Thursday, February 27, 2014

Stop the Insanity
First of all, America, can you stop torturing me with the new un-gettable junk food products? Just because I have high tailed it to Europe doesn't mean I am unaware of what you are cooking up out there.

Exhibit A:
This is just mean and cruel. Why did you wait until I was far away before adding cookie dough and marshmallow filling? Oreos and Chips Ahoy are my crack. Twizzlers are next, but they are allowed in the house without F or T having to insist that I can only have supervised visits with the containers. It's that bad.
Exhibit B:
You had me at salted caramel. It has been one month since I last had sugar, btw.

In other news, T has placed a cease and desist order on the number of Pinterest items that I send to her in a day. For this reason I had to develop a board called Things My Teenage Daughter Might Like Unless I'm Wrong. Here is an example of one of our little cyber exchanges:

We watched that About Time movie today and it was adorable. While we watched, I re-labeled for the third time the little dinky plastic folders with all the ESL language sheets that F and I put together. It seems impossible that anyone would be so pathetic as to have to re-do them three times, but I am a genius. First, I labeled them so that the open end of the envelope would be on the bottom. Guess what happens when you pick up the enormous three-ring, dinky, binder? Gravity, yup.

The second time, I put the titles so that the part with the holes didn't end up on the same side as the rings. The third time was the charm. All three times, if I'm being brutally honest here, I didn't wait for the permanent ink to dry and it made little splotches on the previous dinky, plastic envelope thingy that I inserted into the binder. I went to the trouble of re-doing it because I am an impatient perfectionist with massive sugar cravings.

A mother-in-law has been sighted in the not so far future.
We have confirmation that F's mother is coming to stay with us at the end of next week. She will spend four days and then go to Florence where she will be meeting up with a guide that was arranged by her Italian teacher and then she will spend another four days with us in Lucca. She will have a walker rather than a  wheelchair to help her with her get around. She is deathly allergic to garlic. As she loves the rain, I hope this horrible weather holds out just long enough for her to enjoy it. Stay tuned.

And lastly, after convincing my university-aged English student to do a make-up class instead of canceling, he came in the pouring rain the other day. I grilled him about his decision to become a substance abuse therapist. I wanted to get to his deep, dark reason why this area attracted him.  After an hour of us not really understanding each other and him telling me to slow down and that he had no idea what I was saying, he finally answered my question. He hasn't decided what kind of therapy he has decided to specialize in, but he thought he better study an array of difficult areas so he would be prepared for whoever he ends up with as a patient. It was exhausting for both of us. On the positive side, I think it is clear that when he does become a therapist, I could probably really use his help.

Monday, February 24, 2014

I have issues.
Party time!
This weekend we went to our friend Barbara's birthday party. I've told you about Barbara before. She is the closest living embodiment of a J. Crew ad that I will ever meet in real life. She runs an agriturismo and she does a lot of the manual labor along with the management. She never looks fussy or like she put in any effort and yet is the most elegant, gorgeous creature ever. I never know what to wear. She ties up her hair in a messy chignon that would take me weeks to create. She wears that sweaters that seem to even know how to pill elegantly. I can't explain it. We had some in-house and take away chinese food for dinner, which was a rare treat.

That is Barbara in the bright sweater.
Make a wish.

 I got schooled by this guy at the party. I have met him like six times, but I never remember his name. We went to the kitchen to wash out our red wine glasses before the prosecco toast. He said something to the effect of ladies first. So I went first. Suddenly I had a panic attack about rinsing out the glass. Should I use soap? Should I swirl it somehow? I tried to make a joke about it and said something about scaramanzia which is what you say when you are feeling superstitious and are doing something to avoid bad luck. I didn't get him to smile or to appreciate how fancy an Italian word I used so I said, "Hey, I said scaramanzia that is a fancy Italian word. I even know a gesture that goes with it." And then I did this gesture that my friends do. You make your fingers into horns and then point them downwards. He said that was very unladylike of me. I couldn't tell if he was kidding. The whole we're J.Crew ad people, but were not really that down to earth vibe always throws me. So I mumbled over to F where I said that guy doesn't think I'm ladylike, but this is me being ladylike. I came here from Brooklyn, for crying out loud. I decided to run the whole gesture fiasco past my real friends at the party I threw for my friend Bianca's birthday the following night.
Love is in the preparation.
I had been looking forward to the party with the girls for a long time. F was the chef and I was the sou chef. That means I made little penguins out of olives, carrots and cream cheese to put on the pistachio covered goat cheese and sun dried tomato balls. We served these with zucchini fake meat balls for appetizers. Dinner was fun because everyone got a kick out of the soup bowls made entirely from round loaves of sourdough bread filled with tomato and red pepper soup.  Next came lasagna noodle cups filled with spicy lemony greens. It couldn't have gone better.

