Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Switching Houses and the pinwheel of doom
I cannot explain what a silly, silly . . . okay neurotic person I am.  I have sent myself into a spiral of nuttiness with all of this house switching hysteria. If you remember, we left off this saga of summer planning with the fact that we could not afford to keep up with all of our friends here who go to the Amalfi Coast, Sardinia, or Sicily in the summer to get to the sea.  Many of them have had summer homes for generations and thus avoid getting ripped off with the high season prices. It is swarming with tourists here in the summer, but it is a total ghost town in the city in August as far as local families with kids go. Last year when we first got here T was really wanting to be with people her age.

The problem is that I hate rejecting people, I am more come on Oprah-let's-give-everyone-a-brand-new-car, but we have received like six offers a day from all over the world and there can only be one lucky winner. As with all courting experiences, there are some fun love letters you get in the process. Forgive us as F and I still can't speak grammatically correct Italian, although T this month has gone and become fluent, while we make fun of people's adorable stabs at English from their house switching ads:

Here People is fanny and very open. We like foreingners. You will feel as at home and realy enjoy a lot.
We wont to be in your home 2/3 weeks in August in de cases of Italy or Switzerland.  
Carmen is my wife 30 years ago, currently se is a house wife. Se is very sensitive, likes sports, the beauty, enjoy de little things of life and take care of every one se loves.
 Then there was this gem:

We are looking for a tiddy and clean house. We use to travel with our maid so we will keep your house perfectly clean and tiddy too.

And this which makes no sense to me in French or in English:

Children have left home.
We are a couple still in operation, company and having a nice chat: Bamboo.

Les enfants ont quitté le nid familial.
Nous sommes un couple encore en activité, et ayant pour compagnie un gentil chat : Bambou.

In case you ever want to switch houses I advise this:
1. Check Ryanair for where they go and for how much, FIRST.
2. Check to see how many children the people have who want to come to your house.
3. Check to see if they have flea ridden cats who will hate you and demand you feed them.

The worst part of the whole process is that, inevitably, in the end you have to court two final contestants in some wacky let me date your house kind of a way, and in the very end you have to rather suddenly let somebody go.  This happened to us with us and Paco and Pepe.  For most of the week I had no idea which house belonged to which Spanish P named person. Let me back up and say for most of the last week I was sure we were going to Ireland, but then when Meg and her cute red haired freckled family didn't get right back to us about whether she could switch her dates because really we want out in August and not in July, I got that sinking we're about to be dumped feeling.  I told her she was our number one choice, but that we had other offers  -- the truth this time, unlike when I said things like this and I was dating people and not houses.  I told her we needed to have a final decision Monday, which was yesterday.  And sure enough we got dumped. The main reason I wanted to go to Ireland in the summer was to buy great quality cheap back to school clothes for T.  Otherwise I would be happy to go another time of year.  So then when we started to feel a nibble on the line from two Spanish families I started to think-- tapas!

So Pepe's family had a house on the coast of Spain with super low airfares -- we're talking less than forty euro one way.  His home is huge, but he has two younger children and at the end mentioned they might want to bring their auntie as a babysitter. We already are lacking a couch bed as we prefer a mattress on the floor to having that inevitable metal rod that breaks your spleen open in the night.  We would then buy another mattress for the auntie if she didn't mind sleeping Japanese style.  They had a very large house filled with brightly colored plastic toys and we have a huge for NY standards, medium for most people, house that has lots of sharp corners and stairs and low ceilings on the second floor, in other words a head bonker for small children.  But they also live in an area where although the beach itself is narrow, you can always find a private one, even in high season.

Paco's family consists of two practically grown children and their apartment building has a huge pool and a wide white sand beach with the tranquil turquoise water that everyone dreams about.  Their actual apartment is small and cozy-ish, but it has two bedrooms and looks fine. They will probably get a kick out of our house, as if it is not a total rental, that is decorated a little more fancy like and enjoy the city stuff Lucca has to offer.  Both Paco and Pepe were cool with a car exchange, but the pirates are not returning our calls so we have to start all over again with that.

Then there was the whole should we invite a friend for T situation.  In the final analysis I finally knew that as much as I'd like to think that the daily hormone(mine?hers?) driven bickering between T and myself will suddenly stop magically when school is over, a part of me knows better.  She would no doubt have more fun with someone her age.  So after I extended the invitation to Greta's parents, I got more and more nervous as the day went on.  It is a huge thing to lend your kid out for two weeks when it is the end of your time as a family in Italy, in their case.  I knew it would not be an easy sell.  On the other hand, Greta's other good friend besides us is also switching homes for the summer and she would have the same lack of girl problem that T would have hanging out here.  Her twin brother has some great guy friends now who live outside the walls and a little brother to play with. And her family doesn't have a car either.  So a part of me was hanging on against hope because I know the girls will have a kick butt time in Spain, but I had tears in my eyes when we got confirmation that it was all going to work out. Thanks Greta's people.

So after I got this settled you would think that I would get some sleep, but you'd be wrong. Of course we still have the car, the air tickets, the directions in Spanish, the renewing of our documents here in July, and the yearly call my landlord wants me to make to the heater mechanic whose number is supposedly lightly etched in the heater somehow that I can't bring myself to look for.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tanti Auguri Mario
Today we went to Mario's 80th birthday party.  He is the grandpa of T's friend Chiara. Even F was full after lunch, which never happens.  Before lunch he got a lesson on how to make T's favorite potatoes from Chiara's grandma. That was cute. The secret is coating the potatoes well in olive oil before putting them in the oven with rosemary, garlic, and salt at a high temperature instead of frying them.  We also got to see the slide show of their trip to Africa in 1971.  Afterwards we went to Chiara's other grandparents house in the country and played ball and ate gelato and homemade biscotti. Basically we are taking advantage of any sort of family reunion we can swing an invitation to so we can get fed. (We are such scroungers, in fact, that we didn't even get a photo of the birthday boy or either of the gorgeous grannies.)  Another great Sunday and the time flew. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wheels and steals
Even though the last time we had a car it ended in a high speed police chase, we are going ahead and doing our bit for global warming. Acting on the assumption that pregnant women are more honest than used car dealers, we went to meet Patrizia, who is either pregnant with her fourth child or just had her fourth child, and her used 2004 Hyndai Getz that she assures us is in perfect condition with the only flaw being that it won't hold their soon to be six person family. She wants 2500 euro for it and that's non-negotiable. Since it is Saturday and we are battered by bureaucracy we have accepted the fact that we would never find a mechanic to look at it today anyway.  We were thinking to just take the car and get a guarantee, how you enforce it F did not explain to me, that if something major goes wrong before say October they pay for half of the repairs.

