Monday, September 29, 2014

Nicest niece ever

I shouldn't have stressed over it. All house guests should be as easy and polite as my niece.

F hasn't figured out the selfie height differential. Those slits are his EYES.

Welcome to Lucca. No, honey, you have not entered some weird time warp, it's where we live now.

Here are Jasper and T eating gelato.
You know she is great, if she can handle me on day twelve of my cycle.
Day 12 according to the green line of estrogen is the zombie apocolypse.

Here is an interesting fact: I moved to Tuscany and I am deathly allergic to the blossoming olive orchards so that even when I am inside my sinuses look like whoopie cushions and my eyes look all puffy and weird. Imagine if I went to the countryside right now. Actually, don't do that. Don't do that with all your might.

Hint: This is not me. Not on day 12, anyway.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sweating and the Italian Bachelor

I'm not saying that I watch Uomini e Donne, which is the Italian equivalent of the The Bachelor, but let's just say it is occasionally part of my anthropological studies. That said, how hot must they keep that studio? With all the attention to hair and make-up how can they let everyone's underarm sweat stains show? Even Maria de Filippi has stains under her arms. There has been a lot of press about the connection between anti-perspirant and cancer. Hopefully, these guests were wearing enough cologne to mask any unfortunate spillage. I actually support the Italian anti-anti-perspirant proclivity because I had a terrible reaction to the aluminum-based ingredient which gave me 72 hours of sweat protection while I was fitness instructing and then caused sharp salt like crystals to emerge from my face instead. Not fun. Go ahead, young lovers, detoxify naturally on camera.

To be fair . . . It was a two part episode.

 I love the fact that the show host is shpritzing on the staircase there. When she bends forward you can see completely down her shirt. And complimenti on her abs, but it is a bit awkward. I mean this is a highly paid "journalist" who is really calling it in. Am I right?

The whole audience looks like a before shot for the commercial for Right Guard, Secret, Dial, Dove and Arrid combined.

Martha Stewart, I'm not
Some people brag about being great hostesses. I am not one of those people. I may do an occasional cork art project, but my hostessing abilities are the following: I can invite people over for a meal. Scratch that. I can invite a-ton-a-lotta (that's Itanglish for many) people over for a meal. Then I can have my husband cook that meal while I nag about why the kitchen looks like a hurricaine hit it seconds before they walk in. In that way, I do resemble Martha. He says he loves me anyway.

I clean the bathroom, mind you. I Windex the windows. I Swiffer. And I do dinner chat. That's about it. If anyone has ever slept over here who is not a friend of T's it has been sheer coincidence because I don't invite people to sleepover. Not since I was twelve or a drunken 22. That's why I admit that I went into panic mode when F's sister's daughter asked to come stay with us.

We haven't seen her in person in twelve years. She is now 21 and studying for six months in Norway. Her request to come stay with us was perfectly understandable. She gave us about two weeks lead time. Then we didn't hear from her ever again. In the meantime, I scrambled. I sent out emails enquiring about apartments for her. Surely she values her privacy as much as I value not having to clean the bathroom sink five times a day. I'm germaphobic, okay. I said it.

This is tourist season and the discount friend rate would have still cost me forty euros a night. I then tried to made a deal with a student: Her appartamentino for my lessons. My niece was, apparently, in bed with a cold for a bit and also she is not a planner. My side of the family are planners. This student called me as she was on her way out of town to Greece and the frantic text exchanges seemed like they might mingle friendship and business to an uncomfortable degree and so I dropped out of the negotiations mid-stream. It was complicated because there is only one flight from Norway to Pisa that takes three hours instead of nine hours and costs around 300 euro instead of 500 euro and that was for today.

Unfortunately, my hostessing style is a little more ala Kanye.

Flash forward to yesterday -- the day before the flight -- when our niece decided to confirm. Should I start monogramming stuff or flower arranging? I would have . . . . but now it's too late.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

And that's why . . .

