Thursday, March 05, 2015

According to F, there is a kind of English language student that will stop at nothing to get in his own way. I hadn't met any until this week. It was . . . impressive. I went to school to meet with my new student, this man who is going to retire soon. He has some family who have lived for many years in Perth, Australia, where there is a large immigrant community. When he retires he would like to spend more time there and get to know some of his nieces and nephews who don't speak Italian. He is a friend and/or colleague of my boss and so I felt like it would be good if he liked me. I took it as a bad sign when he didn't introduce himself or look me in the eye when I first walked into the room.

I tried to teach the greetings and he attempted to sell me on the fact that in Australia "bye" is an inital greeting. "I am pretty sure that comes at the end," I said. No, no, he insisted it means ciao and so you can say it any time.  In Australia, that is. Um, okay. Like shalom, I guess. Well, I know they have their seasons all screwed up so I entertained the notion for about twenty seconds that being down under they might also start their conversations at the wrong end, but then I decided to hold my ground. Finally, I got exasperated and told him that the only way Australians start a conversation with "bye" is when they walk into the room backwards.

In the end, I skipped the greetings and thought it best to begin with the alphabet. You have never seen a person have a stroke that didn't end in paralysis until you have heard this guy try to spell his six letter name in English. I gave him hints. I told him the answers. F was right, he would not get out of his own way. Or should I say effe, was right, he would not get out of his own way.

It was a great victory that I made him laugh at the end of the lesson when he admitted that he might have been a bit nervous about learning English when I told him my famous (infamous?) condom story. You remember how I told everyone in Italian at the hair parlour that I lost weight because I had stopped eating preservatives -- except preservativi in Italian means condoms. I told him that he was not allowed to ever worry about making mistakes in front of me. The condom eater.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In search of Italian heffalumps
Pooh and piglet walking in circles and wrongly assuming that their own footsteps belong to the great and mythical heffalump.

Let's see. Here's where we left off: Chapter three hundred and two in which K goes in circles and finds out that there is no place like home. Well, put Winnie-the-Pooh in Oz and you have a rough idea of what it is like to be me most days.

We are all sad because T's friend Natasha is moving out of Lucca this summer. She will come back on weekends, but we won't get to see her as much. This had a domino effect which caused all expats in the area to want to move away and question what the hell we are doing here. After I realized that international schools in Italy cost 20,000 euros a year and don't offer scholarships, I had a brief moment where I explored the idea of moving to Amsterdam and F had a brief moment where he exercised an impressive amount of control over his facial muscles and pretended he was game. Then all his little facial twitches eased up as and I came to realize that in order for us to change countries it would take more work than even a team of professionals, international diplomats, medical specialists, bureaucratic bad asses and Neil Patrick Harris singing in his tightie whities could pull off on their best day. Plus also I don't like bicycles, winter, kroket, hukspot, herring, boats, canals, big cities, pot, or tulips. Well, I don't hate tulips, except the kind that give you the muchies and make you paranoid, but you get the drift. So I don't know what I was smoking, but I hate to see my girl down in the dumps.

I discovered that Estroblock, the only supplement to ever cure my cystic acne and balance my hormones is loaded with vitamin e. Vitamin e is not water soluble so it builds up in your fat over time and is the reason why I have been nauseous for four months straight and puking my guts out. Remember when I told you my tea had been poisoned? Yeah, I was wrong. Even if Dorothy's witch and Eeyore got together and deliberately poisoned my tea, it wouldn't still make me nauseous a month after I stopped drinking it. It may take weeks or months to get it out of my system and in the meantime I have the complexion of a sweaty fourteen year old boy with bad hygiene.

The other day there was a construction cone in front of my house. If you are in New York you are already bored by this, or to cold to care, but if you were in Lucca you would understand that all hell was about to break loose. The aforementioned cone was sitting on a pulled up section of pavement that was making an ominous whistling sound. I told F that I wouldn't be surprised if we ran out of water soon. Of course, that didn't stop me from washing my hair. When my head was dripping with hair dye and conditioner,  the water stopped completely. F poured freezing cold water over my head from the fountain and the shock to my system caused my back to go out.

