Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Very Christmas Pictures

piazza barberini

mossy bumper

Christmas market

piazza navoni

piazza venezia

edible nativity scenes

la befana

latest in street performance: the Christmas miracle

santa puts the naughty in naughty or nice

efficiency. but not really.

It has been a trying month here in Rome. I think, at least partially, we have now been here long enough for the novelty factor/ adjustment period/culture shock to have faded and now we are just living Real Life. Granted, it is still real life in Rome, but to be a bit cliched, sometimes real life takes those obscenely large lemons from the Italian coast and hurls them at your head.

We were dealt many small annoyances: cable not working (don't worry, we pay for it whether or not it works); heat not working during the coldest days of the year thus far ( don't worry, we pay for it whether or not it works and whether or not we are currently wearing ski jackets and sleeping in hats and gloves); and an incident with a wack-o teacher at John's school (don't worry, she has since moved on to the greener pastures of Calcutta). And a rather large annoyance that may or may not have been caused by gypsies. Or Nicholas Cage and Angelina Jolie in Gone in 60 Seconds.

 I think had we been in America, we would have been off-the-charts furious with even one of these inconveniences. In Rome we mainly shrug. "What can you do?" say we. It doesn't make bumps in the road less annoying, but it does make our reaction to them less intense. (Even though we may still be annoyed and looking forward to shopping in America in which I can buy organic apples that aren't even in season and a pair of earrings all at the same store. )

The difference is that in America, efficiency is a way of life. If our cable or heat is on the fritz, we expect it to be restored within minutes and to have those cable-free minutes removed from our bill. We have 24 hour service in America and when our small middle class annoyances are not immediately resolved, our blood pressure skyrockets and our tempers flare.

After all, when you live here, certain expectations are forced to fall away. And that means when you have scheduled a plumber or an electrician or your landlord is coming to pick up the rent check, you know not change your dinner plans. Because this is but an opening bid. No one is going to show up for that first appointment. And they aren’t arriving for the second one either. But it is possibly that the third time will be the charm if you allow for two phone calls approximately three hours apart in which the plumber/electrician/landlord assures you that they will be there in 30 minutes. Eventually you will either adapt to this way of life or move to another country. If you have properly adapted, your agitation and annoyance will eventually give way to  surprise and delight that someone has actually shown up, no matter how much time has passed and even though chances are good that , unbeknown to you,the plumbing issue in the kitchen will be resolved by the plumber dismantling the sink in the bathroom.

Or, for instance, you may live here and are currently on day 17 of no television. You will be pretty sure that the cable isn’t working when you turn on the TV and instead of a Gilmore Girls re-run, the screen instructs you to text your local Sky cable technician. Which you will and which will result in nothing. And so you will call instead. But the offices won’t open until 8:30 a.m. (I know, I’m shocked as well. I had no idea anything opened that early in Rome.) And so you will call again later. And with any luck, a technician will be scheduled to arrive in three days. 
You’ll give the heads-up to Massimo, your building manager, so that he can provide Fabio the cable guy with access to the roof.  Massimo will say an awful lot of words, the gist of which is: "No." Per the rules of the condo board, Massimo will have to contact the cable company and handle the situation as the cable dish for the building is on the roof. The same roof that the cable guy you have contacted is not allowed to access. You’ll cancel Fabio. You won’t hear from Massimo. When you track Massimo down the following day, it turns out that this is not something that he will be handling after all and you will have to schedule an appointment with a technician from the cable company. And so you’ll call.

When a technician is finally reached after three days of texting and calling, you are told not to worry, they were ignoring your requests because you had cancelled the appointment. “But I need to reschedule,” said you.
 “Oh. Then you have to call again.”
“But can’t you just reschedule the appointment?”
“ No, no, it is not possible. You must call again and schedule an appointment.” And so you do. And you will be assured that someone will get back to you within 72 hours to set up an appointment. But 72 hours will come and go and so you will have to begin again.

Or perhaps we have locked ourselves out of the house. In America, a locksmith can be there within an hour, no matter what time this lock-out may occur. We do not have to try to break into an apartment with seven locks on the door ( don't worry, only one of them was locked at the time) and make such a racket doing so that our upstairs neighbors appear to see what the hell it going on. And our upstairs neighbors would not be horrified and quickly quash my suggestion of calling the non-emergency police services to help us break-in. And then laugh at our sincere idea to try and break in by shimmying down a drainpipe and climbing onto our balcony from their balcony. And then bring us sweaters and offer us coffee. And then call "uh...a guy I know" who arrived in a cacophony of Italian rap music and backfiring car and looked like Jesse Pinkman and successfully broke into our apartment and then needed to be paid a small fortune in cash. Because when you make your living as a house-breaker-in-er, you can't declare your earnings to the government and give your clients and/or victims a receipt.

