Monday, October 31, 2016

Parma day 2
This morning we had breakfast alla Tatiana and then T and I went and got our hair cut at a swank place in the city. T will only let me show you a photo of her from the back. I don't know why. 

ye old book store

T's glorious locks

tunes galore

T calls this cut the new Rachel . .

Then we walked around the city and found a really amazing, old book store and a vinyl and CD music store. We stopped for lunch at a vegetarian place with cool artwork. 

Back in Sala Baganza, we took a walk in the woods and made friends with the bird in the house. It was nestled in Tatiana's shirt and scared the ever living crap out of me when it ventured out!

why hello there!

F made a new friend!

So did I!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Here we are in Parma on Halloween, hiding from earthquakes, theoretical cinghiali/wild boar, and social interactions with our hosts. We have gotten to the point where twice now we have chosen to eat nachos in our car on the side of the road. I think we are just not B&B people. We like privacy, nice as they are. 

I also can't make up my mind if I can imagine living in Parma ever. It has more possibilities for us than Lucca, but it seems also a little neither here nor there size-wise. I think we need to go take a closer look at Bologna. 

We totally snuck into a castle and did not pay for the tour. We got caught, but first we took some photos with the portraits.

happy halloween!

spider web umbrellas!

Glad this season the scariest creature is a squirrel. . .

.. but there is also a wolf reserve!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Parma R Us
Today we got up early to flee from Lucca Comics. After six years, we have seen all the short-skirted, zombie, hunger game pirates that I need to see in a life time. And it is so noisy.

As an alternative we chose Il Richiamo del Bosco, which is a GREEN, vegetarian-loving, B&B, twenty minutes outside of Parma.  We were met by a pint-sized, maternal, angel-on-earth, named Tatiana. She can't go more than twenty three seconds without stuffing us with croissantymuffins (that's a thing!), baked apples, herb filled tisanas, and farm fresh honey. Tatiana told us the family would be home later on and that we could share their super long dining room table if we decided to bring in food, rather than dine out at a restaurant. T began dreading the evening's social interaction at around 11:52 AM. It is a weird set up because we have two rooms with a shared bathroom in the hallway on the second floor. The family seems to sleep on the floor above us. I think Tatiana is on the floor below us with the open plan living room and kitchen. Somewhere around here is a giant parrot. I can hear it, but I can't see it. The whole house squeaks and the walls are thin, so I mean no one has ever had sex in this house unless the parrot has a friend somewhere.

B&B kitchen sign

Meagan, if you are reading this, is this a pinteresty kitchen or what now??

oh Tatiana!

happy man

They have a tree house, but we can't go in unless the 11 year old says so. I hope she likes us.

Midday, the truck driver guy from yesterday, Elpion, called me because he is also a muratore/construction guy and I had to send him to fix the leaky window frame at Tina and Job's place. He can fix it, but it will cost us 160 euros. We can't ask their landlords to pay it because they haven't paid rent in ages. Sigh. 

Also Glory called. She was crying. The Red Cross transferred her from the tents in Lucca to some other place, we couldn't make out quite where yet. She is freezing, she said, and afraid because it is too far from a train and her friends in Lucca. We had just gotten a big shoe donation from Federica at Brooks Running Company and we were thinking to bring it to her when we got home so we could all play shoe store together and get everyone into some comfy shoes. I felt very helpless, and didn't have anything much to offer, but I wrote my only Red Cross contact on facebook to see if she would help.

If you look closely, you can see me chatting with LA destined Nacho salesman, Gianluca. He has RE- the initials of the Reggio Emilia- tattooed to his face, but it's nacho problem.  

After we unpacked and snacked we went to discover the city. We took T to see the duomo and to do some shopping. We walked for hours. At the end of the day, we were all hungry, but T was starving because she had gotten up early to go around the walls before setting out and because she had stayed away from that delicious croissantymuffin thing that I do not regret one bit. We stopped at this super green place called Universo Vegano and bought these very hearty sandwiches. I ordered a spicy, vegan kebab and we took it to go. When we got back to the B&B we realized that it was too cold to eat outside on the patio, and we might have to eat alongside the family, which T did not want to do. It is the kind of thing that would make me shy and anxious until the moment we were actually talking to people, but that then, I might end up loving. I'll admit that age sixteen I would have rather eaten rocks.

