Italy on Thursday passed a law aimed at tackling poverty, with a particular focus on assisting families with young children in particular.
The country’s Labour Minister Giuliano Poletti, said it was an “important day” after the Chamber of Deputies gave the bill the go-ahead. Having already received approval from the Italian Senate, the law will come into force in the next few weeks.
Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni described the new law as "a step forward to help families in need".
The photo above shows my Mom, Marie (Vetri) Finzi, holding my son when he was a toddler. It shows her joyful, funny and loving side. But, she was a tough lady... just like her mother. Her shouts threatened us into behaving. She was always harsh with Dad, but was his ultimate lifelong companion--they were married 54 years when he passed away in 2000. When I asked Dad once why he put up with all of her yelling, he just said, "What am I going to do? I love her." Yes, Dad... there was something there...
Her tough demeanor would fade when little kids were around and when she knew neighbors, co-workers or the public at large were watching. She also would laugh, joke, tease and have a great time during large family dinners when all her grandchildren (18 of them) would visit during the holidays and crowd into her tiny kitchen and dining room.
But she was not to be crossed. Her favorite expression was "I don't mad. I get even". She was a provider, but also a fighter... a product from her Italian immigrant family's tough life in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her father was murdered--an act of jealousy when he worked as a manager at a trash hauling company--crushed by a garbage truck. Her mother remarried for financial reasons. Her stepfather was a drunk. Her sister and brother were sent away for years when they were young, simply because there wasn't enough money to provide for all of them. In the end, when her mother passed, she discovered her brother had plotted against her and she was left out of my Grandmother's will. That had to hurt.
She worked in a factory most of her life making jewelry boxes... a real sweat shop--no air conditioning, sun beating down from banks of skylights, and the head-aching airplane roar of industrial fans making a poor attempt to keep things a bit cooler. Once a large metal stamping machine crusher her finger and they paid for her getting stitched back up--nothing more. The rest of her life she pointed with a crooked finger. She eventually became a supervisor, but still worked her own machines getting paid by the piece. No wonder that every month or so she would book an evening out with her "lady friends" to unwind with a Tom Collins cocktail and listening to some Italian crooner in a Manhattan night club, or to a countryside dinner theater to enjoy a show.
She also was a mother to five kids, her first were twin sisters--born THREE DAYS apart. That's back when twins were natural--and a rarity. The New York Daily News carried that story. Her third child was a boy, so rambunctious that he would be classified ADHD today. Her third daughter was a prize--her cherubic, "fat baby" who could never do wrong. And then there was me--an unwanted pregnancy later in her child-bearing years... the "baby" of the family. I was the odd man out--the quiet, polite, artsy type. I tried to stay out of trouble, listened, learned and painted.
When they were still young enough to enjoy life
She was always Dad's bathing beauty
She had the foresight to scrape, save and borrow to buy the small six-apartment tenement that I grew up in... just to get the six of them out of the small apartment they rented in Hoboken--just as I came along--a real surprise for this fatigued mother. How the seven of us lived in a two bedroom railroad flat is beyond me.
She collected rents, rented seashore apartments for us for one week a year, bought a new family car every 4 years or so, slaved in that factory until she retired... cooked, cleaned, and "kept house" as she called it. As the older kids married and moved out, she and Dad would take more worldly trips: Hawaii, Spain, Morocco, Mexico, and nearly all the Caribbean islands. She had one Jewish friend and one black friend and used the expression "those people" a lot, although she would never label herself racist. She always held her purse tight to her body whenever we went into New York City for the day.
Every Sunday she made "Sunday Gravy". She also made a great chicken soup, the occasional pizza ("Grandma" sheet pan style), pot roast (with the help of canned onion soup), fall-off-the-bone roasted chicken, she loved smelt and fried eel, and once a week would offer us a "cold platter" during the hot summer. She was a solid, good family cook... not great, but none of us starved, that's for sure. Because she was a working mother, and because my siblings had all gotten married and left home by the time I turned 13, I learned how to cook early on.
