Thursday, May 12, 2011

Organic Farming

Had a conversation with Luisa's uncle on Sunday who farms around 1,000 acres (400 hectares).  One crop he grows is corn, which is mostly used for animal feed here. And he keeps up on all the chemicals and other stuff found on the corn. The list is regularly published in Italian agriculture magazines.  Italy is maybe the most heavily regulated country in the EU.  Anyway, he told me that unless organic corn is grown in a desert climate it will have mold on it all the way to the final product.  And he believes that it is unhealthy.  So in any country that has a wet or humid climate, dew on the plants in the morning, including most of the US and Europe organic corn would not be a good idea.

Another note is the each country has it's rules regarding organic farming.  Italy is very strict about it.  According to him countries such as Germany, Belgium, the UK, and Austria allow animals to be feed most anything that is organic, that even includes chicken droppings.  Whereas for example the milk and cheese from say Switzerland where the cows graze on natural grass is quite healthy.  His list of good organic farming countries includes, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Poland and to some extent France.  Now I have a better idea of why the milk we buy at the Lidil, from Germany, costs half as much as the local Italian product.

I guess for me the bottom line is that one can't just fallow some mantra that everything labeled organic is healthier than stuff grown with good old fashioned chemicals.  We must be more informed than that in our decisions.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Customer Service in Italy

I bet you thought I was going to complain about it. Well sorry to disappoint you. I have read a lot about how bad it is in Italy. It's true that it's not all smiley faced like the US but my experience is that if you need something done or you have a problem with something you've bought, and you approach the issue in a logical way being polite and sometimes insistent you will usually get the service you need. Generally you can't get a refund except from some major stores or perhaps in a special situation. So you can't really wear that party dress once and return it pretending that the deodorant stains at the armpits were there when you bought it. But generally you can exchange something or get a credit for future use.

I had a good experience this morning that prompted me to write this. A couple of weeks ago I went to the local Bricko, a major hardware chain, to buy a portable gazebo sort of thing they had on sale. I thought it would be great to use with our camper. But they didn't have them yet. The guy told me to come back after May first. Well I went today the 6th. Now they were not on sale, and the price was much higher. So I asked and told the cashier my story. At first she was hesitant but I think she realized that I wasn't going to give up easily so she called a manager, I told him that I tired to buy it when it was on sale. He asked if I had something like a raincheck. I said no that the sales person I spoke to before told me to come back in a week or two and it wouldn't be a problem and if I had been told to I would have asked for the raincheck. So in the end they sold it to me for the sales price.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Best Way to Visit Italy

I'm just having some rambling thoughts on what to advise people who want to visit Italy. Lately it seems the fashion is slow food and slow travel. I read a lot about how it's best to select a couple of spots you want to stay in and just stay in them and do your traveling in day trips. That way you can really get to know an area and get a real feeling for the Italian way of life and for Italians. Well that sounds good, but really it's probably just the latest fashion BS. I mean really I've been living in Italy almost six years now and visiting it around fifteen before that. My Italian wife still tells me I don't really understand the Italian mentality or how things are done in Italy. I don't completely agree with her but she has a point.

Say you spend two weeks and stay in just a couple of spots, you are probably going to stay in some B&B run by an American or English expat. They will make you comfortable in their restored old Italian farm house with the swimming pool and the maid service. They will introduce you to some great Italian food and maybe help you find the local tourist spots and tell you how the life in Italy is all about food and drink. It's a fantasy picture of Italy, kind of a trip to Disneyland with real buildings not scaled down models and real people not actors - well many of the Italians you will meet may well be putting on an act for the tourists. I will write more about the real life in Italy in another post - it's not negative just different from the myth perpetuated by the blogger owners of B&B's.

Now the slow food travel kind of trip is nice for those who can afford to come back often. But lets say you are not so rich. It's your once or twice in a lifetime trip. What do you want to go home with, a bunch of pictures of the rolling hills of Tuscany or some memories of the most famous sights in Italy, some which are the most famous in the World. I'm guessing a lot of people maybe most would rather say they saw the leaning tower of Pisa, Rome, the Vatican, Florence, Milan, Venice and a bunch of other things along the way. Yeah you will get tired on this trip, it's not going to be that relaxing, but you will go home with lots of memories, lots of pictures and maybe a better picture of the real Italy. You will see the traffic, the crazy drivers, the crowded trains, the dirty restrooms. You will have to buy a coffee just so you can go pee. But you will also see the beauty of Italy, you will see it's heritage, it's landscape, it's texture, it's art and it's architecture. You will see it's people living their real lives, you might get helped in difficult situations, or you might have to push your way onto a crowded train, if you happen to have a baby in a stroller you will get helped down the subway stairs in Rome, you will get hassled by beggars, you will see students going back and forth to school in the trains, you will see the blank faces on the subway in Milan and you might just get a glimpse of a fashion model in photo shut. In the end you probably won't have a neutral picture of Italy you will probably love or hate it.

By the way I love Italy.