Monday, January 30, 2006

RIP Snowmen...

Remember the snowmen that we made (pics from last post)? They were almost totally melted the next day. Typical of the weatehr pattern here - we'll get a bunch of snow and it'll all be melted within a few days.

The good news is that I saw Fausto this morning and he gave me my copy of the new Vicenza fishing rules and regulations for 2006. Everyday brings me closer to the river...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Snow Day! (Now with more pics!)

We had a huge snowstorm here last night. It's probably the most snow I can remember seeing in my almost 6 years here. As you can imagine, the Italians re not handling it very well. I walked to the bar for my coffee this morning and there cars stuck everywhere. Those that weren't stuck were sliding all over the road. It was actually sort of comical.

Anyway, I was relieved to hear that the base is closed today and we were told not to come to work. I was going to go in anyway but my boss reminded me that we work on top of a mountain and there's no way my car would make it up to the top. So I'm relieved because the only thing I hate more than driving in Italy is driving in the snow in Italy...

EDIT: Here's how we spent the day:

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Keeping my fingers crossed...

As some of you know, my job is changing to a government position (it's a contract position now). The suck thing is that I actually had to apply for it. The job posting ended back on December 20 and I still haven't heard anything. Until today that is.

I found out this morning that my resume has been referred to the selecting official. This is sort of like the "first cut". All the resumes that make the first cut go to a hiring committee and they make their decision from there. So I'm in the running and I'm hopeful. You would think that I'd be a lock since I've been doing the job for almost 6 years now but the goverment hiring system is set up to avoid favoritism so it's not a sure thing.

Assuming I get the job, it will guarantee at least 5 more years in Italy which would be great because we love it here. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The funniest things I've ever overheard.

Welcome to another edition of "The Funniest Things I've Ever Overheard"...

I've often felt that today's youth are way too absorbed with video games, to the point where it's distorting their ability to deal with reality. Never was this more perfectly illustrated than one day in my College history class.

It was a few days before the Superbowl. The teams involved were the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills. The Cowboys were heavily favored as I recall and their best player was running back Emmit Smith. He had torn up the NFL that year and was widely regarded as the best running back in the league.

So there I was, sitting in my history class waiting for it start as the rest of the students shuffled in. There were 2 underclassmen who were engaged in a heated arguement over who would win the Superbowl. One of them went on and on about how the Cowboys would win easily because nobody could stop Emmit Smith. The other guy responded that the Bills would stop Emmitt Smith. The conversation got heated and ended with one of the funniest things I've ever overheard:

Dude 1: Buffalo is gonna get killed! Nobody can stop Emmitt Smith!

Dude 2: Buffalo can stop Emmitt Smith!

Dude 1: You're crazy, nobody has been able to stop him all year! How the hell is Buffalo gonna do it?!

Dude 2: Easy, they'll use a 3-4 defense!

Dude 1: HA HA! You can't stop Emmitt Smith with a 3-4!!!

Dude 2: Yes you can! I do it on Madden all the time!

One of the funniest things I've ever overheard in my life.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Italians are bad drivers. Especially when they're drunk.

So yesterday afternoon we went down to the Bar da Sylvia. I often go there on weekends when I have nothing to because it's relaxing and there's not many things better than relaxing in the local bar with a glass of vino and soccer on the TV. The wife and kid decided to join me also just to get out of the house. I usually park in the parking lot across the street from Sylvia's bar because it's bigger and easier to get in and out of. But the spot right in front of the bar was open and I figured what the heck and took it.

We were in the bar not more than 10 minutes when Sylvia came over and asked me if that was my car in front. Now, when someone asks you if that's your car out front...that is not a good sign. Sure enough, some idiot had backed into it. I could not believe it. How the hell do you back into a parked car?! I went out and made my way through the crowd that had gathered and surveyed the damage. He hit it pretty hard, but something looked strange. It's hard to describe, but it looked like his rear bumper was sort of wrapped around mine. He seemed unable to move his car forward so he put it in neutral and Dorino (Syvia's dad) got in and did it for him. To my astonishment, there was not a scratch on my car. Apparently his rear bumper was made out of some kind of rubber so when his car went forward, it just popped right back into shape. And didn't leave a single mark on mine. Phew.

