Saturday, November 28, 2015

Stanca morta and the seven dwarves
This week:

I staged a zombie apocalypse to teach my class of diplomati/apprendisti how to use English prepositions. I forced them to create an obstacle course that they, in turn, had to lead team members through while blindfolded. What do you mean they're in the building??? We have to get out of here. Class, begin working on prepositions . . . now!

I met a really cool woman from Texas named Vanessa who had tried to help us find a place to live. She is a singer and musician who tours with her husband and I have a sense that when she returns to Lucca after a brief stay for studio time in the U.S.,  we will be good friends. She likes her food as spicy, as Texans must, according to state law, so she can hang with us.

F negotiated with window makers and got prices that ranged from 1,000 euros a window to 50 euros a window. We figure that if we are going to climb a mountain of stairs to live in our dream apartment, we shouldn't have to freeze or hear any unwanted noises from some of our neighbors who have a rather stereotypical flair for the dramatic, I'm sorry to say. Hopefully the 50 euro ones have the air channels in them that are necessary to insulate the house. Try not to be too impressed with my DYI fai-da-te super star knowhow.

Painters came to spruce up the building hall and stairways and to fill the giant spider condominium sized cracks in our walls and ceilings. I played the schizophrenic good and bad cop because F wasn't around. We usually divide and conquer, but, in his absence, I gave out compliments and wheedled them to do a better job than they wanted to in equal measures.

I had an awkward mid-drive phone conversation with our old landlord in which we both seemed relieved that the other wasn't yelling at us. He was relieved that I left the deposit and didn't cry about the black mould/muffa situation that may or may not have poisoned us for the last six months and I was relieved that he didn't yell at me about painting all the walls and rental furniture white and running away leaving it all white and mouldy. Addio!

We are fixing and fluffing the apartment for a giant holiday housewarming party that we plan to give the week before Christmas that will feature Indian pizza and a surprise cake that will knock your socks off.

I have been reaching out to the Red Cross of Lucca to try to figure a way to go back to my roots and return to social work in the world with the African immigrants who are bravely facing winter for the first time in a drafty tent not far from our dream house. On-line it looks like I would have to wait for a certification course and to take a test in Italian for the right to even volunteer, but I have students in high places such as the local newspaper and city government so I have made several wild attempts to get my resume into the right hands. Meanwhile I am going to take a new acquaintance of ours from Nigeria to meet our lawyer friend at the patronato, free legal help place, so we we can both get more informed about his legal rights. His name is Paul.

Those motherfu*kers at Vodafone seem to have given my phone number to someone who wanted to scam me, but I managed not to fall into their identity thieving hands because the Brooklyn didn't just fall off me when I landed in Tuscany, that's why. Their Internet service is supposed to come with a free year of cable television service on Sky, but since they won't accept our foreign codici fiscali, we have had to spend hours not getting enrolled in the program. Five years in and I understand zero. I mean it.
Looking out from my Tuscan Barbie dream house window. Seriously . . .

The week ended with F and I going to the Brooks sneaker company to assess the young and, dare I say it, hip, and athletic workers within. It was how I imagine it is to work at Google where the smell of parental leave and coworker admiration is in the air. It was fun times; and it would have been even more fun if I hadn't been so tired during the interviews that my face hurt to talk. Nevertheless, fueled by their new coffee machine, we got more than a dozen high level English speakers sorted out and assuaged their fears about being judged by people, who they will soon find out have just as many problems acquiring a second language as they do. With any luck, new sneakers will fall into our clutches in no time.

We are giving English "tests" to people over the phone while they are driving. . . Here I am  not being convinced it is a good idea.
This lovely and perky signora on the left is our boss Debora.

Using the present perfect, can you recommend the best model running shoe for a tall man with high arches and a penchant for good grammar?

Sizes 37 & 47, per favore!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sweet 16
We have just been firing on all cylinders to do the fastest move ever in the history of Lucca. We even managed to get most of the work done in time for T's birthday party. People in Lucca don't find it at all strange to take three months to move and to do it all with professional movers who pack and unpack for you and use cranes to hoist your stuff through the windows. We just had dear friends with strong hamstrings and some cool construction savvy guys with a van.

Keeping in mind that virtually none of the cool stuff in the house belongs to us except my bison quilt named Barnaby and the red door picture, we scored big on this particular rental arrangement. It is awesome for T because she is right next to her school and can roll out of bed and down the million stairs to get there.

