Things I tend to forget

Under the same sky?!

Do we really live under the same sky? That’s what I kept asking my husband since we came here!

It’s really amazing how different the sky looks in Italy. It’s huge, vast, enormous… amazingly beautiful!
Lebanon is surrounded by the Mediterranean from the west, a series of mountains from the east… so the sky is always bound no matter where you look. Here it’s different, wide spaces with mountains in the far horizon and plains extending as if forever. Maybe that’s why the sky looks larger (to me at least)!

Here are some photos with beautiful Italian skies.
I should take a few more to show you what I mean.

The original post and the pictures an be found on

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Parla Arabo

Early in our stay in Italy, we learned (thanks Stefania) that the phrase “Parla Arabo” (lit. speaking Arabic) actually means “speaking gibberish” or “making no sense”. The fact that we actually speak Arabic seemed to be funny for some of our Italian friends.
We had a few encounters where Italians started talking to us in Italian. They would start slowly with words we understand (Pia and I learned French in school so it’s not too hard to understand Italian if we’re concentrating). Then they pick up the pace and we lose the meaning. That’s when we actually tell them we’re not Italians and that we do not speak Italian (“no parla Italiano”). At this, many would turn to our Italian friends and starts talking about us in Italian. We still understand what they’re saying, but they seem to forget that and go on talking about us anyway. It’s all in good fun.

Italians are friendly. I guess it’s in their nature. And everyone wants to help out if they can. For example, the other day we were looking for the bus stop for the Ikea shuttle near S.M.N. Stazione in Firenze. I started by asking the guy in the ATAF (bus company) booth where the shuttle stop is, and got the right answer. Being paranoid, and learning from earlier bad experiences, I wanted to ask someone else, just to make sure. The second guy I asked, also an ATAF driver, told me the stop is on the other side of the street, about 20m away. Humm, now that’s a bit confusing!

I went ahead and asked yet another driver, and got a totally different answer: “go to where the Taxis are parked and ask there. It’ll be near …”. I thought he might be mistaken, so I asked a street salesman who pointed me in yet another direction! All in all, I had 7 different answers  from 7 different people on the same street.

At that, we decided to go look for another way to Ikea (Busses no. 29 and 30 go there). Pia’s “positive” reaction about the whole experience: “Italians are so helpful, they don’t want to turn you away, so they would tell you anything they think might help :)”

Oh well, and they say “Io parla Arabo”!

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Pitti You Were’nt There

This post is dedicated to my friend Barakat.

It was hot and humid. Mosquitoes were flying everywhere. The water was boiling in the burning sun. Wish you were there 🙂

Here are some pics

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Our Travel Journals

    It’s been 25 days since we arrived to Italy! Despite how very hectic it was during the past 3 weeks, we enjoyed the vacation and time we spent with our siblings and friends.

    I have been trying to start writing our travel journals, as was agreed upon,  since the first day we got here .  While we were still in Lebanon,  Abdallah would ask me everyday:  “you’re going to write a new post everyday,  aren’t you?”.
    To be honest, I have been very exhausted by the end of  the each of the 25 days, too exhausted to even think  about what I should write, and now i feel so guilty that so many days have passed by without posting anything on my blog!

    Better late than never, right? I will try to write everyday from now on, and also write about the past 3 weeks and try to tell you about our numerous adventures here.

    Yesterday we decided to visit the Boboli Gardens of Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti), it was the first time we use the  “Amici Degli Uffizi” tickets (which proved to be very practical). Why the Boboli Gardens? well, because I was trying to find somewhere we could hang out,  me wandering around taking photos  and Abdallah working on his laptop.  So I thought that the gardens must have some descent place to sit and enjoy the scenery. It was too HOT! we were barely able to breath. We spent a couple of hours in the gardens, then went out and had lunch in a nearby restaurant and came back to visit the Costume Gallery.
    This gallery contains a big collection of theatrical costumes dating from the 16th century until the now. It is the only museum in Italy which details the history of the Italian fashion.

    The Palazzo Pitti is a huge Renaissance palace, which was bought by the wealthy Medici family and later became their residence. The palace is divided to several museums and galleries as follows:

    • Pitti Palace
    • Palatine Gallery
    • Gallery of Modern Art
    • Costume Gallery
    • Silver Museum
    • Porcelain Museum
    • Boboli Gardens

    It is impossible to visit the whole place in one day. So we will have to come back again to check out the remaining works of art.