Later I asked Dorino what the heck happened and he told me the guy was drunk and wasn't watching what he was doing. Moron. I think I'll park in the parking lot across the street from the bar from now on.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I NEED to get back on the river.

I can't take much more of this. I hate winter. I hate cold weather. I need to get back on the river and soon. Spring better hurry up because I don't know how much longer I can hold out. The Brenta River is calling me. Every day I hear the whispers; "Rik...Rik...come back...come wade in me and wet your line in my waters..."

I've got a new fly box filled with about 50 new flies that I need to break in. The trout are getting fatter as we speak. They need me.

Please hurry spring. Please.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

More on Calcio

So yesterday I was talking about how the Italian soccer leagues work. As you may recall, I mentioned that the team with the most points wins the Scudetto but that there is still incentive to finishing near the top even if you don't win it all. Today I will explain why...

In Europe, every country has a professional soccer league. The biggest (and richest) ones are in England, Italy, Spain and Germany although France and the Netherlands aren't far behind. In each league, there is usually two or three dominant teams that finish at the top every year. So several years ago, UEFA (European soccer's ruling body) decided to have the winner of each league play in a tournament to determine the best team in Europe. Today we call it the Champions League. Originally only the top team from the previous season of each European league was allowed to compete. However, a few years ago UEFA realized they could increase viewership and make more monet on the Champions League by increasing the pool of teams. So what they did was this: in the biggest leagues (England, Italy, etc), the top TWO teams automatically qualified and the number 3 and 4 teams also qualified but have to win an initial preliminary playoff to go through.

So now, instead of teams trying to win their league, you sometimes have teams just trying to finish in the top 4 just to get into the Champions League. For example, if you're one of the smaller teams in Italy such as Parma or Chievo, you know that you have no chance to win the Scudetto because you can't compete with teams like Juventus and AC Milan. But if you can sneak into the top 4, you can still make it to the Chamions League, which brings in a lot of money for the teams that make it.

It's hard for a lot of American sports fans to comprehend this system for one simple reason. The professional leagues in the US are pretty much the only show in town so there's no competition. If you win the Superbowl for example, you are pretty much the best team by default. Who else is there to play? Even in baseball - how many other professional leagues are there in the world? Japan and...? But in European soccer, the team that wins the Scudetto can say they are the best team in Italy, but there are at least a dozen other teams that can claim to be as good or better. So a tournament to determine who the best of the best is is a must.

They have a similar tournament in South America where the league winners of each country play each other to determine who the best in South America is. It's called the Copa Libertadores. You're probably wondering if they have a "World" tournament - they do, sort of. The winner of Europe and the winner of South America play one match to determine the best team in the world. The match is always played in Tokyo and it's called the Toyota Cup. It's been pretty evenly matched over the years with neither continent dominating.

Next time we will continue to look at different aspects of European soccer...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A Brief Lesson on Calcio

I've played and watched soccer my entire life. I fondly remember my autumn weekends as a kid - Saturday would be spent playing in the local youth leagues and Sunday mornings would be spent watching German "football" on channel 11. I grew up emulating the likes of Toni Schumacher and Rudi Voeller.

Now of course, my main focus is on Italian soccer. I still follow all the other European leagues but being in Italy means I'm inundated with the local game. In Italy, soccer is called "Calcio" (pronouced "cal-chyo"). Here's how it's broken down:

The top division is called Serie A. There are currently 20 teams (Squadra) in Serie A. The trophy they play for is called the "Scudetto". Play is a little different from the US in that there is no playoff system. Each team plays each other twice and at the end of the year, whoever has the most points wins the Scudetto for that season. It's the same for pretty much every other soccer league in the world (except the MLS in the US which uses a playoff to determine the champion).

