Monday, September 15, 2014

What I gathered
This what I gathered from T's first day of the equivalent of tenth grade/quinta ginnasio. First there was eye rolling and a general unwillingness to share, but I have my methods. You're welcome.

Allora, T got moved to the other building where the older kids mostly take class. Her classroom is universally hated by the professors. It is right off the entrance. It has a door with a knob on one side and a big, metal bar on the other side, kind of like a meat locker. One kid went to the bathroom and couldn't get back in. He had to keep knocking until they had pity on him and taught him how the door worked. There is an old fashioned pedestal that the teacher's desk sits upon. On one side sits a small black board, and on the other there's a large erase board that is so old that it is now gray. There is one measely map as decoration. Her class has diminished from 28 students down to 20. Some kids who were forced to retake exams to get back in didn't make it and have to start all over at another school. Whoever survives this year will have less chance of having to switch schools. There is also a tiny little radiator near the teachers desk that couldn't warm the whole room, even if this were Hogwarts.

Speaking of Hogwarts, there was quite a school of witchcraft and wizardry type of welcoming protocol for the first day. All the kids had to stand for about fifteen minutes while speeches were made by three gentleman and a woman who is known throughout the city because she is the vice principal and because she bears a striking resemblance to Cruella DeVille, flowing fur dalmation coat and all. One of the men was wearing a sash and one had an interesting dental situation.  One speaker was the guy whose job it is to make sure that the delapidated classrooms are up to code. He announced proudly that while there was some debate up to the last minute about what to do about their classroom, it was all settled. There has not been heat in that room for years. It is famous because the students wrap themselves in blankets during the winter. While he talked jokingly about the skirmishes that took place, another of the gentleman leaned in and confided in the kids that "it was like Vietnam."

The religion teacher made a valiant effort today to convert the unconvertible. The kids are usually split up into groups because her class is optional, but because she had a shot at everyone today she gave it a real effort. First, she made the class go around the room and say a thing about how one thing about the way they look makes them different from the others. Most people said stuff about their clothing. Riveting stuff like, I'm the only one wearing a purple t-shirt. She announced that the key word of the day was observation. She then asked the class how people first hear things. Knowing a trap was coming, they answered that you hear with your ears. Wrong! We hear with -- wait for it -- body language. Ah yes, you learn something new every day. The class was pretty sure that you don't hear with body language, but no one was going to contradict that teacher. After snack-time they came back into the classroom to find a pamphlet called Take the Plugs Out of Your Ears and Listen. It had a washed out picture of an ear on it that just looks like a big white blob. The pamphlet begins by saying that the teacher would like the children to carry this design with them all year long and all their lives, if possible.The take away is that we should listen with are hearts the way You Know Who does. And I'm not talking about Voldemort.
The image of a lifetime. That is a head with an ear on the left.

The new math teacher sported vivid pink eyeshadow, a cat eye, bright pink lipstick, uneven black-blue bangs, and an orange shirt. Even in that get up, she looked less like Professor Umbridge than the vice principal. There is a test on Thursday. She said not to study for it. I don't get that. The old Latin teacher told the students that most of the homework was optional, but she told the new Latin teacher that it was mandatory. These professors think they are dealing with a bunch of suckers, apparently.

The new Latin professoressa is not too mean. That's all you get.

Novita'/The Latest

Here is a picture from cork-art-as-an-excuse-to-drink night. I wish I had Bernadette in the photo, but oh well.

This is the new old mirror we bought at the Mercatino for the iving room.
The radiator kind of throws off the spatial balance so we thought it would help frame the sitting area.
 T made friends with this young woman in her yoga class who has started up an Indian take out business on the sly. We love on the sly. It was quite delicious even though the portions were tiny. The naan bread also didn't work out, but everything else was scrumptious. Ethnic food restaurants are not allowed to open up within the city walls and the ones outside the walls are mostly bad so this was very exciting indeed!

Saturday night was Santa Croce again. For once, it didn't rain on everyone.

My old neighborhood landmark was Ozzie's coffe shop in Park Slope, so this is still shocking.

