Thursday, August 30, 2012

this will not be interesting unless you want to be invited to my pity party

 Day 1.    leonardo the plumber has just arrived. unexpectedly. i am in my pajamas. i am wearing my glasses. i have mascara beneath my eyes because no matter how well i wash my face before bed, i always awaken looking like i rolled in from a party around 3:00 a.m. i have not brushed my teeth. there are dirty dishes in the sink. um. isn't my helpful doorman supposed to announce that there is a workman here and get my okay? let's not just send the workmen up and assume that i'm dressed. maybe hanging out our laundry this early was a signal that we are ready for the day?

and leonardo and i had to play a game of charades in which he wanted to use the trashcan and i thought he wanted a trash bag and i offered him a big black trash bag because that is what i would use if i was doing work and he shook his head "no", so i offered him a see-through pink bag that smells like lavender and he shook his head "no" and finally i realized he wanted the trashcan itself and i took the trash bag out of the trashcan because he is using the trashcan to ...fix something? and i am now embarrassed because all our trash sits in a see-through pink bag in the living room. he is going to know i finished off a pie for breakfast. oh. maybe he wanted a bucket?

also, mike had hot water for his shower this morning. mike is happy. if the hot water goes away, mike will not be happy. please don't make the hot water go away.

leonardo fixed everything. he showed me what he fixed. he had replaced stuff and all the water was in non-leaking hot-to-cold working condition. he did not respond to my, "molto bene" or "grazie mille" so i resorted to the tried and true sign of appreciation: clapping. whatever. at least he got to go home and tell his wife about the stupido applauso by la donna americana.

Day 2.  thanks to mike's most excellent english friend at work (not only has he obtained for us the very important american shows of louie, breaking bad, and true blood ; he also knows where i can obtain cheddar cheese and cilantro. plus his lovely girlfriend has told me how to cross the street without being hit and where i can get my hair done--are these not wonderful people?) there are air conditioning people here. with air conditioners. that are being installed.

sometimes, i make fun of this italian experience because i am by turns baffled and amused by the cultural differences and the foreign-to-me-behavior.

often, however, i make fun of these things because i am embarrassed. i know the failings are mine. that the people who live here are going about their daily life and then they encounter me, the person who is in the wrong. i am in their country and i don't speak the language that is the language of this country because i suck and so they have to guess what the hell i'm asking of them. and they are polite, they smile, they try their best to understand my pointing and speaking in english, they try to help me with my math failings where money is concerned, and the workmen step outside to smoke without my having to ask.

there are many times throughout the day that make me want to cry in shame and frustration. i know in america, many people wonder why all of our signs and ATM machines are in multiple languages. it's america. we speak english. i know our culture supports being self-made, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps: if you want to live here, learn the language.

but if the people who are new to our country and are struggling to learn english no matter how many lessons of rosetta stone they've completed, they must be so grateful to recognize words that help them figure out what to do and how to proceed and where they are going. because i know that every time i see a word i understand, that is how i feel. i hope that when i return to america and use an atm machine that asks which language i would like to use, i will actually take notice of this and my heart will be glad, knowing that this is a lifeline for people.

Day 1 again.   last night, i was returning from an outside trip with the dogs. an elderly woman was battling her heavy suitcase across our courtyard(?) and down the steps and into the building. i could so easily have picked up the suitcase with one hand and carried it to the elevator, and i couldn't help her because i didn't know how to ask if i could. I racked my pitiful italian words to see if anything even remotely resembling "may I help" sprang to mind, but i had nothing. obviously, i could not just walk up and carry it for her, because she would think i was stealing it and i know i would freak out if someone did that to me and it would be like borat when he encounters gypsies. so i had to walk behind her, watching her struggle and knowing that i had the strength to help her and not the words.

Day 2 again.   so, maybe today the workmen are maybe smoking in here. i have asthma that i have mainly outgrown but which smoking can cause to return. i am allergic to smoke. but what am i to do? i can't ask them not to smoke because i don't know how. all i can do is open all the doors and windows and shut the dogs and jack in a room so that they are not breathing the surgeon-general-warning-whose-memo-was-obviously-pilfered-by-italian-postal-workers. because there are not any anti-smoking laws here of which i am aware. and yes, i do know that italians have a lower incidence of cancer and heart disease than americans.  i kind of can't stop staring. that is a seriously long ash on his cigarette. where is that ash going to go?
sure am glad you care so much about me that you opened a door so i could breathe. really generous of you. thanks. 

in other news: what do you think these men are doing? and how do you think they got up there?is this the italian equivalent of walking the appalachian trail?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

two turn tables and a microphone

Two very important events have taken place this morning and it is not yet 10:00. Notice that I did not write "it is not yet 10:00 a.m." because I have already stated that it is morning and to write a.m. as well would be redundant. And it is this attention to detail that makes my copy editing duties worth the same hourly rate as a 12-year-old babysitter.

