Did we see you at the casino?

CHURCHILL DOWNS, LOUISVILLE, KY – Sandro is our Sardinian Italian Language instructor from the Language Exchange in Portland.

We do private lessons with him once a week when whenever we can. It gets technical. And specific. And then it spins out into wide ranging and freewheeling conversations. We were talking about our trip to the Kentucky Derby and that led to betting. And want to guess what the Italian word for Casino is? That’s right: casinò!. Emphasis on the end.

Depending on the circles you travel with, usually you will hear the word without the ending emphasis. And that’s just a mess. Because without the accent it means “mess.” Well, technically it means “bordello” but somehow “che casino!” or “what a bordello!” has evolved to “what a mess!” Hey, wait a minute, Bordello looks like an Italian word too. See how much we owe Italians?

stewvaleriemidgeThe photo is us with the indomitable Valerie Harper between races.

See you in Italy!

we’ll try not to make too much of a casino.
Full breakdown of the race weekend and videos and glimpses at true party ethic in action


Live. And Learn.

typical Italian dinner at moms Panicale, Umbria, ItalyPANICALE, PADOVA, TORINO, Italy–If we live to be a hundred, we will never get to the point on the Generosity Chart where Italians seem to be born. Like a Ferrari, the average Italian has some extra gears they can shift into, at a moment’s notice. They make it look so easy and effortless,

A couple examples. We were in Padova, years ago, at our Italian foreign exchange student’s home for the first time. We were seeing the house and doing the polite, “What a lovely home. Love that painting! Gorgeous flowers here on the balcony . . .” Which was all fine, until we got ready to leave and they had elaborately wrapped gifts for all of us. And after those individual be-ribboned and bowed packages had all been opened, there was one more. A bonus round “for the family.” It was the framed oil painting we’d admired on the wall. You have to be careful out there, admiring things.

And food. Be careful there too. That tide may only flow one direction. We were almost coaxed into a food coma at our friends in Torino’s home. They fed us like Christmas geese. “This is wonderful, but three helpings is fine, please, thank you” didn’t seem to work. And so we were lovely and polite, and kept on eating our way through the food pyramids in front of us.

Later that vacation we invited them to a similar feast in their honor at a place we were renting near Sarzana. They looked at the food we put in front of them, and looked at us like we were a tiny bit deranged. “What is all this food they asked?” They ate a bit of this and a bit of that. You know, normal people portions.

naturamorta italian still life with wine, grapes, tomatoes, melonSo, if you think you can “get even” or return the favor, that would be a rookie move. Here in the states we hear people say “Oh, we owe so and so a dinner. They had us over and we need to pay them back.” This is patently impossible in Italy. Repeat after me: You can not out-gift or out-feed Italians.

We ate so much marvelous food on our most recent trip. But I’m quite sure my favorite was Lunch at Bruno’s Mom’s. She’s ninety, her garden is vast, and lunch was equally so and fit for a king. The home-made tagliatelle was the best ever. I told her so and she waved me off. This? I just tossed this together” They double-teamed me. They had me at the end of the table, between them. When I looked to my left at mom while we talked, Bruno on my right, would fill one of my glasses, with the more of the fine red wine he made from her grapes. If I looked back his way, mom would upend a serving dish of pasta or salad on my still-full plate.

And even though we were all going to a town-wide Festa Dell’uva dinner that night together, Bruno and I still got a to-go box. The grapes are mom’s, as are the tomatoes. The melon? Bruno and I liberated it from a field outside Paciano that had been mechanically harvested. They missed a couple. We didn’t.

pacianopozzo pozzo or well, outside Paciano, Umbria, ItalyMoral of the story: When you are up against the kindest, most generous people on the planet, you cannot compete. To have an Italian friend is to be constantly in debt to them. You can but live and learn. And maybe–if you are good, very good in this life – you may get to come back. As an Italian.

