Lessons Learned – some pleasant, some not

Last night G-man and I were out walking when we decided to stop by our favorite produce place.  Why is it our fav?  Well, because it’s close to our apartment, the produce is beautiful, and, most importantly, the people who work there are WONDERFUL!

First off, for the unfamiliar, buying produce here is a different process from buying in the States.  At the little produce stores, the shopper does not touch the merchandise.  Tell the shopkeeper what you want and they pick it out.  For CASL (Castilian As a Second Language) speakers like ourselves, fruit and vegetable words were not at the top of our essential vocabulary list.  Our produce shopping involves pointing, saying a number and reenforcing the crappy pronunciation by holding up the appropriate number of fingers.  After about our fourth or fifth time in there, out of the blue, the young guy that normally helps us spoke to us in English.  Broken, heavily accented, beautiful English.  My head whipped around and my mouth hug open.  Seriously, I almost hugged him.  That simple, kind gesture sealed the deal.   We will forever buy our produce in that shop!  He simply asked, “where are you from?”  We chatted back and forth a bit, us with our horrid Castilian and he with his few words of English.  It was awesome!  Ever since that moment every time we stop in we get treated like friends and, the best part!, they teach us new words!  They’ve never spoken English to us again and we appreciate that as we need every opportunity to learn Castilian.  I think they get it.

Ok, so back to the story….   We’ve learned the words for celery (apio), asparagus (espárragos), sweet potatoes (patatas dulces) and onions (cebollas – say-BO-shas, not say-BO-yas).  But, tonight we needed none of those things. Time for a new lesson.  By now, all the clerks know we don’t habla well, so they all speak slowly and help teach us new words.  I love them!  Last night we bought bananas (yep, exact same word but with different pronunciation), péras (pears – and yes they are delicious, sister-in-law-love-of-my-life), and arándanos (blueberries).

bananas peras & arándanos
bananas peras & arándanos

And then for a less than pleasant lesson…  Ever since we got back from The Wedding, we’ve noticed an unpleasant smell in the apartment coming from somewhere in the laundry room area.  The putrid smell of stagnant water.  Like, sewer water.  Really gross sewer water.  I assumed that since the laundry room had been closed up for a week and the sun beats on that side of the apartment, maybe that’s what was causing the nasty aroma.  The smell seemed to dissipate after a day or two of the room being opened up and running a couple of loads of laundry.  But this morning when we walked into the kitchen, the smell was back.  With a vengeance.  Like, how many dead bodies that we can’t see are piled behind the washing machine?  Holy cow!

I’ll save you the details of the discovery process and cut right to the lessons learned.  We have five bathrooms in this apartment (yeah, the company did us right – more on that later).  We are two people.  We only use two of the bathrooms.  We keep the doors closed to the other three and forget about them.  We have NEVER used the bathroom right next to the laundry room.  What we discovered is when water is not been regularly run in the fixtures of said unused bathrooms then the water in the drain pipe in the floor stagnates giving off said horrific odor.  Once I figured that out, I went around to each of the unused bathrooms to run the water in the sinks, tubs, and, oh for good measure, why not include the bidet as well.  You don’t see too many bidets in the States.  For those of you unfamiliar, you’re meant to sit on the bidet, turn on the water spout that shoots water up at a surprisingly impressive rate from the spout in the center like a water fountain one might see in a park and give your nether regions a little refreshing splash.  YouTube it if you can’t visualize the process, then come back and continue reading.  To help set the stage for the next lesson, I’ve included the picture below.

the source of Three Stooges entertainment
the source of Three Stooges entertainment

That little floor drain off to the right is where the offensive odor emanates from.  The big white toilet looking thing is a bidet.  The little silver thing dead center of the bidet is where water shoots out at the rate equivalent to that of water coming from a fire hose putting out a fire at a fire works factory.  The nozzle at the top of the picture is what one uses to turn the water off and on AFTER one has placed one’s backside above the water spout.  Anyone want to know what happens when one unwittingly leans over the bidet and turns on the water full force?  One gets a thorough cleansing of one’s head and chest.  Lesson learned.

