Tag Archives: USA

Missing the U.S.A.

19 Jun
19 June 2016. There must be something in the air causing ex-pat Americans in Italy to miss America.  I am pretty certain it isn’t Trump, Clinton or Sanders conjuring up the emotional response to missing the homeland, but a rash of articles, blogs, and posts to Facebook broke out in the past couple of weeks.
We’ve now been in Rome four years (as of May 18, 2016) and retired for one (as of May 19). We have found the experience as true ex-pats, outside the protective bubble of the embassy, to put us more in touch with what it is really like to live here. And yet we do not have to face many of the challenges working Italians that are raising families face. We have no pesky jobs.
Still, I have to say from time-to-time I get a little maudlin about not being in the United States. Rome is so beautiful and a delight to walk through when people aren’t knocking you off the sidewalk, but there are a few things from the U.S. that I miss so very much.
Clothes dryers
Drying rack on our terrace. It faces south, so when the weather is good the drying is fast. That's Libby in the foreground.

Drying rack on our terrace. It faces south, so when the weather is good the drying is fast. That’s Libby in the foreground.

You can try to romanticize the fresh-air drying, clothes warmed by the sun, blah, blah, blah. The truth is, all we have is a terrace with a rack from IKEA. The clothes come out stiff. I have never ironed so much in my life. There is nothing fresh about the motorino-scented air of Roma and if I leave them out too long, they gather pollen and dust. 
In winter, we have to hang clothes on a smaller rack in our second bedroom because they won’t dry in the cold and not enough sun hits the terrace. Drying bed sheets can take 24 hours. Give me a good old tumble dryer! We had one in our embassy apartment but running one is cost-prohibitive for the average person. Plus, there’s not room for one in our apartment.  
Ethnic food
Yes, we love Italian food. We can (and do) eat it day and night, but we miss the diversity of Peruvian, Mexican, Lebanese, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indian available in most great cities. Certainly some are available in Roma. We’ve tried Thai in Roma and just was not comparable to anything we get in the U.S., although there is an excellent Lebanese place. On our recent trip through Switzerland, we managed to find excellent Mexican, Vietnamese, and Indian food. Oh, yeah, we had Italian, too. 
It is also challenging to find certain ingredients. I have been seeking fresh cilantro for 4 years. No dice. 
Understanding what is going on around me most of the time
How wondrous it would be to not only understand the words but also most of the pop culture references. Italian journalistic style takes some getting used to. Reading the paper is a chore for me, and I can understand the TV news only if I sit and watch it, completely focused, so I don’t. 
Family and friends and easy visits
Seeing family means an awfully big trip for one of us. We have American friends in Roma, but it is a transient community. In fact, our closest friends of the last two years are leaving this summer. 
Pedestrian-friendly sidewalks
Walking down the sidewalk is a full-body-contact sport in Roma. In the U.S. sidewalks are wide and level.  In the U.S. foot traffic moves more smoothly because there are norms. People in most cities, whether Paris or Portland, stay right or move over well in advance of any possible impact. In Roma, five people walking together expect to walk abreast of one another regardless of oncoming traffic. They gather in large groups in the middle of the sidewalk blocking passage while carrying on a conversation. People barge out of shop doors without glancing left or right. Add the bancarelli (sidewalk vendors) and cars parked on the sidewalks, and you get the picture: There’s little space left for pedestrians. 

 

A classic example of Roman parking: across the sidewalk, on a pedestrian crossing, in a school zone. I'm sure s/he was only going to be a couple of minutes...

A classic example of Roman parking: across the sidewalk, on a pedestrian crossing, in a school zone. I’m sure s/he was only going to be a couple of minutes…

This is our street. We live in the orangey-pink building on the left. Note the tow-away zone yet cars parked half-on-half-off the sidewalk. There is a sticker on the sign right below the arrow that says "Capito?" Ha! Never, ever do they enforce the parking law here.

This is our street. We live in the orangey-pink building on the left. Note the tow-away zone yet cars parked half-on-half-off the sidewalk. There is a sticker on the sign right below the arrow that says “Capito?” Ha! Never, ever do they enforce the parking law here.

 

