Tag Archives: Culture Shock

Sigonella Directory

The Cinquecento Project wants to pay it forward to incoming military and civilians to Naval Air Station Sigonella. I started the blog in part because of the dearth of information available as I attempted to plan for my transition to Sicily and the lifestyle of an OCONUS military spouse. Ha! I didn’t even know what OCONUS meant until I was over here for a few months. Check out the acronyms section below if you aren’t in that loop yet.

To help anyone who just wants to get information about Sigonella without wading through my more personalized posts, I culled my posts for the following information. Of course, since there is no typical military spouse, even my Sigonella-specific posts are somewhat personalized. I attempted to organize it into useful categories. If you have a question I haven’t answered, post a question in the comments and I will spend the second half of my time in Sigonella to fill in the gaps, as I can. I always have an eye to OPSEC, so I may not be willing to post all of the information you are seeking.

No matter who you are or where you are coming from, you can find a place for yourself in Sigonella; all it takes is a positive attitude and a willingness to be open to new cultures and experiences. Lean into the discomfort for your first six months and lickety-split, you will be assimilated and loving la vita dolce in Sicily!

Cinquecento Project Posts:

– Basics about living in Sicily
– Basics about NASSIG Amenities
– Getting Around
– What to do/Where to go…
…on Sicily
…in Italy
…in Europe
…in Europe and Asia
…in Asia
– Acronyms
– Italian Words

Sister and Brother Sicily Blogs:

Sicily Ciao

Basics about living in Sicily

– if you are a civilian or military spouse interested in working or furthering your career in Sigonella, check out In Gear Career Sigonella Chapter

– summers are hot, the sun is relentless

the best oranges of your life (unless you are from a citrus hometown)

– be aware of Ferragosto: business grinds to a halt for the month of August; August is the month of vacation for all Italians and many from the north come to Sicily for the beaches

– Sicilians smoke and they don’t hide in corners the way smokers in the U.S. do

horse meat is enjoyed, donkey meat is a delicacy

– Sicilians take International Women’s Day seriously!

avoid McDonald’s

Leroy Merlin

– Trucker’s strikes (“sciopero” is the Italian word for strike) can be empty threats, or they can be very real and cause long lines at gas stations (no truckers to deliver more gas), and traffic jams due to protests at the toll booth, and more consequences: Here are my posts about the most intense strike in order 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

gelato; gelato; gelato; granite; gelato

– military spouses do it all with resiliency

eat figs, mmmm

– Poste Italiane, pay your parking tickets here (you can pay for a parking ticket at any post office in Italy, it does not need to be in the same city where you received the ticket)

– you may be in temporary lodging for 56 days

– Eat a granite and brioche for breakfast and feel Sicilian

Military Members and pets

– Fall in love with Mt. Etna, and eruptions, eruptions, more eruptions, Mt. Etna webcam, and another, Mt. Etna smoking, Mt. Etna ash

bonfires and fireworks for festivals and any celebratory occasion

– Permesso di Soggiorno, or Sojourner’s Permit: go to legal, apply for it, then forget it (unless you are taking a trip that requires it)…just don’t stress out about it, if you know you *need* it, call back to the office; if not, just relax and use your no-fee passport and visa and chill out; if you must, carry the letter that you applied for your Sojourner’s permit with you when you travel

shopping, Ikea, more shopping

– history is all around you(!!!): stories from the Odyssey

Geep!

– things burning on the side of the road should not alarm you during dry season

– don’t be surprised if you consider decorating with wine barrels

Basics about NASSIG amenities


Base Living

Yes, we have a Commissary, and a Navy Exchange, as well as Navy Federal Credit Union and a Community Bank (government contracted bank on base, operated by Bank of America, runs on 10-year contracts, renewed recently (~2013)), there is an autoport (although many car-guys trust Mario, who runs a garage across from Marinai), dry-cleaning is available on base, there is a laundromat, barber shop, flower shop, hospital, 2-screen movie theater, bowling alley, skateboard park, and more! Also, remember that Sicily is beautiful and you have to learn to overlook a bit of trash here and there (cuz littering is a thing here).

