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American Bubble

29 Jun
Typical Roman clothier - very small store. This is the entire store, not a section. Well organized, beautifully displayed merchandise. But you have to visit a dozen stores to see a broad selection. Success is happenstance.
Typical Roman clothier – very small store. This is the entire store, not a section. Well organized, beautifully displayed merchandise. But you have to visit a dozen stores to see a broad selection. Success is happenstance.

We live in an American Bubble. Yes, it’s a lovely bubble, totally surrounded by this great Italian city, but we do not live completely on the Italian economy. We can buy peanut butter (Skippy or JIF) for a reasonable price at the Naval Exchange commissary at the embassy. In fact, we can buy many many products commonly found in the U.S. at the commissary: smoked bacon, American cheese, cleaning products, Advil, frozen dinners (yuck!), squishy white bread (double-yuck), canned baked beans, taco shells. We only buy the peanut butter, BTW. We do not buy any of the other crap items America exports and calls food. 

We can order almost anything we want from the U.S. Thanks to the wonderful U.S. Postal Service Diplomatic Post Office, customs isn’t really a problem and everything we order online is shipped to New York for forwarding. (We cannot order nail polish, perfume, or certain other combustibles.)  If we have trouble finding the right cat treats for our 17-year-old cat Janie  — and we have been unable to find “her brand” in Rome — I can order them online. Need a new dress for the Marine Corps Ball? Nordstrom is a click away. 

On June 1, Ric and I decided to embark on what we now call The Great Experiment. We are not buying anything from the U.S. for two months, June and July. No more Zappos (sniff!), Nordstrom, Talbot’s, Lands’ End, Drugstore.com. No more online shopping to speak of. Back to shopping the old-fashioned way: we hit the streets. 

We are four weeks into The Great Experiment. What’s happened so far? The constant stream of packages delivered to the DPO has stopped. It was a rare week we didn’t receive a shipment…or two…or three.  We are seldom seen in the embassy commissary anymore and I walk home “lighter” because I am no longer serving as a pack animal, ferrying stuff we ordered online. (All of our mail comes to the DPO.) On Gmail, my deleted folder is full of unopened promotional email from American clothiers. 

What we are doing is increasing our shopping time in the streets of Rome. This is time-consuming. I need some summer clothes and a new pair of hiking boots for an upcoming hiking trip. Rome is a boutique-shopping kind of city: the largest department store is not of the size seen in an American city of >3 million people. So one wanders a neighborhood, and explores new neighborhoods, checking out stores, hoping to find a place or two that can become “your” clothier. (Ric has three clothiers now; he started early in adopting Italian fashion.) But you have to look at a lot of places – a lot of very small stores. You would not believe the number of shoe stores in Rome! There are more shoe stores in Rome than Starbucks in Seattle.

The upside is that this approach to shopping makes us slow down. We may go out on a shopping mission (Laurel needs a black dress!) or we may walk to the museum a little slower, noticing what is in the windows we pass and stopping in when we see something of interest. Shopping is work — and exercise — when you don’t have a car. It is also good together-time, wandering hand-in-hand, helping each other with fashion decisions, which is very important because the culture is not one where buyer’s remorse is honored with an easy refund the next day. 

There are malls, but they are the suburban soul-less wonders one finds in the U.S., and an hour each way by bus. We’d prefer to spend that time on foot, exploring.

We have allowed ourselves a couple of exceptions. Peanut butter from the commissary is one, because although it is available in some Italian stores, it is crazily expensive. If Janie runs out of “her” cat treats we will order them online. At 17 she deserves to eat her preferred brand. Ironically, our Italian housekeeper has specifically requested some cleaning products from the store at the embassy: She loves Easy-Off oven cleaner, and she also favors a floor product from there. So we will indulge her. We still buy Kindle books from Amazon. We don’t really consider that cheating since no package hits the DPO. We still receive Netflix (can’t stop a subscription we’ve had for 15 years). But that’s about it. 

Today I finally found “the” little black dress at the store pictured above. I have to continue the search. I saldi (the sales) start in Rome on July 5, so maybe there will be some bargains to be had. If I can stand trying on clothes in 95 degree heat!

