Thursday, October 31, 2013

Well this is awkward . . .
 As I wait for a meeting to take place at the fancy gym, that has yet to be scheduled, and I am on a fake sick leave, several unfortunate forces are making things really uncomfortable. The first thing is that I actually am sick. Nothing ruins calling in sick, like having to be sick. The second thing is that it the Comics festival has arrived in Lucca and on my way to the hair parlor, sick or not, I saw both a huge hot air balloon and my hairdressers were dressed as thieves. Lastly, the fancy gym apparently has no idea that I am going to quit (unless the penalty on my contract is too high and we can't afford it).  The boss' assistant keeps calling me on my cell phone, saying that now she wants to be my friend. This confused me for a minute since I would have loved if she wanted to be my friend seven months ago, but then I sadly came to the conclusion that it is just a business strategy on their part, and that to be safe I should probably avoid having coffee with her at all costs. My real friend who is a genius is going to read the contract again for me tomorrow. The fancy gym thinks I am coming back to teach on Sunday, but um I'm not.

It's a weird day, when your hairdressers look like this. . .

and this happens . .

and then you look up into the sky and see this.

These are some happy people who don't work at the fancy gym.
And you know what?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Would you quit?
Yesterday I had a meeting with my boss Giacomo. I explained to him that I can not move the equipment for my class by myself and that I am tired of going around begging people to help me. I told him that I need someone who just knows to help me set up and let that be that. I gave him a list of the equipment required and he said that this was easy to resolve and that he would take care of it. He said it seemed to be a lot of bother about stupid little things. I couldn't agree more. That's why I don't understand why it has been going on for eight weeks. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask him how he would take care of it. He told me that all of the other teachers move their own equipment even if they are small women and even if the equipment is very heavy. He said that they have never faced a situation like mine where a fitness instructor could not set up her own equipment. Well, honey, I'm almost 44 years old and when you get to be that age you are too smart to move your own equipment.

Last night I waited fearfully until five minutes before my class time so that Ricky could clear out of the room. I assumed he was told to help me set up because I had proposed to Giacomo during our meeting that it would make the most sense for the teachers who come before me to set up rather than people who are already working with clients in the main fitness area between the classrooms. I entered the room to find that only half the stage had been set up. It is about one meter wide so it is impossible for me to balance on it on all fours and stretch my lets out to the side without falling off of it. I went downstairs to the instructor's changing room where Ricky was chatting with some female instructors while in his underwear. He does that. I asked him if he could move the other half of the stage. Instead of answering yes or no he asked a question. He wanted to know why I was so incompetent that I couldn't move it myself. He said any fitness instructor should be able to do it. I told him I couldn't do it because some idiot had grabbed me by the neck some month's ago and my back hasn't been the same since. This is true by the way. And the idiot if you will remember was Ricky. Since then I have reinjured my back twice trying to move the equipment myself.

But do you know what is worse? Chiara, Giacomo's assistant, called me last night because the receptionist let her know that I was crying as I left work last night. She tells me that it is normal for teachers to have the clients move their own equipment or go into classrooms where classes are already in progress to get their own supplies so the fact that I tried to move a mountain of weights by myself was stupid in any event. The fact that I never know what is going on, what the dress code is, what other teachers do in different situations is because I am not in confidence with anyone. As much as I have pretended that I could just go in, teach, and then go out again, the truth is that it is an evironment in which there has to be a certain level of collaboration and these people are never really going to work with me or be on my team. Today I am calling in sick.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Strikes, protests, and outright refusal
Today is day three in which T has had a weird day of school. The older kids organized a strike. The grievances vary, but have to do with massive budge cuts and the fact that the kids who live far from school have to pay their own bus fare. Many of the highschools had protests, but there was some confusion about whether or not T should be among those to occupy the school. T heard that the police could be called and that students would run the risk of being locked inside, so, justifiably, she decided to come home. For the past two days I have told her to try to participate in lessons if there were any to be had, but there were so few students present that the professors decided not to have them move ahead with learning any new material, and she has come home grumpy and out of sorts.

On Sunday, I decided that I was going to have a strike of my own. It has been eight weeks that I have had to beg coworkers to move the heavy equipment around from one classroom to the other and that my class has started late as a reult. Sunday was the day of the Lucca Marathon in which we are barraged with microphone announcements of the runners' progress every two seconds for five hours straight. It was also the day whent the time changed, but we didn't get to sleep late because of the marathon. We were still recovering from the  early Halloween party of the night before. On top of the discombobulating morning, I got to the gym to find workmen relaying the floors. The gymnastic balls I use for the class were scattered about in the unuseable room with paint dust all over them. I had to clean them one at a time with spray cleaner and have one of the workmen help me move the heavy bag of them into the other room. I then had to ask a client to move the stage for me because I couldn't find any coworkers who were all at the marathon. I ended up having 24 clients which is great for a Sunday morning, and we didn't have enough weights in the room for everyone.

