Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In search of Italian heffalumps
 
Pooh and piglet walking in circles and wrongly assuming that their own footsteps belong to the great and mythical heffalump.

Let's see. Here's where we left off: Chapter three hundred and two in which K goes in circles and finds out that there is no place like home. Well, put Winnie-the-Pooh in Oz and you have a rough idea of what it is like to be me most days.

We are all sad because T's friend Natasha is moving out of Lucca this summer. She will come back on weekends, but we won't get to see her as much. This had a domino effect which caused all expats in the area to want to move away and question what the hell we are doing here. After I realized that international schools in Italy cost 20,000 euros a year and don't offer scholarships, I had a brief moment where I explored the idea of moving to Amsterdam and F had a brief moment where he exercised an impressive amount of control over his facial muscles and pretended he was game. Then all his little facial twitches eased up as and I came to realize that in order for us to change countries it would take more work than even a team of professionals, international diplomats, medical specialists, bureaucratic bad asses and Neil Patrick Harris singing in his tightie whities could pull off on their best day. Plus also I don't like bicycles, winter, kroket, hukspot, herring, boats, canals, big cities, pot, or tulips. Well, I don't hate tulips, except the kind that give you the muchies and make you paranoid, but you get the drift. So I don't know what I was smoking, but I hate to see my girl down in the dumps.

I discovered that Estroblock, the only supplement to ever cure my cystic acne and balance my hormones is loaded with vitamin e. Vitamin e is not water soluble so it builds up in your fat over time and is the reason why I have been nauseous for four months straight and puking my guts out. Remember when I told you my tea had been poisoned? Yeah, I was wrong. Even if Dorothy's witch and Eeyore got together and deliberately poisoned my tea, it wouldn't still make me nauseous a month after I stopped drinking it. It may take weeks or months to get it out of my system and in the meantime I have the complexion of a sweaty fourteen year old boy with bad hygiene.

The other day there was a construction cone in front of my house. If you are in New York you are already bored by this, or to cold to care, but if you were in Lucca you would understand that all hell was about to break loose. The aforementioned cone was sitting on a pulled up section of pavement that was making an ominous whistling sound. I told F that I wouldn't be surprised if we ran out of water soon. Of course, that didn't stop me from washing my hair. When my head was dripping with hair dye and conditioner,  the water stopped completely. F poured freezing cold water over my head from the fountain and the shock to my system caused my back to go out.

I hoped the water would magically come back on its own. I will happily do a lot of magical heffalump level hoping if it will get me out of calling an Italian emergency hotline/numero verde. Until they come up with a number which will send Alex Belli to the home of despairing expats with filthy hair and little hope, I resist.

alex hotline belli
But I did call the water company hotline and the male hotline operator was not nasty to me which was a nice surprise. I was so surprised and comforted by the fact that he didn't make fun of F's impossible to spell last name that I forgot to ask when, if ever, I could expect a work team to show up. I hate to say this but the female operators are usually the nasty ones. He said he would send someone over. In the meantime, I went to Massimo Pretty Hair after months of no blow outs and do-it-yourself/fai da te hair to get the gloop rinsed out.  While I went over to park a squat next to my friend and ex-hairstylist Federica who was having a cigarette break in the parking lot in piazza magione, I saw two of our neighbors who told me to make sure that the city water people who had been by to deal with a leak in the restaurant hadn't simply forgotten to turn the water back on. No, I chuckled, they wouldn't do that. That's when I remembered where we lived. I asked the workman who has been making an insane amount of hammering on the apartment next door to our house what he knew about the situtation. He very gallantly agreed to take a look at our building faucet thing-a-majiggy and flicked his wrist and got us back into the flush of things. His name is Rado and he wouldn't take a cent for this act of kindness. I called back the water company and got a nasty female operator who told me that she would cancel our appointment, but that she wouldn't take my complaint because that was done over fax. I think she knew, mannaggia me, that I would have no energy to take any further measures and would settle for being able to flush my own toilet.

I was just about to publish this post when there was a bunch of noise in the stairway. I thought it might be some uncancelled water company workers, but it turned out to be my frazzled new downstairs neighbor who is moving in today, as it so happens, without any preavviso, and is having all of her furniture moved in via crane through the window underneath me.

What Italian for AARRGGGGGH???

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Accent matters

This week F and I learned that when it comes to teaching English or speaking Italian -- accent matters. This is especially true when you are getting your pre-teen boy students to remain interested in your native language by refusing to speak to them about Skylanders unless they do so in English.