 When I asked my friends whether I had commited a huge faux pas at Barbara's party, they said that I should stop hanging out with the wrong crowd. And we all had a big laugh about it. I know that at least of half of them make that gesture all the time, by the way.

See the penguin? I am talented.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Adventures in English 
Yesterday my middle school student limped up the stairs to his lesson more or less on time. It turned out he had hurt his ankle playing soccer. When he got upstairs, he realized that he had left his English books at home. This was a problem because he was going to have a verifica/quiz in English in school the following day. While he limped back down the steep stone staircase to unlock his bicycle for a quick sprint back home, I racked my brains about how to teach him the rule for the present simple in a way that he would never forget it. ESL students have a horrible time remembering that while we say I run, you run, we run, they run, we have to add a final s to the verb when the subject is he, she, or it.

This is the cappuccino I wish I had downed this morning.
 When he finally got back for the second time with his English books, I was anxious about getting him prepared in the little time that was remaining. In my haste, I taught him the same memorization tool that I had dreamed up for learning the present simple that I taught him for learning how to create plural nouns. I told him that he should think of the letter S as being the S on the chest of superheroes like Superman (he) and Superwoman (she)  and their dog named IT, who is also Super. Imagine that there is a bully at school, I said. Just one cousin of yours may not be strong enough to fight him off, but if you add an S and all of your cousinS come to school to fight the bully they will surely win. Ah, I get it, he said. My cousinS can beat up the bully, he said with an especially adorable emphasis on the final  S. Yes, great job, I told him. Next, I asked him to use the verb to have/to have got to fill in the blank in the following sentence: My cousins (blank) a beautiful house. My cousinS haS got a beautiful house and not only that -- they can fight off the bully, he answered proudly. Whoops. Don't worry, I think I got him straightened out before he had to limp home for the final time.

This is the sugar I wish I woud have been able to put in it. Three weeks down, five weeks to go in my eight week no sugar challenge.

T. She is latin-a-liscious. From the root . . ah forget it.
 My university aged student happened to mention to me that he knows T's Latin professor quite well, but he didn't tell me how. I assumed they were neighbors or something. I brought this up at the parent teacher meeting today. The meeting went so well and the professor is so pleased with T, that I told F afterwards that if I have to die soon, I hope it's today so that I could end life on an up note. That's how well it went. And it only went up from there because it turns out that my student is an old and very appreciated student of this professor, who is also a psychologist. He is currently doing these psychodrama workshops with her in preparation for his future career as a therapist for people with drug addictions. We chatted on forever and F only kicked me once under the table because even he could see how well the meeting was going. Kill me now, I tell you; I know we won't always get off so easy.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Siamo i vincitori!!!
The Broken Grandpas has won their first game! Ever!

The Grandpas
Alessio in action
Now is it perhaps too much credit for me (F) to take credit for the victory? Perhaps, but I did get to start as right guard on offence and caught a pass during our first touchdown drive as well as swatting the ball out of the opposing quarterback's hands on their final play in overtime--draw your own conclusions...

Fabio had a fantastic game!
And clearly gave it 100%
Massimo about to make a reception

Now to be fair, the Orange Donkeys only showed up with five players and had to have the referee play center. And even though they were half our ages, they were also half our sizes too. So props to them for coming back from a 12-0 deficit at halftime and forcing sudden death overtime. Our main issue in the second half was our backup center launching the ball repeatedly over the quarterback's head. We've got a few things to iron out before we take on the heavy hitters of the FFL (Friendly Football League)--the Battlecats, AC/DC, or the Thunderknights.

Some hair-pulling going on on the left and our capo, Gianluca, on the right

On a different subject, yesterday I spent close to two hours waiting in line for the Polizia Municipale to register our bikes for targhe (literally license plates, but in this case, little metallic adhesive stickers.)

In typical Italian syle, there were 16 or so police officers in their dress uniforms, but only two of them were actually processing the information into the computers. I waited alongside Stefania from the restaurant downstairs and we had a nice chat in which I learned that she's actually from Milan and she met her husband Salvatore one year when she came to Lucca for Lucca Comics and he was the cute waiter in the restaurant where she had lunch every day. She also told me that their website that I designed is getting them lots of reservations, so they are totally happy.

When I finally got to the front of the line, the nice police officer who explained to me in great detail all the details of the tag program that might well have been explained to us all as a group during the almost two hours we were waiting in line looked at one of our sad bikes and asked why it had no seat--opening herself up for the inevitable answer, "Because they stole it!"

