Saturday, March 28, 2015

Arrows flying and Cards against Humanity
Well, it's been wild times at casa nostra.

First of all, who knew that my new English student, let's call him R. would invite me to his balestre practice? It turns out that he is an expert on the history of Lucca and he practices a kind of terrifying medieval archery. Not only that, but he invited me to their secret meeting headquarters. And this secret headquarters is not just under the walls, not inside the walls --as in within the center of the city, but actually inside the interior structure of the walls. Pretty cool, huh?

As we approached, we saw a huge wall of people under the archway.

It turned out to be a crowd of young people outside of a bar. You have to understand that all the other streets of the city were completely deserted. It would suck to live under that bar!  We walked a little further and then . . .



Behold the secret headquarters!

R. is so cute when he is not studying English, isn't he?














Oh merda. I just figured out that a balestra is a crossbow. So he wasn't talking about the palestra, which means the gym. Whoops. Well, now, that makes more sense.

He may be a wizard.

In other news, I can pretty much guaran-damn-tee you that F and I are the only English teachers that are out there using Cards Against Humanity. Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Cards Against Humanity is a kind of risque' party game where you have to fill in the blanks. It is like Mad Libs mixed with WhoNu but it is not for children. It is meant to be played by adult, horrible people. I had to take out some of the most offensive cards and put labels over them with my own suggestions. Here is some of how it went down:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Teaching myself English
I never realized how random the English language was until I tried to teach it to unsuspecting and trusting Italians who don't know how clueless I really am.

Last week at the paint company, all of the employees came to the same one hour class because they were having Safety Day at work and had many events to attend that same day. Little did they know that my attendance book or registro would be audited that day.  In fact, some of them engaged in the duplicitous act of signing the entrance and exit boxes upon entering the room right under the auditor's nose. I wonder where in the world they could have gotten the idea to do that. Oh yeah, I told them to. I gave one lady a huge fake scolding for it. Now that I think about that, I hope she knew it was fake.

Yup, Italy is the kind of land where they come and audit your attendance books. I had to have my attendance book spruced up by my boss and the guy who is in charge of this bureaucracy they day before. My attendance taking is not to be trusted, you see. Then my non-existent poker face led my boss to buy me a coffee afterwards because I looked so grumpy about the whole thing. In reality, I just wasn't feeling well. Everything is drama when you are physically unwell, don't you find? At the coffee place I struggled for the millionth time with pronouncing my favorite drink orzo. As a distraction, I asked the bar owner about the photo of the military pilot behind him and his eyes got all twinkly. He asked me how I could not know who Graziano was. I tried to explain that I am from New York, but then he burst out laughing and said that he was Graziano. I have since listened to 49 youtube videos on how to pronounce the word orzo, but I continue to order something that sounds like an orso macchiato which is a bear with spots on it. Ahhh, that explains the funny looks.

Anyway, back at the lesson, the auditor called me over to his side just when I was doing partner work with one of my students who was left partner-less due to English class no-shows or as I call them --safety day casualties. It was an adorable lesson in which my students paired up to discuss the topics they are preparing for the Trinity English exam which is all about conversational skills. I snuck away from him while he blathered on about attendance issues so that I could go back and do my real job. Before I skulked away from him while he was in mid discourse, I gestured to bureaucracy guy to make sure it was okay, and he gestured to me that it was. I speak Italian sign language now, apparently.


Sometimes, it turns out, I am just clueless about people. It turns out that the dear, older gentleman who signed up for 40 hours of lessons with me and sometimes cannot repeat hello, how are you? after me has been a widow for less than a year. Every third lesson he is present and able to learn and the other times he doesn't make any sense and can't follow me at all. It turns out, and I am grateful that he shared this with me, that he is just too damned sad. Well, of course, he is. I had no idea that his loss was so recent. As soon as he told me, I complimented him for getting out of bed. My friend Patrizia told me that after her husband's heart attack she couldn't get out of bed for about a year. So now I know how to work with him. I hope that I can, if nothing else, be an enjoyable distraction for him. If feel like a total stronza for not having realized it sooner.


