Monday, March 31, 2014

Our get-to-know-you dinner

I am so sorry that we have no good photos of anything. People actually came on time and we were about to photograph the plates just as the buzzer rang. But the menu was perfect and F out did himself. Again.

This is what we served: Asparagus with lemon chutney. The lemon chutney is this great recipe that we stole from Jamie Oliver. It adds brightness to any vegetable dish. We had a horrible time getting the fresh eggs to peel after boiling them. It wasn't just me messing it up because even F had a hard time with them. The internet says to steam them for twenty minutes and then to put them in ice water, but the Italian eggs are super, super fresh and the shells really stick on. We were supposed to have really smooth boiled eggs to marinate in the soy sauce because when you slice them finely they are this gorgeous caramel color on the outside and then you have the ring of bright white and the yellow center. We managed to eek out once slice per plate and they still looked lovely. Next we had this creamy roasted garlic soup that was a buttery yellow color and decorated with roasted brussel sprouts and crispy croutons. The main course was vegetable fried rice that was covered with a layer of crispy kale. F makes it so it is soft and velvety, but it has a crispy top layer that melts in your mouth and is flavored with lemon zest. For dessert, we had little espresso cups with chocolate custard and homemade whipped cream. At one point, one of the guests stopped all the business conversation to say, "Can we just talk about how good this food is for a minute?" And there is no better compliment than that.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Weird Tides of Spring

As you all know by now, when I lived in NY I always knew it was Spring not by the buds on the trees, but by the Cadbury chocolate egg commercial. Whenever they started showing that commercial, I knew it was time to change my closet over and start taking stock in hayfever remedies. It's not that I never got to the park, but sometimes I was too busy. Anyway, here in Lucca, it is much easier to tell that it's spring.

First of all, all around the world this year people are celebrating spring with the new Divergent book trilogy by Veronica Roth which is a total rip off of the Hunger Games, except better written and with a more interesting female protagonist.

  T and her friend Natasha started off spring with a simple Saturday shopping trip. We wanted T to pick up some chocolate covered espresso beans at the chocolate store for the dessert portion of tomorrow night's dinner party. She then decided to go to the stationary store called Marchi to get a little notebook for herself. At the cash register the girls noticed those little toy Easter chicks. They each bought one. Then they went to a little cafe to have a snack and name their chicks, which is not weird at all. That is when T noticed that her chick was deformed. It was missing a patch of fluff and one wing. They wanted to go get more chicks, but not at the same store. That would have been too embarrassing. They decided to go to the one euro store and were delighted to find not just a chick, but a line of chicks with a rooster -- more bang for your euro buck. Once outside and back on the walls, they realized that the chicks had no legs and that the whole family was nailed down to a wooden plank. They yanked and pulled the chicks off ending up with - you guessed it - more deformed chicks. Now being the gentle souls that they are they saved the deformed chicks and only got rid of the really wrecked ones who had been glued down by some sadistic Easter craftsperson. Since Natasha was the only one to have a healthy chick, T got first pick of the deformed chicks. I'm not kidding. She really did.

 If you are not laughing hysterically by now, you just don't get our sense of humor and I apologize. The girls were laughing so hard that they were starting to draw attention on the walls from people who thought they might me making fun of them. They managed to devise a plan in which they would return to the Marchi stationary store to get more chicks. There was more gelato eating in this story somewhere which just goes to show that T's allowance spending and snack eating behavior on Saturdays needs to be reigned in somewhat, but on with our story. The giggling girls tried to suck the laughter back in and were violently whispering in the attempt to devise a plan, but all they managed to do was arouse the suspiscion that they were some kind of chick loving shoplifters. They got to the cash register, but when T looked down at her palms filled with chicks she started doing the kind of laughing where tears come out of your eyeballs. They managed to get out of there without further mishap. I know you won't sleep at night if you don't know the name of the chicks so here goes nothing. T's little wingless wonder is named Scrawny McBaldy, the other two are Dandelion and Hedwig. Natasha's chicks are Puff Daddy and Tushy.