I didn't sense any sign of life at 7 PM which is still early for Italians to eat. Tatiana had already offered a tisana/hot tea that we had accepted, so I thought we could bring the food down and get the table to ourselves. We tiptoed down and saw the table all set for their dinner so we ran back upstairs, crowded into my room on the floor behind the bed, set up my ipad to stream Ru Paul's All Star Drag Race Reunion, and stuffed our faces with soy goodness. Everytime we heard a footstep we all startled, and we yelled at each other silently for wrinkling the paper bags too loudly. It was a relief to have the sandwich evidence safely in our bellies, but we knew we should go down and introduce ourselves to the family before turning into bed. We got down and there was only Tatiana who really scolded us for not eating with the family and for letting the tea get cold. She made us a huge snack buffet and clucked over how hungry we must be! Then she left to go skype her sister. We broke down into giggles. I was just relieved because she double kissed me before she left, so I knew she couldn't be that mad. I am very pleased with myself for packing my ergonomic pillow and the white noise machine and the ear plugs.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Amazing Race meets Pechino Express  
Have a seat. 

So last month I called our favorite Romanian construction workers and asked them if they could move some donated furniture to Montecatini for Stanley and his pregnant wife Tina. 
Backing up a bit more. Jennifer had told me that she had a Nigerian guy with a van that could pick up the furniture, but then his van broke or he changed careers or something and he decided that he would no longer help. 

Did you hear the brakes? That was me backing up a bit more.

Jen, the American yoga teacher, told me that she needed to clear out a storage space filled with Ikea furniture that was in good condition because she is moving to Florence. Her friend Paladino who works at the bike store was keeping the stuff in their storage space, but he wanted everything out. She said she had a van driver who would do all of the moving and I asked if we could pay him to take the stuff to Montecatini. He agreed and then he changed his mind. . Then I called the construction workers who agreed, but then changed their mind the night before the move because the police had caused them some kind of problems related to permits for the van. Before he changed his mind, he insisted on my arranging for him to look at the furniture and seeing if it was in pieces or still needed to be disassembled. Paladino did not want to wait more than five minutes for him, but in the end he did. But he was very huffy about it

I also contacted Vanessa, the American singer, who manages a property where they have too much old furniture in storage. While she is in America, her friend Paula could open the garage for us and give us some donations, as well. Vanessa also has a van, but it is broken. Seriously. I don't know how Scooby Doo ever got anywhere.

So I made plans with Jen and Vanessa's friend Paula and then I cancelled them because of the van problems.

Then one of the construction workers, Stefano, who had helped us with our window issues way back when, told me he had found another van with another driver. That driver's name is Elton, but instead of a t there is pi, and so I still don't know what his name is, if I'm honest. He said he would come, but only if we paid him double what we were going to pay the other guys and only if he could come at lunchtime instead of late afternoon. 

Jen agreed to pay half of his fee, but when she called Paladino to change the time he would not respond. Meanwhile I had to call back Paula and cancel again. I am pretty sure I cancelled at least a dozen times so she has every right to assume that I am absolutely insane, and, possibly, dangerous. Jen asked me to call Paladino because of the level of Italian involved and because he was in a pissy mood. I sent him a very ass kissing text, and he said he would try to have a friend open up the magazzino for us. He said he would confirm by 10,30. At 11,10 he had still not confirmed. I got a stomach ache. When I finally got him on the phone, he said that I could not expect a busy man like him to wait by the phone. He said that he would have a guy named Luciano open the storage space.

I called back Cool and Stanley who were very disappointed that I could not get them the furniture and told them that they would have to come by lunch time. I called Paula who was, by now, justifiably, a little afraid of me. I met Stanley who was late because he had to "ease myself," which means pee. We met Cool who was late because we don't know why. We went to meet Luciano and he was on-time. Stefano and the driver guy were also on time. We cleared out all of the stuff from Paladino's unit. Luciano was nice enough. Paladino arrived at some point, but did not even greet me. Then we went to the second location. Paula took me up a million stairs to her house, which was filled with all kinds of goodies from extra lamps, to kitchen equipment, bedding, tons of stuff. She let us pack it all into garbage bags and take it away. Up and down the stairs. It looked cold today so I wore a velvet turtleneck with jeans. It is global warming summery today despite the clouds so I began to smell like the before portion of the deodorant commercial. Then she opened the garage, where she let them take a giant, beautiful, wooden wardrobe and a mini fridge.

I gave Cool money to get his passport in Rome so he can renew it in time to renew his stay permit. I paid both of the construction guys. Stanley is riding back in the truck with all of the furniture and Cool is going back on the train. If the police don't confiscate anything, today will have been a success.

Paula is lovely. I am sorry I only got the top of her head.

Blurry Paula

Stefano saves the day!



squad goals

It is a miracle. I feel like I just won the reality show that is, really, just reality. 

On the walk back, Cool told me he has no hot water. 