I also had a little butting of heads with the mom of one of my students who invited her son's friend to join in the classes. F approved the new arrangement while I was home sick. He was sweetly distracted and didn't mention to the lady that the son's friend's English is at a much more beginner level than her son's. They are well behaved boys but when they are together it is much more tempting for them not to speak in English and they want to do things like play hide and seek/nascondino and run around pretending that it is okay because they yell ready or not, here I come! in English every so often.

Anyway, she was taking money from the parents of the boy for the lesson but didn't increase our sliding rate for having two students instead of one. According to our scale, she would pay less, not more, for her son's lesson because there are two kids in the class. When I brought both issues to her attention, she scolded me about it and the whole thing annoyed me. I suggested that her son have private lessons even though it would, in theory, mean less money for us just because it would be better for him and she didn't even grasp the kindness in my gesture. There are some people who I can't seem to relate to in either language and it is so frustrating. I bumped into her on the way to my grumpy attendance book and she told me that her little daughter had been ill and that next week we wouldn't have lessons because they were on vacation. I tried to say something lighthearted in Italian about it being better to get sick before vacation time instead of during, but I think it came off like I was a callous witch. I am pretty sure of that, actually. So everything is really my fault. Blogging is therapeutic. Don't let them tell you it isn't.

Here is the cool video game that F made the boys. (Dropped octave not included) :





Carbohydrate hangovers and a lot of love
Well, I have to say that the love and time stirring my special puttanesca sauce which I make 72 hours in advance, according to my late, great Brooklyn landlord Mr. Scicchitano's instructions and the roughly zillion hours remaking the fallen house cake (see previous post) were all worth it. This morning I feel like I went a few rounds in the ring with an intoxicated Tina Cipollari, but that's the price you pay for making eleven toasts/brindisi in less than eleven minuti.
Tina, you are so wrong on so many levels. And yet, occasionally, you are a beacon of truth.

No one left even one strand of bucatini on their plates. I'm just sayin' . . .


Congratulations, Francesca & Fabio!


 If I understood correctly, we spent the evening discussing modern art, what it is like doing an apprenticeship at Gucci (including their off the hook cafeteria and how difficult it is to turn pythons and crocodiles into purses), the crazy things that happen in an Italian emergency room from the point of view of a young nurse, and a million stories about animals that live in Tuscany, mostly small bird and rabbits, and how to lovingly care for them when they are first born followed by how to eat them. I kid you not.

It is also possible that we spoke about 3D printing of body parts and the pros and cons of wife swapping, but my Italian is getting ever better and I think that we avoided those topics altogether.




By the end of the night several people almost had concussions from their weary but well fed and happy heads hitting the table with great force so they taught us the expression s'ha a di' danda which means time to go home to bed.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Anche la torta ha torto/Even my cake is wrong 
I am battling a level of inflamation that is so uncomfortable that I didn't even want to write about it. I got some kind of virus from my little snurfly students who wipe their noses on my writing materials. One of the more unpleasant side effects of this virus is a sore on my tongue that caused it to swell on one side and get little cuts all over it. I also have the nausea from the excess of vitamin E that I took in my skin clearing supplements. Couple this with when I have little hormonal surges over the course of the month and the delicate area under my eyes breaks out into little purple hills in addition to the acne cysts. My lower abdomen got swollen as well, so I can't be anymore uncomfortable physically than I am right now. I also look amazing.

Given all that, I decided to throw a dinner party. Well, I decided to throw a party in a fit of optimism a month ago because I haven't seen my friend Francesca for several months and it is her birthday. Plus she and her husband Fabio moved out of their tiny little mini house into a giant new house and Fabio finally got a new job. He really hated his old job.

