Thursday, June 30, 2011

It was not a wonderful, wonderful book,
 but it was a wonderful, wonderful night.
Un Giorno: my first Book Club meeting
One day I went to the English Book Club Meeting at the Hotel Universo and we had to read One Day by David Nicholls. It started out great, the book I mean. Like the newbie that I am, I eagerly downloaded it from and started reading, happy that it fit my winnie-the-pooh criteria of being a story that ostensibly could be about me. But I then started hating it and had to force myself to finish.

For several days I tried to think of positive things I could say about the book which is a manipulative saga about a relationship as it evolves over the years between a real wanker of a good looking English guy with holes where his soul should have been and a less posh girl with self esteem issues who makes horrible, masochistic choices, but not in the extreme way that I did at that age, and then gets killed off three quarters of the way through. Oh sorry, little spoiler alert there.

Anyway, a whopping twenty five people came to this Book Club meeting and so I felt a little intimidated, a feeling which should have made me quieter than usual and more reserved, but, sadly, it did not. We had to go around the table and introduce ourselves and I said something incomprehensible about middle school and fleas, you know my life, and I forgot to say where I was from. Good start. I mean all we had to say was our names and where we were from and why we were there. How did I mess that up? Other people were adorable and a bunch of them had the kind of English accent that makes you love them instantly. But I am from Flushing, Queens so mostly I have always started out from the position: Gosh, I hope people will be kind and overlook stuff.

The one time I had got a small role in a school play, I developed what I like to call an Elvis twitch whereby my upper lip curled and uncurled on its own accord and I had to cover my face with my hair for the rest of the play. While I prayed that Elvis had left the building, and hoped someone would pass the wine, I tried to remember this whole theory I had come up with based on this thing the Tommy Hilfiger twins gave me called the Celestine Prophecy so that I could say something about the book. In essence it was supposed to be this:

"Childhood traumas block our ability to fully experience the mystical. All humans, because of their upbringing, tend toward one of four control dramas:
  • Intimidators steal energy from others by threat.
  • Interrogators steal it by judging and questioning.
  • Aloof people attract attention (and energy) to themselves by playing coy.
  • Poor me's make us feel guilty and responsible for them.
Become aware of the family dynamics that created your control drama and you can focus on your essential question, which is how to make of your life a higher- level synthesis of your parents' lives".

I figured if nothing else I could understand the novel based on how the protagonists' family problems made them become a wanker and a door-mat. But I forgot the fourth out of the four dramas and the people who loved the book were understandably a bit taken back by my whole hatred of it. Luckily my side of the table did not, overall, like the book. I think of those wry, dark, twinkly eyed pessimists as My People.  In the end on a score from one to ten, people gave the book a 6. I gave it a 3. A bunch of happy people on the other side of the table gave it 8s and 9s.  They had cute accents mostly.

The book for August is Like Water for Chocolate and I figure I can redeem myself by taking the suggestion of making one of the recipes from the book and bringing the dish to the next meeting. SIgh! So in summary, not only do all of the expats in Lucca speak better Italian than I; they speak better English too.

 Chiara & slide buddy & T

La piscina
In Italy most every woman wears a bikini no matter what their age or girth.  And that is why my middle saw the light of day after about ten years in hiding. They will probably let us know on the evening news if it saw its shadow thus forcing us to hibernate for a long winter. T favors the pool at Casina Rossa where there is also a giant slide and a diving board.  We went with our friends Paola, Chiara, Elisa and Lorenzo and everyone had a great old time.  Even the frowning waitress from the restaurant we have still never dined at downstairs from our house seemed to have a good time.  She was with her fidanzato, and I think she accidentally smiled once or twice. But not at me.

T & Chiara again,  oh and that is F, thinking he is shorter than he is in real life.

The other fabulous thing that I can tell you that is so uber Italian is that you have to pay more to sit in the sunny terrace and bake yourself to crispy bits than you do to sit under the umbrellas in the shade.

Here is the slide in action:

Oh bikinis make us giddy:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Luca, Lucca

Remember when F had that crazy idea to give the baker, Luca, his gorgonzola bread? Well, today we were invited for lunch at his house. That is good Karma, bimba. This is how it happened: We invited him and his family to lunch. They were probably a little afraid of what people from Brooklyn cook for Sunday lunch so they counter-invited us, but said they were busy going hiking this weekend. Then he said if you're not doing anything come with us on the hike. We said yes, but then they said they were really going hiking next weekend instead because there was a fishing competition. Or so F thinks. We never know really what people are saying down to the particulars which makes life quite the little adventure.  So then they just invited us to lunch today and hiking next week. Or so F thought. The upshot is -- I had no idea what to wear. Should I wear fishing gear, hiking clothes, or a Sunday lunch outfit? Should I wear heels or sneakers? And how did they take the embarrassing after thought SMS/text mentioning that we were vegetarians? Do they wish they never met us or was it fine? Fun times in the car on the way there, I assure you.

Luca is one of the owners of Giusti bakery, where great bread is born every day except Sunday when we search the man down at his home, a quanto pare.  Giusti was on the cover of Travel & Leisure magazine last summer and so some tourists continue to get Luca's autograph and mailed him copies of their pictures with him. His wife Monica and I became instant friends; and his sons Tommaso and Filippo were so kind to us even though we basically were surprise guests who they met at their table when they stumbled downstairs after sleeping late like teenage boys tend to do.

