Driving quiz


In honor of getting my foglio rosa (learner’s permit) last week, I’m going to have a little fun with Italian driving. This will involve some translating, which may or may not make for a fun exercise for the reader. If not, my apologies.


Drivers’ licenses are not convertible between the US and Italy. To get a learner’s permit in Italy, an American has to master some 25-30 subjects (with subcategories) covering such subjects as the definition of a street, how and where to park, the meaning of about 100 road signs, which car goes first at dozens of hypothetical intersections, how to hook up a trailer, and how to render first aid to someone in a state of shock. There are about seven categories of licenses according to type of vehicle, with detailed rules about who can obtain each, and some categories have age progressions. And naturally different vehicles have different speed limits, which also depend on the type of road. All in all, the question bank contains about 6000 true/false items, which can be tested in Italian, French or German–but not English.

In short, it requires some studying. But I passed! And I start learning to drive a manual transmission car next week.

I’m sure you’ve thought of the obvious question by now: Does anyone really obey all these rules?

Well, if you feel up to some Italian, I have a little mini-quiz for you which should answer that question nicely: Watch the trailer above from about the first minute mark to almost the second minute mark, then answer the following questions as true or false based on the clip. For your convenience, I have provided translations into English for each question:

1) Sui veicoli è consentito il trasporto di un animale domestico, comunque in condizione da non costituire impedimento o pericolo per la guida. T/F

(It is permissible to transport a pet, as long as it doesn’t pose an impediment or danger to driving.)


2) Sui motocicli è vietato trasportare oggetti che non siano solidamente assicurati. T/F

(It is forbidden to transport objects that aren’t solidly secured.)


3) Il carico dei veicoli deve essere sistemato in modo da evitarne la caduta o la dispersione. T/F

(The vehicle’s load must be arranged in such a way as to avoid being dropped or scattered.)


4) Il carico non deve superare il limite di sagoma stabilito per ogni tipo di veicolo. T/F

(The load must not exceed the limits of the outline established for each type of vehicle.)


5) Su strade coperte di neve occorre evitare brusche manovre. T/F

(On snow-covered streets you must avoid sudden maneuvers.)


5) Su strade coperte di neve occorre moderare la velocità. T/F

(On snow-covered streets you must moderate your speed.)


The answer to all these questions happens to be true. Did you pass?


As for the film clip: Sorry I couldn’t find this clip from The Return of Don Camillo with English subtitles.  If anyone is interested, the basic idea is this: Don Camillo, Italy’s favorite pugnacious priest, has been reassigned to a distant mountain hamlet because got into a fight at the end of the first film.

The scene begins as he arrives at the train station near his new home. He seems to be greeted by cheering, but he soon discovers that the welcome is for a local cyclist instead. Standing forlornly on the platform with gifts from his old parishioners, Don Camillo meets an old man who tells him that the priest he is replacing has recently died, but he was a gentle man who was loved by all. He further tells Don Camillo that the town he is assigned to is 10 kilometers away, but he can offer him a ride part way.

The next scene is the one that concerns the driving test and doesn’t have much dialogue, but my favorite bit is at the end:

Don Camillo: “What do you do for a living, anyway?”

Old man: “I’m a road inspector.”

Don Camillo eventually arrives at this new parish, where he is greeted by a terrified old caretaker who calls him an earthquake and a cyclone, insists she’s heard all about him and isn’t afraid of him, and yet shrieks and defends herself with a broom. Don Camillo then walks into the sanctuary of his new church, where he sees that it’s leaking and in terrible shape. There he has a conversation with Jesus, via the crucifix, about how badly they’re both being treated. But Jesus, for once, doesn’t reply to Don Camillo, because the priest’s self-pity has gotten in the way of his ability to hear. More antics occur, in the Guaresci’s simultaneously comical and touching mix of postwar Italian life.

If you’re interested, here’s a set of the first two DVDs with English subtitles, zoned for American viewers.


The stuff that dreams are made of…


 This post actually requires very little explanation if you’ve ever studied for exams.

And I think most people have, right?

These lovely bits of ivory fabric are so much prettier than road signs.

But they won’t get me a driver’s license.

Back to studying!

Habits for a new season of life


Today’s lunch: squash soup with pancetta, and a salad with oil and balsamic vinegar. (The salad green is called valeriana in Italian, but I don’t think it’s the same as the herb valerian.) I’ll have some fruit, too.