Random Observations on Our New Life in Buenos Aires

Here we are into our eighth week living in Buenos Aires.  Right up front I have to say we haven’t put much effort into truly becoming invested in and exploring our new home town.  When we arrived in mid-October, we knew we were going back to the States 1st December to see our son wed his beautiful bride.  (More on that later!)  Our focus has been elsewhere.  That being said, I do have a random collection of observations that I’ve made in the totally distracted short time we’ve been here.  In no particular order –

On speaking Castilian

Right off the bat – in BA, the language is referred to as Castellano, not Español.  Growing up in Florida and living in Atlanta for 15 years, we’ve been exposed to A LOT of Spanish.  None of it sounds like the language of the porteños, as the locals like to call themselves!  Double Ls are pronounced like “zha,” not like a y.  To a CASL (Castilian as a Second Language – I just made that up) speaker, that tiny difference creates an entirely new language!  Fortunately, every single local that we have met has been kind and sweet and gently helped us along.  Truly, every encounter we have had has been lovely.  And then there are somethings that don’t need translation….

Somethings don't need translation...
Somethings don’t need translation


On food

The produce available is exactly that which is in season.  Novel idea considering where we come from everything is available year round.  Friends and relatives who know our passion for coffee, brace yourselves.  The local coffee, at least at our neighborhood Cafe Martinez, is better than the local Starbucks.  It’s tastier and less expensive.  And another huge bonus to life in BA?  There’s nothing you can’t get delivered.  Food of all sorts, ice cream – yeah, read it and weep, and groceries, too!  That’s right.  When you finish your grocery shopping for an extra $5 or so, you can get it delivered to your house.

We haven't met a pastry we didn't like
We haven’t met a pastry we didn’t like

On architecture

We love the old stuff and our neighborhood is full of it.  Beautiful old houses.  Gorgeous old shops.

Drool worthy streetscape
Drool worthy streetscape

Sometimes there will be an entire block of old houses, but most times what we see is a gorgeous old belle squished between boring boxy high rises.

old & new
Old & New

I never stop trying to image what the streetscape looked liked before the neighboring old buildings were torn down to make way for the new.

On dogs

Before we arrived, we heard quite a bit about the copious amounts of dog poop on the sidewalks here.  However, much to our pleasant surprise, it really isn’t that bad.  Every now and then we’ll encounter an “obstacle,” but no more than we would in the States.  Buenos Aires is a city of dogs.  We see them everywhere, in singles, doubles, and variety packs.  Dog walking is a major business here.  And!  The vet will come to your house.  That’s right!  Our friend, Margarita Maria, has a vet who comes over for the regular check ups, shots, whatever.  Oh, that must be awfully pricey, you’re thinking.  Nope.  She pays less then we would in the States.  A lot less.  I had some great pictures of dog walkers walking their packs, but I can’t seem to find them.  So here’s a picture of a dog enjoying a little time at an outdoor cafe.

Who doesn't like a sidewalk table?
Who doesn’t like a sidewalk table?

On the Tango

If you know how to Tango, you can do it just about anywhere!

Two Weeks Until Liftoff

This is going to be the world’s shortest post ever.  We leave two weeks from today and I have been go-go-go and grandpuppy sitting and while I think of a million things I would love to write about to document my recent insanity, well there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  That being said, I’ll get to the point.

As you all know, I follow many blogs about expat life in Italy.  One of them had a wonderful post the other day that puts our trip, and life in general, in perspective.  I have never read anything like it nor heard a similar idea discussed.  It is a fresh perspective on what is truly important.  Take a read at Il Bel Centro.

