Sailing Italy: The 4-Euro Pizza

PizzaItaly is like any other country when it comes to food. The quality of your experience depends on motivation, location, recommendations and sometimes luck.

The first day I arrived in Rome to meet my fellow crew members my motivation was starvation. However, most of my crew members were motivated by price and location. So, when I arrived at the hotel we walked a couple of blocks and ordered pizza at a sidewalk cafe. That 4-Euro Pizza Margherita tasted like a hundred dollar-steak and lobster dinner after an entire day of airplane food. Almost anything would have tasted like a feast at that point.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I had just eaten a meal that I would now rate as mediocre. Hey, but at the time I was jet lagged, starving and dealing with what seemed to be super pollen production of Roman proportions. I was congested and sneezing so how much could I really taste that pizza anyway?

One evening we ventured out to the Pantheon area of Rome, where the piazzas are lined with small cafes with what I call Italian Carnies. You can’t walk by a piazza restaurant without someone trying to hustle you into eating their pasta.

The first thing that I noticed was the menus were all basically the same, and seemed to cater to tourists. The second thing I noticed was that the prices were almost all the same, with few exceptions. I used the basic Pizza Margherita as my yardstick when looking at menus, and it almost always hovered around 4 Euro.

We randomly picked a place based on nothing other than the fact that we were tired of getting harassed by the Italian Carnies. I specifically remember ordering Spaghetti Vongole that night. And I specifically remember getting a plate full of spaghetti and three, yes three, tiny clam shells with little clams in them. At that point I knew I would never eat at a piazza near a major Roman monument again. It’s akin to eating at Denny’s.

The best sources for restaurant recommendations are taxi drivers, waiters, and people who have eaten their way through Italy before. If you take recommendations from friends, relatives and random people you meet on the plane, ask them to elaborate on the meals they’ve had at the establishments they’d recommend. I’d be much more likely to take the recommendation of someone who described a Tortelli di Zucca as “swimming in butter,” than I would someone who recommended a pizza that was “pretty good.”

One of the crew members had a list of recommendations she had gotten from someone on her flight over to Rome. One Sunday evening the two of us ventured out near the Trevi Fountain to look for a restaurant called Il Chianti. The person who recommended the restaurant had given only the following directions, “Stand facing the Trevi Fountain, walk down the street to the right, look for the restaurant on your left.”

We walked up and down what we thought was the right street but couldn’t find the restaurant, so we finally asked someone, who told us exactly where it was. Turns out we had walked by it several times and missed it because it was set back from the street a bit and there were very few people sitting outside. Not usually a good sign.

We noticed a waiter standing outside the entrance and approached him to ask for a table for two.  “I’m sorry but we are closed on Sundays,” he said. “Drinks only.” This was my friend’s last night in Rome and she wasn’t going to get to try the one restaurant she really wanted to try. Then we got the brilliant idea to ask the waiter for a recommendation. He perked up immediately and said, “Piccolo Arancio. First small street on the right.”

You always have to wonder if a waiter or a taxi driver is recommending a place just because their cousin owns it, or if they are really pointing you to something wonderful. We were pretty sure this particular waiter was genuine, and we were willing to take a chance, so we walked up the street, turned onto the first little street on the right and found a sliver of a store front tucked away off the beaten path.

We were one of the first people seated, but it wasn’t long before the staff was fetching tables and chairs out of the storage room across the street to accommodate the constant flow of dinner guests. It was a quiet little street, thankfully absent of the constant flow of moped and motorcycle traffic you get on most streets in Rome.

I scanned the wine list and found exactly what I was looking for: a Banfi 2003 Brunello for Montalcino. I have my priorities.

The waiter brought the wine and a plate of fresh Parmesan to go with it. We ordered the bruschetta, which looked like a pile of freshly diced tomatoes until we cut into it and found the the warm thick slice of bread hiding underneath. My friend had the lasagna, which she rated as “fabulous” on a scale of Never Again to Outstanding. I had the Fusilli alla Malanzane (eggplant) which was simple and perfectly prepared. At the end of the meal we both agreed we had just experienced an Italian culinary orgasm.