Dad didn't live long enough to meet the 19th of his grandchildren--my son Lucas--but Mom did. She was aging pretty fast while he was a toddler and he has vague memories of her... but he does remember his "Angel Grandma" as we came to call her after her passing. She lived to be 92 years old, passing away in 2009... her longevity, a gift from he mother who lived to be 96.
Since she has been gone, I rarely think of her on any daily basis, but I do cook a lot of the things she taught me how to cook--especially soups and stews. And I see her dimples in my son's dimples. I think of her whenever I come across an old cooking show that we used to watch together. And I hear her voice when I catch myself yelling at my son for some indiscretion or act of disrespect. I don't like yelling. But I suppose that's the way it is with what we inherit from our parents. We accept them into ourselves--both the good and the bad.
You were a hell of a woman and a mother, Marie.
On April 2nd, she would have been 100 years old. Happy birthday, Mom.
Young women, casalinghe (housewives), Nonne... in fact, all women across Italy will be abstaining not only from work, but also from household chores tomorrow. Wednesday, March 8th is International Women's Day, the day chosen to protest a range of women's rights issues throughout the world. The Day Without Women protest is expected to affect taxis, airline schedules, schools, public transportation and other service and manufacturing industries. Nearly all of Italy's trade unions have announced their participation in the protest.
Organizers said, "Women - and not just women - will take to the streets to show that male violence against women is a structural issue in society," they explained. "It pervades every location, from the home to the workplace, from hospitals to university, from the media to the borders, and in every location it will be fought."
The Italian event is organized by women's rights organization Non una di meno. The organization reported that some employers are "giving false information" to workers about their right to strike in an illegal attempt to quash the effects on their industries.
Trenitalia, Italy's main railway line, has already announced cancellations and delays on all its lines, except on high-speed routes.
First, I want to thank all of our loyal GVI followers for coming back, again and again, but I also want to thank the more recent people who have discovered that our Grand Voyage is a trip worth taking together.
Millegrazie a tutti!
Together, we are on a Voyage of Italian history, lifestyle, art, music, heritage, architecture, and cuisine. Whether you've ever been to Italy, are planning a trip soon or just want to live the simple, beautiful life as they enjoy in la Bel Paese, we are so happy you've chosen to take this Voyage with us.
I want you all to know that this is has also been a wonderful learning experience for our little famiglia... learning about the technology of running a successful blog is daunting at times. Even our son, Lucas has learned so much that he has even started blogs of his own and in reality, when I have a tech problem, he is my little troubleshooter, often knowing commands that I haven't used yet. He edited his first newsletter starting in kindergarten and I still consider him as our "contributing editor".
Lisa is also involved, and even though she has a demanding full time corporate job, she is heavily devoted to the recipes and story ideas we come up with. We are still learning the Italian language and are already considering our options for yet another Voyage to Italy... Christmas in Florence... to Corleone, Sicily to discover Lisa's roots? It's strange that since I've researched so much about Italy, at times it feels like I've already been somewhere that I haven't. There is so much to learn about Italy and la Bella Vita. I feel blessed to have discovered so much about Italy--and myself.
There has been tremendous growth for GVI... going from a few hundred views a week when we first started planing our own Voyage throughout Italy in 2014, to hovering around a million page views a year. Between 15-20,000 people read our blog each and every month! We now have thousands of posts of a wide variety of subjects posted on GVI, and every week we post more and more.
We have many plans for the future of GVI, one of which is our structure. You might have already noticed that we are reorganizing our pages (check out the menu bar across the top of the page) and are re-publishing, editing and updating all of our posts and moving them to the new categories of pages. Navigating and finding what you need will get easier and easier as we move forward with this task.
We are also planning so much more as we grow: additional guest contributors covering various subjects such as moving to and living in Italy, traveling in Italy; posts covering Extreme Italian Adventures; more Off the Tourist Path articles; Speaking of Italy, Italian Language Lessons; Fornello Recipe Videos; and even interviews of famous and influential Italians. And of course, there will always be beautiful photos...
But to do this, we need your support. As you might have noticed, we have started placing ads on our pages... we have become a member of Amazon Associates. We will place links to Amazon products either in sidebar ads or as links within the content of our articles. We make a pledge to never promote products that we don't believe in or that don't relate to the interests of Grand Voyage Italy's readers. We will never suggest products that we haven't researched thoroughly, and in many cases we will recommend products that we have actually used or owned. Remember who is our blog mascot: La Bocca della Verità, the Mouth of Truth. We will always strive to live up to this truthful philosophy.