And no, if you are wondering, F still hasn't taken the written exam for his Italian driver's license because those meanies have made the test so difficult that you need an advanced degree in Italian grammar and psychology to pass that mother.

So we meet Patrizia and she calls to say she'll be ten minutes late because the baby was napping. She says she has an eight year old girl and two or three four year-olds. She knows which. I am unsure. She arrives with her very short and slender husband who is wearing a kind of army fatigue ensemble. The whole effect came off a little like characters out of Pirates of the Caribbean minus the parrot. I kept repeating an Oprah-like mantra about not judging people by their dentistry, but there were some other danger signs too.

Patrizia had told me that the car, which I have to say is immaculate, was in perfect condition. Now she is saying that she had 500 euros worth of work done on the car a month ago and she showed me the papers to prove it, but she did not have the car belt changed which must be done every 100,000 kilometers and there are now 130,000 km on the car. The fact that she didn't give me all the facts made me say that we would still be interested only if the Hyundai distributor backs up her 200 euro estimate for the cost of the repair and that it could be done in a timely way. F, I want you all to know, was ready to buy the car as is. I knew I would have to confess this whole episode to you and did not want thousands of comments calling me a rube, so I am being a bit more prudent even though I know nothing about cars, including how to drive one. On the other hand she was honest about the fact that she broke the automatic locker gadget and a screw is missing in the trunk shelf and she did tell us sooner than later about the work that needs to be done. If it is not done in time they say it can cost you 1000 euros instead of 200. Now I am wondering if we do have room to bargain down from the sales price for the price of the repair.

Anyway we determine that I will stand and chat with her while the men go for a drive. I had a brief flash of F not coming back, but anyhoo. So Patrizia and I talked about kids and short skirts and that she is a part time cook at an old age home and that her husband is some kind of construction worker. She asked me about our apartment and how much we pay for it and she said that the driver's test is really hard even for Italians. And I kinda liked her, but business is business and so we determined to meet again on Tuesday, if this other family doesn't take the car at 5:00 today. Stay tuned I guess.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Our To Do (over) list

Today F went to buy us a car.  He took the train to the next town of Montecatini because he saw on the internet that several good used car candidates were available at a particular dealership.  Sadly, he forgot to calculate the distance from the train station to the car dealership (26 min. by foot according to Google maps) or take a hint from the fact that they never returned his e-mail inquiry. In short, we fell for the old Italian website trick AGAIN. Come to think of it, if these websites actually worked and were used properly, F would have many jobs designing them.  Instead none of the cars really existed in real life and F endured a lot of hot train travel for nothing.

After doing Bioenergy for several clients today I went to go get the blood test results of the new erborista and thank goodness they all looked normal, but when health expert Jim Sparandeo looked at them for us he saw something that the hospital had missed. My new erborista was all dried up. She was the most dehydrated person he had ever seen and when I asked her how much water she drank she responded that she hardly drank any at all EVER. Well that will make you tired and cranky so now she has promised to drink a lot of water and some magnesium and B12 as well and that also explains why the bioenergy didn't have an immediate effect because it doesn't make a person magically drink water. Mystery solved. Thank you Dr. House/Jim. P.S. her thyroid may also have been out of wack but we will never know since I treated her for that before she got the tests done.

T also had a do over because the Italian Grammar test that she studied so hard with Chiara and Paola for (thank you Paola) and then got an 8 and a half out of ten on, was just another of her Italian professor's trick tests and in fact her good grade may not count at all towards her final report card; instead she will have to do it over tomorrow.  Perhaps Prof. has not seen what this week's bizarre jungle hot temperatures will do to an already overwrought pre-teen girl at the end of her first year of middle school, but the last thing we needed around here was a fake test, I tell you. Well, the second to last thing.

The last thing we needed was this assignment by her art Professor to copy every line and every word of three pages of the text book, including a couple of intricate illustrations of some Greek temples, and then color it in, using tracing paper and also (one would have to conclude) your parents. And if that were to have happened to be the case, didn't F and I and Greta's brother Julian do a great job?

Oh and before I forget, did I tell you that we finally took Fergal and Lisa's advice and signed up on one of those sites where you can exchange houses with another family and get a much cheaper vacation out of the deal? I was skeptical at first, but since we put up photos of the house we have got dozens of offers to stay at really beautiful beach locations in Ireland, Spain, France, Greece, Australia and some poor dears from the U.S. and Canada that think we would want to go there when we can be somewhere so fab in under two hours. After the gross "unhygenic-ness" of the place we rented in Paris, I am feeling a bit more adventurous. So if you see pictures of our house on someone else's expat blog, don't freak? It's cool they have permission. I hope the Irish family makes the deal with us because Fergal says that Irish people love the heat in the summer after all of the humidity of Ireland and so we won't feel guilty letting them broil here while we go stay by the seaside for a bit.

P.S. In the end, T only got a 7 out of 10 on the tracing job because it was done in pencil and it was supposed to be done in marker. I didn't have the balls to complain for obvious reasons. ARGH!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Even More Great News
My autistic client was able to write the letters of the alphabet in school for the first time ever today from just hearing their names.  In the past he had to see a letter and be reminded how to form it with the pencil.  Today he connected the name of several different letters like  L,M,N,O,P and was able to form them completely on his own. His teacher was in a state of shock as was the family.  I couldn't be happier and can't wait to do today's session.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Noah's Ark, 2.0
We learned a few lessons about water balloons yesterday:

Lesson one--water balloons bigger than your head are brilliant in theory, but not so much an indoor sport.

