Friday, December 24, 2010

Buon Natale!

So in the last week we finally had Norman the exterminator saturate the apartment in poison. This involved us packing up all of our stuff as if we were moving again. While T was having a great time with her friend, we huddled in the freezing cold at the Fattoria--which usually gets heated in advance during the winter, but in our case there was no time. Under twelve wool blankets our feet still went numb.

The second night, we all bunked in with Alexandrina and her mom on the most generously offered, but to no fault of it's own, uncomfortable sofa-bed in the world -- F misunderstood  Alexandrina's directions in rapid fire Italian, so that we slept on top of the blanket instead of under it. We were just wrangling an invitation for T, but then Alexandrina's mom said that she had to work until midnight and her daughter would be all alone otherwise so we might as well all sleep in her apartment. We offered to take Alexandrina out to dinner, but there was an accident on the road and it ended up being a really late dinner. I felt bad that we had missed Alexandrina's end of the year concert that I had promised to attend because of all of this insanity. The girls had school the next day and in the morning it was pouring rain as we hustled for five of us to use the bathroom and get to two different school gates before late passes were issued out. After no sleep and no special Jim tea to keep the acne cysts away I stumbled with my share of the bags walking home from the rental car with my face all broken out, my unwashed hair, the circles under my eyes from not sleeping setting off my rumpled, third day of same slept-in outfit and the umbrella hooked between my neck and left shoulder.  The Italian ladies in their stilettos and coiffed hair-dos seemed to look through me as if I had purposely offended their beauty loving sensibilities. Mi dispiace.

When we returned to our apartment we had to scrub all of the floors with soap and water to get the poison off, pick up the cats and lock them in the bathroom, and then vacuum everything and unpack. But I sure hoped the new bite on my finger wasn't from a flea. And then there were the three in the band of my underwear and then I realized that all of our clothing was infested and that we had to both wash every article of clothing we own and spray down all of the dry cleaning. Norman said that the floor boards of T's room were harboring bugs so F had to fill every crack with wood stucco on his hands and knees. Jim says the reason bad things happen to good people is that the bad things only happen to people who can handle them and so that is what we're hanging on to. 

F then rode his bicycle to get the last fake Enormous christmas tree at the supermarket and had to hold the box with one hand while steering with the other.  We did get the tree up in time and Alexandrina helped us to decorate it. The formerly pristine cats have fleas again, but since they are now poisoned up flea killing machines there is nothing we can do about it until after christmas.  When we will have to see if we have to evacuate for a second time. T's school gave out enough homework to ruin the vacation for everyone so I have declared the days up until Christmas official national no homework days so that she gets a well deserved rest. T still has a horrible cough so we have to force her to breath in steam with eucalyptus oil and use the asthma spray three times a day. But she doesn't have the wheeze at the moment, which is good.

It is a beautiful home and eventually maybe it will be the most flea-proof on the planet with all of the work we are doing. We gave out the potpourri the girls made to all of our friends in town, but the lady who worked at Max Mara waved me away. She had been so nice when F surprised me with the necklace I wore to Monica's wedding a few months back. I went back and, thinking she didn't recognize me or thought I was trying to sell something, and I said, "Excuse me but I just wanted to give you a present we made and not sell you anything."  She laughed at me and said no and finger wagged me out of the door.  Everyone else we gave them to was thrilled and the ladies at the fruit & vegetable store/ortafrutta smiled and clapped their hands and hugged us. So it lets you know who your friends are, right?

And that's the thing, life can be buggy. It can be buggy and uncomfortable and it can cause you to break all of your promises not to curse anymore. But buggy as it may be, it can also be beautiful. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sweet permesso at last
When you look up permesso di soggiorno under google, you get this picture:

This picture:

And then, this picture:

Well, we are in Italy after all.

You can't be in Italy for more than three months without a permesso. For us the permesso has been a heart wrenching, nail biting, ear piercing (see story below) nine month ordeal.

But the trip to the police station/Questura was a little different this time. Sure there was the very same sound of a frightening contagious sounding cough and the same shrill tones of a bundled up baby crying, but this time we had an in. T was brilliant enough to have happened to befriend a girl in her class whose mom job happens to be processing permesso di soggiorno's at the Questura of Lucca. Funny that Anna, the mom, seems fairly unnoticeable in her police uniform/diviso, but oddly stunning and barbie doll like out of uniform so that
we didn't notice her very much before we knew her socially.  Luckily she wasn't in front of us at the window when we got rejected the other million times before now.

As soon as Anna arrived at the agreed on time, she beckoned us over with a smile to come to a new window that she opened and come to the head of line. The man who was second in the already formed line to our left became completely irate and starts yelling in italian about "aren't we all supposed to be equal here?" with lots of foot stamping, snorting, and general hurrumphing. Anna just smiles and shrugs. Usually the social workers in us would have come out and made us feel a little guilty for the special treatment, but not this time. We suffered for these little ID card looking babies. We sweat and cried for them and bothered UN workers, diplomats and journalists.  We lived with fleas for goodness sake and had to tape off our clothes and stamp around in white socks and make traps of soapy water, for cryin' out loud.

So anyway, Anna smiles at us and tells us to check the permessi. The words blur and whirl around in front of our exhausted eyes.  They seem fine.  K rummages around in her pocket until she finds a hair parlour receipt on which she can write a little note thanking Anna for being santa with a scrawled picture of an xmas tree at the top. We get outside and take a closer look at our treasures and see that T's middle name is misspelled.

Now we have to go back in there and wait on the line again and brave the wrath of the disgruntled guy, yikes! In the end, we decide to live with it since no one will ever notice and we have to renew before the end of august anyway.  On the way home through the porta of our new city, we think we are so glad that we know what went wrong and can live with it

The rule of life here is: All bureaucratic things take a minimum of two trips to do same thing; and one thing must go wrong or it's not right.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Traffic Ticket
Necessity is the mother of speaking Italian (or however that phrase goes).

The center of Lucca is an area pedonale/pedestrian area, however people drive through it all the time. Lately there have been Polizia Municipale flagging down cars by Piazza San Michele to check that they have the resident permit. But they are NEVER there at 8 in the morning. Never ever.

So this morning, after waking up shivering at Colle Verde--which is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but only works in the winter if you build a roaring fire--I race down to town in the rental car to open the windows to let out the poison Norman has sprayed in the apartment. I have two options, sit through the traffic on the ring road and go in through Porta Sant'Anna and hope to find a parking place then walk to the apartment, or zip through the deserted streets, park in front of the house, and maybe even pick up some foccacia from the bakery for breakfast.

