A couple of Phoenicians living temporarily in Roma

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Almost Out of Italy – Part 2

Oia, Santorini

Oia, Santorini

Part due of our summer travels…

Since nearly everyone who can afford to gets out of Rome in August, we figured we best act like the natives and leave too. We considered vacationing in Sardinia or on the coast in Italy somewhere, but soon realized it wouldn’t feel like much of a vacation eating Italian food, getting indifferent restaurant service and being squished on a crowded beach by lots of nearly naked, but somehow overly dressed, loud Italians and their screaming children. (Sorry to sound so bitter…but hey, I live here and YES women even wear high heels at the beach!) So after weighing our choices, we opted for a cruise on an American owned cruise line, Celebrity. Granted, I don’t think any of the staff on the ship are American, but it offers American “style” service and that’s what we were craving.

The Ship's gym

The Ship’s gym

We sailed with Celebrity a few years ago on a cruise to the Caribbean in early December. It was full of adults, like us, who could afford to vacation when they wanted to, and there were few to no children on board. My kind of vacation. Silly us for not realizing that if you cruise in August when all the bambini are out of school, you’re likely to find them all onboard your ship. Crying little ones in stollers, running and jumping medium sized ones, and bigger older ones who travel in packs, like dogs. Along with their mommas, pappas, aunts, uncles and assorted grandparents. You’ll also find cruising in Europe in the summer that you’re likely to encounter a veritable Heinz 57 of nationalities on board (41 different countries, actually, which Michael learned from watching the ship’s TV info channel while on the elliptical trainer at the well equipped and very clean gym, something we’re not used to having in our neighborhood in Roma.

Our cruise stopped for one day in Messina, Sicily where we disembarked and ate a very over priced pizza lunch. Not so much.

Next day we landed in Piraeus, the port city for Athens. We visited the Acropolis, took lots of photos, wandered down staired streets into the Plaka neighborhood and admired how clean everything was. (I swear I am not some kind of clean freak. It’s just that I’m so used to the pigsty we lovingly call Rome, that when a place is clean, we’re overwhelmed.) We ate really delicious Greek food at Anafiotika, one of the little restaurants we found on the staired street. I’m a huge fan of taramasalata, a dip made from potatoes and fish roe, sounds kind of icky, but when it’s good, mama mia, it’s the best, and theirs WAS the best.

Unfortunately it was going to be wicked hot the next day when we landed in Kusadasi, Turkey, home to the Roman ruins at Ephesus. I’d toured Ephesus many years ago when I was backpacking mostly in the Mediterranean area after college. Michael isn’t such a big “ruins fan”, so we skipped going and found a nice beach. On the cab ride back into Kusadasi, we asked the driver to take us to a more local Turkish restaurant, and he did. The food tasted good, but it took the rest of the trip for my intestines to forgive me for that lunch. I had also been looking forward to wandering around the well advertised Turkish market area in the port, but was terribly turned off my the aggressiveness of the shop owners. I felt bad, knowing they needed the business, but they were so pushy that it made us run away.

We experienced a lovely time on the Greek island of Rhodes. In contrast to Kusadasi, Rhodes Town was charming, set inside the walls of the ancient city. Shop keepers were helpful but not in your face and they were rewarded by the purchase of a lovely ring and bracelet for me, handmade and designed by a Greek jeweler, Sarina.

Santorini was next on the agenda and we got off the ship and found our own tour once at the port. The island doesn’t have a dock so the ship drops anchor off shore and you’re tendered to the port area, which sits below the main town of Fira, high above you on the top of the volcanic island. We took a boat around the island to the town of Oia but only had a short time there before we took a bus to the black pebble beach at Kamari. The waters of the Aegean sea are SO blue. I’m a rock lover, and almost had Michael convinced that it made sense to lug a bunch of volcanic rocks home, but his level head won out and I just made some “art” and took a photo of it.