Lesson two--water balloons bigger than your head hold an awful lot of water.

Lesson three--the parental strategy of running in and saying "Be careful with those water balloons!!!" can be slightly counterproductive.

Lesson four--the parental strategy of collapsing in laughter at the ensuing and contemporaneous reenactment of the flooding of the Mississippi river is exclusively enjoyed by fathers (though after he rolls up his pant legs and starts mopping, it does then seem pretty funny.)

Lesson five--once proved that water balloons bigger than your head are a bad idea, don't then put six of them in a bag and drag them through the apartment.

Lesson six--surprisingly, two head-sized water balloons will survive a ride across town in a bicycle basket.

Lesson seven--other families may find it odd that you are bringing their children home un po' bagnato/sopping wet and that you have brought head-sized water balloons with you that you are proceeding to toss back and forth in front of their house.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Professoressa T

Today T finally earned her supper helping her friends nicknamed Ginny and Kiki study for their upcoming English test. If you had told me a year ago that we would ever get to this point, I would have said you were completely pazzo/crazy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Great Great News
Today I found out that T's friend's little brother who has autism has begun speaking since receiving Bioenergy treatments from us.  He receives other kinds of treatments as well so I want to be clear that we don't claim anything. But all that matters is that he told his dad to get up and get him some chocolate! I am really thrilled and can't wait to start the new series of treatments. And as a compliment his mother told us that when she met us she really (ho) scoperto l'America/discovered America which has a double meaning of got lucky and that she discovered us Americans. So nice and such great, great news.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Say Cheese!
Only in Italy . . .
. . . can you find a cheese throwing contest. Uh-huh. And Greta and I had that fascinating experience today. Have you ever seen doughy, old, half naked men roll giant blocks of pecorino as far as possible? No? Lucky for you we are reporting on it! Actually Mom bribed us, but that's not the point. It turned out it was actually cool. The men wrapped rope around the cheese and then flung it. We were in danger of being knocked out by formaggio more than once. The cheese was actually hard enough for them to crack hazelnuts with. So we sat back with our Sprite and chips. On the sidelines we met an American couple and their son who have lived in Cinque Terre for three years and a French family that speak great English. At the end we ate the dented cheese. Yum! Check out our footage:

Mille Grazie to T and Greta for your great reporting on this important event.  When I got the e-mail from the Meet Up Group, I knew it was a not-to-be-missed event. But then I had to sweat off my hangover from last night's dancing with Charlie's Italian Angels. In essence, I resorted to bribing the girls to go so that I could take a nap.

Where did it go?
Here is some of the e-mail. Thanks for the info, Marlene!

On Sunday 22 May in Lucca there’s a wonderful opportunity to witness one of Tuscany’s lesser known but most ancient sporting disciplines – cheese throwing. ‘Tiro della Forma’ is steeped in history, was practiced by the Etruscans (check out the 6th century Etruscan frescoes in the Tomba delle Olimpiadi in Tarquinia), and is still very popular today in the rural towns of the Garfagnana valley, just north of Lucca. On Sunday, the sporting association ‘Tiro della Forma Lucca-Garfagnana’ is holding its annual Doubles Trophy at its headquarters beside the Serchio river just outside Lucca.

So what is this cheese throwing all about? Throwing and rolling, and the cheese that travels furthest wins. Cheese throwers wrap a long strap around a whole ‘form’ of pecorino cheese (weighing between 3 and 30kg), and attach the free end of the strap to their wrist. There’s a run-up and a jump, launching the cheese and using the leather strap as it unwinds to ‘whip’ it and give it maximum momentum. The cheese hurtles off along a track that is anything between 200 and 300m long. It requires power, coordination, timing and technique to ensure that the cheese rolls fast and straight…and of course, some don’t. Broken cheeses are shared out amongst the spectators – at this event last year we were presented with a tray of hunks of pecorino to pass around, the remains of a cheese that had veered sadly ‘off-piste’ and collided with a tree. The cheese was delicious – and I was amused to notice some very well-dressed local ladies stuffing large chunks of it into their designer handbags.

I can't help it; these guys remind me of Twinkle-toes.
I hear there is an American lady who stayed home with a hangover.
Charlie's Angels are on the case!
Charlie's Angels Italian Style
I am the luckiest woman on earth. I got to go dancing in Viareggio with two gorgeous police officers who let me pretend to be Charlie's Angels with them.  I know Anna Maria, of course, because her daughter is in class with T and because, in the end, she gave us our permessi di soggiorno.  Anna's colleague Serena is intimidating, to say the least, when she is in uniform and on the job, but in person she really is an angel. Plus she fought over which one of us should be stuck being Kate Jackson/Sabrina, both of us proclaiming vehemently that the other deserved the part of Jaclyn Smith. So it was love at first sight.  She is a single mom of the three from Sicily and she is a really funny and a good story teller.  When Anna turned 40 they got tattoos together. They let me make lots of bad jokes all night about how we were going to thwart crime on our way to go dancing.  They were like. . . this is going to get old eventually, and I was like . . . no it's not.
Me practicing at home

When we got to the club they showed their badges and the bouncers kind of bounced out of our way.  No entrance fee for me, ragazzi. The night started out great because the dance floor wasn't too crowded and they were playing classic dance anthems by Aretha Franklin and ABBA and the Black Eyed Peas, but then as the night got on things got cornier and more electronic and my feet would not move another centimetro.  I resisted taking off my heels for the ballerinas in my purse and eventually they both took pity on me and asked if I was too tired to continue.  It was already 2:30 AM so I felt like it was okay to punk out. At one point, as a joke, I went to dance on top of a table and the other angels yelled at me and told me I wasn't allowed; but when I stepped down, I accidentally knocked the down all the plastic drink cups and made a mess.  They clucked their tongues in their cheeks and shook their heads at me, but I just shrugged. Americans can get away with a lot. Hee hee.
From the outside you can't tell how crazy it is inside.