Before lunch, they took us to see what for you Brooklyn people is a glorified stoop or yard sale, but what is for the Italians a newly accepted practice of selling your old stuff to your neighbors.  We are big fans of someone's old junk is someone else's treasure, but historically the Italians have considered this behavior to be in poor taste.  Only in these times of recycling and community building has the mayor given his okay to hold sale events in Capannori.  Here amidst the cianfrusaglie or tchotchkes were some truly interesting historical items like antique wash basins, and really beautifully made carpentry tools or this metal bird cage looking thing that they used to put hot irons in to keep the beds warm.
T and Monica at the community yard sale

Monica bought T a beautiful handmade beaded bracelet thus winning her a fashionable friend for life. And I came home with an appointment to do a Bioenergy treatment on  Monica's father who is having lung troubles. When we  go hiking in the mountain with them next Sunday and so it will be a different kind of July 4th weekend then we were maybe used to in New York-- not that we were the big barbecue in the non existent back yard type of folks because we are, if you know us, chomp on veggie burgers while watching reality tv shows kind of folks, but still . . .

Luca and K

In the little park by their house we came across some folks fishing and a funny little dog who wanted to get into the act. See for yourself:

This cat was not in the show, but you get the idea. It was very meow/miu.
DANZA, Lucchese style
At first I thought 19 euro a ticket was a bit steep for a dance school end of the year performance.  But this is Lucca, baby. So of course the show took place at Teatro del Giglio which is gorgeous and luxurious and pristine in its cleanliness. Then there was the fact there were 22 numbers not counting the final bow segment that went kinda long. There were no photos allowed in the theater so you are going to have to use the Kodak in your minds.

For me the standouts of the night were the mambo routine where only one brave boy wearing a panama hat had to dance with his eight year old or so female companion with a crew of girls surrounding them.  This little boy could shake his shake-a shake-a and roll his shoulders while keeping time with the music, so take that!  Then T's friend Caoimhe's mother surprised me by coming out in a drop dead belly dancing costume with the jewels and trust me when I tell you that a lot of wives were elbowing their husbands and helping them to close their open jaws.

There were also acting scenes that, strangely enough, had nothing to do with dance.  There was one family confrontation scene about a widow and her scandalous love which was introduced by Pink Floyd's The Wall.  A bizarre choice of entrance music, I thought, but I also want to cry and beat my breast when forced to listen to that song so I could identify with the lead actress completely.

There was a scene from Riccardo III which was also very well acted, but I don't know why they stuck it in between the dance numbers. Then there were the little teeny tiny ballerinas in their teal tutus who were constantly either hamming it up for their grandmas who gasped bellina, bellina in throaty smoking grandma voices from all around the theater or looking behind the curtains for clues from their teachers about what to do next.

Oh, tesoro, we are only up to seven euros. There was a lot more to come! There was a contemporary dance number that could well have been called Girl Interrupted and took place in an insane asylum where one Wynona Ryder looking girl pulled out her eyelashes, another got electro shock therapy, and a third just rocked and rocked. It was good, though. But a bit jarring after the little bellina tutu girls.

T's friends Greta and Caoimhe danced a jubilant festive ballet number wearing kind of peasant girl frocks and looking very full of light and joy. We clapped our hands off for that and for little sister Lia's jazz number.  And then Caoimhe's mother Lisa came back and did a bollywood number that was also worthy of So You Think You Can Dance type recognition.

Of course no Italian evening of the arts is complete with not one, but two number from the musical Cats. You have not heard the song Memories until you hear it sung with all the heart and extra syllables that an Italian woman can bring to it.

The highlight was perhaps the hip hop number.  Now I know I am biased because you know how I love me some hip hop, but T and I were doubled over laughing when the sweet threesome of tweens came out and the music started just raining F#$%  bombs on us slowly and then faster and faster.  We laughed harder and harder as they added mother-F#$%er to the mix and then other really vulgar words that no one should ever say. We laughed until tears started coming out when it dawned on us that we were two of three people in the audience who seemed to have any clue what the music was saying.

T was determined to give her handmade cards to her friends even though it was almost midnight when act one was over, and we had to get up early the next morning.  It turned out act two was only one number called Andata e Ritorno so how long could it take, right? Well it was a reprise of every number of the entire first act. Wait for it. It started with the Shakespearean actor's monologue of a homeless man and turned into contemporary dancers doing a number with cardboard that they were ostensibly sleeping under and that turned into a train station with you guessed it little girls in teal tutus who happened to be going somewhere like on a school trip with Caoimhe and then the traditional peasant girls stopped by and were joined by the belly dancers and some screaming widows and the rest of the cast. At the end everybody did the Can-Can dance and we clapped until our hands bled.

Now that folks is what you get in Lucca for 19 euros a seat. Worth every spicciolo, I tell you.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

This, for no reason, is Pieraccioni the great Tuscan film director who is making a commedy in Lucca as I write.
CDMAL Rocks!

CDMAL stands for Cittidini del Mondo a Lucca which means citizens of the world in Lucca. I am so happy I could cry. I am also tipsy, so don't take me too seriously. I have finally found an expat group that appreciates Lucca but feel empowered enough to bitch about Italy; and the women know how to drink a cocktail, speak about art and politics, are totally bilingual and know the ropes a lot better than I do.  You don't understand how cool this is.  I went to an expat meeting once where all of the negative nellies talked about how they couldn't wait to get back across the pond; I went to a different expat meeting where a guy with crazy eyes gave me the creeps; and now I have finally found a group that has deciphered CODE Lucca and know all the stuff that I have always wanted to know.  I get misty eyed when I think about all of the concerts and Campari and gallery openings and cosmopolitan dish I have missed out on up until now.

