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.