Saturday, February 27, 2016

Xenophobia, punto and BASTA!
This week was a roller coaster of dramatic love and hatred towards foreigners of all kinds. 

On a positive note, the people who work at Caritas Pescia could not have been any kinder. It was raining so I took Paul and Cool's brother Ehis out for coffee while we waited for F to pick us up in the car.

Paul is teaching me pidgin English which is great and helps me to communicate better with the whole group except it is like a disintegrating agent that destroys my Italian with a single syllable. I am a pretty good mimic, but I have to stay in one lane. Unfortunately even two episodes of Amici could not protect me from the delicious words like wahala and vex me and so my Italian was not that impressive at the meeting. Nevertheless, Antonino and Maria Cristina seemed to understand me and to be very compassionate towards the group at the meeting. Antonino promised he would do all he could to help, but he thought that would look like moving the pregnant ladies into a group home initially and separating them from their husbands to be. 

Jennifer surprised me by proposing a house that she had already located but that costs 400 euros a month which is too extravagant for Caritas to spring for. It was a tense moment because while I wanted her to have her dream, I think it would be best for her and her baby to become officially under the Italian protection system given that her permesso expired a long time ago. Nevertheless, I told her after the meeting that my job was just to offer her options and that it was her decision whether to accept the help the can give or not. She told me that Caritas had a reputation for having a lot of rules and she was worried about not being able to have the visitors or the hours or freedom she wants.

The two comedy relief moments that lightened up the day were when Tina's belly got the best of her and she could not stop staring at the bag of biscotti behind the meeting table. Everyone started laughing and then the director of the Caritas Pescia gave Tina the whole bag and she proceeded to eat eleven cookies one after the other. We just laughed off the pregnancy munchies, but, of course, it was also horribly sad that she was that hungry. Everyone in my group left the meeting with bags of pantry groceries which was a very happy way for everyone to go home. As Antonino pointed out, if Caritas Lucca is a ferrarri and Caritas Pescia is only a Panda, at least they are a Turbo Panda!

The next day I got a call from Emmanuel, saying that he would be happy for me to call his son and he gave me the address to send him some of the donated toys and a smart little suit jacket, sized for a four year old. He said that the camp had called him back to Calabria because his original lawyer for the permesso would be returning the following week to help a group of the refugees with legal issues. He chucked over my greetings in pidgin English and over Tina's cookie incident.

Our electricity went out the next day, and, as usual, this meant our hot water heater got angry at us. It usually gives an error message and then needs to have a red button pushed to restart it. But on this fine day it flashed between two number readings and would not restart. T taught me what to say to enel the electric company, but just then the lights came back on so that all that was left was to call the heater repair guys. The number was on the machine. The receptionist told me that I was in luck because a technician could come right over and that is where my luck ran out. 

A young guy and a middle aged man came huffing up the stairs. The kid immediately told me that the hot water heater had just restarted itself. I told them it was a matter of seconds ago that it wasn't workin and that the electricity going out always caused us problems. The older guy stared me in the eyes and said emphatically, "That is not so." Then both of them told me that there was no problem with the caldaia. The younger one lingered at the machine and seemed to notice something was amiss. They had a discussion that involved inappropriate curse words. The older one took out some pliers and made a ton of noise hitting a pipe. He made an impertinent remark about my having followed my husband's job to Italy. I pointed out that we had not stolen Italian jobs and that we were teaching English which helps Italians get better jobs. He snorted. They charged me twenty euros for two minutes work and I didn't like the way the young one marched around my living room uninvited and how I caught him staring at my wallet. I did not want to have regrets so instead of feeling victimized, I jokingly kidded the older one about how he had called me a liar and that he had better hope we didn't have to see each other again the next day. He replied that it would be better for me if we did, implying that it would make me less of a liar.