Just as I had finished the Buon Appetito sign for the restaurant below and right after cork art stopped being fun, Salvatore, the owner of the restaurant downstairs and my prime cork supplier, stopped me to tell me two things. One, he had more corks for me (groan). I had to beg him to stop giving me their corks. But it made me feel so good to have something to do with them, he said. He looked so pleadingly at me that I considered continuing to take them upstairs and then creating a secret dumping plan where I would then just throw them away. But we share the same garbage bag alley, and also, no.

The second thing was his idea. He asked me if I had finished the sign and I, without thinking, said yes, because I had. He tried to get away with an Oh well, forget it. I had to actually threaten to tickle him in front of his customers - which T says is cringe worthy - to get him to tell me that instead of Buon Appetito he preferred a sign that said Da Rosolo which is the name of his restaurant in honor of his late father. So back to the drawing board I went. I had to dismantle the corks and strip the glue off them and they looked a bit horrible. Then I had to start all over again because the real corks are too hard to read and it actually works better with the fake sillicone kind of cork.  In the end, it seemed like they liked it. I hope they did. We still haven't been to their rivals' restaurant and it is so awkward. The rivals kind of glare at us. Every day.

Here are Salvatore's wife Stefania and me in front of the sign. A little too much space between the d and the a, but it's too late now.
 Today is T's first day back at school so here is the :)LOTD (that means "look of the day" for all of you sfigati/uncool people out there who are a day behind me in keeping up with the lingo). You're welcome.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pizza in the dark
Don't ever leave the house when your tired. Yeah that is my new rule, I told T. After tonight's mishaps that is definitely my new mantra. T gave me that withering look of hers and shut it down with, "Um, aren't you always tired? You would never leave the house."

True. But I was enthusiastic about meeting my friend Patrizia and her friend Elisabetta for a night of pizza or, as she calls it, a pizzata. Patrizia met Elisabetta and the English course sponsored by the comune last year.  She has been talking up my conversation classes to Elisabetta because, like many group classes in Italy, there is little time devoted to conversation; and so while lots of people in Lucca can do English grammar exercises, not so many want to have a real conversation with you.

Unfortunately, there was a huge thunderstorm the night before that woke me up from a nightmare-filled night and I didn't get much sleep. I had a orthodontist appointment early in the morning in Prato because I lock my jaw so much at night that, after years of braces and retainers, several of my bottom teeth have started to turn, and I need a night guard for my teeth to correct it. After the appointment, F and I went to the Mercatino to buy a mirror for the living room. After that I crashed for an hour and woke up groggy. Patrizia doesn't get out much and she won't go out in a strong rain, so I wasn't sure that pizza night would happen, but she called me to confirm.  I hung up with her and hopped in the shower. Afterwards, I frantically dried my hair with a towel so she wouldn't yell at me about catching my death of cold and got ready to go. I felt a little loopy from the start, but happy that we would be seeing Renata at her pizzeria.

What you have to know is that at the Bella 'Mbriana they have a pizza called the Italia that is one-third margherita, one-third pesto, and one-third bread with sliced tomatoes on it. I am always disappointed by the last third because the pesto and the margherita part is so good. I have tried to explain that I just wanted all pesto in the past but they left off the cheese that way, which is a shame. This time I thought, why not ask for a half and half pizza? Stefano, Renata's fidanzato overheard me from behind the counter, telling Patrizia my great idea and I caught him chuckling about it out of the corner of my eye. Patrizia thought it was genius and wanted the same thing. Stefano said that of course we could have a half and half pizza. But when I suggested it to Renata her face fell. She grimaced and said okay. I said we would have two half and half pizzas and I offered to pay for the group. I felt terrible that Renata felt stressed about my order, but it was too late. Patrizia got all up in arms and said that my offer was crazy talk. She wouldn't have it. Renata ended are argument by saying that payment was accepted after the meal. I always get that part wrong, by the way.