I hoped the water would magically come back on its own. I will happily do a lot of magical heffalump level hoping if it will get me out of calling an Italian emergency hotline/numero verde. Until they come up with a number which will send Alex Belli to the home of despairing expats with filthy hair and little hope, I resist.

alex hotline belli
But I did call the water company hotline and the male hotline operator was not nasty to me which was a nice surprise. I was so surprised and comforted by the fact that he didn't make fun of F's impossible to spell last name that I forgot to ask when, if ever, I could expect a work team to show up. I hate to say this but the female operators are usually the nasty ones. He said he would send someone over. In the meantime, I went to Massimo Pretty Hair after months of no blow outs and do-it-yourself/fai da te hair to get the gloop rinsed out.  While I went over to park a squat next to my friend and ex-hairstylist Federica who was having a cigarette break in the parking lot in piazza magione, I saw two of our neighbors who told me to make sure that the city water people who had been by to deal with a leak in the restaurant hadn't simply forgotten to turn the water back on. No, I chuckled, they wouldn't do that. That's when I remembered where we lived. I asked the workman who has been making an insane amount of hammering on the apartment next door to our house what he knew about the situtation. He very gallantly agreed to take a look at our building faucet thing-a-majiggy and flicked his wrist and got us back into the flush of things. His name is Rado and he wouldn't take a cent for this act of kindness. I called back the water company and got a nasty female operator who told me that she would cancel our appointment, but that she wouldn't take my complaint because that was done over fax. I think she knew, mannaggia me, that I would have no energy to take any further measures and would settle for being able to flush my own toilet.

I was just about to publish this post when there was a bunch of noise in the stairway. I thought it might be some uncancelled water company workers, but it turned out to be my frazzled new downstairs neighbor who is moving in today, as it so happens, without any preavviso, and is having all of her furniture moved in via crane through the window underneath me.

What Italian for AARRGGGGGH???

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Accent matters

This week F and I learned that when it comes to teaching English or speaking Italian -- accent matters. This is especially true when you are getting your pre-teen boy students to remain interested in your native language by refusing to speak to them about Skylanders unless they do so in English.

Edoardo and his friend Oskar worked on their illustrations all week long and could not wait to give them English names. I had to suck back the giggles as they put their own particular flourishes on the pronunciation. The secret is to drop down an octave when you announce them.

F and I had tagliatelle al cacao con peperoncino for Valentine's Day. I must thank Patrizia for her family recipe. She explained to me that when you add the pasta water to the oil, roasted garlic, and hot pepper you need to let the oil cool down so it doesn't splatter or cause a fire. I told her if she heard sirens that she would know that my Italian had failed me yet again. It was delicate and had a lingering spicyness that just hit the spot. We served it with a sprinkling of parmagiano and a piece of gorgonzola.

Shoot. I should have made a heart shape for the photo!

T had a weirder Valentine's Day as she had to go a street safety lesson at school. A couple who lost their son to a car accident came to give a presentation involving a cartoon movie where the victims are represented as little talking skeletons. At one point the narrator goes over and slaps a few of them across the face Italian style for texting while driving. I believe a Coldplay song played in the background. The driver unfortunately was American and some smart alec asked her if she was sure her parents weren't the guilty parties. I am saving up for her future therapy bills as we speak. Luckily, she got to recover by having a sleepover party with Giorgia and Natasha.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Not rich, Not famous
Today I met with the student who wanted to meet with me before she would agree to a single English class. She cancelled three times prior to now, the last of which was fine with me because I had a sore throat anyway. Twice she had her daughter write emails to me in English and on the phone with me, although we were speaking in Italian, she was a nervous wreck. It seems her daughter who is about to give birth in two weeks is moving to Pennsylvania with her 22 month old and her husband who just got a job there. She hasn't taken English lessons since high school. Not wanting to be stood up again in a bar somewhere, I invited her over to the house. She didn't eat the chocolate muffins F made, but asked for them to be packed up to take home with her. She let me know during her time drinking coffee with me that she was planning on cancelling frequently. For now we have a plan to speak on the phone tomorrow so that she can decide whether she will come at one of two different time slots I have available, if at all. This is a crappy way to extract 20 euros off someone, but it was made much worse by her offensive comments about Russian people that she just threw in for good measure as she was leaving.

Right now I am sitting by myself, waiting for my other student who is 24 minutes late and has probably forgotten again that she had a commitment. Yep, sure enough. This is the suckiest part about not having a real job. On the other hand, if you don't like money at all, it has it's advantages.

