Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Final chapter in traffic ticket story?

January 10, 2012
Hopefully today is the final installment in the saga of my Italian traffic ticket, but I can’t be sure. I take my third trip to my bank this morning to make the money transfer to pay my 240.27 euro fine. When I went last Friday, it was too late in the day to make a payment, but I left the bank clerk, Sandy, a copy of the ticket so she could fill out the paperwork.

Then I stop back Monday and Sandy faxes the transfer form to Suzy in the bank’s main office to be checked over before sending along for processing. I wait for nearly half an hour while Sandy makes some corrections and re-faxes the form to Suzy and they discuss the form on the telephone.  Although the ticket provides the IBAN number, the bic/swift number and the fine-reference number, Suzy finally claims that she can’t process a transfer in euros without also having a UK sort code.

“Can you call the police department to get that?” Sandy asks me.  No, I can’t, and I don’t want to even think about it. First, I hate talking Italian on the telephone. Second, there is no phone number given on the ticket. Third, if the UK sort code is really needed, don’t you think the ticket would have included that? I mean, the Italians send out thousands of these tickets per day, so they should know what they are doing. IBAN transfers are a standard way of paying bills and making deposits for travel reservations in Europe, so they know what is needed.

Because U.S. banks use a different money transfer system and rarely do IBAN transfers, the likelihood is nearly 100 percent that my bank is wrong about the need for a UK sort code. However, I don’t explain all this to Sandy. I just tell her I would like her to send the transfer without a sort code, but she says that Suzy won’t send it because it is required for sending euros.

“How about if you send it in U.S. dollars?” I ask. That doesn’t require the sort code, but the bank fee is $50 instead of $35. Go ahead, I say. But the magic 2 p.m. hour is past and it is too late to send it today.

Now I am back for the final time, and Sandy informs me that there is something wrong with the bic/swift number. Suzy has told her that the system does not recognize the number as being valid. They can send the transfer request, but she can’t be sure it will be accepted. In keeping with my theory that the Italians know more about IBAN transfers than the Americans, I authorize her to send it anyway.

So is this the end of the story? I have my doubts. A number of things could go wrong.  I have sent the money in dollars instead of euros. Will they charge me an exchange fee? Maybe there really is a problem with the bic/swift number I was given on the ticket. And the final problem could be that I have missed the 60-day deadline for the reduced price payment. The ticket reads that the offense “requires a reduced payment, to be made within 60 days from the date of this fine-notification.” Beyond 60 days, the fine increases from 240.27 euro to 454.27 euro.

I received the ticket in November, but I didn’t note the exact date. I am pretty close to 60 days, but I honestly don’t know if I am over or under. The ticket is dated Oct. 14, and the letter is postmarked Oct. 27. If one figures one week for delivery, I have missed the deadline, but I would have just made it if delivery took two weeks. It is not clear when the 60 days began. Was it the date the ticket was printed, mailed or received? Since I know that many people just ignore these tickets altogether, I am hoping that whoever handles the payment is willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. With the snail’s pace efficiency of the Italian bureaucracy, I know I will have to wait six months to a year before I can write this incident off as completely finished.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The education and spirituality of our Renaissance cousin Fanny

January 7, 2012
Fanny’s parents hailed from Toscana, the heart of the Renaissance, and after reading her “Of Arts and Letters” chapter, I would describe Fanny as a Renaissance woman, which can be defined as “a person who is skilled in multiple disciplines and has a broad base of knowledge.” While immensely successful as a business woman, she devoured books from early childhood onward. Her librarian friend commented that she had never seen a young girl read so many books. Fanny quotes liberally from the writings of Plato, Socrates, Machiavelli, Dante and Shakespeare, but she also enthusiastically embraced the latest ideas from social scientists, philosophers and psychologists of her own era. Her comments on music, painting, literature, wisdom and the human psyche are full of depth and insight.

Fanny’s columns also offer many insights into her fascinatingly rich personal life. She describes an important incident from her childhood where, while aboard a ship bound from Europe to the United States, she met opera singer Lina Cavalieri, called “the most beautiful woman in the world” in 1916. Fanny also reveals that she averaged four hours of sleep a night, but on the nights she wrote her weekly columns, she would forgo even those hours of sleep.

“Creative thinking for me is accomplished only during the night; my stream of consciousness is of the type that flows only in absolute quiet (how I envy folks who can write with noise all about them), and so 18 years of writing has cost me more than 6,000 hours or perhaps more of sleep . . . I haven’t missed that sleep, because my energy level is high and my blood pressure is low.”