Good morning! I have a lot more time to myself than I used to these days, and the circumstances are such that the most of things I always had in mind to do when the time came either aren’t an option any longer or no longer seem right. So, what to do? That’s the subject of this post. These are things that have worked for me, and I hope they might help someone else as well.

The first thing I say might sound abrupt, but that’s because I’m leaving out a big part my own period of adjustment on purpose. It’s this: I can’t just sit there and think, “Woe is me!” Sometimes big changes in life can come as a surprise and take some getting used to. There may be mourning to be done, relationships that need wisdom to handle, or a very blurry linguistic and cultural landscape to navigate. But I have noticed that any tiny steps I can make in a positive direction to tend to pay off eventually, even if I can’t see how it’s going to happen and it feels forced instead of pleasant. There has been genuine difficulty in my life over the past few years. But the best advice I got, at least for my circumstances, seems to have been, “Have a really hard cry for about ten minutes. Really give it over to God. Then get up and do something.”

So, in that spirit, here are some of the things I’ve been doing:

Meeting new people. I am used to making myself talk to people when I don’t feel like it. Yes, I’m an introvert. I’m even shy and easily embarrassed. And I fall on my face every time I try to speak Italian–I don’t even want to know how many mistakes I’m making or what rude things I unwittingly say! But I keep telling myself to get over it. I have found that many people have been willing to extend kindness and affection, even if I can’t speak well enough to easily forge close friendships. For this I am truly grateful. I have made friends with people of all ages and walks of life, and I trust that one day it will feel like I am really part of a community. But I won’t know if I don’t try, eh?

Good routines.  I notice that when I’m alone a lot, it’s easy to take the path of least resistance, so I’m trying to make sure I am disciplined. I read the Bible lectionary readings daily and have a regular prayer time. I make a to do list, and while I’m not driven by it, I do try to make progress with it. I try to eat attractive, healthy meals with a certain ceremony, as I do when I have family and friends around to serve. I ride my stationary bike, since I’m not close to a park. I walk a lot and use the stairs in my daily errands. I do housework and secretarial tasks, and balance between doing introspective activities and more expansive ones. Making sure I go out, and making time for friends, are part of this routine.

Putting out feelers. I don’t have a job right now, and I’m not sure what sort of job is appropriate and forthcoming at present. But I do think I have time for some purposeful activity that touches others, and so I try to take steps to figure out what this might be. I’ve talked to people in various programs, talked to people who might need art or English lessons, and I trust that putting out feelers will make the way clearer eventually, even if at first I go down some dead ends.

Getting outside myself. I love the merenda. And in general, I have remembered what I used to know well before I got so towed under, which is that looking other people in the eye and really listening to what they’re saying is a genuine pleasure, not just a duty and a means of charity. What a relief!


A recent New Yorker cartoon by David Sipress

Do goofball things that make you laugh! Sometimes when I find myself at home alone during the evening, I put on some old movie, whether in Italian or English, and I don’t worry about whether it’s a “smart” film or not. It helps that I’m beginning to be able to understand enough Italian that a whole new world is opening up. While walking around town, I take photos of clothes I’d never wear and play with the bokeh button on Instagram. I don’t care how lame it is!  I put smiley faces after my text messages 🙂 🙂 :-). I send Facebook stickers. And yes, I even watch cat videos! Yes, I know that art is ever moving, and not sentimental. But life is too short to be overly serious.

Seek God’s will. This is huge, too huge to describe here, and it includes all of the things above, of course. But I’ve sought intelligent guidance, and benefitted from it. Among other things, I’ve discovered a blog and radio program that I really like, hosted by Greg and Lisa Popcak. Here’s a recent radio program they did on forgiveness. (It’s long, but I really like what they said all the way through.)

I’ve looked at where I did things wrong in the past, and tried to change them. And since not every circumstance or relationship is entirely within my own power, there are a lot of things still up in the air. But that doesn’t mean I can’t live in God’s will. And as Peter Kreeft says, seeking God’s will wholeheartedly never fails to bring joy (not giddy happiness mind you, but joy.)

