Saturday, January 31, 2015

So on Fridays I teach two brothers who have a family resemblance and one of the brother's girlfriends. The brother with the girlfriend is one of my favorite people on planet earth. I had prepared a lesson analyzing the lyrics to songs by Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie just for him. When only two people entered my apartment and explained in Italian that one of the brothers couldn't make it because of exams, I had a weird reaction. I kind of blacked out. I decided that the brother with the girlfriend didn't make it because that was so disappointing given the lesson I had prepared specifically for him. Lately I've had to live through a lot of worst case scenarios so I guess I just assume the worst now? Actually both brothers sing and play guitar and love music, but I digress. I referred to my students by name so that they could take turns reading. They looked at me strangely. At the end of the lesson, I told them to send my regards to the brother who took the exam. It turns out that I had mistakenly superimposed the identity and face of the one brother on the other one and had wrongly referred to him the whole time. The brother and his girlfriend looked at each other and then at me before leaving. I can only hope they thought that it was just a name confusion and not full on dementia. Kill me now. What in the world has happened to my brain?

In my defense, I am still poisoned by the burdock tea I drank for a month before I realized I was deathly allergic to it. I still have rashes, nausea, dizziness, and sleep disturbances and I can't wait for this stuff to wear off.

Please enjoy my friend Ian's 3D printing self portrait just because it is AWESOME.
Outrageousness is in the air it seems. While the Cat Lady of all Cat Ladies, who is T's English teacher, was out of the room some kids put one of the tallest boys into the paper recycling bin on a dare; and then when he tried to walk in there, he tipped over flat on his face causing all of the kids to start roaring with laughter.  Two visiting academics were walking by at the time and could be overheard saying, "This school just isn't what it used to be." And they couldn't even see inside the room from where they were!

When the professor finally did commence with the lesson she asked T to read aloud and then proceeded to speak over her as if she could vicariously claim T's native speaker skills. To hear T tell it, it was beyond bizarre. Among other things, she claimed that American English should be learned outside of classroom because the Americans are everywhere, that Scottish people's accents are insane, that the Irish all have last names that begin with Mac or O like the actor "See-an" O'Connery. She also announced that there is a very fun! name for parties in American English which T had to persuade the class was not, in fact, happy hour. She also made some over-generalization about the Welsh which spurred the kid behind T to ask her, ironically, if those were the people who mated with sheep.

The level of misinformation, prejudice, and general ignorance at T's school as regards other cultures can be overwhelming as when at last week's assembly one professor made the one African student with dark brown skin get up in front of everyone so that the teacher could praise her complexion and explain to the others that she had the same blood and bones as everyone else. I suppose she meant well. This was the same meeting in which a Religion professor told all of the students that Muslims have a close minded religion hence, as T put it, calling others closeminded while being close minded about her own closemindedness. Or something like that.

At one point, the English professor talked about a woman named Nellie who she used to speak English with when she was young student herself, but pointed out in her repetetive like the goose from Charlotte's Web kind of way that this woman was dead, dead, dead. And not only that, but her whole family would by dead, dead, dead by now. T was just barely keeping back the laughter when her desk mate Camilla wrote on her desk RIP Nellie. Tears started spraying out of T's eyes from the long witheld giggle attack. The professor noticed T's hilarity and began laughing right along with her. Needless to say, that didn't help matters.

Among the other mortifying moves I have made this week, I wrote to a couple on Homeexchange to see if they wanted to trade us for their lovely home in Corsica this summer and they wrote back to tell me that they lived in Lucca around the corner for us so they weren't really interested. I panicked and went back to the listing to make sure that it wasn't all my fault, but it turns out that they just have a summer house and that I couldn't have known. They also invited us to have a bottle of wine with them at their spectacular apartment. You can't make this stuff up, people.

TWIN PEAKS UPDATE: Oy yoy. I hope I wasn't the reason that the other brother showed up today with my favorite couple and he had shaven his head into a fade with a modified mohawk rendering him completely different than his sibling! 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Communication ISSUES
When you teach English, you have to sometimes live in a state of communication limbo in which neither you or your student can make themselves understood. It comes with the territory, so to speak.

Example A. My eleven year old student is obssessed with a video game called Skylanders. He is so darn smart that sometimes he finishes his English homework too quickly and we have extra time. His attempt at teaching me how to play the actual Wii game included our waking up his little sister from where she was napping on the couch and me using a joystick to follow his little animated magic character around a labyrinth of scary villians and turtle guys who were firing at us. I had no idea which buttons to push when. He said no words in English and almost none in Italian while he tried to get the most points possible and pretty much forgot I was even there. Undaunted, this week I decided to get him to make an English language comic book about his favorite passtime. He decided unequivocally that he had to draw the characters before we wrote the story. Everytime I tried to speak to him, he looked up at me sternly and said, I kid you not, "Shush."

