Between traveling to the States for a lengthy visit, flying to Tennessee for a familial visit and negotiating the madness that is Christmas here, it has been a busy time for the Captain and yours truly. We took some time out to enjoy cooking special holiday treats, though, such as the cookies the Captain learned to make at his mother’s knee, and the Swedish Coffee Cake we’ve enjoyed on Christmas mornings for the past few years. Be warned: you may want to make an appointment with your cardiologist before embarking on this recipe.
I found the recipe at about.com, where it is called Swedish Tea Log, by Linda Larsen. We’ve made very few changes – why mess with success? – but have changed the shape to give it a more Christmasy appearance. Every year I say to myself that the frosting is too thick and should be runnier and applied more sparingly. I’ve adapted the recipe to accommodate that opinion.
There’s no reason not to make this yummy treat any time of the year. Everyone loves it, which makes it well worth the little bit of extra effort (really time, more than effort) it takes to make.
Click here for the recipe, invite some friends over for tea and have fun!
This morning my friend Deborah called from San Francisco called to say that the letter I mailed to her from Rapallo on October 18 had arrived yesterday.
What wonders did my letter see on its long journey from me to Deborah??!
I guess we’ll never know, because although it’s full of words, it’s not talking. Guilty conscience, no doubt.
Dear Mr. Berlusconi,
It has come to our attention that Italy, like the United States, is in dire financial straits. Austerity budgets, tax increases, benefit reductions – these are the cures being tossed at this world-wide epidemic (except in the U.S., where we are extending tax cuts and increasing spending… but that’s a topic for another day).
Mr. Berlusconi, you are missing a grand opportunity for raising funds. It is easy to do – in fact, it is already being done in the U.S., Canada and many other countries. We can’t imagine why, in these troubled economic times, the EU has not embraced the Vanity Plate for automobiles.
What is it, you ask? It is a personalized license plate for your vehicle. Yours, for instance, might simply say BERLU – or perhaps PRM MIN, or maybe even LOTHRIO… anything that’s not already taken and is not obscene is up for grabs.
Here in North America we first issued license plates in 1903 (Massachusetts and Ontario). They didn’t look anything like they do now – they were made of leather, rubber, iron and porcelain. By 1920 the familiar embossed metal plates had arrived, and in 1956 the size of license plates was standardized.
The first personalized American plate was issued in Pennyslvania way back in 1931. (I haven’t been able to find out what it said.) For years and years each state had its own color scheme for license plates with raised numbers in a contrasting color – New York was orange, Vermont was green, Arizona was a sort of maroon brown. All that changed over the years. Now there are any number of different types of plates available, depending on your State.
Mr. Berlusconi, did you know that in the U.S. and Canada there are 9.7 million vehicles with personalized plates? 3.87% of cars in America proudly carry a personalized message and each one of those plates cost money, money that went into the coffers of the issuing State!
And it’s not just the States that benefit. Many States offer a personalized plate that supports a belief, a school, a sports team. Here in Arizona we have a choice of 38 plates touting anything from cancer awareness, to the environment to Arizona State University. Once you’ve chosen your type of plate, you can choose the letters and/or numbers you want on it. Prices vary from state to state. In Arizona it costs $25 to apply for a vanity plate, and $25 a year to keep it. If you have chosen a plate that supports a charity, a hefty portion of the annual fee will go to the charity (here it’s typically $17 of each $25 renewal).
Think of it! If you could sell, say, 1,000,000 plates a year in Italy, and you charged E 50 a year, that would be 50,000,000 a year. Granted, it won’t solve Italy’s financial crisis, but it would help.
There’s another benefit Mr. Berlusconi – it’s much easier to remember a plate that spells out a word, even in an abbreviated form. This would be helpful for all those times you have to write your plate number on a form, which seems to be about once a week in Italy. How much simpler to remember BERLU than, say 135 MIN. Also helpful if you need to report a hit and run to the police.
Are you thinking it might be hard to come up with a good idea for a plate? Well, there are a lot of ways to approach it. Some people opt for the simple name or initials plate:
Others like to come up with clever sayings to tell other motorists something about themselves – a sort of highway tweet:
Born to fight? Tanned from outside battles?
Then there are the ones that mean something to the owners, but are, perhaps, a bit mystifying to readers:
Multiple personalities, perhaps?
Note that the one above is a special plate for a veteran. Does it mean Corporal Tom? Or perhaps it belongs to someone who did code work?
