Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The day my boss turned purple

This morning I put on my fancy gym tee shirt, white capris and highest pair of heels and went cheerily to my meeting with my boss to find out about my new schedule for the Fall. At the last minute I decided not to bring a pen because I didn't want it to leak on my white outfit. Besides, they never say anything worth taking notes on anyway.

Pretty much the first thing that happened when I walked into the meeting was that my boss yelled at my for not bringing a pen and a pad. He said that they might at anytime ask me what was said at an earlier meeting and I should be able to refer to my notes. I just want to remind anyone reading this that I work at a gym. It is not like the memo on the McMorrison case is going to be lost when we go to trial next week. Anyway, he then went on to reprimand me for promoting my course and discrediting exercise methods that I believe cause the muscles to get overly built up on women who want to maintain a slender silhouette. The assistant of my boss pointed out that spinning class doesn't give you a fat ass. I was silent because that is exactly what spinning class does. It gives you a fat ass. She pointed out that the step teacher is very slender. I refrained from pointing out that just because she is genetically blessed and smokes continually; it doesn't mean she doesn't give all of her clients a fat ass.

The fat ass debate literally and figuratively behind us, the boss said I was about to be very happy because he had greatly increased my hours. Greatly, I would have to say, was an overstatement. I am going from five hours a week to eight hours a week. Nevertheless, it was an attractive schedule in that I would have a good and consistent array of time slots. The next piece of paper he put before me was full of numbers. He started speaking much quicker and mentioning the term tariffa. I asked a few questions before I came to the sad conclusion that he was planning to increase my hours, but reduce my salary. Then I kind of tuned out. While his lips were moving, I began to ask myself what the heck F, who was sitting in the car outside, would think about all this. I have wanted to quit for a while, but F thought it would be more prudent not to quit. Then again, he didn't have to wear white lycra while wearing a mask and carrying an enormous pipe in front of three thousand people in time with slow going gong music.

What I came out with was this elaborate story about how my husband was going to be very upset if I came out to the car with this contract that lowered my salary. I told them that I was about to ask for a raise because, in truth, I had considered that option, but had decided the day before to press for new equipment and to ask for the raise in six month's time. I said that my husband would say that I could get a job anywhere without an exclusive clause in my contract or even work as a personal trainer and earn more. My boss said that I had already tried in other smaller gyms and failed. I pointed out that I had improved since then. And failed is a bit harsh of an assesment at any rate. Lots of clients loved me from the beginning. He started calling me ungrateful and said that he had taken hours away from my (more) deserving coworkers and that if I was a better instructor, it was thanks to them. He said he was very annoyed/infastidito. Also he turned purple. His assistant began to mediate saying that if she understood me correctly I had only said that my husband might say these things not that I was saying these things. Then I turned to my boss and I said that he was clearly very upset so why didn't we take a breather for 24 hours or if he preferred I could just not sign the contract and we could leave things like that.

Then I got into the car to see if F really would have wanted me to sign the contract. He said I did the right thing and that I shouldn't take less than what I was earning before so now the ball is in their court.

This is from last Sunday when some of my clients from the fancy gym came over to eat muffins, look at the Victoria's Secret catalog and watch Michelle Phon's makeup videos on youtube.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Never in one go
If I had to give one single reason why not everyone in the world packs up their lives and moves to Tuscany, it would have to be that line at the post office to renew your permesso di soggiorno. Very helpfully, F explained to me that out of the two choices of postal workers that were available that day one was lovely and knew her stuff and the other one was a complete disaster. This upped my anxiety by a factor of twelve. The smart, efficient lady had neat red, curls and the disaster one had matted, wild black hair that made her look like Marcy from the Snoopy cartoons.And the other one looked like Sally, more or less.

We couldn't figure out the weird sign which explains which button you have to
push on the ticket machine to get your number.  We got the wrong one and the disaster lady sent us to get new tickets, one for each of us. That's okay, I consoled F, maybe we will get lucky and get the good lady next time. Fifteen minutes later the good lady took me and sent F to the disaster lady. The disaster lady had a panic attack because out of the hundreds of little boxes we filled out, we had left one blank. Then she threatened to make F refill his ticket because he had not written in capital letters. My nice lady told her to relax and that our print looks like their cursive because we are Americans, but it is still acceptable because we can't do any better. But she smiled nicely when she said it.

