Tag Archives: Italian driving

La Cena

Cinquecento – La Cena = Dinner


Yesterday we dined with our genial landlord (“padrone di casa”) Filippo and his family:
Pina (Josephina) – Filippo’s wife (“moglie” ~ “MO-lee-ay”)
Sebastiano – son (“figlio” ~ “FEE-lee-oh”),
Ester – daughter (“figlia” ~ “FEE-lee-ah”), and
Carmelo, (Ester’s boyfriend (“fidanzato” ~ “Feeda-nh-za-toe”)).

Pina cooked; Seby and Ester (~ “Ay-stair”) helped serve the meal:
Primi – tagliatelle con vongole (fresh ribbon pasta with clams)
Seconodi – baked shrimp, fish, veggies on skewers; filet of breaded vitello (beef, maybe veal, but not definitely)
Contorni (side dishes) – insalate di polpo (octopus), homegrown/cured olives
Dolci (dessert/sweets) – dried figs with almonds & pistacchio, pistacchio cake, apple cake, and mocha balls.


(Uno) 1. We played cards (giocare carte) with Filippo and his family.

(Due) 2. Time flying by as we flipped between Italian and English. Thank goodness for Google Translate and Seby & Ester’s English language skills.

(Tre) 3. Driving update: I turned left today in a group of four cars. We were all turning from the same single turn lane, but per Italian/Sicilian driving, we had all bunched up in a ball at the intersection, just waiting for the perfect break in traffic, at which point we all hurried into the roadway. All four of us made it with little room to spare. Yeaaaah!

(Quattro) 4. Sending out the love to my great friend Dan. Some of you may know him as Dan the baker, or Dan the chef, or Jill’s friend Dan, or you may not know him at all, but if you believe in energy or prayer, send out some love for him today.

(Cinque) 5. Live, Live, Live! (a la Auntie Mame) Fly your freak flag!

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Versatile Blogger Acceptance & Nominations

All right people, I mean, hello gracious readers, and welcome back to my upbeat, positive blog! (extra big smile, 90% fake). Ha ha. I am actually a pretty happy camper right now, but it is 9pm here in Sicily and I just finished eating dinner after a productive and fun and LONG day out and about. I got to re-visit the Motta Residence Hotel, my first home in Sicilia – which was like getting a great big hug and it was the perfect penultimate end to my day. Penultimate end, you ask? Huh? I am referring to the next-to-last thing I had to do before I got to go home and see my kitties and sit on the couch. The last thing I had to do was drive home, in 7pm traffic, which is sorta like 5pm traffic in the U.S. I feel like U.S. traffic tends to run from 3-3:30pm until about 7/7:30pm, depending on where you live. Here, that block is just shifted a bit, so traffic doesn’t really start up until 4:30/5pm and it goes pretty strong until 8/8:30pm.

The service provider who charges the small fee to operate the Telepass raised the fee this month. Dave and I re-visited the possibility of going without. I mean, it is pure luxury and at non-busy hours of the day we don’t save more than 10-15 seconds. However, the at least five minutes I saved tonight – at LEAST Five! – made the Telepass completely worth it. Heck – if I pay $2 for a redeye at Chock Full o’Nuts on base, I’m sure-as-shit gonna pay less than fifty cents a day for the honor of zooming past a blinking mass of cars inching toward three or four toll booths. Yes!

For those readers still scratching your head about what a “redeye” is – let me quench your thirst for knowledge. The redeye I refer to above is a coffee drink. Pull a fresh espresso and dump it into a big cup, then fill that cup with regular drip coffee. I have found that I prefer this taste to the “Americano.” An Americano is simply the shot of espresso in a big cup, and then diluted with steaming hot water. Americans (presumably referring to North Americans from the United States) are known to prefer sipping on big cups of drip coffee, which really isn’t the way things are done over here. Ordering “uno caffe” here will get you a shot of espresso. Most Italian bars (cafes, remember, not a liquor bar) do not have drip coffee, but on base, Chock Full o’Nuts does. It even has four additional drip coffees that are flavored. I prefer non-flavored coffee, so I go with the house blend. I have been drinking green tea primarily for the past two years, but I still enjoy a good coffee buzz. Yea, going to law school and living in Seattle will do that to a person.