However the few times he did speak, I, in all my stupidity, did not understand him at all. First was what will go down in history as the legendary trousers box incident. Man oh man did he think I was stupid for not knowing that a trousers box is where you keep the buried trousers. Yeah it took me a hot minute (or four) to figure out that he was saying treasure box. He was unphased when I pointed out that trousers are pantaloni in Italian and just looked at me pitifully.

Another thing you have to know is that the Skylanders characters represent seven elements: water, fire, magic, technology, non-dead (you don't want to know what this means, trust me), air, and . . .
well I kept thinking he was saying air and air. So I said, "No, kiddo, you said that one already." Err. Err, Err he told me. "Right, you said that already," I repeated. This continued forever. Then he pointed at his tongue with his index finger while he stuck it out between his teeth and said ttttthhhhh. Err ... .. .tttthhhhhh. Basically, he spit at me.

OH, earth! EARTH!! Sorry, sorry, sorry. Air and earth. I gotcha.

And then there are inexplicable moments of joy, like when my student friend Anna got up out of her chair and did a little improvised happy dance because she was so excited about the English word nonetheless. What the heck/cavolo is that? she asked. I told her it was like nonostante tutto or cio nonostante in Italian. "I get it," she cried out, "It's three words: none-the-less. You Americans are so CUTE!" Not only did this little word sandwich thrill her, but she gave me (personally) all the credit for it. You would have thought I invented Oreos and then fed her one -- it was that sweet.

As for awkwardness, because I put the AWK in awkwardness, there's the fact that I never think I am cool enough for my 20 somethings group. This time I gave them an advanced learners game of taking eight English words and having to tell a story about them. The young man who told us about running over a fox accidentally last time (see last week's post) got back at me by making up a story in which the GLORY OF GOD brought the fox back to life and then waved jauntily to him as he drove off into the sunset. Anyway, after the game was over, they were all shy again and I didn't know what to talk about, so for some reason I went all Wendy Williams on them and taught them all about the Bill Cosby scandal. Yeah, I don't know why either. And then time was up and they paid me. I have a weird job.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

OK America, I'm a little jealous of this
Now you've gone too far:

If Jennifer Lawrence and Richard Pryor had a love child . . .
it would be me this week.

I really have done a couple of fiercely wacky things lately. First of all, in order to get my 20 something students to speak in English more I spent over an hour surfing the web and stealing all of the Table Topics questions I could and made them interview each other. One thought provoking question was, "What is the best thing you ever saw looking out of a car window?" This turned into a conversation about animals on the road.

 It turns out that the two brothers Tommaso and Jacopo had been on a road trip when a fox jumped out of the hills and in front of their car. They thought they had hit a cat. They went back to tell the owners what tragedy had befallen their pet. They are such good Italian boys. Really, the best. Anyway, it turned out that it was a fox and that it was still barely alive. They knew they had to put it out of its misery by running over it again. Before they decided to do that mercy pass, Jacopo, who was driving and therefore felt the most guilty, thought about calling an animal protection hotline to see if they could get the fox emergency care. This is where I went all JL on everyone and started pointing and yelling. I said, "Hey, wait a minute. We're in Italy. Are you talking about one of those famous verde number hotlines? Those never work! You can't fool me. How would you ever have been able to even find out what the number was? You couldn't -- that's how! I mean I can never find one of those. . . If I am lying on the street, bleeding to death, I'd be lucky to get an ambulance to arrive. . . And even . .. even if you did know the number, no human being would ever ever answer you, let alone send out an individual to what -- give mouth to mouth to the fox??? ARE YOU CRAZY??"

Sadly, Jacopo understood that I was a vegetarian who wanted him punished for a foxy hit and run.

So that happened.

Then last night I made T come with us to our quarterly pizza and movie night with Elena and Angelo. T babysits for their daughter Alice so I felt like she should come and not disappoint Alice. Alice had others plans for the evening and she wasn't there, which really really made me look bad. Anyway, there was a lot of email discussion about the choice of film because Elena's dad is a movie pirate of the Internet, but sadly I don't share his taste in films. Anyway I sent F to their house in preparation to figure out once and for all how to hook up a lap top to their TV so that we could bring the film and not be dependant on her Dad's downloading operation. Listen people, we would gladly pay for Netflix and be legitimate if it were not desperate times and we made American level salaries. I found an Italian site that offered the films with subtitles as to Elena's instructions and I convinced them to let us bring the film Boyhood which I then loaded up on to my computer. F told me that we had to use his computer for their television so we loaded it on to his. I tried to think of all possible pitfalls and so we loaded extra versions in case of problems with transmission.