 As I was leaving I asked the model girl at the front desk who dates the cute, young, salesman and poses for all the fancy gym posters, if I could vent to her for a minute. She looked alarmed and said yes. I told her that I thought that the fact that I have to act as a porter, beg for help, and start my class late every fucking week showed a huge lack of respect for the clients of the fancy gym. As I stormed off, I overheard her say to her friend, "You know, I think she has a point.  . ." Yesterday I wrote an email to my boss Giacomo who has not said boo to me in over two weeks about the situation. I edited the email down to be more to the point after F reminded me that men don't like to listen to a lot of words at one time. Needless to say, there was no response. Today I have decided that not only am I not moving anything anymore, I am also not asking anyone to move anything anymore. I will just tell the clients that it is not my job, and that if I were paying the dues that they pay, I would complain.

And yes, I would like to be fired now. That would be fine. Fingers crossed. By the way, today I skyped with my mom and she called me "the Lou Reed of Lucca." I asked if she knew that he had died. She said she did and  that there was an article about it in the New York Times. I don't know what my point is, but I think it does not bode well. And it is only Monday. Also the thing about teaching English grammar is that it would involve studying English grammar and the thing about that is that it is really boring.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Buon Halloween!
This is some crazy sh*t that I missed at work when I did not attend the Octoberfest dinner at the fancy gym. I love being a vegetarian, and this is why:

If I had showed up,  I would not have known about the checkered shirt dress code, although by now you would think I would figure out that you can't go wrong with really ugly beige.

Ricky, on the right, takes all of the challenge out of sarcastic blogging.
Beer and Fitness, go figure!

Instead of getting into that drama, we got invited to Melissa & Mirko's family Halloween party. The original plan was that F would go as a tree and I would go as a koala bear, but T started showing us some cool costumes on buzzfeed and I got a little obsessed with the idea of going as Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke. Come on, people! We had the height difference going in our favor and I had an outfit to go with the crazy middle part, double bun, hairdo. Drawing a goatee on F and giving him some cool sunglasses would have been easy and he already has plenty of suits. Then T started talking about calling her lawyer again and threatened us with divorce. We compromised on a more sophisticated approach which was T as pop art, me as a Picasso and F as a Frank Stella. I ended up breaking my pledge not to spend money on this party and went to the discount make up store where I somehow walked away with 40 euros worth of make up T did not want to use and that I will never use again. Perfect. After 45 minutes of makeup artistry with F and I jockeying for space in the downstairs bathroom while peering at the split screen of the computer for internet guidance, T called down from her bathroom that my inability to buy a decent white eye pencil would mean that she would be boycotting the party. F whose face was awash with grotesque paint colors in an intricate pattern did not bat an eye. He restrained my arms and told me to count to ten. We did all go to the party and T had the best costume of all. People actually moved away from us on the street as we walked through town to the party. It might have been because Halloween isn't really until next Thursday, they don't celebrate Halloween here, or because T's pixels were misperceived as being chicken pox, but still . . . In the end we were among the few bizarre adults who dressed up for the party. So that happened.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dirty Dancing in Tuscany
It sounds sexier than it was, but Eleanor enjoyed the countryside. I managed to get us some delicious pasta out of the Botteghina even after the water had been turned off and the dining service hour had long passed, just by mentioning those two magical words: Patrick Swayze. There are nice perks to being amongst the famous.

In other news, I have decided that this will be my last year at the fancy gym and that F and I will have an English teaching business as "that couple from New York." This makes every insult and slight I get at the fancy gym more tolerable. It is like an endless Rodney Dangerfield comedy routine where he keeps repeating to the audience, "I don't get no respect." When that clod Ricky told me that I have to wait until five minutes before class time to start setting up even though all the other teachers get a ten minute grace time, I was cool with it. Even though he makes me late, he never helps me to set up the room for my clients and I then have to go hunting around for young men to do all of the heavy lifting at the last minute. Yesterday the fancy gym put a picture of the substitute swim teacher with Eleanor on their facebook page. It was liked by 26 people. Two hours later they thought to put my picture with her up and it got 12 likes. And then today when I taught class on a portion of the stage while a man with a bushy mustache stood on a ladder and painted the room until it was full of fumes and I had a blinding headache, I just smiled. After class, I told him that I expected him to be my silent partner from now on. He was thrilled. Okay he was sort of neutral about it, but secretly I think he was pleased.