Highlights: The sister- in-law of the Tommy Hilfiger twins showed up and cautioned me about moving too fast with our new business venture and about trying to use these kinds of groups as some kind of business platform, both of which are certainly sage advice.  I liked her; she was straight forward and honest.  She used to be the president of this group, but now has so many exciting work challenges developing these IT ready pre fab accomodations that she doesn't have time.  I don't know what I just said either if I'm being honest, but I just drank a white wine and a Campari on an empty stomach.
Anyway, she had to step down and now this woman who leads the Music Together groups of Lucca is in charge.  We fled the pre-school Music Together groups in Park Slope because T when she was two had a really hard time being forced to give up the shake-a shake-a eggs by a militant overall wearing hippie named Chava who was otherwise nice and earth-mothery but who insisted upon the prompt return of these attractive props. The shake-a shake-a eggs are blue plastic filled with organic plastic rice or something that fit neatly into a toddler's palm and can be used as a percussion instrument, but they are as addictive as baby crack and we had to leave the group in disgrace.  Thus T continues to struggle in music class. Damn you shake-a shake-a eggs! But anyway in Lucca they are much more humane about this practice. She used to be an opera singer and she knows everyone who I would ever want to know and she speaks Italian the way I don't even dare to dream of speaking it ten years from now. And her favorite bar is right across the piazza from me which means that when no one else more exciting than me is available, she just might invite me for a coffee.

This, for no reason, is Amy Winehouse.  Anyone shocked that she  canceled her concert in Lucca? Even in the publicity poster you can practically see the several pairs of hands that are holding her up for the photo. . . Sadly, she was the only artist in the summer festival that I was tempted to spend big euros for a ticket on. . . since I can hear all the concerts from my bathroom window.

Back to CDMAL: There is an elegant English woman who runs a book club and seems to know how to enjoy life a lot better than I do. And that is why, friends, I am going to read the whole book on Kindle tonight and possibly even find crib notes just so I can go to the book club discussion on Wednesday.

Speaking of books, there was this woman who is half from Florence and half from New York and she speaks both languages with the perfect native inflections.  She gave me a book from this shelf in the lounge of the Hotel Universo, where we had even more drinks. She made something called a Book Crossing where you can take a book, give the desk guy the code for it, and then when you are done leave it on a train or something so that it can be tracked along its journey from one mind to the next. I've been trying to tell you how cool Lucca is, but that there is proof. She has a white, scruffy terrier who is also bilingual. My favorite moment is when she had to pretend not to be laughing at a joke so that she could scold him with an authoritative Caesar the Dog Whisperer tone of voice. She is definitely BFF material because I can tell you right now that no matter how raw I can be, none of it would scare her. Not one little bit.

Now if I can just sell something we have in the apartment to come up with the 49 euro it costs to join, we are golden. . .
This, for no reason, is Elisabetta Canalis. Finally, Elisabetta is mine, I tell you, all mine -- K

Friday, June 24, 2011

Life's a Spiaggia 
Yay, now that we finally have a car, we get to go to the good beaches like Marina di Vecchiano, Baratti, or Rosignano instead of cheezy Viareggio, where the people are super nice but the public beach is a tiny sliver and there is no sense paying for a private cabana thingy when none of us actually ever sit down. . .

I couldn't believe my luck when Dottoressa Elvira at the Farmacia gave us a complimentary beach towel this morning. I actually went to buy Dramamine for T. She hardly ever takes those car sickness pills, but if I don't show her the box she gets anxious. It's like when F hasn't eaten for 45 minutes. . .  or when I realize that just because the wave isn't going over F's head doesn't mean it isn't going to knock me out. 

The big news of the day was when T &  F saw an older  couple really making out and really going at it in the water.  F said it was nice that people in their late sixties were still so passionate, and T said that they were in their eighties if they were a day and that she saw the lady get out of the water and pick up her walker afterwards. God bless 'em.

This post is brought to you by talcum powder which turns out to really get all the sand off you before you get back in the car. Who knew?
This dog stayed put, was affectionate and didn't yip, complain or beg for food. In essence, it made T look bad. (just kidding)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ahime'/ Awww shucks
Summer is supposed to be relaxing, right? Well not so much yesterday--

For starters, yesterday we had to go to the dentist, a schlep on the train to Prato, ten or so uncomfortable minutes in the chair covered in crazy explosions of powdered Italian tooth scrub, but wow! afterwards your teeth are cleaner than 45 minutes of gentle scraping by a gentle trained American dental hygienist. So we're on our way out the door and as we pass the bike rack, there is T's lock on the ground, but no sign of her bike. Then as we walk through Piazza Grande, leaning against the Palazzo Ducale is her sweet little bicycle completely destroyed, as are several others in the vicinity. On our way back from the dentist's on the train, we get a call from the Apple store saying that our brand new MacBook which developed a hairline crack across the trackpad would not be covered by the warranty, so that will be €60 to replace, or in that inimitable brand of Italian customer service you have to come get it immediately. As I (F) have demonstrated before, this kind of response sends me into ear-steaming rage, so I channeled my inner Ghandi and called Apple in California where I very patiently explained that it was impossible to reach the Italian Apple support and the helpful, cheery Cali peeps couldn't believe it. So after an hour where four different helpful people searched and searched, astounded that there is only one number in Italy--that normal people can't call. End result-- nothing, actually.

So T and I march off, first to the bike store where they tell us that it may be a total loss and then to the Mac repair shop where the cranky technician tells us, "Well they said no. So that's that." T does a great job as my interpreter, patiently outlining that we have been talking to California--you know, where they were invented (her touch). Eventually, she talks us into getting to talk to the other guy, the nice one, who calls the Italian Apple support with his special magical phone. When he finally reaches a human, there clearly have been transatlantic communications of the highest order, and they are instantly on high alert and want to authorize the repair, but there is only one person in all of Europe who can authorize it and he's in Ireland and there is a two to three hour wait to talk to him. So T and I wander off to play pallavolo and then my phone rings and it is Flora from Apple Italia, apologizing profusely, who gives me her personal phone number and email in case there ever is any other problem.  She lets me know that the computer is being repaired as we speak. So score one small victory for international customer service, and as T noted, name dropping.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Just when you thought things were getting weird 
Things just got weirder. Let me start with the non-weird thing. Today Greta and T made another cooking segment for the blog.  The end result was the best chocolate cake I have ever ever evah had in my entire 41 years of life. And based on their segment I am going to go ahead and guess that their great success was a total accident.  I am going to have to try very hard not to sneak into the kitchen when everyone else is sleeping to have my way with it.