Tips for Adjusting

Postal System: with a few key tips in mind, you can have a lovely time in Sicily, receiving regular mail. Tips: Tip #1 – inform your creditors of your new address and always have an email back-up; you will NOT receive bills ahead of time, so do not rely on a paper document to remind you to pay your bills, PLAN AHEAD for this…schedule a regular payment, or pre-pay, or mark your calendar and call and ask how much the bill is when you know it has been issued…whatever it is, don’t rely on a paper bill showing up in the mail; Tip #2 – let your friends and family know that (a) a 1st-class stamp is all they need to get an envelope to you (under 1 ounce), (b) use Priority and the package will reach you in about 6-12 days, (c) if they use media rate or standard (fka Parcel Post) the package will take up to 3 months to reach Sigonella; Tip #3 pay attention to the shipping method when you purchase goods online, if the arrival is important to you, ALWAYS, always, always choose Priority! – the vendor cannot provide overnight service due to the distance (so it isn’t worth paying for it), and Priority will almost always get it here in two weeks or less; if the vendor uses FedEx or UPS, I recommend you (a) find an alternate vendor, (b) use a service like APObox, (c) negotiate with the vendor to use USPS for delivery, or (d) ship to a friend/family US address and have them use USPS for delivery. This is important because the companies who have contracts with UPS, DHL, FedEx or any other private carrier will revert to the slowest USPS method if they even offer service to the APO/FPO address, which means up to 3 months delivery time to Sigonella.

Gym: As of this writing, the gym on NAS I is much nicer, although both have their ups and downs. If you prefer the gym on NAS I, put your name immediately on the wait list for a locker, it may take 2-8 months for you to get a locker. The pool is at the NAS I gym, although there is a current project to restore the pool on NAS II. NAS II has sand volleyball courts. Both NAS I and NAS II have fields. NAS I has a track (behind the school). Both gyms have machines for cardio and weights; NAS I has classrooms for group exercises (yoga, pilates, zumba, etc). They also put together the Base 2 Base series, a group of runs that feels very much like home to any runners out there, I started with the POW/MIA run.

Housing:
Inspection
your dryer might be outdoors
you will sign five original leases (wait, which one is the original?)
– your bathtub and shower will be different sizes than you are used to
Base Housing, the majority of base housing is in Marinai (scroll to third photo on link)

Indoc: When you arrive on island, I recommend sitting through the indoctrination class the base provides you. Many of you will opt out, feeling that your time could be better spent exploring on your own; however, I regularly use knowledge I gained in indoc and colleagues and friends often say “How did you know that?” and I answer, “From indoc.” At the very least, I encourage you to participate in the InterCultural Relations (ICR) portion, which provides you survival Italian resources, a chance to step into the community with a guide, and information about ordering food from Italian vendors (e.g. “I want a pound of sliced provolone” does not compute with Sicilian vendors, and believe me, you want to buy their provolone!).

Library: There is a great OCONUS library system, complete with interlibrary loan, an NKO loaning library (your sponsor will have to get you registered unless you have a CAC), a coffee shop, friendly and knowledgable librarians, about 20 desktop computers for community use, study tables and carrels, a decent dvd section, ample travel book and travel dvd collections and strong wi-fi.

Getting Around

Driving

My philosophy on driving in Sicily
Telepass – get it if you live north of the toll line, it’s worth it!!! Traffic jams can be killer…, but just like getting back on a horse you gotta get back on that freeway

Ferries

Flying
The major airport for eastern Sicily is in Catania (CTA) and is named Fontanarossa, which means “red fountain.” Space A from Sigonella can get you to Norfolk, via Rota, Spain. Or, in the other direction, you can get to Souda Bay, which is on Crete (an island of Greece).

There are also some regional routes that offer affordable prices if you fly through the Trapani or Palermo airports.