Then a bachelor party of drunk sad sacks came over and made their move on the angels.  I got to tell the most obnoxious one that my friends were cops and that I was from NY so he was really sh#@t out of luck and he started mumbling a whole string of nonsense about how he had an important government job of some kind as he skulked off. It was awesome. Next time there will probably be some de-masking of bad guys and some playing tennis and not getting sweaty or pretending to be cheerleaders and exiting in helicopters. So I'll keep you posted.

It was a tad crowded.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A couple of buone azioni/ good deeds

After last night's festivities, I had less than satisfying sleep. I had a song stuck in my head that got faster and faster. Darn you Glee and all of your catchy dance numbers! And then the alarm went off half an hour early because I promised the new erboista/ herb store lady to take her to the hospital to get her blood tests done. I walked clear across town because I got the exits/porta confused. (The whole time there was a piece of leather from my new flip flops between my toes that made its annual voyage into my flesh, thus preparing my feet for summer. It happens every year no matter what. This is the first time I knew it was Spring the old fashioned way with birds chirping and flowers blooming; in NY I would just wait for the appearance of the Cadbury chocolate Easter egg commercial with the clucking bunnies.)

When we got to the hospital there was a line for blood tests that would have made you think that Lady Gaga was doing the summer festival -- instead we will get Joe Cocker (yes, he is still alive), James Blunt (oh joy!) and Elton John (he just wanted a free trip to Lucca.) There was a complicated litany of instructions whereby you wait in a room for your lucky lottery number to be called and then you go to window to pay and get empty test tubes and then you go to another room to have your blood drawn. My erboista was stressed that she wouldn't get to open her store in time, but she did in the end. I only hope now that she's four test tubes lighter of blood and one hundred euros lighter of medical bills, things will work out for her.  At the hospital, I learned that T was home with a stomach ache and that she wasn't going to school.  It turned out not to be anything serious but she looked like she really needed a day home from school.

Next I went to the hair salon and found out that my friend's mother with the brain cancer is doing much better after the Bioenergy treatments, but she is due to get more chemo on Monday and so then I will start another round. From there I went to meet another energy client, a young woman who I met through the erborista that got fired by the new erborista.  She came to me mostly with symptoms of depression and wanted to talk about it. I told her it was better not to talk to me at length during the treatments, but I offered to take a walk with her when the treatment was over and so today was the day.

She had just gotten through  telling me about all of these horrific relationships with family members and "friends" that are totally devoid of boundaries. Then in front of us appeared a beggar dressed as a clown, as happens here from time to time. Sometimes they look like ghostly nuns if they are women or sometimes strange mimes if they are men and at first I didn't understand if they had a cultural significance.  The one today was more clownish and he had on a floppy brown hat and tattered, funny clothes. I decided there was no way I was going to interact with him today because I was just not in the mood. He put his hat out to me and I said very clearly, "Non oggi/Not today." To make up for my rejection he put his lascivious eyes all over my client, up and down in the grossest of ways, and then grabbed her hand. He told her she was beautiful and that she should leave me and stay with him. She smiled, said a few words, and finally pulled away. I told her that we were literally just given a teaching example, and asked her if she could explain why he kept his distance from me, but was all over her.  In the end, I think she got the message, but If not, lord knows, I tried.

Then on the way back home finally, the old erborista called and said she wanted to give me a payment from the old lady that I call Mamma Lia with the vulva cancer who I thought based on our phone conversation was going to pay me by crocheting a cover for my bathroom toilet seat, but I must not have understood a word because she paid me the normal way. Then the erborista told me that her daughter is very ill and so really she came to ask me for treatments for her.

If all this was too heavy, let me lighten things up by saying that on the way to the hair salon my friend the bombshell police officer, the wife of Fabio from F's birthday party last night, called to invite me to go dancing with her on Saturday night. Stay tuned for that one cause there is no way that will not be blog-worthy.

This picture is not blurry. You are just drunk.
Happy Birthday F/ Tanti Auguri
Oh man did T and I have fun with this birthday.  We made our kinda shy guy F have a manly man gathering at the enoteca downstairs, Corte dei vini, with his F3 club (or as we sometimes call it: F cubed) including both Fergal (from Ireland originally, if you were wondering) and Fabio and also S for Stefano.  They came upstairs for a yummy chocolate sacher cake filled with apricot jam afterwards and some manly nighttime espresso, man how do they do that? I'm gonna be up all night from the sugar alone. The main point is this is proof that F has made real friends in Italy and as a group the F3S are all super cute. Judge for yourselves.

Conversation included a long discussion of golf which none of the 3FS play.  Stefano was very very sweet and slowed down his speech for the first 20 minutes before the other guys showed up so that F, for the first time ever, knew what the heck he was saying. F averted a friendship crisis right off the bat by making sure that Fergal's name was spelled correctly in his cell phone so that when Fergal borrowed it to call home to the girls he didn't see its prior spelling (yikes!).
I am F2.

Vivid description of Eurodisney.
The topics of the evening were in no particular order: everyone's daughters, genetically modified seeds, the cardboard tasting tomatoes of the USA, the lack of communication between the guardia di finanzia and the traffic cops next door, the wines of Lucca and the dependence of restaurants and bars on various state offices of which our F understood nulla.  Yeah sure it sounds kinda un-festive and lackluster to us but remember that everything is funner in Italian and also there was quite a bit of drinking involved. Then there was a lively discussion of how to survive Eurodisney and a week of French coffee .

It is cute when he talks with hand gestures.

But what the heck am I doing?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Holla at Me

As a quick follow-up, I had to show you this video from Happy Gym Palestra in Lucca. Last year there was an adult lady hip hop class that unfortunately is not currently available. I am sad as can be because, judging by this clip, those women are my people. If any of you, especially the brave soloist, read English, please send me a comment. Or as the kids (and also Chris Brown) say: Holla at me! It is good to know that those women exist even if I have no idea where to find them. It is hard to imagine where si sarebbero imbucate/ they have hidden themselves in this sleepy yet chic little neck of the woods.