The last of the crew members flew back to the U.S. the next day, so I was left to wander the streets of Rome on my own. I made my way back to the street just to the right of the Trevi Fountain, and back to Il Chianti for lunch. It was open, and the Tortelli di Zucca was indeed molto bene and swimming in butter.

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Il Chianti – Piazza Fontana di Trevi 81 / 82a
Piccolo Arancio – Vicolo Scanderbeg, 112 00187 Rome, Italy

Sailing Italy: Walking to Atrani

Today I found my external drive containing all of my stories from a trip I took to Italy two years ago. None of these blogs were ever published. Better late than never!

In 2010 I crewed a sailboat in Italy with a handful of people I’d never met. These are my stories…

Walking to Atrani

Atrani ItalyI have nothing against my boat mates, but there is such a thing as too much togetherness. I was the last one to climb out of my bunk today, only to sit down at the table to hear that an executive decision had been made and we were sailing back to Capri right after lunch.

“Wait a minute,” I asked. “Why?”

I was starting to feel like a traveling salesman. I really wanted to stay in one spot long enough to actually have some down time. I was in desperate need of Me time.

“I have an idea,” I said, hoping the executive decision that had been made earlier wasn’t one that couldn’t be vetoed. “Why don’t we stay in Amalfi another night?” I suggested we relax in Amalfi for a day, and then leave the marina early in the morning. That way we could take our time getting to Capri and even stop for a midday visit to Positano.

My suggestion was met with surprising enthusiasm. My boat mate Val had had enough of the allergens in her cabin, and wanted an opportunity to get more time above deck, and everyone else just shrugged and said, okay, sounds like a plan.

Having made the decision to stay one more night suddenly let everyone breathe a sigh of relief and gave us all permission to scatter to the wind for the day.

I quickly applied some sunscreen, grabbed my purse and basically told the others I’d be back at some point.

My goal was to get as far away from the center of Amalfi as possible by foot. You see there was a Club Med 2, 5-mast cruise ship anchored in the harbor which translates to a few thousand extra people crowding the narrow streets of Amalfi. No thanks.

I started walking south along the road that hugs the coast, with my sights set on getting to the next town, whatever that was.

This is not the wisest decision I’ve ever made. The roads that hug the Amalfi coast are not for the faint of heart, whether you are a driver or a pedestrian. They are only wide enough for one car in some places, and the larger buses will come within in inches of the railing that you find yourself so terrifyingly plastered against. There is no shoulder to speak of.

But I saw little old Italian women walking the windy road, so I figured it was okay. What I didn’t realize is these women are trained professionals, as in, they have been doing this their entire lives. when in Rome… I took a deep breath and stuck with the old ladies.

The first town I came to was Atrani, which is supposed to be an artist community, although I saw no signs of art or artists anywhere. Just the same pizzerias with the same menus I had seen in Amalfi.

There was, however, a nearly deserted beach down a steep set of stairs, and it was at that point that I realized I had been sailing on this sailboat in the Mediterranean Sea for four days now and hadn’t once so much as dipped a toe in it. This had to be rectified.

I walked down to edge of the dry pebbly sand where the gentle waves were lapping at the stones, slipped off my Keens and stepped into the Mediterranean. This is exactly what I needed. Solitude, sun and the sea.

I sat there for an hour, I think. I lost track of time. I took a picture for a young Italian couple, who wanted a memory of themselves by the sea. I collected bits of tiles and pottery that had washed up on the shore, and imagined the Italian kitchens they had once been a part of.  There was the wave-worn terracotta oval, with the blue glaze the color of the ocean. A small triangular piece with a single dot of red glaze that looked like an eye. A bit of white pottery with hand-painted grapes and vines. Someone’s trash became my treasures.

I tucked the small broken pieces of pottery into my purse, put my sandals back on and made my way back up the steep set of stairs. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do with my treasured pieces of trash when I got back home, but I did know that those small pieces of pottery will forever remind me of my hour of bliss on the beach in Atrani.

Atrani Italy Beach

When Running isn’t Just Exercise

RunningI was talking with a friend from Nike last night, and our conversation brought me back to the first time I saw those gorgeous copy-heavy Nike print ads aimed at women in the early 90s. Women portrayed as strong female athletes with something to say, for once.