What to Do/Where to Go…
…on Sicily

Acireale Carnevale

Aeolian Islands: Milazzo to Lipari, Canneto beach (views of Panarea and Stromboli), best cannolo ever, Vulcano,

Agrigento
Valley of the Temples
Turkish Steps
Bagliesi Winery

Caleca Ceramics Factory, Caleca Ceramiche – near Patti, Sicily

Caltagirone

Catania Bellini Opera House

Catania Fish Market

La Caverna in Acireale

Cefalù: home of the annual international gelato festival, I went twice so far.

Gambino Winery – a winery run by a warm Sicilian family, with delicious wines, a great tasting room, and ample hospitality – enjoy!

Locanda COS near Ragusa

Ortigia

Ottobrata in Zafferana – this is a huge Sicilian festival, and it runs strong for each weekend in October, when the mountain town of Zafferana features a different Sicilian specialty each weekend. Go early and make sure you leave before dark to avoid 2-hour long lines leaving Zafferana

Shalai – this spa and fine-dining restaurant in Linguaglossa is amazing!

Siracusa

Snowshoeing on Mt. Etna

…in Italy

Amalfi Coast; we flew in and rented a car in Naples to visit Pompei and the Amalfi Coast, enjoying lovely sunsets, too

Lago di Garda, you don’t have to run the marathon, though

Milan, meandering

Roma – a favorite of mine, enjoyable as a couple, with parents, or even just an overnight on your way someplace else…

Tuscany, we had a great trip there with friends in 2011, good food,

…in Europe

Amsterdam, and eat bandeja paisa

Barcelona, mmmm eat at Escriba

Brugge, Belgium

Estonia, culture abounds, Tartu, scroll to the wall drawing

Geneva, Switzerland, we had a fabulous time in this expensive city; plenty to see and do and eat and shop (if that’s your thing), great opportunities for day trip to the mountains for a hike (though we did not fit that into this trip)

…in Europe and Asia

Istanbul, Turkey
cay, ayran, kunefe, Topkapi, menemen, nar suyu, commentary

…in Asia

Taiwan
Taipei, guava and popcorn, Taiwanese junk food, European style bakeries, Mr. Cheeseburger Face Man, cute kids, Zelda and Taroko Gorge
Lyudao, Lyudao (Green Island), Lyudao II, and more Lyudao

Acronyms

CAC: Computer Access Card
CONUS: Continental United States
NASSIG: Naval Air Station Sigonella
NKO: Navy Knowledge Online
OCONUS: Outside the Continental United States
Space A: Space Available (access to open spaces on military flights)

Italian Words:

antipasto/antipasti: appetizers; traditional Italian antipasto plate usually has cured meats, cheese, olives, and maybe some local specialties such as sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, etc.

AutoGrill: restaurant and bar on the autostrada, always has interesting tchotchkes, free bathrooms, fresh panino, and nutella

bar: a coffee shop; usually you order at the cashier, get a receipt and take the receipt to the coffee bar where the barrista will make your coffee drink

Caprese salad: tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil (for some reason, the majority of places that serve the Caprese around Sigonella do not always include basil)

colazione: breakfast

Family words

Greetings: Buon giorno, salve, ciao, buona sera

mare: sea (signs saying “mare” indicate if you follow them, you will be led to the seaside)

panetteria: bread shop

riposo: rest; this is the Italian version of the Spanish “siesta” period; logistically, this is the time when shops close for the hottest part of the day, and gives Italians time to be with family before returning to work for another 4-5 hours; riposo period is very real in Sicily and you will notice changes in traffic and many shops will be closed; there are more malls and large stores that are staying open straight through riposo; just check the schedule of a store to avoid any frustration

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Berlusconi, Berlusconi

Source.

Wow – there is so much going on in the world at large that sometimes I have to take my head out of the Sicilian sand (a.k.a. lava rock, ancient ruins and temples) and realize that according to contemporary media, Italy is on the verge of financial collapse.

And, then, I look around me and realize that there is a 3-day gas strike going on, too. Yep, no fuel sales for three days (except the Agip by the base today) – unless my interpretations are incorrect and the strike is next week. This is completely possible because Italians (and many Europeans) plan strikes ahead of time. The goal is to cause enough discomfort that complaints reach high up, but not to inconvenience the everyman (who is the hero of the strike, after all).