As we headed towards our table, Stefano ran after us and gave me ticket number 75. He explained to the pathetic American that I needed to know my number because they would call it out when the order was ready. This is not my first time at the rodeo, but I always forget the procedure. We heard them call number 73 and Patrizia nudged me so loudly that the people at the next table, a couple with a son who was about eight years old, started talking about how they were number 74. About two minutes later, I guess they were still talking about it, and I thought that their number was called.  I smiled at the mom and I tried to tell her that her pizza was ready. I don't know how to say, "You're up; your number was just called" off the top of my head in Italian so I said something like, I think they just made an announcement of your number. She looked at me like I had two heads. I tried again and she looked at me like I had three heads. In the end,  I just excused myself. I was not excused, a quanto pare. Elisabetta mumbled under her breath at me, I thought I heard it too, but let them deal with it themselves. That's right about when I decided that Elisabetta was a keeper.

Patrizia has this thing for Mickey Mouse/Topolino that is hard to explain.
Two minutes later our number was called before anyone called number 74. The mother glared at me. Hey lady, It wasn't my fault. We actually had come in before them, but the ticket numbers weren't in the right order.  Anyway, Patrizia shoved us all up to the window --I love her but she is type A all the way --  and I realized that there was only one half and half pizza. Apparently my Italian had failed me once again. Renata looked at me all exasperated and offered me an extra plate. I didn't take it because we hadn't planned on sharing, but then Patrizia marched back and got it, insisting that I eat some of hers. We had been waiting over twenty minutes for the first two pizzas, but the third one appeared in a flash. Patrizia wouldn't let me give her any of my pizza so I was eating at a mad pace to try and catch up to Elisabetta and Patrizia.

Patrizia got herself all upset about some story she was recounting about her heater being replaced, and I took that as a sign that I should try to pay for the meal while she was distracted. I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Patrizia actually said the words, If you're really going to the bathroom, that is okay. STRESSFUL. I bumped into Renata on the way to the bathroom and gave her my credit card. She said, you can't pay for this. I got all mad and told her that she had promised me that I could pay after the free pizzas she gave me last time. I had been looking forward to making good on my pledge to bring some friends to her restaurant. She said, No, K, you don't understand. We don't accept credit cards. I gave her the twenty euro that was in my wallet, but realized that I shouldn't have insisted in buying the half bottle of red wine that no one wanted but me because now the bill would be more than twenty euros.

While I stalled for time to figure out a plan, I decided to go into the bathroom so that Patrizia wouldn't get suspicious. I opened the frescoed door and walked into the entryway of  the bathroom. It was pitch black. I couldn't find the lightswitch. I had closed the door behind me and had a moment of true panic. Then I did a weird mime act until I found a door that when opened swtiched on an automatic light. I remembered that my phone had buzzed and that I had a message so I opened up my phone. A man walked into the bathroom and jumped back about a meter, excusing himself all over the place. I didn't know anyone was in here, he was saying. Probably he was also wondering why I had the door open. Oh I was just leaving, I said.

This is probably at some Disney restaurant. Not in Italy, at all. I am just doing my best to entertain you.
 I went back to the table. I sat down. I stood up. I excused myself again and walked out of the restaurant to call F to see if he could bring the rest of the money. Why hadn't I thought of that before? F picked up the phone and said, I don't have any money. Right, we had paid for the mirror and the dentist appointment in cash earlier in the day. Luckily, T had ten euro. I sat back down at the table. Ten minutes later the wine had kicked in and Patrizia was telling these hillarious stories that made us cry with laughter about the time that she drove up on the lawn of the very fancy Villa Grabau when the guard wouldn't let her in the gate even though her daughter had been invited to a birthday party there. Anyway, next time I look up, F is standing in the middle of the pizzeria, waving at me. Patrizia looked at me strangely. Oh he was just passing by, I said. Elisabetta looked at me worriedly, as if to say, is he one of those jealous types who have to check up on their wives? I just smiled manically. That's my new thing. Smiling disarms the Italians, I tell you.

Then I got up to make sure that Renata let him pay. At the end of the evening, when Patrizia had finished her quarter of a dixie cup of wine and was thoroughly relaxed, I laid it on them that F had insisted on paying for their meals because he knows that Patrizia hasn't let me buy a cup of coffee for the last four years. She tried to get mad, but since it was a man thing, I know -- I'm a stinker, she let it go. She is, however, going to invite us to a Napolitan dessert bonanza at her house this winter in front of her fireplace. She said that if I brought the American style white marshmallows all would be forgiven. I came home more exhausted than if I had run the New York City Marathon. It isn't easy being as spastic as I am.