We only ask that if you see something that we've recommended that you might consider purchasing, please add it to yourAmazon cart directly after clicking on the link. If you do this, you will have 89 days to make your decision on whether to purchase the item or not. In this way, GVI can earn a nominal (small, often very small) commission on any sale we've helped with.
The more we grow, the more features we can add to our Voyage.
Once again, grazie for supporting us and don't forget to tell all your friends about us.
All our love and respect,
P.S. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please... we love comments! Ciao.
Check out this fantastic article by Veronica Di Grigoli on The Dangerously Truthful Diary of a Sicilian Housewife blog that I came across. It profiles a wonderful Easter festival in Sicily where a fantasy village is built out of bamboo and artistic panels and decorations all made out of bread. Well worth a look! Loads of great photos...
Loafing around in Sicily’s Gingerbread Village
The people of San Biagio Platano, a village in south-western Sicily, have celebrated Easter every year since the 1700’s by decorating their streets with arches and towers made of bread. The entire community spends three months turning the place into a gingerbread village… yet Hansel and Gretel never come!
Sister Candida Bellotti was born the third daughter of ten to a humble family on February 1907, in the romantic city of Verona. This gives her the honor of being the oldest nun in Italy, at 110 years old, yet more proof that the Italian lifestyle affords amazing longevity. (Read: Why Are There So Many People in Italy Over 100 Years Old?)
She was celebrated by the Vatican this week: "To the Reverend Sister Candida Bellotti, Minister of the Sick, which with gratitude to God, celebrates her one hundred and tenth birthday, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, spiritually participates in the common joy for your happy occasion, and conveys his congratulations and warm wishes."
She became a nun at the age of 20 and started her religious career as a nurse starting at the Institute of the Servants of the Sick of Lucca, and in many other Italian cities until retiring at the age of 93 in 2000.
Her advice to young people (which includes pretty much everyone reading this): "To love, love and still love. With joy! "
I'll take that advice, Sorella. Auguri! --Jerry Finzi
It seems every year about this time, Starbucks puts out press releases saying they are opening Starbucks stores all over Italy. last year (read below) they said they were going to open their very first Starbucks in Italy. That never happened. I don't think there's much support for Starbucks in Italy. Having their espresso Italian style every morning at home with their Moka pots or at their neighborhood breakfast bar on the way to work is simply too ingrained in the Italian culture for things to change now.
Starbucks announced last Thursday that it plans to open 200 to 300 stores in Italy starting next year. Really? Where's that first shop they promised last year? Now they claim that in June of next year--2018--they will will open four shops in Rome and Milan. "If the first phase of expansion goes well" (what happened to last year's "first phase"?), they are promising 300 stores opening in Italy before 2023.
Basta! Enough promises. Besides, that's way too long for Italians to sit and wait for them. It's much faster to fire up the moka pot...
From 3/1/2016: Starbucks announced today that they will be opening their very first coffee house in Milan in the first part of 2017. What? In 2017, they say? Well, it makes sense that their plans will take that long, especially when you consider how Starbucks' offerings in huge take out coffee cups have little to do with the way the average Italian indulges in their espresso. It might take the company a full year (or more) to test market, focus group, finesse, and then fine tune a new batch of caffeine alternatives to the ultimate coffee drinkers on Planet Earth--the Italians. I predict the offerings will look nothing like what American Starbucks offer here in the States.
In the early 1980s, Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz visited Italy and supposedly was inspired to bring what he called the "romance and theater" of Italian coffee bars and baristas to the U.S. market. I'm wondering where in the Italian Boot did he visit that caused him to create such an over-blown, over-priced and over-sized coffee product that has little to do with the culture of coffee consumption and tradition in Italy.