My Rock Art

My Rock Art

Our big adventure on Santorini was getting back to the boat. After the beach at Kamari, a bus took us to Fira. There are three ways to get from the town back down to the port area…by cable car, which takes 36 people at a time; on the top of a donkey, which walks up and down a steep, slippery stepped walkway; or on your own two feet next to the donkeys, praying the whole way that you don’t slip and fall into a pile of their poop.  Of course, the electricity to the cable car was out and so we walked. Me in my Birkenstocks, in the blazing sun, surrounded by the horrifying reek of donkey pee, down the 538 stairs to the port. I found it even more amusing that the ship in their daily bulletin, warned us that more people die each year from riding the donkeys, than die in plane crashes. Comforting.

Our travel companions

Our travel companions

Mykanos was the next stop and we were blessed to catch one of the ship’s excursions to a dazzling beach. A few couples we had met on board from northern California joined us and a fun day was had by all!

After a day at sea, we landed back in Napoli (Naples). If we didn’t know we were back in Italy, the ship made sure we were well informed by it’s repeated warnings on the TV and in the daily bulletin to beware of pick pockets and thieves. Welcome to Italia. They should also have warned us about the crazy chaos to be found at the ticketing area on the dock where you purchase tickets to go from Naples to the sights on the Amalfi Coast area. OMG. No signs. No schedules. No prices. By the time we changed lines 3 times, we finally found the boat to Sorrento, our destination of choice for the day. Not until after we purchased the tickets, sold to us for 50€, but costing only 49€ on the face of the ticket, did I realize they were warning us about this thief, too. Nice side business the ticket seller has going.

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Sorrento was quaint and lovely.  The “beach” area in the town is actually a series of docks with chairs if they’re private, or just throw your towel down, if public. Tired after lunch but with a few hours to kill before our hydrofoil back to Napoli, we lounged undisturbed on the terrazza of the Imperial Hotel Tramontano, famous for hosting literary giants such as Goethe, Byron, Scott, Shelley, Keats, and Longfellow. We saw a dog pee in the lobby and the hotel staff walk around it. Nice.

All in all…it was a lovely 10 days at sea. The service was generally great. The food delicious, varied and plentiful. It was divine to work out at a “proper” gym. We got more tan than I’ll admit to my dermatologist. We got to see some of the world. Life is good.


Fiat’s Advertising Geniuses

Beginning in 2009, Fiat the Italian car company started in 1899 in Turin, Italy bought an interest in Chrysler, the American car company. This alliance helped Fiat to introduce it’s small, cute cars to the US market. It also spawned some really great commercials that highlight the Italian sensibility of the cars.

I’ve posted a few of the best of these on my Facebook page, but for those of you who are loyal readers here, and not FB friends, I give you your day’s laugh, courtesy of Fiat.

The Italians Are Coming

Backseat Italians

Out of Italy – Part 1

Beach in Majorca

Beach in Majorca

We were able this summer to take a few vacations from our daily life in Roma. The first trip was to the Spanish island of Majorca (the Spanish spell it Mallorca, but I’ll use the English version.) The second was a cruise to several stops in Italy, then onto Greece with a stop in Turkey. This post will highlight Majorca. Look for Part 2 – Almost Out of Italy for highlights of the cruise. Thanks for joining us!

Majorca is the largest of the islands that make up the Baelaric Islands archipelago, located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain. When planning time outside of Rome, we had talked about going to Barcelona, but it was cheaper to fly to Majorca and we love the beach, so off we went.

Majorca has been inhabited for quite a long time. Evidence has been found indicating it was occupied in the Paleolithic period, which was 6000 – 4000 BCE. The capital city, Palma, was occupied by the Romans during the time of the Roman Empire, and then later by the Bynzantines, the Moors and a host of other invaders. It became part of Spain in 1716, and in modern times has become a popular holiday destination especially among the English, Germans and Scandanavians. According to Wikipedia, my source for this little history lesson, in 2008, over 22 million people passed through the airport in Palma, with an additional 1.5 million people arriving by sea. Quite the busy place!

We stayed for 5 days at the Luabay Marivant, an “adults only” resort, located just 10 minutes outside of Palma. Don’t get too excited… the “adults only” part just meant there were no children underfoot. It was clean and comfortable, with a swimming pool and a lovely little public beach just below the hotel. I think we were the only native English speakers in the place, as the majority of the guests were Scandanavian and German! We enjoyed the beach and pool, the lovely restaurant located on the beach, and we ventured into Palma and beyond into the surrounding areas a few times.