I have not yet had to close up the house. I have not had to shut the doors and windows, close the shutters against the sun, and blast our pretend air conditioning (in which I turn it on and nothing happens so we turn on all the fans and complain about how hot and sweaty we are). The house is still on that side of bearable. Now of course this means we are subject to the noise of the chainsaws used by the tree cutter downers right outside our apartment, but it makes me think fondly of The Chainsaw Massacre and how it was cold enough in that movie that one could comfortably wear another person's skin.

And Leonardo the plumber has at long last returned from the black hole of August! I used my iTranslate app to write out the things that were not working: No hot water in the kitchen; no shower head in the bathroom (i didn't point fingers by reminding him that this is because he took one shower head to fix the other one and then never replaced it); a hot water heater that doesn't turn on and/or turns on, only to turn off at will. Leonardo looked at the list. He banged on the hot water heater with his hand. (That is exactly the technique I use! Have I mentioned I come from a long line of plumbers? Obviously I have the plumber gene.) He mimed taking on a telephone and left. I took this to mean he would be getting parts and would call us when they were in. Or maybe he was telling me how much he loved the song, "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen and that I should look up his YouTube parody.

And this evening, another important event will be taking place: We are going to be interviewing  a possible weekly cleaning person. You may be thinking, I'm sorry, but didn't you move into an apartment that is a quarter of the size of the house you had lived in? Why in the world would you need a cleaning person? And to that I say: Well, Judgy McJudge, we need a cleaning person because everyone else has one.

Because I both have a mom and I am a mom,  I know that the next argument is: Well if everyone else was going to jump off a cliff, would you jump too? And the answer to that is yes. Yes, I would if it meant that waiting at the bottom there was a person who would clean my house.

Friday, August 24, 2012

the one where the pizza owner's prediction comes true

 I was picking up a pizza one evening while still in America. One of the owners of the local pizza shop, who knew about our move, stopped me and asked, "Do you speak Italian?" When I told him I did not, he shook his head sadly and then looked hard into my face. "You must learn Italian,"he said, "or the Italians will try to rip you off. I know this; I am from Italy." Having traipsed around Italy on vacations with our Italian pal, I just knew that this was not true because everyone I had ever encountered was just so gosh darn nice.

Just today, in fact, Jack and I decided to head into the heart of Rome to view the must-see tourist sights that Jack had not yet seen. He was mainly hot and tired and I mainly tried to take pictures of things such as a women wearing a lace shirt and a bra standing in front of the Vatican and nuns wearing flip-flops.  All in all, it was a successful day.
she isn't picking her nose; she's just smoking & enjoying her Lee press-on nails.

 We decided to head home, bought metro tickets, got on the right train going in the right direction, and  got off at the right stop. We high-fived and smiled at the lounging metro workers.

One of the metro workers was clearly the actor who had played Vince, Will's cop boyfriend on Will& Grace. Sad.

Another metro worker was chewing her nails and spitting them on the floor. The third metro worker, however, was nondescript, which always means trouble.

As Jack and I had just been speaking in English, he addressed us in English: "I need your tickets." 

I was instantly confused (I know, big surprise). "Oh, we aren't trying to get on the metro, " I explained, "we're just using the exit." I pointed to the sign behind his head that led to the stairs. "Uscita," I added helpfully in case he couldn't read.

"No. I need to see your tickets before you leave, do you see?" I did not see, but I dismissed it as just another part of Italian culture with which I was not yet familiar. Like putting change on the counter instead of into your outstretched hand.  I dug through my things to find our tickets.

Finding our tickets was a feat unto itself as I had crammed all the contents of my purse into my camera bag for the day. I had to crouch on the floor  and take everything out of my bag to locate our tickets. The metro workers snickered. I'm sure they weren't laughing at me. Right before we arrived, one of them had probably told a joke and  they were just now all getting the punchline.

 I produced the tickets.
The nondescript worker barely looked at them before announcing they weren't correctly stamped and I would have to pay a 50 euro fine.

"Why would they be stamped?" I asked. "We just put them in the little machine, they popped back out, we took them and the gate opened. Who was supposed to stamp them?" You see, I like to use technical jargon like "little machine" and "popped out" in situations such as this so that the person to whom I'm speaking is aware that I know what's what.

He sighed as if speaking to a particularly obstinate and woefully slow child. "The machine did not stamp them so you must pay a 50 euro fine."  

He pointed out that I could give them 50 euro now or have a 140 euro fine later. I was beginning to suspect he was related to a prince in Nigeria that needed me to wire him $5000 and then he would be able to come to America and give me millions of dollars in return. MILLIONS.

Each time the worker explained my predicament, he would end with, "Understand?" To which I would reply, "No," and we would begin the round robin anew. 