I digress.

You may be hoping I will get to the point of this blog, finally. The point is to acknowledge my deep appreciation to Logy Express who awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award.

I came across Logy Express early in the beginnings of The Cinquecento Project. I was hungry for inspiration and community in the blogosphere and I was looking at five new blogs a day. If you don’t explore blogs that often, you may not realize what a time commitment that was. I would spend 15-45 minutes exploring a blog. The better the writer, the more intriguing the content, the longer I stayed. Plus, if I had accidentally picked a bomb, I would try to find another blog to fill the gap.

Logy Express writes with a fresh, crisp voice that is obviously weighted down with…something. I haven’t figured out what is keeping her in molasses, but you can almost feel the pull of a force upon her. This is not reflected in her prose or form; it comes through in her content choices. I mean, she straight up tells you which personal struggles she is going through now, but then she writes this stunning piece that makes you realize she has really got her shit together. (two curse words already – I am tired). She is a beautiful writer who weaves vivid images into rich narratives of everyday living. Yet, she somehow makes YOU feel special as you are reading her stories about other people. She has a gift!

Receiving the award is an honor that comes with some responsibility…(anybody else hearing Grandma saying “to she who is given great talent…” or however it goes – you know, the biblical adage about balancing your privileges with a sense of social responsibility). The responsibilities of the Versatile Blogger are to spread the wealth by nominating more bloggers for the award, and to share seven random facts about yourself.

Here we go!

Seven Random Facts About Me

1. I really like to pick my nose. I choose to do it in comfortable places, like home. It began as something I would do when I was studying, to kind of keep me awake by keeping a part of my physically active while I was reading. It has developed into something I do a few times a week. It’s relaxing, for real. (And no, I won’t do it at your house, and yes, I wash my hands a lot).

2. Washing my hands a lot comes from working in restaurants for many, many years of my life, from 16-32, with a few years off here and there for school. It all started with the Frost Top in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Rice Lake is my hometown and I was a teenager when I worked at the Frost Top. It was a drive-in that made its own root beer and served it in a frosted mug. I have rarely tasted root beer that is as good as it was at Frost Top. The Frost Top is now a used car lot in Rice Lake (last time I passed through, anyway).

3. I grew up in Northwestern Wisconsin and pretty much think there are few other places as beautiful. What we lack in mountains, we more than make up for in lakes and trees. I was a major lake snob growing up! I wouldn’t swim in certain lakes because they didn’t meet my standards, and I was able to be so picky because there were swimming spots every few miles no matter which direction I drove from my house.

4. One of the restaurants I worked in was on an island in Red Cedar Lake, about a 10-15 minute drive from my parent’s house. I parked at the boat landing and took a pontoon boat ride to get to work. The restaurant was part of a resort that had been a private residence of the Stout lumber baron family. The resort is haunted and is still open for business. Stella McCartney stayed there while I worked there, and Cindy Crawford spent time there in the early 90s. A small claim to fame.

5. While I was working at Stout’s Lodge The Island Of Happy Days (full official name), my car’s trunk was crushed when a septic tank fell on it. Yep. How many people get to tell this story? It is actually pretty boring, but it was much more dramatic as a teenager working to pay for college and hearing that your mode of transportation to make money had just been crushed by some careless a**holes who let an empty septic tank roll off of their truck and bounce onto your car. These guys were delivering the empty tank to the boat landing in order to haul it over to the island by boat. I think they filled it with gas/air and floated it over there.

