Going to the Movies, with Some Italian Flair

Ah, going to the movies…the big screen, the packed seats, the laughter and the tears from a great film, the whispers of “whodunit?,” the couples holding hands, and the wafting aroma of…marinara sauce?

One of the pleasures of Italy is going to the movies. It’s an experience all its own. I love movies, and while studying in Rome in the 90’s, most weekends I’d frequent a movie house in the Trastevere neighborhood. “Il Pasquino” showed American movies, typically ones I’d already seen, but it was a great taste of home.

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My first time at Il Pasquino was the most memorable, because I had no idea just how different movie theaters in Italy are from those in America. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband, Jamie,) and I bought tickets at the entrance, and then we settled into our seats for a showing of Balla Coi Lupi (Dances with Wolves.) Typical screen, typical seats, and that’s where the similarities ended. While waiting for the projector to start rolling the reel (yes, I’m dating myself,) an elderly couple showed us their tickets and told us we were sitting in their seats. Assigned seats? Apparently, Italian cinemas are big on assigned seating at most movie theaters, to this day.
movie theaterAfter we cozied into our new seats, the movie rolled, and I can tell you, Kevin Costner never sounded so good. That’s because even though the movie was in English, Costner’s voice was dubbed over by an Italian voice actor, known as a doppiaggio. This dubbing practice is prevalent, even today, and Italian cinema and television prides itself on its voice actors, who usually follow the real actor’s movie journey throughout his or her career. A funny side note: it’s tricky making a movie featuring both DeNiro and Pacino as they’re both dubbed by the same voice actor. (So, if I plan to cast DeNiro and Pacino in movie versions of my novels, the same doppiaggio can dub both The Race and The Sculptor.)

Jamie and I soon got used to the Costner stand-in and enjoyed the movie. That is, until the smell of marinara wafting in from the lobby made our stomachs growl. We’d both seen the movie before, and we decided to wait until after a major scene to dash out to the lobby for a bite. But just as the character named “Stands with a Fist” so intimately shares conversation with her handsome male lead, the film stopped, mid-scene, with a frame that read “Intervallo” (intermission!) Then and now, Italians stop their movies mid-way, regardless of the artistic timing, and grant their patrons about five minutes of freedom to move about the theater or to chat with friends on their opinion of the film thus far.

marinara with red wineBut before Jamie and I could dash to the lobby to surmise the source of the aromatic sauce, a concessionaire toting a box strapped around his neck, similar to a sporting event, began selling bags of popcorn, chips, and soda. On subsequent visits to Il Pasquino, I did determine the root of Grandma’s exquisite sauce aroma – the lobby sold hot food too: arancini or suppli (breaded orange-size balls of rice and mozzarella, with marinara sauce for dipping,) as well as eggplant and zucchini fritters, among other delectable munchies. My father told me that when he was a kid, smoking was allowed in Italian cinemas. Also, standing room only was common for big releases because of the difficulty some theaters had with keeping track of tickets sold. Today, the overall experience remains the same in many Italian cinemas: assigned seating, dubbed voice actors, intermission, halftime concession, and diverse food offerings.

The interior of an Italian movie theater is similar to that of an American one. The difference lies in the exterior: Italian ones are usually smaller, more intimate, local one-screen playhouses in each community, whereas American movie
theaters are often times multi-screen mega-plexes. Italians seem to prefer the experience of the smaller playhouse, though “Cinecity” mega-plexes are sprouting in bigger cities up north. If you’re headed to Italy, here’s a great link for finding a cinema near you: http://www.cinematreasures.org/theaters/italy

I’ve experienced similar great experiences here in the states at local art houses and independent cinemas, intimate theaters that show current mainstream films as well as throwback-era gems, independent films, documentaries, and foreign classics. On a recent visit to my hometown of Buffalo, NY, I enjoyed an evening viewing of Life Is Beautiful, an Academy-award winning Italian film by Roberto Benigni, in the historic and recently renovated The North Park Theatre, a richly detailed single-screen theater with an Art Deco marquee and an ornate interior that exudes warmth and nostalgia, lending to the viewing experience. No matter your taste in film or the time of year, it’s always the perfect time to go to the movies…with or without the marinara.