The funniest thing that happened this week was at the paint company where my students have all been pronouncing the word enamel as animal for years. I had to get them to rub their tummies and say gnam gnam (Italian for yum yum) to get anyone to put the emphasis on the right part of the word.
enamel animals - gnam gnam
This brings us to l'Isola dei famosi, the Italian reality show that is a cross between Survivor and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. It is delicious to watch this on line because it is three hours of free Italian lessons for me with no commercials and because it is absurd. They are making the participants whose television debut was postponed by hurricane-like conditions in Honduras las week, jump off a helicopter into the sea and swim to the island one by one. One of the participants is a porn star named Rocky that does nothing but speak in double entendres. There is also the Morroccan participant who cried through her whole season of Master Chef and seems to be relatively mentally unstable at best. It is a hot mess.

The hostess is a plastic surgery victim as is her crew of cronies. The technical aspects of the show are so amateur that as she speaks to the contestants live from her studio their is a three minute time lag and they constantly speak over one another. It is so dire that she told one of the participants to jump off the helicopter before it had lowered to a safe level over the sea; luckily, the pilot must have disuaded him from listening to her. The first immunity challenge was a gran fregatura in which the host on the island explained that there was a bunch of stuff on a pier that the contestants had to use to get from part of a boardwalk to another without touching the water. Their was a heavy tub, some pig fat, a scuba suit, and some floatable pogie sticks, but he neglected to point out the planks of wood and so the time elapsed without any of them making it to the other side. Now that's some winning television right there, folks.

So here they are on one side of the plank. I'll save you 20 minutes of your life: They never get to shore.

Pig fat, huh?

You would think that after this much work she would be devoid of expression, but you'd be wrong. It's her voice that is actually really screechy and annoying for a television personality.

The host shows them how it's done afterwards, but not until after he scolds them for not listening carefully enough when he explained the rules of the game.

This is who the host chats with instead of ordinary audience members. I'm calling her "Lips" and him "lecherous old cronie guy," "Lech" for short.

This is Belen's sister Cecilia's reaction to the news. As lecherous old cronie guy put it, she does not seem convinta/convinced.
Here is "Adamo" otherwise known as Brice Martinet. He is waiting behind a paravento completely nude waiting for further instructions. Fifty Shades of What??
I'm at the point where they are telling Belen Rodriguez's sister that she will have to go home if she refuses to strip nude and play Eve on an island with a male model, who will be her Adam on an island with no provisions. They had the nerve to ask how her fiance and his wife felt about this, since they were there watching their every move from the tv studio audience.
This is the fiance and the wife. They look a little hot under the collar.

Wendy Williams, if you're reading this, I know you are pissed not to be Italian right now.

Actually, my reluctant student from this morning, the one who has every bad omen attached to her possible, reminds me of this participant named Caterina/Catherine Spaak who is already bailing on the show. She gave as her reason that she was seasick, but then went on to say that she was lying a little and that there is more to the story. This is the kind of untrustworthy female of a certain age that give me hives. I am allergic to them. What I love is this shot of the host casually flashing us everything but her crotch while she interview the crotchety old lady. Letch spurred the audience to actually boo this lady. At first I thought he was so rude, but now I think maybe he was right.

Crotchety vs. Crotch shot. 

You know things aren't going my way this week when I start agreeing with Lech.

P.S. It turns out Rocco the porn star and Catherine Spaak, a French singer and actress who starred in some classic Italian films including one with Marcello Mastroianni which was panned by The New York Times called L'Uomo Dei Cinque Palloni, were some real lookers back in the day. Here's a flashback:

And now they're doing (and not doing)  this!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Telepathic time machines 
Today I learned that if I want to have a package delivered to me in Lucca, Italy from the United States I need to have a sixth sense, a time machine, and some string.

I ordered some of the supplement that is helping me have relatively clear skin for the first time in years from back in November. I ordered three months worth for $400 because it takes a long time to get here in the best of times and I didn't want to be without it. After five weeks or so I started to get worried and eventually we called Customs/la Dogana. They told us that they were waiting for a letter from the Italian Ministry of Health to approve the delivery. More time passed and we called again and were told that it was on its way to us. More time passed and we were told that it was sent back to the seller because it was deemed too large of a quantity for individual use by the powers that be but don't know shit.