The La Repubblica article I link to (in English!) writes the tale of the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde character Berlusconi has always been – balancing his personal financial interests with Italy’s financial interests. But is that a balance that can actually be achieved? Perhaps not, as indications abound that Berlusconi may finally step down.

Here at the Cinquecento Project, Berlusconi has been a symbol of the enigmatic Italian people. The people whose artistic essences and poetic souls created the conglomeration of villages and regions into this great nation we know as Italy. Like Berlusconi, Italians are known for being outrageous in completely contradictory terms. Women are known for holding the family together – dinner at Mama’s; yet boys are the uncontested darlings of Italian society and Italians have their own brand of machismo. Forward thinking and open talk are pillars of the warm and expressive Italian society; yet the dominant Catholic religion maintains strict norms on social behaviors (that are largely believed, if loosening in response to economic demands on families).

While Berlusconi has mirrored the enigma of the Italian people, he has largely inspired mild disgust in me. I turn my nose and then I turn my head. I do not vote in Italy. While I am interested in world politics, I have little interest in dissecting or critiquing Berlusconi’s actions, because I can only gauge them against my values and social norms. And, my values and social norms are decidedly not Italian. Well, not yet.

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Coming home.

5-100

  1. Found a great gift for our cat-sitter.
  2. Enjoyed chatting with our group as we whiled away the afternoon waiting for our ferry.
  3. Finished “A House in Sicily” by Daphne Phelps. Great book!
  4. Felt like I was “coming home” as we descended from Taormina down into Catania.
  5. Reunited with Maki and Panther!

The phrase “coming home” sparks feelings of warmth, security and compassion. Last night, these feelings surged as we descended the autostrada into Catania. Fortunately, my home has been a haven, including my childhood home, assorted apartments, and the friends and family at home. Because for many people home is a more complex destination, I often volunteer where I can offer comforts and compassion of “home.” Whether it is teen-crisis counseling, sexual assault survivor support, or a Hands-of-Help meal (love you, Chick!), opportunities to offer compassion and connect with people are bountiful, we need only open our eyes and our hearts.

And now, a few pictures from the ferry, as we left the Aeolian Islands (Isole Eolie). Vulcano is the island pictured below, it is quite near Lipari.

This is the ferry dock, so you can see a few cars. Vulcano and Lipari have a decent amount of cars on them. The other islands are almost exclusively mopeds and electric golf carts.

And, of course, every island has plenty of boat traffic!

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Buon giorno? Ciao? Which is it?

5-100 

  1. Enjoyed reading “Watership Down”        (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/76620.Watership_Down) while sipping tea with my breakfast. I also learned that the library terrace employs a broadcasted bird call for bird and pest deterrence. It reminded me of the owl statues used in Seattle (http://www.harborfreight.com/Great-Horned-Owl-Garden-Scarecrow-42265.html?utm_medium=cse&utm_source=nextag&hft_adv=40011&mr:referralID=1565c6f8-d3a9-11e0-891e-001b2166c2c0). The owl statues are more quietly effective.
  2. Set up a job interview!
  3. Attempted my speed workout for this week. I got some good speedwork in, and it helped me decide how to structure my running goals; baby steps instead of moon-surface-leaps.
  4. Completed all of the errands on my to-do list!
  5. Got a good snuggle out of Maki, my less-snuggly cat.

Salve, buon giorno! (Hi, good morning!) Here inItaly, it is common to call out a greeting when you enter an office, a store, or someone’s home. Greetings are a polite way to announce your arrival and they show respect, especially to the elder generation. Once you are friendly with someone, or at the very least you are familiar with one another, then you can switch to the less formal greeting “Ciao!” You should never use “ciao” when speaking to an elderly person, always stick to “buon giorno” until about 1-2pm and then switch to “buona sera” (good afternoon/evening). Arrivederci!