We visited the imposing Cathedral of Santa Maria de Palma, commonly referred to as La Seu. It’s a Gothic style Catholic church that took over 350 years to complete. In the early 1900’s, Antoni Gaudi, a famous Spanish architect and artist was invited to take over the renovations that had been undertaken at the church. He later resigned but left his mark as you can see in the photos below.

We visited a few good restaurants and had some great meals while on Majorca. I wrote a few reviews for Trip Advisor about our experiences and you can read about those if you’re interested here, here, and here. All in all, it was a great get away and someplace we’d love to return to again to further explore this beautiful island.

Chuiso per Ferie (Closed for Holiday)

IMG_5109Ah, vacanza in Italia. It’s a phenomena not known in the US, but common in parts of Europe. Storefronts are shuttered. Businesses close down. Some for the entire month of August; like our friend’s medical/legal business, or the chiropractor’s office. Others, for anywhere to a week or three (you can see some affects of the economic crisis here). I’ve been walking our neighborhood this month and it’s become like a ghost town. There’s parking on the streets. Hardly any people around. And more businesses shuttered than open.

It’s my 2nd August in Italy, and I’m still fascinated by it all. What’s so intriguing to my mind, which is little used these days, is how they let you know they’ll be gone. Some storefronts just close the gates and that’s it. They’ll be open when they feel like it.

But more common is a sign. In the window behind the security gate. High up on the store sign above the door. In a corner of a now empty display case. They are hung with packing tape or scotch tape. Someone was environmentally conscious and reused the DHL packing tape to hang theirs. Some signs tell you a “to and from” date, while others just let you know when they’ll return.

And they come in a variety of styles. Handwritten. There’s a printed one with drawings of a sailboat and a cable car lift, like at a ski resort. This one seems to be the standard template that’s available. Some people really go all out and print it on colored paper. Then there was one with a drawing of a woman in a bikini top holding a cocktail (she has the right idea!).

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Amazingly, one owner found it necessary to make it REALLY official, with a stamp and everything. (I used Google Translate… Italian doesn’t always translate well to English…)


“I, the undersigned, Paolo Rubini, owner / manager of administration Bar Rubini, exercise place in the street / square off Gallia 106/108, communicate the summer break of the month of August in the following period from 10/08/13 to 31/8/13. In Faith, Paolo Rubin”

But my favorite is from this blog I posted some weeks ago, which I reposted from another site.chiuso-per-ferie

“Closed for holiday, for condoms and Viagra go to the bicycle repairman on Via dei Macci, thanks”

I hope you enjoyed your ferie. Stay tuned for a new blog coming up soon about our travels this summer to the island of Majorca, off the coast of Spain and a cruise to Greece.

Italian Bureaucracy is So Bad It’s Comical

I couldn’t have said it better! Thanks, once again, Un’americana a Roma.

Un'americana a Roma

This should be the title of an off-Broadway play.

Here’s the thing, people. Today I write you this tidbit not to complain and bitch. No, no. Perish the thought. Complaining and bitching about Italian bureaucracy is strictly for amateurs. I’m over that. No, folks, I consider myself a seasoned pro by now, so I have better things to do with my time than tell you about long lines and unfriendly clerks at the post office, and mail that never or almost never arrives. (Besides, I’ve done that manytimesbefore.)

Today I just want to have a few “ha-has” about how silly this whole thing is. I was tempted to say “how silly this whole tarantella is.” The tarantella is a folk dance from southern Italy, and Italians say that as a colloquialism to refer to the elaborate song and dance you have to do to get stuff done.


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Case Romane del Celio

cristo_bOne of the amazing things about Rome is that it would take a lifetime or more to see all of her treasures. We had the opportunity a few Friday’s ago to join a tour and appertivo through Internations of the Case Romane del Celio, an amazingly preserved archeological site. Come on along, and I’ll show you what we saw. Although we were not allowed to take photos inside the Case, I have downloaded the pictures available from their website.

Case Romane del Celio is located a short walk from the Colosseo and Circo Massimo, and lies under the Basilica of Saints Giovanni and Paulo (John and Paul). Giovanni and Paulo were both officers at the court of the Emperor Constantine (312-37). They were martyred by execution during the reign of  Julian the Apostate (361-363), and then buried inside the site of their own house.