The next day as F and I were leaving the house, he noticed that the heater was leaking. I called to have them come back.  I then called the recepionist back to say that I hadn't appreciated the technicians' attitude or insinuations and that they better come correct. The same guys came back and did the exact same routine in front of F. F remained very tall at them, but said no actual sounds that could be understood sa words. I got so angry that my Italian went to Brazil. I ended up having to talk through my tears while they told me in the same breath both that  I did not have to call a plumber and that I did. They were outraged that I thought they might have caused the damage (on purpose or by accident) when they hammered away on the pipes. They refused to leave when I told them to get out and they said it would be worse when I needed them back. I left the room and googled the Italian crap out of the situation until I found another company who services our brand of water heater. It turned out that they needlessly turned off our hot water. We had to wait to get until the next day to get our trusty plumber to come fix the blocked pipe which had surely been like that during their last check and could have led to an explosion and damage to our floor and our neighbors' who make the good pizza's ceiling. And that would have been TRAGIC.
Almost as tragic as the fact that I cried a second time in recounting this story to my English class that evening. And a close second, to when I accidentally called the boss of the job I am ending this week instead of my landlord's wife whose name also starts with the letter M. You can't make this wahala up.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Group of Five, except now there are eight

This really nice lady from South Africa collected all these darling baby clothes for Jennifer and Tina so we called Cool and Job and made an appointment to meet at their place in Montecatini. I cannot emphasize how beautiful and new the baby clothes are. We were able to give each woman a giant bag of baby clothes of all different sizes for boys and girls. They served us the most delicious rice, I've ever eaten. At first I was worried about eating up their dinner, but they worked hard to make us something special and they wanted us to have it, so I went for it.

Unfortunately, their residence is filled with dangerous wires, leaky pipes, mouldy surfaces, holes, and everything I would not want for them. Just total squallor. It was heartbreaking. We also gave them our neighbors' dresser that they were throwing away. In addition to the two couples, we found a perfect jacket for Paul. And while Emmanuel is back at his camp in Calabria we are going to try to send his four-year-old son Precious a letter from him and a toy to let him know that he is thinking about him in Nigeria.

Tina + 1, Job, Cool, & Jennifer + 1
Job, Cool, T & F
dangerous wires
more wires sticking out everywhere
the kind of filth that you can't clean
really terrible mould everywhere - a health hazard
This is where the water pump lives to get water into the leaky pipes.
leaky pipes

This is obviously not the best environment for anyone, let alone new babies. Really, really Caritas, I hope you do the right thing. And to the slum lord who takes money for this accomodation, I hope you get what's coming to you. That's it. Arrivederci, Brooklyn.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

oh bimba

I acted like a bit of a bimba (little girl/not bimbo, Brooklyn people, that's something else) today, but I think I sucked in the temper tantrum and only a little excess hormonal stress seeped out in the rage filled silences. I'll explain, if you'd like.

I have gone ahead with the fixed and obsessive belief for the last eight weeks or so that one day when the new couches came, all would be right with the world. Out with the dark and lumpy and in with the light and floaty. That's my motto. So when I got up after my third night of insomnia and had to pull myself together to get the couch delivery on the one morning that I might have theoretically been able to sleep late, it was with great mental fortitude that I had to accept that 9 am in Italy is 9:50 am New York time. And that was only when I got the phone call that one of the pieces was missing, or lost, or had gone for an early ferragosto to get a jump on the traffic. I met this news with a great big brooding silence in which I tried to pick my words carefully. Our friend at the furniture store finally asked, cheerfully, if I was sad. Yes, yes, I am sad, I said. And I followed that up with the usual of course it's not your fault and capita which is Italian for sh%t happens.

I had such an existential crisis about the couches that I actually could not bring myself out of my bedroom to greet the delivery men right away. But I did get out to them eventually. And shortly thereafter, the missing piece was found in the box. I both knew in my new Italian sensibility that something would go wrong and that something would get fixed this morning, but being right is not as fun as it used to be when I was less, shall we say, experienced. I made up for it by telling the moving guys a long story about my grandfather after which they had to accept some coffee and a tip alla americana. I then had them move the couch a millimeter to the left and the younger one pointed out that I was very precisa - which is Italian for a total mess with hair on top.

a fuzzy rug makes all the difference in the morning
F's office looks better with the new rug and old bookcase.
We found a place for the coats and stuff in the entranceway. Good idea, neighbors! Why didn't we think of that?
Newborns sleep better through the night than this bimba.
T's guest bed even looks more inviting.