While extolling the virtues of reading, she emphasizes that knowledge should be used for reflection and personal development: “Now while knowledge and wisdom seem to be the same, one may be well educated, that is, with an intellectual knowledge of many subjects, and yet have very little wisdom. The world is full of educated men but not enough wise men.”

She points out that some people who have less formal education than others but are well read— like her own father—can be very wise. The way they apply their knowledge is the key.

“The power of reasoning and judgment developed in childhood through reading will never result in the adult who discovers his limitations in his ability to reason . . . Sometimes a ditch digger can run rings around an educated ‘uneducated’ man without the kind of common sense needed to face the everyday kind of world.”

Her use of the word “uneducated” reminds me of the word maleducato, which is an important and serious insult in Italy. It literally means badly educated, but it is used more broadly to mean rude, ill-mannered or impolite. In Italy, to be educated also meant to be refined and polite, and Fanny was aware of these cultural values.

Fanny’s writing also shows her spiritual side: “Words have no value as regards improving our lives, unless the idea that lies behind them is understood. They have to be digested and assimilated by getting our little petty selves out of the way . . . and letting God take over. I have discovered that the more ‘educated’ some people become, the narrower, rather than broader, they become in mind . . . witness the number of people who think it is not fashionable but corny to believe in God. I am constantly shocked by people of good education and breeding who think that people who believe in God are ‘square’ simply because the nonbelievers don’t know how to think profoundly, because they have never taken the time (and it takes time and meditation) for the real power of spiritual thought to manifest itself.”

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Manners, morals and la bella figura

January 6, 2012
Essential to the Italian culture is the concept of “bella figura,” good figure, but the literal translation is not sufficient to comprehend the meaning. It relates to making a good impression but goes even further. It has been described as putting your best foot forward in everything you do, especially in style, appearance and public behavior, as a way of showing respect to yourself and others. Although she does not use this term, Fanny undoubtedly believed in it, as can be seen throughout her chapter titled “Of Manners and Morals.”

“A well-groomed man or woman is mentally well-groomed, too. For resort wear, casual attire is permitted, but even on the Riviera, gentlemen and gentlewomen are always properly attired when they dine in restaurants. My beloved (peasant-born) father wouldn’t even go to the bank unless he was neatly dressed.

She also decries the loosening of standards evident in her day in clothing and grooming styles that had become both more casual and more revealing: “Women who walk around in public with curlers in their hair are lacking in self-respect (and) respect for others . . . Those who flaunt and tempt men by their display of flesh are the type who flip about from man to man; they can’t even hold one man in marriage. It takes a man with a great heart and mind to know love and life and to love truly. The Don Juans of the world and the sexy nakedness of the harebrained women display lack of depth of mind and feeling. Vulgarity is not a synonym for thought, love, life, truth, beauty, or reality; and the cheap vulgarity displayed in dress, manners, and attitudes of defiance toward society are symptoms of humans who are in deep mesmeric slumber of morbid self-hypnosis created by excesses, by their own inner doubts, fears, hatreds, and insecurity.”

Fanny assuredly would have abhorred the low riser jeans and plunging necklines that have become popular for women in recent times. And one can hardly imagine what criticisms she would have aimed at the baggy pants popular among young men. While I would have applauded her condemnation of these tacky trends, I think she takes her philosophy too far when she starts stepping squarely on my own toes. Having been raised in the style of the Northwest, I love my jeans and flannel and cotton shirts, and I have never been comfortable wearing a tie.

Had Fanny lived in Gig Harbor, we may have butted heads over her expectations for apparel, because she wrote: “A true gentleman wears a coat and tie to honor his wife or lady friend. There is entirely too much casualness in everything today. There is a place and time for everything, and a public place is no place for the undressed. A high-class man or woman dresses for high class, and that doesn’t cost too much money. Simple good taste is never expensive, but oh, how lovely!”

It does sound quite lovely, I must confess. I guess I am pretty much a hypocrite when it comes to la bella figura, because one of the things I most enjoy about Italy is watching the stylish appearance of the people, who stand out even more in stark contrast compared to my drab garb. Fanny was a first-generation Italian American, and I am second-generation, so to some extent I resign myself to being farther from the Italian ideal. On the other hand, if my goal for visiting Italy is to become more Italian, this is an area to which I must devote more attention; so thanks, Fanny, for the advice.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Fanny on love and marriage

January 5, 2012
Since I discovered that cousin Fanny had written a book, I went to Amazon.com and found that I could purchase a used copy of Fanny’s Way of Life. Now that I have it in hand, I would like to include some excerpts and comments. The book is basically a selection of her columns that appeared in the Evanston Review and other small and medium-sized newspapers for at least two decades. It is divided into sections based on common themes: Of Love and Marriage, Of Morals and Manners, Of Arts and Letters, Of Life’s Labors and Of Courage, Faith, and Hope.