Let me start by saying that I knew instantly that one or more of my students had accidentally eaten the pastries meant for the "important" people in the sala/classroom next to ours just by a quick glance at their guilty faces. They didn't do it on purpose. There was no sign over the pastries ,and the classroom next to ours appeared to be empty and dark at the time. The delicious looking little pastries were placed on a silver tray on the little corner table in the hallway outside the two rooms. My usually sweet coworker must have gotten her ass handed to her for letting my students eat the goodies. That is the only way I can explain her personality transplant. She came down to my classroom and started giving the students a completely humorless lesson about how it could never happen again. I had been trying to make these folks feel comfortable and like they belonged for the past four hours in a row and here she comes erasing all the work I just did. So I defended them. I said that it was a misunderstanding and that next time there should be a sign. And I would do it again. Okay?

If I didn't say it before let me say it now: I love my class.
 A few people didn't come today because they had medical appointments. I got a new student so I had to review yesterday's four hour lesson using a flow chart that sums up everything that we did in just fifteen minutes; and I had to do it in a way that my Romanian student who still struggles with Italian could understand. Afterwards, my boss came to tell me that I looked "exhuasted but exhilarated," whatever that means.
Two students are friends from Florence who have to make a train at one o'clock sharp to get back to Florence in time. Otherwise, they are really screwed. We decided that instead of taking ten minute breaks every fifty minutes we would take a longer break at 11:00 and then everyone could leave fifteen minutes early. My usually sweet coworker heard about this and she came down to insist that we didn't let anyone leave early because, theoretically, the employment agency that sent us the English students could send an inspector by to make sure that they are getting their full four hours of class time. At a quarter to one -- ironically, I taught the students how to tell time today -- I turned to the friends and asked them if they wanted to go smoke an imaginary cigarette or go to the bathroom - wink, wink. They were too scared to go. Really? Are you sure you don't want to go to the bathroom, I asked. Then out of the corner of my I eye, I caught that same female coworker from the English school office sending another coworker, an official looking man in a suit, to count heads and make sure that no one had left early.

And That's Why I taught a dozen Italian people the word BULLSH*T today.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hello, First Day!

Today I went upstairs when I should have gone downstairs. I finally found my classroom at the English school, but there seemed to be a teacher already at the front of the room. Insert panic attack. It turned out she was the lady from the unemployment agency who makes the students fill out a million forms for fifteen minutes before I can really even say hello to them. So that was an awkward quarter of an hour. I tried to smile and make eye contact with some people. It was weird to be the oldest in a room full of adults, one of whom had a gray beard. Out of the 13 students I was supposed to have -- I lost two and gained one, which is super Italian. There is not one obnoxious person in the group. I love them all so far. One guy named Mario is downright adorable. He is from Naples and he translates whatever I say into Italian for the guy sitting next to him and anyone else who wants to hear his fairly correct version of events. It's as though I'm the soccer player and he is the sports announcer. It's like I have a pronoun within striking distance of the goal at all times, if you know what I mean.

There are two sisters who I knew pretty early in the game were ringers and who are in a beginners' class, even though they are really intermediate students. One  prim little lady who didn't really open her mouth the whole class except when I forced her to, got a 19 out of 20 on the assessment test, but I didn't know that until I got home.

Out of six men in the class, four of them have names that start with the letter M and two of them are named Marco. That was rough. Poor Stefania doesn't know a word of English and is also not going to be there tomorrow, meaning that she will be behind four hours of lessons. I am choosing not to think about that, grazie.

 I have an alarm on my phone that plays a disco tune whenever we are supposed to get a coffee break. One of the Marcos got me an Italian coffee during the coffee break. Normale? he made sure to ask me before he went out to the caffe. Normale! I confirmed, knowing that I would gain coolness points with the class if I downed the little mini dentist's cup full of espresso without any sugar when he brought it back for me. Unfortunately, I forgot that I haven't had that level of caffeine in years. After a while I noticed a slilght tremor of my writing hand and an unprecedented level of enthusiasm for someone who has been teaching English for nearly four straight hours.