Then the moment I was dreading arrived where the computer generates an automatic ticket with our date to go to the police station. We are going on vacation mid-month, and I was worried that our appointment would just happen to fall during those ten days. And yup sure enough it is. Actually, it's even worse because F and I didn't even get appontments on the same day. Luckily, Anna Maria said we could go to the police station tomorrow and she will sort it out for us. The rule in Italy is you can never get your paperwork done in just one go.

Our next task was to go to the ASL which is the health office where we were supposed to renew our health cards. F led me up and over a series of stone steps and through a tunnel under the walls of the city for one of his famous short cuts. It was tricky to navigate in heels, but it was well worth it because when we got there it was all dark and locked up. This would have been worse had it happened to us in year one, but now I have numbers in my cell phone. So F and I did what we always do when we don't know what to do and we called Nazarena, our Italian teacher. Nazarena found out that the ASL is now inside the hospital of Lucca, where, it turns out, you need an appointment to renew your health cards. Both the permesso di soggiorno and the tessera sanitaria have deadlines by which they are no longer good and if you don't renew them before that date, you have to start the whole application process over again from the beginning. It is very Lucy and the football. Every time we go through this I think it will get done in one shot and then . . .

Friday, July 26, 2013

Publicity stunts, butterfly wings, and even more bureaucracy

When I don't even know which country I'm in when I wake up in the morning, it is still creepy to hear somebody playing the Godfather theme on the accordian outside my window. That's all I'm saying.

I continue to be one of those crazy Tracy Anderson groupies who hang on her every new instagram photo of her midsection, new detox shake or overpriced leggings because I then put it on Facebook as proof that my exercise class is the bomb and all of my Italian clients love it. I am an A+ student in that I do her muscular work up to three times a day, but I am lacking in the cardio department since I don't like all that jumping on the balls of my feet and prefer to dance when I am in the mood in my own style. I also eat a good deal more than 700 calories a day and prefer my food in a non-liquid form, but other than that I have been very faithful to her for over two years now. I am reaffirming my status as the Robin Hood of exclusive exercise methods which I then share with my entirely non celebrity friends.

Recently I did some publicity myself when I saw that Shwings --little wings that you put on your shoes by threading them in the laces -- had arrived in Italy. T and I were the first people to wear them in Lucca, but I ordered ours online for Valentine's day. They have been very popular in America for a while now based on what I have seen on the Internet. I had thought about importing them, but the price was already so high I couldn't figure out how to make a profit on them. I wanted to use butterflies as the symbol of my class since the name --metamorfosi -- makes people think of butterflies, but butterflies have apparently been ruined in Italy as a creature of innocence by Berlusconi and Belen. So I have adopted the wings or shwings and my new symbol. (Berlusconi referred to his harem of underaged women as his "butterflies" -yuck- and model actress Belen  Rodriguez, who is always in the tabloids here, wore a tattoo of one instead of underwear to the Sanremo music festival.)  Anyway, I got the manager of the shoe store to say he would connect with me on Facebook. I said I would do some publicity for them  so that all my students will want to wear wings which can, in turn, serve as advertising for my class. It turns out the manager of the shoe store, Simone, is also friends with one of the gym owners.

Can I open them yet?
Oh Belen, honey, that's a bit tacky.

We had our annual pow wow with Anna Maria and Fabio. Anna Maria, you remember, is my police officer friend who saves my life occasionally when the bureaucracy of Lucca becomes too overwhelming. I thought we were all prepared for the dreaded renewal of our stay permits, but it turned out that a lot of the regulations have changed since our last renewal, and we now have to pay more fees and have more documentation, including a letter from our elusive commercialista with an official stamp on it no less. Anna Maria also scared the pants off me that we needed a letter from an Italian court in order to have T's half Italian, half English friend Giorgia travel with us from England to Ireland to Italy without her parents. However the British homeland security site says we just need a permission letter from her parents. I will be dropping a twenty euro note at the reception desk so that when Anna Maria stops by for her weekly and well deserved massage by Samuele she will be able to enter the spa for free. I might have intimated that it wouldn't cost me anything, but a small white lie is worth it to be able to repay her for all of her help.

