16 April 2019

Telefonata al Comune di Roma

Oggi ho chiamato il numero 060606, Comune di Roma, per avere alcune informazioni.

-Buongiorno qui il comune di Roma sono Daniela come posso aiutarla?

-Salve, sono proprietario di un appartamento a Roma ma risiedo all'estero, vorrei verificare la situazione dei miei pagamenti per la Tarsu [tassa per raccolta rifiuti].

-Non spetta a noi, posso passare la pratica al collega dell'AMA [azienda nettezza urbana capitolina] che la richiamerà entro dieci giorni lavorativi.

-OK il mio numero è 0044....

-Ah però non possiamo chiamare l'estero. Non ha un numero italiano?

-No, anche perché siamo in Europa e non c'è più roaming. OK allora chiamo io, mi dica chi chiamare, anche perché vorrei avere le informazioni più rapidamente di dieci giorni lavorativi.

-No non si può, dobbiamo chiamare noi anzi devono chiamare loro dell'AMA, ma non un numero all'estero, altrimenti deve venire allo sportello.

-Posso contattare l'addetto per email?

-No non si può, non siamo abilitati alla corrispondenza email dall'estero.

-Ma io ho un indirizzo Gmail, che differenza fa estero o no?

-No guardi se lei è all'estero le consiglio di andare allo sportello oppure mandare una persona di cui si fida.

-Ah dunque quelli che vivono a Roma li contattate per telefono o email, quelli che vivono all'estero devono prendere l'aereo e venire di persona. Va bene mi arrendo.

-Buona giornata, grazie per avere chiamato il comune di Roma siamo sempre a sua disposizione se ha bisogno di ulteriori informazioni ci chiami pure.

25 February 2019

Pasta alla gricia and espresso

The highlight of this day is dinner with relatives who came over to visit.

I cooked "pasta alla gricia" with guanciale from Lubriano kindly gifted to us by friends Jacopo and Luciana who came to China with us.

I only cooked 300 grams of spaghetti even though there are eight of us because lots of food was already cooked, and che Chinese like to have a little bit of many dishes at every meal.

I was slightly concerned at first. Despite the fact that pork fat is a familiar taste in China, its combination with Italian spaghetti is new for them and my friends and family are not always very curious to try new foods and flavors they are not familiar with. I slightly over-cooked the pasta, a couple of minutes over my usual al dente texture to make it easier for them, as Chinese noodles are always on the soft side compared to their Italian counterparts. I also avoided adding cheese, though the recipe would call for pecorino romano.

Amazingly, the gricia went down well, it was all finished in 5 minutes! And we used the traditional Chinese chopsticks of course, no forks or table knives in this home!

I then decided to push my luck and offered everyone coffee. I have a Nespresso machine here which I took with me from Europe. I actually tried this before, but my in-laws never liked my nespresso, they said it smelled and tasted like something burnt.

The other relatives and friends loved it though it may be in part because I offered to add a little bit of sugar. Even the little kids wanted it, and I gave them some decaf with brown sugar!








24 February 2019

Guiyang dining tables

As I walk to run some errands I notice several shops selling a unique piece of furnishing I have seen nowhere else. Heated coffee/dining tables which my family tells me are typical for Chenzhou/Guiyang, with whole shops devoted entirely to different models of the same: a sturdy table, higher than a coffee table but lower than a normal dining table, with a large central support and a thick flat base that hosts an electric heating unit.

People gather around on their sofas or stools and eat while keeping warm. An oversize table cloth/blanket is placed on top and falls on the diners' laps all around, trapping the heat inside and keeping everyone warm. ot at least the lower half of everyone. Prices range from less than 900 to over 5000 Rmb.

Today dinner at aunty's, they just bought a sparkling new apartment in a large complex just opposite ours. It is a building we visit often, as it hosts both the best supermarket in the neighborhood and our massage parlor.

The building is relatively new but for some reason the elevators were never properly finished so they look a bit like cargo lifts. Nonetheless the one we take is on the outer side of the building and has glass walls, so it's pleasant to have a view of the urban setting as we make our way up. I am always puzzled at how all the windows of all floors are heavily protected with metal bars. Usually I have seen that, in many countries, at the top floors, where thieves could get in from the terrace or roof, or at the bottom floors, more accessible to ill-intentioned strangers from the street. But here it is almost universal practice.

Some teenage kids smoke in the elevator as we walk inside, although it is obviously not allowed to do so. They calmly kill their cigarettes when they are done and leave the stub on the floor of the lift. When I look at them with obvious disapproval they tell my wife... he looks like a foreigner!

We sit around her heated table and chat about life in Guiyang, she says there is no theatre in Guiyang no concert hall, no entertainment really. We are not there yet. But I am sure we will get there: the money is flowing and the curiosity for new things is already palpable.

27 December 2018

My book: Beyond the Wall


My latest book:

Beyond the Wall:

Adventures of a Volkswagen Beetle

Beyond the Iron Curtain



has just been published and is available on all Amazon sites.