Meanwhile, many waves of people had been exiting all around us and surprisingly, neither of the other two metro workers needed to see any of their tickets.

Vince from Will & Grace became annoyed that it was taking so long to extract my 50 euro and started speaking angrily to the nondescript metro worker.  He was clearly saying something about how he used to be on Will & Grace and that he didn't want to waste his time arguing with some American as the show got cancelled because Americans stopped watching it and now he works in a tunnel in Italy.

Finally I did the only thing I could do: I called Mike. I explained what was going on and Mike asked to speak with him. I tried to hand my phone to the guy, telling him to explain this to someone who understood Italian.  "No! No!" the man yelled, putting his hands up to prevent me from coming closer with my scary pink phone. "I am not permitted to speak on your phone."

Mike and I resumed our conversation ( How was the sightseeing? Pretty good. How was work? Not bad.What do you want to do for dinner? I don't care. Maybe Italian?)

 A new metro worker appeared, stopped a man trying to exit, and extracted some amount of euro from the man.

Seeing as how I was just talking on the phone and my son was twirling his hat on his finger, the metro man said, "Look, I will try to help you. If I put your ticket though the machine and the stamp doesn't print we will know there was just a problem with your ticket and that you paid for it and it is all okay."

"We couldn't have gotten through the metro gate if we hadn't used our metro cards which we had to have paid for in order to have them," I said once more for the  cheap seats in the back. "Isn't it possible that the machine ran out of ink or wasn't working properly?"

"It's... possible," the man said doubtfully. My ticket was put through the little machine and it did indeed emerge with a stamp! This caused a great deal of arguing amongst the workers with hands flying and and  ever-increasing volume. I think at one point the woman who had been chewing her nails tried to put the evil eye on the guy from Will & Grace. No one seemed to think much of the fact that the machine they had just put my ticket through was a different metro machine at a different metro stop. 

Finally, after all the arguing and yelling about whether or not the Olive Garden had a cooking school in Italy and why Italy played the football match better than Spain , the metro worker who had successfully collected 50 euro from another passenger announced, "Go. Leave."Very anticlimactic. 

So we did. And when we emerged into the 100 degree sunshine and I saw all the stores closing their shutters and people flooding into cafes, including my very own gang of metro workers, I realized that it was time for lunch. And nothing, not even trying to extort 50 euro from some Americans, was going to stop the people of Rome from closing up shop and enjoying their lunch.

*disclaimer: this has not been my typical experience with Italy. Despite what every guide book would have one believe, I have had no problem with cabdrivers taking the "long" way. When I misunderstand and overpay (probably every other time I leave the apartment), the cashiers have always been quick to correct me and return the excess money. Delivery men have been cheerful and chat with me over a glass of fizzy water. People are happy to give directions and are very forgiving when one uses two Italian words, lots of made-up sign language, and 13 English words in the same sentence.

However, the city really does close for lunch. No exceptions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


I know that the women of Rome have access to beauty products because they can throw on a dress to hit the grocery store that is hipper than anything I would wear to a super-cool club. Not that I go to super-cool clubs. But let's say I do for the sake of comparison. Do you know what I wore to the grocery store in the US of A?My gym clothes. Because I usually stopped there on the way home from the gym. So I marvel at how these women literally look like they are on their way to a magazine shoot and somehow look as effortless and casual as if they were dressed in gym clothes. And they never look sweaty. Maybe they are born without sweat glands. I'll have to look into that.

And so, back to my point: I know that somewhere in Rome are all the things I took for granted at Target. I love you Target. Don't forget me. I will spend so much time with you when I'm in America. I promise.

However, the closest thing I've found to the type of beauty products I need to enjoy life was something that I thought was astringent because I'm breaking out like I need Stridex pads or Sea Breeze (God, that stuff  stung. I feel like I can still conjure up its smell.) but it turns out it was regular face wash which stinks because I've been wiping it over my face to absorb oil and surprise! I've really just been piling soap on my face and leaving it there. And I did find "nail polish." I found a stand of nail polish at the grocery store and it was a brand I didn't recognize and the colors were so outdated and the nail polish was so old it had separated and had that thick mess on the bottom and water on the top, but I was desperate. But then I saw the price: 9 euro. 9 EURO. That is $11.21. OPI only costs $8 and they have fun colors and I would buy it for the names alone. So I did not buy the nail polish.

Today, however, today we decided John needed a shirt because our things from America have yet to arrive and we go out to dinner enough that a t-shirt with a monkey wearing headphones is not always the best choice. We walked to OVS which I suspect is sort of like Old Navy....except they had what equated to a mini-sephora inside jam-packed with beauty products. I could hear the angels singing.