My boss Giacomo who is a cross between James Bond and one of the 007 villains just returned from frolicking on the island of Elba during his ferie/vacation days where he crossed paths with singer Biagio Antonacci who just happens to be Anna Maria's celebrity crush. Giacomo seemed surprised when I told him that Wednesday is my last day at the fancy gym. He said he would find a substitute for me for the month of August and that we have to meet about my new schedule for September. Stay tuned because he always brings the blog-worthy drama.

In other news, T has learned to cook this summer and has prepared several lovely meals for us along with some very tasty desserts and popovers. I am relieved that she has skills and will be able to provide for herself  and probably all of her hungry friends for years to come. She is also keeping herself busy painting and taking photographs. She is considering borrowing from the HONY - Humans of New York concept and making a Humans of Lucca Facebook page where she interviews strangers and takes their portraits. I'm not going to argue with her. She, as of yesterday, has purple hair and she is a full three inches taller than me.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Well, I asked
This is going to come off snarky, but I am going to risk it. As I count down my last eight classes at the fancy gym, I have had a lot of conversations, encouraging clients to look for me in September. This one particular client named Ilaria was explaining to me that she has found the perfect formula in that she takes my class twice a week, as well as Ginetta's Step and Tone class and Ricky's Muscle Definitition class. Ginetta is s a great teacher and she is very nice to her clients even if she shows zero interest in getting to know me or, for example, looking me in the eyes. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that, based on Ilaria's description of the exercises, her class probably hasn't changed very much in nature in the last eighteen years, as it is very Jane Fonda circa 1980. Nevertheless, I am sure it is a very enjoyable hour.

Jane Fonda in the 80s, you get the picture.
 I will try to stick to the facts when I say that Ilaria told me that she then takes Ricky's class which also incorporates step aerobics and some bootcamp style weight-lifting exercises. (Ricky, as you will remember, is the instructor who choreographed the staff dance routine and thought it would be funny to put me in a headlock that could have cost me months of physical rehabilitation.) Ricky can often be seen lounging on the stage, taking a pausa, while his packed classroom of both men, women and young, adoring, girls seem to know exactly what to do and what is coming next. I guess I had a funny look on my face when Ilaria told me that Ricky hasn't really changed his class for many years. At all. Occasionally, he changes a song, she said.

("You idiot!" "How could you call me an imbecile?" "I didn't say imbecile, I said idiot." "Oh I understood imbecile." "Here's what causes a lot of trouble between the people today... When there isn't an exact understanding.")

As someone who routinely spends her day off choreographing new material for the class that I change every week, this shocked me. Ricky's class is more popular than mine - at the moment - and he has nabbed the all important 7 PM spot, which is the goal of every instructor worldwide. I had to go check this out with Nicolas, who I found in the fancy gym cafe after class.

I thought about whispering or taking Nicolas aside, but then I thought, Nah. It's just a question based on fact. I asked if it was true that Ricky never changes his class. Nicolas started to answer, but then noticed a pair of clients staring at us and escorted me out with a few brusque pushes of his massive arm. This is not the kind of thing you want to ask out loud, he said. How else would I ask it, I wondered. I told him I wasn't worried about it. He said it was not a critique that would be welcomed. I told him it wasn't a critique at all. I just wanted to perhaps never modify my class again for the next ten years, if that would help me climb the ladder at the fancy gym. Do you think that maybe the clients find comfort in never having to learn new things? It is a valid question, I added. Well, Nicolas, responded, perhaps they like to the same things or perhaps they come just to look at him. Oh, I said. Wait. And then Nicolas watched me grab the corner of the walls with both hands and pretend to knock my head against it very hard. He chuckled and strode off away from me as quickly as his muscley legs would allow him to.

Ricky and his fans

Believe me, I know that it is bad that I am really looking forward to sticking around long enough to watch his bald patch increase in circumference. But I can't help it. I just can't.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Learning curves
Today T taught me how to ride a bike. F taught her when she was seven. T taught me when I was 43. Well, my uncle taught me when I was eight, but I immediately rode right into a parked car and decided it was not for me. It is pretty amazing that I have resisted riding for three years here since it is a biking city and everybody does it. I realized that it is not a friendly activity to my lady parts. After a bit of strategizing, T decided not to bring her bike, which was good in that we traded off at the beginning when she taught me things like how in the world to stop. Unfortunately, after a few short wobbly runs I just kept going.

