Have An Expressive Holiday

Crying, laughing, talking with voices, hands and faces.

Buon Natale! Buone Feste!  During this magical time of year, all of our senses will be zanily energized. Normally, Italians are incredibly expressive people.  Our hands, faces, and bodies, all become one with our voices to help us relay our feelings and tales.  Now, communications will be foisted into high holiday gear. From the moment families kiss each other hello, laughter will burst out of homes. The volume will go up a notch as we engage in fuel enhanced political rants, chase the giggling wee ones around rooms and swear that our calcio team is the best.  We will be expressive until the moment the last digestivo is sipped and goodbye hugs are given at the door.

Or, da, da, da da – BOOM –

Has everyone become a cell phone zombie????

I am frightened!  Scared of the cell phone phenomena that has reached into the very essence of people and turned them into automatons – robots fixed on mini screens. Faces blank, lips held together, eyes vacant – ZOMBIES!!!!  STOP THE MADNESS BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!

My dear expressive countrymen, while you are with family and friends this holiday season leave your telefonini in the car.   Also, turn the bloody thing off while you drive, walk around the piazza, go out to dinner, visit the sea… I get apoplectic when I’m on the autostrada and see a truck driver holding his phone in one hand and gesturing with the other hand. Just what body part are they steering the truck with? You jerks driving on A14 toward Milano who almost crushed us know who you are.

Blank stare zombie texting is even worse than talking. Especially if you are the driver of the yellow fiat who was aiming for me on the curvy narrow road out side of Morcone!  I honked – the male driver looked up – note I said looked up – his eyes were filled with texting madness and his hands – WEREN’T ON THE STEERING WHEEL.  I am sure that drivers do this all over the world, however, on skinny, scary mountain roads it is totally inappropriate.  The cretins could kill me!  I wanted to block the bloke’s path down the hill and stomp on his phone.  I didn’t.  Instead, I bellowed a very American explative out the widow.

Imagine a world of scantily clad people milling through waist high water eyes staring blankly ahead clutching something to their ears.  The cast of the latest horror apocalyptic film – or worse PHONE ZOMBIES AT SEA?  Blah, blah, blah – why the hell does anyone have to actually walk in the Adriatic Sea blah, blah, blahhing on their phones? No one who is actually enjoying the sea wants to hear a phone zombie bellow in a variety of languages Can you hear me now?

However, the cultural phenomena that really bothers me is one that may dampen my holiday spirits. Whole families – mom, dad and 2.5 kids – sitting in a restaurant ignoring each other and scrolling through their phones. Jack and I may not have riotous conversation every time we dine out but we do acknowledge there is another person at the table. I want to scream at families, Watch the pizza bubbling in the wood burning oven. Or, sit back and smell the scents of great dishes being brought to other tables.  Stop looking at your fahkackata phones.

What ever happened to conversation?  Where are the frantic hand gestures and facial dances that make us unique?  I see more and more families sitting silently. That silence is not communal – all are in their own little FaceBook bleary eyed world.  I’ll take little tykes running around restaurants any day to a total lack of personal interaction. If I were the communications czar, cell phones would be left in purses and pockets at the dinner, lunch and breakfast tables.

May Auntie Midge gently suggest a phone moratorium until February? Let us not loose the spirit of communications that makes us who we are.  Defeat the telephone zombie invasion. Think of it as La Befana’s holiday gift to you and yours.

Sorry for the phone rant, but we just got off a train and were surrounded by business people sharing work related information that I should have recorded and sold.  I have to vent somewhere.  Thanks for listening.

Ci vediamo.

Cell Phones – Can’t Leave Home Without Them!

The cell phone. Remember life without a cell phone?  I do!  One day on my way to work in Red Bank, NJ, I got a flat tire.  Hey, of course I KNEW how to change a tire but I was in a suit and didn’t WANT to change the tire.  So how did I get help?  In my high heels, I tottered down the street to the first house  and at 7:30 in the morning banged on the door.  Yup, I wasn’t afraid, serial killers didn’t enter my mind and obviously didn’t enter the mind of the woman who answered the door and called a gas station for me.  Then I got a cell phone.  Now, I realize that I can’t possibly navigate life’s curvy roads without a cell phone.