FOOTNOTES: 1) My student passed her oral exam with a 23! She is thrilled and so am I! She was the only student who went to the exam with a little framed copy of my favorite Nelson Mandela quote in Italian and instructions to force the examining professor to read it aloud if she dare tried to prevent her from taking the test this year. The American professor apparently said to her, "It is clear that you don't really speak English, but, man, did you study for this exam!"

2) The hip hop teacher did not accept my friendship on FB or respond to my message(s). I fear that my photo turned him off. I don't know. Then the mother of my hip hop boy student texted me that her son had a message for me from the hip hop teacher which he would call to tell me about. He never did. So incredibly embarrassing. I have no words.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Progress report 
I have been very social because of my hormonal hibernation period before we left. I have had to prove to my friends that I have returned to my real self. You remember the whole scene with the intervention and soggy conversations that took place in June. Well, my skin isn't perfect, but it is much better. I truly believe that Estroblock by delgado protocol is the supplement of the decade and that it can help millions of women like me who suffer with acne and unbalanced hormone levels because of going on or off the pill or because of menopause etc. As a result, I have had lunch, after dinner, after drinks with walks around the walls thrown in for good measure just to prove to my friends that I am BACK.

The photos are of our adorable friends Luca and Monica who just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. They are the ones who run the best bakery in Lucca called Giusti. They had a mass at the church first and then invited us to the canonica afterwards for the aperitivo. There was a lot of prosciutto and filo dough so we waited to get a pizza from my favorite pizzeria Bella 'Mbriana afterwards. The owner Renata is a widow who opened her heart to out friend Eleanor who gave her some sage love advice. Renata then found love again with Stefano. They make a very cute couple and when I mentioned Eleanor's name she gave us two free pizzas which made me blush. Don't worry, I'm bringing them some friends this week to make good on my promise to come back.

I'm sorry but they are so cute.

And happy.

 Unfortunately, our ipod camera really is a stinker. But here is one of my noisy and annoying neighbors enjoying his seat on the terrace that practically lead in my kitchen window. In his UNDERWEAR. If he didn't want to be in a blog, he shouldn't go around begging for it like that.

I think my private English student with the oral exam is really making good progress. Her exam is on Wednesday. She decided not to go to the ricevimento with the professor because that is supposed to be an occasion to make a good impression and get advice about study techniques, but the professor really screwed everyone by moving the date to just twenty four hours before the exam. My student's friend told her not to go because the professor is a moody Judy and if she is in a bad mood she could just start firing English at her, tell her that she is not ready to take the exam, and take her off the list just like that. Today's study session was a disaster. She was exhausted and let all the fight go out of her. She was speaking in weird, half-memorized sentence fragments. She spent hours memorizing not only the script, but all of the essay summaries that I had given her for comprehension purposes only. As a result nothing stuck. And the stuff that had stuck before, got unstuck. I believe in her, though. I really hope she kicks ass on that exam.

 Meanwhile, I'm still on a DIY home decorating kick and these are the latest additions:

Now the question is

how to get the restaurant
to stop giving me corks!
And I moved the wall hanging into the bedroom.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Do you speak English?
Life back in Lucca has been weird. I feel a lot healthier physically coming off the vacation, despite the fact that this family has turned into night owls and our schedules are all messed up. I have been meeting every day with a girl whose entire future depends on me. Well, not really. But kind of. She is trying to graduate from a University tourism program and her thesis is done. All she needs to graduate is to pass an oral exam in English. And for some reason, one that I'm sure is very Italian, the exam is on economics. Her American professor was "sent away" because she wanted to fail the whole class. Now the new professor in charge of the oral exams is the Economics professor who is also American, but who has a reputation for being kind.

 My student is lovely, shy, and has, like her classmates, for some crazy reason, only studied three months of English since middle school. The exam is on eight articles and four videos that have to do with globalization, corporate social responsibility, government's role in the business cycle and you get the drift.