Stefania and the giant chocolate monster

So today when I got back from playing football and got back on my bike I looked down and--you guessed it--someone stole the targa off the bike, leaving a little metallic trace that says "Void Void Void..."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Valentine's Day Flashback
This is what T

had for breakfast on V day.
Chocolate chip pancakes!
I am still sugar free, so F made me some coconut macaroons. It was sweet of him, but, alas, they were . . . um not.
I got a new student who wants to refresh her English for an upcoming trip to NY. She has a very interesting approach to our lessons. Her plan seems to be to convince me that I don't speak clearly enough and to never acknowledge that she doesn't know the meaning of the words. So far it is working. She is also a fitness instructor. It may also be that fitness instructors hate me on sight.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Nota a pie' di pagina/Footnote

** We finally got to watch the segment from the televison program Le Iene about Mario 'Sono Sodo,' that charming gentleman and local character who had been taken advantage of by two crooks who wanted his pension checks until their arrest last summer in Lucca just a few blocks from our house. The rather smarmy journalist, think of an Italian Geraldo Rivera, who took Mario to his dream vacation destination in Lugano, Switzerland, showed Mario a good time in the sense that the hotel where he got to stay was really nice. He ate well. He slept well, although he had to check that the reporter's room was only a few steps from his because he was used to sleeping in bed in a really shabby little house with his brother and was afraid to be alone. He was given ten euros to gamble with and he lost that in a heartbeat. Mario had hoped to win a bundle, but the reporter told him that he was lucky that he had a chaperone because lots of people lose their houses gambling. Fun times. Mario was taken to a mountain trail where he  could have the opportunity to take a hike. He took about ten steps and looked up the steep path before he declined to go any further because our Mario isn't getting any younger.  He got a boat ride instead. You get the picture. Throughout the video, the reporter made a big deal out of Mario's love for the ladies who he serenades and courts at every opportunity, whether they be waitreses or saleswomen or anyone whose eye he catches as they cross paths. The reporter  offered at the end of the program to take Mario to a girlie club. He told  Mario first that he needed to be prepared that, just like with gambling, when the amount of money allotted for the evening ran out, the affection of the women would probably die out too. Mario won my heart even more when he told the reporter that he thought that women should be left in peace and that he wasn't interested in buying anyone's love. He said he would rather spend the money on a nice meal.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Another crazy thing I did that freaked out the Italians
So today is my friend Elena's birthday. She has this tradition of going to her favorite pastry place/pasticceria called Sandra's Angolo Dolce every Monday, Thursday and Friday at 8,20 in the moring and ordering the exact same delicious chocolate pastry and a cappuccino with foam. The idea was that I would bring a wrapped gift and a candle and pre-pay her breakfast on the day of her birthday. The only problem is that the shop is closed every Tuesday and Wednesday, and I wanted to plan a surprise for her for today which is Thursday. Therefore, I had to plan ahead. 

On Monday morning it was raining so instead of walking on the walls, I thought I would just walk over there and then do my workout at home. I wore my fugly gortex sneakers, wool socks and capri workout leggings with my hooded purple running jacket and huge telephone booth transparent umbrella. I explain how I was dressed only because in Brooklyn this would not have been noteworthy at all. In Lucca, however it means I was breaking every social convention in the world especially the commandment: Thou shalt not wear workout wear whence not working out and certainly not out in the world or in a store. I was further worried by the fact that in looking up the exact address of the store I came across some reviews on yelp that said that the people who worked there were cold and unwelcoming. Thank goodness, this could not be further from the truth. Shame on you judgmental tourists who bad mouth delicious pastry stores on the review site Yelp!

I had wanted to walk over with F, but T needed him to carry her Flintstone sized backpack loaded with ten tons of books and was not in the mood to be rushed. I walked as fast as my little legs would carry me, as I had only twenty minutes between the store opening and Elena's arrival. I was the first client of the morning and I was determined to be as charming and quirky as I could to get them to agree to my plan. I somehow was too jittery to notice the basket for the umbrellas outside the store, but I didn't want to leak all over the floor so I left my umbrella in what turned out to be a garbage can and got water marks all over their wall. Good one. So I explained to the lady behind the counter and to the owner what I wanted to do and then I had to get them to understand which client I was talking about since they don't know Elena by name. I pantomimed since my Italian level descends in proportion to the rise of my anxiety level. Luckily they recognized her by her order. The owner stopped in her tracks and said, "Oh the one with extra foam on the cappuccino!" And that's when I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. In hindsight I realize that I should have just brought a photo of her and I should have left my phone number with them. Come to think of it, I should have taken their business card and given them a reminder call this morning, but that is all stuff I would have done if I was back in Brooklyn. Here I fly more by the seat of my pants.