***Random photo today***

This woman was waiting at the bus station during my lengthy wait.

Like most Italian women, she seemed to be no-nonsense…

…and then her phone rang.

Her ringtone was Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun!” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIb6AZdTr-A

Yay!

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From Top Pot to “Che cos’e?”

5-100

  1. Successfully recovered Dave from the Catania airport, including not one, not two, but three failed attempts to find the passenger pick-up area before finally connecting! “Grazie mille” (thank you a thousand time) to all of the gracious Italians who either ignored me or gently told me I could not enter the lane clearly marked for Bus and Taxi only.
  2. Snuck in a 2-hour “riposo” (the Italian “siesta” or mid-afternoon downtime when some people nap), very indulgent, and it felt great.
  3. Took care of some financial tasks on the to-do list!
  4. Enjoyed a leisurely dinner with Dave; rucoletta pizza (tomato, buffalo mozzarella, arugula), Benuara wine (Nero d’Avola and Syrah), and Tartufo for dessert. We took our time, savoring the food, conversation, and temperate evening.
  5. Began Robert Downey, Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes. I’m a big RDJ fan and he looks great in this movie. I love a good comeback story and he has a great one. As for the moive, it is funny, has quirky character development, but it couldn’t keep me awake past the 1:30 mark. I will finish it tonight.

 I experience anxiety. This can apply to matters as simple as buying pastries. I don’t eat a whole lot of pastries in the first place, so when I see a line-up of delicious goodies staring at me with nary a name to them, I start to panic. Yet, faced with the same scenario at Top Pot, I had no anxiety about asking “what’s that?” Here, I barely know whether to order first or pay first, much less which name to call the pastry! As of today, I will ask “che cos’e?” (what’s that?) no matter how much anxiety lurks within.

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Fiat Punto.

In Spanish, “punto” means point, and is also the word for the period you put at the end of the sentence. Somewhere along the meandering path of my Spanish language studies, I adopted the phrase “Y punto!” to emphasize the end of my point or a story. Essentially I meant it to mean “And, that is that!” (I’ve also tried to insert it into many a Smith story, to little avail.) As many multi-lingual or multi-somewhat-lingual people may be prone to do, I like to insert my favorite phrases across language lines. So, I will sometimes throw “y punto!” into conversation with English speaking friends, and well, they don’t get the cutesie phrase, but it pleases me nonetheless.

Knowing this, you might be able to imagine my pleasure at finding the Fiat Punto waiting for us at our hotel when we arrived in Italy. Not only is it a truly Italian brand, it is a Punto!

Once you see the following photos, you may also be able to imagine how different adjectives sprang to mind as we inspected the vehicle.

Well, it doesn’t look too bad, not too bad at all. I can imagine riding around in this car for weeks as we settle in and get things figured out.

Wait. What’s that you say? This Punto doesn’t have air conditioning, not even on a good day?

And, then we also have the dented door panels. Oh well, guess we don’t have to worry about dinging up the rental car!

What I can say is that it is a manual with a homemade anti-theft system (it’s a secret, don’t ask). Since neither Dave or I have owned a manual transmission automobile, we’ve really enjoyed learning on a rental car’s clutch. It has taken a little bit of abuse from each of us (talk about the “what’s that smell” effect…), and we’ve traded theories about the best way to (a) get into first gear, (b) downshift smoothly, (c) avoid the glug when shifting into second gear. Leave your best advice in the comments, if you have tips!

Italian drivers are both living up to the hype, and surprisingly steady drivers. The key to driving here (anywhere, really) is to view the road as a video game screen and realize that vehicles, people, animals, random flying objects, burning vegetation, bicycles, pedestrians, road workers, etc. can enter into the screen from any direction, at any time; they will expect you to maintain your speed and direction. So, the best way to drive safely is to do just that – maintain the car’s speed and direction as you are aware of what’s going on around you.