Stanley called me to say that the baby wardrobe has no doors and so it is no good to him. 

Then two hours later, Vanessa called from America to ask where I was because the real estate agent and the building owner were waiting for me. They still thought the pick up was for this evening. I had no idea they were involved. I guess Vanessa mentioned them a month ago, but, since Paula took care of everything, I thought I was good. Simonetta's phone did not pick up so F volunteered to go out on his bike to explain what had happened when it started thunderstorming on him. He is home now and Simonetta was good natured about everything. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Buying our lottery tickets  
I was pretty beaten down when I got the email from our champion lawyer at Caritas, saying that even though we managed to get Emmanuel his hospitality letter, we are still missing a pile of papers from yet a third lawyer that he had while he was at the refugee camp. Making matters worse, she said that if he lost his appeal, we can't even bother to try to get him a stay permit/permesso. That would mean all the work we did was for nothing. I wrote lawyer number two who is working on the appeal. He told me that the hearing is for the end of this month, and the decision won't be known for a month after that. I asked him what we should do; and I quickly did an internet search to find the phone number of the third lawyer, so that he could kindly please please please get the missing papers from the appeal. The one ray of hope is that he can file for some kind of fancy, Italian do-over to put in a new plea for Italy to keep him here. I then had to give him the news. He was in an up mood and said that he is a believer and thinks that God will give him a miracle. He asked me if I was a believer. I said, honey, I do believe, but I also want to make sure you've heard the one about God and the man who prayed and prayer to win the lottery. God finally got frustrated and hollered at the man, how do you expect me to have you win the lottery, if you never buy a ticket? You are most likely going to lose the appeal hearing, and you have to know that, but then we are going to pray our pants off that you get a fresh start. So please, Emmanuel, go buy yourself a lottery ticket, abeg?

Giving out the autographs . .

Tina got all dressed up, she is a knock out by nature, but when she gets done up she is breathtaking, and brought Peace into town on the train to show her off. We handed off the vaccines and all the resumes and doctors' notes to her and Job and Stanley. We met up with Monica at the famous Giusti bakery who has been very generous to Tina, letting her ask for money outside the bakery and frequently giving her donations of baby things and the like. As we stood in the street, people came up to touch Peace and adore her like she was a Disney princess in Orlando. She looks just like her mother. I have never seen anything like it. 

I don't get out much . . .

This is what Italians looks like when they have to hear me speak ..

Barbara, Jack and Courtney at Satura

Last night we went out to dinner at the restaurant where Paul is washing dishes with Courtney and her dad Jack, Elena and Angelo, Barbara and Alessandro. I don't go around calling people a hoot, but Courtney's dad is a hoot. He has dozens of very esoteric interests that he is passionate about, and he has my undying respect for the fact that he follows through. On all of them! Even though we were the weirdest common denominator between all of the friends there were enough cross over interests to keep the bilingual conversations going. Paul was thrilled to see us, and I did my best to up his kitchen cred with the two other members of his work team, both of which were super sweet guys. 

I got home to find out we have a chance of getting a quote from Elizabeth Lesser, if Elisabetta Povoledo ever comes to write about the group. I'm buying myself a lottery ticket. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Panic attack

Che ansia! Mamma mia! It is bad enough that every year we beg our pharmacist to give us the flu shot because we don't want to make appointments with the family doctor to sit in the waiting room full of sickies for ages until he gives us the shot. You can buy boxes of the flu vaccine from the pharmacy. It is only free for the elderly, children, and pregnant women. Last year we just administered them ourselves; but then as soon as we get the achy arms or the little fevers, I worry that we did it wrong and have moments left to live. I feel better throwing the responsibility of it all on Dott.ssa Elvira.

This year it is one million times worse because of the refugee group. Many of them don't have health cards or doctors. I can't afford to get every refugee I know a flu shot, but for our group and their children and in-laws we ended up buying ten boxes. I was going to administer it myself, but then I read about the waivers you should sign and the legal responsibility and the possible allergies and I thought better of it. On the other hand, I am awake at nights worrying that I will be spending all night long in disgusting emergency rooms with feverish babies and adults wondering why I didn't just get them the vaccine.

F went to the pharmacy and had a less than successful conversation in Italian where he was neither sure he had bought the most effective version of the vaccine nor that Dott.ssa Elvira would be available. To be fair I still speak the worst Italian that I can speak at that pharmacy because Dott.ssa Elvira is a little deaf and so there is a delay and a lack of supportive head nodding on her part.