And in that, what we can take away from that tale is that the job will get done either way, but only one will have an interesting story. And demonstrate what unbelievably kind, generous and good-hearted neighbors you have. And the scenario in which an efficient locksmith arrives will make you much angrier and more annoyed than the one in which Jesse Pinkman arrives, because in one you have certain expectations and in the other you have such low expectations that they are actually less than zero. So you can only be grateful and pleasantly surprised.

And in that, you will still marvel when you see a car bump into a scooter , knocking its driver to the ground. Because the fight that ensues involves the driver of the car getting out and making what can you do? hand gestures while the driver of the scooter replies with his own gestures of what the hell?  And then they each shrug and drive away. Because it is Rome. And what can you do?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Thursday

Do you know what there is no shortage of in Rome? Feasts for the eyes. And what better way to celebrate American Thanksgiving than with a feast?

take your pick: stars and stripes helmet? all white outfit with  coordinating green sneakers and green hoodie tied 'round the waist? furiously gestering passenger who is in for a nasty surprise when the light changes and he isn't holding on because he is too busy arguing over whether or not Rick on the Walking Dead was wearing a new shirt? (for the record, I say it was absolutely a new shirt.)

 having lived here for long enough that  I often forget to marvel at the marvels,  it makes it all the more spectaluar when i am suddenly hit with a vista such as this.

who can turn the world on with her smile?

"There is no such thing as a stupid question."

I mean, we all see that playpen in the corner, right?

i love dogs. rome loves dogs. i love rome.

There was a farmer who had a dog and BINGO was his name-o.
B-I-N-G-O. B-I-N-G-O. B-I-N-G-O.
And BINGO was his name-o.
There was a farmer who had a dog and BINGO was his name-o.
<clap> I-N-G-O. <clap> I-N-G-O. <clap> I-N-G-O...

yeah, I'm seeing a real problem here.
If they wanted to use a visual aid to help them sing the song, they should have used chalk.

how cute are they with their matching sneakers?

street art at the laurentina metro. Your move @graffiti tag THuGGLife

Monday, October 21, 2013

You can't spell Open House without the word "OVERZEALOUS"

I recognize that I view 1970s style parenting through a nostalgic 1970s Instagram filter. But I can't help but wonder if parents had less guilt when the only books on how to parent  had instructions like "What to Do If Your Child Is Choking." Today a similar chapter would be entitled: "Why Your Child is Choking and How it Will Effect His or Her Psyche."

I pretend to take American parenting theories with a grain of salt, but secretly I hold them close and try to incorporate  them into all my parenting choices so that I don't fail. It doesn't matter if the instructions are contradictory. At least one of them has to be the Right One. For example, I fully accept that parents must make all the child's choices for them so that children suffer no negative consequences due to their actions. I equally accept that it is important that we allow our child to call all the shots because making choices for a child is bad. And that the only children who are happy in life are the ones left outside to play in the dirt with a stick. But first one must trim the stick with safety scissors so that the child doesn't poke out their eye. And a good parent will also have the dirt tested to make sure it has no lead or Red Dye #40  should their child wish to ingest it.

And at the latest Back-to-School/Open House night, it became clear that even while living abroad, we are Americans at heart and we bring with us this collective cultural parenting know-how.

As the various faculty presented topics throughout the school, we took notes. We nodded sagely. We wrinkled our brows to show We Were Paying Attention while in reality we were bookmarking  teacher's gifts on Pinterest.

The Italian moms entered late, if at all. They stood in the hallways talking and laughing, eating the school-prepared panini and drinking coffee and sparkling water.

In between presentations, the Americans grabbed and discarded cups of water like athletes running a marathon. We knew that our child's education depended on our ability to claim the center seat in the front row.

During one such lecture, the music teacher explained what the curriculum would look like for the students this year, played a few selections from her last performance on Broadway, and then asked if there were any questions. Of course we had questions! How would she know our child was a prodigy waiting to be discovered if we didn't show enough interest to ask questions? Every American arm waved high: "My daughter isn't bringing her instrument  home every day! How can I wash it?" "My son didn't get a solo for the fall concert; will he be getting one for the Christmas performance?" "Is there extra credit?" "How many hours each night should my child be practicing for music class?""Why did last year's class get to sing four songs and this year's only gets to sing three?"

I won't share which question was mine, but I will tell you that it was completely valid.

"Did you see the music teacher?" one Italian mom asked me as I raced by on my way to attend a lecture entitled "Gym Class: How to Make the Leap from Badminton to The Ivy League".

"Um, yeah," I fumbled for my Power Point print-out to share with her, which she politely ignored.

"Why?" she asked. "Why do we meet the music teacher? What does that tell us?"