For example, cars passing from behind make more of a smooth “S” shape as they pass you, just barely clearing your back bumper on the way into the passing lane, and slipping past your front bumper on the way back into the driving lane. By the way, you might never see this car in your rearview mirror, depending on the curves of the road and the speed of the car. Oh yea, and they pass you just about anywhere. And, that’s legal to do if you are going “slowly” and the pass they made was reasonaly safe for the conditions. (I’m paraphrasing our Italian driving instructor’s comment about legality.) This passing technique is quite different from the U.S. where a car will approach from behind, ride your bumper for a while, peek out a few times to check for traffic, finally move out into the passing lane well behind you and complete the pass in more of a “U” shape.

Right about now, some of you are wondering about the phenomenon of sharing a two-lane road amongst three (or even four) cars. Yes, it happens. No, it doesn’t happen a lot (at least not yet). In the case that during a pass, an oncoming car approaches, the expectation is to make room for all of the cars to fit on the road and complete their maneuvers. That means the oncoming car and the car being passed will move to the shoulder to accommodate the passing car. Well, you move to where you *wish* there was a shoulder, and hope for the best.

Other than the speed racers, the rest of Italian drivers just want to get from point A to point B like the rest of us. They are accustomed to grouping and ungrouping in untidy clumps around the roundabouts, and that is the way all of traffic goes here. Usually, the clump of cars has some amount of forward motion and everyone jostles for position, sometimes letting another car into the clump and other times cutting across the nose of three different vehicles on the way to an exit. The Italians practice a belief in the phrase “Oggi a me, domani a te” (literally: Today to me, tomorrow to you) “Today it may be me, tomorrow it may be you” who needs to cut across the traffic. It is this pragmatic sentiment, and not an overabundance of generosity, that results in relatively few horns being sounded during traffic rush hours.

The horn is more frequently used as a very light beep-beep to alert other drivers, bicyclists and persons on the roadway. The car sounds the horn going around tight corners, or heading into a one-lane tunnel (there are plenty of them here), or when it sees a car poking its nose out of a blind driveway, or at a bicyclist on a narrow road. The horn in these instances means “Hello! Here I am! I’m coming and I’m not slowing down! You look lovely in one piece, please stay where you are! Ciao!”

E punto.

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Roam (not Rome; well, at least not yet).

5-100

  1. Delicious pastry, perfectly light, airy, and flaky layers, studded on top with crystals of sweet sugar, and filled with a perfectly bittersweet chocolate. Each bite was a mini-explosion of sugar bomb in my mouth. Although I typically favor a savory breakfast, this was an awesome experience.
  2. Ferragosto parade (started around 8 am to beat the heat; passed our hotel around 9am) – the holiday’s official date is August 15th, but it is really a month of holiday and festivals and celebrations in Italy. The beaches are packed, many shops are closed, and there is a festive atmosphere in the air!
  3.  Nicolosi! Nicolosi! Nicolosi! – this door to Mt. Etna is an adorable small town that charmed me completely.
  4. Gelato! I have eaten my favorite gelato of the trip so far. It was from Gran Moritz Gelateria, and I mixed “canella” (cinammon) and “fruta di bosca” (fruit of the “forest,” aka mixed berry). Mmmm, yummy! (See pictures in next post.) This is the first time I saw soy gelato offered. I did not choose it this time, but may have to try it for research purposes in the future.
  5. Dinner with friends. Tonight our friends from orientation hosted us for a delicious dinner, starring homemade eggplant parmigiana! It was delicious and we had fun meeting their children and visiting.

Roam if you want to/Roam around the world…” was playing at the gym today during my workout and I was singing along happily, still entranced by my new adventure. Later in the day, as I was driving, it dawned on me that this is my home for the next three years. Three years. Home. I spent three of the most challenging and fun years of my life in law school and this is going to last three years, too. I will have three years to take on the challenges here; three years to find out how I fit into Sicily.

 

Here are some pictures of the Ferrogosto Parade, Dave took these photos from our balcony. Because they carried the float (rather than hauling it by horse or car), they paused every 1/4 – 1/2 block and played music, visited with each other or visited with the neighbors who came down from their homes.

Look at the detail on the float – real flowers on top!

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