High maintenance

24 Feb
I’ve been meaning to write about the odd assortment of pedicures I have had in Italy. It took me a few appointments to finally settle into a salon and services that I could enjoy and where the results are good, but the journey has been interesting….
Nail salons are important here. In fact, every type of personal appearance maintenance is very important: nails, hair, massage, waxing — esthetics of every kind. Many women have their nails done, both hands and feet, on a regular basis. After all, one must maintain la bella figura. One of my favorite bloggers, Mozzarella Mamma, did a wonderful post on the female beauty scene  http://www.mozzarellamamma.com/2011/linguini-and-luscious-legs/ . Go ahead, read it, laugh out loud, then come back to finish reading this post. I’ll wait.
Welcome back; now on to my own experiences.  I am addicted to pedicures-as-therapy and have been for years. Ric will tell you that my personal maintenance is a line-item in the household budget. It’s certainly cheaper than psychotherapy.
My Italian salon adventures started in Sorrento when we were on vacation over a year ago. Mid-vacation I wanted a pedicure. We were tromping about Italy to the tune of 6-10 miles a day. My toes needed a little pampering and I was looking forward to a strong leg massage.  Ric was looking forward to two hours of my absence so he could take a nap. I asked the concierge at our hotel to recommend a place, and he pointed me to a nearby salon: “It’s where the general manager’s wife goes.” Good enough for me.  Ha!
Arriving at the salon, I was led down a narrow, steep stairway to a dim cubicle in the basement. I was seated in a straight-backed chair on a platform and the nail tech had me place my tootsies in a plastic basin of tepid water.  No comfy vibrating chair, no swirling whirlpool of warm, scented bubbles to sooth my tired feet: just tepid water. In December. From there the treatment proceeded on course with what one might expect until we got to the “massage:” a half-hearted application of lotion. Ric does a better foot massage for me when he’s half asleep. Then it took a turn for the worse:  No lovely, shiny, top coat seal-of-protection for my newly painted digits. When asked, the nail tech had no idea what I was talking about. By the time I returned to the hotel, my polish was already scuffed.  €30.00 flushed, and not exactly una bella figura.
Arriving in Rome last May, I sought out a recommended salon near the Embassy. Based on Mozzarella Mamma’s post, I figured Roman salons would meet my expectations. This one did a good job including a whirlpool footbath, comfy chair, decent massage, used some of the best polishes made, perfect top coat; but very expensive.  I’d need to shop around. 
A few weeks later, I moved on to Salon #2, conveniently located on my commute home.  Again with the tepid basin of water. This nail tech explained that warm water was bad for my feet. Huh. Following the no-massage massage there was NO TOP COAT. “Signora, if I put on more polish they will never dry.” Listen? Do you hear the sound of €35 being flushed? The polish dried, but again it scuffed on the way home. 
Returning to the high-end salon, I was assigned the resident Amazon, a muscular lass of about 6’2” (remember the man-hands episode on “Seinfeld?”) who proceeded to cut my cuticle so deep I bled into the swirling whirlpool foot bath and styptic powder was required. (Her strong hands gave a heck of a massage, though.)  Nice nails, but a nasty cut. So maybe a high-end hotel would do the trick. I hit Salon #3 on Via Veneto. 
Escorted to a quiet and luxurious treatment room, I was instructed to lie on a massage table and make myself comfortable. “We’re doing a pedicure?” (I asked just to make sure I wasn’t supposed to be naked at this point. In Italy one never knows.)  “Si, signora, just relax.” The tech brought, guess what? A bowl of tepid water to the table, bent my legs and situated my feet in said plastic basin of tepidness. Yup, I’m really relaxed now, with my knees in the air and my feet in tepid water.  Really happy I wore a skirt so I could maximize my exposure. At least they used a top coat so the polish lasted.  
So I have returned to the high-end place by the Embassy, where I have settled into a routine of dependable service, nice people, un caffè while I soak, and no more injuries to date. Sometimes there’s even a little dog in the lap of the woman seated next to me. I like that. The price of pampering can be high, as is the price of maintaining one’s bella figura.
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