While I was riding and too scared to stop, I had a few interesting moments of introspection. First off,  I was so tense at one point that I realized my hands were making the L for Loser shape with my index fingers and thumbs separated to the maximum to allow for hand braking. My poor fingers were so tense that I decided I better relax them for a minute. The relaxing of my hands manouver caused me to zig zag rather dramatically so I reverted back to the L for Loser stance. I also wondered why people were staring at my face weirdly. Afterall, I was riding fairly normally. It was then that it occured to me that while sailing into the pounding late afternoon sun, I was grimacing with my mouth wide open and my eyes squinted tight, as though trying to win a part as an extra on CSI.  To be fair, T told me to keep going until we got back to our porta, but I am not good at directions and so I both forgot when to stop and how to stop simultaneously. T says she was yelling and waving her arms, but I didn't hear or see her. Once I finally dismounted, I turned and walked the bike back in search of T. Once I rounded the corner, I saw her, hands in the air, laughing hysterically.  The good news is that it is over.

Now that I am exchanging language lessons with a really good teacher, I have discovered that I have been making a few errors in Italian that are super embarrassing. I am probably the only instructor, for example, at the fancy gym who routinely asks if there are any feriti/wounded people. Apparently, there is no exact translation of the word injured in Italian and so that explains a few of the bemused looks I have received. There is also no way to say second set when referring to the next bunch of exercises, so I have been using the mathematical term for set - insieme - which is absolutely wrong when I should have been saying something more like seconda serie. I tried that expression on for size today and I could actually read on my students faces that they were thinking finally. F and I are always surprised at the threshold the people of Lucca have for listening to us make the same mistakes over and over again. We have come to the necessary conclusion that our mistakes are just ADORABLE. .

Yesterday we finally went to Richmond's English Shop where a fellow ex New Yorker named Tara sells all kinds of goodies from England like english muffins, clotted cream, marmalades, and chips. The store is in Viareggio which is a beach town about half an hour from us. T started in on the cheddar flavored chips as soon as we got back in the car. I don't miss a lot of American junk food, but we have a weakness for flavored potato chips and tortilla chips, chips ahoy chocolate chip cookies and chocolate twizzlers that cannot be denied.Tara, if you're reading this, we will make you a mexican brunch sometime with homemade bagels. You scratched my english muffin deprived back and I'll scrach yours or something like that.

Why didn't you people tell me how good that American tv show Newsroom is? Now I have to catch up on the whole first season, which is perfect for these slow, hot days in front of the fan.

For the record, it turns out that I am not physically exhausted as I feared. I just have fancy gym post traumatic stress disorder so that every time I am supposed to go to that place my body has this pavlovian reaction whereby it wants to play dead.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Masterchef Italia
F and I are just a little obsessed with Masterchef Italia. Some nice individual whose name ended in ballerino posted the whole first season on youtube, but now we have to slowly poach the puntatas off another site to view the second season. I can't stop. Don't ask me to. It is something about the adorable yet stern judges and the mix of passionate home cooks who, unlike their counterparts in America, really only have one shot to change their lives that gets me. It is the double whammy of trying to get approval from a fatherly professor who is only giving you a hard time to bring out the best in you and the glossy allure of the food itself along with the sheer sincerity of the contestants in their zeal to win that makes the Italian version superior. Plus how can you not love a show where the first season winner was a gay, orphan from Greece with a lisp?

Things are slowing down which is good because I am truly stanca morta. I have exactly eleven more days at the fancy gym before my month of vacation. It is very hot and humid in Lucca and we are really counting the seconds until we can go to London. We tried really hard to fill out the renewal of the permesso di soggiorno by ourselves so our friends Anna Maria and Fabio would not have to work so hard to help us out, but we left a lot of the spaces blank because we were afraid to make mistakes. I feel like I would need a PhD in public administration before I could ever get that puppy done all by myself and I wonder how everyone else on line at the police station manages to get their papers filled out. I don't have  a definite contract offer for September, but it seems like the powers that be at the fancy gym are going to up my number of hours by three  for a total of eight classes a week, which will work out fine.