I have had a horrible cold since Wednesday morning. On Tuesday I worked out with Francesca and gave her a massage. On Wednesday she was sick and went to the doctor. On Thursday she came back and on Friday I was sicker and had to cancel. Today I was supposed to go to my student's hip hop show, but his mother never called me back to tell me how to get there. Tomorrow is the big dinner party and I am going to be awfully snuffly, which is always an attractive look.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Italian Time
One of the things I will never get used to here in Lucca, Italy is how everyone can be late, in a rush, and also prolong things into oblivion while constantly over and under estimating the amount of time it takes for a normal person to get things done. I am living a few examples of this phenomena while we speak.

For two years I have had the idea of introducing the guy (Vladmiro) who sells genuinely Italian woven scarves of the highest quality you can imagine to our friend the interior designer (Alessandro) who sells the best materials for home furnishings that exist. Throw in our friend who does great brand marketing (another Alessandro, pazienza) and can take on F as a partner for the web site and technical side of things and you have some really high level networking. I didn't go to social work school for nothing, people. So I convince everyone it is a good idea to come to dinner. That is no problem. The problem is when.

 First off, I have to get the brand designer
to say yes because he is very busy with some important clients this month. He and his wife agree only because they really like F's cooking. I then get the interior designer who is also a foodie to agree, and now all I have to do is go back to the scarf store where the owner has already told me that he should be free. Except he throws me a curve ball and says that he does not think he is free. He does not think his business partner will ever be free and so I get the idea that this is never going to happen. Then it occurs to me that I am doing a nice thing for these people and probably won't have anything to gain by it personally (unless F somehow hit the jackpot and got a huge amount of work from his non-commital folks) so why should I go out of my way. The moment that I let go of the whole idea and said that it might be a real shame because my friends are important people with busy schedules, he called me to say that he and his partner could make it.

In our phone conversation it became clear to me that Vladmiro has no idea of how to get around Lucca and probably doesn't know how to find my apartment so I told him that I would show him my apartment on the way to introduce him quickly to Alessandro so that he could see his store. Vladmiro has many tourists who ask his advice and he could probably send Alessandro many new potential clients. He says that he thinks he could get away at 3:30. I went to his store, but he wasn't there. I left my cell phone at home so I couldn't call him. I walked home and called him and he told me that he was, as I knew he would be, at his store now. I walked back. In the end much shop talk ensued between Vladmiro and Alessandro who has already had occasion to meet Vladmiro's partner Massimo which will make the whole dinner much easier. Massimo is supposedly very poshe, and, as you know, we are very not. So that already makes dinner a bit more difficult, but at least we have a date.

The other kind of timing issue has to do with funny things like the finale of the Master Chef Italia in which the three judges send the two finalists in a limousine to the theater where they are to reveal which one of them is the winner. These otherwise dignified chefs turn into borscht belt comedians on a bad night as they have to prolong the agony of a reality show that, unlike in America, is not in a rush to get to the commercials and has an extra thirty minutes of airtime and nothing to fill it with. Here is only a fraction of the speech in which Chef Cracco, the harshest of the three critics, exacts his revenge for having to award the winner by speaking as slowly as humanly possible and allowing the contestants and audience enought time to pass a gallstone if necessary before spitting out the results.

On The Apprentice Italia they fill up the extra air time with the "Boss's" psychological and at times sartorial analysis of each of the potential new employees as he recaps everything we have already seen and heard him say in the previous episode. Here he is humiliating a contestant for the length of his suit jacket.

But The Voice Italia is my favorite because, in case you missed it, this really happened. Now that's some divine timing right there.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I'm pretty sure
I'm pretty sure this doesn't happen to you. You are surely more in control of your life and your world  and can't be undone by a simple things like your hair. Also you are a deep and serious person with spiritual goals and you know that true beauty can't be seen in the mirror. I, on the other hand, am clearly a superficial, materialistic lightweight who is obsessed with finding the right couch and getting caramel highlights. I also get an illegal amount of joy from finding that slim cut boyfriend jeans exist at H&M for only 29,99. So sue me. I like to think that I just have an artistic vision about little things in life that lift my spirits. It's not that relationships with actual human beings aren't much more imortant than the gorgeousness of finding the perfect pair of Fall boots, it is just that I can't deny that things like spending the weekend painting a thin gold trip around our doors and putting gold hardware on the edges of the dressers will boost my mood considerably. And if I could ever just once leave a salon in better shape than I entered it and have the results last more than seven days .  . .