I went back with Paul on his work break and we got our shots. It turns out Paul is afraid of needles. I went first. F is going back after his last student of the day. We bought out the store and have to pick up the rest of the boxes tomorrow. The plan is that the members of the group who want the vaccine and who have doctors will bring their friends and show them the pre-bought boxes and get the doctors to admister the vaccines or we will take them to a pharmacist I know who might be just weird enough to administer them for us. 

T would not go to get the vaccine because insert excuse here, and so we have to administer hers at home. I hate it. This is so stressful!

Today my four hour English class was spent having students give oral presentations in preparation for their TRINITY English exams. They will have to have a conversation with a teacher from the TRINITY test and also present a topic that they have prepared ahead of time. The level of reluctance to speak was pretty epic. It made me sad that so many Italians have so much shame about actually speaking English, as opposed to doing grammar exercises in their books. I think it was a positive experience today. I hope it was. I loved how when I said we would create a non judgemental and supportive atmosphere, one woman told me in a very sincerely, well I still feel judged. By us? I asked. She looked me dead in the eyes and said, By myself. Well, that's some honesty right there.

I have organized a dinner at Paul's restaurant like I promised him, with six other people, to make him look good and to spread the word about our group, hopefully in 48 hours from now I will be able to enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Do OVER!  
Yesterday pretty much sucked. At dinner time I was skyping with the landlords of the house in Montecatini, begging them to write a hospitality letter for Emmanuel so that he could renew his permesso. They agreed, but did not send the papers until after midnight. I did not sleep well. We got Emmanuel and had a later start than we would have liked. We didn't know that Mondays are the worst day to try to get business done at the police station in Montecatini, or that they had a new policy which decrees that foreigners must wait outside in the cold for the three hours that they do business in the morning. While Emmanuel and I waited in line, I defended our place in line by chatting with absolutely everyone. I charmed some and annoyed the absolute crap out of others. I defended us from people who wanted to jump ahead, and I assigned everyone a number, given that there was no numbered ticket machine. F took Jennifer to go baby food and diaper shopping, while I was out in the humid chilly air, shivering and shaking. After three hours, we finally got to see the officer and she pointed out that my dear husband had misprinted the date on the document, rendering it invalid. It probably would not have mattered because she upped the ante, saying that she wanted only original documents, something impossible to do when the landlords live in Albania, and also the landlord's passport, which we didn't have. It was not fun.

Day 1, Questura of Montecatini

Day 2, the early bird gets the worm!

This morning we woke up at the crack of crack. Actually, I woke up at 4 AM because F was stress talking in his sleep. I checked the email only to find that the landlord did not send her passport. I did not get back to sleep until 5 AM. Today we were smart. We met Emmanuel on line, he got there second. We chatted away with crazy number one, who arrived even before we did. I was sad I didn't bring cookies for all our friends from yesterday who showed back up to join the party. They also needed different, better, other papers to state their cases. Today the officer was in a lovely mood. She let us leave the line to make a copy that was missing and stamped the hospitality letter with a flourish. I don't know why. Maybe getting there earlier, you get the police when they are fresher. Maybe she just enjoys a good power trip. It doesn't matter, because, honestly, she was in the right and I was in the wrong yesterday. And God bless her, for giving us the stamp today.  

I arrived back at Tina's to find her giving Peace the full spa treatment. She smelled so delicious, I cannot even tell you. Peace is not fond of the facial moisturizing or the hair oiling, but she gave five stars to the full body massage, the warm water splashes, and the general body lotion application.


spa treatment


The train isn't working between Montecatini and Lucca, so we gave Cool and Job a ride to Pescia, where I haggled with some lovely tax office workers for forty-five minutes about how best to add Tina and Job's names to the rental contract. They need the contract to qualify for welfare benefits for the baby. The two ladies looked at Peace's photo and then argued about how best to get her the money. Peace does that to people. I got all their advice in writing for Job to bring back to the rental agent. The problem was that creating a new contract would cost us like a thousand euros, but by doing some bureaucratic blah blah blah, I'll spare you the details, it costs a fraction as much. 

Then we took the guys to an interview at a large employment agency, where the friendly, mustachioed interviewer spoke perfect English. I also made copies of the forms translated into English so they can learn how to fill out documents when I'm not there. We made them CV/resumes that they also brought to a pizza parlor in town. It was a winning day. 

I came home to find out that a big paper machinery company wants to hire me for several full days a week to teach English all day long to their staff! If it works out, I might be able to start in November and it will last several months.

Yesterday in the midst of everything, Glory rang my bell for her Italian lesson. I taught her what to say for her hearing in front of the Refugee Commission and the name of a ton of stuff she doesn't have at the moment like furniture, windows, and pets.