Now here's some stuff that is just so mega weird that I don't know how to explain it in a narrative. I may just make a list with bullet marks and have it translated from the original sanskrit. But here goes nothing. . .

After the odd experience I had with the Tommy Hilfiger twins (see earlier blog), an idea came to me: We should open a Healing Center here in Lucca where I could practice Bioenergy healing on larger groups of people. This idea is partly due to the fact that we we have been a lot of meeting people recently who all know each other who are interested in energy healing but lack a welcoming, tranquil spot to meet, study and relax in. If It doesn't work out, I may go back to teaching classes at a gym, but I kind of think that would be physically kind of rough on me and if we had our own place, I could teach there.

It turns out that my dear friend Massimo has a certificate for Bioenergy healing and is a tarot card reader (I had no idea); that the lady who sold me the chairs is a really accomplished yoga teacher who is looking to do more; and that there is a business association for expats in Lucca that meets every week across the piazza from our house.  So now we need to find the right space and the right clients and get the right kinds of documentation.

Today I went to see my friend Tiziana at the Luisa Spagnoli store, but she was at a runway show so her colleagues and I discussed the Bioenergy center idea and they told me not to call it a Benessere or wellbeing place because that is the word they use for beauty spas.

Then I went to see the erborista who advised me to form an association rather than requesting the partita iva number because it is more economical. I thanked her for the advice and she told me to say hi to her friend Angelo who I was about to see at his bar.

 Before I could really start talking with Angelo an elderly lady with a curved back came into the bar, and he had to leave me at the table to go wait on her. I thought she was very elegant and that she might not deign to speak to me. Instead she spoke to me for an hour and a half.  I understood every sixth word she said so what I think she said was that a whole lot of people in her family are now dead, but she has a daughter and grandchildren and some relative who calls her every evening and it rained last sunday when they were having dinner and she had to go without food for a heart exam she had yesterday and so now she was going to treat herself to a ham sandwich to which she kept adding copious amounts of salt, some of which she spit onto my black pants.

In the middle of it all Elisa, another of my clients who knows Angelo came in, and then the Tommy Hilfiger twins came in carrying a bag full of dvds and a 23 page xeroxed packet explaining what Diamond water is. Whatever it is, they gave me a massive jug of it. F had to carry it home for me because I could never have gotten it up our stairs.  At one point the old lady asked me why the strange Germans kept kissing me and there was nothing I could say in that moment to overcome how awkward it was. Then Angelo introduced me to a woman who practices Reiki, which she was taught by our friend Fabio who never told us about it.  After which Angelo had me speak on the phone with a friend of his who teaches meditation, which it turns out has been one of his goals for some time now.

Later I came to understand that some people believe that the diamond water is influenced by people's intentions and can help them realize their good intentions in real life.  So now that I think about it, it was a very sweet gift on behalf of the twins so double grazie to them.

Oh and I forgot to mention that when I was getting my hair done this morning, my friend Federica told me that she forgot to tell her mom that I would be treating her legs and for four days her mom kept feeling all this heat coming up her legs and thought there was something wrong with their couch; they had a big laugh about it afterwards. Plus today Federica's horse Yuma bit itself and needs stitches so she had to hurry up and finish my hair so she could run to meet the veterinarian at the stable. This is my way of explaining why I will soon be treating yet another horse with bioenergy. Tell me this is not weird stuff, people.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

 They have NY Times print inside; C'mon people give it up for
Shoe fetish
Sorry for the lateness of this post. Here is the promised photo of the on trend boots that T designed and had made for me from the ultra cool website  She is a fashion diva, aint she?
I'm not even making this up

Today I treated this guy named Angelo for his shoulder that has been frozen since about 1984. The treatment went well and he mentioned that he does meditation and has experience with other types of energy work including dowsing which he himself practices for people he knows well. He also mentioned that there is a community in Lucca that is very interested in this kind of study and practice and they are led by these German twins. We have seen these twins around, and, before we were formally introduced to them by F's friend Fabio (husband of my police woman friend, father of T's school friend, also known in this blog as F2), we called them Tommy Hilfiger and Tommy Hilfiger because they are identical and they look like the American designer. Angelo said that he knows Fabio too and he invited me for coffee at his nearby bar later in the week. This is great because I have been thinking about how to get to know this yoga, meditation, energy community better so that I can start working more.

After Angelo left and T and F were off to the swimming pool, I decided that I would like to give my grandfather's baseball mitt to someone who would appreciate it. I have other momentos of my grandfather and photos of him in the house and the mitt doesn't hold a lot of memories for me. Since today is the antique fair I thought I would give it to one of the vendors that I know.  On the way to the part of the piazza where T usually shops for vintage purses and jewelry, I saw that -- due to my desperately bad sense of direction -- I was going to pass right by the vendors who either tried to rip us off or who we shortchanged (I never knew which) because of a misunderstanding about the cost of these gorgeous chairs that we bought last summer. I thought if I just quickened my pace I could pass them by without incident. So awkward. But who do I see sitting in one of their chairs but one of the Tommy Hilfigers. He calls me over and hugs me and kisses me and hugs me again (he is a super touchy guy, they both are) and he introduces me to this couple as this angel who helps people and is good and kind etc. The woman looks at me like I am Baskin and Robbins' thirty-third flavor, but the man seems to remember me and eyes me suspiciously.