    The original post and the pictures an be found on

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    Geek in Firenze

    I’m not sure the exact term to be used is “Geeking”, but I can’t find anything else.

    On our way to Firenze we saw some ads for IKEA. Pia wanted to visit an Ikea store for a long time, so it was on our schedule to go there. Googling for Ikea Firenze turned out an address and the directions to follow (2 buses from our house). I decided to bring along the GPS and the internet key USB sticks. I put both in the netbook and was walking with two blinking lights on. That was very nerdy indeed. I’m sure many people were looking at me and thinking “what a nerd!”.

    Turns out the address we got was bogus, and after getting down at the designated station and walking for about a kilometer we ended up near … nothing. We asked a guy on the street (I had put the geeky toys away), and he told us that Ikea is way out of the city near the airport, and that we needed a special shuttle that leaves out of the Firenze S.M.N. train station every 1/2 hour. Now, whoever said that Italians are not helpful obviously met up with some non-Italian living here. I have yet to meet an Italian who went out of his/her way to help out!

    We decided to go back to the center and have some Gelati instead.

    The next day, we did some more research and saw on the Ikea website that there is indeed a shuttle that leaves from the station. But when we reached the station, the helpful guy in the ticketing booth told me that it’s off and we will have to take bus no. 29 or 30 instead.

    No. 29 was 2 minutes away, so we took that. I fired up the Acer Aspire One and the internet connection and started my shift (1/2 an hour late!) on the bus. 15 minutes later we were at Ikea. I found a place at the restaurant where I could plug my charger (the battery was almost empty because I forgot to charge it the previous day!).

    I sat at the same table for a few hours, working, while Pia went and explored the place. We also had lunch, which was pretty good. And then went home, with me still working all the way back. We actually stopped again at the COOP supermarket near home to get some groceries. I worked through that as well (Pia did the shopping).

    I’m enjoying this trip very much. Hopefully the next step would be starting to work at Piazzas (Micheal-Angelo, Republica, etc.) as soon as the weather gets a bit better. We also got the “Amici degli Uffizi” tickets yesterday, allowing us to visit all the museums and galleries in Firenze for free as long as we’re here (valid until the end of the year). I’m looking forward to that, and maybe I can also get some work done while Pia enjoys the works of art further as well 🙂

    It’s good to be a geek!

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    “Keep on the Watch” International Assembly in Rome – 2009

    Our Italian (working) holidays started on the 4th of August. The first destination was the “Keep on the Watch” international assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    We chose to stay with friends in Rome instead of getting a room in the hotel. We knew beforehand it was going to be less convenient, as we would be staying in someone’s house. But we felt it’s worth the hassle if we get to meet and know new brothers from another country. Now thinking about it, it was truly worth it!

    The house we stayed in was the De Cata’s (Leo and Stefania). We had never met that family before. But their love was overwhelming. Both Leo and Stefania had trouble communicating in English, but we overcame that quickly by writing numbers and verses and other indicators on napkins and whatever. Later their daughter Giulia was very helpful translating from English to Italian and back. It was a great week that we would never forget.

    There was a bad side to it, as we were 40Km from the city. So it was hard to meet with Juliano, Matia, Ghassan and Hanan! As always, most of the time was spent on the road between stations.

    We did enjoy a couple of nights out with Simone and the gang. We went to Piazza di Spagna and sang along with dozens of brothers and sisters from all over the planet! We met many friends, and made some new ones. It was great 🙂

    On Sunday, Leo offered to take us with him to the Olympic stadium. We spent the morning there with Juliano. There was ~60,000 there! It was amazing.

    Then went back (also with Leo) to the Assembly hall. Picked up Ghassan on the way. Sorry Leo for putting you through this!

    All in all the Assembly was very refreshing. Looking forward to next year. Who knows 🙂

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    Settling down in Florence

    The last couple of weeks were indeed hectic. So we didn’t have much time to do anything, let alone write in this blog. I’ll try to catch up later.

    Right now though, I feel I’m home. I have felt this way the minute we got in Italy. Everything is familiar, the language isn’t that much of a barrier here, and the people are as friendly as in Lebanon (even more so sometimes!).