"Um...the dress code for the music concert?" I guessed.

She took a bite from a peach and shook her sadly. "There is no reason! The children wear what they wear. There is no reason for these meetings."

I  placed my hand over my quickly sketched diagrams of various outfit choices for the fall concert. Such a relaxed attitude had to be a ruse and I for one was not going to be tricked into giving away my genius ideas for sartorial perfection.

During the library technology speech, we applauded when the librarian explained that books could be borrowed from the library. We murmured with excitement when we were shown how students could use a color-coded stick to mark the place of a book they had removed from the shelf while browsing. With the stick marking the place, the students could easily re-shelve the book without having to use the call letters or the alphabet. We typed "buy color-coded sticks to practice at home" on our i-phones.

"Any questions?" asked the librarian.

For some reason she seemed not to see the sea of extended American hands and focused on the languid wave of a bangle covered arm. "Yes?" she asked.

"When do they get to write with the..." the bangled arm woman broke-off and looked around for help with the English word.

"La penna!" another Italian told her eagerly.

"Yes, yes!" agreed another.

"When do they get to write with pens?"

The librarian seemed confused. "They are writing with pencils-" she tried to explain.

Another Italian shook her head and clicked her tongue, "Oh, they will never use pens!" All the Italians nodded in agreement.

Frustrated with not being acknowledged when her arm was clearly still in the air, an American called out: "Will there be prizes if your child brings back their library book early?" We other Americans put down our hands, relieved that someone else had tackled the important question.

The librarian seemed equally confused by this. "Well, no," she said slowly. "But we do encourage the children to bring their books back on the day they are due.We haven't implemented monetary fines if the books are late, but if need be that is always something we can consider in the future."

There was a rustling of rapid Italian whispers and a woman asked, "Do they have to bring back these library books on the same day of every week?"

Two Italian women spoke over each other. "No, no, " said one, " they can save them and bring them back at the end of the year." "Oh yes," said the other, "I had to pay fines all the time last year because of the late books. How can you know when they are due?"

And while I wish I had something pithy with which to end this, I don't. But I suspect I'm gaining insight as to why the lifespan of the average Italian is longer than that of the average American.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

a few completely unrelated tales

Over the summer, I ran into ( you don't yet know it, but that is going to prove itself to be a pun) a few unexpected problems while navigating (wow. so punny) the differences between America and Italy where parking was concerned.

The American car I had rented was a "small" SUV, so if you were to add together 3.72 cars in Italy, you would be right on target size-wise. Spacious parking lots are the norm in suburban America and   yet I had a very difficult time parking in them. I discovered that I found parking to be much easier when I was forced to defy the laws of physics and wedge a car into a space that was smaller than said car by a good 6 or 7 inches.
parking in America. See the wide open spaces? See the white lines I am not in between?

parking it Italy. I am second from the top.  That's right. You couldn't slide a piece of paper between those bumpers. 

parking in Italy...
and parking in America. Okay, these two look pretty similar. But only the one in America required a tow-truck.

So, I tried to buy a light bulb the other day. The cashier scanned the light bulb once, twice, three times a lady (if you don't quite get that reference , please refer to "Hello, is it me you're looking for?". Still nothing? How about "Dancing on the Ceiling"? Oh for goodness sake, "Brick House"? ) and the computer did not beep and light-up in recognition. The cashier shook his head at me sadly and told me that I would be unable to purchase the light bulb.
"But it's for sale. In your store," I pointed out helpfully.
"No, it does not show-up in the computer. It is not possible to buy. What? You wish for me to type in the little code on the package? No. It is not possible. No light bulb for you. NEXT!"

 Luckily I am no longer so American-ized as to be stumped by this sheer lack of logic and I was able to successfully purchase the light bulb by going to a  different cashier.

Now lest I make it sound like a certain Italian cashier has the corner market on the absurd, allow me to share with you this tale: A day or two prior, I had stopped in Camper, a fairly mainstream shoe store.

I have had the same pair of Birkenstocks ( *cough* residual of  too many Grateful Dead concerts *end cough*) for a long time. But the strain of all the kilometers --see how I did that? I can totally use the metric system in a sentence--my Birkenstocks have tread ( pun-o-rama) over the last year was too much for them and the sole cracked in half. So I was making the rounds of sandal shopping. An American couple was in the Camper store as well and while I was muttering under my breath about the stupid retail schedule that removes sandals from the shelves during the summer and replaces them with winter boots, I couldn't help but overhear the American woman as she addressed the salesperson. "Can we haggle on these prices?" she asked, holding up a boot. To his credit, the salesperson smiled and regretfully informed her that the prices were universally fixed in all Camper locations.  Because It Is What is Commonly Referred to as A Store.