Here's where it gets interesting...

There are also several divisions below Serie A. Next is Serie B, the second division. Below B there are two divisions: C1 & C2. At the end of each season, the 4 teams that finished at the bottom of the standings in each division get relgated to the next division down. Conversely, the 4 teams that finished at the top of the standings get promoted up to the next higher division. So the goal of every team is to keep winning and make it to Serie A. As you would expect, the bigger teams with the most money all reside in Serie A because they can afford to buy the best players. The smaller teams will often bounce back and forth between Serie A and B. The team where I live, Vicenza, is a perfect example.

My first year in Italy, Vicenza was in Serie A, which was great - I went to a few matches and got to see some of the most famous players. Alas, they ended up finishing 4th from the bottom that year and have been in Serie B ever since. As such, going to the matches doesn't hold that much interest for me anymore.

I've learned in my time here that many midlevel teams actually prefer to stay in Serie B because going to Serie A means that they have to spend a lot of money to buy players to compete at the highest level and that usually is more than they can afford. In fact, a few years ago, Vicenza was playing some great ball and looked like a sure bet to get promoted to Serie A. Inexplicably, they tanked in their last 4 or 5 matches and just missed it. There was a lot of talk around town that the owners actually paid off the players and/or coaches to play, shall we say, at less than their ability.

Anyway, the most famous teams in Italian Calcio are AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan. These are the big three and every season usually ends with them in some variation of the top three places. AC Milan may be the most famous, but Juventus is by far the most successful, having won a record 28 Scudettos (and well on their way to number 29 this season). AC Milan is second with 17, Inter third with 13. Juventus plays in Torino (Turin) by the way, which hosts the Winter Olympics next month. The other teams worth mentioning are Fiorentina (Florence), Roma & Lazio (both in Rome), Parma and Sampdoria (Genoa). In the past 15 years, the only two teams besides AC Milan and Juventus to win the Scudetto are Lazio (2000) and Roma (2001). Either AC Milan or Juventus has won it every other year since 1991 so there is not a lot of parity in Serie A.

Of course, there are still incentives to finishing near the top of the table in Serie A even if it doesn't mean winning the Scudetto. In the next installment I'll cover those...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Olympic Torch Comes To Vicenza

As I write this, the Olympic Torch is passing through Vicenza. In fact, it actually passed right in front of the base. I have to miss it due to work but a colleague who passed through downtown said it is an absolute mob scene so it's probably just as well.

Next up is Padova, then Venice, then eventually on to Torino where the official Olympic Flame will be lit.

(And in case you're, I will not be attending any Olympic events. But I will be watching on TV. The Olympics are a pretty big deal over here.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hurry up March...

Well, the unthinkable happened last night. My beloved New England Patriots finally lost and the season is now over. That means I now have absolutely nothing to look forward to until when Spring Training and March Madness roll around. I've always hated February with a burning passion. It's the cruelest month. I wis hthe warm weather would hurry up so I can get back on the river. These next couple months are going to be tough indeed...

Friday, January 13, 2006

I Miss Steve Lester.

Steve Lester and I go back to about Sophomore year of high school. He quickly became one of my best friends and remains so to this day. After an unsuccessful first year of college, Steve joined the Air Force. Several years later when I enlisted in the Army and got stationed in Germany, I was very fortunate that Steve also happened to be stationed there. For much of my time in Germany I would ride the train about 3 hours and hang out with him on weekends. Sometimes we would travel, sometimes we would just hang out at the pub. But it was always a welcome respite from the day to day Army crap. One of the best trips we took was my first year there - we drove all the way up to London to meet up with my friend Angela and her sister for New Years:

It was a great road trip. We got to go through the Chunnel (English Channel Tunnel that connects France and England) which was a cool experience. Hell, Steve even ran interference with Angela for me while I hit on her sister - now that's a true friend...