Basilica di Ss Giovanni e Paulo

Basilica di Ss Giovanni e Paulo

In 1887, a priest of the church was excavating below and discovered a site that comprised 20 rooms, some of which were still decorated with paintings on the walls dating from the 3rd to the 12th centuries. Wrapped around the foundations of the church, the site was once an an insula or apartment building housing artisans with their storefronts, and later in the 3rd century was combined into one large home or domus by a single owner.

We were toured through the remains by a very knowledgeable tour guide who explained the history of the site and the paintings. She shared this fascinating fact: One of the reasons so many sites are so well preserved in Rome is due to the practice that was used of filling a site with gravel when wanting to build on top of it, instead of destroying the site. In modern times one needs mostly to remove the gravel to see what lies around it.

In places the mosaic flooring was still in tact, as were the remains of ancient Roman roads. There was an “Antiquarium” which showcased some of the antiquities that had been recovered from the site. After the tour we were offered a selection of appetizers, using ancient Roman recipes that had been adapted to modern cooking; including a chicken dish sweetened with prunes, a very garlicy cheese spread, a garbanzo bean dish, and honey sweetened wine.

Italian Summer

The Sea

The Sea

Amazing…another summer in Italia! I caught myself the other day saying to someone, “Well last summer, blah, blah, blah…” Time is flying by!

Just a few quick gems…

My birthday celebration

My birthday celebration

I celebrated my birthday last week. I won’t mention which one… it was quiet during the day, and we had a lovely dinner that night with new and old friends at our local favorite restaurant haunt, Leon.

It’s so interesting in Rome in the summer. There is a plethora of outdoor activities…concerts, festivals, plays, you name it. It’s like THE time to be in Rome. Except there isn’t hardly anyone in Rome except tourists, and the few locals who likely can’t afford to leave and therefore likely can’t afford the ticket prices for the numerous concerts, plays and performances happening all over the citta (city). There are a few freebees, like the festival that happens on the banks of the Tiber River, which becomes lined with restaurants, bars and vendors selling a little bit of everything.

We went to the sea the other day, on Sunday. We have been going to a great beach south of Ostia on Saturdays, leaving our flat at 8:30 and arriving at the sea by 9:30; in plenty of time to find decent parking by the side of the road. Now, since the palestra (gym) is not open on Sundays during the summer and Saturday is really the only day Michael can get there, we went to the sea this Sunday. It was a NIGHTMARE. By 9:30 am cars were double parked by the side of the road and there were polizia (police) at every beach entrance. They were guarding vehicle entry and had tied yellow tape from the back windshield wiper of cars to the bushes to block out areas for no parking. People were literally parking in the bushes. We had to park so far away from our beach that it took us 45 minutes to haul ourselves there. I was NOT happy. Luckily, once we finally made it, the sun was shining, our beach wasn’t packed with millions of bambini (children), the sea was warm enough to swim in and there was a great breeze. The walk back to the car seemed shorter, as is the case after having wine with lunch, and when you know where you are going.

I started to follow a fellow blogger, Un’americana a Roma and she reposted this gem. It’s too good not to share and really just says it all…hand written note and “not quite” duck tape…about the Roman/Italian summer.

[“Found this gem on Diexx88′s Blog, charming, filed under “cazzate” (random BS) and “estate” (summer).]

“Closed for Vacation, for condoms and Viagra go to the bicycle repairman on Via dei Macci, thanks”


Venice Biennale 2013

IMG_4707The Venice Biennale is a spectacular extravaganza. La Biennale includes art, architecture, cinema, dance, music and theatre.  Most popular are the International Art Exhibition that occurs every other year, and the International Film Festival. Founded in 1895, it is avante garde and cutting edge. I can’t do an explanation justice, so click here for the link to the Biennale’s website.