Open Air Market Treasures, in Italy and at Home

Just like fresh air revitalizes the soul, open air markets stimulate the senses. Rain or shine, tented tables regularly bring neighbors, tourists, and communities together from spring to fall, providing a taste of Earth’s bounty and a vast assortment of handmade collectibles and vintage wares. Grab your family and meet your friends at an open air market, because a visit is not always about what objects you procure but rather the experience you’ll savor.

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Crates overflowing with just-ripened fruits and vegetables, iced pallets of succulent seafood pulled from the water earlier that morning, and bunches of aromatic flowers at the peak of color abound in a random assortment of tables along the street or grass. Artisans and collectors mingle, too, celebrating hand-made works, like tapestries, pottery, jewelry, or paintings that are all unique among any other. Vendors also pile tables high with vintage items like leather goods, music, small appliances, shoes, ravioli cutters, or any odd thing — sometimes authentic and sometimes not. Here, one person’s “stuff” is another person’s treasure.

In Italy, one doesn’t have to venture far to find a local open-air market, but there are some in bigger cities that are worth noting for their size, variety, and ambience, such as Campo de’ Fiori, a fish and vegetable market in Rome dating back to 1869. Open from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Saturday, the cobblestone piazza is filled with vendors even before the sun comes up. An Ape Piaggio (one of those compact, three-wheeled trucks) sits beside nearly every tent, piled high with crates of fresh food. Before it opens, restaurant buyers examine the selections for the highest quality ingredients, and by noon, tourists stare in awe at the shouting matches between the elderly locals haggling with vendors in preparation for their pranzo meal.

The Porta Portese market in Trastevere, Rome, open Sundays, showcases table after table of anything imaginable, including terra cotta, oil lamps, and toothbrushes. In college, that’s where I bought a cheap bootleg copy of Sting’s The Dream of the Blue Turtles cassette tape (yes, cassette tape!). When I got home, I was disappointed to learn that the B side of the “hot” tape featured an entirely other band, named Zucchero. Little did I realize that this was one of Italy’s hottest musical names, and that I would later watch both Sting and Zucchero perform at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, spurred on by this bazaar treasure. The value of some things truly surpasses dollars and cents.

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A few years ago, my parents accompanied my family to Venice, where we hit the famed Rialto Market early enough that the garbage boats were still hauling away rubbish left by the overnight revelers. Vendors slapped enormous large fin salt-water monsters onto their tables of chopped ice, while my dad giggled like a kid in a candy store. My children’s eyes were almost as big as those of the enormous, multi-colored fish they ogled. After a couple hours, I spied my mom and youngest sharing a lovely moment beside a canal, legs dangling over the Adriatic inlet, red juice dripping down their fingers, their only market takeaway having been a quart of the juiciest strawberries sold beneath the Rialto Bridge. Some treasures are meant to be consumed without delay, and with abandon.

The town of Camucia, near Cortona in Tuscany, opens its market on Thursdays, cordoning off about 10 city blocks. Here, a delectable pulled pork sandwich is just as easy to find among its multitude of merchants as a new suitcase. And in Palermo, Sicily, one can peruse seaside tables of sea urchins and other such delicacies that are just as plentiful as oranges. The art of seeking out-of-the-way treasures may be just as decadent as the object itself.

But, one need not venture far for a great open air market. There’s probably one within driving distance from you, and it’s so worth the time and gasoline.

Growing up in Buffalo, my dad used to drive my grandpa to the Clinton Market whenever it was time to buy the perfect crops for their new gardens. Now, my brothers take my dad whenever they’re ready to plant theirs. Easter week, my family would head to the Broadway Market for freshly packed sausage, homemade bread, and the best fire-breathing horseradish around. We still go there, but now we also frequent the food trucks and vendors at Larkin Square and Canalside, among many others. The buddy-system always makes for a memorable market experience.