Description:

1980: the Cold War between capitalist West and socialist East is in full swing. Tensions are high but, at the academic level, some channels of useful exchange remain open. The author and two classmates would join one such program linking a leading American university and its counterpart in Poland. They drive to Warsaw in a bright yellow VW Beetle and, in addition to attending classes, travel far and wide within the country as well as to several of the neighbors in the socialist bloc where the Soviet Union called all the shots. They drive across the USSR and visit the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the division of Europe. Throughout, Marco takes detailed notes of what they see and hear.

Almost four decades later, the East-West division of Europe is gone. Marco recently found his diary and decided to publish an expanded version of it. His written notes from 1980 have been enriched with descriptions and analyses of historical events that will help the reader see his personal experience in a more significant cultural, social, political and economic context.

The author hopes this real life story will help younger generations, who did not live through the Cold War, better appreciate the blessing of living in a European continent that is immensely more open, rich and free than it was then.

01 October 2018

National day in Guiyang

Today it's China national day, the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. It is the beginning of one week of celebrations in the whole country.

We take a walk in the Culture Park. Lots of families, and quite a few children, many waving Chinese flags.

We have dinner with family and friends. The main curiosity of the day is pig intestine, at least for me, they are used to it of course. Also duck and melt-in-your-mouth breaded pork cutlets. To finish off the meat dishes, some frogs! Everything delicious!

The men are drinking considerable amounts of distilled alcohol, 4 of them share a bottle. O. empties the bottle into their 4 glasses and then they make various toasts and challenges to each other until it's all gone! (It does not take very long!)

O. says he wants his son to marry a girl who has an older brother so he can protect her. But he wants his daughters to marry men with older sisters who would then help their younger brothers set up their families. It is a bit convoluted but his reasoning has its own logic from a traditional point of view. Good luck! These days Chinese kids find their partners online and I doubt the gender of their siblings is an important part in their decisions.

30 September 2018

Massage and herbal bath

They opened a new massage parlor near home. It is the second branch of a company we tried last year. They offer a broad series of treatments, they sell beauty products and they complement it all with a herbal bath in a hot water tub.

It is located on 12th floor of an apartment building that includes lots of modern shops and, at the ground floor, one of the biggest supermarkets in town.

I am surprised to see this kind of service in a town at Guiyang's stage of development. Is it a sign of gentrification in the area?

The masseuses are all ladies, no masseurs. There are several rooms, each with one or two massage beds and, in an en-suite bathroom, a wooden tub. The tub is lined with a thin transparent film and filled with hot water. A bag of herbs is sunk into the water an hour or so before the treatment so as to diffuse its scent through the water and the whole bathroom.

Before the treatment they offer tea. The masseuses are mostly little skinny girls but they are very strong. They massage especially hard massage at the base of my skull, which is a bit painful but I can feel the muscles and joints enjoying it.

At the end I feel great my joints are smooth, my muscles relaxed and a big red area on my back, along my upper back, demonstrates the energy the little girl has put in her hands as they pressed and slid along my spine.

More tea is provided at the end of a blissful hour and a half of treatment.

As I leave my masseuse and two others escort me to the elevator, I thanked them and asked if they were hungry for lunch now and they nodded in unison, and wave goodbye.

The subscription for this parlor is 3988 Rmb for 20 treatments no expiration date. It is not cheap, actually very expensive for local salaries (about two months' wages of a waiter) but they are in business and expanding, and there are no tourists in the city, so the only explanation is that there is a growing middle class who is eager to use this kind of services!

27 September 2018

Grey day and wedding

Grey day at home working on the English edition of my Maldives book.

Mother in law and niece went to a wedding of some neighbors from Yan Jia village who are throwing a party in Chenzhou.

We had decided to go for lunch to a Korean restaurant in town, one of many new restaurants with foreign food which are open for business trying to attract the up and coming local middle class. Been there before, but would love to go again, look forward to some different kind of food. However, the clouds and especially the cold drizzle eventually act as a powerful deterrent and we decide to stay home.

Mother comes back with plastic bags full of of food, left overs from banquet: fruits sweets even a half kilo or so of delicious spicy prawns. It's the custom here: invitees to wedding receptions take home their share of leftovers. She said they took away the least compared to everyone else at the party. Some parents unabashedly tell their children to grab as much as possible as fast as possible!

23 September 2018

Market n. 2 in Guiyang

Morning to buy food for the lanterns day celebrations at Market n.2, just a kilometer or so from home.

On the way I cross paths with a lady who is carrying a balancing basket. She is collecting paper and plastic bottles to sell back to commercial recycling companies, apparently a common activity here.

Lots of sellers of ducks line up the streets today, it is the traditional moon festival meal. All the ducks, of course, are sold alive and kicking in their reed baskets.

One lady buys a duck but she does not trust the seller's scale, so she grabs her animal  and asks the next seller down the sidewalk to weigh it, not sure how it turned out but she bought the duck, 30 Rmb, about 4 euro.