Many is the car owner who is proud of his car and wants you to know it:
Plates are a pretty inexpensive way to advertise, and they reach a wide audience:
The University of Arizona has a vibrant music department – could this be a proud member of the orchestra? Or simply someone who likes good seats at concerts?
Other people just want you to know where they fit in the family:
Mr. Prime Minister, you could make a great public relations gesture and give the Pope the Papa 1 plate, free of charge.
I hope, you’ll consider this fund-raising suggestion, Mr. Berlusconi; surely vanity plates would be a hit in Italy. And if none of the above gives you ideas for your own plate, you can check this link to find hundreds of suggestions.
Farfalle1 (who will apply for the Farfal1 plate as soon as they’re available)
In Italy people tend to take much greater responsibility for the little details in life than we do in the United States.
Take bills, for instance. Certainly we receive many, too many we often think! But actually, we receive too few in Italy. There are many obligations which we must remember we owe, track down the amount due, and then pay in a timely fashion. These include automotive taxes, health insurance (which we pay for because we are not citizens), automotive insurance, other taxes (income and property – of course! – though the property tax on primary residence has been repealed), and various inspections – motor vehicles, gas heater and so forth. Helpful reminders are not forthcoming, and penalties apply for late payment. We forgot to pay the car tax a couple of years ago and the penalty was substantial – about E 100 if memory serves. Auto registration and driving licenses are also on the list of things we must remember to renew without benefit of a reminder. The Captain has created a great month-by-month calendar on the computer so that we won’t forget what to pay when.
It’s not consistent, though. For example, we receive bills for the TV tax, the Road Access tax (don’t ask), and the Garbage tax, but not for the various taxes noted above. Who decides these things? How do they decide??
And even when help is available its isn’t always, well… helpful. When we bought our tumbling down house in the hills above Rapallo we were stunned to discover that property tax bills were not forthcoming. The Captain went right away to the appropriate office for help in figuring out what we should pay for the ICI (property tax, pronounced ‘eetchie’) each year. They were helpful, and we were thrilled because it was about € 35 a year – a real bargain! When the reconstruction of our house was finished our geometra registered the change of house category with the regional property office, which should, one would think, have triggered a change in taxes owed. (A geometra is a cross between an engineer and an architect, in our case the man who designed the reconstruction and oversaw its realization)
We have always asked a ‘commercialista’ (an accountant) to prepare our Italian taxes, and after a couple of years the man who does them was able to calculate our ICI due from information on record about our house, saving us our annual jaunt to the nice lady in the ICI office. Years passed. The ICI was repealed for primary residences. The very year the repeal went into effect we were summoned to the ICI office; we were in arrears. To make a terribly long story shorter, the ICI office had never updated the valuation of our house, in spite of the category change being registered, so we paid years of taxes on an uninhabited rustico instead of an occupied house. In addition, the house is in both our names (which are different). Each year when the Captain went to the office to ask what we owed and later, when the commercialista took over, the figuring was done on the Captain’s share of the tax. No one realized Farfalle owed tax too.
We were able to negotiate the dismissal of the huge penalties and interest on unpaid taxes since the proper forms had been filed after the work was done. But still, we owed some six years of taxes at a higher rate for the Captain, and all taxes for Farfalle – it was well over € 1,000, a truly horrid surprise.
Another responsibility people in Italy carry is keeping track of their own health records. Certainly doctors will have records but if, for instance, you get an X-ray, the film is given to you to carry home, not filed at the doctor’s office or in the hospital or lab where it was made (do they have copies I wonder? Surely they must). In fact, all lab results are given to the patient, not sent to the doctor. This is very convenient if you decide to visit another doctor for a second opinion. But it’s really inconvenient if you go to the doctor and forget to take your files with you!
Vets do the same thing. Each patient has a ‘libretto’ – a record book of visits, treatments, procedures. I recently disposed of the late Luciano‘s records (with a bit of a cry) which included some mysterious X-rays I couldn’t recognize. A paw, perhaps, or maybe a bit of tail. It was easy to keep track of his records – I simply left them all in his cat carrier. If only I could come up with such a reliable system to keep track of our own records!
We’re in the U.S. now. The Captain had some blood tests done over a week ago. They have not been forwarded to his doctor yet, and the lab absolutely refuses to release the results to him. They treat us like incompetents here. Inconsistent as things are in Italy, at least we are generally treated like adults. And while I may not have brought the results of the Captain’s previous blood tests over here with us, I know where I’ve filed them in Italy. Take that, LabCorp, who can’t manage to get them to an office in the same building within a week! Why not allow us just a little responsibility… but maybe not quite as much as in Italy?