 In the meantime, I exchanged very calm and reasonable emails with the seller and even ordered more to be sent to a friend's address in England to see if that worked better. The English package arrived over the holidays when my friend wasn't there to receive it and got sent back to the sender as well. I tried to contact the  so-called resolution center at ebay only to find out that because more than 45 days had passed I had to contact Paypal. Paypal won't help you after 45 days either, as it turns out, but I started documenting an exchange of emails between the seller and myself through them anyway just to keep the seller accountable. It is like marriage counselling for people who don't know each other. I was jumping up and down on my side of the computer and insisting that his snotty comment about how you can't get your money back from a grocery store without the apples you bought was pretentious and typical of his neanderthal thought process. The seller says he won't refund the package unless he gets the supplements back. Then I spoke to the call center at Customs today and the lovely and inept lady told me that there is no way for me to retrace the package and that I had a bel dilemma on my hands. She kept repeating that it was a shame. She was not even slightly put off by my raising her voice at her and I got the sense that I was the nicest, pissed off person she had dealt with all day.

I translated the whole conversation for F and then tried to explain to him what we should have done if we didn't want to lose the money and it turned out that the sixth sense and the time machine would truly have been invaluable in this situation.

On a not totally unrelated note, here is an image I found on Pinterest. To me it represents the repeating nightmare I have where all of the loser psychotherapists I have ever had gather together to live in a comune like situation where they read Shel Silverstein's The Missing Piece Meets the Big O over and over again as a sort of meditative chant and talk about how they couldn't help me. I have to admit it's a kind of cool pad. Check it out:

"Wow That Girl was a Wreck." "I know, I know. I thought so too." "I'm pretty sure I only made things worse." "Let's play Boggle tonight".
P.S. Shel Silverstein, If you're reading this I want you to know that I had a therapist who had twelve of your books on his waiting room coffee table and did nothing but quote you. I know you did not mean for your books to be misused in this atrocious and pathological manner. I don't blame you. But I just now realized why pizza makes me anxious.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

So on Fridays I teach two brothers who have a family resemblance and one of the brother's girlfriends. The brother with the girlfriend is one of my favorite people on planet earth. I had prepared a lesson analyzing the lyrics to songs by Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie just for him. When only two people entered my apartment and explained in Italian that one of the brothers couldn't make it because of exams, I had a weird reaction. I kind of blacked out. I decided that the brother with the girlfriend didn't make it because that was so disappointing given the lesson I had prepared specifically for him. Lately I've had to live through a lot of worst case scenarios so I guess I just assume the worst now? Actually both brothers sing and play guitar and love music, but I digress. I referred to my students by name so that they could take turns reading. They looked at me strangely. At the end of the lesson, I told them to send my regards to the brother who took the exam. It turns out that I had mistakenly superimposed the identity and face of the one brother on the other one and had wrongly referred to him the whole time. The brother and his girlfriend looked at each other and then at me before leaving. I can only hope they thought that it was just a name confusion and not full on dementia. Kill me now. What in the world has happened to my brain?

In my defense, I am still poisoned by the burdock tea I drank for a month before I realized I was deathly allergic to it. I still have rashes, nausea, dizziness, and sleep disturbances and I can't wait for this stuff to wear off.

Please enjoy my friend Ian's 3D printing self portrait just because it is AWESOME.
Outrageousness is in the air it seems. While the Cat Lady of all Cat Ladies, who is T's English teacher, was out of the room some kids put one of the tallest boys into the paper recycling bin on a dare; and then when he tried to walk in there, he tipped over flat on his face causing all of the kids to start roaring with laughter.  Two visiting academics were walking by at the time and could be overheard saying, "This school just isn't what it used to be." And they couldn't even see inside the room from where they were!

When the professor finally did commence with the lesson she asked T to read aloud and then proceeded to speak over her as if she could vicariously claim T's native speaker skills. To hear T tell it, it was beyond bizarre. Among other things, she claimed that American English should be learned outside of classroom because the Americans are everywhere, that Scottish people's accents are insane, that the Irish all have last names that begin with Mac or O like the actor "See-an" O'Connery. She also announced that there is a very fun! name for parties in American English which T had to persuade the class was not, in fact, happy hour. She also made some over-generalization about the Welsh which spurred the kid behind T to ask her, ironically, if those were the people who mated with sheep.

The level of misinformation, prejudice, and general ignorance at T's school as regards other cultures can be overwhelming as when at last week's assembly one professor made the one African student with dark brown skin get up in front of everyone so that the teacher could praise her complexion and explain to the others that she had the same blood and bones as everyone else. I suppose she meant well. This was the same meeting in which a Religion professor told all of the students that Muslims have a close minded religion hence, as T put it, calling others closeminded while being close minded about her own closemindedness. Or something like that.