See you in the next life,

Stew Vreeland


incident3 incident in english versus incidente in italianITALIAN CLASS, Portland, Maine – “Well, Stew, did that adventure have a happy ending?” Prof Sandro of Sardina wants to know. I’ve told my story (in Italian) and I’m almost off the hook. One more word from me and it is the next person’s turn in the white hot spot light. All eyes still on me, I think: I can do this. A simple “Yes” would work fine. But I feel expansive and try to geld that lily and say “eventualmente” Felt right at the time, but long suffering Sandro shook his head and muttered “False Friend.” By complete accident, I knew what he meant.

dictionary2 italian to english and english to italianWe were in Italy and all our good intentioned dictionaries were not. We ducked into the book store on the main drag in Castiglion del Lago. They say Italian to English. We say English to Italian. Pot-ate-o / Pot-ah-toe. it all comes out in the same wash, no? No. Almost, but still no. Once I saw the difference I realized this could be a very good thing.

First, lets get one thing right out on the table: Italian is very sexy mistress. She has you feeling on top of the world one moment. And the next moment, she’s disgustedly stamping out her cigarette. On your face. It happens to everyone. You are so dazzled by the romance and the soft vowels. It seems almost too easy. Pizza, spaghetti, ciao, buon viaggio, piano, volcano. It’s hardly Mandarin Chinese or Arabic. We’re using the same alphabet and we’ve heard so much Italian in music and the arts that it feels comfortable, approachable. That’s where we get complacent and let down our guard. And start making up words on the fly. If rapidamente is rapidly (which it is) then surely eventualmente is eventually. But therein lies the rub. Eventualmente cruelly IS an Italian word. It just doesn’t mean what we (ok, what I ) think it means. Prima or poi would have been a better answer if I had to go past the simple answer of Yes, Sandro.

italian dictionary, inside, showing false friend conceptUnlike any dictionary I’ve ever used this Italian one (who knows, maybe they all do) highlights all these bad boys. And trust me there is a “Nota” or a “False Friend” on almost every one of the 600 pages here. Accident (accidente) really means incident (incidente)? And vice versa, for good measure. In what world would that happen? Ah, but it does and “Quando a Roma” we need to step up to that ancient plate and do it the way the Romans would want us to. Wonderful dictionary. Highly recommend picking one up the next time you are in Italy. Whole new perspective. I’m sure Italians look at these FF’s and throw up their hands and say, those crazy English speaking people. THEY’VE got it all backwards. Just like we do going the other way. Allora, relax and enjoy the ride. False Friends is better than no friends at all.

See you in Italy,


Italian Radio. On a smart phone near you.

CHE PICCOLO MONDO. And it just got smaller. I’m daily amazed at our iPhone. Nature’s most nearly perfect product. Today, it is the TuneIn app that is rocking our known world. Have you gotten this yet? How did we live without this?!
radiopopolareroma italian radio on the iPhone

I know you can find almost any radio station on the web and get its icon on your phone and listen away. I’ve done that with a few favorite local stations for years. But it takes up space on my desktop and results have been clunky, sketchy. TuneIn really has me tuning in. To Italian Radio. There are dozens and dozens of stations and all the ones I’ve tried are clear. And it is FREE. (Full disclosure: Yes, this is a rave. But like the cost of the app. no money has changed hands to influence this blog. Darn it. Tune In does not know we exist)

This weekend, we accidentally landed on 103.3 Radio Popolare Roma. Been on it inside and out, day and night, even in our car, driving down the road. Doesn’t seem to be wi-fi related. The station, when I first got there last night was all cool jazz and now I’ve seen there are day parts where it is talk radio. But even when the Italian music dies down the music of the Italian language is there in News and Interviews. Regardless of what is on, because it is Italian, it puts us in a brave new world. A kind of heaven where Italian is spoken all the time.

See you in Italy,


Italian expression that’s easy to say. Hard to do.

Fair warning, “Chi manga pocco, dorma bene” is an Italian expression. But it really isn’t really a good holiday expression. And with good reason. The expression itself makes infinite sense, because it means “he who eats in moderation, sleeps well.” Who can argue with that logic? But who can remember the expression or the logic behind it when friends and neighbors are so busy spreading good cheer, chocolates, cookies and eggnog?

Which reminds me, eggnog is quite evidently NOT of Italian origin. You know how some English-speaking people (OK, OK . . . Americans) call fried potatoes and egg-battered bread, respectively, French Fries and French Toast? In Italy, they return the favor by calling eggnog Zuppa Ingelese. English Soup!

Cheers! And buone feste!

Stew Vreeland