Fanny is described inside the jacket as “a serious reader of Italian as well as British and American authors . . . Fanny’s familiarity with the folk sayings of Italy also serves to season her writing with the salt of the soil from which her forebears sprung.”

The jacket also proclaims the book “reveals a deeply religious person, with an intense belief in the rewards of hard work, faith, virtue, and of service to others. Fanny Lazzar is no homespun philosopher. She is rather a student of world literature and music, and an enthusiastic collector of original paintings.”

In “Of Love and Marriage,” Fanny shows herself to be a strong advocate for the healing power of love, compassion, kindness and tolerance. She quotes an Italian saying, “Il meglio medico è se stessa” or “The best doctor is the self,” and then she writes: “Who knows where the body leaves off and the mind begins? They say that many hospital beds would be emptied if humans would drop negative emotions from their hearts, minds, and souls once and for all.”

In her columns, she shares secrets of couples among her acquaintance who share lasting bonds of love and happiness, and also mistakes made by those with less happy relationships. Sometimes she responds to those who write to her asking for advice on life and love. She warns against infidelity, jealousy and in-laws who meddle in the affairs of their children.

I think the influence of her heritage shows in her opinion on flirting, which I am told is an acceptable and even desirable Italian practice, if done within the proper boundaries. Fanny describes it this way: “Most beautiful women have an unconscious coquetry which is completely harmless as it is charming. In Europe, where coquetry is a practiced art, husbands accept it as a compliment if other men flirt with their wives. In fact, a French couple, very devoted to each other, were chagrined one evening, when, in a restaurant, no one flirted back with the wife. ‘Am I getting old?’ she asked him in almost childish fright. ‘No my dear, they are,’ he answered gently.”

However, flirting is even better, she says, when done within the matrimonial confines. In describing a couple who has been coming to her restaurant for 15 years, she writes: “This man and woman are so gentle, so modest, so appealing, so charged with tenderness, that in their presence my very soul feels the sacred fire of their love.” Nevertheless, Fanny teases the wife about having been a tremendous flirt in her college days, which was the time she met her husband. Fanny writes that her friend responded, with sparkling eyes, “Yes, I was, and that is why I have never stopped flirting with my husband—because to me he is the greatest charmer I have ever known.” 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My world famous cousin Fanny

Ada and children Fanny and
Amelia in a photo sent by Ada
to my grandmother Anita.
January 2, 2012
I earlier blogged that most of my known ancestors were farmers, other than a few semi-famous Spadonis from 1000 years ago who may have been my ancestors. But I recently stumbled across some information about a famous restaurateur who was my dad’s second cousin. I learned her name and saw her photo courtesy of my brother and sister-in-law, who have contributed much to the research of our family line, but I was the one who found out about her fame.

In looking at a family album at Roger and Rosemary’s house, I came across old photos of cousins Ada and Fanny Bachechi, who were said to have visited my grandmother Anita many years ago. Anita and Ada had the same grandfather, Giacondo Capocchi, so they were first cousins. Ada’s daughter was Fanny, who was second cousin to my dad and his brothers and sisters. Roger recalls meeting Fanny at some time in Gig Harbor, and Rosemary met Fanny's sister Millie (Amelia) at a 4th of July party at Aunt Clara's house. Fanny lived in the Chicago area, married Henri Bianucci and had two children. Later in life she married Ray Lazzar.

Fanny cooking at her restaurant. Courtesy
of Carolyn Pieri.

In searching the web, I discovered that in 1946, Fanny founded a restaurant, Fanny’s of Evanston, that achieved some considerable fame. She was also an author with a weekly column in an Evanston, Illinois, newspaper and even authored a book, Fanny’s Way of Life, published in 1967.