    I needed to get back in my own skin. First, I needed an Internet connection. You can get that from many providers here. I found the services provided by 3 very convenient for what I needed: 300 hours for 19Euros per month. There’s a catch though: you need a 23 months contract to get that, otherwise it’s .90Euro/hour!

    The friendly lady at the tre store under the Firenze S.M.N. train station was kind enough to mention there is one way out. I could buy the USB key/modem (chiavetta) for 52Euro, get a contract and cancel it at any time without any penalty (since, as she put it, I have already bought the key). That sounded good, but I had to ask my friend Daniele to do the paperwork as the offer was only valid for Italians. Bureaucracy. *sigh*

    So now I have Internet (now downloading the pilot episode for Defying Gravity at 150kbps/s, I hope it’s worth the bandwidth). The next step was to find a supermarket. It turns out there’s a huge mall 5 minutes away (walking) from our house. Go figure!

    Pia and I went there yesterday (very hot afternoon), and got into a shopping frenzy. We got food, soaps, coffee, etc. All the absolutely necessary stuff. As we arrived to the checkout (cassa) it was obvious there’s no way for us to carry all that in the flimsy nylon bags they hand out. Pia asked the lady at the cash register for a small cart on 2 wheels we saw a elderly couple  using. We got one of those for 12Euros (expensive!) and carried our things in it (+3 large bags!) We’re at home…

    Among other things, we got some fruit yogurt. The 8 pack is about 2Euros. Good stuff. I couldn’t find any real yogurt though. I would rather make my own combination. I’m eating one with Peaches (pesca) now. Oh, and I also learned how to make coffee with the espresso kettle. That wasn’t very obvious until our friend Simone explained how it worked (silly me). He also explained I needed to make at least 5-10 pots of coffee in it before it starts tasting good. That’s true; I’m now at my 15th pot and it smells and tastes great.

    Pia is looking into some routes to take and things to do (other than work), we should get started with that soon. I have service with Daniele this afternoon. Him and his wife Irene are taking us for a swim this Saturday.

    So, I should say we have settled down, or at least I have, for now. Plans for Thailand are still far along the way *evil grin*

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    On our way to Venezia

    It’s been a hecktic week since the Assembly ended. I’m writing this post on the train going to Venezia. We should be there soon, maybe I won’t have to jump off the train this time 🙂 [Last time we were here, two years ago, we almost missed the stop at Venice Mestre station. We got off the train at the last minute before it took off to the Venice Santa Lucia station, and I literally jumped off the train after it started moving!]

    On Monday we were still in Roma, we were too tired to do anything, so we decided to stay with our friends (the De Cata family). Pia told them early on she would cook something Lebanese for them so she did just that. For the ingredients, Giulia (the daughter) took us by car to the nearest Supermercato (yeap, a supermarket). She was babysitting that day, so we took the young Alessia with us as well. Alessia is a 2 years old daughter of the columbian neighbors of the De Cata family. The girl is like the Energizer bunny, she just won’t stop moving. But she sat still in the car, and snuggled up to me when I asked her to sit still until we reached the supermarket. In the supermarket, she wanted to eat something. Giulia got her a chips bag that she finished to the last crumb! I never saw a kid that age eat the whole thing!
    At the house, Pia and I made some Mjaddara (lentils and rice Lebanese dish) and then decided to make some Tawook as well. It turns out that the Romans don’t have anything to sqash the garlic with. I (the sous-chef) used a beat up electric blender to mix and mince some of the garlic cloves, then I mixed them with some mayonaise from the tube. (They buy it in tubes instead of jars because the fridge is not that good and mayo goes bad quickly).
    Leo and Stefania were back noonish and were very impressed with the result! We were happy they liked it. The time we spent with them was truly enjoyable. Both parents were full time pioneers at one time, and the daughter and father will be starting regular pioneering this September again.
    In the afternoon we went down to Roma Termini (train station) to get our tickets to Florence. We met up with our siblings in Rome near the Tiber, but went back quickly to the house to sleep early. At the De Cata’s we took some photos, and said our goodbyes, since we wouldn’t see them again in the morning.