When I am literally within a hundred meters of the apartment, who steps out from behind a truck to flag me down? The Polizia. When I roll down the window, every bit of Italian that I have absorbed in these last few months somehow magically comes poring out and I tell the whole story of the fleas and the exterminator and the pensione for the cats. I use the imperfetto. I use the conjuntivo! Some aspect of the story, or perhaps just my desperation, gets to the three of them and they end up waving me along with a gentle admonition to never do it again.
Which I won't. Ever. Never ever.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The12 Days of Pre-Xmas
Well maybe it wasn't the plant and these little critters were just lying dormant waiting for some good heating and some furry kitty backs to climb on. We'll never know why, but what we do know is that we are now cut off by the pharmacy--and it takes an awful lot for an Italian pharmacist to cut you off... Since then we shaved the cat some more. And we flea-bombed the house in two stages. And we used the magic vacuum cleaner twice a day, every day.

Now the cats are on vacation at the Pensione per i Cani e Gatti. It took a lot of persuading for the very nice ladies at the Pensione to take two guests in mid-infestation, and the city was shut down by what was by NY standards, a small snow. There was no street number on the website, but over the phone they assured us it was easy to find. So after a forty minute wander to the edge of town with a cage in each hand, F finally sees the teeny, tiny sign tacked onto a fence post and then spends ten minutes bothering people by ringing their bells and not understanding which Italian curses he was being regaled with. Finally the very nice ladies come searching and escort him and the cats along the long road (which is only marked with a small handwritten sign marked Canile/kennel) through the snowy, foggy fields to the cozy little animal center.

So now Norman the professional exterminator is coming (please, please, please) with his van and special permit on Monday with the serious chemical arsenal to destroy every sign of life in the apartment. We have to vacate for 24 hours, put all the food in plastic bags, and open all the drawers and closets.  Thanks to the dearest mommy friend on the planet, Paola, T goes to a sleepover (ON A SCHOOL NIGHT!!!) We are renting a car and going to Colleverde for the night. Then, magari (which means perhaps and also sort of "with luck"), we will be back to some hint of normalcy for xmas.  Well, normalcy for other people as we have lost normal somewhere between Pisa and last tuesday.

12 Days of
One absent xmas tree (though we might do plastic)
Two missed xmas parties
Three times a day combing the cats 
Four phone calls about borrowing cars we never borrowed
Five sets of flea meds
Six calls to the Cat Pensione
Seven trips to the pharmacy
Eight pleading conversations with the Vet
Nine times we thought this was over
Ten sleeping pills
Eleven loads of laundry
Twelve weeks of hell...o

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Not Our Cat, Just to illustrate the Point
We. Shaved. The. Cat.
Yep, that bad...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Flea or Flee?
We are sitting at the end of exhaustion, not even sure where to start telling the story of all that has happened in the past two weeks. First, T had a cold/bronchitis/quasi-asthma that knocked her out of school for a week, but she's 99% better now. Second, the cats have pulci(fleas). The whole story though is a doozy. The roots (quite literally) go back to the summer when we first arrived and were decorating the apartment. Two stalks of bamboo seemed like the perfect thing to accent the wall between the giant painted Buddha and the kitchen. Planted in an old terracotta pot in soil from the Esselunga supermarket, the bamboo just sat there, biding its time...

After the sofa debacle--short version: cat scratching post, three different slip-covers, move into the office--the bamboo moved by the front door next to the big radiator. Then on November 1st when you are allowed by law to turn on the heat in Tuscany (because we would never cheat and turn it on a week early), we started to have a problem with little flying black bugs. And then K had the strange little itchy hives that first seemed like bug bites, but then were deemed by the Doctor here to be signs of her thyroid issues. The cats kept going over to the pot and trying to eat the bamboo shoots. After the millionth time of shooing them away, K realized that all of the bugs were living in the plant pot and F threw it out. The empty urn stayed on the upstairs landing by our front door. Problem solved . . . or so we thought.

But then after getting through the birthday--which was great--and an all English-speaking sleepover--so very great--and a chocolate fair in the Piazza around the corner which included a late rainy night appearance alone with Alexandrina where both girls walked away with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory type golden wrapped bricks of chocolate that were given to them by the elderly raffle winner who had just unexpectedly come away with his 70 kilo weight in the heavenly stuff--beyond great--T got felled by an awful horrible chest cold which made her sound like a broken down accordion. (Or more precisely like a whistle blowing on a train that is running over an accordion...) She usually can just power through a cold and go to school, but each day her chest seemed to get more constricted and her wheeze sounded more ominous. Finally we schlepped to our doctor where T was the only kid patient. Despite the fact that she never had a fever, he prescribed her an antibiotic and an inhaler which was very kid unfriendly to use.

One of the problems with going to our doctor, who was recommended to us by one of our many real estate agents, is that he is affiliated with the pharmacy across the street from the pharmacy where K's friend Amelia works with her parents Elvira and Federico. The night of T's birthday party all three had joined us for leftover cake in our dining room and we had a very nice time discussing everything from politics to pie. The intimidating Mary Poppins-like pharmacist with the perfectly coiffed long black curls at the enemy pharmacy is affiliated with our doctor, and he always comes up with a reason why we have to go to the enemy pharmacy above any other, including the fact that they book all of the referrals from him to other specialists through their computer system. After two more days of suffering, our dear, sweet, at times disheveled, red nosed, and sleep deprived, angelic pharmacist Amelia made a house call and looked at everything T was prescribed and realized that she didn't have anything that would actually cure her. She sorted us out with a nebulizer and medicines to go in it. Within a day T was breathing much better, though in a horrible mood because the meds destroyed her appetite.

At one point when T was fairly hysterical from low blood sugar and stress and refusing to eat, Jim Sparandeo (see below) told K that he was sorry that it was a Saturday night in Lucca when he knew it would be impossible for us to find a pharmacy or herb store open that would sell us the one cure that would definitely help T--belladonna. Jim almost never recommends us to use homeopathic remedies, and usually gives us teas and recipes and raw ingredients to gather instead. Strangely enough Maria Pia, the erborista had given K some drops that featured belladonna some weeks before that really had not helped her at all, but which she had never gotten around to throwing away. With literally three tear-size drops under T's tongue and a heartfelt message from Jim, T was better within seconds and asking for something to end her upsetting hunger strike. It was the most intense transformation we had ever seen in a person in that little amount of time.

Despite the cool reception from most parents at the beginning of the school year, we now have parental chat buddies in the parking lot area where the kids exit the school gate. Fabio, one of the dads called to see how T was doing and then came by with a great invention that is a tube which helps kids to make the inhaler work. Paola recommended that in Lucca, it is better for kids to have pediatricians because they know what is going around and how much school will be missed and have subs and emergency hours. We had thought it better to avoid the germy kid waiting rooms and long lines at the pediatrician, but when in Rome.