These are my current favorite things:

this I did not buy at the European Old Navy, but it will be my best friend until my "hoover" (that's British for vacuum) arrives from

My new "Blue Addicted" nail polish. Sure, the name could be better. But it was 1.25 euro and it has pieces of glitter in it. And yes, I know I have finger toes and that they are strangely wrinkly. However, I can twirl a baton with my toes and having a second toe longer than the rest of your toes is a sign of royalty. So if you were going to leave me a comment like, "What's up with your weird, wrinkly, finger toes?" you go right ahead because I never have to bend over to pick up a pen I've dropped on the floor. Winning.

I just noticed that this is really some kind of cellulite scrub but I don't care. I am considering it a facial scrub because it has two things going for it: a scrub brush and salicylic acid. And it will obviously prevent cellulite on my face.
this is the wonderful tool that now allows me to use our stove. John can now ask for food that has to be cooked.

Oh, and yes, we got John a shirt.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TomToms are better with fun voices.

We sold all of our furniture prior to moving. Most of it had been purchased some 16 years prior when we were just starting our life together. When I would triumphantly bring home couches of gold faux velvet from the Salvation Army only to discover that the slight odor was not really all that slight and no amount of Febreeze was going to make it better. When I would find a treasure on trash day, just sitting on the side of the road as though someone thought it was trash! (Okay, I still have most of those pieces.) Nonetheless, we decided that when we lived in Rome, we were going to buy for-real grown-up furniture. In Rome! It would be all proper furniture and shit! We didn't know exactly what that meant, but we were pretty sure it wouldn't involve Swedish instructions and cursing. Except some of it.

As we are all now aware, Rome is closed in August. Today, however, today a couple of stores decided it was time to reopen. And one of those wonderful places where we could finally trade money for goods was a beautiful furniture store that our very good friend had purchased his couch. A couch that Mike and Jack both coveted for its supreme reclining comfort, but that I also loved for its pleasing aesthetic. A couch in which all family members can unite.Win win.

The store, however, was not located at the destination promised by the TomTom; and yes, I have told Mike a million times that if he would just download the voice of Snoop Dogg for his TomTom the way that I have, he can't go wrong. Isn't a roundabout much better when you have a rapper high on the wacky-tobaccy saying, "Round and round and round we go"? So we decided to try another furniture store that unfortunately was only open between the hours of 4 and 4:17. On our way home, we saw a sign for the first furniture store( yes, the one with the couch. Keep up, please.) in a completely different location than it had been listed.

We went in, we sat down on furniture to test its comfort level and I laid down on the couches since I often have insomnia and can only get back to sleep by watching old episodes of Roseanne and I rearranged things in the store to see what combinations I liked best and John didn't knock anything over or break anything.  To be fair, I did not see any other customers behaving in this fashion. They sat at computers while the salesperson showed them furniture options. But in my defense, I did put all the furniture back in its original place and I certainly can't tell if I want something to be my forever grown-up couch on a computer. I need to sit on it. We all sat on it to see how many people it could actually fit. We tried all the magic hidden reclining buttons. And we decided to buy two couches.

I am up to perhaps four and a half words of Italian (Rosetta Stone AND Michael Thomas. I know, I'm a fast learner.), and so Mike explained we wished to purchase the couches. We sat at the desk with the salesperson. She said something something something to a hatchet faced woman with flat black hair and a nose stud that was far too large for her narrow features. Remember Stella from Project Runway Season 5 who only wanted to design in black leather? She looked like a worse version of her. And the worse version of Stella from Project Runway said, "No."

She barely sniffed at us as she said, "Mi dispiace," and turned away. Knowing how important haggling is, we thought this was perhaps one of those times. Mike spoke to our saleswoman. Mike spoke to the Stella woman(who turned out to be the store manager). The saleswoman and Stella spoke together. Both shrugged and apologized to Mike.

Mike turned to me, "They won't sell us the couches." Now this is very confusing to me. It is a store. The couches are for sale. They have price tags on them. We have the money in our hand. We want to give them the money and they give us the couches. I've worked in retail. I know how these things work.

The women are not budging. They will not sell us the couches. They will not sell us the couches because then they will have an empty space in the store. It will not look nice. They will not be able to sell those couches to another customer because they will not have those couches to sell.

"But we want to buy them right now," Mike says. This farce continues until I can't take it any more and stand up and announce, "Let's go. This is ridiculous." The women shrug and go back to their computers. And then Tim Gunn appears and says sadly, "Worse version of Stella, I'm afraid it's time for you to clean up your workspace."

Back in our car, even John is  confused and indignant. We do alot of what-the...heck?(swear words muted for the sake of our child) and this is ...malarky and fudge-those-not-nice women!

As life is ever tricksie, on the way home, we see another one of the stores from which we have just been denied. We go in. And as it so happens, this store also has the couches. And one of them is discounted by 40%. Neither of the couches at the other store had been priced at a 40% discount. Mike speaks with the saleswoman who has glittery bra straps sticking out of her dress and she is willing to let us purchase them! It will, however, take two months to complete one of the couches due to the fabric we have chosen. Mike tells the saleswoman that the other store had the couch with that exact fabric in stock and asks if she could call there so that we could have it sooner.(Do you see why I love my husband?)