At one point, the English professor talked about a woman named Nellie who she used to speak English with when she was young student herself, but pointed out in her repetetive like the goose from Charlotte's Web kind of way that this woman was dead, dead, dead. And not only that, but her whole family would by dead, dead, dead by now. T was just barely keeping back the laughter when her desk mate Camilla wrote on her desk RIP Nellie. Tears started spraying out of T's eyes from the long witheld giggle attack. The professor noticed T's hilarity and began laughing right along with her. Needless to say, that didn't help matters.

Among the other mortifying moves I have made this week, I wrote to a couple on Homeexchange to see if they wanted to trade us for their lovely home in Corsica this summer and they wrote back to tell me that they lived in Lucca around the corner for us so they weren't really interested. I panicked and went back to the listing to make sure that it wasn't all my fault, but it turns out that they just have a summer house and that I couldn't have known. They also invited us to have a bottle of wine with them at their spectacular apartment. You can't make this stuff up, people.

TWIN PEAKS UPDATE: Oy yoy. I hope I wasn't the reason that the other brother showed up today with my favorite couple and he had shaven his head into a fade with a modified mohawk rendering him completely different than his sibling! 

Monday, January 26, 2015

unpopular rant of the day
I hear there are sixty mile an hour winds in New York today so I decided to share this particular line of thinking to get at least some people heated up under their collars, while hopefully not alienating the few but awesome readers I have left.

I admit it. Even though I think they would look silly on me, I am attracted to these shoes:
To make things worse, they are from Free People.
I went through a whole Tiger Lilly worshipping stage as a young girl who was sheltered and pitifully ignorant about our country's true history and the savage way Native Americans were robbed and murdered. I just wanted Peter Pan to like me and my olive colored skin and I felt like Wendy was about as achieveable a role for me as say Malibu Barbie. Let's face it, my childhood's reference point for Thanksgiving for years and years continued to be that belonging to Snoopy and the gang. When the wake up call of history class finally snapped me out of  my love affair with all things Little House on the Prarie in third grade and made me ashamed of my affinity for all things pilgrim, braids, and a John and Yoko idea of a Thanksgiving dinner party that I came to find out was a real aberration in eating arrangements, it was a massive shock.  
And yet, I love these shoes. I have a bohemian-want-to-be element to me probably because I am so wound up and type A and anxiety ridden that even the thought of being the type of person who wears flowy blouses and tons of silver and turquoise rings and just  --goes with the flow-- is inescapably attractive to me. Maybe I just never got over the devil may care attitudes of the popular girls who had voices and therefore a platform and an audience that I would never come close to? My take-away is that if I were less ignorant I would know better than to like this footwear.
Furthermore, T's teenage voice of wisdom beyond her years haunts me. Cultural appropriation she would snort at me across the dinner table while rolling her eyes for good measure. To this affront I would meekly back pedal and feel bad about myself for only memorizing my formal education instead of ever bothering to learn almost anything. But now that I think about it, isn't there enough us and them going on in the world right now that if you copy something that you like from another culture it could just be taken as a form of regard? I recognize that it is a super naive point of view. No one in their right mind would advocate a homogenized global united nations of watered down Coca Cola materialism and disregard for our uniqueness as diverse cultures. But is it possible that even the idea of cultural appropriation takes more away from the so-called robbed culture than the actual attempt at imitation in the first place?
I mean I am not personally insulted by the fact that everywhere that is not New York thinks that they can make, reproduce, and eat bagels. Go ahead! Bake your round, sometimes hole-less puffy bread and call it a bagel if you want to. I think it's cute. You have no idea what you're doing and you can't do it as well as we do no matter how hard you try because you don't have the right kind of water to boil them in. And, even if you did, you wouldn't ask for them with the right kind of New Yawk accents so the charm would be gone. But I don't knock you for trying. 