So what do I do? I start gabbing on about my grandfather's baseball mitt and one of the Tommy Hilfigers takes me over to a man who sells vintage sport equipment who is very, very happy to have the mitt and looks at me like he won the lottery.  On the way back to the rest of the group, Tommy number one gets a phone call from Fabio and I speak to his daughter who is in shock once she realizes who I am and the sheer coincidence of it all -- and she don't know the half of it.  So I pull the chair lady who still loves me aside and I explain to her that we already know each other and how we know each other.  Her face falls and she says in Italian something along the lines of, oh you are the golden chair lady who short changed us; we have told everyone about you.  I say, I know it was a terrible misunderstanding but I just treated your friend Angelo and as fate would have it I am going to pay you today.  She says she understood even then that it was half their fault for not explaining that the price they gave was for the deposit and not for the full price they wanted, and she is very very happy and starts kissing me on both cheeks.  We go back and her partner has no idea why I walked away with her and why she keeps kissing me.

When we get back one of the twins tells me that our friend Fabio who we know as a guardia di finanza is really a guru who can make people faint by touching them and that I don't do the real deal work which he believes to be the stuff that Richard Bartlett of the Matrix does.  He says that I only use energy for giving Bioenergy treatments. but Bartlett uses consciousness and then I pointed out that consciousness is energy and he looked a little stunned at me, like maybe I'm not as clueless as he thought.

Tommy one or two, I can't tell them apart, then pulls out a yellow canvas canister with white zippers that looks like a Martha Stewart for Kmart type of a number and tells me that inside is a glass tube that has all of these codes of the universe in it.  He says if you move the canister around six times in a circle it will open up this vortex and if I stand in the center of it I will be doing something good for mother earth.  I am not a rainbows and unicorns type of chick and I practice Bioenergy only because it healed my thyroid and because I have seen with my own eyes and had empirical proof that something is happening such as changes of body temperature, tremors, pins and needles etc. But I am not one to piss off mother nature.  So the chair lady made the circles and I stepped in the center thinking to myself that when I don't feel anything I am just going to tell them sorry I just don't feel anything when out of nowhere, I tell you, a bolt of lightening hit me in the chest and I fell out of the circle three times.  Each of the times a Hilfiger clone caught me and when they had me sit down and I was surprised to find that I was crying. So that was interesting.

Then my scientific friend Gabriella walked by and I introduced her around and thought I would walk off with her because I didn't know how else to end the weird day I was having. I walked off with her and she told me that those were some pretty weird folks I was hanging out with so I elected not to tell her that they had also had me hold up a cell phone that was channeling the voice of Kryon and that they had invited me to go to hear the Archangel speak tomorrow.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 16, 2004
Il Nostro Anniversario

Today we took Greta and her family up to Fattoria Colleverde in Matraia so that they could see our favorite place on planet earth. We went swimming in the pool and showed them where Piero makes the olive oil and the wine.  I myself could drink either one with a straw. We even ate lunch at the same restaurant where we had our wedding/vow renewal  supper at Osteria del Vecchio Pazzo and oh baby did we eat well. F and I snuck off for a quick kiss in the same spot where we said lo voglio back then; and I sure hope the tractor driver guy who was lingering by the plum trees had his eyes at least half way shut!  We had to get back right after lunch because I had energy clients today. One of them has had a shoulder injury since 1984 and I think it's going to be gone in three days the way things are heading. Happy Anniversary to him, I guess. Here is a photo from back then:

June 16, 2004

And here is a photo from today:

Thursday, June 16, 2011

La Pagella/ the report card
We are some proud parents. Today was report card day and like all bureaucratic endeavors it was a tad stressful.  While T was studying with one of her tutors at a cafe and hoping to get some of her ton of homework done before they go off for their vacations, we went to the school to get her final grades. We brought with us proof of our pre-paid contribution of 27 euro. It was the religion teacher who was doling out the papers and he told us he would like to have all of the students (meaningful look included) in his class, even though it is an optional class, and then he helped us to re-enroll T for next year's class 2-H.

This mom who is not a big fan of mine was the first in line and we were second. There is a verbal eye rolling that happens sometimes where an Italian mamma can make a sound in the back of their throat that turns the word ciao into hello there b*tch, wanna throw down? But I digress. The good thing was that I followed my instincts and waited for a friendly mom to finish her report card collecting who then mentioned that she was going to go down and get the book list for next year.  What book list? Nobody told me we had to get a book list. Oh okay I did get one of those bad boys last summer and then went on to have a heated discussion with the guy who turns out to be the only text book seller in town because I was mad that he said that her Spanish book was out of print and then sold it to three Italian mommas that had ordered it after I did.

The list wasn't quite ready so we had to wait a few minutes.  To be clear, no one would have stopped me from leaving without it. That is just part of the cat and mouse game for next year when I ask innocently if they need different books than they did this year and everyone starts yelling at me and barking out orders that I don't understand. But I thwarted them by being really annoying and hanging on to this nice lady's sleeve and doing everything she did.  For example, if she didn't ask if what the key in the back of the book list meant I would have been completely fritto/ screwed. Last year T was in class 1-H so I would have bought the books for 2-H, but if you look at the key on the second page in tiny print you would see that 1 in this case means classes taking place at the main building of the school and 2 stands for after-school classes. Thwarted again. I may have to take a pill, I thwarted so much.

Can you believe how smarty-pants and bilingual T turned out to be?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cut the Cord
T and Greta told me that they would write this post on their version of an Ellen Degeneres Show segment called Cut the Cord where she blindfolds guests and drops them slowly from a bungee cord every time they get an answer to a trivia question wrong. The loser ends up headfirst into a pile of cushions. The last one standing wins a prize. But then the girls, after having gone to bed ridiculously late last night, ditched me to go to Caoimhe's birthday party. Therefore, you will have to make do with my version, which, of course, will be less cool.