 The woman was quite annoyed and left in a huff, presumably to go buy a light bulb.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Do you know what is beautiful in September? (Hint: it's Italy)

sunset at aurelian wall

san felice circeo

san felice circeo

beaches are empty, water is warm


ponte sisto


Friday, September 06, 2013

Spell check doesn't recognize "'kryptonite"

This spring, my son was drowning in mosquito bites. His body swelled into termite mounds before deflating into bruises before lingering as yellow-green splotches. We took him to the pediatrician where ointments and jungle-worthy repellent were prescribed.

Other than slathering him with mosquito kryptonite, I couldn't do anything about the insects  that targeted him at recess or during classes held outside (in my head, the insects look like cartoon villains and have white napkins tied around their necks, rubbing their hands together like Dr. Evil), but gosh darn it, I could protect him in the sanctity of our house.  I could step-up and knock off this European open-air nonsense and put in some damn screens.

I distinctly recall that in the Little House on the Prairie series (books, not television), the Ingalls  family opened the door during a blizzard  and there stood Mr. Edwards. He had walked from New York to Idaho or Wisconsin or wherever in order to bring them Christmas gifts. And those gifts were a bag of real sugar and panes of glass for the windows. Proof that even in the days of yore, Americans liked a little somethin' somethin' as a barrier between the indoors and the outdoors.  Because not only would those panes of glass protect them from the weather and the wolves and the claim jumpers, but those windows would also protect them from The Mosquitoes. Because seriously, can you imagine anything worse than laying on your straw-stuffed "mattress" that you have to share with your sister while eating your fake sugar and crossing your fingers that someday you won't die during childbirth, and in addition having to suffer the indignity of being drained by mosquitoes?

So to protect our family, I first searched the Internet for those infomercial screens, the ones where the mom walks through the patio door carrying lemonade and not one of her lazy kids jumps up and says: "Hey Mom! Let me take that! You always do everything for everyone, so we've all chipped in and are sending you on vacation to the Bahamas!" and after none of that happens, the screen doors magnetically close behind her. Unfortunately, the reviews of those screens were pretty damning, which is really a shame because I think they were throwing in a free pitcher of lemonade with every purchase.

And then I remembered that right here in Italy was the Italian answer to Home Depot!
( )

Unfortunately, I couldn't recall how in the heck I had previously found my way there, so I went to a different yet similar store that I believed to be Italy's answer to Lowe's.

While I was at Italian Lowe's, I  decided to pick-up some WD40. I don't know that I have ever had an occasion to use WD-40, but it seems like the kind of thing one should have on hand.

Carrying WD-40 also kept the pesky salespeople at bay, because when you see someone with a can of WD-40 it clearly signifies that they know what they're doing. After wandering around aimlessly because I didn't know what I was doing, I saw a display that consisted of a curtain rod with overlapping screen door sized screens. It was exactly the type of thing I had been hoping to find. I drove home (only  got off at two wrong exits on the roundabout!), found my Ikea allen wrench,  and prepared to put those babies together.

However, it turned out that the display in the store did not at all hint at the fact that one had to use a jackhammer to install the curtain rod bracketing into the wall. I had incorrectly assumed that the curtain rod would be a tension rod. Which then gave me the idea of going to the store and buying tension rods. Mustering all I had learned in 6th grade home economics, I started carefully sewing the screens together.

"You should just use a stapler, " said Mike as he and John played Mario Party 9 and ate potato chips.

And you know what? He was right. So I did use a stapler. It totally worked and was way easier. And it's not like I duct taped them. Now that would be tacky. Staples are much more sophisticated.

infomercial worthy

Our dog enjoying the the beautiful weather.  With the screens hung, she can't figure out how to get into the house so now she lives on the balcony.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

cliched but true: what a difference a year makes

Last year we walked to the bus stop, uncertain of how a bus could navigate through the traffic on the narrow streets, uncertain of where it would wait for its passengers. We were uncomfortable in the unrelenting heat, the heat that the locals claimed was unusual, the heat that we thought would never end.  The faces we passed were stony and foreign, the sidewalks crowded with cigarette smoke and hand gestures.

Last year our son stepped onto a bus in the midst of cars jockeying for position, the noise of their horns competing with the noise of sirens, the noise we didn't know, the noise of a city. We watched our son leave on the journey past the Coliseum, past Circo Massimo, past Castel Sant'Angelo. We watched him on his way to a new school in a new city in a new country on a new continent. It was terrifying.

But this year, this year we wore jackets and pants in the cool morning air, walking on a path we had traveled hundreds of times. 

And this year we said buongiorno, ciao to smiling familiar faces and pet dogs that wagged and wriggled under our hands, we thanked the neighbors who welcomed us back. Our son raced up the steps of the bus, a flash of purple hair and backpack, eager to see his friends. The bus driver greeted him by name.