Good luck with that, Cleveland.
On a more serious note the battle between Iggy Azalea and Azealia Banks about the nature of hip hop really made me re-think a lot of things about appropriation. I appreciated Hot 97's Ebro Darden and Peter Rosenberg's presentation of the two sides of the story even if a lot of people accuse them of just stirring the pot. I understood Azealia never said that white people shouldn't rap, but that those who do shouldn't have a privileged place in music because of it. A ton of people have condemned the rapper Macklemore as trying to please everyone with his stance on the issue, but what can he really do besides acknowleging the injustice of the fact that white priilege exists and then honoring the culture that isn't his but that inspires him? There is no way to stand totally upright and correct in everyone's eyes but no one who criticizes him ever offers a manual for how he should handle those rough and largely uncharted waters. 
Well I'm not going to buy the really un-Italian looking $162 dollar moccasins plus $35 shipping and customs anyway. But if I bought something similar from a more authentic source that went to profit Native Americans, then would it be okay if I said they appealed to me on some level?
Stay warm out there.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Communication ISSUES
When you teach English, you have to sometimes live in a state of communication limbo in which neither you or your student can make themselves understood. It comes with the territory, so to speak.

Example A. My eleven year old student is obssessed with a video game called Skylanders. He is so darn smart that sometimes he finishes his English homework too quickly and we have extra time. His attempt at teaching me how to play the actual Wii game included our waking up his little sister from where she was napping on the couch and me using a joystick to follow his little animated magic character around a labyrinth of scary villians and turtle guys who were firing at us. I had no idea which buttons to push when. He said no words in English and almost none in Italian while he tried to get the most points possible and pretty much forgot I was even there. Undaunted, this week I decided to get him to make an English language comic book about his favorite passtime. He decided unequivocally that he had to draw the characters before we wrote the story. Everytime I tried to speak to him, he looked up at me sternly and said, I kid you not, "Shush."

However the few times he did speak, I, in all my stupidity, did not understand him at all. First was what will go down in history as the legendary trousers box incident. Man oh man did he think I was stupid for not knowing that a trousers box is where you keep the buried trousers. Yeah it took me a hot minute (or four) to figure out that he was saying treasure box. He was unphased when I pointed out that trousers are pantaloni in Italian and just looked at me pitifully.

Another thing you have to know is that the Skylanders characters represent seven elements: water, fire, magic, technology, non-dead (you don't want to know what this means, trust me), air, and . . .
well I kept thinking he was saying air and air. So I said, "No, kiddo, you said that one already." Err. Err, Err he told me. "Right, you said that already," I repeated. This continued forever. Then he pointed at his tongue with his index finger while he stuck it out between his teeth and said ttttthhhhh. Err ... .. .tttthhhhhh. Basically, he spit at me.

OH, earth! EARTH!! Sorry, sorry, sorry. Air and earth. I gotcha.

And then there are inexplicable moments of joy, like when my student friend Anna got up out of her chair and did a little improvised happy dance because she was so excited about the English word nonetheless. What the heck/cavolo is that? she asked. I told her it was like nonostante tutto or cio nonostante in Italian. "I get it," she cried out, "It's three words: none-the-less. You Americans are so CUTE!" Not only did this little word sandwich thrill her, but she gave me (personally) all the credit for it. You would have thought I invented Oreos and then fed her one -- it was that sweet.

As for awkwardness, because I put the AWK in awkwardness, there's the fact that I never think I am cool enough for my 20 somethings group. This time I gave them an advanced learners game of taking eight English words and having to tell a story about them. The young man who told us about running over a fox accidentally last time (see last week's post) got back at me by making up a story in which the GLORY OF GOD brought the fox back to life and then waved jauntily to him as he drove off into the sunset. Anyway, after the game was over, they were all shy again and I didn't know what to talk about, so for some reason I went all Wendy Williams on them and taught them all about the Bill Cosby scandal. Yeah, I don't know why either. And then time was up and they paid me. I have a weird job.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

OK America, I'm a little jealous of this
Now you've gone too far:

If Jennifer Lawrence and Richard Pryor had a love child . . .
it would be me this week.

I really have done a couple of fiercely wacky things lately. First of all, in order to get my 20 something students to speak in English more I spent over an hour surfing the web and stealing all of the Table Topics questions I could and made them interview each other. One thought provoking question was, "What is the best thing you ever saw looking out of a car window?" This turned into a conversation about animals on the road.