The problem was that the day of the Immaculate Conception holiday was also the day that our tessere sanitaria health cards were due to expire. Therefore, after a night of lying awake listening to T cough and kick the floor and struggle for breath, K had to get up extra early and go to the medical office in the rain where she found out that the new cards get automatically sent to your house (although you do have to go back to the medical office to activate them) and that T's card was still going to the wrong address where our friends in the vineyards live. Then she got us a new doctor that is affiliated with Amelia's pharmacy. We haven't met him yet, but his name is Di Dio, literally "of God," as if we needed a higher recommendation, and he is better than a brava persona, and a widower who raised his children in the most loving of manners etc., etc. We also chose a pediatrician who is in the group that most of T's class get treated by. Then we took T by taxi, the phone number of which was gotten by an expat parent who had the cell of a driver who was off duty but took pity and referred us to another driver, to the new pediatrician's sub who said she was clear to go back to school the next day if we stuck to the meds. The pediatrician then gave us a certificato for the school that stated that she was clear to re-enter school and to stay out of gym.

It was the morning T finally returned with much trepidation back to school after having missed a full week of her subjects and all of the make up tests that would entail, that we realized that the itchy whiny cats were actually swarming, but swarming, with fleas. Paola was the one who told us about Frontline which we got without a prescription from Amelia with warnings that in the end we would need a gas bomboletta anyway. How were we to know until days later that the degree of flea infestation was such in Lucca that all these hearty fellows laughed their resistant fuzzy tushys off in the face of Frontline. Then was the tearful call to Maria Pia which resulted in her daughter and her doing an oddly professional demonstration of a hepa filter vacuum cleaner that they were going to lend us--known in these parts, and all parts, as the folletto. Well they showed us how they could rub our tiles with white paper and all these black dots of fuzzy flea tushy debris would show up and then they would use the scrubby brush bottomed folletto and then another swipe of the paper would show up all white as snow -- gasp, gasp. After tons of vacuuming we had the cleanest, flea-infested house on the block.

(No, it's not Lorenzo)
On Sunday Paola was supposed to come over with her daughter along with T's friend Alexandrina to help us make the dozens of potpourri bags with herbs and christmas decorations from Maria Pia's erboristeria. Earlier in the day Maria Pia came by with another attachment for the folletto (this one for upholstery!) and her daughter came over to get a massage from K for her stiff neck. They brought a surprise guest, the daughter's boyfriend Lorenzo, who seemed very concerned for T since he too suffered from asthma as a youth. Well T doesn't suffer from asthma it was just this one week but anyway. . . He said I should really get some hepa filter thing which turned out to be the folletto which in turn turned out to be his family business. K asked what the price was straight up. I mean we are from NY and not completely naive. He said they ranged from 500 to 2000 euro. Before F could translate it all into English, K said maybe they could do an installment plan for the €500, but that was the most. Lorenzo insisted on coming back to do a demonstration.

Of course Lorenzo showed up in the middle of the Xmas present making/playdate with a giant suitcase filled with folletto attachments. His two hour rapid-fire demonstration led to the big sales pitch that just for us for this one day only see page four of the manual he could let us have this two thousand euro beauty for €1485 if we bought the sample one and acted in the next 24 hours. One hour after he left, K left him a message on his voice mail that said um, NO. Later in bed I thought two very different thoughts. One was that I should have said that if that vacuum wasn't capable of doing things to me that shouldn't be said in polite company, I wasn't f-ing paying one thousand euro for it. The second was that seeing as I have to do energy treatments on both Maria Pia and her daughter on Monday maybe it is yet another way of me having to ask God how she wants to use me best to overcome my ego and serve. Me being me, I'm torn.

Oh and by the way, at this point, we're still swarming with bugs and we have painful blistery bites all over our lower legs and various other places.

Then we remembered that our downstairs neighbor Barbara was in a pet related business, I still don't know what it was because she speaks so darn fast, before she entered real estate. She gave us the number of a cat Toilette, which is a cat grooming place for those of us in Europe, and the lady there refused to help us. F headed out to the vet, and then K called the vet who said please don't go there and just get some pills for cats called Capstar. F came back and Amelia gave him Capstar and the gas bomboletta which she promised was a 4 hour deal that would not kill the cats or T and allow us to re enter the house that same night.

Due bombolette later, we are combing the cats and stabbing evil little fleas, wearing those long pink rubber gloves and using every possible combination of Italian curses. After two more days of hyper-vigilance, itching, and horrible dreams that makes Hitchcock's The Birds look like a gentle fairy tale for children, today we finally woke up to clean combs, and astonishingly shiny floors.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Pomodori marci
Who was it who had the brilliant idea that what was missing from Eat Pray Love was more about Elizabeth Gilbert's ex-husband? It's such a wonderful book, so the fact that the movie version is so tedious and misguided is deeply disappointing. It is up there with Operating Instructions on our most bought book list. We often use it as a door prize for dinner guests, so we look forward to its release in paperback.

We were surprised that the Italian version never made it to Lucca until we finally rented the movie from Amazon the other night.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tanti Auguri a/Happy Birthday to signorina T

Wedding planning is easy compared to planning a birthday party for over a dozen girls in Lucca. The first thing to do was to find a make up artist that was available for our date. The second thing to do was to worry that the make up artist wouldn't show up. To resolve that dilemma I invented a myriad of pretexts to have to call her. The last in the series being that T was bombarding me with questions I couldn't answer and would she be so kind as to talk to her directly etc. etc.

Next on the agenda was to get the girls in the class interested enough beforehand to hold the date, but then to distribute the real invitations within seven days before the date so that no one would forget about it. We solved the invitation issue thanks to some one-euro teddy bear key chains that were being sold in the open-air market. With a fortune cookie loop of a written invitation attached to each one with clear tape, they made perfect, impossible to forget, invitations. Then a hitch was thrown into the works when T's nemesis, a girl who looks at least sixteen, but is only twelve, and is repeating the year, purposely planned her birthday party to be the weekend after her real birthday just to see if she could divert some of the guests from coming to T's party. We know it was on purpose, because she lied to T about her intention to have a party at all and then the next day tried to get the girls to come to her instead. However, since all of her friends are in the second year by now, she had nothing to lose by trying because she really didn't care if this year's girls showed up or not. In the end we got every single one except for her. Poor dear.

Then there was the 24-hour stomach flu to worry about. Brilliant T managed to get it on the Wednesday before our Saturday date, the exact same day that her main professor was out sick. Problem solved!

For the favors, we tracked down silk pouches from my friend the erborista and nail polish from a popular shop in Fillungo and little adhesive designs for nails at the cosmetics store. What I did not expect was that the make-up artists would be old school and feel that the girls were too young to wear make up and only want to give lessons in skin care. Luckily my mom had sent along a huge make up kit that I got on sale from Sephora. After six weeks of waiting, filling out documents and making copies or my passport, and waiting on line at the post office and then sending them back registered mail to the Milan airport and then going back to the post office twice with the retrieval slip and paying two fees to get the small box, it arrived magically the morning of the party. And with this I convinced the make up artist to use make up even if she really felt it was vulgar. The moral of this story is please send us only things you don't care if we ever get (but feel free to wire us money:))

The next thing I didn't count on was the catechism class schedule, but it was fine that the guests arrived at all different times. And how could we have ever counted on the fact that after weeks of intense, intense studying and no downtime the girls would become rather scatenate/wild in a good way and scream their heads off for two whole hours. The documentary Babies was set up in the background. Since it is a silent movie I thought it would be perfect, but the breast feeding scene and some of the shots of pregnant women in Africa and Mongolia sent a handful of the girls into near catatonic shock, so T convinced us to replace them with videos of Shakira. All the girls here learned the dance moves by heart this summer as you can see from the video. The hero of the day was Lucia, a high school girl I had hired in the event that the make up artist would be working individually on the girls and the others got restless. Of course despite all claims to the contrary, the make up artist did work individually on the girls and the others got dangerously restless until Lucia came up with a whole host of games where you sit in a circle and because she speaks several languages managed to do all the translating while being a super cool big sister type to them all. Plus she also knew all the Shakira dance moves by heart!