Many of my favorite memories of Germany involved Steve. One night as we were arriving back to his place, the downstairs neighbors were having a birthday party. They invited us over and so rather than hit the Irish Pub as usual, we ended up spending the night partying with them. It was a fun night - they were drinking some delicious German Pils and we decided to do a little "cultural exchange", so we brought down some Sam Adams and had them try it. They were quite surprised at how good it was too. The funniest part of the night was that one of the daughter's boyfriend who was stone cold drunk kept grabbing Steve's ass all night. He tried to get me to switch seats, but I ain't stupid! Here's a picture from that night(click to enlarge):

Anyway, Steve's time in the Air Force finished a few months before I left Germany and he ended up getting a job with the FAA and he's currently working near Cleveland. I miss him quite a bit. He was the ultimate buddy to hang out or to travel with. He's about as friendly and easy going as anyone I've ever known, he's always up for anything and - here's the best part - he never complains about anything. That's so important when you travel because you know that something is bound to go wrong. But, like me, he just goes with the flow and makes the best out of every situation. He also has a razor sharp wit and I usually spend most of the time cracking up at the stuff he comes up with. He has a great outlook on life and is always a joy to be around. In short, I always enjoy my time hanging out with Steve. I wish the hell he were still here.

Luckily, Europe made enough of an impression on him that he tries to come back at least once a year or so. More often than not it's to attend Oktoberfest, but he usually tries to slip in a day or two down here hanging out with me and the wife in Venice:

I look forward to and enjoy those times more than he probably realizes. Even the wife enjoys hanging around him too and looks forward to his visits. The last time he was here was this past September (as regular readers may remember). He and some of his buddies from work came for Oktoberfest and spent a couple days in Venice where I showed them around a bit. As usual, we all had a fantastic time. Hopefully another visit is in the cards for 2006...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Italy has some strange gastronomic traditions.

Last night as I arrived home from the gym I was met by Giampietro and Agnese who wanted to invite us upstairs tonight for a special dinner. Agnese explained that she is making the special traditional dish of Caldogno (town where we live). Apparently the meal consists of:

First course - Some kind of risotto, I didn't quite get what was in it.
Main course - Eggs, Broccoli & olive oil.

I asked if they needed me to bring a meat dish and they flipped out and explained that no meat dish is needed with this meal. OK, I can go for that. But looking at the menu, it just seems a little strange, like something is missing. So first we had the traditional northern Italian meal, then it was the traditional meal eaten in the Veneto region. Then it was the traditional Vicentina dish. Now I find out that my little town of about 5,000 also has a "traditional dish". I suppose next month I'll find out that my neighborhood has a traditional dish as well? Perhaps even a "traditional dish" of my apartment buiding?

I'm starting to think that the neighbors are making up Italian holidays and "special traditional meals" for the sole purpose of being able to spend more time with the X Man. Hmmm...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Like Father, Like Son.

A couple nights ago I was playing with the X Man and had he kept saying something I couldn't quite understand. The wife explained to me that what he was saying was "hurt the bum". Apparently he had fallen on his keister and it was still a little sore. I laughed uncontrollably everytime he uttered that phrase "hurt the bum!".

So yesterday was my leg day at the gym and I did a whole lot of squats; so many that this morning my ass is sore as hell. So now the wife is laughing because both of her men are walking around the house complaining about sore behinds...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

That's Why They Play the Games...

USC lost to Texas and I am happy for so many reasons. For one thing, I've been saying that USC is overrated all season and people have been calling me crazy. Everybody kept saying how they are the best team of all time. But now everyone can shut up because Texas pulled it out and the "strongest team that Gino Martin has ever seen in his life" lost (Sorry Gino, couldn't resist...). As it turns out, they're not even the best team this season.

What's worse, ESPN even ran a whole series matching them up against the greatest college football teams of all time and everyone voted them as the second best of all time. I scoffed at the arrogance of ESPN - don't you think you should wait until they actually go undefeated and win the national championship before making claims about them being the "best of all time"?!

So how are you enjoying your crow this morning ESPN?

It's going to be a great day.