After being over the moon with joy about my new caramel hair color for about a week, it was time to cover my roots. Sure enough, Elisa at the fancy salon sold me a dye that turned my hair black again. Luckily, I only used it on the very front. I made a new appointment. I patiently counted the moments until said appointment. I walked thirty minutes under a passageway that is truly not scenic and across several lanes of cars and I asked Elisa to exchange the at-home hair color  for a lighter shade. I also asked her to re-do the blackened front for me. She never apologized for having messed up in the first place, and she seemed sort of annoyed to see me. Surprisingly none of my hair drama has to do with the fact that I couldn't express myself clearly enough in Italian. I have a newly expanded vocabulary that is now just filled with Italian hair salon words, weird as that is. I should have been suspiscious about how quickly Elisa finished the job; 45 minutes this time compared to two and a half hours last time. Instead, being the Italian people pleaser that I am, I gave her a huge compliment in front of her boss. This was even after she told me that I would have to come back next week to get the at-home color because they are, despite her assurances to the contrary last week, out of stock.

 Then I got home and looked in the mirror, after the restaurant owner downstairs saw me and (gasp!) chuckled at me, only to find that the front of my hair was red again. I debated whether I could bring myself to call the salon again, but I did. Elisa told me she was too busy to see me for the next five days and she did not apologize at all. I did what all immediate gratification poster children do in this situation and went back to the drug store brand to try to fix the problem myself. It is better, but not perfect. I don't want to ever go back to Elisa, but she is the only one who gave me my HG (holy grail) color after thirty years of waiting. What to do, what to do.

Here I am looking miserable about the red hair. It is not that bad now, but I hate selfies, so I'll show you later.
I discussed this problem of hairdressers who don't acknowledge when they have made a mistake with one of my favorite English students and she launched into a horrific tale of medical woes. Apparently if you think a lot of Italian hairdressers are difficult to deal with, you should meet some of the doctors and surgeons out there. This week I have already heard four stories about botched operations where the doctors could not be sued afterwards because they were famous and belonged to the masoneria. These doctors knew that the results were their fault and denied it and had other doctors cover it up for them. It takes so much money to pay Italian lawyers and the court process is so slow that almost no one bothers to even try to sue for damages unless the tragedy is such that they want to devote their lives for the next ten years to the cause.

In May I am planning a hip hop dance party because my friend Melissa said we could use her huge, gorgeous apartment. I wanted to go to this popular club in Florence, but then it would take so much effort to get there and home and you never know if the music will be good that night or if the men will be too aggressive or if someone will try to ruffie you. This seems like a much better option.

 I used to be the hostess with the "mostess," but lately I have been losing my touch. When I invited one of my other English students to dinner, he looked really horrified. I mean he is shy, but I think the thought of spending an extra hour a week with me really sent him over the edge.

You will forgive me if I update you on my progress since giving up sugar. If I were going to tell you that my skin was glowing and that I was full of energy, I could see how that would be annoying. Rest assured that I am tired as old age home resident, and that the only thing glowing is my hope that I can have a gelato in two weeks. Nevertheless, the fact that I am clearly having serious withdrawal symptoms is enough to make me think twice about going back on sugar anytime soon. I think I can live with occasional red wine, dark, dark chocolate and a gelato once a week. I don't know how the heck I will be able to eat when we go on vacation this summer because of all of the processed food and all of the tricky things they do in restaurants, but here it is relatively simple to eat un-processed foods and stay away from the cookies, cakes, and juice. I can't really imagine putting tablespoons of honey in my tea anymore, but I do still have one or two serious weaknesses and their names are: Oreos and Twizzlers.

This was achieved with a simple cheese slicer. Well worth the time and effort, I'm sure.

Listen, I know things could be worse. BTW, here are some pictures I forgot to share from my mother-in-law's visit.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The last supper (with my suocera)
At dinner this evening  we all almost lost it at the table as Anna changed the topic to her favorite one: death. At one point we were all tearing up from inappropriate laughter. She told the story of yet another friend's funeral which included a red jacket worn by the departed on her last trip to Paris (necessitated by the succession of a republican to the white house), a delayed discovery of the corpse (due to the sudden desire to relocate to Paris), the appearance of a live cow at the funeral, and (this is where we lost it) the ringing of cow bells at said funeral. I regained my composure as Anna explained how the daughter of the deceased read the contents of the dearly departed's refrigerator which was written on two pages of legal paper and contained ingredients that everyone present could "relate to" whether it be "a curry, a caper, or a chutney."