The most touching moment was when one of the girls got the group to re-sing Happy Birthday in English; and the most joyful moment for me was when one of the mothers explained that the postal system is so bad here that no one is expected to send thank you cards!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Campy, neo-Victorian Emilie Autumn, makes music and spectacle that is, in a word, disturbing. It's so arch and mannered that it is almost dismissible, but the music is at root rich and layered. She's currently on tour in South America, with a swing through the U.S. next spring.


Unlaced (Live)

Emilie Autumn makes fairy wings on HGTV

Her website

Friday, November 12, 2010

Parent-Teacher Meetings
The next craziest bureaucratic thing in life has been the parent-teacher conferences which are a festival of disorganization complete with costumes, marching and handshaking. You get a mind-boggling chart that comes home with your child with ten teachers' names and their availability. For example, the math professor is available on Saturdays of the first month which either means all of the Saturdays for the first of the three months when you can have a conference or only the first Saturday of the month, no one knows, and there was a big debate about it in the lobby today. Then you sign a book in front porteriera (office where school staff people sit), which is separate from the segreteria office where the administrative assistants sit, and get an appointment with each teacher over the course of two weeks. You sign on a numbered line that only the parents know about. The teachers of the day sit in an otherwise empty classroom and do not know who they are going to see next. The parents have a catty little chat about who signed up first and then push their way in as other parents exit. Sometimes if you are not one of two Americans in the whole school you have to give a police description of your child so that the teacher knows which long-haired girl belongs to you. Then you get less than two minutes to kiss up to said teacher who gives your kid a better grade if they like you and if you showed up than if they didn't like you or you didn't show up. Everyone we have seen thus far has said that for a kid who really speaks broken Italian she is shocking them by scoring higher than many of the Italian speaking children on the tests. Still we know she has stolen some of her uncle's genes when she does things like reason that if they repeat a word in the question and again several times in the multiple choice answer it must be the right selection, even if she has not the foggiest idea what the actual said words mean. Smart, right?

T on average is doing six hours of homework a night, six days a week. On Mondays she has help from a teacher and mom of two teens who is teaching T about grammar and on Thursdays she has superstar Gabrielle, a senior, who helps her to knock out some of her hardest homework assignments. The professors, these lovers of memorization have now adopted the law school worthy tactic of threatening the children with sometimes announced and sometimes surprise oral interrogations at which time they have to answer questions on anything they have learned the whole year.

T studied art history for an entire half day only to find out that the art professor was only going to interrogate one smart mouthed class clown named Albi. Finally T raised her hand (to go to the bathroom?) and when the teacher called on her she quickly recited everything she knew on the topic and threw in some support for her clueless classmate in perfect Italian along the lines of " . .as my colleague Albi just said . . "

On Sunday we are going to T's friend Chiara's house so that she can teach T how to recognize the musical notes and symbols from listening to an electronic tinny sounding cd of classical music for her upcoming test. Then we will eat massive amounts of pizza and try to forget everything we've learned.
It rained on the last two days of Comix in biblical amounts and that made for some very soggy anime creatures. Sadly the weather pattern held for several weeks accompanied by every type of cold germ in creation, also probably wearing anime costumes, many of which made a home in my body thus causing havoc to my immune system. If you don't know that I have heavily relied on support from nutrition and health expert James Sparandeo for the past year and a half, you do now. He works with people all over the world by phone and so our move did not upset our working relationship in any way. Jim has seen me through many a health crisis and he is a genius of diagnosis, natural remedies, diet, and knowing what to say when. Sometimes he is a man of very few grunted words and other times he tells great stories and jokes; but the most startling part is that he has a gift for seeing peoples insides, their light and their darkness. He never judges; he hears what I mean behind my words. And even if he has no sense of time at all whatsoever he has a timeless wisdom that comes from somewhere bigger than him.

So to make a long story short, after a month of insomnia I moved into a month of constant respiratory issues and lack of stamina and two weeks straight of not being able to get warm and began drinking things like raw eggs with orange juice and begging various erboistas/herb sellers and friends for their olive leaves so that I could drink their bitter broth and get my energy back. Now I'm going to have my blood levels tested just to see what this damp climate has done to my thyroid, but I know in the end I'll be stronger and it will be a blocked memory by spring.

When I did go to the doctor here, I went half an hour earlier than office hours. It is only a block from the house. I waited out in the rain with the three earlier birds than me and had a chat about the weather with an older man who was very lovely, but either had a hearing problem or was really uninterested in what I had to say. The doctor arrived on his bicycle wearing a hat (you must!) and a scarf (roughly as necessary to Italians as underwear) and threw the office keys to the chatty gentleman. A group of ten or so of us trouped up the stairs and the usual discussion of which of us was the ultimo/the last one to arrive and who was going in first ensued. Once we agreed on our places people relaxed. My favorite moment is while I was sitting there with both a case of hot, itchy hives, and a bone chilling chest cold, the rain really started pelting the roof in a tragic, operatic way. The male part of a very Lucchese couple piped up with complete sincerity about how lucky we all were to be inside at the doctor's office while his wife nodded sagely and I had to admit that he was right. We bonded as a group and the first patients got their flu vaccines followed by the rest of us in order of arrival. The doctor spoke perfect English and did not even blink about my receiving energy treatments and not wanting to go back on synthroid. He was gallant in his smooth transition from his desk to the examining table and I left feeling funnily as though it had been a first date and wondering if he would call again.
Comix: Halloween Lucca-style
For four days at the end of October, Comix comes to Lucca.

That is to say, 200,000 people, largely teenagers, dressed in manga attire invade the walled city of usually 80,000 and cause mayhem. The good thing is that it means that T will not be deprived of Halloween here even if there is no real trick-or-treating. Instead there are dozens of circus tents filled with decadent things to buy that serve no useful purpose, games to play, and exhibits to behold. I found a candy store with jack-o-lanterns stuffed with chocolates and gummy eyeballs and fangs that I bought for T and her friend to make up for the lost sugar intake. T wore her bright red flapper dress from last year's 20's dance at school and fringed boots and fit right in.