Photo on 6-26-13 at 3.45 PM

Three months in Italy with out a cell phone was out of the question. We weighed the options.  One was to buy a cheap – no data  – phone and a local pay-for-minutes plan.  Nah!  Impossible! Truth be told we are addicted to our iPhones.  Want a restaurant?  Turn to the Yelp app.  On the road and need a hotel?  Turn to Hotel.com.  Lost? Pull out the google map and chart your way. All my contacts, Facebook friends,  Dropbox folders and more are on my iPhone.  What to do?  How much will it cost for a data plan?  The one thing we knew was that we were not going to buy the president of Verizon Wireless a new yacht by enrolling in their “cost you your first born child” international plan.  We had done that for short trips and relied on wi-fi zones to call each other through the free Viber  interface.  We also know lots of folks with iPads and iPhones that use Apple’s FaceTime.  Verizon had been notorious about not unlocking phones on contract so that you could install a pay-as-you go sim card.  I was ready to go the mattresses with the Verizon Global folks to demand a more equitable plan for our three month stay.  Was I surprised and delighted  to discover that Verizon had changed its policy and would unlock our iPhones.  I put our Verizon account on hold for three months and we left the country with unlocked phones.

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We raise a glass of thanks to our able guide in all things Italian – Annarita.

Meanwhile, Annarita Mancini, the best and most efficient person a traveler could have on their side, investigated pay-as-you go cell phone services.  Sit down  – you are not going to believe this.  For ten, not one hundred, but ten euros a month per phone,  Jack and I were able to have unlimited 3G, 400 texts (I am not an avid texter so this is enough for a life time) and 400 minutes of talk time.  So, for about $26 a month we get approximately the same bloody service for which we now pay Verizon $170 a month!  How can that be?!

Don’t  believe me?  Check out the web site:


Sym card is the size of my pointer finger nail.

Our service is through a company called Wind.  Now there have been some snafooos.  When we bought our new sim cards and swapped out the Verizon card we weren’t sure what to do next.  Jack always says, when in doubt hard reboot!  We did that by sticking a paper clip in the tiny iPhone reset hole. I bit my lip and did some good luck incantations.  Unnerving.  We turned the phones back on and one worked perfectly.  Jacks phone was in pazzo land.  My Italian wasn’t good enough to understand Wind support.  Annarita!!!

Morcone - built into the mountain.
Morcone – built into the mountain.

Over lunch in Morcone,  the nearby village that requires the legs of a goat to walk through, Annarita stayed on hold with Wind, made pushy noises and got Jack’s phone functioning.  The one annoying Wind security thing is that every time you shutdown your phone or runout of battery you have to re-enter your million number Wind security code.  Jack says I’m lying it isn’t a million numbers only four.  OK, he wins but I didn’t pick the four and I don’t remember the four.  The first month the service was great.  There were only a few spots on the mountain where we didn’t have ‘bars’.  We also don’t get service in our kitchen. Of course the bones of the house are medieval and all thick rock. The kitchen is an all rock internal room. I don’t think Verizon or AT&T could sneak through those thick walls either.

Month two arrived and we had to pay for the second months service.  We tried to do it online. It couldn’t be done by us.  To set up an on-line account, you need a Codice Fiscale number – think social security.  Annarita bought our sim cards before we got here.   Thinking my Codice Fiscale was bad or I had someone else’s, I kept cursing at the computer and the Italian government.  Later, we discovered that  Annarita had registered the sim card with her name and number.  Not a big deal.  You can go to almost any Tobacchi (cigarette and assorted stuff shop) or Edicolo (newspapers and magazine shop)  and top off your account.  We did that and all was well – we thought.  Jacks service continued,  mine stopped.  Eeeeeeh.  Annarita!!! She came and rebooted my phone.  Now why didn’t I think of that!   Once again all is brilliant in cell phone land.

Question – why is it so much cheaper here for cell phone usage?  All I could think of was, this is a smaller country and we only bought service for Italy not all of Europe.     But hey, I ain’t calling anyone in Greece.  Wait a second!  Jack and I are going to London for five days.  My brilliant niece Alexandra Rose is graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.  We are hopping over to see her in a play and graduation review.  How much more than our ten euros will Wind charge for calls outside of Italy?  Two Euros a day ($2.60) that is how much more.  For that we get 30 minutes of call time, 30 text messages and 30 MB of internet data.  That extended plan is good for all of the European Union and the United States.  We have learned to turn off the data on our iPhones when traveling and just use wi-fi zones so the 30 MB won’t be an issue.

IMG_0842Next time you travel to Italy, unlock that phone and let you voice fly with Wind!