Making Contact in Rome by using Contactless

Baci e abbracci, I love Italy because Italy literally loves me.  Every time, I meet up with a friend, new or old, The conversation begins with a hug and a kiss.  And when it’s over, well, we hug and kiss again with a little more fanfare.  Close contact and intimacy are part of being Italian and living in Italy.  Whether hugging friends, taking public transport or standing at the local bar, personal space is a state of mind, which is why the idea of being contactless in Italy seems a bit farfectched. In actuality, contactless in Italy has nothing to do with space, and everything to do with your wallet. It’s a simplified payment system that is making my mornings at Caffe Roscioli  easier and faster.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's about time to follow my Instagram stories.  

Almost every morning, you’ll find me at Caffe Roscioli for the daily latte macchiato and granatina (a small Roman pastry).  Fun fact: Caffe Roscioli is the best thing that’s happened to Campo de’ Fiori in recent times.  Almost two years ago, bakers, delicatessen owners and brothers Pierlugi and Alessandro Roscioli took over a run down local bar and turned into the morning destination by upgrading the coffee drinks with Giamaica caffe, the relatively exclusive Italian torrefazione, and making all the sweet and savory confections on site- traditional and vintage pastries, delicious sandwiches, and hiring architects/designers to create a very modern space.  A long and narrow corridor with high ceilings, light hues and beautiful photography hanging above industrial coffee machines as the small of toasted sugar feels the air, the vibe is futuristic art gallery meets pastry shop.  There is, however, one downside-  the corridor, aka the main area is a tight squeeze for space at the counter and the cashier (niched at the entrance), and an uncomfortable wait when it comes time to pay.  Here’s how I make my life just a little bit easier -  by being MasterCard contactless, in other words, I make the payment part of my morning ritual a ten-second turn-around - five seconds for the cashier to key in the amount, five seconds for processing. . .

All the questions I asked myself as I tested out Contactless in Rome:

What the heck is a contactless payment?  A secure payment method (via debit, credit or smartcards/chip cards) using near field communication NFC, essentially digital communication protocols allowing two electronic devices to transmit to each other.  Or, as I like to say, an intimate, finite conversation between your card and a point of sale POS terminal.

How do I know if I have a contactless credit card? Take a good look at your Mastercard, and any other card you have in your wallet. If there is a symbol in the upper right corner - four frequency waves - you've got contact, or better yet you have a contactless-enable card* and can make contactless payments

How does it work? Next time you are about to make a payment, whether at Roscioli or anywhere else, look closely at the POS terminal for the Contactless symbol and then let the cashier know you will use a contactless-enabled card.  Once ready, bring your card within very close proximity to the POS terminal and wait for the beep. Payment is automatically transmitted. No need to insert, no need to sign. Best of all, your card never leaves your hand, and encryption protects your data.

If my card is "communicating", does that mean once I make a payment it will automatically communicate with other devices like what sometimes happens when I use blue tooth? Nope, communication is secured, encrypted and limited to POS terminal and your card, nothing else.

Is it true that there a maximum or limit to what I can purchase contactless? 25 euro is the maximum amount before the POS requests additional security, i.e. signature or pin code. In my experience, whereas many Rome-based vendors are aware that contactless payments can still be processed for amounts superior to 25 euro by simply asking you to sign or enter pin without physically taking your card out of your hand, there are still some vendors who don’t understand how Contactless works.  These vendors will either tell you that contactless does not work for amounts superior to 25 euro or will ask you to submit your card to them, and then process payment in the traditional method.  It may be up to you to educate the vendors on how contactless works with amounts more than 25 euro.

Where can I use it and what if my card is not Italian? Can I use my card in other countries? I’ve had a lot of fun researching this because there is no definitive answer that I can find on the internet which meant I visited all my favorite bars, asked a lot of questions and had a lot of great drinks.  The result of all this practical research?  My cards worked, and it seems that any contactless-enabled credit card (regardless of country of origin) should be accepted where ever there is a POS with the contactless symbol. No matter what, I suggest you confirm with your issuer prior to traveling. Source: UK Cards Association

What if I don’t have a Contactless-enabled card, can I pay using my phone?  Yes. You can. And there are a few options.  iPhone users who use Apple Pay may use it with contactless POS and so can Android users who have Android pay.  *Italian Android users should check with their card provider for coordinated set up.

Mastering Italy's Trains with Masterpass by Mastercard

Yes, that's me on the beach with my phone, and if you read through, you'll get why. . .