Even I may not have been brave enough to have appeared in this number. Better start practicing my cartwheels!:

And this is . . . this is . . .wow.

In other news, today I finished treating the momma of Alessandro, the interior designer. She is the sweetest little lady ever on the planet.  I seriously hope the Bioenergy makes her feel like a million bucks! The way we were all sweating in my chilly front room, I have to think something big has changed for her. Aside from the fact that things have already changed for her.

Then there is the continuing saga of the new erborista/ herb store lady who came to me with depression that turned out to be very severe. She described having every symptom of thyroid disease based on my personal experience so I just wondered aloud if she had ever been tested because she was reminding me of myself back when with fatigue, dry skin and hair, irritability, weight and appetite changes, changes in body temperature etc. She decided to go to the doctor and have blood tests taken just in case, and so in a few days we will know what happened with that. I am not a doctor and certainly not capable of making a diagnosis so she did the right thing and went elsewhere to have tests done to see if her depression might have a physical component that then I would be happy to help her with.

Today looks to be a day of big happenings so I'll fill y'all in later. P.S. My lower back is still a little waka. A presto!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sooo NOT me.
Waka Waka 
Today I took a Zumba class at the Happy Gym Palestra. It was 45 minutes straight of Shakira's Waka Waka, including: butt slapping, that simultaneous rapid forward thrust of shoulders and pelvis that always looks kinda wrong to me, and unexplained football/Flashdance rapid runs on the toes that make all of my jiggly spots sing the Jello gelatin song. I thought it would be easier than signing up for a dance class, many of which have an end of the year show, heaven help me.  Enrolling in a real dance class is a big commitment. Plus, in Lucca, hip hop seems to really mean breakdancing, which in my case is a very literal translation in that it would break me into very small sharp pieces, some of which would jiggle in the remaining pools of jello like substance that inevitably surround them.

So F walked me the 17 minutes to the Happy Gym which doubles as a kiddie dance school during the day.  He left me at the door and into the capable hands of the nice desk people, which is always a good start.  Then I got a quick tour of the ladies changing room which was in bad shape, though it was cute to see the nice desk lady shove the towel paper on the floor into the basket behind her back while smiling grandly and making big distracting gestures with her free hand.  I was early so I sat on the bench outside one of two decent sized classrooms and witnessed the most boring, mechanical, military exercise class you would ever want to see. I had to get this nice girl Elena, who was also a newbie and more interested in Zumba than boring old counting and mat work, to validate my disdain for the earlier class and we soon became fast friends..

I can't say I was the oldest person in the class. And I really, really wanted to tell you that I was. That would have made me feel so much better. But I was like the second oldest woman and there was a very serious man around my age who seemed to take no joy in the Shakira-does-the-Macarena warm up or the butt slapping good time in the middle or even the constant jumping up and down coupled with pelvic thrusts at the end.  I grinned like a goon the whole time and winked at the teacher and tried to have as good a time as somebody with a charley horse cramp in their foot and a weird escalating ache through the left side of her groin can have.  And then at about minute forty I wealized that my waka had weft the building.

I will be sad if the choreography and the music are always the same, but if I can walk in two days from now I may come back.  At one point the teacher asked me to cavalcare the tappetino which I thought meant to straddle my mat, but I would be wrong. It meant to step over it, but I tried several other interesting things with the mat before I hit on that particular manouevre. I had to say I couldn't speak Italian that well and so she asked me where I was from.  When I said New York she started laughing until tears came out from the sheer shock of it.  Then when she figured out I really could speak Italian she gave me a squinty look like maybe all New Yorkers were big fat liars to boot. But I liked her a lot. And also I handed out the mats to my classmates at mat time so that they could see I am just a down-to-earth, maniacally grinning Shakira impersonator and not just some weirdo.

The stretching part is usually the part of the class where I wish I was the teacher again because all of these flexible instructor types inadvertently lull me into doing something impossibly stupid just because they are talking all soft and sexy like and playing slow music and buying me dinner.  Well maybe not dinner, but you know, dimming the lights and other such tricks. At the end of class, Elena and I high-fived and the one lady older than me folded my mat for me since by then I couldn't really get up so good . . . ain't I brave, though?
Watch your head! Attenzione alla testa!
We faced down the ugly topic of bike helmets this week. NO ONE WEARS THEM HERE.  It is largely a walking city, but streets are made of jagged cobblestones and there are still cars and motorcycles and scooters around with very narrow little sidewalks, if any.  Also people here have obviously not watched Oprah so they talk on their cell phones while they are driving, smoking, and tanning themselves into boot leather.

See T is a lawyer at heart and she almost got me with the argument that she is getting nasty comments and some ANNOYING and unwanted negative attention for wearing a helmet.  "What are you so worried about hitting your head for?" "If you don't like to ride, can I take your bike from you?" Cue the medieval cackling. And so that takes some of the joy out of riding for her. Other families who do think it is smart to wear a helmet, not to mention that it actually is a law here, albeit unenforced,  have caved under the social pressure. I wondered: Am I just being overly protective or NY neurotic or unreasonable?

But then F told me about this video on youtube where a kid has a terrible bike accident where there is no car involved at all.  It is so graphic that he couldn't even show it to T as a means of  explanation. Also he pointed out that he always wears a helmet because he doesn't want to become a vegetable just because on the way home from the supermarket somebody pulls into the wrong lane unexpectedly. Also Jim told me about somebody who flew over their handlebars and got up from the ground unhurt but with their helmet broken clean in half.