After a glass and a half of wine, I engaged in some dreadful behavior of my own, and asked our friend Salvatore who is the restaurant owner downstairs to bring us the check, and then added in Italian that the sooner the better or that the next funeral story would be my own. 

T pointed out that Anna seemed cheery about her return to American soil and to her dear dog Sally, who is, for what it's worth, deaf. T also made the astute comment, the imagery of which I feel compelled to share with you, that Anna seemed as though she were thumping a triumphant, if imaginary fist, in the air as she slowly made her way back to the hotel and we could almost hear her cry out, "Bridge club, bitches." And then . . .  with a sly Lily Tomlin-esque smile, "I'm back."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

She's Back!
Despite the fact that my mother-in-law Anna has very little neck mobility and cannot walk on her own, she ventured out to Florence with the help of a driver who is paid 15 euros an hour. She will be met at the Savoy hotel, chosen because it offers a restaurant on the premises and which costs 350 euros a night, by an Italian guide named Saschia, a friend of her Italian teacher back in Los Angeles who will be paid 300 euros a day for her services. I will sum it up by saying that for us that is a pretty staggering amount of money.

If Lily Tomlin's monologues ended with someone dying abruptly or flying a kite, she would remind me very much of Anna. . .

We received an email from Saschia which pretty much said that she was shocked by Anna's physical condition almost as much as she was surprised by her desire to come to Florence on her own. She let us know that it would have been an impossible mission had it not been for the fact that her strong and able husband is a nurse and had some free time this week. She then went on to assure us that Anna would not have to pay extra for her husband's services.

In other news, I finally have my dream hair color. Elisa at the Morena salon is a genius. She used this velcro brush to select strands of hair to give caramel highlights without the stripey effect. I look at least five years younger. She also let me buy the salon supplies to use at home so that if I don't muck it up, I will be able to save a lot of money in the long run and not ever have to go back to witchy black hair.

I don't know if it is the sugar withdrawal, my new revamped and reduced schedule for taking the saw palmetto pills according to my hormone cycle, or the snurffling cold that my middle school student brought me this week, but I have hardly worked out all week. I am at an all time low energy wise and it is all I can do to keep my eyes open at three in the afternoon. My walking partner and personal training client is all psyched to reassume the positions this coming Tuesday and I can't imagine how that will go.

Today I met Anna and F at the antique market where she bought herself a huge ring from Nepal. She then went with F to his conversation class. Tonight at dinner she told T that she was glad that she met and even exceeded the expectations she had for her intelligence level. It would have been a shame if she had turned out to be a disappointment. She also told us about the adventure that she had with her toilet at the Savoy hotel. A repair man offered to come and flush for her every time she needed it. She got a real kick out of it. It reminded her about one of her many caregivers in LA. The one that comes on Saturday has to do all of the errands with her her on foot because she has a blemish on her driving record from a time that she drove over the limit coming back from Vegas. I bet that lady really regrets that now. She will not be able to Thelma and Louise it up with Anna in the car for another six months and is now stuck watering plants and taking leisurely walks around the block.

After dinner, my friend Serena came to meet Anna. She brought her a friend's classical musical CD with the hope that Anna could have someone important in LA listen to it. I may have overstated Anna's star status in almost Hollywood land, but at least it gave us something to do. They talked about medicine for a bit and Anna, in full posssession of that American conviction that everyone can understand English even if they can't, launched into a detailed description of her hospital in LA and her inititative to cover its walls with real works of art instead of those "posters of puppies and kittens the nurses insist upon." At some point in her recounting of her own medical career which was impeded by her being born "thirty years too soon" she made a comment about how she "didn't know why I felt it was so important to have children" and that is when I checked out for the night.

All night long Anna took photos of us with her cell phone. I then snuck the phone to F who erased the god awful photos. Then she took more. I finally gave up. This image below is the she will be sharing with her bridge buddies back home. I look great, don't I?

