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
joy

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.