The Starbucks cushy chair
Standing at a typical Italian coffee bar
In most coffee shops (called bars in Italy) there is little "romance" and the only "theater" is standing at the bar (either that, or get charged extra for a table), chomping down a cornetto and slurping down your espresso after which the mega-dose of caffeine propels you on your way toward the morning's labor. Perhaps he mistook a simple fact for "theater": the barista knows the locals because bars are local, neighborhood places in Italy... every neighborhood has them, each one with a small family of baristi and neighbors. Sure, some of the fancy coffee bars in tourist centers might be pretty plush, but most are plain and proactical. This is hard to duplicate on a fast-food chain store model. And I'm not sure that the Italians will put up with paying four to six times the price to what they currently pay for an espresso.
Every morning, the average Italian either makes their own small cup of intense espresso with their little art deco Moka coffee pot on their home gas range, or they stand for a couple of minutes in their neighborhood "bar" at an actual bar counter (bars serve coffee in Italy) and down a little cup (usually half full) of dense, hot espresso--usually with some sugar added. This is part of their colazione (breakfast) which nationwide consists of an espresso or cappuccino and a sweet pastry, such as a cornetto (the Italian, less flaky version of a croissant).
Starbucks cappuccino experience
A cappuccino experience in Italy
There must be a good reason that after 33 years of Starbucks' great success and with about 21,000 stores in 70 countries (with 38 in Europe), the brand has never opened a store in Italy, the supposed home of its inspiration. Is it because the look and feel of both the Starbucks experience and its offerings have nothing to do with coffee bars in Italy? It depends on what the meaning of their "success" is too... as it seems that every couple of years Starbucks seems to announce mass closings of its stores, anywhere from hundreds to thousands. Have they become over-saturated? Italy is going to suck up a lot of marketing funds to convince the average Italian to gulp instead of slurp.
Is success really guaranteed in Italy... a country with 22 different regions each with their own regulations and laws and customs? Is it guaranteed in a country where people think it's a Cardinal Sin to add milk to coffee at any other time than early in the morning? Is success guaranteed where eating and drinking while walking on the street or in your car is socially unacceptable and considered disgustoso? Will it be a success where family run, small shops in local towns and villages with loyal customers are the mainstay of the Italian economy?
Starbucks claims that it will enter the birthplace of espresso "with humility and respect". Doesn't that sound like a scene from The Godfather? Are they going to have to bow and kiss a few knuckles, too? Are they going to make Italians an offer they can't refuse?
Starbucks needed a partner to accomplish their plan in Italy, so they selected Italian real estate/mall developer, Gruppo Percassi. The company, based in Bergamo, will license and run the Starbucks brand in Italy. Even signore Percassi himself admitted: "We know that we are going to face a unique challenge with the opening of the first Starbucks store in Italy, the country of coffee, and we are confident that Italian people are ready to live the Starbucks experience, as already occurs in many other markets."
There are some hard facts that will prevent Italians from easily accepting the Starbucks brand. While the espresso machine was invented in Italy, it turns out that Italy doesn't drink anywhere near the amount of coffee as other countries, especially when compared to the United States--we drink about four times as much coffee per person as Italians! Italy ranks as only the seventh largest consumer of coffee in Europe. The reasons for this are simple. Their espresso cups are small, and usually not filled completely. Unlike in other countries where one might have large cups of coffee each day, the Italians drink small amounts. I had an assistant once who drank 6-8 cups each day and even my wife, Lisa likes her coffee in over-sized mugs rather than small cups, I've never seen an Italian drinking coffee from a mug or a paper cup. They don't do take-out coffee, either.
The Italian cultural attitude toward coffee consumption is also very different. Perhaps they will have a cappuccino (with milk) in the morning with a sweet pastry, then a quick espresso shot during a late morning break at the bar down the street from their office, and perhaps another espresso on the way home or after dinner. Workplaces don't have coffee machines and stations as they do here in the U.S., and most homes have at least one Moka pot... never a Mr. Coffee machine. Unlike in American homes where there might be a large pot of coffee (already brewed) in a coffee machine waiting to be consumed all during the day, an Italian likes their espresso made fresh... they drink it and they're done.
Unlike the scene at a Starbucks, Italians might not take to lounging around in armchairs sipping huge take-out cups of overly sweet and pumpkin-spiced cappuccinos while surfing the Internet. They are used to getting their caffeine fix on-the-go with a quick stop at a neighborhood coffee bar.