I know I'm a stinker.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Waiting for the other foot to fall 
Today my courageous mother-in-law Anna spent the day with Giorgio who is the husband of F's friend Katy. He speaks English and works at the night desk of the Hotel Noblesse. Giorgio was happy to earn extra money by giving us a hand or two. I dare say that Anna learned more about Giorgio in four hours than she has learned about T in the last four years.

I hadn't seen Anna since before she broke her neck some time ago. The doctors miraculously put her back together in such a way that her head is at an odd angle. She isn't able to turn from side to side or to look higher than about four feet off the floor. Given the situation, one wonders why she is so hell bent on going to Florence by herself with the help of a guide who comes highly recommended by her Italian teacher. I have to assume it is on her bucket list. Since hiring her Italian teacher, Anna can read Italian a little, but she can't understand or speak it. This is good to know as is the fact that she is deathly allergic to garlic.

The little tripod with wheels of a girello that she uses to get around now is about a foot too short for her tall, albeit hunched over, frame. She has had it and dealt with it for at least two years, I believe. After a thwarted visit to the Botanical Garden with Giorgio (it is inexplicably closed on Tuesdays) she spent the afternoon with F at the mercatino that sells used furniture with the idea in mind that she could find me a new couch. This was very generous on her part, maybe even overly generous. She came back to our apartment making gutteral sounds and moaning with her shoulder and what is left of her neck in full spasm. 
It was impossible that during her visit Anna would not either have some issues with her garlic allergy, her penchant for losing important documents, or with her challenged balance and posture; and the thing that got us all this time was behind door number three. I still harbor the concern that she will end up in an Italian hospital which would be about the same story line as Piper ending up in federal prison, for those of you who also watch the television series Orange is the New Black. With tremendous difficulty we were able to get her to lie sideways on our couch and shove a support under her angled head. Once she was horiziontal, I gave her a massage to free up the nerve that was jammed behind her shoulder. It is so badly placed that the lightest touch causes her shoulder blade to make the sound of crunching bones like the wishbone of a chicken being pulled apart. After some tylenol, the massage, and a generous glass of red wine she seemed to regain a bit of lost ground. 

F has let his WASP flag fly high during this little visit. T and I can hardly recognize him as he uses a stiffly, psedo-royal vocabularly and only speaks in long, well-punctuated sentences about the weather and all things botanical. I have no interest in many things that Anna likes to discuss such as plant life, insects, architecture, and all of the particulars about the deaths of people with whom I have never spoken about plant life, insects or architecture.

Today Anna will be having lunch with Giorgio who will then be paid to drive her to Florence for the next three days. During this time, I will try to see if I can de-program F by making him watch bad reality shows and forcing him to eat unwaspy food like falafels and kettle chips. I'm not making any promises, though, as Anna has really done quite a number on him. It is like Downton Abby around here. And I'm P. Diddy.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Day 4 So how do you feel . . . about me?
Today we took Anna for a drive in the country that was punctuated with scenic stops at three ugly markets, including Carrefour and Esselunga so that I could search for hair dye, but more about that later. We took her up to Fattoria Colleverde where she met Piero and we were given the keys to the castle, in that we were allowed to take her in to see where the wine and olive oil are made. She actually seemed to like the agriturismo and the drive through the vineyards quite a bit. I felt like a genius for remembering that we never have figured out a good lunch solution up there so we packed a picnic and were super prepared for the day.

Anna having lunch.
Anna's furry friend.

La panorama.
Now let's talk about something fascinating: my hair. I am about to do something that no one should ever do lightly and that is betray my hairdresser. Much as I love my friends Sonia and Federica that work at Massimo Pretty Hair, Massimo has kind of tied their hands. And that is not a good thing for hairdressers to have. He wants to be the star of his own show and so he does all the haircuts and makes all of the decisions himself. They are allowed only to do low level stuff and not to even learn how to do other things. As a result I have paid a ton of money for hair color that never turn out the way I want to because, the truth be told, he is not that great either. I started out with almost dyed black hair and what I have always wanted was chocolate brown hair with caramel highlights.