Unfortunately, we got to their house sat down wtih our pizzas and the baggie of peperoncino that I make F put in his pocket because Elena doesn't like spicy food, only to find out that the film had no subtitles afterall. Then we all argued about which language to watch the film in. We wanted Italian for them and they wanted English for us, despite the fact that no one can understand Patricia Arquette in either language. We then wasted fifteen minutes fiddling about trying to find other versions to no avail. Disaster. The film, which we don't understand what all the fuss is about, despite the cool factor of watching the child actors age in front of your eyes since the movie was shot over a span of 12 years, is very long and they made us promise to do it all again next week so that we can see the last hour of it. Sigh.

In other news, I won over my two new twin eleven year old middle school students Alessia and Federica, only to annoy their parents because I spoke to them too much in Italian. The parents were waiting in my livingroom because I had promised the girls a fun video after we got their homework done and I didn't want to break my word. This is the first time I have ever got in trouble because my Italian was too good.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Just another day at the paint company
I had my first day of work at the Materis paint company the other day. F has taught English there before so he was supposed to know the drill. Our boss at the English school came up with a brilliant solution for the transportation problem. She arranged for me to teach two courses back to back at a location very near to where F has to teach so that he could give me a ride. He did give me a ride, but as for helpful hints, not so much.

Let's talk about paint!
It's a gorgeous location if you like cement and such.

Go team English! (Actually this is a stock photo and I don't know those people.)

We got there 20 minutes early because I am compulsive and because the boss said to get there at least 15 minutes early the first day so that I could get my entrance and exit badge. We waited and waited while I kept nagging F and telling him that it made no sense for us to get there early if we were just going to wait in the car and not get all of the bureaucratic, annoying things started. After ten minutes I resorted to calling our boss and telling her that I didn't see my coworker from the office and I didn't want to be late to class. It turned out that we were waiting in the overheated car for nothing because I was supposed to go to the reception area. Once in the reception area, I introduced myself to the receptionist and then realized that I knew her from somewhere. She is one of my ex-fitness clients from when I worked at the LIFE gym. She is a virtual living magnet for negativity and bad luck, but I was happy to see a familiar face. Even if it turned out that that face had literally been run over by a car this October and she had barely survived. Anyway, she gave me my badge which is used to get in and out of a revolving door to enter the cement cubes that make up the administrative part of the company. I knew I would get lost just because everything looks like everything else when it comes to cement cubes. And I get bored easily and have no sense of direction.

She said that I was to meet my co-worker there. He is a nice man. Well, he seems like he is secretly a nice man although he is all business and not very big on making pleasant conversation or smiling. Anyway, his entire job entails schlepping his well suited behind over to where I am going to teach and then patiently and calmly explaining how to do things that an intelligent pre-schooler can do. He showed me how to give the class forms to fill out and how to take attendance. This is like the sixth time I have been shown these things. Then he stressed out about whether he should come back in an hour and show me again when the second class came. The representative lady at the paint company assured him she would check in on me to make sure it got done so that he could take off. Is my Italian that bad? I mean do they really want to trust me to teach English if they can't trust me to hand out forms and make people sign things?

That is actually another issue. I am not super proficient in English grammar, although I know more stuff than I did say five months ago. My strength is in exploring the terrifying life of a stand up comic who has been constrained by economic motives to use some English grammar as the source of all her material. I was supposed to have two classes with six students each. There was some convention or other for paint people, though, so I only had these two sweet guys the first hour. All my jokes killed with them. Therefore, I was unprepared for the second hour where I had two men and two women who either didn't get any of my jokes or were so prepared for the kind of mean Italian professors that they usually have that they didn't know what to make of me.

I was violently nauseous before the class, and this is only in part due to the fact that I had been drinking a "health tea" which turns out to cause violent nausea in some lucky people. I think most of the pain I have suffered in my life has been self-inflicted. My resolution for 2015 is to stand in front of myself with my arms crossed and not let myself make any changes to my daily routine without getting six other people's opinion on it and then having my coworker teach them how to sign forms to that effect.

F asked me what I plan to teach next week. He told me he could lend me some material on the different roles people have at the company and blah blah blah. I said I probably would come up with a different idea. He asked me why and I said something like, "because that's as boring as watching paint dry, dude." Sometimes I feel like I truly am the expat Kathy Griffin.