The woman calls the store that would not sell us the couches. When she hangs up, she tells us she will give us 40% off not just one, but both of the couches. We are happy. We buy the couches. We have no idea what the hell happened.


a church, old and beautiful, in which real candles can be lit in offering and prayer. places where every child is treated like a delightful gift. flowers pushing through every crack. sitting at an outdoor cafe eating a cheeseburger and drinking a beer. lemon trees on balconies. elderly gentlemen with old world manners who tip their hat and step into the street so that you may have the safety of a narrow sidewalk. eating a plum straight from the tree. floating on a raft in the calm, clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea. grandmothers in red 50s-style-dresses with matching red heels, Jackie O. sunglasses. dogs on laps, in stores, in purses, in grocery carts, in restaurants. the smell of laundry warmed by the sun. nuns driving tiny cars. endless deep talks with a boy on long walks. women having their hair done in the outdoor market between fruit and fish stands. dinner beneath a roof made of grape vines. long lines in which no one is angry or impatient.  friends who know you are scared to light your stove and gift you a long handled lighter, wrapped in stapled Christmas paper.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

In which we meet the carabinieri

We were driving home last night and there were a bunch of police officers standing around their cars, laughing and smoking and all looking like various versions of Robert De Niro in his scarier roles. Which, other than those horrid fart-joke Ben Stiller movies, is pretty much all of them.

The carabinieri seem much more frightening than the American police force. Maybe that is because despite all of the stories, I still believe that American police officers are there to keep us safe. Or maybe it is because Italian law requires you to have ID on your person at all times, which seems creepy, like they are ready to cart you off at a moment's notice. (I don't understand why this is, but I carry John's and mine even when we take the dogs for a walk. ) Or maybe it is because the carabinieri sometimes have machine guns and have those high boots and wear uniforms reminiscent of other European uniforms of those who were in a race against Indiana Jones to find the ark of the covenant.

A carabinieri( my Italian isn't good enough to know if this is a word that encompasses both singular and plural forms, so we will just pretend it does.) stepped in front of our car and waved us over to the side of the road. He asked to see Mike's drivers license. Mike handed it to him and the officer told him he could not drive in Italy with an American driver's license. Which is absolutely not true. He didn't ask to see the car registration, he didn't tell us why he pulled us over. He just stood there, flipping Mike's license back and forth and making clicking noises with his tongue. Mike took out his super-special Italian card that identifies him as one who lives and works in Italy and handed that to the officer (I like to think they are sort of magic protective cards) The officer seemed disappointed that Mike had that. He said a bunch of stuff in Italian which --again, my Italian is very poor-- but it sounded like, "Dammit. I was going to throw this whole stupido Americano family in jail so that we could all laugh and laugh at the stupid Americans who come to take pictures of the Colosseum and now they have the magic cards!"

He then walked to the front of the car and pointed to a headlight. Which was clearly not out or broken in any way. And yes, it did cross my mind that he was going to smash it and then haul Mike off to jail. He told Mike to get out of the car. He said a bunch of stuff in Italian. He pointed to the headlight. Mike nodded thoughtfully and acted like he understood his point and agreed. "Hmmm," said Mike as though they were together tackling this issue of the non-existent problem with the headlight. Which seemed much better than trying to reason with and/or ask what the hell was going on.

Mike returned to the car. The officer walked over to the other herd of officers. They conferred. I think they said, "They have the magic cards. Let us drink espresso  and shoot our guns until another car drives by."

The officer then strode out into the middle of traffic and stopped all the cars that were pretending the teeny one lane road was a four lane highway and raised his hand for them to stop and motioned for us to drive way. Which we did.

"Did you see that?" Mike asked. "He had Han Solo pants."

Han Solo pants 
carabinieri pants

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

When one air conditioner repairman fades away, another workman appears

One day Guido was going to install two air conditioning units. The very next day, Guido realized it was August and he slipped away in the night to go on vacation. Because it was August. Suck it up potential customer. Guido has needs. He will be back in September.

Luckily, we face many other problems with our apartment. Our landlord seems bemused by these "problems" we have. For instance, we did not have hot water in more than one faucet at a time and we had no control over which faucet that may be. "The kitchen has hot water!" someone would cry and we would all rush over, simultaneously trying to do dishes or wash our hair or give the dogs a bath. And then suddenly it didn't. "It's in the shower!" someone else would yell, causing a stampede. Finally, when there was no hot water to be found anywhere, Mike called LD (initials only to prevent a lawsuit, but not to be confused with LC from MTV's The Hills who now "designs" clothes for KohlsAlthough they do share a very similar first name.), our landlord. As a side note, I did not mind the lack of hot water because if I wanted hot water, I would just fill a bucket and place it on a balcony and wait for it to boil. Being able to take freezing cold showers may be the only thing keeping me sane. But other people in the house felt hot water was their right as tenants paying rent.