Now, if you remember, I committed a major Italenglish screw up at Thanksgiving time when my friend Patrizia asked me to invite Francesca and Fabio to her party, but since she didn't remember their names, I assumed she was talking about our friends Monica and Luca. I mean they are both "lovely couples." Anyone could get confused. It was when I was reading my own blog that I realized that all the photos from that night were of Patrizia with Francesca and Fabio! No wonder that Monica and Luca were so confused by the invitation and had no idea who Patrizia was. Some how all of them and Patrizia's kids and T's friends are coming over tonight for dinner. Awesome.

In any event, last week I found a great idea for a cake.

Here it is:

Under the directions, it says level of difficulty: somewhat. See:

 Um, I'm calling BULLSHIT! on that right now.

So we made a practice version for my student Silvia's birthday. It came out pretty well so I thought we could try to go a little more deluxe for the housewarming-birthday-newjob cake.

This is Silvia's why is my English teacher so weird?? face. Nobody knows, honey. Nobody knows.
So we made this:



 I told F that I thought one of the supporting walls was caving in. He said, in all his famous optimism, that the house was just "settling." Thank goodness this was not a real house for obvious reasons.

And then it collapsed! It was at dinner and I screamed with horror. T, god bless her, managed to say in full adolescent splendor I told you so.
 
And I did this:
 
 
And now we are repairing it and our marriage. I also have to teach all afternoon. I have Vick's Vapor Rub all over my face. I am watching Amici and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I am in pajamas. My tongue is still quite grotesque. Don't you wish you moved to Tuscany?

Monday, March 09, 2015

We won homeexchange!
I feel a little badly that I have become such an internet tease. But I am pretty sure that I have cracked the whole system of how to win at the dating game called homeexchange. Homeexchange.com is a site where you put up photos of your home and then try to entice other homeowners or renters to switch houses with you during your vacation. I found out that if you use a certain kind of search instead of having a few dozen choices you can have hundreds and many of those are luxurious. I had to lead on some interested parties while I courted other families and couples to see if they would agree to our dates and terms. The thing did leave me feeling a little guilt ridden.  I did try to be as prompt and honest in my responses as possible. Guided by maternal love, I spent over fifty hours, ten in one day, pouring over hundreds of options and sending out dozens of invitations.


 There are some homeexchange snobs who call this trolling and repute to not engage in such indecent behavior. I just don't see the difference between extending invitations one at a time, not knowing if or when you will get a reply and sending out dozens at once. If someone who was invited is too late to the party, you can just apologize and explain that in the meantime you have made other plans. Right? I do still feel badly that I gave encouragement to two families who we didn't choose. I still can't figure out how to avoid having that happen because it seems to be part of the selection process. I would never agree to an exchange and then change my mind after the fact, but before the deal is made by means of a virtual handshake and decision to buy airline tickets there is some wiggle room.

Done & done.
We ended up finding this really nice woman with two grown daughters who has an adorable house in Amsterdam. The best part is that she has a garden. I didn't notice at first, but it turns out that there is a second little house in the garden that has its own kitchen, table, and sleeping area that T and her friends can have all to themselves. Score!





And we are using our flight coupons that we won when the Delta agent pushed T's wheelchair (remember how she had a broken foot last summer?) away with our suitcase in it. That brings the cost per ticket from Florence to Amsterdam down to just 25 euros per person each way!

I want to get out of Lucca for more than just two weeks so we also found an exchange in Barcelona. I don't love being around for the Lucca Summer Music Festival and the live music the restaurants have going on in the evenings. I wrote to this family just for the fun of it because I never expected a positive response in return. The photos show a dining room that looks like the upstairs of Downton Abbey with chandeliers and golden sculpted ceilings. The apartment is designed by famous architect Josep Puig I Cadafalch and has a huge roof deck.

 And get this, it is 500 meters squared! I hope they aren't too disappointed when they see our house which is less than a fifth the size.


Wowza!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Bye!
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.

Sigh.