Still there were times that it was almost impossible to navigate the narrow streets. Those who took the time to really dress up enjoyed being treated like celebrities as all of the tourists and locals asked to have a photo with them.

Many of the girls dressed as if they were going to a halloween party in NYC where the invitation specified "sexy" attire only; i.e. sexy nurse, sexy waitress, sexy mutant half breed, etc.-- you get the idea. We will cross that ugly mother-daughter fight when we get there.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Can't Believe It Myself
T's favorite store in Lucca without a doubt is Stella Z, an inexpensive, but chic, accessories store that she burns out her paghetta (allowance) on every week. The owner, Monica, has adopted us as friends and we are very lucky she has. Monica is a jazz aficionado, a gourmand, a lover of film noir, and above all a feminist. She is the author of a noir detective novel set in Lucca with a female protagonist that was a great read, even if many of the words she used were not in my medium-sized Webster’s Italian/English dictionary. She has also had published a book of interviews with great literary and artistic minds of Italy and their feedback on the articles of the Italian Constitution. She wrote the latest one with her partner of many years, named Luca. I was happy to hear her book was getting published this same month that she and Luca were to be married, but I was shocked when she invited us all to the wedding. It was a civil ceremony at the very elegant Palazzo Orsetti, which was dripping with crystals and velvet and gold. She made me get in the middle of almost every wedding picture which pissed off everyone of her girlfriends and the photographer and made me feel like I was having one of those naked at school nightmares even though I was covered up in my blush toned top. She, feminist that she is, appeared in film noir style black pencil skirt, ten inch heels, a plunging jacket and 40's style hair and makeup with enough lashes to generate a breeze with every coquettish wink of her eye. It was quite the shock. Her mother was a mirror image of her, in an even more miniature version and with red hair, instead of black. The party or festa was at a place outside of the walls that looked very much like the Blue Bay diner in Queens, and the cake was an enormous confection that was the equivalent of a Bill Cosby having a torrid affair with Sara Lee and coming out with a Jell-O type half frozen vanilla sheet cake that stuck to the teeth just slightly before being rinsed down with frothy prosecco.

While we went to the festa T hung out with G her new 17 year old mentor who is a career student at the Liceo (High School) Classico where she studies Latin, Greek, and speaks French, Italian, and English and volunteers in her spare time on the ambulance when she isn't studying violin. We were afraid she might be a really preppy geek, but then in turned out that she is the coolest girl on the planet with a stunning fidanzato, an adoring group of friends, and a past internship at Teen Vogue.

T was invited to a birthday party of one of her classmates on a night when we had both dinner plans with Monica and Luca and a house guest from Brooklyn named A. A had sweetly agreed to pick up T after the party at a neighborhood pizzeria, but we called her twenty minutes into the party when the boys apparently had started spitting at the girls and threw a plate and generally became scatenati (wild). The funniest thing was that after a gadrillion squilli of our telefonini during Monica's six course dinner, A found T outside of said pizzeria playing soccer with all of the previously wild boys while her more docile female friends watched on from the wings with a mixture of consternation and awe on their little rosy faces.

In the meantime, F has picked up several new jobs including baking his wildly popular gorgonzola bread on consignment for a neighborhood store and doing a new website for our friends' agriturismo, including a whole host of video segments.

In order to avoid the civil war that ensues when T and I dive into her four hours of homework we have begun frequenting the bars in the afternoon where she eats nutella torta and I drink vanilla tea while we bicker quietly until we can shop.

A new family in town that just moved here from Arkansas are even braver than us because they don't even speak Italian. They have boy and girl twins T's age and a five year old. They somehow got a residential visa even though they don't know if they are going to spend more than a year here. The husband is a sculptor/painter and the wife quoted Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert at me, which shocked me to no end for some reason. She reminds me of Ellen DeGeneres if Ellen were straight and was hyped up on way too many cappuccinos and nutella tortas. T was slightly offended when the professors who had sworn they spoke no English began all of the sudden to speak it fluently. Also they seemed to forget T was also American and T had to sign out in sign language something to the effect of "What am I, chopped liver?" T asked me why I wasn't relaxed and smiley like the new golden haired mom and I paused and sucked in my cheeks before retorting that if I were that relaxed, her father would be wondering around the city in his underwear and that's why. I know I am awful, by the way.

T has somehow gotten great grades on her last two quizzes and we have a friend/teacher/mom of two teens named Antonella who stops by on Mondays to help her with Italian. I have given out copies of “eat, pray, love” or “mangia, prega, ama” to at least half a dozen female friends because I feel that if they read it, they will understand something about me that I still don't know how to say in Italian. I want to tell them something like it took a lot of crying and mostly wasted hours of therapy and begging of bureaucrats but finally I am really comfortable somewhere inside and outside of my skin and so if you think I'm really weird I don't care even though I hope we will be great friends. Breath. Plus F and I started jogging. And my thighs feel like Kathy Griffin's post liposuction minus the thinness.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In honor of Coming Out Day, here is Tiziano Ferro who has recently announced to his millions of adoring fans in Italy, the US, and the Spanish-speaking world that he's gay. At his best, he's got a rich and expressive voice that transcends the fact that many of his songs are a bit soggy. He also sang the official song of the 2004 Olympics.


Each Tear--Mary J. Blige feat. Tiziano Ferro

Official website (English)
Official website (Italian)
Official website (Spanish)

Buy Tiziano Ferro at Amazon

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Un Posto al Sole
99 Posse is a jazzy ska hip hop conglomerate from Naples. After fourteen years and five albums, they broke up in 2005 only to re-form last year and head out on tour. Larded with politics and social commentary and an occasionally threatening bassline, their tracks drift lazily along with a Fishbone-ish attitude of throw everything in the blender and see what sticks.

Rigurgito Antifascista

Live in Torino 2002

Their website

Buy 99 Posse at Amazon

Friday, September 24, 2010

So the saga of the Spanish Book is as follows.

First we got the book list from the school and then by chance someone said that it is best to get the books from the supermarket because you get a 15% discount. But because the school had lost T's file in the bottom of the drawer, we didn't know if she was in French or Spanish. So there were about six books that we had to order once T was assigned a section and a language.

The word was that at the end of August the list of sections would be posted in a glass case at the entrance of the school. Being Italy, on September 8th there was an unannounced public lottery in the auditorium where the names of the kids in each section were either announced or drawn out of a hat--picture the sorting hat scene from Harry Potter. As soon as we heard T's name called, we leaped up and ran to the bookstore near the school where a slightly sour-faced man took the list and told us to come back Tuesday.

Tuesday we returned and picked up our order, but when we looked closely we realized there were only five books, rather than the six we had ordered. A schlep back to the bookstore brought a curt, "That book is out of stock, we can order it, but it may be months before it arrives."

Well we ordered it, but to hedge our bets, we went to other stores and ordered it there as well. When school started, T still had no Spanish book. The Spanish teacher then yelled at all the kids who didn't have their books (though this was odd, because she didn't have her book either). Finally in desperation, we borrowed a copy and scanned it page by page.