There are few, if any, forms of transport that I like more than trains. I love thesci-fi vibe of a maglev and the needle nose of a bullet train. Italy’s stuffy regionali (regional trians) make me just as excited Switzerland’s vintage Bernina Express carriages.  Along with trainspotting, I love the experience - from packing my bag (yes, I am an origami artist of efficiency, practicality and portability), and walking around the train station to interpreting seat etiquette and meditation to the ever-changing landscape.  For me, a rail adventure is more than just a journey to a destination and I’m lucky to live in Italy, where regional, intercity, and high speed rails crisscross to the most beautiful towns in the world.

What I’ve never enjoyed, however, has been the purchase of a train ticket. Back in the day, I used to walk into a ticket center, queueing for what seemed liked hours and often arguing about supplements (supplemental charges). When the macchinette (ticket machines) arrived at Termini, I was both ecstatic and frustrated over its simplistic tech thanks to its arbitrary credit card and change service.  The internet upgraded everything, but it also meant an increase of email in my inbox about purchasing tickets “Um, Erica, is Trenitalia’s payment down? What am I doing wrong?”

Here’s a clue: you are doing nothing wrong. Sometimes the Trenitalia payment system is finicky,  sometimes it just doesn’t work.  It’s almost like the payment system deliberately wants to derail its clients, allowing potential trips fall by the wayside.  I know, I know, it’s gotten better, and even though I have my own hack, I thought I should test another payment option: Masterpass.  Over the years buying tickets on Trenitalia, I’ve had my eye on Masterpass but always managed to lose patience in the system before I tried it.  It was about time I gave Masterpass chance.

In basic terms,  Masterpass is a free subscription, secure digital wallet.  Once signed up, payment data (i.e credit cards including Mastercard, Visa and American) and shipping information are entered, plus the necessary encryptions, and you’re logged in, ready to use it as a one-stop click-n-go payment method. I decided to test it out for next trip to Napoli.  Trains selected and voilà, Masterpass clicked.  No additional data entry, no worries. So far its the easiest option on the site.  Dare I say this is the light at the end of the tunnel for Trenitalia purchases. .  .

Disclaimer:  Mastercard Italia invited me to test out Masterpass and asked me to share my thoughts.  For a first time user, I found it easy and secure, aka the verified love child of Apple Pay, PayPal and others.  Would this be something my mom be comfortable using? Most likely not, but it is a reliable next gen payment system and I‘ll be checking out more of its in store/one click functionality.

A Fashionable Packing List for the Venice Biennale

This article originally appeared in Fathom on April 28, 2017.

Highlights from the most recent Biennale. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Every other spring, the contemporary art world flocks to Italy to celebrate art, dance, architecture, cinema, and theater at the Venice Biennale. Fathom contributing editor and Biennale regular Erica Firpo gives us a peek at what she's packing in her suitcase.

VENICE – Flashback to the 1999 Venice Biennale, a time where I spent many months covered in red powder. Anne Hamilton, an artist representing at the U.S. Pavilion, made a crimson snowfall cascade down the walls for her installation Myein, and it was my job, as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection assistant, to make sure the powder and everything else flowed smoothly. There was nothing glamorous about the long hours, often spent alone, in a bone-chillingly cold pavilion, occasionally greeting guests and explaining the installation — but the full immersion into contemporary art was unforgettable, and every 24 months, I return to the Biennale for that very same pleasure, though now as a journalist covering the art.

Over the decades, the press preview for the exhibition has evolved from a quiet industry event for artists, gallerists, and journalists to 72 solid hours of art and hobnobbing with the Pantheon of Glitterati — art, fashion, literature, and film folk from all over. As soon as I arrive in Venice, I have to be ready for nonstop exhibitions, openings, and cocktail parties. Style, efficiency, and fun are my goals — and the same can be said for anyone visiting the Biennale. My suitcase is a balanced mix of form and function, organized Matryoshka-style. Here's a peek inside.

Mophie Juice Pack Air

The Biennale is more than an all-day affair — I'm out the door by 8 a.m., photographing Venice street scenes, perusing every pavilion in the Venetian Arsenal and gardens, visiting collateral events, and partying late into the evening. The Biennale doesn't just kill my feet, it quickly and painfully kills my phone, a.k.a. my life source. Because there is nothing worse than trying to find a free outlet in Venice, I always bring an extra battery pack, and lately it's been a pretty rose gold case that snaps right onto my phone. If I'm feeling extra gamey, I bring two. ($100)

Insta360 Nano Video Camera

The Biennale is not just freeze frame art, it's panoramic performance. For the rare times I broadcast on Facebook Live, I love giving the full 360-degree experience so viewers can choose what they want to see. ($199)