One day, out of the blue, LD appeared with her choice of a plumber, Leonardo. I know it may seem that I am taking some creative liberties with the Leonardo and Guido names, but I assure you I am not. It is Italy and these names had to originate from somewhere. Our doorman's name is Mossimo. I kept being confused until Mike said, "Like the Target brand." See, if people would just put things in terms I can understand...So Leonardo worked on the plumbing while LD spoke with John and me. LD speaks no English and as we all know by now, I speak no Italian. So I don't really know what we were conversing about. John was busy FaceTiming with my mom and LD said, "Ah...something something something telefono." So I said, "He's talking to mi madre."(Yes, I thought Spanish might work.) And thumped my chest and mimed giving birth to myself. Luckily John's conversation was soon finished and LD spent the remainder of her visit speaking very loudly about how beautiful and cute John was and trying to hand John her phone to talk to someone as though he was at the Oscars and a fan wanted George Clooney to say "HI" to her best friend Ali who will never believe that she is talking to George Clooney!

Leonardo reappeared and they both said something something something, be back later. I have been in Italy long enough to know that This Is Not Good. Do Not Let Repairman Leave Without Finishing. "When?" I asked. They both smiled and said, "Byee-byeee!" "No, no, WHEN?" I pointed to my watch and said, "Today?" "Ten minute," Leonardo replied. I knew he spoke English. Trickster.

He did return. He said he was done. Everything looked done. And he left. My mistake. I should have checked every room and not just the room in which he was working because I later discovered that although he had fixed the hot water in one shower, he had not fixed it in the kitchen. And he had apparently removed the shower head from one shower and put it in the other, thus leaving the other shower with no shower head. All calls to LD and Leonardo have remained unanswered. Say it with me now...because it is August.

Also, Salsa Friday did not work out as well as one may have hoped. Italy is missing a key few ingredients: cilantro, black beans(they have what they call Mexican beans, but they are kidney beans. I've been making salsa for a very long time. I know the difference between black beans and kidney beans. In the words of Judge Judy: Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.), and cheese that is not related to the mozzarella family.

But they do have this:

I did not eat it because I still have my dignity. John, however, thought it was delicious.

Friday, August 10, 2012

it might be salsa friday

It is Friday, right? I guess I'll know tomorrow if today was Friday because Mike won't be wearing a suit. Or maybe he will. Just for fun.

I, on the other hand, am wearing a scrunchie. Do you remember that episode in Sex and the City when Carrie was dating Burger and she read his book and laughed at him because he said a NY woman was wearing a scrunchie and he got all crabby and sullen (Burger was such a cry baby)? In Rome, women don't care if banana clips had their brief shining moment 30 some years ago. They will throw their hair up any old way they choose and feel FINE. And look good. And that has inspired me to leave my hair exactly the way it was after I washed my face this morning, ie pulled back in some random mismash with a scrunchie. I'm bringing scrunchies back. When you see them in Milan's next Fashion Week, just remember that you heard it here first.

Yesterday I did three things I had been frightened of, one on purpose, two by accident and you know what? it worked out just fine. On purpose, I looked up directions to a large grocery store. I like our market and all, but there's a lot of questions that have to be asked there like, "How much?" and then I can't understand the answer anyway, so it's hard. Plus, I wanted to buy Ziplock bags and air-tight containers. Things get stale/funky here very quickly because of the heat and I am tired of having to cut my sugar with a fork and knife to put a chunk into my espresso and having the breakfast cake go stale in one day.  And how fun is a country that thinks cake and cookies are an acceptable breakfast?
breakfast. in america they are cookies, but when in -oops, i already promised not to use that phrase again.

So I used my walking directions map, which I have been scared to use(see post about walking for four hours because of getting lost) and Jack and I made it to the grocery store.Without a problem. We even crossed the street Italian style, walking directly in front of cars and refusing to hurry even when the car might hit you. I have seen this practice and expressed dismay over people pushing strollers that I was certain would be killed, but Mike assured me that was normal and that if these mothers were running across the street to protect their babies from traffic, it would just confuse the drivers of the cars.

