|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 7, Issue 35, Tuesday, September 04, 2012 ||
Coffee, La Crisi and summer in Rome
By Neeman Sobhan
It's still hot, but summer is officially over in Italy. Soon everyone will be back to work, and the question to be answered will be: “So how was your summer?” The subtext this year is: how was it in spite of the 'crisi'. That's the word for the economic crisis that has been looming at the edges of Italians' lives like a big bad wolf.
Long ago, in 2011 B.C. (Before the Crisis), in those innocent times last year, conversation topics at Roman bars would flit like a butterfly: to lunch at the new enoteca in town or the Jet-set café on Eur lake; the horrifying possibility of shoulder pads coming back into fashion; did Elisabetta Canalis and George Clooney split up because he is….you know…….No way, shut up, he is not!
Yes, those were distressing but not stressful questions. They were things one could cope with over a caffé. Now at Bars, the regular breakfast order of 'Cappuccino and Cornetto' has been replaced by a different string of 'C's'. It's Coffee while Chewing the Cuds on the Crisis.
It's in the air. It's the talk of the town. It's on the TV talk shows and the local newsstand; at the hairdresser and the 'Wellness' gym; the petrol pump and the garbage dump; it's everywhere…well, except for the restaurants. (Italians will give up everything save a good meal, which insiders know doesn't have to be expensive to be good.)
But what finally drove the fact home to me was the following; as most tourists know, by now from bad experience (and sunstrokes), 14 August, Ferragosto, is the start of Italy's most serious holiday period that lasts about two weeks when everything shuts down and the city is taken over by the stampeding hordes with guide books (that's you guys out there) and every Italian goes away on vacation, even the policeman, the doctor, the grave-digger. (So, you get robbed, fall ill and die at your own riskdon't say I never warned you.)
This is the last chance for office-going folks to finally leave town for the sea, the mountains or some exotic tourist destination. In this sacred and absolute-must-get-away period, imagine my shock to discover that some of my neighbours had not left the neighbourhood! They were surreptitiously sunbathing in their terrace garden or splashing discreetly in their own pool! Oh My Gucci! It's official. Gli Italiani are in crisi.
So the media was right. The buzz earlier this summer in Rome was that 'la crisi' had hijacked everyone's holiday plans and that this year, Romans had tightened their designer belts and opted to stay home instead of flying off to resorts like Sharm-al-Shaykh or Bali, or even home-based spots like Puglia or Sardegna.
I grinned. Not unsympathetically but, well actually, yes, a bit unsympathetically. I mean, for years I have been trying to explain to my Italian friends, neighbours, acquaintances, even a long ago cleaning woman, when asked: “What? Not going anywhere this summer?” (the implication being that everyone should be able to afford a vacanza of even a week somewhere, anywhere, when you are obliged for form's sake or bella-figura to shut the house and just go away) that it gave us no pleasure to be stuck in traffic in hot August driving to some hotel on the sea or an agritourismo up on a mountain (when both the sea and the hills are an hour away from Roma) or join tourists in all those exotic places Italians fly just so they can sit by hotel pool sides and eat at restaurants while complaining about the inedibility of the local cuisine and missing good old Italian sea food and pasta and looking for an Italian meal in foreign places (yes, they can be quite parochial in that way) and return with a glorious tan exclaiming 'Mamma Mia! How hot it was!”, when we being naturally tanned and naturally wiser take our holiday earlier in May and later in December-January when its spring elsewhere, and stay put in sizzling weather on our own shady terrace and in the sea breeze of evening, dine sumptuously at our local restaurants on the fabulous seafood and pasta and keep both our tans and our tempers to remark 'Oh! Was it hot in the sun? We never noticed!'
But I just grin and shut up. It's no use. Italians are incorrigible bon vivants and will not understand such un-Italian attitude to summer and life. And I know that the Italian economic crisis might affect the small things like jobs, salaries, disposable income, etc. but in the big and important things, the ability to enjoy life (godersi la vita), that will not be dented. Nothing will affect their lifestyle.
I love Italy and the Italians, and I say this with affection and solidarity: whatever the economic crisis might do, it will not put into recession the Italian spirit. They will drive smaller more fuel efficient cars and still be flashy drivers; eschew Dolce & Gabbana for a plain shirt or top and still look stylish; drink a Barollo or the house wine instead of a Brunello and still find veritas in vino; stay at home and not go to Maldives, and still look tanned and relaxed. They will economise on things but not compromise on life.
After all, the best things in life are still affordable and available to be enjoyed: good food, good wine, good weather. Add to this, a gelato in the evening and a coffee with a fresh cornetto in the morning, and any crisi can be talked out if not overcome. Pazienza! That's the Italian way to deal with life's small and large crises. We should all learn. And as that wise tee shirt said: Life is too short not to be Italian.