This post was brought to you by the number three. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Eleanor in Lucca
I did have the meeting with the boss of the fancy gym to discuss what could be done to help my coworker who lost a family member during the earthquake in the Phillipines. That part of the meeting was a real downer, and out of respect for all parties I can't say more. But really -- oy. So we ended the meeting by talking about Dirty Dancing and about how Eleanor, the producer and author of the film, was coming to visit us in Lucca. The boss freaked out and called his financial, legal guy in to tell him to call a press conference and get photographers and to make sure to treat our guest like a queen. I felt light as a feather when I left his office and I had a Sally Fields moment of "they like me, they really like me," but it faded away into nothing just like that. When I got home I felt terribly guilty, because maybe Eleanor didn't want a fuss or to have to work on vacation, come to think of it. F told me that he thought it would all work out. Somehow. Then again he also thought it was fine that I had invited between 40 and 100 people to our aperitivo to honor Eleanor, and he also thought it was a good idea to make individually hand made ravioli in muffin cups for 200. So maybe F is not so much better than I am in the being realistic department. Then again, that is why I married him.

Eleanor arrived and the first thing that happened is that we played restaurant roulette downstairs because we always worry that if we go to one of the restaurants downstairs from our house, the other one will feel bad. That got settled fairly quickly with one for lunch, one for dinner. While I went to work, F took Eleanor who said she didn't even know what jet lag was, to go take a walk around the walls. That being said she nodded off at the table at around five o'clock each day. After dinner at the Enoteca, Eleanor was surprised that F and T were only having the thick soup they ordered for dinner and no other courses. F had to leave her to come pick me up at work so they worked out that she would go to a second restaurant near her hotel for her main course. Oops.

Eleanor brought us not one, not two, but 12 English language beauty and gossip magazines and a badly needed package of chocolate Twizzlers, to replace the ones that we had to abandon at the airport gate in Dublin.  This is all you have to do to become the best guest ever in my book, but she didn't stop there. She surprised T at lunch with a romantic little aqua colored box from Tiffany's with a heart necklace inside that would make any girl in her right mind weak in the knees. Aside from all that stuff, Eleanor also gave me something that is without a price. She let me know that she came to Lucca just to visit us. With no agenda in mind, she just wanted to see how we really live and make sure that we were okay. And then, to top it off, she, who knows what my life was like in Brooklyn and knows me from before T was even born, looked deep into my eyes and told me that I had done the right thing by moving us to Lucca. It was a like a huge weight that I didn't even know was there got taken from me. God loves an objective third party.

In New York I was never fazed by fame or famous people. I saw and met them fairly regularly and it is super geeky to react like it matters, as you all know. But it was fun to be star struck with Eleanor. For one thing, I will never get tired of hearing conversation bits like this: "I was at this party last week and I was talking to my friend George. Do you know of him? George Clooney?" Um yes. Yes, I do. And I know he has a house in Como and that he was going to resell it, but then fell in love with Italy and kept it. But tell me again. Tell me again and again, because to me that is THRILLing. Every. Single. Time.

Also it was fun to tell people who she is. It's not like she goes around wearing a Dirty Dancing tee shirt or anything, you know. And everyone in Lucca, which is perpetually in love with the 80s, feel like the film was made with them in mind, freaks out when they hear it. No better illustration of that then when we went to the pizzeria near San Frediano for lunch. Can I tell her, can I tell her, I asked Eleanor, pointing to the sad eyed and reserved woman who runs the shop. Yes, Eleanor nodded patiently. So I told the lady from whom she had just taken a pizza order and a little light went on behind her dark eyes. I saw the gears turning in her head, tryiing to come up with something to say. Instead Eleanor asked her about if it was a family run  business and the lady talked about how she had lost her husband last year and how lonely she was. Eleanor held her face in her hands and I and the pizza guy looked at each other quizzically as if to say what in the world is happening here? Before we knew it Eleanor was telling her how this year she had to start dating again and to come back to life and the woman was nodding and beaming. It was magical.