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Haymarket, Boston’s historic market near Faneuil Hall since 1830, is renowned for its produce and fish at bargain prices. Haggling here is a must-see tourist attraction in the city. Head over to Copley Place Farmers Market in the Back Bay for homemade apple pies, jams, and spreads, or armfuls of bright yellow sunflowers. Lose yourself for hours at the SoWa Market (“South of Washington Street”) for an eclectic mix of handmade items, like jewelry, crafts, pottery, shoes, and baked goods, as well as antiques and fresh produce. Other local open markets include the Salem Open Market, the Cambridge Open Market, the South End Art Market, the Greenway Open Market, and the South End Food Trucks.

If you’re like me, an Italian who loves to buy fresh and buy local, you’ll want to be sure to experience a glorious open air market near you, as the season warms and the treasures are ripe for the picking. Bring your family and friends, and revel in the spirit of “abbondanza!”

“Bocce, Anyone?”

Bocce is a competitive sport, a strategic game, and a leisurely pastime, all rolled into one ever-popular activity. Dating back to the Roman Empire, bocce, in all its derivations, has since captured the hearts of players and spectators the world over, no matter the age or skill level, where the objective is to roll balls on a court as close to a target ball as possible to score points. And, if you peek into some of the backyards or parking lots of local hangouts across America, it seems the popularity of bocce has recently shifted into high gear.


I have fond memories of running through my grandparents’ backyard as a young girl, tossing the tiny white pallina through the freshly mown grass of summer, while the adults chased after it with their teams’ heavier, larger, red or green balls in hopes of scoring points during a weekend pickup game in my mostly Italian neighborhood in South Buffalo, NY. Friends and neighbors would join in on the fun all day, some recounting how they used to play in their local piazza back in Italy. It was a chance to be together, and to catch up on each others’ lives. And no matter how old you were, it was an opportunity to forget life’s pressures and just play outside with your friends.

My husband, I later learned, did the same thing as a kid in Lawrence, Massachusetts. So, a few years ago, when my parents gave us a bocce set for Christmas, we decided to carve out a corner of our own yard for a court. When the ground thawed, we hooked some railroad ties together with rebar, and we spread some stone dust on a scrap of yard under some trees–instant bocce court! (Here’s a link on how to build your own court and how to play.) Now, every summer we pull up a few lawn chairs for our family, neighbors, and friends, and we roll out some fun. Our children are outside, getting fresh air and exercise, enjoying friendly competition with their buddies–they think it’s cool. Who am I to tell them it’s old-fashioned? Actually, it’s very cool these days. While still a regular fixture at many senior centers and public parks, now bars and restaurants are sacrificing parking space and rooftop accommodations for bocce courts because the demand is so high. Move over darts and billiards, bocce’s in town.

Major League Bocce is an organization, founded in 2004, that promotes bocce leagues for sport and fun across the country. Check out their website or Facebook page for locations around the country. The United States Bocce Federation, established in 1977, is the preeminent organization that sets the rules, promotes the sport, and establishes guidelines for players on the countrywide and international levels. This year, the Methuen Sons of Italy, Lodge 902 is hosting the 2015 U.S. Bocce National Championships, June 22-27. For the first time ever in New England, the championship will host over 150 elite bocce players in five different events over the week. If you think that you’ve got what it takes to compete with the best, or if you simply want to join in on the fun of watching the best, be sure to check it out!

Bocce’s come a long way, and now, more than ever, it appears that future generations are guiding it along to a thriving tomorrow. Perhaps soon, “Bocce, anyone?” will become just as likely an invitation as any other.


Gina Fava’s THE SCULPTOR wins GOLD for Best Mystery/Thriller Ebook in the Indie Pub Awards!

 THE SCULPTOR has won the GOLD medal for the Best Mystery/Thriller E-Book in the 19th Annual, 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards.

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I’m so honored and thrilled. Thank you, sincerely, to the judges, and most humbly to every one of my readers.

Congratulations to all the winners, and if you write everyday, you win everyday.