The grocery store literally took up three city blocks and is called a "SuperSma." And that made me think it might be like Target, but it was not. It just meant it has a much larger seafood and cheese section. There were four aisles devoted to pasta. Just boxed pasta. Another three aisles were devoted to various ingredients to make your own pasta and pizza dough from scratch. And one aisle was devoted to underwear.Unfortunately, Ziplock bags have not yet been invented in Rome because everyone buys fresh food. But I did find some twist tie bags left over from 1962, so I bought those. And a tray for the oven. And an ice cube tray. While I was paying, one of my other fears materialized. The cashier told me how much I owed. It sounded a lot like nothing I could understand. I looked hopefully at Jack, but he was busy not looking at me. "How much?" I asked in English, feeling like a jerk. The cashier silently touched a button and numbers appeared on a screen, Numbers I could read. Numbers that would not require  much change on the part of the cashier. I handed her an appropriate bill and then she said something else. I must have looked stricken because she smiled and held up five fingers and asked if I had five cents so she could give me less change. I shook my head and said, "No, sorry." Because I'm in Italy.  I'm that person who insists on speaking her native language and expects everyone else who speaks the correct language for the country to understand me. However, the cashier smiled again and responded with prego when i said grazie.

"I knew what she asked you," Jack announced on the way home. "You did?!? Why didn't you tell me???" "Because I didn't know if you knew or not."

On the way home, another fear came to light. A woman driving a car stopped and asked me for directions. Again I looked to Jack and again he was pretending he didn't know me. "Mi dispiace ma non parlo Italiano, " I said. But of course it took me too long to fumble my way through that and she had already waved her hand at me and driven away halfway through my stammer. However, that didn't take away from the fact that I said it and I had been so worried that I would have to say it and now I had done it. Even though Jack told me I really needed to practice more. He and I had endlessly practiced it while at the playground, but repeating it after Jack is much different from saying it to a stranger who is Italian.

boooring. you should write more about dogs.

how cute is the woman driving the scooter in her orange dress?

Coca-cola Light is better than Diet Coke because I'm pretty sure it says right on the bottle that  it is like a unicorn with no calories.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

the first day of the rest of your life

That is something my mom says: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." That and: "Inch by inch, life's a cinch. Yard by yard, life's too hard."

Mike went back to work today, so I am on my own in Italy for the first time. I'm scared. It doesn't feel quite as dramatic as the day he went back to work after our son was born, but it feels big, having my buffer removed. "Just be," Mike said. "It's enough.Every small act here is an accomplishment."

But I feel helpless and useless. Here are today's challenges:

1. Making John's meals. I have been doing this at least three times a day for eight years. But here, we have no pans that can go in the oven because our "things" that have been shipped from home will not arrive for at least another month. We have no toaster oven. We have no microwave (although I did see one just sitting outside a church yesterday).  None of that would matter, however, if I could just bring myself to use the gas burners on the stove. Unfortunately, because the stove is 147 years old, it works by turning on the gas and holding a small Bic lighter to said gas until it erupts into flames, an accident waiting to happen if ever there was one. Luckily John is currently not hungry. But at some point he will want to eat.

Bic Lighter and stove. Why does the lighter have a picture of a sad puppy? Probably because it is worried the house will catch on fire.
2. Guido(real name) is coming today to install air conditioning. He speaks no English. I speak no Italian. The original plan of the placement of the air conditioning has been changed, although Guido does not yet know this and I need to somehow tell him. Because this is Rome, we do not know when he will be arriving. We do not know whether he will be paid by the landlord or if we will be expected to pay him. If we are to pay him, we do not know whether it will be in cash or by check. I am not technically allowed to write checks because I do not yet exist in Italy.

washing machine settings. if you can read them, please message me.
3.I need to do laundry. Although I have been hanging out the laundry and bringing it in and folding it and putting it away(it's very sweaty here--laundry is a several times a day type of deal), I am not entirely sure how to use the washing machine. How much laundry can I put in? What setting do I use? How much detergent? I have been operating by my new motto of If you don't know what it says on the box/bottle/instructions, do what you would like it to say. But we've all seen those sitcom episodes where the house in engulfed in bubbles and water because someone didn't know how to do laundry. Who wants to be an episode of Lavern and Shirley or I Love Lucy?

someone else's laundry. they also did not know how to use the washing machine. or stove because it looks like there may have been a fire.
4. I would like to go to the market and buy food and cooking tools and extremely long handled matches. However, there are not modern cash registers so I can't read how much I am to pay(Or ask the cashier. Or use my debit card) and the only number I know in Italian is 4 and that is because it is our apartment number and Mike insisted I memorize it (he then made sure our son knew our address because I often transpose numbers). Mike didn't even try to give me directions to get anywhere. He gave those directly to John. At home, it's mildly amusing that Mommy doesn't know her right or left or that she mixes up numbers or can't find her way out of a paper bag. Recently it took me two hours in both directions to walk my nephew to a park that was a mile from my sister's house because I kept getting mixed-up. And that was while using my iPhone and google map app. However, it is a not an uncommon trait in my extended family and we have learned to laugh about it , but here it seems pretty daunting.
Also, Italians either do not like or do not have much change. I have already seen many arguments because a cashier or merchant will not accept money from a customer if there is too much change involved. Why is this? I don't know. It's a very Jerry Seinfeld question: What is the deal with making change?

