Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It is almost Christmas and my window box is filled with flowers that are a-bloomin.

I know that I'm behind on Graffiti Grader. I have a lovely piece submitted by a friend with an excellent eye for wall art, plus I should really do a Graffiti Grader Greece Edition. The graffiti in Greece was really well-done. None of the sloppy tags and unclear meaning we are so often confronted with in Rome. But everything is going to be on hold while we get ready for our journey back to America for Christmas. Additionally, I have some news: my deep thoughts regarding Roman life will soon be part of a website devoted to ex-pat living across the world. I will be certain to included the link when I switch from this blog to the site of my new digs.

And in the meantime:

it looks like a whole new world of parking just opened up! 

who doesn't love a "try before you buy" option?

this is my new favorite look(not that I have figured out how to get socks over jeans): skinny jeans/boots/knee socks. and this is why i feel frumpy  at John's school events. because that's what a mom looks like here.

fancy a quick smoke while waiting at the dentist office?

Have I mentioned the hot chocolate situation here? It involves taking a block of chocolate melted into liquid form and put into a mug. And then you add sugar. So it is pretty much the greatest thing since mozzarella di bufala.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


grateful to pick-up his dirty clothes, to argue over brushing his teeth, to give him my mittens on a cold morning, to try and get the dirt out from beneath his nails, to tell him to change his socks, to negotiate with him on "just ten more minutes!", to remind him to do his homework, to trip over things he has not put away, to endlessly debate the merit of one skylander or pokemon or superhero over another, to smell his sweaty little boy smell and hear the sound of his laughter and tell him that I love him more than anyone has ever loved anything, to still occasionally get to hold his hand, to kiss him and whisper good night and God bless you when he is asleep. i am grateful, so grateful.

Monday, December 10, 2012

It was very cold in here this morning. I know that you are probably all, dang, that girl is never happy! It's too hot! It's too cold! Wah wah wah. And just so you know, the reason it is too cold now is BECAUSE it was too hot and  my inner thermostat no longer works properly. So when it is December and it's 52 degrees, it feels like the frost giants have invaded and we are waiting on Thor.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way!

It was very cold in here this morning. We had to wear the hoods up on our hoodies. The thing about super expensive city living is that you get to re-experience all the things that sucked about moving out of your parents' house and living grown-up style the first time around. Except that now you are old and it isn't all that funny to pay this much money and still have to sleep with the oven turned on for heat. Okay, well, I guess that is kind of funny.

So I looked-up do-it-yourself weatherproofing, knowing that I am about as likely to find a cold weather handyman in December as I was an air conditioning installer in August. I wrote down all the things I would need. I googled "Home Depot equivalent in Rome" but found no matches. I yellow-paged hardware stores--all closed on Sunday. I looked on all my "where to find stuff for ex-pats"websites. (Hey, looks like Depeche Mode is coming to Rome this summer and a certain Italian politician is planning on throwing his hat into the ring once again, even though he is supposed to be in jail at that time.)And finally I googled some random string of numbers that gave me a lead to another lead to another site to a review to a recommendation and suddenly I found myself looking at a possible  store that may have the supplies I needed.

I wrote down the two store addresses. I google direction-ed them. One was over an hour away(three miles), but one was only 30 minutes (just over one mile) from here.

I measured all the windows and doors. I used my metric system app and recorded everything in cm and meters. I looked-up all the Italian words for the things I wanted and wrote them down as well. We got in the car and followed the tom-tom's map. The usual cobblestone road we take  is closed to cars on Sunday, so I tried to trick the tom-tom into recalculating, but it just kept insisting I make a u-turn. I continued driving and our stalemate ended when the tom-tom sullenly admitted defeat and offered me another route. I would have made it there unscathed, but there was a roundabout to cross in order to get into the parking lot. Even with John yelling, "Mom! Not that one!" it still took me three go arounds to get off at the right exit. We played who-can-drive-into-this-space-first with lots of people and then we went into the store. Which was clearly Home Depot. Seriously.

you tell me that Home Depot doesn't own this place.
Luckily it only took me as long to find my supplies as it takes me in a Home Depot at home, meaning it was the last aisle I checked after wandering around for a long time looking puzzled and getting caught up in the storage and rug area. The twist, of course,was that there were different widths to the weather stripping. Did I want 1cm or 7 cm? Or a number in between? So I bought a bunch, figuring that I would make it work because what is a 2 cm if not a 4 cm that needs to be cut in half?