Then when we offered to email the scanned pages to another girl in the class, her mom said not to bother because they were going to the book warehouse outside town.


Yep, it turns out there is a massive book warehouse/school supply store about fifteen minutes walk outside the walls... So F walks out there and returns successfully with book in hand. We then proceed around to cancel all our other orders around town, getting grief only from sour-faced man.

As a post script, a few days later looking at the receipt, we realize that the book warehouse is another branch of the sour-faced bookstore...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vedo gli arcobaleni
So this has been quite a week--all good ultimately, but all challenging. We seem to be finally legal, though that was a crazy confusing couple of hours at the questura and in the end they put us in the perp chair and took our pictures (I think that's a good sign). The first couple of days of school have been perhaps even more confusing, with no idea what the homework is, nor how many of the 30 kili of books to bring.

Other pluses have been the double rainbow on Monday; the solemn procession through the city's drippy streets later; the magic at the questura; and this song by B.o.B. that has been STUCK in my head. Now I don't know who BoB is, or Hayley Williams, or even Paramore, but you have to admit that it successfully sucks you in to the hook.

Airplanes (2010)

Buy Airplanes (In the style of B.o.B featuring Hayley Williams of Paramore) at Amazon

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Thank your lucky stars
Not to say that I would ever do such a thing, or that it actually might have happened, but say someone were to have accidentally gone through Heathrow Airport with a big jar of Indian Ayurvedic goop that he had no idea was liquid-ish as well as a spinning plastic disco ball in his carry-on bag. And if that were to have happened, one would have to say how very very fortunate in this day and age that he does have a very innocent face and also that his daughter's best friend wrote her name and little hearts all over said packaged disco ball in such a way that it tugged at the heart-strings so that the security personnel would be too charmed as to have opened it up. Just saying, that hypothetical person was pretty lucky...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Alcuni Giorni del Cibo Straniero
So after weeks of luxuriously wonderful simple cooking, we made an excursion to the Sri Lankan grocery just outside of town and went a little nuts--curries and rice noodles, coriander, cumin, and star anise, pomegranate juice and strange Thai red rice that tastes just like kasha. We made sushi rolls with lime carrots and avocado. We found Shriracha!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Crazy Things
1. For every thing you want to buy in Lucca, there are three levels of stores from the most to least costly and sometimes they are all selling the exact same thing. If you are in a place that is really clean with young salespeople, you are going to get fleeced, my friends. I like the dustier ones with the ancient store people, and preferably ones where you enter through the back and if you have to know a code word, that is even better. It is a crazy process to go around finding the best focaccia place or the best cheese place and the place where the same place mat costs twice as much etc.

2. I had worked myself into a frenzy of all of the newspaper reporters and government officials and stars from Jay Z to Cher who were going to be outraged if the Questura didn't give F the Nulla Osta he needed to get his visa. I was going to call people, people were going to be in an uproar, they would never forget my name or the day they crossed me. And then, all that energy went to waste because they DID give him the Nulla Osta on the 11th like they said they would. So then all we had to do was call the Italian Consulate in NY and book F a flight back to NY. Guess what? The official in charge of our case decided to afford herself a beach vacation after all, even though she told us she would not, and won't be back until the 24th. The next good priced flight isn't until the 25th so now we are waiting to find out about that next step. There are four more until we are all legal and five if you count getting our residency cards and six if you count getting a health book for medical attention and probably another few I haven't thought of yet.

3. It turns out that our friend that runs the agriturismo is also the boss of the immigrant aid organization that is helping us to get our permesso di soggiorno/ italian stay permit. They all work for him in essence. So that's maybe why they were all so nice to us. . . Weird to only find that out two days ago after all of these weeks of dealing with them and using his name as a reference.

4. Hardly anyone came to the housewarming party, but those that did were very sweet. The vegetable and fruit store lady who couldn't come bought T a bracelet. The couple that run the pharmacy and couldn't come bought her a bag of candy and a jump rope. It turned out that you can't invite Italians more than five days in advance. I did the invitation about two or two and a half weeks in advance and absolutely everyone forgot about it. In NY I was always hearing that "if only you had let me know earlier. .. we already made plans, I'm sorry." So unless those were veiled poor excuses, I think it just works differently here. Good thing I learned that lesson way before T's birthday!

5. The middle school lost T's registration folder. We had gone to check a month ago and the lady who registered us did not remember us and said she had no time to see us that day. Another office worker gave us a book list, but never took our names. Finally I woke up one night in a sweat, sensing something was wrong. They didn't return our phone calls. F and I went by and sure enough, T's name was not on any of their lists. The woman found her file in a drawer covered with dust. The next day she was waiting for us. She said that T would of course be registered and that she was sorry but we were too early since we gave her the file last November and registration wasn't until February this year. Then a very stern looking principal came in. She seemed reluctant to talk to us. She went off in rapid italian about the nature of mistakes and how they are just a simple school and that they never claimed to be perfect etc. etc. Once they realized that we were only concerned about T's schooling and had no intention of making a huge fuss everyone started apologizing all over the place and said to come back like everyone else the week before school starts to find out what time her first class will start, what section she will be in, and due to the lateness, which foreign language french or spanish she will take along with which instrument for music. I was so flustered afterward that I confided in the women who work in the security/secretarial office at the school entrance. They were thrilled that we are from NY and promised they would look after T as if she were their own. I ran to the post office with F to pay the voluntary (absolutely required) school fee of 27 euro and then to grab her codice fiscale and photos for their records. I brought T with me to meet the italian women I now call her fairy godmothers Sig.ras Claudia, Marta and Amalia.

6. An italian woman Carolina and her American husband Martin run this bohemian chic furnishings store and her son will be at T's school. She told me that the secret to buying the text books is to go to the video dvd counter at the supermarket and give the list of books along with a strawberry discount card and then you can get 15% discount. I mean I can't make this stuff up. How would I have ever even formulated that question. Is there a way to get discounted text books at the supermarket if I go to the video section? Even sober I can't imagine it.

7. If you thought F used to freak out about having eight boxes of cereal in the house from the CO-OP at all times, you should see him on Saturday morning when he knows that at 1 PM all the stores will close down until Monday afternoon!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Tyranny of the Ring Road
It sounds a bit operatic, but today as I took the long march out to buy a fotobox, I was struck by how much more of a barrier the road which encircles Lucca is, than the literal wall around the city. Having grown up in Los Angeles, it is not as though the number of cars is startling, nor the bleakness of some small sections that express a ghastly homage to Valley stripmalls, but it is the aggression of the cars, the speed and claim to the space that they exert that is unpleasant and irritating.

I thought it was all balanced out by my finding a bike that was being thrown out, but a stop at the bike repair shop where I was told that to fix it would cost as much as buying a new one by two men with cigarettes glued to their lower lips disappointed the promise of good karma.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cani e Gatti

It rained buckets yesterday! Torrential thunderstorms that shook the house (and drizzled slightly around one of the skylights). Now the cobblestones are gleaming and the sky is an intense, freshly washed celeste.