 It turns out that the two brothers Tommaso and Jacopo had been on a road trip when a fox jumped out of the hills and in front of their car. They thought they had hit a cat. They went back to tell the owners what tragedy had befallen their pet. They are such good Italian boys. Really, the best. Anyway, it turned out that it was a fox and that it was still barely alive. They knew they had to put it out of its misery by running over it again. Before they decided to do that mercy pass, Jacopo, who was driving and therefore felt the most guilty, thought about calling an animal protection hotline to see if they could get the fox emergency care. This is where I went all JL on everyone and started pointing and yelling. I said, "Hey, wait a minute. We're in Italy. Are you talking about one of those famous verde number hotlines? Those never work! You can't fool me. How would you ever have been able to even find out what the number was? You couldn't -- that's how! I mean I can never find one of those. . . If I am lying on the street, bleeding to death, I'd be lucky to get an ambulance to arrive. . . And even . .. even if you did know the number, no human being would ever ever answer you, let alone send out an individual to what -- give mouth to mouth to the fox??? ARE YOU CRAZY??"

Sadly, Jacopo understood that I was a vegetarian who wanted him punished for a foxy hit and run.

So that happened.

Then last night I made T come with us to our quarterly pizza and movie night with Elena and Angelo. T babysits for their daughter Alice so I felt like she should come and not disappoint Alice. Alice had others plans for the evening and she wasn't there, which really really made me look bad. Anyway, there was a lot of email discussion about the choice of film because Elena's dad is a movie pirate of the Internet, but sadly I don't share his taste in films. Anyway I sent F to their house in preparation to figure out once and for all how to hook up a lap top to their TV so that we could bring the film and not be dependant on her Dad's downloading operation. Listen people, we would gladly pay for Netflix and be legitimate if it were not desperate times and we made American level salaries. I found an Italian site that offered the films with subtitles as to Elena's instructions and I convinced them to let us bring the film Boyhood which I then loaded up on to my computer. F told me that we had to use his computer for their television so we loaded it on to his. I tried to think of all possible pitfalls and so we loaded extra versions in case of problems with transmission.

Unfortunately, we got to their house sat down wtih our pizzas and the baggie of peperoncino that I make F put in his pocket because Elena doesn't like spicy food, only to find out that the film had no subtitles afterall. Then we all argued about which language to watch the film in. We wanted Italian for them and they wanted English for us, despite the fact that no one can understand Patricia Arquette in either language. We then wasted fifteen minutes fiddling about trying to find other versions to no avail. Disaster. The film, which we don't understand what all the fuss is about, despite the cool factor of watching the child actors age in front of your eyes since the movie was shot over a span of 12 years, is very long and they made us promise to do it all again next week so that we can see the last hour of it. Sigh.

In other news, I won over my two new twin eleven year old middle school students Alessia and Federica, only to annoy their parents because I spoke to them too much in Italian. The parents were waiting in my livingroom because I had promised the girls a fun video after we got their homework done and I didn't want to break my word. This is the first time I have ever got in trouble because my Italian was too good.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Just another day at the paint company
I had my first day of work at the Materis paint company the other day. F has taught English there before so he was supposed to know the drill. Our boss at the English school came up with a brilliant solution for the transportation problem. She arranged for me to teach two courses back to back at a location very near to where F has to teach so that he could give me a ride. He did give me a ride, but as for helpful hints, not so much.

Let's talk about paint!
It's a gorgeous location is you like cement and such.

Go team English! (Actually this is a stock photo and I don't know those people.)

We got there 20 minutes early because I am compulsive and because the boss said to get there at least 15 minutes early the first day so that I could get my entrance and exit badge. We waited and waited while I kept nagging F and telling him that it made no sense for us to get there early if we were just going to wait in the car and not get all of the bureaucratic, annoying things started. After ten minutes I resorted to calling our boss and telling her that I didn't see my coworker from the office and I didn't want to be late to class. It turned out that we were waiting in the overheated car for nothing because I was supposed to go to the reception area. Once in the reception area, I introduced myself to the receptionist and then realized that I knew her from somewhere. She is one of my ex-fitness clients from when I worked at the LIFE gym. She is a virtual living magnet for negativity and bad luck, but I was happy to see a familiar face. Even if it turned out that that face had literally been run over by a car this October and she had barely survived. Anyway, she gave me my badge which is used to get in and out of a revolving door to enter the cement cubes that make up the administrative part of the company. I knew I would get lost just because everything looks like everything else when it comes to cement cubes. And I get bored easily and have no sense of direction.