This week was also super stressful because the German Barbie dermatologist burned a hole in my right cheek with acid. I mean I paid her to do it, but, as usual, she didn't prepare me for the disgusting healing process. I had to do this whole week speaking in front of huge groups of people with my hair hanging down over half of my face -- so that made the video lessons extra particolare. What I have learned from teaching at Brooks shoes is that they really drink the Koolaid. They love running and they love Brooks. Really. A lot. My baby toe still is fractured, too. And, although, I can shove it in normal shoes now, it still looks like an eggplant emoji --no offence to dick pics everywhere. 

I had a big fit about not getting any contacts for the Caritas in Pescia where I want to bring all of my Nigerian group to try to get them better housing and welfare services, but then my reporter friend pointed out that I had missed an email from the director of the Lucca branch of that Catholic charity doing just that. I managed to score us an appointment for Tuesday. It will be a miracle if we all get there in time and get seen, let alone manage to convince anyone to help us out. F will have to drive me and Paul first and then go and pick up the pregnant ladies and their beaus from the train station in Montecatini. I am really nervous about this and sometimes when I wake up in the night, I can't get back to sleep from worrying about it. I promised myself if I got back into social work I would maintain an emotional distance, but I don't think that really happened. That's right, my professional demeanor has done a full Kanye with a double axel. For one thing, I feel like I keep getting their hopes up, even though I haven't gotten them anything concrete other than some spending money. I also broke my rule about not giving them my own money. Emmanuel got called back to Calabria to his old camp. I gave him money for the train ticket because I didn't want him to get any more fines or legal problems, begging for that money. He doesn't know why he was called back in the first place. I am worried that from there they will try to fly him back to Nigeria from the camp. Some people from the group laughed when I said that which made me even more nervous because they don't know how serious this is. When I called the lawyer, who didn't even know she was his lawyer, she told me that apart from the tickets that he got begging she can't help him. She told me to track down his stay permit lawyer. Emmanuel can't remember that guy's name because it has been so long since he had any news of his court case to appeal the decision not to let him stay in Italy. One positive thing is that somebody named Geraldine Hoare read something I wrote on a facebook group and collected a ton of baby clothes to give them. We are going to try to bring that to their current residences tomorrow.

Friday, February 12, 2016


Last Friday I got a message after 10:00 pm from my gynecologist saying that I had to come into the office on Monday to have the results of my pap test. Last time she gave me good news in a text message so I spent the next 48 hours convinced that I had cancer. Then on Sunday I couldn't wait anymore so I texted her and just ten excruciating hours later she told me that I had a lot of inflammation and she would see me after the summer. Since I also had a completely inflamed left ear and a gigantically swollen, fractured, baby toe on my right foot, I figured a little more inflammation wouldn't kill me. I texted her back that I was literally too inflamed to actually make it to her office. Meanwhile I called Patrizia about eleven times to vent to her about how sane American gynecologists are in comparison and how there are some universal rules that should always be enforced.

Universal law #1: if you go through the trauma of moving, you get two weeks of bliss once the boxes are unpacked.

Universal law #2: If a child does something wrong, they have until the count of three to adjust their behavior. You never lose your sh$t on two. That is just wrong. This law is tied to the other law of three which is that you get three cookies. Not one, not six. This applies to Oreos, Chips A'Hoy, and all other cookies that you may find the world over.

Universal law #3: I don't care how long a work day you've had, if you're a doctor you should never, but never, text someone after 10pm on a Friday night to talk about their test results. Period. Or lack thereof. (MEnopause humor, it is sporadic).

You are not going to believe the insanity happening in my work to help the Nigerian immigrants. In the group of five it turns out we are at least seven people. I feel we should count Tina's baby, Jennifer, who is Cool's wife to be and their baby who is due in just over two months, and also Job (whose name I thought was Joseph) who is the agressive chap that I talked badly to Tina about and who turns out to be a lovely man and . . . also Tina's boyfriend and the father of her baby. So Job is in the group. We had a big laugh over the terrible first impression he made on me. It's all good. 

The lady from the Catholic charity wrote a long report on the immigration history of each of the members of my group which explained that it is basically completely legal to pay people up to 500 euros to leave their camps and that they are then considered to have left the Italian protection net and are on their own. She suggested then that they get official housing and try to get social services in Montecatini to help them. From this I deduced that she would be of no help and understood nothing, but then I came to understand that she was just giving me the politic answer and not suggesting that I give up on them. I wrote her back to thank her and to ask for her contacts in Montecatini. 