Kasia Dietz Nice Clutch

My handbag has to be stylish and easy to carry. I love Kasia Dietz totes for her choice of vintage fabrics, which are perfect for the exhibition's artsy vibe. I also make sure to have one of her clutches, for a quick switch to evening glam. (€70)


Opening Ceremony Silk-Satin Bomber Jacket

Venice is tricky. Misty mornings burn into hot days, while evenings are chilly and humid. The only solution is a satin bomber jacket and the reversible nature of this one makes it easy to do a quick outfit change. ($525)


Moleskin Ruled Reporter Notebook

The first time I ever purchased this notebook was in Venice, and I have carried one in my handbag ever since. The hard cover makes me feel like Lois Lane scooping the art world. ($13)


Hydaway Water Bottle

I don't like feeling the weight of a water bottle in my purse, but I don't want to be dehydrated either. My solution: a lightweight, collapsible water bottle introduced to me by my friend Livia's 90-year-old nonna. ($20)


Tom Smarte Panama Fedora

Most of my time is spent outdoors, walking from one exhibition to the next. I love a good hat with a little charm to protect my face and lift up my outfit. ($449)


La Roche-Posay SPF 50 Sunscreen

My London BFF introduced me to the French sunscreen. It's light, non-greasy, and the best way to protect my skin from the Venetian sun, which never seems as potent as it really is. ($34)


MSGM Jumpsuit

I love Italian brand MSGM and would wear anything they put in front of me. The fun, striped number would work well for artsy selfies at cocktail parties. ($700)


Tod's Tattoo-Inspired Sneakers

If there is one lesson it has taken me a while to learn, it's that style should take second place when it comes to shoes for an event like the Biennale. Comfort is everything when you're standing on your feet all day. Thank god these sneakers are chic. ($845)


Herban Essentials Peppermint Towelettes

You definitely need antibacterial hand wipes. Added plus: These smell amazing. ($7)

Olloclip Core Lens Set

I use this set of lenses to up my Instagram story game and love playing around with the fisheye and wide angles. ($100)

Fotografia Moderna and Me

I hardly ever get to be in front of the questions, but this time, I am flattered to be the subject of Fotografia Moderna's Interviste series, in Italian.  For a quick read, I thought I would translate it for you to English:

  • How did you begin?  Good question. I started as a journalist in high school, writing as a beat reporter (sports) for a regional newspaper, and from that moment I didn't stop, writing art, travel and lifestyle for newspapers and magazines.  In 2006 with Twitter and 2011 with Instagram, I quickly realized taht social would be the next step for journalists and that I could "speak" without with limits, writing an article, a tweet or sharing an image, I had many possibilities.
  • Are you a  #travelblogger disguised as a journalist or a journalist disguised as a #travelblogger?  What is your goal when you publish a photo?  I am journalist with a blog and strong respect for bloggers.  A photo should make me smile. If that happens, I publish it.
  • Your point of view on museums?  Ever since I was little, museums have been my playground, refuge, sanctuary and dream. I could walk across centuries and worlds in a few minutes.  I would love for everyone to have even just a second of that sensation and because of that my collaborations with museums are very important.  If my [#empty] photo is a success, I am happy for the museum.
  • Photography and social media? Social media has broken barriers- to be precise, social gives opportunities to everyone, especially those who would have never thought they could even be creative.
  • Your Best Photo?  It is impossible for me to pick a single photo, I love them all and for different reasons.   With Instagram, I never think "I am doing a great job", mainly because I don't consider it a job but a pleasure, a way to express myself.
  • You are one of the Top Influencers on Instagram for Italy, that is wonderful but at the same time dangerous?  I didn't expect it [Repubblica article] and I am very honored.  My objective is not to influence someone to buy something, I like to believe that I encourage people to have the desire to know more, travel more, share with them all the amazing culture that is around to uncover. And because of that mentality, I don't see anything dangerous.
  • How do you see your Future?  What do you have coming up? There is definitely going to be an evolution, I don't know exactly but I already feel I am changing.  Coming soon- I have a series of projects that combine journalism and social media, and this year, I'd like to do more  “behind the scenes”, i.e. consulting for editorial projects and campaigns.