My favorite lesson of all is teaching the Present Simple. The Present Simple lesson is when I get to use pictures of superman, superwoman, and their super robot dog named "It" to teach why we add an "s" to verbs in the third person singular. That kills, I tell you. I got great laughs when I explained about how verbs like kiss that end in ss are spelled differently and made a few conjectures about superman and superwoman's sex life. When she's not in the mood, she kisses him. When she has a headache, he kisses her. But when it's on, they both kiss. I mean that was some entertainment that I provided what with the acting out and doing all the impressions. They should pay me extra for that.

At the end of the class I really got a phone call. It was from F. I can only put three alarms on my phone so he has to call me at the end to tell me to come home. I answered the phone, "OK amore, ci siamo allora." And then I explained to the class that my husband said it was time for all of us to go home. One guy thought that was so funny that he almost fell off his chair.

This is much easier than teaching fitness, although I'm not sure it is doing very much to tone my inner thighs.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

 Oh, I give up!

Bianca and her adorable friend Manu

Today I went to a fashion show that was for the elimination of violence against women. You have to be happy that it wasn't for violence against women because we are in Italy, and, you never do know. As someone who watched four episodes of Uomini & Donne today, I speak from media experience. I, personally, wish it had not been a fashion show for what I hope are obvious reasons, but in its defense, the women were not models and the clothes and accessories were mostly made by women and from women run businesses. It would have been nice if women at the event didn't describe the models based on their waist circumference, even if just for one day,  and if there had been a sense of sisterhood or comraderie. If there was, for me, it was largely lost in translation. I hope that some woman benefits from this event in a profound and important way, although I doubt it. All in all, I might not have been in the right mood for this social function. (You think??)  The best part were these three teenage actresses who did a couple of short theatrical numbers about what it means to be a woman in loud, strong, angry voices that scared the crap out of every man in attendence.

I desperately did not feel like getting all dolled up for the event, but I did.

There was a very melancholy clarinet player. On a happy note, the previously skeletal MC, looked much healthier than she did two years ago at this event.

This is Bianca's mother. Bianca works at the provincia di Lucca and she invited me to the event through a company email that never arrived. Bianca's mother told me a story about how she couldn't keep this guys three wives straight because they were all chubby and she couldn't tell chubby women apart. Sigh.

These young girls learned a valuable lesson about how youth and beauty trumps everything as they were mobbed by photographers and largely ignored by the angry actresses.

 While the event coordinators consciously included more mature women and a pregnant woman, the effect was largely negated by everyone going "Wow look at that pancione (large belly)!" and "How old do you think that one is?"

P.S. I practice taught my friend Patrizia the first lesson that I am going to teach my first real English class on Tuesday. It went pretty well. These are the eight notebooks of material that I have put together to fill up 80 hours of class time. That's right, some 13 unemployed individuals who are probably being forced to spend with me by a bureaucratic agency that requires a copy of all my class handouts and who are forcing me to give the students an assessment test first thing when they arrive, are going to get their hands on a lot of paper.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What I gathered
This what I gathered from T's first day of the equivalent of tenth grade/quinta ginnasio. First there was eye rolling and a general unwillingness to share, but I have my methods. You're welcome.

Allora, T got moved to the other building where the older kids mostly take class. Her classroom is universally hated by the professors. It is right off the entrance. It has a door with a knob on one side and a big, metal bar on the other side, kind of like a meat locker. One kid went to the bathroom and couldn't get back in. He had to keep knocking until they had pity on him and taught him how the door worked. There is an old fashioned pedestal that the teacher's desk sits upon. On one side sits a small black board, and on the other there's a large erase board that is so old that it is now gray. There is one measely map as decoration. Her class has diminished from 28 students down to 20. Some kids who were forced to retake exams to get back in didn't make it and have to start all over at another school. Whoever survives this year will have less chance of having to switch schools. There is also a tiny little radiator near the teachers desk that couldn't warm the whole room, even if this were Hogwarts.

Speaking of Hogwarts, there was quite a school of witchcraft and wizardry type of welcoming protocol for the first day. All the kids had to stand for about fifteen minutes while speeches were made by three gentleman and a woman who is known throughout the city because she is the vice principal and because she bears a striking resemblance to Cruella DeVille, flowing fur dalmation coat and all. One of the men was wearing a sash and one had an interesting dental situation.  One speaker was the guy whose job it is to make sure that the delapidated classrooms are up to code. He announced proudly that while there was some debate up to the last minute about what to do about their classroom, it was all settled. There has not been heat in that room for years. It is famous because the students wrap themselves in blankets during the winter. While he talked jokingly about the skirmishes that took place, another of the gentleman leaned in and confided in the kids that "it was like Vietnam."