Bryan and Valerie – Inspirational Expats

When we first got the crazy idea of living in Italy when G-man retires, I started searching around on the internet to see if I could find other crazy people who had already done this.   Right off the bat, I discovered a blog called 2 Italy2 Italy details the story of Bryan and Valerie, who lost their minds, sold their house in New Mexico and moved to Italy.   I went straight to the archives and started with Bryan’s very first post, dated 20 November 2005.  I spent days reading through the entire blog.  We are quite detail oriented and Bryan did not let us down.  We particularly appreciated the information he provided in reference to obtaining proper documents, dual citizenship, and the miscellaneous joys of Italian bureaucracy.   Bryan recounted each bit of their journey and in doing so we became not only encouraged, but completely convinced, that this dream was do-able.  Ok, actually they did not lose their minds.  They decided to follow a dream.  They understood the meaning of the question, “If not now, when?”  Finding Bryan and Valerie taught us that we weren’t crazy.  We simply had uncovered a desire that both of us had shoved away as a fantasy, something never attainable so don’t waste the energy thinking about it.  2 Italy inspired us and encouraged us.  Thank you, Bryan and Valerie.  Thank you for blazing the trail.

Whatever your dream is seek out others who are doing it, too.  Take strength and encouragement from their doing and use it to fuel your own fire.  At the end of the day, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.

Understanding Italian Culture | Manners, Bella Figura, Siesta and Passeggiata

Understanding Italian Culture | Manners, Bella Figura, Siesta and Passeggiata.

This is the kind of information we always keep an eye out for. These little bits of wisdom that may pave the way to a richer experience. Thanks, Once In A Lifetime Travel!

House Hunters International keeps the dream alive

A narrow vicolo
A narrow vicolo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tuesday night an all new House Hunters International aired featuring Toni DeBella, who is the adventurous soul behind Orvieto or Bust.  She is also a contributing writer for the Italian Notebook.  Toni is one of those people on our list of inspirational people.  Like I have said before, we “collect” other expats and follow their blogs with crazy dedication.

Regularly keeping up with the adventures of these trail blazers helps to keep our eye on the prize.  I guess you could say it is our version of a vision board.  Any HHI episode EVER in Italy is also a part of our vision board.  Yes, we know the whole thing is staged.  We don’t care.  We just want to see the beautiful scenery and the interesting way people live in other countries, particularly Italy.  We like to drool over the adorable winding cobblestone streets, the gorgeous architecture, the flowers, the vistas.  We just drool.  And we imagine.  We imagine ourselves walking those same streets.  We pick which of the three apartment choices we would live in.  We completely mentally put ourselves there.   I’m a firm believer that when you have a long-term dream, you have to be diligent about keeping the dream alive, keeping the dream in front of you at all times.  Never put your dream on the back burner.  Thanks, Toni, for helping to keep our fire burning.  We’ll be seeing you soon!

Locals I love – Kate Hash

Must read post by one of my favorite Americans living in Italy, Georgette, about one of my other favorite Americans living in Italy, Kate! As a side note, Kate has a FANTASTIC how-to booklet for obtaining dual citizenship. I have been using her guide and it is worth its weight in gold! You can purchase your own copy for a nominal fee from her blog. The blogging world is an amazing place filled with amazing people.

Girl in Florence


This next ‘local I love’ happens to be a  fellow blogger/web consultant extraordinaire living with her husband and adorable baby girl {and my god-daughter!} in Florence. We met when she needed some help getting her dual citizenship to stay in Italy and needless to say a friendship was born. I have spent many a day with them having lunch/sipping wine/playing with baby. I have to admit they make living in Italy look easy when it really isn’t — all by just being awesome at LIFE. They just happen to be very self motivated, down to earth good people and may or may not have been on House Hunter’s International in the past ;-).

name: Kate Hash
nationality: American and Italian
profession: Web designer and developer
favorite drink: Cosmopolitan or prosecco (it’s a tough choice!)

How long have you lived in Florence and where are you from originally?


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