This poem was inspired by those storytelling ads and the group of women I’ve been running with for almost 20 years. Running isn’t just running to us. It’s the thread that weaves together our life experiences.



We Run
In the dawn we run,
pound our way, panting, ranting
     just eight more miles to go
today, and five tomorrow.
We pass girlfriends with hands
wrapped around steaming lattes,
and faces dancing with conversation
and we say,
            “One day we will walk.”
Today we run, defiantly
Ha! Age will not catch us.
Our knees, still good,
our feet obedient
     just three more miles to go,
and five tomorrow.
We pass women sitting on benches,
happily resting weary bones
and we say,
            “One day we will sit.”
But today we run
      just one more mile to go
and we will rest,
hands wrapped around steaming lattes,
and we will say,
            “Tomorrow we will run.”

 

KJH, Copyright 2005

Sitting with the Geeks at The Hunger Games World Premiere

Hunger Games SutherlandI am one of the few people on the planet who has already seen the Hunger Games movie. I have never had more people–men, women and children–ask to be my date until the day I found out I would be getting a ticket to the premiere. The key word in that sentence is “a” ticket. I got ONE.

It all started back in August of 2011 when I accepted a job at Crowd Factory, which is a company whose product is social media widgets. My boss is the one who divvies up the accounts, and I was privileged enough to end up with Lions Gate Films. So far I’ve been part of the social media teams for Abduction, One for the Money, Good Deeds, and now Hunger Games.

I spent most of last year eating, breathing and dreaming up ways to make the Hunger Games fans engage online. I worked diligently with some very creative people at Lions Gate and two external digital agencies. My tiny piece of the pie in all of the Hunger Games digital magic was the “Race for Mayor” campaign on the 13 District Pages (12 Districts and The Capitol) on Facebook.

At 4:30 am on Monday November 14, 2011, there was an open conference line for the incredible group of people with whom I had spent so much time building this amazing immersive experience with. When the Hunger Games movie trailer went live at 5am we simultaneously pushed 13 new Facebook tabs to the District pages on Facebook and held our breath, waiting to see if the fans would respond. The CTA (Call to Action) was simple: I Want to Run for Mayor!

Within a week there were thousands of fans running for mayor. They had created video campaigns on YouTube, and Facebook pages to get people to endorse them, because you see there was a hook. The fan who got the most endorsements would be elected mayor of their District on Facebook, and at the time what they didn’t know is that they would also be invited to attend the world premiere of the movie in Los Angeles.

On Monday March 12, 2012, I proudly sat in Row A of the Loge section at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles with a group of geeks I had spent countless hours on the phone with, but had never met in person. I was grinning from ear to ear when Joe Drake, the President of Lions Gate, came out on stage to introduce the movie and commented on how wildly successful the marketing effort had been for the film so far. According to Fandango, Hunger Games has outsold Twilight Eclipse in pre-sales, making it the most successful pre-sales movie on record.

Then the lights dimmed and adrenalin took over as some of us saw the film for the first time. After the credits rolled we all made our way to the after party. I watched the newly minted stars enjoy their exploding celebrity status, and the veterans like Donald Sutherland graciously pose for photos with everyone who asked, including me.

There were so many moments that evening that were once-in-a-lifetime type moments. The palpable anticipation in the theater before the first frame of the film appeared on screen, and the excitement when the final credits rolled and we all realized we helped create this phenomenon. But the moment that I will never forget was when someone who I really respect at Lions Gate introduced me to someone as a “social media genius.” That made the journey all worthwhile.

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Recent articles:

How ‘Hunger Games’ Built up Must-See Fever. – New York Times

‘Hunger Games’ Dominates Facebook, Online Ticket Sales – Mashable

I got Hacked

I was having trouble uploading photos and posting blogs a couple of weeks ago, so I emailed my dear friend Andrew while he was on vacation in a bat-infested rental in Nicaragua. Apparently the goats and bats were pretty reliable, but the power and the Internet were not. But he did log on long enough to tell me, “You’ve been hacked.”

Nothing like finding out that every PHP file on your blog site has been hacked into. Lovely.

Andrew deleted my entire site and restored the files from backup for me. So that’s why I currently have a generic WordPress theme. I’ll fix that in my copious spare time.

Coming up: a blog about the Hunger Games premiere.

 

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