The question is not whether we can forgive T for not knowing that Andrew Cuomo is the governor of NY, but whether we can forgive F for standing on our only couch.

Summer homework/compito

If you are reading this outside of Italy, tell me if this amount of homework seems reasonable for an eleven year old about to enter seventh grade. I am in shock because I didn't even do this much work when I was in graduate school  . .  . . AND THIS IS ALL IN ITALIAN!

Read a novel from a list of choices and prepare to give an oral report on it.
Do four pages of math problems for 16 units of math which equals a total of 64 pages.
Write descriptions of 10 living things for science.
Read a segment of the Odyssey and rewrite it for modern times.
Write descriptions of a person, a family member, and a friend as they were taught to do in Italian.
Do dozens of Grammar exercises and review the concepts
Review the entire course of Tecnica which is a subject that deals with goods and industry and how things are made and draw dozens of geometric designs using a compass based on exacting instructions.
Read specific poems and answer questions about them.
Read specific myths and answer questions about them.
If you want to be in theater you also have to read A Midsummer Night's Dream (in Italian!)
Practice all of the songs they learned on the flute this year
Write ten verses in 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4
Review history of ; about 90 pages
Five different reading assignments from the Anthology book

I'm pretty sure I had no homework to do the summer after sixth grade. And after seventh grade I might have had to read a book over the summer and write an essay about what I did over summer vacation when I got back.

We tried to make a work calendar, but it got so complicated that I finally told T to just try to do an hour of work each day. But now I wonder if she will need to do two hours a day if we want to have at least a week with no work during the summer. And then I wonder how much of this is going to be checked and how much of this is designed to help her with the entrance exams that she has to take to prove that she remembers what she learned this year when she resumes her twelve subjects next year.  What do the Italian kids do? Some parents said they cram it all in the last two weeks of August. That may be an urban legend, though.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The bulletin board/L'albo
Today was the day when we thought we would find out T's grades. We had heard that they were posted on the bulletin board at school and that everyone would see everyone else's grades. I toyed with the idea of bringing a Budweiser Beer beach towel and lying out on the floor in front of the albo with a picnic basket and a boom box so I could bask in the Italian gossip machine known as Carducci middle school. Instead it turned out that they do the slightly more humane thing of posting everyone's name and the words ammesso or non-ammesso to indicate whether they have passed.  It is meant to be humiliating and it succeeds grandly. T passed with flying colors. Maybe I should have said that first. Didn't mean to worry you. Only one boy in her class did not pass and T said that he drew nasty pictures in his notebook and did not make any effort academically all year.  In fact only two students in her whole grade have to repeat the year. I don't know about your middle school years, but I would have to think long and hard about whether I'd rather give up a toe or two or repeat mine.

On Friday we have to go back to get a normal report card with her grades written in it on a scale of one  to 10 with five being a passing grade for each of her subjects, I think there are 13 subjects altogether if you count gym. The thing to worry about is that two kids from the second year who failed will be coming into her class next year and there is the possibility that they are going to be some tough personalites because if they didn't pass it could be because they are not respectful to the teachers or that they don't get enough support at home. But maybe they were just unlucky folks with huge hearts who T will enjoy, you never know.  There were several kids in her class who repeated this year and one or two of them T would have not missed a whole heck of a lot if they got left back again, if we're being honest.

Round and round we go
So after studying road signs non-stop for the weekend and today, I (F) went to the Autoscuola this afternoon where they welcomed me back joyously. And then when I said I was ready to take the driver's test for my Italian license, they seemed to say, "That's great. You're here on the day when the Doctor can sign off on you and then we finish your paperwork and you'll be all set!" So of course that involved another marca da bollo for €14.62, and another €29 for the doctor to take my eyeglasses and look through them???, and a zip back to the apartment on my bike to pick up the Carta d'Identit√† and the Permesso which I had conveniently left at home. Once that was done, they told me to come back at 19:30, so another mad dash home to study in hopes of passing the test on the first try and to inhale a cold pizza. Back at the school, more copies made and they say, "Okay, you're all set." So I look at them in my very best charming but blank and uncomprehending way, until finally they walk me into the classroom and point to the whiteboard on the wall with names and dates written on it. Finally it dawns on me, I just have to show up there every few days and see if my name is written there and whenever that happens, then I can take the test. When will I learn that you can't do anything in Italy on the first try? Remind me next time, will ya?
Wedges are my friend; 
or Expat lady talk; 
or I am so gossip deprived that I chatted for half an hour to a lady who was just trying to sell me some shoes and at one point she sighed and rolled her eyes
I hear they all have knee problems now . . .
The whole social scene from last week stressed me out to the point where my digestive system rebelled and I started detoxing some kind of hard little grain of sand size crystals from the pores of my face. No really, I did. And even though this is TMI of the worst degree, you can also know that it is not an attractive condition.  It is like teenage acne for a pre menopausal expat lady that leaves a lovely red scar and is completely due to the fact that I got overanxious.  Well, nothing like looking like an angst ridden pimply adolescent to make me want to obsess over my footwear.

I went to a friend's house the other day and she unveiled a closet wall of little custom made shoe compartments for her family's shoes.  She had so many different kinds just for herself that I fantasized about spending a whole day in her house playing dress-up and pretending that I was the kind of Sex and the City chick who coordinates bags and shoes with their outfits. I'm really not the type. I carry a "wristlet" purse (a purse with a wrist strap) for my keys, cash and credit card because shoulder bags hurt my back. For years I  made do with about five pairs: snow boots, rain boots, sandals, dress shoes that hurt too much to wear for more than ten seconds, and sneakers. In Brooklyn I wore sneakers all the time, even with skirts. I justified it somehow. I don't even remember what lie I told myself. Given the fact that I wasted a year when my back went out and two years when my knees went out, there were definitely times when I lost interest in anything but being pain free. Boring! Since we moved to the land where you are judged by your footwear, I have reconsidered everything.