The types of coffee served at Starbucks are a caricature of what you find in Italy, some of which are completely made up. In Italy, when you ask for "un caffe" you receive an espresso. Coffee IS espresso to Italians. And if you ask for a "latte" in Italy, you get a glass of milk--yes, only milk. Latte means milk. And a Frappuccino is a trademarked name, invented by Starbucks by shoving together "cappuccino" and "frappe" together... a sweet espresso with milk married to basically a milkshake.
And then there's the amount of sugar in Starbucks offerings. A Grande Vanilla Frappuccino contains more sugar than six servings of Kellog's Fruitloops! After all, there is a reason Italians stay so thin.
If Starbucks opens in Italy, they will also have to be careful about how they roast their beans. Italians roast beans only until they are brown--not black, like American baristas tend to do. In fact, Italians tastes--literally, the way they sense flavors--are different than the American palette. Americans seem to tolerate overly roasted coffee with a much more bitter flavor than Italians prefer. They also don't go for overly sweet things.
You can also consider the fact that Italians don't really drink iced coffee. Their cold coffee is a completely different thing. In fact, a tall glass of iced coffee would strike fear into most Italians... all that ice could cause congestione, a digestive block, and might even threaten one's life! There is an actual health code that forbids making and chilling espresso for storage. Enter the Shakerato.... a shaken and chilled espresso. Ice, espresso and sugar syrup is shaken in a metal cocktail shaker, resulting in a chilled espresso with a foamy head when poured into tall wine glasses. There are also other variations on this... Caffè Freddo and Granita di Caffè.
The mega-sized Trenta 31 ounce cup versus an Italian Macchiato
Then there's the size difference between Italian espresso and Starbucks products. In Italy, it goes like this:
Un Caffè is a demitasse sized cup of espresso, usually about half full. Customers can add cold water or sugar to taste. You might consider this the Italian "single shot".
Ristretto (Caffè Corto) is a "short shot" (3/4 oz) of very intense espresso (twice the coffee, half the water)
Lungo is 1-1/2 ounces, opposite of Ristretto (twice the water, half the coffee - less intense)
Caffè Doppio is a "double shot" is 2 ounces of a more concentrated espresso (double the amount of coffee is used to extract it).
Cappuccino is roughly 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foam (never order one after 11am!)
Caffè Macchiato is a shot of espresso “stained” with a drop of milk or foam.
Caffè Americano is watered down espresso served in a larger cup.
(In all cases above, the cups used are much smaller than a typical, American style 6 ounce cup.)
At Starbucks things are much larger to start with:
a Demi is 3 ounces
Espresso Shots (a Short) is 8 ounces
a Mini is 10 ounces
a Tall is 12 ounces (offered as low calorie option)
a Grande is 16 ounces
Venti literally means 20, for both options - a small Venti is 20 ounces, a large Venti is 24
a Trenta is a whopping 31 ounces
In the end, if Starbucks does come to towns in Italy, I really wonder if it will look and feel the same as Starbucks do here in the States. It's sort of like how fast food places are a different thing entirely in Italy. They offer far more healthy food that we get here. Italians expect things to be fresh--made the same day. They shy away from overly sweet things. They really don't overindulge on food or drink. You won't see coffee-addicted loners sucking up both bandwidth and caffeine in a cushy leather chair all morning in a local hangout. Italians like socializing. They go home for long lunches to spend time with family. The spend time with friends and family after work. They would never think of parking a huge paper coffee cup into their car's cup holder.
And they are frugal. One of the reasons they stand while drinking their espresso is that if they sit at a table, they will get charged much more for the table and the table service. And I really can't see an Italian spending 10 Euros on a Grande when they can buy an espresso for 1 Euro or a really nice bottle of wine at their local alimentari for 5 or 6 Euro.
Starbucks has their work cut out for them if they want to attract Italians into their shops...
Time will tell if their cup is half empty or half full.
Experience the Italian lifestyle, heritage, cuisine, art, music, language and traditions, while learning how our own Grand Voyage to Italy affected our lives back at home--per sempre--forever. Andiamo, take a Grand Voyage with us...