So even though I was considering just letting the poor kid ride through the town with the wind blowing in her hair, I just love her head too much to think about the possibility of it getting busted open just because I am worried about what some fun loving, but in the final analysis foolish people think.  I realize that the Lucchese way is very fatalistic and the thinking is whatever is going to happen is going to happen no matter what and that's life --so even tiny babies and toddlers ride on their parents laps without any helmets at all.  Some kids ride standing on their friends bike seats.  But F and T are my whole life and so I can't be lassez faire about them watching their heads. So that, my friends, is why T parks two blocks from school. But tomorrow she is going to wear her Heelys (sneakers with wheels in the heels which she glides around on expertly) and shut a few fat mouths right up.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Unexpected stuff
The one thing that you should know if you are ever considering making a major move from one country to another is that in the post 9/11 world no one really wants you to move so that the paper work will be the worst horror film of people in offices telling you no again and again that you could ever conjure up in the far reaches of your imagination.  But if you knew that already, maybe you know this other gem that I had no idea about.

T is, even for New York standards, a very sophisticated girl. I can't help that I got bored with the goo goo stuff after the first six months and started talking to her like she was about 40 from then on.  And I wasn't even 40 at that time.  So if I had to put it plainly I would say that the eleven year old girls in Lucca are roughly about where I was at when I was nine and T is about as savvy as I was when I was thirteen or fourteen or fifteen even.  Not in terms of girl-boy stuff, she is right where she should be, but in terms of everything else.  It is less of a Italy vs. America thing and more of a really slow moving small city vs. a huge cracked-out fast paced city that never sleeps and drinks red bull all night kind of a city.  She has more in common with the one American girl she met who is leaving in September and who is in all these photos that you've seen, but who she doesn't get to spend much time with since they are in different classes and have different schedules etc.

I had assumed, and everyone told me that T would be a star here. And in a way, she is. But not in the way we thought.  No one her age really cares that she is from NY; so that wasn't the key to instant popularity, as the principal had indicated to me it would be before school started.  Instead professors and other students are a little freaked out by how well she is doing in school compared to the Italian kids considering that she didn't speak the language in September.  It was disappointing to T that the girls here aren't into high fashion in that they don't know the designers or the trends of the season or what is happening on the runways and that they prefer Disney coated, color coordinated sweats to just about anything else. Also my fault. She is certainly the only one among them that voluntarily reads the NY Times or any other newspaper out of curiosity on a regular basis. That would be F's fault. And of course she can recite the dialogue from tv shows like Glee or Modern Family.  Yup, that's me again. We keep telling her that everyone will catch up, but that doesn't make things easier now. That's just suck-ish.

I want her to have a BFF so badly that I thought about moving again. To a bigger city or something. But then she would lose all the safety and independence and everything we've laid the foundation for here.  Here she can march around town the way I couldn't until I was 16 and sneaking around my neighborhood and several others. We would have the document nightmare start all over again and we could never find an apartment special in the way that this one is.  Plus we couldn't guarantee that things would be that much better because in middle school there is always the hidden bully like some video game component that jumps out at you and ends your game before you can even put your name on the high scorers list.  So what's worse: to be surrounded by girls you have more in common with but may be spoiled or mean or to be surrounded by girls who are loyal and mostly good-hearted but who don't get you yet?  F contends that even if there were nice girls who got her in NY we would all be in the rat race for finding her a high school in a way that we won't have to be here, although there are oral exams to contend with after middle school.

I didn't know about this at all and maybe it is a good thing that I didn't because T's happiness is the most important thing to me, more than my own at times --even thought I know that I have to be happy in order for her to be, and I don't know if I could have done all of this work if I had known that she would not have instant happiness here.  F points out that she will be bilingual and be able to work and live anywhere in Europe and have a top notch education and be an attractive candidate for acceptance and financial aid to the best American colleges. F points out that girls grow a lot, and quicker than boys, and sometimes over just one summer.  Now we are facing more than three months off from school. T doesn't want to sign up for summer camp and we don't have the cash to rent a beach house for the summer next to one of her friends.  We are trying for the used car so we can take her places. I know that in the end a BFF is not too much to ask for and that if there is any justice in the world one will butterfly out of a cocoon friend that she has now or from someone new.  But as the immediate gratification poster child from Park Slope via Flushing, I would say sooner rather than later would be preferable.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Check out the weird UFO looking cloud.
A Saturday night of parties, local legends, and possible future table dancing
T got invited to the birthday party of her friend Adriana's brother which was at a little house on the actual wall of Lucca.  It is called the Villaggio dei Fanciulli and although they usually they have activities and services for kids in need, you can also rent out a space for parties. I completely misunderstood Gabriella again, abbi pazienza con me amica mia, because I thought she said "no parents were to come," but really she meant that "no parents were to stay past the first two hours." Or something like that.

T was rather psyched to not have me or possibly any parents around, as you can well imagine. Although I accompanied her a mile or so around the wall from our house I made sure to lag behind by quite a bit at the end so that she could end up at the Villaggio alone. Imagine my surprise to bump into not only the parents of the festeggiante/party person, but also a long stream of other parents. So after helping Gabriella's husband Antonio to unload the car of food trays, I had to explain that I couldn't stay and took off to meet Federica and Marco and show them around Fattoria Colleverde and go back to the Osteria del Vecchio Pazzo for dinner. Gabrielle and also Lucia were poised to come pick T up at the end of the party and accompany her safely home, and we had several exchanges to verify said transportation of valuable child person, in case you were wondering.  In the end, T had a great time all though she wished that the boys had played a less violent game of calcio/soccer so that the girls could have joined in more.

Being up in the vineyards at Fattoria Colleverde is like getting drunk on beauty.  I don't think there is a more breathtaking spot on planet earth. So to see Federica and Marco whisper encouragingly to the wild horses and admire the villas and the lush panorama as much as we do, even though they live quite close to there, was fun and super satisfying. At one point I gestured excitedly to Marco and he tripped and fell backwards on the giant uber-friendly dog, Ciro, that hangs out up there. Luckily, both of them had a good laugh about it afterwards and Ciro followed us around for the rest of the tour.  Of course when my allergies kicked in with a wash of stinging eyes, burning throat and dry, hacking cough at four this morning, I thought to myself that I am a beauty addict in the extreme to be in that much denial about my body's reaction to pollen.
I love them! Plus they think I look like Eva Longoria.