Here it is:

The birthday cupcakes were awesome courtesy to the Momofuku milk bar technique where you use washes like chocolate milk to keep the cake moist and we went crazy on the flavors too. We had Reese's peanutbutter cup inspired chocolate cakes with peanut butter filling and chocolate ganache icing, s'mores with marshmallow topping and graham cracker crust under chocolate cake, waffle topped cinnamon roll cupcakes, chocolate chip cookie dough filled oreo cupcakes, and also pretzel cupcakes with chocolate beer. Of course Giorgia and Natasha, my other daughters, came. Take a look for yourself:

We made T cover her eyes. . .

Also the house is good because it gave me two lessons on prepositions' worth of stuff to do with Alice and Elisabetta:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Anyone who has moved twice or more in one year knows that it is a ton of work and stress. There are those people who can black it out like childbirth the second that it's over. I'm not one of those people.

Luckily, I saved the phone number of Lucien, the workman who I met when he knocked a hole in our wall at our first Italian home. He has a friend, Luciano, with a van and they moved us for a fraction of the price of what professional movers would have wanted to climb up all of those flights of stairs.

It is also lucky that I saved his number because the first night we got here I heard this Italian folk music blasting and I had a huge panic attack that I had made another mistake. T pointed out to me that it was just a tattooed man, lying top half naked in bed across the courtyard from us, singing into some kind of karaoke system. Ahhh Italy. Let me explain that better: Lucien and Luciano are going to be putting in some insulated windows for us in the coming months because I don't want to feel the fool after all we've been through.

Even T loves this house. And she is a teenager. They don't love anything that's not on youtube. It is a jaw dropper. When the painters are done, I'm going to put up a full video tour so you can see it all. F and I have been putting in twelve hour days doing home improvement stuff. That dedicated man has made countless trips up the stairs with boxes and even convinced our dear sweet friends, the father and son team of Antonio and Andrea to help him.

There is a lurking anxiety because I haven't heard from our old landlord and I may get a call involving a lot of hand gestures that I can't see. We sent him the require official letter to break the rental contract in a way that he has to sign for it, but until I get the receipt from that I fear that there will be some repercussions. That, and the fact that we painted some of his crappy furniture white and left the walls of what we are calling muffa house covered with black mould over the white walls that he prefers to have a canary yellow and with his precious seventies inspired wall motif covered in masking tape.

F and I are really busting a move because T's birthday is on Saturday and we want to have the house nice for her birthday party. We still have to paper the kitchen cupboards, have the painters fill in some big cracks in the ceilings, put in the chandeliers, hang up some art work and make covers for two couches.

Considering that we didn't even know about unicorn house eleven days ago and we signed the contract the day after seeing it, moved in three days later over a period of 48 hours, we are pretty much the speediest fixer uppers this side of the Mediterranean.

Today the Internet technician broke up with us via text message. To get back at him I tried to sign up with a different company but they think my codice fiscale is fake because I'm American so I had to call them. I got a pleasant guy named Franco and I was doing well until he asked for my bank number. It is a 27 digit number that I don't know and couldn't find in our files readily. I had a bit of an embarrassing fit of nerves and asked him to call back. Good news, Franco, I told him when he called back. I found the longest number ever!

 Our conversation was unnerving because he kept asking me for more and more personal data, and I kept thinking about identity theft. Then he told me that someone would call me back and that I had to keep saying yes. Someone called me shortly thereafter and I felt rebellious. I started asking questions. Poor Franco then said that he had to start all over again. The second time I told him he was talking too fast and he had to start all over again. He was like for the love of all that is good and holy, m'aam, this is being recorded. JUST SAY YES. This is all in Italian, of course. Then finally he got through it and said that I could ask questions. I was tempted to barrage him with the same questions he asked me, but I just told him that I could believe how James Bond all this just got and that they surely didn't pay him enough. Finally, that got a laugh out of him. Then a lady called me and I just yessed her all up because they have all my personal information by now and she didn't have the tone of someone with a sense of humor. The jokes on me because they aren't sending a technician for five days anyway.

Meanwhile, I am drowning in lesson planning and I can't get the Internet to work long enough to get anything done. I can't wait to show you the new house, though. Hang with me a few days and I'll get you a good viewing.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

The Get-to-Know-You Lunch

Our new landlords have their own lovely home in the Tuscan countryside. They kindly invited us for lunch and made us a vegetarian farro with roasted vegetables and let us dip F's homemade bread into their exquisite spicy olive oil. My only rules for F were not to speak about religion or politics or anything controversial. We were up late at a party the night before and got only a few hours of sleep. Everyone was very weird and intense at the party and only when F mentioned that people kept passing him cigarettes for him to refuse, did we figure out why everyone was so loopy. We took T out of school early because we felt that the success of this luncheon was that important.