Since no one from the fancy gym ever called me to tell me what time to bring Eleanor there, I decided to spend as little time as possible because I knew that they had prepared nothing. In truth it was almost insulting how little trouble they went to. If he asks me, I don't intend to sugar coat my report to the boss when he comes back from Madrid. What a lost opportunity for their business, for the clients, for everyone. There was a nice moment when Eleanor, wearing her sun glasses and sitting in a cafe chair at the back of my classroom was discovered by my clients and they all gasped and clapped. Some people took photos with her afterwards. Eleanor left after the first half hour to try to do the machines in the main sala while I taught. It was around 5 pm and she looked like she was getting sleepy so my fabulous friend Tiziana gave us a lift in her convertible directly to Eleanor's hotel. When I walked in the door I realized that we were deep in the weeds and that  it was unlikely the food would be ready on time. I had forgotten how hard it is to manage walking on the cobblestones when you first get here so it took a long time for F to bring Eleanor here from her hotel. Meanwhile I was frantically putting the food together as about four couples arrived on time, which never happens in Italy. Ever. I had gelled my hair back in a bun because there was no time to blow dry and T was telling me she should redo it so I didn't look crazy, but I didn't want naked crackers and a cheese smeared table to be the first thing people saw when they walked in. I was barefoot and without any idea where the wine bottle opener lives when people arrived.

Eleanor entertaining (in Italian!)

We did it!

Check out Tiziana there on the left. She was FABULOUS.

And God Bless Elena who brought us extra plates.
Tiziana showed up in a golden goddess outfit looking like a Hollywood film star and started taking trays of food around and hostessing in a way that I will never forget. It was something to behold. The house wasn't perfect and Tiziana's partner opened our laundry room door as a joke only to find that it was stuffed with dirty clothes and everything we had tried to hide, but, hey, you can't do everything. The homemade bruschetta with pea pesto, lemon crepe cake, fritata sandwiches, sweet potato and tamarind ravioli, and the homemade peporoncini marmelade were all winners. I did my best to move Eleanor around so that almost every guest got to have a moment with her. At some point I lost track. Despite all my best intentions I only got to eat when everybody left and I did the post party wrap up while stuffing my face with dumplings and leftover cake. E' andata.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The 30th anniversary of the fancy gym
The morning festivities went off pretty much without a hitch. My class went okay except that I went on one song too long without taking the scheduled break I put in for the older clients who come in earlier in the day. I knew I had messed up by the sound of moaning and the look of grimaces. I remembered to bring the brown anniversary tee shirt even without the text message warning/reminder from the gym which came to me after I was already at work. After class I helped the gym owner to distribute cups of champagne. This was not an easy feat as all my fellow instructors were pushing and shoving to get to the cake table in order to be the most helpful possible.

The most satisfying part of the morning shift happened before we even got to the cafe for the first of three cake and prosecco moments. The substitute swim teacher who is a very nice, down to earth person who has given me a lift in her car every once in a while told me that she was suffering like a dog with a migraine headache. I had offered to give her a bioenergy treatment months ago when the cuts on her intestine were constraining her to go to the hospital for IV drips, but she demurred. Yesterday she couldn't stand it anymore so I started to give her the treatment which is just a simple protocol of  hand movements around her body and she immediately became very hot. She got so hot that she took her t-shirt off. Then she started sobbing. She is not the type of girl who ever lets you see her cry, so I knew that was a big deal. I asked her if she was feeling better or worse and she said she was crying with relief because she had no more pain. That was beautiful, and she skipped off to take photographs of the cake.
I think the lady on my right is Ricky's mother.

Way to go, Lisa.

I impressed him by remembering a lullabye I learned long ago in Tagalog.
I was more worried about the evening part of the festivities, known as, I kid you not, "Happy Time", because three of the veteran teachers were teaching a class right before mine in 80's style of old time step, tone, and aerobics and it was packed. In fact I had half as many students as usual, many of whom were late due to the massive traffic jam in the parking lot. I had thought to try to set back feminism an unforgiveable number of years by wearing a transparent body suit, but my regular tuesday night ladies were aghast and it did nothing for my ratings. Although, I will say that I have never had such eager help to get the room set up and we had the studio ready in no time flat. My friends Alessandra and Giada convinced me to stay at the party for five minutes after class just to get credit for being there, ie. getting my picture taken with them.

This is what I'm up against!

I was having a lovely conversation with a man who cleans and does maintenance at the fancy gym who is from the Phillippines and who speaks English. He didn't know I was American all this time so it was our first time to confide in one another. Sadly who told me about the earthquake that happened that morning which was a 7.2. His sister in law had pushed her daughter out of the window just before their house collapsed on her. There was no way to get her to the hospital as the roads were all down. While we were talking her got the news that she had died. He said as much as he and his sister who is also here want to fly home, the flights are too expensive and the roads are impossible. I told him that I wanted to talk to the boss of the gym to see if we could make a collection to aid his family and others in the region, but he said he was too proud to ask for such a thing. You know me by now, so I will go try to find a discrete way to talk to the boss today.