Given the fact that she can't actually speak English on her own, although she can read and understand it, I have come up with a crazy plan. I mean it is hard to improvise at an oral exam on Economics when you don't know what the word "believe" means. I threw a question at her and asked her what she believed and then was a little bit taken aback when she asked me what "believe" meant. Oy.

So my plan is that she memorize four statements that can basically answer almost any question that they throw at her. I am trying to teach her how to parrot back the question to form the initial first words of the answer and then use the memorized statements as filler. I have made flow charts, cheat sheets, vocabulary lists, and every kind of memorization tool that I could dream up. Fingers crossed.

We hope she doesn't have this kind of moment:

And has this one, instead:

Now I would like you to meet Molly Stone. She is a Canadian lady who made a series of videos in 2004 that have held the test of time, at least for me. She has one of the most grating voices ever, but after watching thirty of her videos in actual time, that is to say v e r y s l o w l y, I have come to want to eat cookies with her at her favoritie Canadian bakeries. What? She said she has a sweet tooth. Basically, I am using her lessons as a basis for my lessons.

I have made a Power Point presentation to get me through a month of daily teaching gigs. You can imagine that I practically had a heart attack when my boss called me to say that she had designed a curriculum for the course that she wanted me to stick to. But with a few tweaks here and there, I think it will work out that I just have to add some lessons on office stuff like make appointments over the phone. I don't know what people, especially English teachers, did before the Internet, but what I have discovered is that there is a whole crop of slow-speaking twenty-something girls out there on youtube that have seemingly picked up good grammar rather recently and who are reading it on-camera in lieu of getting their dream jobs at E entertainment network or The Weather Channel. Thanks girls! I'm going to knock off your shit like it's an imitation Louis bag.

If this all wasn't tedious enough, our dear, sweet restauranteurs below casa mia have saved up dozens and dozens of wine corks so that I could finish my art project. Without thinking (Gee, maybe I need to start speaking slower so that I can think first or at least become a youtube ESL sensation), I opened my mouth and offered them a piece of artwork for their restaurant as a thank you gift. I never want to see a wine cork again in my life, and I don't know if they are just being polite, but that is the kind of situation in which I continually find myself in Lucca.

Don't worry. I've since decided to make it into a wine bottle shape. . .

Part of the reason I am so anti-wine cork is that it hurts my arthritic hips to sit on the floor for long periods of time. To that end, I am considering taking some kind of hip-hop class at that school where my hip-hop English student Andrea goes and where I considered having the hip hop party last year.  I don't know about taking class with a female teacher (it's an Italian colleague thing) where my gorgeous twenty-something English student Silvia has friends, so I found this class with a male teacher called Crazy Groove. After stalking the teacher on facebook, I found a video of his class performance at the saggio that I attended last May when I went to see Andrea perform. My back hurts just thinking about it, but it is so darned blog worthy . . . .

I can't steal the video of his FB page just a photo, but here he is pictured with his lockin' buddy (he's the one on the left):
You can check it out on Claudio Clock Moriconi's FB page without having to friend him. . .

Tempting . . . .

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Night owls
We told ourselves that we couldn't go to bed until after midnight last night so that we could get our jet lagged family back on track, and the city of Lucca was down with the plan. They rolled out an orange carpet down the length of our corte and put a loud band right underneath our window. In fact, there were crazy events all over the city and all of the stores were open until 2 AM for the event they called the White Night or La Notte Bianca. So at about 10 PM F and I took to the streets. T said she wanted to stay home and do homework. I'm pretty sure she just caught up on all the vlogs she follows on youtube, but for all I know she actually did some homework.

When you can't beat them, join them. This is what we could hear from our window (sorry about the mosquito screen):

This is what we saw. Or rather this is what F's ipod saw when he reached his arm up over the crowd. I was mostly too short to see much of anything, except for some cute boots that are on sale at one of my favorite shoe stores  . . .
Ballroom dancers going for the big dip . . .

Chess championships . .
This crazy game with people in bubbles that looks like a Big Brother HOH contest. What are you talking about? I don't watch that show!