I tried to convince the Massimo Pretty Hair gang to use a color removing lotion and then put in the chocolate brown that Penelope Cruz sports, but Massimo said it was too dangerous. Instead he used some bleach that left me with irridescent red splotches, which I really didn't like. I paid for that. Then I convinced them to use the color remover and it worked out pretty well, but there was still a black frame around my face especially at the temples. Massimo said it was too dangerous to use more color remover so the girls had me come when he wasn't there during lunch time to fix it. It worked, but the red splotches still showed through. The plan was that they would next time put some ash toned color on to cover the red. I had to pay for that even though they were too conservative and it didn't work. The last straw was a week later when they tried to put the ash tone on one last time and my hair went back to black. Just like the Amy Winehouse song: Back to Black. And I looked like I was wearing a witch's wig for halloween or comix or something.

I read a beauty blog online that said that a certain brand of blond hair dye could turn black-ish hair back to dark brown. All the stores is this whole zone have the same ordering habits so while I could find Garnier Nutrisse, I couldn't find the number I wanted. After the jaunt in the country I went to the beauty store in town and found something similar. And lo and behold it worked. I am still going to betray Massimo and go to Morena's which is too far from home for me to go to regularly, but where they have the most modern products and a girl named Elisa who managed to take the green out of T's hair earlier this year. It was impressive. I am hoping that she can give me subtle caramel highlights that will camouflage my gray hairs as they peek through. Then I am going to just buy some kind of semipermanent stuff to use at home myself to color the roots so that we can save money.

Luckily, Penelope Cruz has the exact same coloring as me so all of her hits and misses can serve as a guide to me.
Too Light!
Too stripey!

Really bad. I've been there, too, Penelope.

A little too heavy, dark and helmet-like.
This I like.
This image has been T approved.
It is a weird relationship that I have with Sonia and Federica. I always give Sonia my books just as soon as I've finished them and I give them both presents for their birthdays and they get one for me and sometimes also for T. I love the little two second chats we have when the hair dryers aren't too loud, but family first, I guess. And I can't keep bleeding money into Massimo's retirement fund. My Penelope moment is finally in reach, she said, falling on her face.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Day 3, Little Miss Sunshine 
Anna was in a very cheery mood this morning and she surprised me with flowers, mimosa and tulips, that she bought from our friends downstairs in honor of International Women's day. She also took out from her enormous purse some jewlery from her private collection that she brought for T and me from Los Angeles.  After a lunch of homemade burritos, we took her back to Zazzi's scarf store to meet the weaver who was hard at work at the loom. About three and a half seconds of just watching that lady slide her wrists back and forth with consistent pressure and perfect timing gave me second-hand carpal tunnel syndrome. I have no idea how she does it. Anna was unimpressed. She was also unimpressed with the beautiful church of San Frediano and with the antiteatro where she bought little tins of olive oil to bring back to her entourage back home.

T and Anna playing gin rummy.
  I wasn't there when they all went to get gelato because I have been dreaming about gelato for weeks. I was hoping Anna would love it, but T said she choked on it and had quite a bad coughing fit and that they had to get her some water immediately. Next Anna took T out to buy her a pair of Converse and a tee shirt. T had been forcing her toes to curl down to squoosh into her shoes for a while, but every time I offered to get her new ones, she always refuses. Not today, though, thank goodness. We did have to make two different passes at the clothing store because the first time there were people she actually knew in there. I get it. I was fourteen once, too. Whatever.
Shopping the city, pian piano.

Anna was pretty exhuasted at this point, which was totally understandable as two whole hours had passed without her refueling on caffeine ,so F took her out for a campari at the most popular bar in the city right by Chiesa San Michele. He nabbed a prime table out front. Anna took one sip and fell asleep at the table. F said that at least ten people he knows past by and waved at him as he smiled awkwardly and nodded, conjuring images of Little Miss Sunshine or Weekend at Bernie's. He then took her to the restaurant downstairs where they were assured that there was no garlic in the farinata soup before Anna fell asleep again and F ordered some more wine.