Edoardo and his friend Oskar worked on their illustrations all week long and could not wait to give them English names. I had to suck back the giggles as they put their own particular flourishes on the pronunciation. The secret is to drop down an octave when you announce them.






F and I had tagliatelle al cacao con peperoncino for Valentine's Day. I must thank Patrizia for her family recipe. She explained to me that when you add the pasta water to the oil, roasted garlic, and hot pepper you need to let the oil cool down so it doesn't splatter or cause a fire. I told her if she heard sirens that she would know that my Italian had failed me yet again. It was delicate and had a lingering spicyness that just hit the spot. We served it with a sprinkling of parmagiano and a piece of gorgonzola.

Shoot. I should have made a heart shape for the photo!


T had a weirder Valentine's Day as she had to go a street safety lesson at school. A couple who lost their son to a car accident came to give a presentation involving a cartoon movie where the victims are represented as little talking skeletons. At one point the narrator goes over and slaps a few of them across the face Italian style for texting while driving. I believe a Coldplay song played in the background. The driver unfortunately was American and some smart alec asked her if she was sure her parents weren't the guilty parties. I am saving up for her future therapy bills as we speak. Luckily, she got to recover by having a sleepover party with Giorgia and Natasha.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Not rich, Not famous
Today I met with the student who wanted to meet with me before she would agree to a single English class. She cancelled three times prior to now, the last of which was fine with me because I had a sore throat anyway. Twice she had her daughter write emails to me in English and on the phone with me, although we were speaking in Italian, she was a nervous wreck. It seems her daughter who is about to give birth in two weeks is moving to Pennsylvania with her 22 month old and her husband who just got a job there. She hasn't taken English lessons since high school. Not wanting to be stood up again in a bar somewhere, I invited her over to the house. She didn't eat the chocolate muffins F made, but asked for them to be packed up to take home with her. She let me know during her time drinking coffee with me that she was planning on cancelling frequently. For now we have a plan to speak on the phone tomorrow so that she can decide whether she will come at one of two different time slots I have available, if at all. This is a crappy way to extract 20 euros off someone, but it was made much worse by her offensive comments about Russian people that she just threw in for good measure as she was leaving.

Right now I am sitting by myself, waiting for my other student who is 24 minutes late and has probably forgotten again that she had a commitment. Yep, sure enough. This is the suckiest part about not having a real job. On the other hand, if you don't like money at all, it has it's advantages.

The funniest thing that happened this week was at the paint company where my students have all been pronouncing the word enamel as animal for years. I had to get them to rub their tummies and say gnam gnam (Italian for yum yum) to get anyone to put the emphasis on the right part of the word.
enamel animals - gnam gnam
This brings us to l'Isola dei famosi, the Italian reality show that is a cross between Survivor and I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here. It is delicious to watch this on line because it is three hours of free Italian lessons for me with no commercials and because it is absurd. They are making the participants whose television debut was postponed by hurricane-like conditions in Honduras las week, jump off a helicopter into the sea and swim to the island one by one. One of the participants is a porn star named Rocky that does nothing but speak in double entendres. There is also the Morroccan participant who cried through her whole season of Master Chef and seems to be relatively mentally unstable at best. It is a hot mess.


The hostess is a plastic surgery victim as is her crew of cronies. The technical aspects of the show are so amateur that as she speaks to the contestants live from her studio their is a three minute time lag and they constantly speak over one another. It is so dire that she told one of the participants to jump off the helicopter before it had lowered to a safe level over the sea; luckily, the pilot must have disuaded him from listening to her. The first immunity challenge was a gran fregatura in which the host on the island explained that there was a bunch of stuff on a pier that the contestants had to use to get from part of a boardwalk to another without touching the water. Their was a heavy tub, some pig fat, a scuba suit, and some floatable pogie sticks, but he neglected to point out the planks of wood and so the time elapsed without any of them making it to the other side. Now that's some winning television right there, folks.

So here they are on one side of the plank. I'll save you 20 minutes of your life: They never get to shore.

Pig fat, huh?

You would think that after this much work she would be devoid of expression, but you'd be wrong. It's her voice that is actually really screechy and annoying for a television personality.

The host shows them how it's done afterwards, but not until after he scolds them for not listening carefully enough when he explained the rules of the game.