6. After a close friend committed suicide, I believed that his soul inhabited the lives of flies and that it could jump from fly to fly as necessary. Whenever a housefly would buzz around me, I would look at it and say “Hi Craig.” I was 17 years old. You could say his death contributed to shaping my adult life.

7. If I could choose any profession, I would sing for a living.

Blogs I Love

When I read Versatile Blogger Awards on other blogs, I find myself zipping through this portion of the post, so I will keep it brief and limit myself to five (cinque!) descriptors about each blog I list. I do not follow each blog faithfully, and they are all blogs I love:

Real Fun Food: clever, charming, visually brilliant, England-based/Ohio(ish)-raised, smart

D-Listed: trashy, intelligent, hilarious, less-catty-than-Perez-Hilton, visually stimulating

IBKC (Itty Bitty Kitty Committee): dependable, heart-warming, do-gooder, visually stimulating, a GOOD woman writes here

Logy Express: intriguing, mystical (the long-term-same-job mystifies me), ethereal writing, laugh-out-loud funny, profound

The Big Hard Sun: my brother’s blog, aiming for a Nobel Peace Prize, seeking truth, connecting with other humans, kicking ass at life

KERF (Kath Eats Real Food): upbeat, visually beautiful, a bit commercial but not overblown, too many posts to stay current, spunky

Type A in Taipei: my cousin’s blog, visually stunning, funny, I like feeling connected to her, learn cool things about Taipei

Merikay’s blog: artsy, honest, funny, informative about an area (RVs) I knew little about, mostly happy long-term marriage

Amanda Rudd’s Blog: versatile content, English PhD candidate, insightful, enjoyable read, good writing

PostSecret: brilliant, modern online community, sometimes opportunistic postcards (annoying), hearts bleeding on paper, supports suicide hotlines/prevention

Go Power Yoga: still new to me, excellent posts with enough time in between for you to soak up the great information, inspiring, positive yoga messages, beautifully formatted

From Me To You: inspired photography, model-like author/featured model, New York City, fashion, great title

Four12: friend Erin’s blog, intermittent posts, visually stimulating, pretty and eye-soothing, thoughtful content

The Whole Sweet Scoop: sweet perspective, great recipes, love reading about her family, warm, funny

Insatiable Book Sluts: title rocks, reviews are hilarious, co-authors feed off each other well, good info on books/publishing, love the community feeling I get whenever I read a post

Classy Gallie: hilarious, funny, clever, tender, youthful

Damsel and Family: thought-provoking, heartfelt, funny, insightful, military spouse friend


…that’s it for now! I am sure I am going to slap my forehead later and say, I can’t believe I forgot X blog – and if that is you, I apologize now. Forgive me. It is now 10:30pm and this mamacita is calling it a night!


Filed under Awesomeness

Never gonna give-nevergonnagive…


(Uno) 1. Sicilians use their hazards to warn you that there is a traffic back-up. It is really useful because it helps you distinguish between a mere slow-down and a stand still.

(Due) 2. Cream cheese frosting. I don’t know why we limit ourselves to pumpkin based cakes only in the autumn season. Most people are using canned pumpkin anyway – why not have pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting in the summer? Oh, you do? Well, share some with me, then!

(Tre) 3. The Big Lebowski! You will never believe this, but I actually misplaced LOST my Italian “Il Grande Lebowski” – and I intended to keep looking until I found it, but I caved last night and watched the original version instead.

(Quattro) 4. Temperate Sicilian autumn – I only carry a lightweight raincoat in case of rain, and supplement with a lightweight scarf. My awesome landlord, Signor Messina, claims we won’t need to turn our heat on until the end of December!

(Cinque) 5. Being mistaken for a local national! My approach at work tends to be to LISTEN a lot at first, and then slowly open up. After all, I’m there to get work done first and have a good time with my colleagues a close second. After sitting through two hours of conference calls and remote-powerpoint-presentations with a new group of colleagues, one of them asked if I was a local national! I’m not sure what that says about me – but I like feeling exotic, so there.