Dinner got underway and after I explained as I hadn't so much reserved a table as much as hinted on Wednesday night that we might come back, but we got a big table upstairs anyway. There is a new waiter that is the kind of character you find in all the best comedy films who takes his job really seriously and who takes vegetarianism as a heady challenge and empty plates as total vindication. He brought out as part of the antipasto a kind of raw meat/carpaccio with two white, creamy scoops on it. What was it? Federica thought it must be mozzarella, but it wasn't.  Then she tried it and said it tasted like marscapone cheese and we had to try it. In the end it was a kind of gelato/ice cream flavored with sage. After the waiter told us what it was, he asked it we liked it. You have never seen a waiter look more relieved.

At one point Federica said she was watching Desperate Casalinghe/Housewives and Marco said that he thought I looked like Eva Longoria. I love these people. Then I made the comment that yes, I am very short. . . and Federica laughed. There is nothing more satisfying then getting somebody to laugh in another language, I tell you.

We chatted and planned great things to do together this summer including going to a restaurant where after dinner everyone goes and dances on the tables. My kind of place! After noticing an old photograph along the stairway as we were exiting the restaurant, they told a story about a street depicted in the photo where there used to be an old convent.  Apparently the nuns were very naughty back then and would run across the road to visit the priests and get jiggy with it! To this day, on that road, no matter how much wind blows, there is never so much as a leaf in the stripe that extends down the center of the road and all of the rocks in that stripe are deeply scratched. It is called the devil's road. Spooky!
This is a real place that you can visit. In real life.

Also they told about how when one of their horses gets sick, the next morning they find their horses tails which are always straight intricately braided. According to the legend there are this type of small dwarf or gnome like creature called a linchetto that comes and does this as a sign.  But both Marco and Federica have seen the braids with their own eyes and Federica said she had nothing against super short little men who braid horse hair, but given her druthers she prefers not to bump into one in real life. I had to agree.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A few notes from energy land
So I'm having another few weird days where I wake up and dash into getting ready mode and shooing/shouting T out of the house because 1) she is arguing with her Converse sneakers that have to be laced up just so 2) is arguing with her hair because it is fragile and likes to go up in spirals when you least expect it or 3) is arguing with us because why can't we keep track of her goniometro (otherwise known as that half circle thingy we call a protractor)?

Once I wash up and then clean the bathroom, just in case a non-family member wants to go in there, the new erborista/herb store lady who fought with, and fired, my friend the other new erborista who now opened an herb store in Pescia which is in direct competition with our old erboristas who dealt with our flea ridden cats, shows up looking rather depressed. If you have no idea what I am talking about it is a sign you need to push "older posts" at the bottom of the page because ours is an ongoing saga, baby.

Anyway my new erborista is probably mostly depressed about firing her dear colleague but I am not getting involved with that. I am just objectively wishing that she feels better for the amorphous thing that is bothering her once the Bioenergy treatments (see link under "non-profits--donate & learn" on the right) is over.  Then I do Bioenergy for my haircutter friend Sonia's mother with brain cancer and then for my other haircutter friend Federica's horse who has a knee problema.  At night I am doing energy for T's friend's autistic brother and for F who has eye swelling from his allergies.

So far the only person who has not gotten better after the treatments, as far as I know, is this guy Marco, the dry cleaner's son with the stomach valve problems. He did get better for a bit and then he had a motorcycle accident and so Jim Sparandeo or as he is known now to people here "a man like Dr. House (House, M.D.) from the television" is helping him with this one. We are waiting impatiently for celery seeds to arrive to Laura's erboristeria/herb store so we can see if an infusion will help.  I think he keeps putting himself back in a very high stress situation and that sometimes it is hard for Bioenergy to work if people keep doing the same old things that are causing the health problem in the first place. That's why I stopped teaching at the gym in Park Slope before I left, and poof no more back problems. But one out of twenty something is still pretty great, so I continue on.

Remember the candy store lady who I invited to dinner but cancelled at the last minute? Well she cancelled because she had to pick her boyfriend up at the train station. Now If I had known that she had a boyfriend of course I would have invited him. But I've come to find out that her boyfriend is none other than the Nicholas Cage double from the movie Moonstruck who works at our bakery. Awkward! So probably we will have to do a do-over for that invitation, but I think it will have to be after school is over because for now we are just focusing on getting T done with her first year of middle school and getting F to pass his driver's test so we can finally get a car.

Also all the great food in Paris caught up with my middle and so I am on the F diet. F serves me one small helping of the same delicious stuff he always cooked except now I don't eat any more after that. No more justifications a' la Winnie the Pooh for just a bit more this or that.  You know how after a sweet something it is time for something salty and vice versa until it is hard to get up?  Sounds simple, but as I watch T after dinner eat from the "chocolate jar" - don't tell me you don't have one in your pantry?- and all my little hormone charged cells start screaming "ME WANT COOKIE!!!" it is not really as easy as it sounds. I may write a book it is working out so well. Or maybe the lady at Max & Co. was just telling me I looked thinner because she wanted me to buy a skirt. . .

“When having a smackerel of something with a friend, don't eat so much that you get stuck in the doorway trying to get out.” - Winnie the Pooh. Wise advice, my furry little friend.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A mystery solved!!!!
 I love a lot of things about T's new school. I love that the subjects are thematically connected so you learn about the Middle Ages that means the art, the history, the geography, the literature, everything... I love that the kids tend to unite more against the teachers than against each other over all. I love that T has learned more this year than I learned my entire first year of college. But that said, to be fair, I was distracted that year. However, "well organized" is not a term that I would use to describe her new school and here is a little example why:

Do you want to know why T's American twin friends had to return to school several months after the principal of the middle school said that they could be home schooled? Oh I'll tell you why. Because the supposedly best English teacher at their middle school translated that they wanted to go "Home for School" not that they wanted to be "Home Schooled." So imagine the principal's surprise to find out that they've been walking the walls of the city reciting their times tables instead of inside her hallowed halls. Welcome to Italy, everyone. Those kids have been really, really brave. Imagine if your middle school experience was in another language you don't speak at all and after making the decision to be home schooled you had to return months later when the class was even more united and not used to you being there. The boy twin the other day actually won over the whole school with his comic drawing ability and has people paying him for his art. The girl twin is so supernaturally calm, cheerful and good looking that no one has even messed with her. I felt like I had three heads in middle school and I spoke the native tongue perfectly. Go figure!