GOLD: The Sculptor, by Gina Fava (Steepo Press)

SILVER: Twisted Vine, by Toby Neal (Self-Published)

BRONZE (tie): All Good Deeds, by Stacy Green (Twisted Minds Press)

Last Words, by Rich Zahradnik (Camel Press)

Click Here to Buy a Copy of THE SCULPTOR.

Click Here for the full list of the all those who submitted their work and medaled.

Congratulations to all who submitted, as the work is the ultimate reward.


Review of Jeff Klima’s L.A. ROTTEN: A TOM TANNER MYSTERY

Are you a reader who enjoys a gritty story with a still-beating touch of heart? Jeff Klima’s L.A. Rotten is an intriguing and refreshingly entertaining hard-boiled mystery.

L.A. Rotten: A Tom Tanner Mystery

Book Details
Genre: Suspense Thriller
Published by: Random House Publishing Group – Alibi
Publication Date: May 12, 2015
Number of Pages:

Purchase Link: LA Rotten bk cvr


Book Synopsis:

L.A. Rotten is a thriller about a cleanup man entangled in the viscera of a crime spree as a reluctant sleuth.

My Review:

The perfectly flawed characters, the subtle, edgy humor, and the description so vivid that I found it hard to breathe through my nose in some scenes, all make this a must-read novel for those who enjoy raw, “pulpy” mysteries, akin to Stieg Larsson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Protagonist Tom Tanner’s character arc, from a man in tune with his basest instincts to one who finally gets in touch with the shred of humanity he forgot he had, is delicious, as the satisfying, issue-ridden secondary characters all struggle to push him over that edge throughout. The reader will surely find that the “A”ntagonist reeks of just the right amount of bile and intrigue to make him a terrifyingly interesting yet astonishingly credible serial killer. Klima must get to work on the next one – I need another Tanner fix!

Engrossing and satisfying, L.A. Rotten is a hard-boiled thriller that readers will be unable to put down.

My rating: 4 out of 5 FAVA beans.



The author, Jeff Klima, an expert cleanup artistjeff klima in Orange County, writes what he knows, and it shows. He’s also written, The Dead Janitor’s Club, and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter, or visit his website at jeffklima.com.

Wanderlust: Study Abroad Advice for Students and Parents

Wanderlust! As many of you know, one of my passions has always been travel. Anytime, anywhere…I love to visit new places and revisit my favorites. Since the time I traveled to Italy as a young girl, I’ve been smitten with traipsing anywhere outside my comfort zone. Whether I’m researching for my writing, toting the kids to a new theme park, or just sampling exotic cuisine in a far off destination–give me any reason to travel and I’m game!


My novels are based in Italy, my freelance articles explore new places, and even my social media posts venture far and wide–it’s a vital part of me that clamors for expression. Recently, I started writing articles for an online website, Study Bridge International, that caters to potential students and their parents, carving out insights for those seeking to pursue their university studies abroad. I thought I’d post the links to my articles, in case any readers out there are likeminded.

I studied abroad during college, traveling to Italy with the intention of chalking up credits in International Business. But, my experiences reached way beyond grades. I met new people, immersed myself in the culture, became fluent in Italian, and hopped trains all over Italy and the rest of Europe at every opportunity. It was the experience of a lifetime, and one that did nothing to quench my wanderlust, but instead fueled my desire to explore further.

SculptorCoverWithBlurbMy time studying abroad loosely shaped the story of Mara Silvestri, the main character in my suspense novel, The Sculptor, a grad student who’s stalked by Rome’s infamous serial killer, and subsequent visits back to the Eternal City influenced my thriller, The Race, in which a car racing covert agent must save Rome from a terrorist from his past. But, the articles that I outline below are factual, and accurately represent issues facing students and parents interested in seeking a global view.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00020]


These are just a few articles to chew on. I’ll post more later. If you’ve studied abroad, you can relate. Feel free to comment on your own experiences. I’d love to hear your stories, and I’m sure they’d go far in helping students and parents in their quest.

Buon viaggio!