And I bought a space heater. It was very tricky because I wanted one that specified that it wouldn't burn down the house, or poison the dogs, or make the electric bill look like we have a clothes dryer.  Unfortunately,  each space heater could only promise one out of three. However, I did manage to find one which was energy efficient and the key to sustainable living and excellent health. I could tell because the writing on the box was green and everyone knows that means it is environmentally friendly.

Then we drove home. Which took twice as long because the tom-tom screen was frozen and wouldn't change to the map feature, no matter how many times John and I turned it off and on, so I had to resort to the google map app which is on my phone and doesn't attach to my windshield, so I can only listen to the directions and cannot see them.  And that means I got off at the wrong exit despite my son saying "No. No, not there mom!Mom, don't turn there...oh." And when google recalculated, it decided to put me on a paid highway but  luckily I did have the 90 cents. 90 euro cents. What do you call cents when they are in euros?  I know that I can't ask the cashier at the grocery store this question because one day I couldn't hear what he said when he was insisting that I not give him 45.50 when my bill was 50.00 because he didn't want to give me change, and I said what? and he said just give me 45 and I said just 45 dollars but no change? and he pointed out it was 45 euro, not dollars! and i said not in America it's not.

And then we got home and I managed to find a Mike-approved parking space and then I made dinner and we put on the first Christmas music we've heard this year and I got out the ladder and started weatherproofing and then it was time for bed. And that is how you spend an entire day in Italy doing one thing.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

this and that

A girl(and by girl I mean female under 40) has been yelling at her dog to stop lolly gagging and get back on-leash for the past 27 minutes. The dog seems to have no idea who the girl is. It's giant German Shepard wolf hybrid  beast or else I would take Sookie outside as bait. No dog can resist coming over to Sookie to see what the hell she is. Sometimes they also lick her head. I guess to see how she'll taste if they eat her. Everyone seems to have their dogs off-leash in our area. In fact, when I have our terrier duo outside, people ask me why they are on leashes. The "All Dogs Must Be On Leashes" sign is in Italian, but I'm apparently the only one who can read it. To be fair, many dogs are happy creatures who rarely stray from their people, even without a leash, and they return promptly when called. And then there are the others. Like ChaChi or whatever the dog currently being screamed at outside is named. And to be extra fair and not sound like a smug, rule-abiding non-citizen, I often let Sookie march around untethered. Because she will immediately come back to me in fear that I will do something fun without her. I never let Stella off-leash because she is stubborn and will ignore you if she has found something that smells good. Like 1200 year old pee. Yesterday I was playing fetch with Sookie as we walked to meet Jack's school bus. Unfortunately, at one point Sookie didn't make the catch and a Great Dane Mastiff mix grabbed her ball and ran. It took two men to chase down the dog who was merrily squeaking the ball as it ran around. Stella didn't even look up because she was sniffing a delightful vintage of soiled grass circa 1874.

I wrote a very long, picture-laden entry about our Thanksgiving in Athens, but Mike thought it was mean, so I will not be posting it. Because if my dearest of husbands thinks something is too mean, it must be really really really horribly mean. So I will sum it all up by saying that Athens was not my favorite place that I have ever visited. However, Poseidon's Temple was breathtaking and Greece's graffiti was much more artistic than Rome's graffiti. And the yogurt with honey was amazing. And a man yelled at our children for playing tag and told them he would call the police. Because they were playing tag. And...that is pretty much all the wrap-up I can offer.

I went Christmas shopping yesterday. Christmas shopping in that it is December and the roadside stands are selling nativity scenes, not Christmas shopping in that I was purchasing gifts for anyone. I am often mistaken for Italian (which I secretly love because it gives me the mistaken impression that I have captured the je ne sais quoi  of the Italian women) and when I was in Greece people were extremely surprised to discover I wasn't Greek and insisted that I was of Greek descent somewhere in my lineage. Which I am not as I am the proud descent of Irish horse thieves and southern Italian mafioso. Yesterday while shopping I  assumed yet another identity and was mistaken for a sales associate.  A harried and rather irate woman demanded to know the price of a Christmas decoration that had no tag. When I was looked around to see if there was someone else to whom she could be speaking, she asked me again. I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders and held my hands out palms up. She frowned and asked you don't know?!? in Italian. I shook my head again and told her in English that I didn't work there and I suspect she didn't believe me as she huffed away, undoubtedly grumbling about the unhelpful Greek sales associate.

This is a bit of a problem: I can understand enough to discern what people are asking of me, but I don't have the active vocabulary to respond. If they want to know where the shopping carts are (I used a combination of "Dove?" and pointing at the shopping cart and it worked like a charm) I am so the go-to person, but other than that I am fairly useless.