Classical ballet . .
These little divas:
Line dancing!
Jet lagged love birds.
Um . . .
The Polka!
And the most popular of all. Unfortunately you can't see her almost naked body, but right under the arch is a pole dancer and about a thousand horny Italian guys.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

CSI Sleep Rotations
The trip back from Denver to New York did not go badly. Stephen drove us to Denver the night before and took us out for Indian food and ice cream and a quick tour of tattooed, hairy, intellectual and drunken hipsters in their natural, mountainous element. T got a huge cone of fluffernutter and salted butterscotch. F got brown bread and molasses and I got blueberry oreo. It was a sugar high that could last us until our next trip to America. You see, Meagan and Stephen used to live in Denver right before we arrived in Carbondale and their house which is still on the market is quirky and cool with a huge yard and with an extra house for guests, right on the property. I didn't  sleep that night because I'm a nervous flier, but that's neither here nor there.

The worst part of the travel day was that poor T got really patted down at the super high security (who knew?!) airport because we couldn't put her insulin pump through the x-ray machine without damaging it. The exam was so invasive that the female agent apologized profusely to her afterwards. At least the flight and the rest of it was fairly on time.  Of course, after all that, we were dreading going through the control point again in New York. But magically, the wheelchair pusher guy -- and yeah, her foot was totally healed, but we opted for the wheelchair pushers anyway because they are speedy quick and we didn't have official word yet that she was healed -- got us through to the next gate without having to go through security at all. We waited around for three hours and then got on the next flight.

 After the first hour I took a quarter of a sleeping pill and got very woozy and tired. At my most tired moment, T decided she had to go to the restroom and then the flight attendants  served the noisiest dinner service ever known to air travel.

 I had one more window of time in which to try to sleep after the dinner service, but T couldn't see that I was almost asleep and she needed help pushing her chair back. One second later she was bent over in two and very mad about it. I switched places with F so that he could be next to her and I took the aisle. Three seconds later my moment was gone forever and she was fast asleep on his lap. I then got to watch T sleep for the next four hours, interspersed with the comic musings of Dane Cook which were playing on the little screen on the back of the chair. F was nailed in place by his tailbone, so whenever I got bored,  I looked over to see what grimace face he was wearing for that hour of the flight.

The good part was that our bags were there when we arrived in Pisa and the team of people that I had written good reviews about were there to greet us, being all smiley and wondering what the heck had happened to our family because we looked so wrecked upon reentry. On the upside -- they were thrilled with the reviews, so now we have friends at the Pisa airport for life. 

Something weird happens when the Tuscan sun hits your eyes in the morning and we all then got to unpacking and cleaning and the next thing you know we hadn't slept for a full forty eight hours.
P.S. One day I will write this blog in prison for never attributing the images I steal from the internet, but with this little sleep . . .

The New York family left the house fairly clean. You could see that they had made an effort. Unfortunately, we came to discover that the beatles we had got ridden of before the trip had given birth in the bathroom before we left. So guess what -- Baby Beatles! F found the nest and got out the hot steam machine and sealed the wall of the shower with cement. Unfortunatley in his sleep deprived haze he left the bathroom door open while he did it, and sprayed the little guys all over the house. So last night I thought I could finally sleep in peace and woke up to see one of the baby buggers twitching at me in the corner of my bedroom.

Yeah, I wish.
The next night we slept for fourteen hours in a row. I woke up at three in the afternoon, just one hour before my new English student was due to arrive. She is a lovely girl who is the daughter of the coworker of my ex-fitness club client who works in a nearby shoe store. She has an oral exam in two weeks time. Unfortunately, while she has skills in the reading and writing department, her spoken English needs a lot of work. She is going to come to me five days a week!

So far the pattern is we sleep from like midnight to 4 AM and from 6 AM to 1 PM. Last nigt, after four years of waiting, we got invited to a dinner by our friends at Fattoria Colleverde. It was not an invitation we could turn down. We were in fine shape, as you can well imagine.


Who needs sleep??


Knock - knock, T's not home.
CSI, I tell you.

(The Americans are a little weird, right?)