    The trip to Firenze (Florence) would have been uneventful, but Ghassan was stranded on the Fumicino train (from Airport) so we had to leave without him! He followed on a later train. We arrived noonish at Firenze S.M.N. (train station) and Simone (the friend we met in Roma) was waiting for us in his car! What a wonderful brotherhood we have!
    Simone took our siblings’ bags to the hotel while we checked them in. Matia and Hanan were moved to another (better!?) hotel in the same street. Giuliano (Juliano) and Ghassan later took a room in another hotel (that had internet connectivity). Simone then took us to get the key to our house, drove us to the house and showed us around, then took us back to the center to eat at a “Lebanese” restaurant. We were not impressed with the quality of the food, but Simone sure liked it! He should taste Pia’s cooking for a change 🙂
    We spent the rest of the day touring the center of Firenze. There’s a lot to see there. We saw the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Piazza Di Sinioria. We also met many of the Lebanese delegates to the Roma International Convention. Later that evening we met at Zaza’s in the old marketplace. The food was good, and we had some of their house wine. I ate a wonderful dish of spaghetti and small mussels, Pia had a steak with truffle sauce. We both enjoyed it, even thought the service was a bit lacking, probably because we got stuck with a lazy waiter.
    That night we tried for the first time to get home on our own, and that was … a mistake!

    The next day in Firenze, we woke up a bit late. Noonish, we took off for Pisa. It was a nice trip, but I have to get off the train now. We almost missed Mestre station (again!)

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    When in Rome …

    do as the Romans do

    I intend to do just that!

    Our plane leaves to one of Rome’s airports tomorrow morning. And for probably the first time we’re still not fully packed. I just finished my shift and punched out. I’m waiting for Pia to finish saving the postcards and bookmarks she’s been creating. Then we will go print those.

    The first week in Rome will be spent with the other delegates to the “Keep on the watch” international convention. We’re hoping this will be the highlight of our trip. The next week will be spent with Pia’s siblings Juliano and Matia and possibly Ghassan if makes it. We’re going to Florence (where we rented an apartment), and from there to the surrounding Pisa, St. Guiminiano, etc… Later we’ll be going to Venice as well.

    Pia will be posting pics and more on her blog. Or so she says 😉

    I’ll see if I can keep this place a bit busy with my notes as well. Twitter is so much easier!

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    Being Rude

    • August 3, 2009
    • Mood

    I just had the following conversation:

    [10:50:59 AM] Ghassan Deeb: I am not Ghassan!
    [10:52:45 AM] Ghassan Deeb: By the way I’m Mr.X, I run the on your server.
    [10:53:09 AM] Ghassan Deeb: I need to xxx?
    [11:51:04 AM] Ghassan Deeb: Please answer me


    [12:34:18 PM] Abdallah Deeb: hello Mr.X, please log out of my brother’s skype. Thanks.
    [12:37:13 PM] Ghassan Deeb: I didn’t touch anything I just have to work on this computer, and you didn’t even answer me, quite rude you are.
    [12:38:18 PM] Abdallah Deeb: indeed.
    please log out of skype immediately. as for your question: …

    Am I rude? I like to think I’m nice and accommodating. The kids in my congregation seem to have no trouble coming to me for anything, even to start an odd conversation about the latest animated movie, or their favorite console game!

    But here’s someone who’s never seen me or spoken to me accusing me of being rude because I asked them politely (I think!) not to use my brother’s skype account as it has some private conversations recorded there!

    I did use “Please” and “Thanks”. I was short and concise, that may have been the trouble! Or maybe I did not answer the question my “brother” asked immediately, making me the rude one. The “brother” did not consider that I was offline or AFK at that time.  Just because he said “Please answer me” and I didn’t makes me the bad guy.

    I answer about 30-50 emails/day as part of my job. It’s easy to be mistaken for rude while trying to keep  a conversation friendly online. One of my colleagues uses emoticons like 🙂 or even 😉 to keep the conversation friendly. He confessed to me one day that he hated that, and that it’s not professional to do so in an email. But he keeps doing it anyway to keep the conversation lite and friendly.

    I learned to do that myself, but I may have missed this time. I’ll go call up Mr.X right now and apologize to him for my “rudeness”. We have to keep the peace 🙂

    (Romans 12:18) If possible, as far as it depends upon YOU, be peaceable with all men.

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