The following account of Fanny’s fame is taken directly from the website www.fannysofevanston.com:
 Fanny's World Famous Restaurant was founded by Fanny Bianucci in 1946. One year later, she took out a full page ad in a local paper thanking her patrons for making her restaurant World Famous! How did that happen?
She indeed had launched on a most illustrious career at 1601 Simpson Street, Evanston, Illinois, beginning with just 4 tables, faith in God and hard work.
When I saw this on the restaurant's
web site, I knew I had found the
Fanny who was our cousin. Her 
mother's maiden name was Ada
Pieri. Apparently this is the
Pieri family shield.
She had begun as a small café owned by her father, who emigrated from Italy. He served lunch to workers in what was then Evanston's industrial area. Fanny wanted to create a very special dinner restaurant. To this end, she spent long hours and countless recipe combinations to perfect for exquisite taste and digestability her salad dressing and spaghetti meat sauce. She used her own sensitive digestion as a guide to perfection, and history would later record she found it, in her Salad Dressing and Meat Sauce.
She wasn't sure what food to feature and other than herself had no cook. Being a religious woman, she prayed for help. Two days later there was a knock on the back door of the restaurant. When she answered, there was an African-American gentleman, Bob Jordan, who asked to see Mrs. Bianucci. Fanny asked what she could do for him, and Jordan answered, "The Lord sent me to be your cook." Fanny asked, "What do you cook?" and he answered, "The best fried chicken around!" Thus was born the fried chicken that helped make Fanny's Restaurant famous. He remained the Chef at Fanny's restaurant for 25 years.
Early on, Fanny asked one of her customers what his name was, and when he said Marshall Field III she admonished him "You should be ashamed of yourself for impersonating such a well known man as that." The next day a writer from the Chicago Sun-Times, owned by Field, came to the restaurant and told her he had sent her to write a story about it. Fanny, of course, apologized to Field, and they became fast friends. He promoted the restaurant not only through the newspaper, but among his wealthy friends on the North Shore. What developed was an unusual combination of a reasonably priced restaurant, serving outstanding food in modest surroundings.
Fanny insisted on using only the finest and freshest ingredients, but didn't believe in having an expensive building in a fancy neighborhood. She observed "Why the overhead . . . Let's put it in the food instead." Even though the restaurant was in an unfashionable part of town, the food was so good, and in no small part because of Fanny's enthusiasm and promotional skills, the restaurant flourished and was frequented by a very broad range of people, including the rich and famous, such as President Dwight D. Eisenhower and wife Mamie, Louis Armstrong, Mae West, Charlton Heston, Admiral Nimitz. Mamie Eisenhower had Fanny's Salad Dressing mailed t her and the General's home.
To say the least, Fanny's became a very celebrated restaurant. One customer come specially four times a year from New York. It was recommended by Leoni's of London, LaTour d'Argent of Paris, and Tre Scalini of Rome. It received awards from Epicurean Magazine, Bon Apetit, and Holiday Magazine. The restaurant got the Grand Prix D'Excellence of the International Culinary Service in London, and the Epicurean Society of France Award. Fanny was the only woman to receive the Italian government's gold medal "Stella Della Solidarieta" for outstanding achievement.
As the fame of the restaurant grew, Fanny constructed additions on top of and next to the original building, and ultimately had 275 seats. Kraft Foods tried to buy the recipe for her salad dressing, but she refused to sell. Because of the restaurant, Fanny herself became a celebrity, writing a column in the Evanston Review and other North Shore papers, and a book dealing with her outlook on life.
By 1987 she was in her 80s, in declining health, and her husband, Ray Lazzar, had died. Fanny closed the restaurant for its usual August vacation, but decided not to reopen. Fanny Bianucci Lazaar passed away 3 years later.
Fanny was a strong believer in, and servant of, God having extended countless unnamed generosities during her lifetime. She was often heard to say, "We are spiritual being in a spiritual Universe."
Fanny serving at her restaurant. Courtesy of Carolyn Pieri.
I also found an article in the archives of The Chicago Tribune in which Fanny was referred to as "The First Lady of Evanston." It described how her restaurant had taken on cult-like status for its popularity. The author described meeting Fanny in person: "She greets her guests warmly but professionally . . . she banters about her food and her world fame. She insists that hers is one of the only restaurants around that uses all fresh ingredients, has no microwave and never has had a food poisoning case in all her years in the business. But you don't have to talk to her long before you see other sides to her. For example, she will utterly amaze you by reciting verse from memory. She was talking recently about aging--she is 80--and she recited a 50-line poem called Youth." Full text of the article can be found here: 

Although Fanny died in 1991 at age 85, it is still possible to order her meat sauce, salad dressing and barbecue sauce, as her descendants have carried on this part of the family business. I spoke with her daughter-in-law a few weeks ago and am planning to send in my order soon. Here is a link to the order form: http://www.fannysofevanston.com/order.htm. Because there is no way to order online and no e-mail address, I thought at first that the order form might be obsolete, but I was assured in my telephone call that I can still order; I just have to do it the old-fashioned way of sending a check in the mail. I plan to order some meat sauce and salad dressing next week, but first I have to make copies of the old photos of Ada and Fanny so I can add these to the envelope before putting it in the mail to my long-lost distant cousins.