Today I didn't get a call first thing so I had all kinds of scenarios going through my head, but the good news is that it all worked out perfectly. Please join me in wishing many Tanti Auguri to Elena. She deserves it!
VICK's VAPOR RUB, I'm totally serious.
I hope my brothers and sisters out there in the universe who suffer from the horrible plight of cystic acne are reading this right now. I can't freaking believe it. I saw a bunch of articles on the internet which I chalked up to be the propogation of an urban legend. Then I came across this video which I assumed was some college girl who got paid by the Vicks company to do a casual advertisement for the product on youtube.

You've always been there. RIGHT under my nose. Who knew you should have been on my zits???

Apparently it is also good for toe fungus, for all you sloths out there.

And it's cheap as shit.
You can go on and not believe me all day long, but I swear to you that I put this on my cysts and they heal much faster and without leaving scars. Where was this for the last 30 years when I needed it? It was right under my nose. Even in Italy, they sell it in the pharmacies. The only thing is you have to pronounce it like - Veeks Vahpor Roob - or no one has any idea what you are asking for. This makes me laugh almost as much as pronouncing Addidas like Add-Dee-Das does. I smell like an old man and I have a crazy, shiny face, but it's all worth it. Spread the word. Invest in the company. This stuff is the BEST.
Love is in the air
During F's Wednesday English class which is composed mostly of teachers, one of the women had a question. She wanted to know what to call the man she lives with. "I have a man in my house," she said. How do I call him? F suggested, Commonly in English, we'll just say boyfriend, but sometimes people also use partner, companion. . She said boyfriend sounded too much like a teenager and since she is a grandmother it didn't seem appropriate. Partner was too stretta/intimate for the relationship. Companion she rejected as being a communist word, even though F tried to point out that comrade and companion are not the same thing. In the end, casting about for possibilities, F threw out the term lover. She throught about it and said, "That is what he used to be, but now he is just the man who lives in my house." F then taught her the expression TMI to the relief of the whole class who laughed when they found out that it means Too Much Information.

F and I have this to say to RAI television who have sent us a notice saying that the first batch of forms we filled out to say that we don't even own a television is not enough to get us out of paying a televison tax.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Apparently, T left her non-religion class and walked in on the rest of her classmates who were having their non-mandatory religion lesson. The professor was saying "All the religions of the world are equally valid and have their books. The Muslims have the Koran, the Jews have the Torah, and we Christians have GOD's son Jesus Christ." So that happened. And that is kind of the reason why we don't have our child studying religion in school. It's not that it's not interesting to learn about religion, it is fascinating and historically important to learn about. It's just indoctrination, prejudice of all kinds and the persecution of non-believers that we have a problem with. Non-religion class is much more fun anyway. T spend the time arguing with a racist classmate of hers who was insulting the adopted sister of one of another classmate and then she and her friend and this kid rummaged through drawers in the spare room and discovered a bunch of truly mangled crucifixes. I thought our junk drawer was disturbing, but the junk drawer of a three hundred year old school may be worse.

Today I was really confused by my University-aged student who went through a drill sheet of interview questions with me so we could get to know each other better. I understood everything he said even though he spoke quickly and he understood a small fraction of what I said. It was weird because we were both speaking English. Then at the end he told me that he likes the musicality of English when it is spoken fast. (I guess that means F is just a horrible cacaphony for him, hee hee.) He uses his DVR to replay the sentences that actors on American shows like say and then replays them until he can mimic them perfectly. Then it hit me. He can't understand a word I'm saying because I don't come with a rewind button. Note to self: Speak S L O W E R.
How I Met Your Mother

This is what T says I have looked like as an under-employed person. It is true. But soon to come to an end. This may be a good thing. I'll miss hanging around on the couch, chugging beer and watching cartoons. Or my version: avoiding sugar, binge watching reality shows, and pinning on Pinterest.
My little guy and I had a war of wills in which I won the first half of the battle by making him translate his English homework into Italian so that we could both know that he had some idea what the homework meant. If I hadn't of done this, he would have happily slapped the book with all the answers in it shut and called it a day. Then for the second half of the class he answered all my interview questions with yes or no answers and then elaborated in Italian. He knew what he was doing as he avoided eye contact with me for a good twenty minutes and I lost control of the train. There's always next week, I suppose, when I will come armed with a biography of his favorite musician Skrillex. If you want to learn about hip hop you are going to have to speak my language, little dude.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

this just in!
My friend Ian just pointed out that Lucca's Mario Son Sodo from the previous post is a dead ringer for the late actor William Hickey from the film Prizzi's Honor. Among many other television and film roles, he was also on the soap opera Ryan's Hope. Uncanny resemblance, don't you think?

William Hickey