The religion teacher made a valiant effort today to convert the unconvertible. The kids are usually split up into groups because her class is optional, but because she had a shot at everyone today she gave it a real effort. First, she made the class go around the room and say a thing about how one thing about the way they look makes them different from the others. Most people said stuff about their clothing. Riveting stuff like, I'm the only one wearing a purple t-shirt. She announced that the key word of the day was observation. She then asked the class how people first hear things. Knowing a trap was coming, they answered that you hear with your ears. Wrong! We hear with -- wait for it -- body language. Ah yes, you learn something new every day. The class was pretty sure that you don't hear with body language, but no one was going to contradict that teacher. After snack-time they came back into the classroom to find a pamphlet called Take the Plugs Out of Your Ears and Listen. It had a washed out picture of an ear on it that just looks like a big white blob. The pamphlet begins by saying that the teacher would like the children to carry this design with them all year long and all their lives, if possible.The take away is that we should listen with are hearts the way You Know Who does. And I'm not talking about Voldemort.
The image of a lifetime. That is a head with an ear on the left.

The new math teacher sported vivid pink eyeshadow, a cat eye, bright pink lipstick, uneven black-blue bangs, and an orange shirt. Even in that get up, she looked less like Professor Umbridge than the vice principal. There is a test on Thursday. She said not to study for it. I don't get that. The old Latin teacher told the students that most of the homework was optional, but she told the new Latin teacher that it was mandatory. These professors think they are dealing with a bunch of suckers, apparently.

The new Latin professoressa is not too mean. That's all you get.

Novita'/The Latest

Here is a picture from cork-art-as-an-excuse-to-drink night. I wish I had Bernadette in the photo, but oh well.

This is the new old mirror we bought at the Mercatino for the iving room.
The radiator kind of throws off the spatial balance so we thought it would help frame the sitting area.
 T made friends with this young woman in her yoga class who has started up an Indian take out business on the sly. We love on the sly. It was quite delicious even though the portions were tiny. The naan bread also didn't work out, but everything else was scrumptious. Ethnic food restaurants are not allowed to open up within the city walls and the ones outside the walls are mostly bad so this was very exciting indeed!

Saturday night was Santa Croce again. For once, it didn't rain on everyone.

My old neighborhood landmark was Ozzie's coffe shop in Park Slope, so this is still shocking.

Just as I had finished the Buon Appetito sign for the restaurant below and right after cork art stopped being fun, Salvatore, the owner of the restaurant downstairs and my prime cork supplier, stopped me to tell me two things. One, he had more corks for me (groan). I had to beg him to stop giving me their corks. But it made me feel so good to have something to do with them, he said. He looked so pleadingly at me that I considered continuing to take them upstairs and then creating a secret dumping plan where I would then just throw them away. But we share the same garbage bag alley, and also, no.

The second thing was his idea. He asked me if I had finished the sign and I, without thinking, said yes, because I had. He tried to get away with an Oh well, forget it. I had to actually threaten to tickle him in front of his customers - which T says is cringe worthy - to get him to tell me that instead of Buon Appetito he preferred a sign that said Da Rosolo which is the name of his restaurant in honor of his late father. So back to the drawing board I went. I had to dismantle the corks and strip the glue off them and they looked a bit horrible. Then I had to start all over again because the real corks are too hard to read and it actually works better with the fake sillicone kind of cork.  In the end, it seemed like they liked it. I hope they did. We still haven't been to their rivals' restaurant and it is so awkward. The rivals kind of glare at us. Every day.

Here are Salvatore's wife Stefania and me in front of the sign. A little too much space between the d and the a, but it's too late now.
 Today is T's first day back at school so here is the :)LOTD (that means "look of the day" for all of you sfigati/uncool people out there who are a day behind me in keeping up with the lingo). You're welcome.