This is the moment when our new landlady told us she really hated big, fat people.

OH how we laughed!

This is T and I wishing that Amy Schumer would pop out from behind a bush.

The house has a lot of playboy style pin up pictures in it and it is number one on Trip Advisor. Not for nothing . . 
We hope to move in to the new city apartment next weekend in time for T's birthday.

Friday, November 06, 2015

How to Rent a Unicorn
What ha-happened is this: 

Where we last left off I had a second chance at the apartment over T's friend Giorgia's house which we referred to as a unicorn siting because a big affordable apartment in Lucca is a rarity. Originally we were denied and the Marchese, or as I call him the Count,  who owns the property was going to allow another family to have the apartment. That family changed their minds so we did get an "audience" with the lackey/geometra of the Marchese, Filippo, to see what I thought would be the perfect apartment for us.
Filippo was like Frankenstein's Igor but a little more slimy.
The Batmobile from Lucca Comics
Bibbity Bobbity Boo, how cute are they?
The night before the appointment Filippo called to postpone. It was a huge disappointment.  I begged him to let me see the place, despite the fact that F could not get there so early the next morning. In F's absence, I enlisted the help of my friend Fabio, who is also my friend Francesca's husband, because he is studying building administration. I thought we could hire him if we needed a supervisor for workmen to put in a kitchen and new floors of the apartment because the rent was only cheap because the apartment did not have a kitchen and had kind of ugly floors and was in need of painting.. I thought I had a good idea of what the apartment was like because I discovered some photos of the place on the website of a real estate agent. It turned out that they had been completely photoshopped.I argued with Filippo saying that I really wanted the apartment, but that I wanted to start work on it right away and he balked saying that the apartment was perfect as it was. I think this happened because he didn't understand that we were planning to pay for the work and didn't expect him to organize to have it done for free. 

The next morning I woke up very early after a sleepless night to get to the appointment on time.  As it turned out Fabio got to the apartment even before Filippo, despite the fact that he lives outside the walls and had to walk his bike which had broken on the way. He is a super hero and I will be forever grateful to him.

Fabio and I couldn't even look at each other when Filippo opened the door because it was such a depressing sight. The place stunk of old age; it was much smaller than advertised; it was ancient, and the electricity had to be run up the surface of the walls; it had small rooms and a rather disgusting shower. I charmed the heck out of Filippo while I was there, but then quickly realized that no amount of work or monetary investment could turn that apartment into a unicorn, despite the low rent and perfect location. 

While I was waiting for Filippo, I noticed that the palazzo across the street bears the Marchese's name


I hit the pavement and the phones and made desperate pleas to a coworker  to put up fliers in the English school and made a big pitch to all of our facebook friends on an expat forum.  It was F who came through with the home run. His friend Catherine knew a couple comprised of an Italian man and his German wife who bought a fabulous apartment right around the corner from T's school, but then decided that they preferred country life. The apartment is so beautiful that I cried during the tour.

It is on the top floor and it has a mansarda/attic apartment for T. It has breathtaking views of Lucca from the rooftops and is next to our favorite ortofrutta/vegetable and fruit market. It is around the corner from our friends Luca and Monica's bakery where F goes almost every morning to buy bread. It is fully furnished in a bohemian antique way with the man's father's furniture and rugs. The ceilings are very high, the floors are astoundingly beautiful. The stairway was not so nice and then it turned out that they are repairing the stairway of the building next week. We had an unreasonable expectation for the rent because the rent we had heard about was a charity offer they had done for their friend that had stayed there last year. It turned out that the man is worried about the taxes he has to pay and he told us that he would consider an offer the next day. He didn't want to talk numbers that day and that was that. I hit it off with his wife and I promised her that we would giver her some of F's famous homemade bread no matter what. I felt she was on our side. 

Angle of upstairs mansarda

I knew I couldn't sleep that night and I haven't been sleeping much lately in this period so I asked F to make his pitch in the late afternoon. In the end, the man said that we could have the apartment. I will live in fear until it is all signed, but I think it is an excellent sign that they invited us all to lunch at their house in the country on Saturday! I have made F promise not to talk religion or politics. Bureaucracy -- here we come!