In the meanwhile, Emmanuel got himself in trouble with the police. He is banned from Lucca. Another African guy caused a disturbance of the peace and resisted arrest. Emmanuel was in the wrong place at the wrong time and did not understand the police request for his documents. They wrote down that he refused to show his papers and that he refused a lawyer. The Catholic charity lady sent me a newspaper article saying that he had a previous offense on his record and would be labeled pregiudicato and possibly held for one to six months. I called the contact I had from the Kennedy Justice and Human Rights organization in Florence who knows his public defender to try to get him help. 

Today I finally met the guy from Odissea the work training program for immigrants. His name is Daniele. Unfortunately he had to meet me when I was very frustrated about the lack of good results I am getting and he reiterated that my group, language problems not withstanding, under Italian law are no longer considered in the net of Italian protection. He suggested that they learn Italian in their spare time when they are not desperately begging for money to stay in their squallid, overcrowded, unofficial apartments. Then he asked me if I would teach an English course for his staff. I agreed because I still need job contacts for my group and my mamma didn't raise no fool. I spoke crappy Italian to him because I had just taught six half hour lessons on skype, facetime, and whatsapp to Brooks shoes employees. It was very much like phone sex in that there was a lot of wild gesticulating and I got paid for it. I don't know that it is the kind of exchange that would ever have as a result better grammar. But that remains to be heard. I do know a fricking ton about footbeds now. It almost makes me miss the guys who made the maxi pads.

After the meeting with Daniele, I stalk walked him back to his car about seven hundred kilometers from my house with my broken foot in the rain in the vain hope that he would say something useful and that he would offer some kind of concrete assistance to my group members who were strategically waiting for him outside my house. Tina had to wait around and she was mad about it so she gave me a hard time, but if I were pregnant, tired, and had to pee, I would have done the same. 

Speaking of making bad impressions:

1. I didn't want to make a bad impression at the Brooks running shoes company, but the only shoes my broken toe fits into are T's bright orange Nikes so I made F write Brooks on two pieces of masking tape to cover the logo on the shoes. By the end of the first class I had already scored a pair of free sneakers, but I went around town scandalizing the Lucchese with my mismatched foot apparel for four days since my broken toe didn't care to cooperate. A boy who seemed to be about ten years old asked his mother if I was crazy. It took all of my restraint not to explain that while I was crazy, there was a fairly solid reason for me to wear different kinds of shoes on each foot. I wonder what they would have thought if they knew that I was also going commando. I mean, good deductions, bad reasoning. C+

2. We met our neigbors who share our strange private entrance way. We all live on the top floor and the ten months a year that they are not here we spend blissfully not caring about door slamming, shouting, or safety locks. Our Italian downstairs neighboors had us over for the most delicious pizza I have ever eaten. I am actually mad at how good it was because all other pizza will no longer withstand the comparison. They figured they would invite this other couple since they had suffered some logistical issues like a broken oven and an unforeseen illness last time that had ruined their night. He is German and does not speak Italian and she is Irish and understands a lot more than she can say. It was an exhausting night of translating and trying to please everyone which ended in our host Luca entertaining us on his guitar. Luca also felt the strain of having to perform for a virtual UN of foreigners and proceeded to forget all the words to four different of his favorite songs.

Subsequently the Irish lady told me to move the costly antique bench we had put in the shared antechamber because she had an agreement with our landlords not to put furniture there. I thought she meant just while she had her couch delivered, but no. I thought she meant, at least, just while they are here for the month, but no. So rude, right? But then the German man said that we could donate the dresser they have in the hallway to the Africans and put our bench just outside. Today I introduced them to the people I wanted to give the bench to and she told her husband that she agreed to give it to someone else. This is what you call getting off on the wrong foot and I suspect it is just the beginning.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Anne Lamott, honey

Well, Anne Lammott said that you shouldn't be afraid to write about people because they should just claim their actions. Rarely have I been reticent to do that here, if you haven't noticed. But this week I'm gulping first.

Also we all know that one day I will be sued for slander or copyright infringement, but until that fine day check out this image:

Um, does anyone not see the red flag if your groom chooses this wedding cake?

This week I woke up on Sunday with a fractured pinky toe. I could only wear T's neon orange sneakers with no soles in them for four days. On Monday I had an ear ache. Over the week it turned into yet another stomach virus. My ovary still hurts. So I may not be someone you want to mess with.