This morning we are mopping the floors, trying to make them gleam as well for our housewarming tomorrow (in Italian it translates as the mouthful festa per inaugurare la casa).

We have invited everyone who has been nice to us (plus now wandering minstrels, seriously), so it is hard to know who will actually come. But whomever does, they will have lemon cake and chocolate cake and the late addition of a cheese plate as they admire the first pass of designing our new home.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


I tower over everybody in the immigration office at the Questura--the local police precinct.When I get to the front of the line, the kind man behind the window raises the venetian blind extra high and makes a joke about it in Italian--speaking too fast for me to get the precise meaning--which brings down the house, since everyone very subtly listens to all that is going on.

Everyone is calm and quiet, most actually seem to have come either on their way to or from work and clearly are used to the random and inexhaustible complexity of the Italian Bureaucracy. The one thing that sets me apart, I realize after a bit, is that I am the one person in the room who has come to Italy to make LESS money...

Friday, July 23, 2010

The best way I can explain life in Lucca is that it is like a royal family has abdicated and left you the castle and the food supply, but a bureaucratic insurgency has taken over and everyone you need help from is either played by Mr. Bean or Lilly Tomlin when she has had not had enough sleep.

The castle B is a fun place, and the landlord loved our painting of the Buddha in the living room--which was a tremendous relief.

We went to the middle school and they said to come back the week before school to find out which of the sections A through I is for T. There are 25 kids in a class. We got a book list, but it is fairly specific and so we have to wait for the class assignment. Luckily, they don't have any summer homework. School won't start until the 15th of september.

We are planning a housewarming party in two weeks and T made the invitations. That should be a story.

It is hot hot hot here, record breaking over a hundred and I wear a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses and come home kind of dazed after a bit. I don't know if it is our fitflops or the fact that all of the ground surfaces here resemble that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but all three of us have developed quite the calf muscles.

I want in my next life to come back as a crumb in a rustic biscotto we found because I could happily live my whole life inside that cookie. T wants to reincarnate as gelato in a medio cono and F will probably be a very colorful vegetable.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

La Seconda Settimana
Well, this has been some week.

I got strep throat and had to figure out how to get medicine. Everyone here goes to the pronto soccorso (emergency room)—even for regular doctor appointments. You can even make an appointment to GO to the emergency room. I went to triage early Saturday morning and F stayed home with T who I didn't want exposed to anything. There was only one emergency case for the whole time I was there and they categorized patients with different color papers and numbers which you could view on a TV screen to know how many cases of each level of urgency were ahead of you.

I kept repeating “quattrocentoquattordici” in my head so I would know when my number was called.

One of the triage doctors was really rude and told the other nurse that I was a rich American and probably thought I didn't have to wait like everyone else and then she mocked me for avoiding the handle of the triage room with my bare hand because I had forgotten the Purell. The doctor in the emergency room checked me for two seconds and gave me an appointment for an hour later with an ear, nose, throat specialist upstairs and he gave me an antibiotic without even doing a strep test. I paid at a little office upstairs and a nurse ran after me saying that the 52 euros I had paid was a rip off and that she wanted to figure out how I could pay less.

In the end, due to our foreigner status, it was resolved that the sum was correct (but I knew it would cost six times as much in NY). Anyway after three days I could swallow and talk again and then my stomach finally could take food again.

On the way back from the emergency room I have to admit that I went to Lucca's antique fair in the piazzas near the house and negotiated a deal for two gorgeous living room chairs before I took to my bed. T got a charm bracelet that she just loves. I am paying/bribing her to speak Italian every day until school starts so she can afford these bejeweled trinkets.

T spends hours on Skype (pronounced “sky-pee”) with her friend S everyday—playing video games, surfing fashion sites and creating their own blog SparkleGirl which we hope you will become a follower of as it is critical for their success.

Today she went to an aqua park with F to do high dives and slide down all the slides while I went to the Patronato to the immigrant aid people who said that the letter we got from the Chamber of Commerce should satisfy the questura (police station) and that F needs to bring it in tomorrow. Then hopefully he will get his nulla osta and come back to NY for his visa. We are looking to see what T and I need to do after that because there may be a loophole through which we could avoid having to go back to the Consulate, but we don't know.

The downstairs neighbors are really nice and they took T swimming and to a dinner at the grandma's house. T came home and said now that was some Italian food, implying that we have been depriving her in some way now that she had tasted the genuine article.

F has been working on stuff for Phoenix House and for Fattoria Colleverde and is loving not having to take the subway anymore. We heard a whole concert of Paolo Nutini clear as day from our bedroom window last night and he was good, unlike Crosby, Stills, & Nash who limped in here last week.

That's all for now!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

We arrived in Lucca just as the summer music festival was about to start. The lineup has been quite a mixed bag, from ZZ Top to Paolo Nutini (playing right this second and he sounds fantastic), but the one performer who got the crowd up and singing along to every word is Eros Ramazzotti. Three decades of topping the charts in Italian and Spanish firmly establish his heart-throbbyness and a catalog that had the crowd at his fingertips.

Fuoco nel Fuoco

Eros Ramazzotti feat. Ricky Martin--Non Siamo Soli

His website

Buy Eros Ramazzotti on Amazon

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Siamo Arrivati

Backtracking to K's description of our first days...

Hi Peoples!

We made it!

F was a super hero as he had to carry 9 suitcases weighing 70 lbs. each and two cats around the Pisa airport and then (surprise:(!) on a bus to the rental car office and from the car to the new house.

Our interior clocks are very confused and we have not slept too much.  We were right about the house though.  It is so luxurious and beautiful.

The second day, we spent six crazy hours at Ikea and are still up to our eyeballs in instructions and little metal doohickeys.

The food has been fabulous. We went to the fruit and vegetable market and F made pasta with fried zucchini blossoms and sweet onions that was dreamy. Last night it was homemade eggplant parmagiano made from these eggplants that are bright magenta colored beauties and beautiful tiny tomatoes that melt on the tongue.

We got Italian cell phones for here (buy the phone at the supermarket and the SIM card at a different store around the corner--this will be a common theme). We have not figured out how to get internet service in the house (it's a long story) but our neighbors let us steal their password for service in the building. T is thrilled that there is a little girl and boy downstairs that she might  be able to babysit.

Our legal status is messy at best. We have a meeting early Monday morning to discuss our stay permit which we have an eight day deadline to apply for with the police station.