Rick Roll’d is stuck in my head, I keep seeing visions of Oregon legislators barely keeping a straight face and Obama unknowingly Rick Rolling McCain. This brings up the mind-body connection; I imagine Obama dancing on a teeny stage in my brain. No, not really; although NOW I am picturing it. I actually imagine the pulse of electricity that zinged its way through my brain when I first experienced a Rick Roll and how that pathway is strengthened when I see another Rick Roll. I could be strengthening anything in my brain! The power of our minds astounds me. Sha-zaam!


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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.


Filed under Adjusting

Somebody call 9-1-1! Shawty fire burning on the dance floor…whoa-oh


  1. Survived my first very close call on the road (I was a passenger, a real estate agent was driving: he was watching ahead to avoid hitting a car in the front, which was crossing our lane of traffic; meanwhile, a towing truck came up from behind and maintained its speed and direction and passed within inches of my face as we were still slowing moving into that lane).
  2. Had a great running work out – started developing my training program aiming toward my fitness goal of a 24-minute 5k.
  3. Saw another beautiful home, which was nice, but ended up confirming our greater interest in a different home.
  4. Watched “Swiss Family Robinson.” (Among my all-time favorite movies.)
  5. Read another chapter in “Cooking with Italian Grandmothers.” (Thanks, Monica!)

Today I cover another chapter in the “what’s that smell” series. If you’ve lived at all, you’ve probably had the chance to smell the unique odor of burning garbage. No? Trust me, it has a distinctive pungency. Here in Sicilia, I found a smell that is nearly as potent, though not quite as stinky: burning vegetation. The countryside holds many an agricultural plot, and to eliminate excess weeds and perhaps to condition the soil, farmers burn the vegetation. Many times, the fire burns up to the road’s edge and you can feel (and smell) the heat wave as you pass.

*Title inspired by Fire Burning” – performed by Sean Kingston*

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Base Living


  1. Explored the beautiful city of Siracusa.
  2. Found another tiny and gorgeous beach, next to the Grand Hotel Minareto and en route to Punta Castellucio Lighthouse.
  3. Navigated ordering a sandwich and espresso in Italian at the AutoGrill.
  4. Enjoyed listening to the Italians at the beach, just soaking up the sun and the language.
  5. Other than posting to the blog, spent the day internet-free (feels good one day a week!).

Being attached to a military base is unique, no matter where it is. My introduction in Bremerton (NBK) was pleasant: tax-free shopping, a great gym, buying alcohol at the “package store,” and showing my military ID at every turn. Sigonella offers nearly the same services, and many more. In order to host service member families, there is a K-12 Department of Defense school, a gorgeous pool complete with water slide and baby pool, 2-screen movie theater, daycare facilities, resource center and human resources office. While it feels a little “Stepford” at times, overall it is a warm and welcoming community.

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Cercando Ristorante


  1. Practiced and perfected the gentle “here I am” Italian driving beep-beep.
  2. Squeezed in a work-out at the gym.
  3. Felt 100% comfortable driving.
  4. Got 1st shipment of books from Seattle – 1 Sicilian cookbook, 1 Ital-Eng dictionary, Harry Potter in Italian (gift from my dear friend Z).
  5. Met the XO of the base – he just came from a tour on the U.S.S. Stennis (homeported in Bremerton, WA).

Damn that Moonlighting! The theme song is stuck in my head. Argh! Aside from that, Dave and I walked up the hill in Motta to a good dining spot. Dinner was: good antipasto plate, disappointing Caprese salad, and okay pasta. It was full of other U.S. citizens and we agreed that when we move to our permanent home, we want to find an Italian-majority dining spot. This goal is two-fold: (1) Italian-majority (or any “local” spot, anywhere) usually means better food & (2) when we can’t fall back on the English menu translations & English-speaking staff, our Italian will improve.

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