Things working and making sense
  • Buses have no schedule because the traffic is heavy and double-parking is so rampant that the bus cannot keep to a schedule. AND the bus drivers are willy-nilly about departures from the top-of-the-route, so often 2 or 3 buses on the same line are within 5 or 10 minutes of one another and then there will be no bus for 45 minutes. WTF? Funny how in Paris you can set your watch to the bus. In Paris, the parking laws are enforced. How novel.  
  • Websites with an “events” page last updated in 2013
  • Stores that close for the afternoon just about when you have time to actually go shopping, and Post Office hours that are 8:35 to 13:05.
  • Parking in the pedestrian crossings, or on sidewalks, or anywhere the driver damn well feels like it. Arrrggghhhhh!
  • Needing to pay the cable company when we disconnect service. Yup, it costs €200 to disconnect and 60 days notice to do so. We might just test this program by not following the rules….
We recently took a cab home from Stazione Termini and the driver was incredulous that we choose to live in Roma. “Why?” he asked. “America is great. Everything works! Italy is a third-world country!” Even Italians know things don’t work here as well as in the U.S.
Talbots, Zappos, & Nordstrom
I miss my favorite stores and online shopping. We have Amazon.it (not good for clothes), and Lands End U.K. (which is good for clothes). I hate going from one tiny store to another looking for something. 
Going out to breakfast now-and-then
Real American smoked bacon is missing from my life. Along with fluffy omelets and breakfast potatoes. I don’t need them often, but more often than twice in four years would be great. 
Reading the Sunday paper (You still have them, right?)
Still we are privileged to live here. In May, we celebrated four years in Rome. Il tempo vola! My grievances are so-called First World Problems. The food in Italy is terrific, the coffee unbeatable, and the wine both excellent and inexpensive. After a recent 7-night stay in Switzerland where we practically had to sell our blood to afford wine, Italy looks mighty affordable. Our rent is less than we’d pay in Portland and we have trains
We do miss you, though, America! Baci to our friends and family. 

 

Rocky Mountain high

23 Aug
We are in the Wild West now my friends. We find ourselves in beautiful Durango, Colorado for the final stage of our U.S. Megatrip. We wrapped up our Seattle visit to the tune of a rare thunderstorm, returned to Portland for some final errands and socializing, and moved on to the great state of Colorado. (Hover over or click on each picture for the caption.)
I feel terrible that in my last post I neglected to mention Susan & Larry and Gayle & Dennis with whom we also enjoyed terrific meals during the first Portland segment. We ate our way through the city.
Upon our return to Portland for the second visit, we picked up awesome new eyeglasses – my first non-red glasses in about 30 years – and enjoyed a few more dinners with good friends. We’ve had a Lebanese mezza, Northwest salmon barbecue, sushi, more brew pub lunches, and breakfast at a very hip Portland spot, Tasty and Alder. Thanks to John & Janet, Diana and the fabulous Femmes, Jim & Wanda, and J.C. & Maarja! Notice we have not had Italian food at all (except the pizzas previously reviewed at Our Weekly Pizza).
Durango is high-altitude living. My brother’s house in the valley sits at 7500 feet/2286 meters above sea level. That takes some getting used to. That is higher than most of the hiking we do on the ridges and high meadows in the Dolomites.
We needed to spend a couple of days getting used to the elevation in this high valley with little energetic exercise, so we took a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Thirty-one years ago Ric and I had our first vacation together and it was to Durango to ride the D&SNGRR. I am delighted to say the railroad has endured as fantastically as our relationship. The ride is a trip through time with authentic coaches, a coal-fired steam engine from the 1880s, and a narrator in character that relates stories of the era. It is an exceptionally beautiful ride through the mountains.  I am pleased to say the Animas River is more-or-less of normal color after the toxic spill a few weeks ago, and is expected to recover.
Once acclimated to the altitude, my brother and sister-in-law took us on a high-elevation hike to Engineer Mountain. For the record, we hiked to “Bus Stop” which is known in our family as “The Lunch Log.” Friends, this hike started at 10,660ft/3249m, and we climbed to 11,617ft/3541m. The round trip was about 5 miles, so not a bad climb, except for the fact that these flatlanders were hiking to an elevation higher than the peak of Mount Hood in Oregon (11,250ft/3429m). We feel pretty pleased with ourselves that we did it without fainting or hyperventilating.
Today we took a Path to Breakfast, enjoying a 4-mile jaunt through the valley and down into the city of Durango where we indulged in an American-style breakfast. We were fortunate to have the company of Australian Shepherds, Quip and Millie, as well as humans Jane and Susan. We have not hiked with dogs in years and it added a lot of fun to the hike. Jane spotted bear tracks on the trail – a sizable bear with a paw as big as a small human foot – a reminder that this land is still wild. Even more fortunate, we were given a ride home from Durango.
Milly and Quip on the path to breakfast, Durango.

Milly and Quip on the path to breakfast, Durango.

We have a few more days stateside. You’ll hear from me again, no doubt, as I get my head around the inevitable compare-and-contrast Italy and the U.S.
Sharon and Catherine photo bomb me.

Sharon and Catherine photo bomb me.