The great thing about Lucca is that Minnie Mouse actually hands out free wine.
Meanwhile, T and I went to her friend Giorgia's house. Giorgia's mamma Cristina had sent me a text earlier saying that T should come prepared with a cake recipe because the girls were going to play master chef. I didn't really process this information so I was surprised to find Giorgia's dad and her brother along with somg guy friends all watching rugby on the comfy couch that  I had been dreaming about all day. The women were in the kitchen, including Giorgia's grandma and auntie. They were itching to get started on the master chef competition. By this time my back and feet were throbbing from a day of walking really slowly over the cobblestones. At first I said I would just be judge Cracco, but then I asked Giorgia's grandma in Italian if I could help her and she replied, "What? Are you crazy? This is competition!" So I got cracking. Giorgia's auntie and I raided the fridge for our ingredients just like they do on the show. I asked immediately if I could phone a friend and Cristina laughed and said that was a different show, but yes. F gave me a few oven temperature and timing hints and I chose brussel sprouts, an onion, and red peppers, with lime, ginger, and soy sauce. It came out perfectly. T was more surprised than anyone. Her chocolate cup cake ala Martha Stewart apparently was stunning as well, but I don't know because I didn't get to eat it. I still have a few weeks left on my sugar ban.

Giorgia also made an adorable cupcake with a vanilla and chocolate swirl that was impressive. Cristina made a sweet dumpling so I could only put one prong of my fork into it to taste it, but T ate at least three helpings of it. My favorite was  auntie Paula's dish wish was a kind of bruschetta with boiled quail eggs, toasted cheese and tomatoes with a warm scrambled egg topping. Cristina's mamma who got a little buzzed on only half a glass of wine was the most inventive of the evening. She made a concoction based on raw carrots and lemon sauce that she called the Orange Garden which was weird. She also made Mars versus Venus which was a salad with a pile of pears on one side and celery on the other with three dipping sauces made of combinations of yogurt, lime, gorgonzola, and orange. Only one of those was edible, but she was very convinced in her efforts so T and I gave her rather high marks, although we knew she didn't have a chance. In the end, Giorgia's dad sampled everything and did the final vote tally on the voting cards that T had drawn up. It was really, really fun and we laughed a lot. Cristina does a killer imitation of Rashida who was the Moroccan contestant on the Italian version of Master Chef and she even wore the hair wrap while her sister did the voice saying mi ha cascato la mano over and over again just like she did on the real show.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Day 2 in Suocera-ville
F and I started out the day with a parent-teacher meeting where I tried to plead T's case in front of the professor who gave her the Greek test the other day. I made just enough spell-binding mistakes in Italian to make her think that our child is a genius, so mission accomplished.

After the meeting, F took Anna to see the duomo and to have a cappuccino while I covered his class with a couple, Silvia and Tommaso, both of whom are adorable University students. I was a little freaked out that they spoke English so perfectly that I had nothing to teach them; and so I blathered on about this and that in a frantic way that made them ask more than once when they could have F back as their teacher. I don't blame them really. I was weird even for me. I saw it coming, but once I started I couldn't stop. I handled the situation by doing what I usually do when things are already weird and I invited them to dinner.

This afternoon after we had a nice home cooked lunch with Anna, I took her to our friend Alessandro's fabric store where she was delighted with his presentation and knowledge of the materials. We also visited the erboristeria where my friend Laura found Anna some Tuscan hand cream for the plane. Then we went to the pharmacy where she bought a really cool pair of reading glasses that are white with black calligraphy all over them. Next stop was the scarf store where I offered to buy Anna a cashmere scarf with a hand-printed historic scene of Lucca on it. She couldn't decide on the color, so we went across the street to get her her fourth cappuccino of the day to ponder it over. We are going to go back to Zazzi, the scarf store, tomorrow because the weaver named Rumina will be there in person. She is known as golden fingers because she had worked for all the great design houses like Gucci and Valentino and Anna wanted to see her in action. Anna told a really, really long story to Vladmir at the scarf store about an egg salad sandwich. The moral was that people don't always appreciate artistry. It took us a while to get there, but we got there.

Speaking of getting there, I am a really fast walker usually, but I made an effort to walk so slow that you could not even tell I was moving today because I was so scared that Anna might trip. She has a tendency to veer towards cars and bicycles rather than away from them when you least expect it. I managed to leave the pocket of my wallet open between the pharmacy and the scarf store, but I checked and nothing important fell out.