These same kids were asked not to come to school tomorrow because it is State Testing day and the grades reflect teacher performance. Seriously. To all of Tatia's Italian teachers from NY and skype, you know who you were, blessings on every word you managed to get in her head before we got here. Especially thanks to Francesca Randazzo. T stole one of my Italian novels yesterday and has started reading it. Okay I am bribing her to read it. But still. . . I am proud.

Here are some pictures from the fondue restaurant in Paris that we forgot all about from the last night of our Easter vacation and some pretty pictures from today when we showed our new friends Abbe and Ed from Pennsylvania around Fattoria Colleverde (see link under faves) and San Frediano (my favorite church ever) and managed only to get photos of the church and not of any of us. Guess you guys have to come back for a second visit:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gotta love the Musica
Today we got invited to stop by T's school's outdoor concert in piazza della svizzera where her friend Adriana was playing clarinet. Much to my dismay the kids played not only the theme from the Godfather (AGAIN) but also all of the rest of the songs that the accordion player outside my house has ruined for me, if I didn't already detest them, which I did, including Memories from the musical Cats, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  The only good news is that they did not play George Michael's Careless Whisper which would have made me do something really impossibly inappropriate. It was a hundred degrees mid piazza so we did what the paler Italians did and took the chairs and moved them into the strips of shade along the perimeter.

My favorite moment of the whole concert is when this music teacher, I guess she was, walked across the piazza several times in the identical outfit to Olivia Newton John at the end of the movie Grease. It was an all black skin tight number that went off the shoulders and her bleached, permed blond hair was jauntily shaking as she shimmied by.  I kept waiting for her to burst out "Ooh honey, you're the one that I want, ooh ooh ooh." But my astute friend Gabriella pointed out that she wouldn't wear those red and white high-heeled polka dotted shoes with the bows on them even if she got paid to do so.  And then there was this pregnant pause and we both burst out laughing because she had to admit that she would, in fact, wear them if somebody paid her and they probably wouldn't even have to pay her that much. It was even funnier in Italian, credimi.

At the concert, I was reflecting on how different things feel after living here for almost a year, for example:
10.  T now corrects my Italian grammar.
9.  I no longer tip anyone for anything.
8.  F & I can't drink watered down coffee because it doesn't taste right if it doesn't wipe the plaque off your teeth.
7.  The same friends that we used to call to get T's homework assignments from every day, now call on T for help.
6.  I feel totally vulnerable without a scarf around my neck if it is even a little chilly.
5.  I judge people by their shoes and then I slap myself and then I stop.
4.  I can't listen to accordion music without becoming violent.
3.  T says things in English like, "I will make my homework and then go and see if works the computer."
2.  F wears form fitting purple pants and is proud of it.
1.  I never assume any bureaucratic task will get done in one go and, therefore, have come to think of my To Do list as a To Do Over list.

Don't forget to use your arrow keys to view the panorama!!! (Sorry about my tone, I just heard some accordion music.)

P.S. You can call me a shallow, vapid expat, but today a bunch of the sun spots on my face that I've had for years washed right off. I love intense pulsed light, really I do.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

La Festa della Mamma

Auguri and Happy Mother's Day a tutti! After a lovely breakfast in bed that consisted of an amuse bouche of raspberry pancakes and eggs benedict, T hopped under the canopy and gave me mother's day presents, or as they are known in these parts as pay back for having stolen a good quarter of my wardrobe and then having the audacity to look better in it than I do.  But it is a lovely little borsetta and F produced a spectacular tall bouquet of pink roses. He is a tall drink of water our F.

Right after breakfast we got a call from Anna Maria la bombshell poliziotta from Puglia and Fabio (from Milano) that they were going to Viareggio to have a walk on the lungomare with the girls Aurora and Erica and did we want to join them? I was a good girl, Dr. Pagni, and I covered up. I tried to trick myself into thinking that I looked mysterious in my floppy enormous straw hat and equally enormous shades, but judging my the stares I got from the already orange and bronze skinned bikini clad signorine on the beach, I may have only succeeded in looking pale. T had a great time with the girls eating the best pizza we've had yet in Italy at a place called Mare where in addition to a margherita pizza they offer vegetarians a kind of pizza with fried tomatoes, extra cheese and hot peppers that really does a passo doble in your mouth.  For dessert the girls had focaccia smothered in nutella, the chocolate hazelnut spread that is their peanut butter, and heated up until it's piping hot and melted.

After pranzo the girls went and got their leggings soaked in the sea as they splashed each other and collected shells. After that they had gelato and we browsed in the shops, surprising Anna with an early birthday present which made her giggle. We bought a bubble shooter for T in support of her building her babysitting business. It attracts little ones like baby crack, I tell you.

This is Erica, Aurora's little sister

One of Fabio's first assignments when he came to Lucca as an officer at the Guardia di Finanza (kind of a cross between the Secret Service and the IRS) was to go sotto copertino/undercover in Viareggio to catch the people working at the beaches who were in nero (basically not paying taxes). He is a very smart and spiffy dresser with a razor short haircut and excellent if somewhat stiff posture.  A cross between James Bond and Felix Unger with a little bit of Ricardo Montalban thrown in for good measure. So when he had to dress in bermuda shorts and a tee shirt and act relaxed and vacation-like as part of his sting operation it didn't surprise us to learn that the barista would lean across the counter and pronounce emphatically and without fail, "And here is your receipt, SIR."