Paint that, you bureaucratic wackadooodles!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


T stayed up all night on Thursday night because she had tons of homework and an essay to do. None of us slept well because when T asked us if she could go to sleep at a decent hour and stay home to finish the assignments the next day, F and I had said that she couldn't. We said that she needed to meet her deadline even if it meant staying up all night. And then we felt guilty. Guilty and yet fairly certain that it was the right thing. The next day we ended up allowing her to stay home because while she had held up her end of the deal, she was still not satisfied with the writing she had produced and she was exhausted. Mostly we let her stay home because while I am favorably impressed with her two most important professors in terms of their competency in their given subjects, there was still the chance that she would have been "humiliated," as she put it, by having to read the essay aloud knowing that it isn't what she really wanted to say and/or receive a grade that doesn't reflect her knowledge of the subject.

Theoretically, a series of bad grades could lead any of the kids in her class to either have to study all summer under the threat of not being allowed back in school next year or failing out at the end of this year. I believe they lost eight classmates this way from the first year to the second. The professors expect a certain about of strategic game playing from what days the students choose to call in sick to when they opt to use their justifications to get out of being interrogated. The chance of T's not passing is very slim, but she is kind of just at the treading at the water mark in terms of sufficiency for certain subjects as are many of her classmates. Nevertheless, T would like to attend a college preparatory course this summer at an English or American University and her grades do have an impact on whether she can get financial aid or scholarships. The gambling and numbers aspect makes the Liceo Classico di Lucca more similar than not to Atlantic City.

Here's where I get angry. It turned out, predictably, that the professor discovered that the majority of the class not only plagarized the essay, but that they had plagarized the same essay and that the majority of the class turned in identical work apart from T. The prof's response was that while copying is okay, they should only plagarize in pieces so that there is some variety to what she has to grade. REALLY?? I mean if T picked up the habits of her classmates and then went on to an American university, she would be expelled without the shadow of a doubt. And rightfully so.

 That's a different kind of cheating. But it is also mega super popular in Italy.
The level of corruption in Italy is so entrenched that nobody blinked an eye at the professor's statement. It is bad enough that one of the girls in her class puts the homework answers online for the rest of the class to copy. Beyond that, they routinely copy off each other's papers in the classroom and ask each other for help during tests. I feel like T should get two to four points higher for every assignment she does, not because Italian is her second language, but because she is one of the few who actually works for it and is trying to learn the material instead of just working the system. Given all that, how am I supposed to face these professors at the next parent teacher conferences? T said she would hate for me to bring it up as it would help her in no way at all, but it is really hard to just sit idly by and watch this happen.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Sale time in Lucca

I went with Patrizia and Elizabetta for the first day of the sales. For those of you who live in New York, I suggest you sit down. We only get sales here for two weeks a year. Once in January and once in June. That's alright, people, breathe.

What I learned: you are not a real Lucchese (Luccrazy) unless you go straight to Tezenis at 4:00 PM on Monday afternoon and buy four different, but coordinating, tank tops that will cost you about 4,50 each instead of the usual 12,00 which you will then save until summer.

All of these women had one thought: tank tops.

Patrizia told us that she had been courting/corteggiando this one purse/borsa from Desigual for three years. Today she got it ("l'ho conquistata") at 30 % off and Elizabetta said she was so happy that it looked like Patrizia had gained ten kilos, which is some kind of Italian compliment we can't understand, but trust me on this.
People looked at me like I must be from New York because I bought a long sleeved black nightshirt for 6 euros instead. Amateur.

Monday, January 05, 2015

3D happiness
Check out the coolest care package anyone has ever gotten ever:

Grand army plaza, the statue of liberty, and Ian!

My dear friend Ian sent me all the way from New York an awesome handmade card with this cool paper cut out calligraphy, a pair of crazy socks that go up to my eyebrows, a henna tattoo kit, and, the coolest part -- 3D sculptural rings he printed himself with his own 3D magic technology.

I don't know how it works exactly, but I think there are little elves involved and some kind of plastics. I won't bore you with my advanced technical explanations because they would surely go over your heads. And also I don't know how it works. I'm never taking them off, though.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

2015 I don't know 
I don't know what you're fun-do-ing for New Year's but I know what I'm fondue-ing.

 F and I are having our own private party while T and her friends do their fun-do upstairs. Later they are going out to watch the fireworks in the freezing cold while I have a second glass of wine. Having teenagers is underrated.

Martha, you rascal, you!

Happy New Year's to you(s) in Brooklyn or wherever you are!