I would also like it to be known that just because I am super rusty in my shopping skills due to a lack of Target, TJ Maxx and Marshalls, I still kicked ass yesterday. While I was waiting in an amazingly long line (in which people were calm and called lovingly to the sweater-clad canines trotting by as the dogs helped their people pick out the prefect place setting), I had the absolute fullest shopping cart and had it so well-packed that unlike many others, I did not need a second cart or additional people to help me juggle. Because shopping is like riding a bicycle. Other shoppers openly looked at my wares and commented on them. They may have been saying Why the hell is she buying a  metal rhinoceros? But I prefer to think they were admiring my choices.

It was the first time I took the car by myself for the day to go shopping and it was very exciting. Except the roundabouts are the bane of my existence. I can never get off at the correct exit. If the tom-tom says get off at the third exit and I do, it turns out they meant the other third exit. But I don't know why that makes it the first exit I saw. Maybe it's because the tom-tom is viewing it from space.

Mike and I went out to dinner sans John. We were careful to choose a place that he would hate so that we could fully enjoy the experience. Our waiter helper was Italy's answer to Don Draper. He had a chin cleft you could park a truck in and had the kind face that needs to be shaved three times a day. Or as Mike put it, the kind of beard that scares a razor. Mike also had a funny joke about how fast our service would be because Don Draper would be able to use his super-speed and/or flying ability to get to and from the kitchen. Because he looked like Superman. But you know what? Mike isn't writing this, so we'll keep all his funniness out of it.

Don Draper was very nice and poured a bit of wine in a glass for Mike to swirl around and inhale and taste. And while there may be some people for whom that is a necessity, most of us will never be grown-up enough to know what we are supposed to be doing with that whole farce.. Hmmm...it smells... like wine. Hmmm...it tastes...like wine. And I can see it comes out of a bottle and not a box or brown paper bag. Excellent!

Our for-real waiter heard our accents and immediately dropped all pretense of being polite. He had no qualms about showcasing his annoyance and dislike for our American asses. I think he was secretly French.

I kept hearing a grating, complaining tone and as I swirled my wine, I tried to see where the noise  originated. The couple behind us was comprised of a woman who had had one Valium too many and listed glassy-eyed in her seat. She obviously fancied herself an aging Sofia Loren and wore a fur coat with lots of wrinkly, sun-spotted cleavage drooping from her neckline. Her companion looked a lot like Valentino(the leathery, overly plastic-surgeoned designer). Mike claimed the Valentino man kept talking on the world's largest cell phone but I didn't see it so I have to believe he was lying. Anyway, the noise wasn't coming from them.

And then I spied an inappropriately dressed boy in a thermal shirt and rock pendant on a black cord. He was drunkenly sharing his opinions on Israel and Palestine. And then I realized I could understand him. And then I realized he was American. I do not really know many Americans who act like tools when traveling, so I don't quite understand the supposedly overall idea in other parts of the world that Americans are loud, etc.   But after seeing the frat-boy-gone-to-seed, it suddenly became much clearer. His face kept getting redder and his voice kept getting louder and more instant as he repeated his thoughts on foreign policies over and over. And then his girlfriend took his hands in hers across the table and he shoved her thumbs in his mouth. And then started licking her arms.

On the positive side, having to deal with that couple made our waiter a bit more appreciative of how polite and charming and downright enjoyable Mike and I are. And it wasn't my imagination. When our after-dinner espresso was served, Mike and I received a complimentary display of small dessert items. The Italian diners around us were receiving giant platters with blocks of chocolate and chocolate chopping hatchet, so we were aware that we were still pretty low on the ladder. But the other American couple? They received nothing but an undoubtedly inflated bill.

Tipping in Italy is indeed a city in China. Some Italians tip, some don't. But no one tips as much as we do in America. It may just be cultural; it may be because the waitstaff is paid accordingly and doesn't depend on tips. I have heard it is because you pay for the food, not the service. Regardless, Mike and I cannot help but tip. Even if we try not to, we feel guilty and tip anyway. So we tipped the cranky waiter/Don Draper team. And as we were retrieving our coats from the coat room, the waiter came rushing after us and shook both our hands in turn and bade us a good evening. "Why did he do that?" I asked. "Because we tipped," Mike replied. (He is used to these questions from me.) It had started to rain outside, and another employee appeared with an umbrella and held it over our heads and walked us to our car so that we didn't get wet. And do you know who else they did that for? No one. Because that night after our 13.2% tip, we were P. Diddy.