We're only #HumansofTechnology

Every want to be in a national ad campaign?  I never thought about it until an early September 2016 call asking me to share my passion for digital technology as an ambassador for Italian brand Unieuro and its project #HumansofTechnology.  Unieuro wanted me as the face of travel journalism and digital media, a kind of digital multi-tasker of the travel kind, along with fabulous digital innovators including BASE jumper Roberta Mancino, DJ Ema Stokholma, food blogger Lisa Casali, band and the Voice judges Elio e Le Storie Tese, e Youtuber and gamer mistress La SabriGamer. Did I jump at the chance? Well, let's just say I tiptoed and grabbed the flipside of my culture coin, Darius, whose creative mix of archaeology, cultural heritage and digital media has made the classics contemporary.

Check us as in the 2016-2017Humans of Technology campaign

 Milan with photographer phenom  Nima Benati .

 Milan with photographer phenom Nima Benati.

La Repubblica and me, Italy's digital media influencer

#EmptyVatican, totally #blessed with Instagram

A photo posted by Erica Firpo (@ericafirpo) on Nov 3, 2015 at 12:26am PST

I like art.  It's pretty obvious if you happen to hear me chatter, whether face to face or on social media.  I love going to galleries, meandering museums, investigating installations-  it doesn't matter, I just need to have an art experience.  I could probably call it an addiction, which may explain why I am so adamant about being first in line at the Venice Biennale, finding art tags on Instagram or helming my own Insta-artsy project #EmptyMuseo.   Combining my love for art and the fun I can visually have on Instagram, The Professor (aka Darius) and I have been curating some great art meet ups in Italy's galleries over the past year.  The latest installation was October 26's #EmptyVatican the love child of a great coffee talk between me, Darius and the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, an organization focused on bringing together restoration projects and donors within the walls of the museums.   Darius and I would select a group of 10 Instagrammers, including ourselves, based on interest, aesthetic, community participate, and committed desire to share Italy's cultural heritage, and let the world know about the Vatican Patrons and its free app Patrum.

The game plan:  The Vatican Patrons would curate an early morning away from the crowds and in non-accessible areas of the museums.  So yes, the Galleria of the Maps, Raphael Rooms, Lapidarium and Sistine Chapel were all ours.  To be clear, we abided by the rules of the Vatican Museums and did not use flash, nor take any photos or videos in the Sistine Chapel.  With just 10 photographers,  #EmptyVatican increased followers by more than 35% and brought the Vatican Museums and Vatican Patrons to the fore front of international press-  as seen and written about in  The Guardian, Condè Nast Traveler, Condè Nast Traveller India, Swide, Lonely Planet,Catholic Herald… and more

The Players:  @Aivenn, @DavidPinto_, @EricaFirpo,@Helium_Tea, @MarkoMorciano,@MatteoAcitelli, @Mattego,@MBMissMary, @Saverome,@Sherokee

Click below to see all the photos.  And give me a shout if you want to join the next #emptymuseo


Talking Digital Italy with Tamu TV and All The Pretty Birds

There are a few things in life I can't say "no" to: gazpacho, a quick trip to Milan and a great conversation with a fabulous friend.   That's a trifecta rarely attained, if at all, until this past July when Tamu McPherson, the eye and voice behind All the Pretty Birds and Milan girl about town, invited me to her cafe to talk about Italy in the Digital Age.

Here's a little back story:  I've being following Tamu and All the Pretty Birds for years, from her beginning as a street style photographer and to her evolution into one of fashion's bestlifestyle blogs.  I've long loved Tamu's style- writing, behind the lense and her fresh look on fashion.  Most of all, I love how much she loves and lives Milan through art, culture and fasthion.  Tamu's Cafe is a food/lifestyle series that brings fashion, design and food luminaries to the table, so you can imagine how flattered I was when she invited to bring over a recipe.

Tune into Tamu TV for a little bit of gazpacho, Milan-with-a-view, a chat about Italy in the Digital Age with me!

Roadtesting Lavazza's Espressgo

In December, I was invited by  Lavazza to join 9 other social media chiacchieroni in Milan and Rome to spend a personalized day with Espressgo, Lavazza's very clever portable espresso-maker. I needed to catch up on some street art, so I chose to head to Rome's Quadraro neighborhood first thing in the morning.  And of course, I needed a caffe...

The Concept:  Espressgo is a magic thermos that allows you make a shot or two A modo mioespresso flavors in a matter of minutes, and all while in the comfort of your car.   It is the very definition of Italianismo-- from concept (efficient espresso shot) to design (sexy, slick, high tech) to philosophy (everybody needs espresso on the go) to communication (it inspires conversation).

The Basics:  The Espressgo has an "on" button, temperature dial and 12-volt plug.  You will need a 12-volt/cigarette lighter outlet is required, a bottle of cold water and espresso cups.  Likewise, sugar and milk should that be your flavor.