This is the fourth time I’ve attended the Biennale Art Exhibition. I was first introduced to it a number of years ago through the Chicago based, non-profit art organization, Art Encounter. A Sedona friend and artist, Ellen Kamerling, is one of the founders and also the travel director of Art Encounter. My first two Biennale experiences were under the knowledgable, watchful, and astute eyes of Ellen and her co-founder Joanna Pinsky. The experiences were life changing for me and fed my love of modern art. Michael and I attended the Biennale 2 years ago while still living in the US, because I was missing the charms of Venice and wanted him to experience the magic.IMG_4653

This year, living in Roma, I couldn’t imagine being so close, actually in the same country! and not going, so last weekend Michael and I took the train to Venice and spent the weekend. In hindsight, I regret that I didn’t do my homework before attending and look online to learn more about the main exhibition and the numerous ones that are found throughout the city. A weekend is hardly enough time to view the 2 main exhibitions at the Arsenale and Giardini. There are over 150 artists from 37 countries represented in these two venues, plus there are 44 collateral events around town representing 88 “national participations” (their words, not mine). It’s overwhelming.

IMG_4741According to La Biennale di Venizia’s website, this year’s “Exhibition draws inspiration from the model of a utopian dream by Marino Auriti who filed a design with the U.S. Patent office in 1955, depicting his Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace), an imaginary museum that was meant to house all worldly knowledge.  Auriti planned the model of a 136-story building to be built in Washington, in that would stand 700 meters tall and take up over 16 blocks. Auriti’s plan was never carried out, of course – Massimiliano Gioni [this year’s curator] says – but the dream of universal, all-embracing knowledge crops up throughout the history of art and humanity, as one that eccentrics like Auriti share with many other artists, writers, scientists, and self-proclaimed prophets who have tried—often in vain—to fashion an image of the world that will capture its infinite variety and richness. Today, as we grapple with a constant flood of information, such attempts to structure knowledge into all-inclusive systems seem even more necessary and even more desperate.”

IMG_4722“Blurring the line between professional artists and amateurs, outsiders and insiders, the exhibition takes an anthropological approach to the study of images, focusing in particular on the realms of the imaginary and the functions of the imagination. What room is left for internal images—for dreams, hallucinations and visions—in an era besieged by external ones? And what is the point of creating an image of the world when the world itself has become increasingly like an image?”

“Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace) is a show about obsessions and about the transformative power of the imagination.”

I have to admit, I didn’t LOVE it. I’ve loved past exhibitions. Talked about them for years. Committed some art to memory. This year, not so much. Don’t get me wrong, there were some fabulous exhibits at both main venues and the ones we dropped into around the city. Some too that we didn’t see, that my Austrailian friend Margo called to my attention from this website, Yellowtrace, which provides a nice highlight of the author’s favorites from the Biennale.

IMG_4654But this year’s theme brought many more paintings, very small paintings and lots of them, that were difficult to see. It was near to impossible to read the information cards about each exhibit because they were written in tiny script and in some parts of the exhibition hall there were so many different things displayed you couldn’t tell who’s work went with what description. I missed seeing the beauty of the Arsenale building. So many fake walls had been erected to hold the zillions of little paintings, that I  didn’t feel I was in this magical place. Sometimes the fake walls were used well, like when exhibiting R. Crumb’s 250 comic drawings of the Book of Genesis. And saying that this year’s exhibition was about “obsession” was an understatement. You just have to see the work of the American artist Sarah Sze to understand the meaning of the word. Mama Mia!

I think I need to go back, to see what I didn’t see the first time. Not sure that I will, though. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the following photos of some of the art from this year’s Biennale.

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Sunday Night with the Whiffenpoofs

Image 3The Whiffenpoofs! Have you heard of them? I must admit I hadn’t, but now I know an awful lot about them. Here’s how…

An email came across my desk a week ago through the AWAR (American Womens Association of Rome) Resources line. It said that the Whiffenpoofs would be in Rome and were performing a concert at John Cabot University. They were looking for other concert venues and/or would be willing to sing in exchange for a meal. I love to cook and entertain, so I thought well how hard can that be? Let’s invite them for dinner!