La suocera

My mother-in-law/suocera arrived today. For the record, my suocera has a huge heart and an even more huge brain. That said, as with all stories concerning familial visits, I am going to try to just stick to the facts, m'aam. My blogging philosphy for the sake of this encounter holds true for all of my encounters with anyone in my life who ends up as blog fodder, and is one that I have borrowed from the great Anne Lammott.

F went to go pick Anna and her enormous suitcase up from the airport at 3pm and got her settled into her hotel with the elevator down the road by 4:30. By 4:45 she had made the heroic climb up to our apartment, wheeled walker, extra coats and sweaters and all. She asked us about three questions about our lives in the new country and then proceeded to tell very involved stories about people we don't know for the next four hours.

She told one story about a man who drew the Disney cartoons for the film of Bambi, but who now makes amazing silk kites which he flies every fourth weekend with the help of a young man who is not his son. It had the potential to be a lovely story, really it did. Anna doesn't allow for awkward silences and fills all of the potential dead air time with details. I came to find out that this man whose name is Uncle Tim wears a broad brimmed, fisherman's hat and that he eats almonds and dried apricots for his snack among many, many other things. About the kites mostly. It struck me as odd that we all haven't seen each other in over four years and this was the main topic of conversation, but I went with it. F was convinced by her intensity that Uncle Tim must have been a forgotten relative of his, but he came to find out that Uncle Tim is Chinese. At this revelation, I turned to him brightly and announced, "Honey, we have something to tell you. You're adopted!" I, sadly, was the only one who found this amusing, so I played it off that drinking wine at 6:00 pm is something that we do every evening.

Later, the stories took a more pointed turn when Anna started talking about my niece and nephew and what their possible career paths might be. She turned to me and asked, "So what is it exactly that you want to be when you grow up?" To which I responded that I am exactly what I want to be when I grow up right now. It is F's assertion that the remark was not meant to be offensive in any way. And while this is surely true, it still managed to sting. 

 I'm pretty sure she thinks of F's falling in love and marrying me as though he were the talking snail in the cartoon below:

Luckily, we still have seven more days to pursue all these theories a lot further.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The bunny who cried wolf
The doorbell just rang! Usually T calls me to chat on her walk home from school. Today there was no call and that was a bad sign. Sfiga adosso level bad sign. Then the doorbell rang. It was the post lady. The nice one. The nice and the mean post ladies are the only people aside from blood relations who have seen me without foundation makeup on. Today I was in rare form. I had just done a facial mask. That lady thinks I'm a wreck. She had to help me count out my change. It turned out that T got presents from her friends out of the country, Savana in America and Caoimhe in Spain. Then I ran back in and found out that I missed two of T's phone calls.

This is what happened with T's dreaded Greek test.

 T got the versione/text to translate. The professoressa told the class, "You probably will have heard this story before." But T thought, "What possible chance is there that I have heard this Italian fable before? I'm doomed."

She started with the first line. The young man -blank- of the sheep of the village. And the verb to fill in the blank was eneme and so she found a verb in the dictionary.  (Last night F and I labeled her massive, red, hard covered Greek dictionary with post-its so that she could waste less test-taking time combing the dictionary for the start of each new letter's section.) The verb was enemo which is related to enema which means to vomit and other things involving explosive bodily fluids. And so she said to herself, Hmmn, this dude has some kind of body explosion in front of the sheep of the village.

So she decided to leave the body explosion part out and go ahead with the rest of the story in which this poor dude, as T refers to him, is trying to corall all the sheep and he keeps going to the village people and saying that wolves will come soon, but the villagers ran out of the village three times. Finally, the poor dude says, jeez will you help me with the sheep or not? And the villagers reply, nah we're going to play. And then the sheep got eaten.

 The ending or moral to the story was, however, crystal clear: liars are never believed even when they're telling the truth.

 Wait a minute, T's internal monologue continued, this doesn't make any sense. It doesn't match the story of the poor dude with the intestinal issues. That's when it hit her: this is the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

In the last ten minutes remaining T went back to the metaphorical drawing board to start over. She remembered that in Greeek  when you have an imperfective you add an e before the word and a declination ending at the end. The verb eneme became nemo. As in Finding Nemo, but that's a different story. And nemo means something about devastating or sheep getting eaten violently. T knew she had a lot of editing to do. She did it directly in bella copia so she wouldn't have to rewrite it, and that is that.