In Italy where no one wears a bike helmet, everyone talks on their cell phone while they drive, and women wear stilettos on the ice while they drag their toddlers around the ice skating rink, there is a certain amount of throwing caution to the wind.  Mostly I am very against all of the above behaviors, but I do admit to having a low level jealousy for the hair tossing, high heeled, short skirted abandon of my new neighbors. Unfortunately, I have the kind of princess-and-the-pea feet whereby I can feel any type of possible itchy tag, scratch stitch, rubbing buckle and end up right away with blisters and cuts. To make things worse I pronate and have flat feet which I thought for years meant that I had to wear orthotics that of course change the fit of every shoe, making it impossible to find something that doesn't look like Nurse Jackie would make the rounds in them.

To review: An Italian woman in Lucca would not dream of wearing Reebock type sneakers if not inside the confines of the gym. Sneakers on the street are all Converse brand and often totally redone in leather. They even wear high heels while riding their bikes!

I thought I had found the holy grail of safe but attractive enough shoes when I discovered Fit flops which are a kind of flip flop that have sculptured soles with built in arch supports. I even brought extras with me when I moved, although it turns out they sell them here too. The advertisement for them says they make your thighs skinny because you have to use your leg muscles more when you walk in them. Me and my squibbly thighs can promise you that this is not the case. I was beyond happy to find out that they now come with gemstones and sequins attached, but T says that they are still old lady-ish. Italians love the shiny and add sequins to everything. There is not a cartoon character on earth that does not have a disco version of itself emblazoned on everything from (Tweety) panties to (Minnie Mouse) bath towels.

T's, new anklet sandals, F's new metrosexual sneakers, and my sparkly wedges!
Of course lots of tourists in Italy wear Fit flops or crunchy granola Birkenstocks or Teva trekking shoes. In my last three mile long walks around the wall of Lucca, the Fit flops revolted and started cutting up my feet. I guess I didn't wear them more than a few blocks when I was running errands in Park Slope. Even the "custom made" ballerinas that are really just run of the mill flats with a small leather arch support in them that my shoemaker ordered from a catalog, leave big red welts on my toes. How do you chic Parisians do the ballerinas without elastic straps? Mine would fall right off. And I feel every jut of the stone streets right through the soles. So I went out and bought a pair of high heeled wedges with a platform and they are the most comfortable thing in the whole world. Could it be that trying to find flat, practical shoes led me onto the wrong path? If you put this together with the fact that I now feel naked without jewelry in the summer, a scarf in the winter, and sunglasses most of the year, I think this place is rubbing off on me almost as much as my feet are rubbing off onto the cobblestones.
I had gelato for dinner; my parents are insane.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Doing our small part for global warming
It's been a long road, but we finally have an adorable little macchina/car. Like everything in Italy, it involved a gazillion people, a ream of paper, and a lot of money.

The short version of the story is that after F's trek around Montecatini on foot and around Lucca by bike, plus also our dalliance with the pirates, we got to use our favorite way of doing business here: name dropping.

It turns out that Paola's brother Carlo, who K had treated after his horrible motorscooter accident, has a boyhood friend named Francesco is an English speaking. So F went in and laid out all our options and Francesco ended up finding us a Nissan Micra that was three years newer and comes with a twelve month guarantee. It has air conditioning, a radio, and those nifty plastic wind deflectors on the windows like cabs used to all have in NYC. And in the land of €1.50 per liter ($8.40 per gallon) gasoline, it has the littlest engine that exists.

Now back to the grindstone to memorize all the nuances of the traffic signs--each of which are written differently on every version of the test with minor tricky twists of grammatical inflections just to screw you--so I can get  la patente di guida italiana! 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

We survived prima media!
Marisol, Greta, T, Chiara, & Aurora

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sorpresa, numero due!

On the other hand, if I had known that T was so easy to surprise, I might have done one of these surprise parties thingamajigs back in Brooklyn.  She is either super gullible or on a mega-growth spurt because when she saw F walk in the door an hour and a half late with five, count them cinque pizzas, all she had to say was, "Good your home -- I'm starving."

Of course we were joined shortly after by Greta and Caoimhe and their whole families for the Friday night surprise party because when the whole war of the worlds situation happened with planning the original surprise party, I didn't have the heart to tell our friends with three children a piece that we had to change the date at the last minute.  Therefore, a surprise party in two parts was the natural solution.  Besides T has a very different, but equally authentic, way of being with her two friends who are not in her class and who also speak English. The whole vibe of this night was really really different than it was on Wednesday night. Explaining it would be like trying to explain casual friday to Tim Gunn.

The pizza was cold,  we didn't have enough chairs  so the kids had to eat picnic style, and the entertainment, from what I can tell, was that all of the girls did a computer makeover on Greta's twin brother Julian. Meanwhile the littlest boy Roman was completely thrilled with just a balloon, given the fact that he had Caoimhe's very spirited little sister to make googly eyes at.  The kids were punchy with euphoria that school will be over for the summer at 12:30 tomorrow.

When the little ones started to get antsy, we all went out, some of us on bikes, to get gelato.  There is a flavor called After Eight that has large chocolate mint wafers inside the creamy cold goodness of the ice cream. And there is another flavor called sacher that is based on the apricot jam filled chocolate cakes with real chunks of candied apricot in the super thick chocolate ice cream. Seriously, I'm not even making that up.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Happy T with girls
Even though it was supposed to be a surprise party for T for finishing her first year of middle school in Italy, we had to arrive first at the restaurant because someone had to reserve the table. In fact I had billed it as a surprise for all of the girls since none of them knew that the others were going to be there. And so it was going to be a jacked up surprise any way you sliced it.  After my police officer friend and her family arrived it was still kind of a coincidence or koinkydink until the waiters started insisting that we change the seating of the restaurant to accommodate a table for 16 people. At that point the girls became suspicious.  Then finally the other two girls arrived and they were all pleasingly shocked in turn to find one another at the very same pizzeria on the very same night.