The Process:  Unscrew lid (which will act as filter), add 50ml of cold water, put in the capsule, screw on lid, plug it to outlet and press on. Brewing takes approximately 1 minute with a nice vibration, after which you just need to wait approximately 30 seconds for three "beeps" which alert you that the espresso is ready.  Then you just unplug, flip thermos over and pour into a cute cup.

My reaction ~ a three-part revelation:

    • Espressgo is my mother's dream come true.  When my family went on road trips, my mom would make bottles of espresso and bring them with us because it would be hours before we could put our moka on a stovetop.  These bottles were sacrosanct and could be not broken, misplaced or emptied.
    • It is cute, adorable and very easy to use. I had no problem making the shots and I loved it. Its design is perfect for a driving picnic, and super cute.  My only wish that it came with a portable foaming device because I am milk-addicted.
    • It is the perfect wing man.  Imagine yourself at a stop light.  With espresso ready to go,  you timidly offer a shot of espresso to the cutie to your left. . .  oh, the things I could do.....

Digital Detox Sicily

For the next few weeks, I may be dredging up some writing that has been shelved  as I tried to get in the right headspace.  Or I may not.  .  .

{September 2013} It's been a while.  Last spring, the Professor and I  realized that our computers and phones and apps were intravenously dripping into our daily existence. What was once a lovely symbiotic relationship [i.e. we could turn off/respond whenever we wanted], had become the clichè of photo realism documentation through a never-ending conversation of paths, tweets, grams, vines and any other word you can think that used to have normal street significance.   We had become parasites on the mothership of connectivity and we wanted out. We wanted off.  We wanted Sicily.

Why  Sicily and why one month?  Since antiquity, Sicily has been the Island of Abundance: a diverse terrain of beaches, rocks, hills, mountains, volcanoes, mini-islands, autostrade and dirt roads, an overflowing platter of sfincione, arancine, caponata, ricci, brioche con gelato, granita, pesce and panelle, and full daysand evenings of  hiking, horse back riding, car racing, art, archaeology, Caravaggio, Romans and Greeks.  Sicily encompasses everything we love and how we want to live- fresh food, fresh air and a necessary slow pace.  One week, hell, even one month is not enough.  But that was all we had, a month out of  Dodge.  The Professor's dig was dug, children's activities were no longer, Rome was hot, we found a cheap place to rent, and Trenitalia offered cheap night train tickets.  And secretly, where better could we go for a digital detox?

Digital Detoxnoun,informal: a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world:

  • break free of your devices and go on a digital detox

The question was Could we do it?  Could we stop checking our email, stop looking at Instagram, stop responding on Twitter, and just turn off for more than a few hours?  Realistically, no.  There was just some shit that just needed to be done: summer homework assignments, article submissions, a Keynote presentation, job interview, donor outreach, calls, calls and more calls.  And there were some things that we wanted to do, like read Night Film, research Etna and make sure to pick up my sister at Punta Raisi, whenever she decided to show up.  Since Sicily has sporadic 3G coverage, digital detox was primarily decided by the island, but an anorexic connectivity was decided by us with the investment in a not-so-fast-nor-big mi-fi device that limited how much time we were allowed on the internet.  In other words, absolutely rare downloads, no films, Facetime and Skype calls of necessity, and a strong commitment to not connect.

Did we unplug?  Yes.  We cooked, ate, invented, swam, fought, played, paused, hung out and visited a lot of amazing places.  All the same things we always do, but taking our time to be in the moment, as opposed to simply taking a photo. (Yes, we did that too).  And most importantly, I read.  I read more books in four weeks than I had from January to June.  Along with Night Film, I read and re-read a bunch of books including Ghana Must Go, A Visit from the Good Squad,Super Sad True Love Story, A Song of Ice and Fire series, 22 JD Salinger short stories, a bunch of arty-spy-WWII novel and F. Scott Fitzgerald tales, and pretty much anything else that was left in my Kindle. [Please note the slight dystopian/digital post apocalypse them as in the Egan and Schteyngart novels.]  To be honest, I had forgotten how much I loved reading, which makes me realise that is probably why I had forgotten to love writing.

Yes, this detox was much more than unplugging from our addiction to digital communication.  It was about reminding myself what I liked, not just "liked".

IMG_1456 (1)
IMG_1456 (1)

For a glimpse into our days in Sicily, here's my spur-of-the-moment Sicilia flipagram I created with mini-e.  Forgive the spelling, I was in a rush to take my time and have lunch.