Written by Peter

July 10th, 2009 at 8:13 am

Posted in Stories

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Living in Italy: The concept of appointments

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my Smart garage in Rome

I drive a Smart in Italy. This small two-seater is made by Mercedes, so you think of German Grundlichkeit – thoroughness and professionalism – when you would deal with a Mercedes garage. In Italy, think again…

My Smart’s air-conditioning broke down, waaayy back. With the temperature climbing to 30 dgrs C, it got a bit too hot.
So, I drove to the Mercedes garage and asked to book a repair. The Mercedes garage looks like the entry of a luxury bank or furniture store. Classy people in uniform, design sofas, people at individual desks talking with customers..

Only… I could not book a repair, as I needed to make an ‘appuntamento’ with a ‘consulente’ first. Only THEN I could book for a repair.

I was not going to brushed off like that. I made clear my car was hot, and I needed it repaired. Even more so, I wanted to drop the car early in the morning, and pick it up in the evening otherwise I’d have to hire a car to drive home. Taxis don’t want to go where I live. Too much out of their way..

Escalating my request and raising the tone of my voice, I got promoted from the girl at the reception, to a junior consulente, to the senior consultant, and ended up with the boss of the designer garage joint.

He agreed with me, but I had to make an “appuntamento” with a “consulente” weeks in advance, to make sure they could reserve a mechanic for a day. And I had to book an appointment via their toll-free number. A bit of an adventure, as nobody spoke English on the other end of the line. After 30 minutes of discussions, we had a deal.

Weeks later comes G-Day, “Garage”-day. The day whose evening would be blessed with me, stepping out of the car looking like a cool dude, without a shirt dripping with sweat. “Cool” would be a keyword from then on. And even better: “G-Day” was a “Fri-day”, so I would have a cool car for the whole cool weekend!

my Smart garage in Rome

Early morning of G-day, I drove to the garage. Waited for the consulente while seated in the designer sofa. As if I’d be checking in my car in a luxury clinic. The appointment with my consulente was at 9:15 apparently. I was 45 minutes early.

Felt like going to a dentist, so I got steaming a bit, as the only thing I wanted, was to drop off the keys: I had already explained everything to the boss, and to the lady at the toll free number. So why would I need to queue up with a ‘consultente’. On top of that, I had my friend “E” waiting to give me a lift back to work.

Anyways, forty minutes later, the consulente decided it was my turn. We filled in heaps of paperwork, went over to look at the car, noted every dent and scratch. Checked the car’s chassis number and registration papers. I explained in my best Italian “what is the matter”, and he confirmed everything in his best English. Luckily “air-conditioning” in English is “air-conditioning” in Italian.. More papers to sign. Something with a privacy act. Then he types everything into his computer, and smiles at me while saying:
- Okay, done. Please give us a call somewhere next week to check if the car is ready…
- Next week?!! You guys said it would be fixed in a day ?!
- ???? Noooo.. (He laughs like this was the joke of the week).. We have no time today. Anyway, this can not be fixed in a day.
- Why not? I talked to the boss, he said it was fine. I waited for weeks so it could be done in a day?
- Which boss?
- There the one in that office… (And I point to the office which has a big sign “Manager”)
- Well you will have to wait until he arrives then. Discuss it with him, because I can not help you…
- When does he come in?
- Ooogh, around 11 probably.
- But it is 9 now.. I need to go to work.
- I am sorry, but there is no way I can help you. We don’t have time to finish this work today. And we will have to order spare parts… Which will take days to get here. (I remembered my friend E’s Smart which indeed was immobilized for five days for a spare part to come from Milano to Rome. Probably someone walked it over..)
- How about you guys take today to check what is wrong. I pick up the car in the evening. You order the spare parts and I drop off the car for a one day repair again next week? (Try to say that in Italian, hey? Amazing what I can do when I am annoyed)
- Oh, sir, but we don’t have time to even LOOK at the car today…
- …
- …
- … Let me get this right. I had to wait for weeks to make an appointment to get the car repaired within a day. You let me come on a Friday, and now you tell me you won’t even look at it until Monday morning?
- …
- So why do you let me come on a Friday, then? Why would I keep it here over the weekend, knowing you guys would not work on it?

He looks at me with pain in his eyes and a sad smile on his lips. He whispers “It is worse than Africa is it not?”.

In the end, I agreed I would drop the car off the week after. I’d be on holiday for one month. He thought there’d be a reasonable chance to repair the A/C within a month.

More about Living in Italy on The Road

Written by Peter

July 9th, 2009 at 9:49 am

Posted in Stories

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Living in Italy: Pay at the cashier first!

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Italy: pay at the cashier first

I love Italy, but there are things I, as a foreigner, fail to understand. The system “Pagare prima alla cassa” – “Pay first at the cashier” is one of them.

It is common when taking gas, you first have to go to the cashier and “deposit” money before allowing to fill your tank. Like I would know exactly how much I need to fill up?!
So I park the car next to the pump, lock the car, walk over to the cashier, queue up, deposit 50 Euro, walk back to the car, put in as much as I can, walk back to the cashier, and claim the difference. And when I find out I deposited too little to fill the tank, I leave the gas station unfulfilled. As if I, and not my tank, were half empty.
I will spare you the description how it works if you pay with credit card. And how you can claim the difference back.

Nowhere else in Europe I encountered this system.

But it is not only at gas stations you pay first. When going to a coffee bar, for my morning shot, I have to queue up at the cashier first, order what I want, pay and I get a ticket. Then I queue up at the bar, with my ticket in my hand – which I figured out to be the standard sign meaning “I am waiting to be served”. When it is my turn, I put the ticket on the counter, the barman tears it half way and puts it back on the counter. When the coffee is served, only then the ticket is taken away.

I understand the rationale but can not understand the logic as more often than not, they forget to ask for the ticket. Or don’t tear up the ticket. So I wonder how effective the system really is.

And obviously, I confuse the hell out of them, as my regular shot is a ‘Doppio Latte’, a “double Latte”, which most cashiers register on the ticket as two Latte’s, which the barman translates into.. two Latte’s. So I have to make sure I snatch the barman’s attention during the two seconds he grabs my ticket, deciphers the order, tears it up and turns around to prepare the coffee, to make sure he heard my “Doppio Latte, per favore”…

There are many things I don’t understand about Italy. Probably that is why I love it here…

More on The Road about Living in Italy

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Written by Peter

April 28th, 2009 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Stories

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