Neeman Sobhan is a writer and journalist, living in Italy and teaching at the University of Rome. She also writes the fortnightly 'A Roman Column' that appears in the Star Weekend Magazine on Fridays.
By Sabrina F Ahmad
Back in black
Lips pouted, eyebrows arched, and lashes sweeping enchantingly, you're ready to knock some socks off.
By Sabrina F Ahmad
Bake it out with friends
A slumber party, a great dinner or a rollicking night out, we have all been there and done that. Given the limited amount of choices at hand, when it comes to doing something fun with your girlies on a long awaited leisure day, it is absolutely normal for you to run through this mental list only to realise that you've done it all and can't possibly figure out anything novel.
It's time to think out of the box. Perhaps look for things that you usually do but always thought would be much more exciting doing in a group. Indeed, I am talking about nothing but a bake date with your girl friends, in your cosy home kitchen, on a wonderful Friday morning, preparing for a weekend brunch!
As lovely as the idea might sound, hosting a bake date for your friends is incredibly easy and hassle-free and the reason is of course because you don't have to do any of the cooking yourself but share the fun and joy with a lot of others who wouldn't mind giving you a hand in making some delectable baked goodies.
Given its simple nature does not mean you don't prepare at all. Certain things like baking dishes, cutlery and most important of all, the proper ingredients at the right amount should be present in the kitchen before the guests arrive.
The first step to a bake date should be preparing a list of items that you think would be fun to bake together. The smaller the items the better, because that way everyone can pitch in and the ultimate result will not be too much to finish off by the number of participants.
Cup cakes, cookies, brownies, savoury patties and cheesy pies seem like the way to go but make sure not to add too many varieties to your list as that would break the unity amongst the bakers. A list of three items at maximum would serve right.
A bake date reaches its pinnacle when the baked goodies are taken freshly out of the oven and the enticing, almost woody caramel-like smell reaches every corner of the house, getting the neighbours envious of your brunch-time palate.
Now comes the most thrilling part, getting the baked items all dressed up, ready to hit that ramp on the table. A simple chocolate drizzle for your cakes, some honey glaze for those pies, some candy-coloured icing for your cookies and a dusting of snowy sugar over your brownies can just set them for a luscious, mouth-watering display, as if their yummy baked form was not good enough already.
You can also try out a competition to see who can get their item to look the prettiest. All it needs is some artistic endeavours and a little use of imagination.
So the next time you play host for your girlfriends, do not go for the clichéd and try out some new things. This might just give you all the more reasons to get the nails done afterwards and extend the well-deserved weekend pampering session.
By Afrida Mahbub
What's your feel good factor?
What you do (and can do) to find peace in our beloved concrete jungle
We all love this city, but let's face it -- everyone is extremely stressed. Stressed because they are stuck in traffic for hours, stressed from the heat and humidity, stressed due to electricity and water shortages…and just like a Hindi serial (or our own beloved TV series Gulshan Avenue), if for even a moment your life is stress-free, worry not, some issue will definitely arise soon enough! Amidst all this chaos, you've really got to ask yourself -- what's life worth living for?
As clichéd as it sounds, life is about the simpler things, the little things we do that give us peace of mind. It's time to drop the “I'll go on holiday next year with my annual leave” attitude and embrace life today. The reality is that everyone needs to find their own “me-time” and figure out what they can do occasionally to soothe all those undoubtedly frazzled nerves.
If a long spa treatment is a bit too much for you, even a mani-pedi session at your neighbourhood parlour is a great way to both relax and get top-notch nails. Lots of men like getting pedicures because they have no idea how to maintain their nails themselves.
Facials are also good for both sexes for healthy skin. People who have six-day working weeks and hardly go out, find joy in indulging in a fancy dinner once in a while or grabbing some sweet treats at Bittersweet or the Westin.
If you're a sports-lover, gather some friends for a fun football or basketball game at a convenient park. If your friends are too lazy, other options include tennis or karate. Many often go for evening walks by places like Dhanmondi Lake or Gulshan Ladies' Park.
Are you a foodie? Instead of spending lots of money eating out, why not try your hand in cooking from the countless recipes available in books and the Internet? Preparing a good meal, inviting people over, and enjoying food together is something many people love doing.
Want to learn something new? Enrol in a language or instrument class. Do-it-yourself projects, ranging from small craft projects such as paper flowers, to large-scale projects such as painting your room, have high satisfaction levels.
To each his own
On a parting note
The truth is that there are lots of things one can do, but most people are too lazy or disinterested to put a bit of effort to ask around. So don't be a procrastinator, get off that couch, and try to enjoy your time off as much as possible.
By Meherin Aziz
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