  As predicted, I hardly said three words the whole night and felt that I might fall in my plate with nervous exhaustion from what getting them all to the same place at the same time cost me. T's super amazing tutors came even though one had a stomach ache and they had to come in the rain and they waited outside for half an hour not realizing that we were inside.  T had fun. It was a bonding experience for the girls and for the families. I am pretty sure nobody hates my guts. So for me it was also a success.
Everyone having a good time. Even F who understood nothing.

Happy T with tutors

Me trying to understand Italian

Me not understanding Italian

Me fantasizing about Elisabetta Canalis

Me pretending I get the joke; how'd I do?

This story is for loyal readers, especially fellow mom blogger MJ. If it makes zero sense because you are new to these parts please know that my next post will be less cryptic, I promise.

Let's say that I am mother X. And there were these other mothers ABCDEG.  Let's leave F out of this. And one Saturday some weeks ago T was having a horrible time at the birthday party, which took place at mother A's house, partly because she was feeling nostalgic for a friend back in Brooklyn. After much agonizing,  I picked T up, not that night, but the following day because we didn't want to offend mother A or her offspring or classmates. However, when we did come three hours early, we ended up offending everyone. The birthday girl still refuses to look me in the eyes. Are you with me so far?

I attempted to recount that story of mother A to mother B in an exaggerated and funny way, kind of like Tina Fey in my imagination would. Big mistake. Mother B understandably misunderstood the story to mean that Americans do not like to host other children for long periods of time. She told this cultural novelty to mother C who is American but thought she might have missed the boat on this trendy trend of being an inhospitable boob. This explains why for months mothers B and C have not wanted to have their daughters hang out at my house and why T is constantly frustrated that the children of B and C are always together and she can never get enough time with either one. Culpa mia. Still with me?

Then I had the idea to plan the surprise party that T has always wanted in honor of her surviving and doing well in middle school this year with mothers A, B, C , D, E, and G. The invitations went out to B and C which were no problem because they speak English.  I asked Italian mother D first because she is closest to me. She was talking to her daughter while I was talking to her on her cell and she misheard the date that I wanted. She said, "Great, but you better talk to the others." Famous last words.

I held my breath with mother A  for obvious reasons, but she said yes and signed her text message with a kiss! Success! I held my breath with mothers E and G and they also said yes. I was euphoric. Things like this don't happen to me. Then when I reconfirmed with D, she said that I had told her the wrong date and that her daughter couldn't come after all. Ah yes, this is what happens to me. A familiar feeling of doom settled on my jaw muscles; it was accompanied by an increasingly rapid reprise of the Maroon 5 song misery, if you must know. For good measure she added that I would destroy her daughter's happiness if I went ahead and had this party without her daughter. Could I change the date? Daughter D was being honored by her old school and they can't do both events in one night. Of course not. I replied that I was too afraid to call the other Italian mothers A, E, and G. They finally were liking me. I sound like Sally Fields at the Oscars even to myself and that is pathetic. So I said if  she wanted to change the date fine, but I asked if she could call the other mothers. It wouldn't be as perfect as it would be on the last full day of school, but that's life. This is where my social anxiety went full blast and my Italian language skills kind of crashed and burned.

So for two full days and one sleepless night passed in which mother D was upset about the situation, I worried about what the heck I should do next. I did not want this to end in disaster so I reevaluated my stance on not calling A, E, and G and offered to do whatever necessary to make D happy because in the end that is what will make T happy and me happy. So D called E and A and I called G and everyone agreed on a new date. T will grill me on what letter was who but only after the event will have happened; and by then Mothergate will just be a really crappy Sunday that happened that one dark day in June. I know some of my French readers have young children and so you think that this could never happen to you, and, thank goodness, you are probably right because I have come down with a new syndrome: spastic expat. Watch out, though, because it is contagious.

Later mother G called after confirming that the new date was okay with her to say that it wasn't okay with her and could we move the date? I said NO, making me a complete hypocrite after saying that we had to move the date because we wanted everyone to be included, but I'll cook your family dinner. By I, I mean F, but you knew that, right? Anyway, she said okay but my husband can't come. I said, well you are still invited or I (F) can make you dinner when he can come. And she said: let's wait a few weeks. And I said fine because T was invited to a concert that same night. But the funniest part is that I bet that no one talks to me the whole night except for possibly, and not definitely, F, who thank god is nobody's mother.

It is possible that surprise parties are the worst idea ever. And to think . . . it was all my idea.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Pixie or Bust
T is like Madonna in that she likes to reinvent herself every six months.  Six months ago it was bangs; a year ago it was a blond stripe; before that she cut her hair into a chin length bob that then became an earlobe length bob that was not well thought out and was hence much bemoaned; before that she had pink stripes, after that blue, then purple. You get the idea. But when she said, Mom, I want a pixie, I heard myself saying no way. No way/non esiste was not a cool thing to say as it is her head not mine. On the other hand, it is my ears that have to hear her hating herself every hour of every day for months or even years afterwards if she doesn't like the new look. That is when I remembered where you can upload a photo of yourself in a new hairstyle (not a celebrity which we hate to say looks nothing like you dear --I am talking to myself here.)  So now even, a bad habit T and I can't shake, don't make us, has Taaz technology.  After seeing herself in a pixie, T came up with some other ideas.  Phhhew. So here she is now! Pretty cool, huh? A long brown bob with cherry red ends. We love it.

Emma Watson not so much
Michelle Williams even less

Carey Mulligan we beg to disagree
more like this!

It's not funny, is it?
Yup it's funny!