On the way home we stopped at an often frequented cafe and our order was known before we placed it. The proprietor scolded me for being away from my husband this summer and asked if we had cornetti as good as hers in America.

She smiled knowingly, pleased when we told her that nothing we had even came close.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


And I'm back, back in the beautiful land of the beautiful people. As soon as we reached our gate,  waiting for the flight to Rome, I began to play Italian or American? It is just like the license plate game, except not really.   I am proud to announce that I did not miss a single question in the Italian or American game, not even during the lightening bonus round where people were so well-dressed that to an untrained eye they could have passed for Italian; but someone as studied as I could surmise that they were American because their clothing did not fit in that seemingly careless but perfectly tailored Italian way. But for the most part, the differences were obvious.

The middle-aged  clearly-much-older-than-me gentleman wearing a crisp pink shirt under a blazer with well-cut jeans and cool shoes? Sure, that was one was plain as day even before I saw the not-a-baseball-hat hat in his hand.  The college kids looking like an ad for Abercrombie and Fitch? Again, easy-peasy.

Although I don't really know what Abercrombie and Fitch clothes look like because the one time that I went in the store it was so dark and the music was so loud that I thought I was going to have a seizure and I had to leave before the bored salesperson could even finish her greeting. So the whole concept of that store is lost on me. How can you try on clothes that you can't see? What is the appeal of shopping in the dark? And is there an extremely high employee turnover due to tinnitus?

I once spotted an Abercrombie and Fitch in Italy and of course I had to go in because I quite enjoy going into American stores in foreign countries. Don't ask me why. It's probably the same reason why my husband has eaten in a McDonalds in China. And while it was fun to see the bored but slightly more glamorous salesperson welcome me in an Italian accented surfer drawl, the store was still too dark and loud for my delicate middle-aged 40s-are-the-new-black self.

In anticipation of our return to Italy, I had stepped up my summer uniform of sloppiness. I wore long pants, despite the 90 degree temperature; make-up, even though I was travelling overnight on an airplane; and a shirt in which my fashion bra straps were clearly visible--even though in America I feel it just looks like you didn't know that for every style shirt there is a bra that can be concealed.

And of course I felt smug that I was so accustomed to travelling between countries that I was practically jaded and I felt sure that I finally could not be spotted as an outsider and would be viewed instead as practically a native. After all,  I knew to have 2 euro on hand to rent a luggage trolley. And of course I had my special card in addition to my passport because I lived there, I was no longer just visiting. And obviously I had mastered the careless Italian glamour. Well, almost. Okay, not really.

But when the passport stamper person frowned at my son's passport because it is just about 5 years old and he no longer resembles his picture and then asked me in Italian if he was my child and I knew what she was saying and was able to answer her and then she asked my son in Italian if I was his mother and he turned a jet-lagged face to me and I was able to translate for him? Oh how superior I felt to my year-ago-self who would have panicked at being questioned by the passport person in a language I didn't understand!

 Except then, because I had confidently behaved with foolish pride as though I knew what was what,  the passport person was smiling and speaking to me in a friendly fashion. So of course my blank, non-comprehending face gave me away and she nodded sympathetically and said something in Italian along the lines of Oh okay! You were just acting like you knew what was going on and in reality you don't understand Italian even though you have lived here for a year and taken two intensive courses and private lessons with an instructor who could teach Italian to a tree and  I had to sadly admit that I was not really in the know more than anyone who was visiting Italy for the first time.

So, I am not really as worldly and multi-cultural as I had fancied myself.

But still, when we arrived home, it was felt like home. And Mike had purchased an amazing breakfast cake-ish treat that we had never before eaten and it was really really good.  And the dogs couldn't find enough places to kiss us to convey their joy and our apartment looked much better than I remembered.

And so our Italian re-entry was fairly painless, even after a summer in America with central air and stores that never closed and garbage disposals and toasters and dishwashers and microwaves and ice makers and M&Ms in new flavors and phones and lights and motor cars and every luxury. There was no culture shock this go-round. I know that Italy is Italy and America is America and there are trade-offs and positives and negatives no matter where I live.

And there is one American convenience I will no longer miss. Having hung our laundry to dry for a year, through months of rain and days of cold, I thought I would pass out from the sheer ease of throwing everything into a clothes dryer.  But I did not. It would seem I have turned the Italian corner on this one as I said "Bah!" to the electric clothes dryer and continued to use a stendino even in America. Stendini forever! Clothes dryers never!

it's coming

For Italians the re-entry is undoubtedly weeks away. For me the reentry is approaching like a souped-up Honda in The Fast and The Furious Part 42.