She said that I was to meet my co-worker there. He is a nice man. Well, he seems like he is secretly a nice man although he is all business and not very big on making pleasant conversation or smiling. Anyway, his entire job entails schlepping his well suited behind over to where I am going to teach and then patiently and calmly explaining how to do things that an intelligent pre-schooler can do. He showed me how to give the class forms to fill out and how to take attendance. This is like the sixth time I have been shown these things. Then he stressed out about whether he should come back in an hour and show me again when the second class came. The representative lady at the paint company assured him she would check in on me to make sure it got done so that he could take off. Is my Italian that bad? I mean do they really want to trust me to teach English if they can't trust me to hand out forms and make people sign things?

That is actually another issue. I am not super proficient in English grammar, although I know more stuff than I did say five months ago. My strength is in exploring the terrifying life of a stand up comic who has been constrained by economic motives to use some English grammar as the source of all her material. I was supposed to have two classes with six students each. There was some convention or other for paint people, though, so I only had these two sweet guys the first hour. All my jokes killed with them. Therefore, I was unprepared for the second hour where I had two men and two women. The women were advanced students and the men were only barely intermediate speakers. One woman in particular gave me the stink eye and never cracked a smile. I can't decide if she hated me on sight or if she has that special blend of Italian botox that makes smiling virtually impossible and yet causes one eyebrow, usually the right one, to remain permanently cocked in what can only be called a skeptical expression.

I was violently nauseous before the class, and this is only in part due to the fact that I had been drinking a "health tea" which turns out to cause violent nausea in some lucky people. I think most of the pain I have suffered in my life has been self-inflicted. My resolution for 2015 is to stand in front of myself with my arms crossed and not let myself make any changes to my daily routine without getting six other people's opinion on it and then having my coworker teach them how to sign forms to that effect.

F asked me what I plan to teach next week. He told me he could lend me some material on the different roles people have at the company and blah blah blah. I said I probably would come up with a different idea. He asked me why and I said something like, "because that's as boring as watching paint dry, dude." Sometimes I feel like I truly am the expat Kathy Griffin.

Paint that, you bureaucratic wackadooodles!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


T stayed up all night on Thursday night because she had tons of homework and an essay to do. None of us slept well because when T asked us if she could go to sleep at a decent hour and stay home to finish the assignments the next day, F and I had said that she couldn't. We said that she needed to meet her deadline even if it meant staying up all night. And then we felt guilty. Guilty and yet fairly certain that it was the right thing. The next day we ended up allowing her to stay home because while she had held up her end of the deal, she was still not satisfied with the writing she had produced and she was exhausted. Mostly we let her stay home because while I am favorably impressed with her two most important professors in terms of their competency in their given subjects, there was still the chance that she would have been "humiliated," as she put it, by having to read the essay aloud knowing that it isn't what she really wanted to say and/or receive a grade that doesn't reflect her knowledge of the subject.

Theoretically, a series of bad grades could lead any of the kids in her class to either have to study all summer under the threat of not being allowed back in school next year or failing out at the end of this year. I believe they lost eight classmates this way from the first year to the second. The professors expect a certain about of strategic game playing from what days the students choose to call in sick to when they opt to use their justifications to get out of being interrogated. The chance of T's not passing is very slim, but she is kind of just at the treading at the water mark in terms of sufficiency for certain subjects as are many of her classmates. Nevertheless, T would like to attend a college preparatory course this summer at an English or American University and her grades do have an impact on whether she can get financial aid or scholarships. The gambling and numbers aspect makes the Liceo Classico di Lucca more similar than not to Atlantic City.

Here's where I get angry. It turned out, predictably, that the professor discovered that the majority of the class not only plagarized the essay, but that they had plagarized the same essay and that the majority of the class turned in identical work apart from T. The prof's response was that while copying is okay, they should only plagarize in pieces so that there is some variety to what she has to grade. REALLY?? I mean if T picked up the habits of her classmates and then went on to an American university, she would be expelled without the shadow of a doubt. And rightfully so.

 That's a different kind of cheating. But it is also mega super popular in Italy.
The level of corruption in Italy is so entrenched that nobody blinked an eye at the professor's statement. It is bad enough that one of the girls in her class puts the homework answers online for the rest of the class to copy. Beyond that, they routinely copy off each other's papers in the classroom and ask each other for help during tests. I feel like T should get two to four points higher for every assignment she does, not because Italian is her second language, but because she is one of the few who actually works for it and is trying to learn the material instead of just working the system. Given all that, how am I supposed to face these professors at the next parent teacher conferences? T said she would hate for me to bring it up as it would help her in no way at all, but it is really hard to just sit idly by and watch this happen.