So, as you see, these are very small, mundane, everyday tasks that would be accomplished quickly at home. And in Italy, I think I will be lucky today if I can manage to accomplish even one of these. And also, I kind of feel like an idiot.

Here is Mike. Isn't he cute going off to work?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

I'm melting, melting! Oh, what a world!

Okay, I have to hurry and write this before it gets too hot (I should have approximately 23 minutes) and Rome isn't quite so charmingly quirky.I have been having a difficult time here because I am unwilling to let go of my American expectations of efficiency and instant gratification( I love you America. I love your instant gratification and efficiency. I promise I will never again take you for granted.)

 I want to do things and/or I want things to be done and it just doesn't happen that way here. Things happen when people get around to it and they get around to it when they feel like it.

Even a simple thing like walking is a cultural struggle. I am used to walking fast. I have things to get done. I am usually squeezing in errands between other things and so I walk fast, I eat fast, I grocery shop fast. I don't stroll, I walk at an Olympic pace. People walk very slowly here. It is not just because it is so unbelievably hot; it is because it doesn't matter when they get to where they are going. Where is there to go that one needs to rush, rush, rush? Things in the city are thousands of years old. Does time really matter so much? What is the real difference between 8:15 and 9:30?

It is an endeavour for me to adapt to this way of thinking. But if I do think about it, where was I rushing to in the States? It is one thing to be on time to pick-up John, but rushing through grocery shopping just to hurry and get home to....put away the groceries?

I have been assured that if I do not approach Roman life with a sense of humor, I will go insane.

So today I am trying to focus on the small things that have been unusual and/or amusing: the giant bin at the grocery store where patrons may scoop up the tentacles of an octopus as though it is a bins of candy or dried fruit; the whole fish and squid and other creatures of the sea that I like to view through glass at an aquarium and not behind the glass in my grocer's aisle (but which made John and I struggle to hide our horror and laughter behind our hands while people looked at us with annoyance); the way people walk their dogs in a way that they are at one end of the street and the dog is at the other(see below);

the fact that our freezer has a diagram of possible food choices one may place into the freezer; that all the workman we have encountered like to be paid in cash; that we asked directions from a girl who promptly held out her hand for money (my first gypsy encounter); that people who are driving feel free to literally come to a screeching halt in the middle of the street to croon and blow kisses at our dog Sookie; that I cannot use a bank or the post office or even exist until I get certain paperwork and I cannot get said paperwork because it is August and the lone person in all of Rome who does this paperwork is not in the office---because it is August; that we cannot buy a car and drive it home that same day even if it is sitting on the lot and we have all the money in cash because of the amount of paperwork necessary to purchase a car in Rome --a coworker of Mike's bought a Fiat(an Italian car that is made in Italy) in May. She has yet to receive it.

But I suspect I may eventually make peace with the Roman approach to life. For example, one of the bathroom drains in our apartment was completely clogged. After several hours of work, it is now only sort-of clogged. And I felt like reaching an only sort-of clogged drain status was a true achievement. And I haven't bothered to work on it again.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Here we are

So, I suppose I should start at the beginning of our journey, but I would like to start with the most obvious observation. It's not original but it is true: Rome is ungodly-might-die-from-the-heat-hot. It is so hot that my son's favorite thing in Rome thus far is the A-line metro because it has air conditioning.

But back to the arrival in Italy. John and I waited at the (un-air conditioned) baggage claim for a really really really long time. Occasionally a suitcase would emerge. It would be just that one suitcase, but it was enough to keep the unwashed horde hopeful and complacent. After 45 minutes or so, we had piled a cart high with our belongings and were waiting only for John's booster car seat. It didn't emerge from the shoot. I finally saw a sign that pointed with several arrows as to where "bulky or unusually shaped items" would be deposited. The sign showed helpful pictures of what may constitute a bulky or unusual size item: a guitar, what I suspect was a sailboat, and an umbrella. The kind of umbrella that folds up and fits in one's purse.

Now, I know that a booster car seat is "normal" because we have flown with it many a time and it always pops out along with the other luggage. However, when in Rome... (I had to get that in there. Sorry. I promise to never again use that saying.) We dutifully followed the long line of arrows, me pushing the luggage cart with its four teetering 50 pound suitcases; a laptop bag stuffed with two laptops, accessories for said laptops and various carry-on items was strapped across my body like a bandoleer; a camera bag with two cameras, various lenses, and as many additional carry-on items as we could fit was slung across my body in the other direction; and a backpack so full we couldn't quite get the zipper closed was on on my back. I was wearing a long fitted skirt and 4 inch platform sandals. So I'm pretty sure I may be the strongest woman in the world. Especially when the cab driver staggered under the weight of my laptop bag alone.

And yes, in the bulky and unusual sized items pile was the booster seat and what appeared to be the tube from an empty roll of wrapping paper. And an umbrella.