This is who the host chats with instead of ordinary audience members. I'm calling her "Lips" and him "lecherous old cronie guy," "Lech" for short.


This is Belen's sister Cecilia's reaction to the news. As lecherous old cronie guy put it, she does not seem convinta/convinced.
Here is "Adamo" otherwise known as Brice Martinet. He is waiting behind a paravento completely nude waiting for further instructions. Fifty Shades of What??
I'm at the point where they are telling Belen Rodriguez's sister that she will have to go home if she refuses to strip nude and play Eve on an island with a male model, who will be her Adam on an island with no provisions. They had the nerve to ask how her fiance and his wife felt about this, since they were there watching their every move from the tv studio audience.
This is the fiance and the wife. They look a little hot under the collar.

Wendy Williams, if you're reading this, I know you are pissed not to be Italian right now.

Actually, my reluctant student from this morning, the one who has every bad omen attached to her possible, reminds me of this participant named Caterina/Catherine Spaak who is already bailing on the show. She gave as her reason that she was seasick, but then went on to say that she was lying a little and that there is more to the story. This is the kind of untrustworthy female of a certain age that give me hives. I am allergic to them. What I love is this shot of the host casually flashing us everything but her crotch while she interview the crotchety old lady. Letch spurred the audience to actually boo this lady. At first I thought he was so rude, but now I think maybe he was right.

Crotchety vs. Crotch shot. 

You know things aren't going my way this week when I start agreeing with Lech.

P.S. It turns out Rocco the porn star and Catherine Spaak, a French singer and actress who starred in some classic Italian films including one with Marcello Mastroianni which was panned by The New York Times called L'Uomo Dei Cinque Palloni, were some real lookers back in the day. Here's a flashback:

And now they're doing (and not doing)  this!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Telepathic time machines 
Today I learned that if I want to have a package delivered to me in Lucca, Italy from the United States I need to have a sixth sense, a time machine, and some string.

I ordered some of the supplement that is helping me have relatively clear skin for the first time in years from ebay.it back in November. I ordered three months worth for $400 because it takes a long time to get here in the best of times and I didn't want to be without it. After five weeks or so I started to get worried and eventually we called Customs/la Dogana. They told us that they were waiting for a letter from the Italian Ministry of Health to approve the delivery. More time passed and we called again and were told that it was on its way to us. More time passed and we were told that it was sent back to the seller because it was deemed too large of a quantity for individual use by the powers that be but don't know shit.

 In the meantime, I exchanged very calm and reasonable emails with the seller and even ordered more to be sent to a friend's address in England to see if that worked better. The English package arrived over the holidays when my friend wasn't there to receive it and got sent back to the sender as well. I tried to contact the  so-called resolution center at ebay only to find out that because more than 45 days had passed I had to contact Paypal. Paypal won't help you after 45 days either, as it turns out, but I started documenting an exchange of emails between the seller and myself through them anyway just to keep the seller accountable. It is like marriage counselling for people who don't know each other. I was jumping up and down on my side of the computer and insisting that his snotty comment about how you can't get your money back from a grocery store without the apples you bought was pretentious and typical of his neanderthal thought process. The seller says he won't refund the package unless he gets the supplements back. Then I spoke to the call center at Customs today and the lovely and inept lady told me that there is no way for me to retrace the package and that I had a bel dilemma on my hands. She kept repeating that it was a shame. She was not even slightly put off by my raising her voice at her and I got the sense that I was the nicest, pissed off person she had dealt with all day.

I translated the whole conversation for F and then tried to explain to him what we should have done if we didn't want to lose the money and it turned out that the sixth sense and the time machine would truly have been invaluable in this situation.

On a not totally unrelated note, here is an image I found on Pinterest. To me it represents the repeating nightmare I have where all of the loser psychotherapists I have ever had gather together to live in a comune like situation where they read Shel Silverstein's The Missing Piece Meets the Big O over and over again as a sort of meditative chant and talk about how they couldn't help me. I have to admit it's a kind of cool pad. Check it out:

"Wow That Girl was a Wreck." "I know, I know. I thought so too." "I'm pretty sure I only made things worse." "Let's play Boggle tonight".
P.S. Shel Silverstein, If you're reading this I want you to know that I had a therapist who had twelve of your books on his waiting room coffee table and did nothing but quote you. I know you did not mean for your books to be misused in this atrocious and pathological manner. I don't blame you. But I just now realized why pizza makes me anxious.