And so there you have a few things that a person who is a bit at sea in a new stage of life can do to make things better.  I know that a lot of my friends are going through similar things. They may still have children at home, but maybe they’ve sent their eldest off to college and are surprised to find themselves in mourning.  Maybe they’ve had to move when they didn’t want to. Maybe they are facing disappointment or difficulty with work or in relationships, or facing serious illness in themselves, friends, or family members. All of these are serious things that require acknowledgment and sympathy. But at some point, we all face that moment when we’re alone and we say to ourselves, “Okay, what now? How to start moving forward again?” That’s what this post is about.

Two treats


 Mr. Meringue! (before baking)

I haven’t posted about food in a while, maybe because we eat it too fast to take photos, but I’m always learning something or other about cooking in Italy. And the number one thing that I’ve learned about cooking in Italy is that while New Yorkers like food from around the world (sometimes the stranger the better), Italians like their own food best. So, my cooking focus has shifted over the past few years, from reading cookbooks and buying spices from around the world, to talking with Italians about what they cook, then trying it myself, or better yet, being shown. Italians don’t really seem to use recipes for a lot of what they cook, and in fact, the foods are usually pretty simple, but of good quality.

Two of this fall’s additions are meringues and bagna cauda.  The meringue-making got started because we always had leftover egg whites after making egg cappuccinos and it seemed shame to waste them. I’d never thought of making meringues before because they always seemed a bit too sweet. But the idea is simple enough: Whip up the egg whites, add some sugar while continuing to whip, bake them at a low temperature, and then let them dry in the oven for up to four hours.

I haven’t got the details down to a science yet. The first time I made them they still came out too sweet, and too brown (though they didn’t taste burned), so I’m adjusting them a little every time I make them. Yesterday Alberto was helping me, and we used 1/3 c. sugar for three egg whites, squeezed the mixture out of a plastic bag onto baking sheets covered in foil, baked the cookies at 110° C (225°F) for an hour-and-a-half, and them left them in the oven pretty much all afternoon. And just to add a little fun, we mixed some chocolate powder with some of the remaining meringue mix and decorated the cookies, at first with a spoon and then with toothpicks. Thus was born Mr. Meringue (above)! This batch was still a little sun-tanned and their texture wasn’t perfect, but they’re coming along.

By the way, these meringues go really nicely with jasmine or chamomile tea. As an aside which I am almost embarrassed to tell, people had been giving me loose tea for a while, and I was just keeping it in the cabinet because I had no idea how to make it or where to find an infuser. Finally a few weeks ago I ran across an infuser in a store somewhere, bought it, and tried it. Wow! I like loose tea so much better than tea from bags! So, now that the weather is getting cool and it’s cloudy out a lot (even though according to the Torinese it’s been that way all summer), we’re getting back into a cozy routine of having chamomile tea before bedtime. But this time we have chamomile-lavender loose tea, which is even better!



Above: Whipped egg whites with sugar added, squeezing out the meringues, and the baked (and tanned) Mr. Merignue!

Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of photos for the bagna cauda. It simply doesn’t last long enough to photograph, and the dip in the pot by itself looks a bit bland (see below). In fact, when I explain what bagna cauda is to Americans, they tend to make faces. You mean it’s anchovies and garlic?! Well, yes, but it’s small amounts of each slow-cooked in a lot of cream! (There’s also a version with oil instead of cream.) And here in Piemonte, bagna cauda (which means warm bath) is the epitome of cozy fall food, a real treat!

To make it, you chop up about 8-10 anchovies (in Italy you can buy these in small glass jars, which you then rinse to remove some of the extra oil and/or salt), add 1 or more garlic cloves depending on your taste, sauté them in a small amount of oil, and then add about a box of cream per person. (Again, in Italy you can buy panna da cucina in boxes of about 20og ea., which is just under 8 oz. or 1 c.). You simmer the mixture on very low heat for about 2 hours, staying close by enough so that now and then you can stir the pot to make sure it doesn’t burn or stick.

When it’s done, you put the bagna cauda in warmed bowls for each person and serve it with various kinds of vegetables, including raw cabbage leaves, roasted peppers, a kind of small mushroom you can buy here in a jar, celery (or its rustic Piemontese cousin, cardo gobbo), boiled potatoes, and I’m sure there are plenty of other things that I’m forgetting!

A word of advice: One bowl of bagna cauda is almost a meal in itself, and as you might imagine, all that cream is very rich. The Piemontese see it as a once-a-month treat, so savor it in small quantities!

bagna caudaBagna cauda slow-cooking on the stove