Ok, so if you don’t know already who or what a Whiffenpoof is, let me tell you. The Whiffenpoofs (Whiffs for short) are the oldest collegiate a cappella group in the US. They are all college seniors at Yale University. There are 14 of them, chosen each academic year by the previous group of Whiffenpoofs. This year’s group appeared on the US TV show Glee. The Whiffs are known for upholding the tradition of generally performing in a tux with tails or a suit, and they don’t do any “beat boxing” which is making instrument sounds with their voices. They perform about 100 concerts a year to raise funds for their “World Tour” and this year most of them took the academic year off because of the rigors of their concert schedule. This summer they are visiting 25 countries in 87 days! Click here and watch the video clip, where Mike of the Whiffenpoofs introduces themselves.

My Michael thought I was nuts when I suggested the idea, but I was so tickled by the thought of it that I just moved forward with the planning anyway, trusting that it would be a great evening. We invited about 15 local friends, a mix of Italians, Americans, an Australian, a Spanish/Canadian and an Irish thrown in, to make it interesting! I asked friends to bring a bottle of wine, and I spent Sunday afternoon in the kitchen whipping up pasta sauce, salads and some munchies.

The Whiffs started to arrive a bit before our other guests. They were hot and sweaty from sightseeing, but polite, sweet and very appreciative of our air conditioning and the prospect of a free home cooked meal. Michael and I scurried to open the wine we had available before friends brought more. For the next hour or so, friends streamed in and we all got to know each other a bit. The Whiffs happily sang a few songs before we ate, then gave us a longer concert after dinner. We had thought to take them out to the Re di Roma park nearby to sing for the locals, but as you will hear in the clips below, the accoustics were so good in our living room, and the wine was close by, so we just stayed put.

Unfortunately, no one got a full video of their performance. We have some pictures, audio files and a few video clips which you can see my clicking on the name of the songs below. If you ever get a chance to see them live, it will be a treat that you will long remember. You can visit their website by clicking here and click here to see them performing in concert. Their singing brought tears to my eyes and it’s been days now that I can’t get the songs out of my head. Thanks again guys for a wonderful evening and safe travels!

On Broadway

Too Darn Hot

Inside Cinecitta Studios

From a Fellini movie

Statue used in a Fellini movie

Rome is home to the famous movie studios at Cinecitta. Started by Mussolini in 1937 and later made famous by the Italian director Federico Fellini, the studio became the home of Italian cinema. I wrote about the studio last year for the blog ItalianNotebook, during a strike by studio employees who were trying to save a part of it from becoming a theme park. You can view that post here for a bit more background on the studios. Recently, my new Australian friend Margo asked me to accompany her on a studio tour, so off we went.

Each day there’s an English language tour at 11:30, but we arrived earlier so we could enjoy the self tour beforehand. The self tour includes several really cool exhibits that showcase the history of the studio and the process of filmmaking. There are displays highlighting the different departments that work together to make a movie, such as costumes, props and set design, etc. Margo’s daughter works in Australia in TV helping to procure props, so her knowledge of the process helped make the tour even more interesting. You get to walk onto a set of a submarine and to experience how real it feels to be inside, complete with working parts and sound.

The guided part of the tour took us onto the back lot. We toured Stage 5, which was home to Fellini and all of his movies were made there. It is so big that it was possible to recreate full streets, like Via Veneto,  inside. Currently, a film about Fellini and his relationship with a news writer is being made inside Stage 5. We got to walk through some of the sets being used for this movie. It was amazing to experience the level of detail that goes into making it all look so real. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside Stage 5.

We next toured one of the 3 permanent sets on the lot. This set is a re-creation of an ancient city and was used for the filming of the BBC/HBO series Rome and The Passion of the Christ. It looks real, but the buildings are actually constructed from fiberglass and what look to be heavy stones are made from styrofoam. The set is multifunctional, as it can be a setting for a movie taking place in ancient Rome or Greece or Egypt. There are also parts that are made to look like 15th century Italy. These sections were used to film the BBC production of the Borgias, which is available on Netflix and is very different from The Borgias available on Showtime.

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Next we walked through an “urban” set, which is constructed from tall scaffolding that can be fronted to look like a variety of cities, as you can see in some of the photos below. This set was used for The Gangs of New York. The guided tour ended at this point and before we left, we also viewed the final “permanent” set, viewable on the self tour, which is the recreation of a street in a small Italian village that is used for a popular Italian TV show. It was a delightful morning at the movies!

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