It is quieter than expected, maybe due to national mourning for the world cup. Even though we live above a restaurant they close at 11 and the church bells don't really get roaring until around 9:30 AM on Sunday. The most noisy thing are the Italian pigeons who seem to be much more vociferous than their American cousins and might possibly be singing operas from our roof.  Our kitties were silent and stunned on the voyage. Tivoli loves the new place, but Mango seems to have a little kitty post traumatic stress disorder.  It will probably get better over time, but the dog on the balcony across the piazza is not helping much.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Siamo Arrivati
When you arrive at the Pisa Airport and you want to drive to Lucca, one word of caution--don't follow the big blue signs that say "LUCCA." Go the opposite direction, unless you want to have a long and confusing drive with multiple stops to ask for assistance, turn around in the middle of traffic, and see a good deal of lovely Tuscan countryside interspersed with the Italian version of strip malls and suburban apartment blocks.

Especially not recommended to do this in a giant (for Italy) 9-person Fiat Peoplemover with nine enormous suitcases, two cats, a spouse, and a daughter all of whom have had about three hours of sleep and extended months of anxiety about moving, visas, jobs, language, ad infinitem...

But then finally after winding through the hills, you come to the train crossing just outside the Stazione and watch the donne ride up to the barrier on their biciclette balancing two big shopping bags in the baskets and you realize that you have done it--said "Arrivederci Brooklyn!" and made the great crazy leap into the unknown that you have dreamed about for three years!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Chamber of Commerce of Lucca

In the end it was the Camera di Commercio di Lucca that dashed our hopes of ever getting the visa before we had to leave New York.  We didn't want to change our airline ticket with the -for the first time ever- First Class tickets that would enable us to bring the cats with us and nine suitcases instead of six.  Plus T needed time to learn the language before her new school would start in September.

The first problem was that we had mistakenly asked to open a travel website which you can't do without having a license and eight years of schooling behind you.  The second problem was that when we wanted to open a business as a website design firm, we were the first ever to do so, and so they had no earthly idea how much it would cost to start that kind of business. And Italy, being Italy, they needed every signed document and bank account number showing that we had the resources to start this specific kind of business.  Ironically it costs about zero dollars to start this kind of business, but that is another story.

So we went visa-less to our flight and worried our pretty little heads that we might have to find a cat sitter to stay at our new home while we drove across the boarder to renew our travel visa status after three months in Slovenia if the visa situation never got worked out.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No in any romance language is still NO
So we finally got a solid answer today--it was, "No."

The Vice-Consul called K at home.  It was at that moment that for K all words of Italian ceased to exist and so embarrassingly the Vice-Consul immediately switched to English to deliver the news. No way were we getting a residential visa, but maybe we could start from scratch and try for a self employment visa. It would be much easier, she implied. Yeah, but wasn't that the visa with the full length declaration of independence looking poster at the consulate with a thousand pre-requisites including a whole host of dealings with the Italian Chamber of Commerce.  Much easier, she said, we will help you in any way we can. And then she hung up on K.

So F went out from work and paced up and down 74th St. calling back the Vice-Consul. His choice was to play it as an opportunity and say, "Thank you so much for offering to help us get the self-employment visa! Who should we work with at the Consulate? And can I have their direct line and email please?" The lucky winner at the Consulate is the slightly scary Supervisor from visit number two.

Once F hangs up, his next call is to Faith (seriously), a fashion designer who he had met in his last job doing a charity fashion show to benefit supportive housing. Faith and her sister had lived for years in Firenze and at one point had mentioned their travails with immigration issues. They had ended up setting up a company and employing themselves which seems like a fairly circular process, but if it works, than that is the route we will take.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Help from Unlikely Places
For ten years, F ran New York's largest mobile soup kitchen for the Coalition for the Homeless. Serving as many as a thousand meals every night of the year, the program is staffed by volunteers from every walk of life in NYC. Three of his volunteers were Italians working at the UN, so he wrote to each of them and asked if they might know anyone in government who could help us out.

Francesca P is currently posted to the Democratic Republic of the Congo--officially the deadliest place on earth. Despite this heavy weight (or perhaps as a welcome break from it), she writes right back and says that she knows a former Consul who is now an Ambassador who will make some calls for us.

Piero, our friend who runs Fattoria Colleverde, also has a friend who is the Italian ambassador to a Scandinavian country and she puts in a call for us to the Consulate, as well.

We also reach out to a fellow Park Slope parent who works for the City Council, a member of which gave Tatia a trip to City Hall based on her prize winning essay on environmental friendliness, she puts us in touch with a lovely woman in the new New York Senator's office. From her we get a letter of support that is also put to the attention of the Consulate.

Oh and we're not done. We also find out that the head of the Italian school where F & T are taking classes has a daughter who goes to school with the daughter of the Vice Consul and she puts in a word for us.

Our close friend Maria Grazia knows another editor at America Oggi and also asks around for us.

We giggle naughtily to think how freaked out they must be at the Consulate by now.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Even though K is the one who speaks Italian, F is perhaps more inquisitive in poking around in the Italian plumbing. He found a very interesting column in Il Messaggero called I Nuovi Italiani/The New Italians, written by Corrado Giustiniani and then tracked down his email address and wrote to him in appalling Italian.

Corrado was extraordinarily kind and wrote right back and said he would ask around to see if he could be of any help to us. He got back to us within a day, saying that he had talked to somebody in an arts group which is brought to Italy all the time by the Consulate and that it definitely was possible to get that kind of visa.  So, in a way, Corrado is the reason why we didn't give up.  It takes some guts to write about immigrants in a country as conflicted about the issue as Italy.  He even had his daughter write some e-mails back and forth with T replete with emoticons of smiley faces, which is somehow very reassuring.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Power of the Press
Having attended NYU Social Work School and having worked for the Coalition for the Homeless, where K resorted to putting on different accents to call and re-call the same welfare department employees to get checks for her clients, K picked up a very specific and twisted skill set. Who knew that this skill set would include remembering that two years before at T's Tae Kwon Do studio, she had met an American woman who had married an Italian man, both of whose children were friends of an English transfer classmate of T's? The Italian man had politely offered his assistance if we ever ran into problems getting our visa and he just happened to be the editor of  the America Oggi newspaper. America Oggi happens to be the American branch of La Repubblica which happens to be the journal of choice for the hardened workers of the Italian Consulate of New York as they sip their morning espresso, puff their cigarettes, and go for a 87 mile run to burn off any calories that would prohibit them from fitting into their Dolce & Gabbana size 0 turtlenecks.
F had a very nice conversation with this fellow dad who was very compassionate about our situation. He published a letter that K wrote in English and in grammatically horrendous Italian about how we just wanted to move to a place where family is a fundamental value and bring all our savings to invest into the country of our dreams and about how horrible it was when F was not allowed in with us for our appointment and held back by the guards etc. etc. He published this letter to the editor with a photo of the three of us in Lucca when we first came here to renew our wedding vows when T was four years old. It was a dicey thing to do; would it shame the officials into taking pity on us or would it make them hate us even more?  The photo was taken at our now dear friends Piero and Francesca's agriturismo called Fattoria Colleverde in Matraia. Of course we came back every vacation for the next six years and K would cry every time we left as if she were leaving home instead of leaving to go back home.

The next thing we knew, we were getting a call from the Italian Consulate of NY.