America is apparently conspiring with my adopted country in order to make the re-entry as seamless as possible.

My slack-jawed fascination with television has all but disappeared ( in fact I am pretty sure I am missing The Real Housewives of NJ as I write this--but no worries, it will be on again at 10:00. Whew.); I have eaten my fill of all my well-missed American food, both real and junk; I once again know Target's inventory like the back of my hand and the novelty of running errands and being able to find the items for which I am looking has lost its novelty.

 The four songs on the radio vying for title of Summer Anthem 2013 make my head ache and the one tune that I can almost tolerate is loathed by my son.

And I found the throw pillows for which I have been searching and now I need to reunite with my couch in order to complete the picture. Unfortunately I do not have room in our suitcases for said throw pillows ( I have bought every extra-soft toothbrush, lone type of vitamins that don't make me nauseous,  and my favorite brand of eye make-up remover in the tri-state area), so I packed a box and prepared to ship it overseas.

"Would you like a price quote?" asked the woman behind the counter.

"No," said I, "I just want to ship it."

"You probably want a price quote," another woman chimed in.

"No, I just want to ship it."

She punched some buttons. And then some more. She asked if I was shipping to a business and I said I was shipping to a residence. More buttons were pushed.

"It will cost $500.00 to ship this box to Rome," the woman said hesitantly.

"Okay," I replied, absently searching through my bag. "Wait, 500 dollars?!?"

And the moral of this lesson is that while I may be satisfied that I enjoyed every minute of my summer vacation, I have to remember to leave behind not only the American things with which I am sated, but also any expectations of American ease and efficiency. Because it's Italy or bust, baby.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Welcome to America

I am certain that by now you are on the edge of your seat just waiting to hear all about my American summer.

And do you know what they have in America that they don't have in Italy? American television. Holy moly, I am addicted. I know that I said all self-righteously that I wasn't going to watch TV because I don't watch it in Rome, but one morning I was emptying the dishwasher and using the garbage disposal and putting clothes in the clothes dryer and turning on the air conditioning and I had already listened to last week's This American Life and the current one was a re-run (um, yeah, so some of us have listened to 6 years worth of This American Life over the past year and we remember all these shows you keep re-running and it's extremely annoying that there is not a new show every week.  Is this because I never get around to sending in money during the pledge drive?)

And suddenly I noticed that there was a TV in the kitchen. There are 5 television sets in this house, but it hadn't occurred to me to turn them on because I didn't remember that there were any shows other than La Mia Mamma e' La Mia Amica (Gilmore Girls) overdubbed in Italian. So I turned on the TV. And there were over 800 channels. And they all had programs on them. I know there is that song about 162 channels and nothing on, but that is a big fat lie. There is always something on. ALWAYS.

I can only guess how many hours I've spent slack-jawed in front of the television ever since I made that fateful mistake of turning it on. Parents, let this be a warning: I know TV rots your brain and all and I must admit that I did not allow my son to be exposed to television for the first two years of his life and for the next two years he was only allowed to watch a 1/2 hour a day and even then it had to be educational like Sesame Street or Word Girl or Inside The Actor's Studio. Now of course he watches it all the time and I have to shove him aside and tell him to turn off CNN because a marathon of Say Yes to The Dress is coming on. My point being, let your kids watch TV because if you don't, the minute they discover it, they will be like me, gorging themselves on it until they feel sick. I've even reverted to my old American habit of insomnia but I don't know if it's because I truly can't sleep or if it's because my subconscious knows Roseanne reruns air at 3:00 a.m.

I love Roseanne.

Time to see if House Hunters International is on.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

the squeaky wheel gets the grease

Rome is not the easiest place to live when you need to have something repaired. You have to really want it. You need to chop down trees and pull overladen sleighs across the frozen tundra. You have to have the Eye of the Tiger.

Our air conditioner isn't working. I know, right? I was totally surprised too. The landlord was called. After cancelling several appointments, she appeared with a repairman. Who wasn't a repairman so much as he was a friend of hers. They looked at the air conditioner and tried to turn it on. When nothing happened, they asked me for some tools and got to work. They tightened the screws in one of the light switch plates and folded up the ladder. They proclaimed the problem fixed.

I told them there was no air coming out and that it was still broken. They nodded sagely and decided to take the remote control to be repaired.

Several phone calls later, another repairman was dispatched. He didn't show-up for the first appointment. When we called, we were told he couldn't come but would be there tomorrow.  And on that day the designated time came and that time went and we called again. And he was still coming, he was just going to be late; he would be there in 15 minutes. And sure enough, several hours later, he arrived. He was not a repairman either so much as he was the landlord's sister's husband. He climbed up the ladder and looked at the air conditioner. 'The problem is," he told Mike, "is that it is broken."