Our trip so far

14 Aug
We have our Elective Residence Visas! We applied at the Italian Consulate in San Francisco on July 29 and they arrived August 3, much faster than we anticipated. We organized this trip for a month in the States to ensure there would be enough time for the visas to be processed and sent since we can’t get too far without passports. Of course, they arrived immediately. It is a relief to have that process over (although more processes await) and we are thoroughly enjoying time with family and friends.
Click on any photo in any of the following galleries for a better view or slide show.
We have been in the U.S. for almost three weeks now. Sometimes living in Italy seems very remote to us having slipped back into the American lifestyle. I am becoming used to enormous stores and selection and have enjoyed shopping for clothes in stores where I am familiar with the brands and sizing.  We run errands in borrowed cars. As it is time for end-of-summer sales, we have scored some good discounts.
Dining out continues to amaze us. We are loving the selection of ethnic and Northwest cuisine. We’ve had Thai, Peruvian, Japanese, and Mexican food, as well as fresh salmon and halibut, and the best hamburgers. I have not found halibut in Italy and I do miss it.
Prices are very high. When did it become so expensive in the U.S? It seems like a huge change in only three years. Add tax and tip and lunch or dinner out becomes an a line item on the budget. At lunch, the by-the-glass wine options are $11.00 and up. Seriously? And yet restaurants are full and reservations necessary. 
As you can tell, our visit has been a flurry of meals with friends and family.  Our Portland schedule was packed tight, but still we had time to help our son with the initial stages of his move to a new home. I did not take nearly enough pictures, at least until we got to Seattle, where we are currently wrapping up a stay with family. Mount Rainier National Park was beautiful and busy. Unfortunately, there are no rifugi to hike to and no strudel as we have when hiking in Italy. Rifugi are so civilized!
Thanks to John & Janet, Carolyn, Julie, Bernie & Peggy, Will & Gracia, Sander & Amethyst, Veronica & Barry, Susan, John & Debbie, Heather & Chris, and finally Derek for the glorious meals and good times! I highly recommend the Dale Chihuly Glass Gardens at Pacific Center in Seattle. Sono bellissimi! I will leave you with some photos from the Seattle portion of our trip. 
 Alla prossima!

 

 

Land of giant everything

2 Aug
An embarrassment of riches aptly describes the retail scene in the U.S. What an amazing thing it is to walk into a Safeway store after 3 years’ absence and see aisle-after-aisle of options! Acres of wine, miles of frozen foods, yet a rather humble selection of pasta types. The Safeway was at least five-times the size of our “big” neighborhood grocery store, DOC Parioli, but DOC has five-times the pasta.
The wine aisle in a Safeway store.  Una scelta imbarazzante!  (A     selection so grand it's embarrassing!)

The wine aisle in a Safeway store. Una scelta imbarazzante! (A selection so grand it’s embarrassing!)

Going for coffee at an independent coffee house in Portland, we chuckled over the large cappuccino one patron was nursing. Ric took a picture with her hands and laptop in view for perspective. I was excited to get espresso over ice without the barista cocking an eyebrow and looking down her nose at me. It just isn’t done in Italy. You can have a shakerato or a sweetened caffe’ fredo, but over ice? I had more ice in my single drink than I can even fit in my Roman freezer.
Iced, iced iced! In the foreground my iced espresso, which is a sacrilege in Italy. Ric's "small" iced coffee (rear) was not only huge but undrinkable due to a burned taste.

Iced, iced iced! In the foreground my iced espresso, which is a sacrilege in Italy. Ric’s “small” iced coffee (rear) was not only huge but undrinkable due to a burned taste.

Coffee in the U.S.  is even more expensive than I remember, and it takes a long time to make an espresso. In Roma, from ordering to drinking is the blink of an eye. At Starbucks the other day I waited at least five minutes. What takes so long to pull a shot?
Land of the giant everything, a "bowl" of cappuccino at neighboring table.

Land of the giant everything, a “bowl” of cappuccino at neighboring table.

Stati Uniti

28 Jul
28 July 2015. Here we are in our first visit to the United States, more than 3 years after our move in May 2012. It is both familiar and foreign to be here. How wide the sidewalks! How clean the streets (compared to Roma anyway)! Customer service that is almost too friendly. It’s nice to understand most of what is going on around me.
Indulged in omelets since we had not eaten much in about 18 hours. Still too big to eat alone. We each ate only half of our portions.

Indulged in omelets since we had not eaten much in about 18 hours. Still too big to eat alone. We each ate only half of our portions.

I had forgotten how big the portions are in restaurants! We each ordered an omelet as we had not had a proper meal since lunch on Monday, and we could only eat half!  We are going to have to do more sharing like we do in Roma. 
We are starting this journey in San Francisco where the forecast high temperature is not much higher than the forecast low in Roma. Our travel was long, made longer by delays and slow customs in San Francisco that caused us to miss a connection. So we arrived at our apartment in San Francisco 26 hours after leaving our apartment in Roma. 
American style at the Bean Bag Cafe, San Francisco.

American style at the Bean Bag Cafe, San Francisco.

Tomorrow we have our visa appointment at the Italian Consulate General. We each carried along about 6 pounds of forms and documents — in triplicate — for our applications.
Will post updates!
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