The Red Cross lady reached out to me. I hadn't gotten back to her because Tina was suffering from migraines, two people had colds, and one had a high fever. Nobody has health cards so I had to recommend the emergency room. She told me about some of the good work she is doing. She told me that Africans should not have the flu shot because they are not used to those virus strains. From my subsequent research, it seems that WHO would disagree with her. She used the terms African time and African truth to refer to her sense that the immigrants in Italy do not have a sense of urgency when it comes to keeping appointments and that they often provide different birthdates on different documents. I think people in desperate circumstances sometimes resort to crafty measures. We have. Read this blog, if you don't believe me. But, again, I didn't get the feeling that we have the same perspective on global issues even if we may share some of the same objectives. And, as it turns out, the same Italian Betty White gynecologist. Anyway, she mentioned that her Nigerian translator was this guy Christian. My reporter contact Nadia also mentioned him. I had a flash and remembered that I had not accepted the friendship of a Nigerian guy named Christian on facebook sometime back. Of course, it turned out to be him.

T sent me this as a joke.

Following Nadia's instructions, I reached out to him to tell him about my group and that he might be called on to translate. Then I panicked and thought that maybe the Red Cross lady would be upset about it so I told him that he need not mention it. Then I realized it was hardly a federal crime to introduce myself. But he wrote back that he was horn. I had a terrible feeling that he had friended me because he was feeling horn-y. But then he wanted to be hornets. This is understandable because written English is not easy even for me. About three minutes later I realized that he wanted to have honesty because the Red Cross lady had changed his life for the better and I super respected that and felt like an idiot so I said I would just talk to her. I messaged her and she never got back to me. So, know this, Red Cross lady. I shoot from the hip. I am an open book. I am trying to do a good thing. I want to work with you. And the only people who I know to read this blog are my mother and a few Ukranian guys looking for porn. Plus I have never used your name.

Next, I limped over to meet with the head of the Catholic charity Caritas because I figured that if Tina wants to keep her baby we need to get Catholic on the situation. And fast. My personal beliefs allow for me to honor any religion that has holidays involving the ceremonial eating of chocolate so I feel like I am pretty coherent in this. God and I are on pretty good terms. The lady is named Donatella. I love her. I was oddly enchanted that she  was wearing braces. She asked me to write down all the facts about my guys. I told her I would also like to work with the Red Cross lady and she said the more people who help the merrier. I spent the week not having any real problems with African time and getting copies of all of their documents. I pledged the sum of my every waking non English teaching hours to dedicate to any translating or other task she wanted from me if she would only help my group. She wrote back at two thirty in the morning and that made me feel like I got a good one.

Nadia was late, Italian on time, to the meeting so I went in without her. I felt terrible about that because then she called me - she had my number but she hadn't given me hers - to say she had been outside the office for fifteen minutes. When she got inside she was tremendously supportive. Unfortunately, this almost meant catching me when I fainted due to low blood pressure and she brought me sugar water.

F had a wonderful idea. We want to get our foodie power Italian contacts to work with Caritas to open a Pan African restaurant in Florence that would serve as job training and placement for immigrants. We will have a dinner about that in March. 

Here is my class *They're supposed to be speaking English:

I cheated on my hairdresser. The indignities of my being 46 involve covering my white hair on the regular. Every two years I overdo it and my hair turns from chocolate to charcoal. Over the years I have spent a fortune discovering the antidote. I know what it is but the miracle was finding a place where people would really follow my instructions to the letter if I did my part in learning the necessary vocabulary in Italian. Little did I know that my hairdresser would be in my neighbor's choral group and that her boss would good naturedly tease me incessantly. I was also not prepared to wear an Ethel Merman silicone hat and have tweezers pull the strands through before bleaching the color out of them. I am thrilled with the results although I feel guilty for betraying my wonderful friends at the other hair salon. This place costs a lot less, though.

Bernie Sanders came to talk to me in a barbershop. Just kidding.

When I got home seven people wearing ambulance worker jumpsuits came to take away the old couches. When they pulled up the pillows they found not just holes and ink stains, but a three course meal of crumbs left by former tenants that F sheepishly vacuumed up. I hope we don't need an ambulance anytime soon.