The very next day, the landlord showed up with another repairman. He was actually a repairman. I think. He looked at the air conditioner. He and the landlord had a conversation in Italian. He turned to me and said in English: " It doesn't work." And with those kind of technical terms being thrown around, I knew for certain that he was the real deal.

 The repairman continued speaking but had switched to Italian.The general gist was that it had to be replaced and a time to install it had to agreed upon. I was floundering for words when my lovely son appeared and rattled off some Italian. The sight of my barefoot son, balancing on one leg, computer game in hand, and speaking the language charmed and delighted the landlord and the repairman and a flurry of "Bello!"s and "Bravo!"s ensued.

And so, my wee boy translated for all of the grown-ups and brokered a deal in which there will be a new air conditioner installed next week.

My son is awesome. He has the eye of the tiger.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

change. but not that kind of change.

I don't like to be bothered when I shop. I have worked in oh so many retail stores and I know all about having a spunky district manager who pops in just when there is a lull and you get caught talking on the phone. The district manager  will need to tell you about The Latest Daily Target Goals From Corporate! The district managers all fall into two categories: extremely well-put together, hard-core- gym-goers who are quickly climbing the company ladder and are a wee bit intense; or sort of sad with clothes that don't quite fit and they spend their store visits telling you about the boyfriend they had in 1982 that they should have never let get away because they haven't had a date since then.

And lest it sound like I was a slacker, I was a little bit, but for the most part I would do anything to be busy, including polishing the the faucet in the restroom and cleaning out the microwave. And that's why I was always promoted within the first month and then I would be expected to do all kinds of things like balance the register tape with the receipts and use mathematical equations to see who had met the target sales goal and who had to be reported for not  promoting the new spring colors. And that was usually when I started to look for another job. Because I hated the selling part of retail. I loved helping someone who wanted help and debating the merits of that top with those pants or how to make your eyeliner last by tapping eye shadow over it with a teeny tiny brush. But I hated pushing our products on people or hovering around them when they clearly wanted to browse and do a little meditative shopping on their own. And why the higher-ups didn't understand that accosting the customer and driving them from the store would not equal greater sales, I will never know.

But I digress. If I spoke Italian, I would so be an awesome store clerk here. Because not only do they not have daily sales goals, they don't even acknowledge that they have customers. I can shop in the smallest, most perfectly arranged  boutique( that usually intimidate me to the point of not entering) because no one is going to show the slightest bit of interest in me, much less make me feel like I'm going to set off an alarm if I check to see if a sweater is made with wool. I know that if I need help, the salespeople are happy to oblige, but they have more of a I'm-busy-standing-in-the-doorway-smoking type of approach to selling their wares. They speak to me only to ask if I have a light.

And I know that they are never mathematically challenged by balancing the receipts at night as I was , because they can't be bothered with correct change. Just the other day I purchased something that came to 31 euro. The clerk asked me if I had any coins. I did not. I had only a 50. She just gave me a 20 in return. I protested because I owed a euro, and tried to give it back but she kept shaking her head no and smiled and waved her hand and sent me on my way. Because she would rather lose one euro than give me the change for 4 euro.

On a family trip to the supermarket, Mike paid and the cashier said she didn't have any change. At the grocery store. A proper American style grocery store.  And her register was full of the money that the manager had just given her. So she asked the people in line behind us if they had any change. They did not. So she asked the person behind them. And so on and so on until someone in line produced the change that she needed to give us change.  And this is not uncommon. Cashiers dig through their own wallets to try and come up with change or just round up and give you too much change in return. I don't get it. But I try to just go with it.

However, this in and of itself used to cause me stress because I lived in fear of not having exact change and holding up the line while everyone searched their pockets and purses for the correct amount, but after my mom mailed me the final piece of identification (the photo from my fifth grade softball team) that our bank needed to process my application for a debit card, I  can now rest assured that I will always have exact change. Because I have a magic Bankomat card.

Friday, June 14, 2013

and there is still a gender pay gap...*

Apparently, I am beyond out of touch with the 9-year-old girl scene. In America, I interacted with John's class on a weekly basis, so I knew what was what and what was "in" and what was "cool." I knew what books were being read and what the latest t-shirts said. I had an overall sense of what would make an appropriate birthday gift if John was invited to a party of a girl I didn't know very well.

And maybe it is due to the current cultural vacuum in which I live, or my lack of contact with John's classmates, but John is attending a birthday party and I am stumped as to what to buy the birthday girl. Johnwas unable to help as he was very busy deciding on the name he planned on using at laser tag.

So, I went to the toy store. When attending birthday parties for  9 yr old boys, there are tons of options. I would just pick what looked fun.