The market is very busy, meat fish (always alive in water tanks) veggies of all kinds. Large quarters of cows are hanging from the roof of the covered market, and the butcher slices off any cut and size his clients require. On one side, a man with a grinder produces the typical spicy chili paste that is so common in Hunan cuisine.

As I snap away a policeman approaches me and Lifang and explains he doesn't want me to take pictures of his police car, which I haven't done and have no interest in doing anyway.

 A little girl drinks fresh juice out of a plastic cup then throws cup on ground, I pick it up and try to show her to hold on to it until she can put it in a bin but her mother takes it from her and shows her how to throw it... on the ground! I give up.

At home mother in law has bought a duck, which is swiftly slaughtered in the bathroom, fairly quickly and effortlessly. The blood flowing from the neck is collected to make bean curd and then used in a soup. It's very delicious!

22 September 2018

Train from Hangzhou to Chenzhou

Grey sky drizzling. We pack our stuff check out of the hotel and are off to station with an ever reliable didi car.

At the station we are welcomed by a very crowded waiting hall, lots of people going home for the mid-autumn day celebrations.

Lifang goes to get the tickets she has booked online while I wait in line to check-in. I've got all our suitcases and proceed with some difficulty. It's all the more difficult because the wheels of one suitcase are broken, so I have to drag it. But instead of helping me people try to jump the queue and get ahead of me. I manage to keep them behind me and make slow progress.

When she's back we go through to the waiting room a huge hall with thousands of people waiting for their train. From here batches of  travelers are admitted to the platform in the order of departure of their train.

Lifang manages to buy some bananas and processed duck meat for the trip, we've skipped lunch after all. I like the boneless duck bums especially!

The station is quite impressive. Electronic boards show the next 3 or 4 departing trains: red letters and numbers when you need to wait, yellow when you need to get ready and green when the gates (which look like those at the London subway) are open. We slip our tickets through and take the escalator down to the platform.

Then it's time to take position at the color-coded marks on the ground which indicate where each car will stop.

When the train arrives and stops with millimetric precision where it is supposed to stop I'm pleasantly surprised to see departing passengers patiently let arriving travelers off the train first!

We board and struggle to find a place to put our luggage, the aisle is so crowded.

We're off at 300+kmh through Zhejiang province toward Hunan. We barrel through fields of farms, many towns and cities where modern tall and thin residential buildings contrast with old traditional houses.

Too many screaming Chinese children on train, parents could do better to calm them down. Or not. Half the passengers are listening to their favorite TV program or playing a video game online, and not one of them is using earphones. the result is a somewhat less than enjoyable persistent monotonous and loud cacophony.

Once we get to Chenzhou we need a taxi (or Didi) to Guiyang. There is a taxi stand by the station, the fare is 100 Rmb. We try and get something cheaper but end up wasting time with an unofficial taxi before calling a Didi and getting home for dinner! Lesson learned: you may save a few Rmb by using unofficial and/or pooled transportation, but it's probably not worth the hassle!

21 September 2018

Temples in Hangzhou

After breakfast we take a trusted Didi car to the old city street, then walk up to the Dongyue temple. As soon as we arrived and walked inside the temple it started pouring cat and dogs. Not so convenient for walking around but it made for a picturesque scenery and it cooled down the air.

Three ladies are silently practicing tachi by entrance to the temple, completely oblivious to our presence.

The temple is from the Song dynasty and it contains Tao figures from before tang dynasty as well as big paintings celebrating inauguration of an emperor of the dynasty. We spend quite a bit of time looking at pictures for details. These celebrations lasted 67 days and cost 8 million yuan which at the time was an enormous amount of money.

The highlight of the day is our visit to the temple of the Soul's Retreat. It is a huge complex of several temples. As we walk in past the electronic ticket check we are greeted by a long series of Buddhas carved in the stone of the adjacent hills.

In the first temple a couple paid the monks to get their blessing. It was not their wedding, that had been done before, but a kind of enactment of a ceremony that to my untrained eye looked like a wedding. The groom is dressed very casually, just a cheap t-shirt really, while she is a little bit more elegant, but still no wedding attire of any kind. The monks, some thirty of them, gather at one corner of the temple and recite their mantras while the couple make an offer to a small altar lit by a few candles.

They then move to centerstage for more blessings and some drum playing by the monks.

We finally go outside with them and place incense sticks in a large bronze cauldron by the back door.

We spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the huge complex. I can't see any foreign tourist, though there are many Chinese visitors, including quite a few pilgrims.

In one building we find a traditional writing desk with brushed and ink for people to try their calligraphy. More interestingly, there is a set of traditional robes and hats, for man and woman, for any one to try on for free. There is no one to be seen so my wife and I take our turns at dressing up and posing as a traditional Song dynasty family!

Dinner is back at Grandma, this time we share a table with a couple of middle-aged and rather large Chinese guys who keep ordering more food than they can possibly ingest. That seems to be a recurring trait in upscale restaurants in China. Maybe they do it to show off, I am not sure. Maybe the sudden abundance of wealth and food over the last few years still needs to be matched with a culture of avoiding waste.