Every Friday this nice lady Manuella who works on the cleaning staff at the fancy gym lies down on the stage in the big classroom and I give her a massage. It is more of a service that she does for me than the other way around. After having already taught on Friday mornings, my nerves are usually fried by the afternoon session, and getting her knots out relaxes me before I have to face the same workout again at the end of a long week.

On Saturday I went window shopping with Alessandra, Monica and Giada -- three of my students at the fancy gym who I want to be better friends with. We had a nice time and they are going to come for brunch on my last Sunday at work. They have been really good to me and always try to give me passaparola and encourage people to try my class. They have even brought a few men to try my class and we have had a blast watching them leave ponds of sweat while executing attitudes and arabesques and doing things they have never even thought about doing before. Making friends like them makes everything I go through at the fancy gym worth while. One thing I learned about them is that all three are all wild about muffins. Muffins are not really an Italian thing, but there is a really fattening version available at the juice bar near my house. After shopping, they admitted to having over-indulged a bit after I went home to collapse in a two hour nap, so I promised them the healthier version that F makes T and me at home all the time with whole wheat flour, berries, and dark chocolate bits. For the record, had I maintained consciousness, I would have over indulged with them and I would not have looked back.

The fact that there is no bus or that the bus has been moved while they do construction in the fancy gym's zone (which is scheduled to finish roughly after the italian tinkerbell - campanellino-- receives enough applause from people who believe in fairies and also Italian road completion) is only a relief to me. As you well know, I have magical thinking when it comes to money and also a deathly phobia of driving and so the fact that F chauffeurs me around like an eleven year old soccer afficionando is fine with me. It is only my great powers of imagination that allow me to keep believing that 70% money I earn getting emotionally abused by my coworkers and sweating my ass off while couting from one to eight in Italian over and over again is not getting sucked from our wallets at the gas station.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Summer lulls

Sorry for the long pause, but lately T's life is much more interesting than ours and she won't let me tell you anything.

I have made two really nice friends at work, but as you can guess they are clients and not coworkers. I didn't go to the fancy gym's staff dinner. I didn't realize it was a special gala team building event, since not one of my coworkers or bosses bothered to explain to me where the restaurant is even though they know I don't drive. I figure if they really needed me there a little more effort than an anonymous text message could have been spent. I could have looked it up on the Internet, but it wasn't a good night for us so in the end all I can tell you is that the photos speak volumes. At first you see a bunch of the nicer staff members who are older and not course instructors standing out on a big lawn chatting. Then as the the background gets darker you see all the rambunctious, younger people drinking out of massive common cocktail cups with a thousand straws inside getting absolutely hammered. By the end there are photos of girl on girl kissing, plenty of red, bleary eyes and lots of wasted young men with their shirts off. The unspoken girl dress code was unfailingly a beige sundress of which there were a million varieties. Beige, as you know, is not my color. Nicolas told me the owner was disappointed that I wasn't there and so I assume that during the hundredth slide show of photos that I am not in with theme music he made a speech abou the newbies like me and then realized that I wasn't there. I apologized to him for my absence and he said he understood.

I went twice to Viareggio to the beach and I have to say that the best part is the company of my friends because the actual beach is kind of dirty and claustraphobic. Everyone who goes there pays for a little sun chair and a big umbrella and wants to make the most on their investment. Inevitably the conversation leans towards how much nicer the beach is other places, mostly towards the south like on the island of Elba or in Sardegnia or Abruzzo or the Amalfi coast. The sun protection tends to be of the Crisco variety and the myth that the darker you are the skinnier you look lives on as the women turn into walking prunes. P.S. the only thing worse than going to the beach when your stomach is bloated is going to the beach when your stomach is bloated and everyone keeps introducing you as their fitness instructor.

The numbers of clients who come to the courses is dwindling out with every passing day as everyone shifts their focus to the fancy gym swimming pool. Last week T was going to go to the pool with Giorgia who has a membership and the receptionist waved her finger in my face and let me know that -- employee or not -- the going rate for an hour or two of pool time is 20 euros and there were to be no exceptions for family members. Her eyes were iced over like a serial killer's and I was left feeling less than warm and fuzzy.