The toys for girls, however, seemed to peak out around the age of Barbies. Do girls still play with Barbies? I played with Barbies straight through 7th grade. I myself never played with Barbies and I don't recall last year's crop of female classmates being into them.

And as the toys for girls in the toy store stopped at Barbie, I was a bit perplexed. Where were the gender neutral and/or next age range of fun? I trooped from store to store and became slightly panicky when the things I found geared towards post-Barbie girls were aprons and cookbooks and cupcake machines. (I'm not saying a cupcake machine isn't fun for me, but shouldn't there be another choice that doesn't involve baking and/or cost 40 euro?).

 And then I found that choice:  make-up  and pedicure kits and hair extensions, all targeted at the not quite tweens. I'm pretty sure a big chunk of age group appropriateness is missing. After all, options for boys aren't Legos, video games, and a shaving kit. So, let's be conservative and say you stop playing with Barbies at age 14 7. So from age 7 until high school, or at least late middle school, what are your gift options for girls that don't involve cooking, clothes, or make-up? There have to be some, right?

The birthday girl was having a laser tag party, not a spa party. I know plenty of little girls who go fishing and take karate classes. They may have sparkly glitter on their shirts, but they have soccer cleats on their feet. Where were the toy options for these girls?

When I was in my last semester of college and pregnant with a son (I was a "non-traditional" student, aka "old"), I studied the societal shift towards boosting the self-esteem of the previously  margined and "othered" girls (i.e., a man is the standard and accepted norm, the measuring stick against which all "others" are measured), that boys were pushed to the side. Many cartoons now had female protagonists and teachers in classrooms were now conscious of calling on girls as often as boys.  This is not to say that the issue was solved, just that it was being acknowledged. As a woman, I was impressed with this shift, because I as a child I  had struggled to find strong female characters with whom to identify. For every Superman, Spiderman, Aquaman and Batman, there was one Wonder Woman. When we played Star Wars, there was always a fight for the lone female character of Princess Leia, while the boys could choose amongst Han, Luke, Darth Vadar,Obi Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett.

As the impending mother of a son, I was worried as to what this would mean for him.  Especially when the shift lent itself to t-shirts with slogans such as Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them. Would my child now be the marginalized other?

But at the same time that I was reading these statistics, I would walk past store windows for little girls, and the child sized mannequin would sport a tube top and shoes with heels. How could a girl climb a jungle gym in that? What parent was in such a hurry to urge their child toward adulthood that they would encourage a little girl to teeter in heels?

For the birthday girl, I ended up buying art supplies. Maybe in today's world, it's way too young a gift, but I couldn't in good faith buy a pedicure kit for a 9-year-old. It's one thing to paint your toenails; it's another thing to own your own feet soaking basin complete with callous remover.

 I have to remain hopeful that my experience was indicative only of the area in which I was shopping and not of the culture at large. Just because I didn't see any age-appropriate items for girls (and certainly a girl can enjoy the items found in the "boy's aisles", but those toys were definitely not marketed towards a female child) doesn't mean they aren't out there.  Because surely there has to be something that represents the interests of girls who have lost most of their baby teeth but aren't yet wearing  bras.



Thursday, June 13, 2013


The closer my impending return to America, the greater my mood swings.

When I am an American living in America again for two months, will it feel like pulling on my favorite pair of jeans for the first cool day of fall? Like slipping back into that which is familiar and comfortable?

Or will I be off just a step as though my weight remains the same but my jeans no longer fit as well? Will I be both there and not there, a year behind on the changes in the lives of my friends and my family and even my surroundings? A year missed there, a year gained here?

Things will be different in ways I cannot yet predict and in that, I question my life here, trying to compare it to the life I don't have there.

Rome is great: A grizzled old man bids me good evening as he unloads half a dozen two-liter bottles of aqua con gas from his battered Vespa parked on the sidewalk.

Rome is not great: The metro is jammed and I am assaulted by the stench of  unwashed bodies and breath heavy with coffee and cigarettes, and no one offers their seat to a disabled passenger.

Rome is great: I am puzzling at the line 'round the block of people waiting to enter the Adidas store, when I spot an oncoming bicyclist with a live and untethered house cat draped around his neck.

Rome is not great: Everyone appears slightly yellow as they are coated by pollen spores within moments of stepping outside.

Rome is great: On the last day of school, I can scarcely walk through the streets, or sidewalks for all the kids chasing each other in clothes drenched by water balloons and water bottles and buckets of water, shrieking with the giddy promise of summer.

Rome is not great: And then the giddiness transforms into a different beast entirely, and the kids morph from fun-with-water to pelting each other with tomatoes and eggs and then covering the wet, sticky victims in talcum powder. The smell of spoiled food in the warm air will carry for nearly a mile. And then for the piece de resistance, my son and I witness a boy urinate into a bucket and throw its contents into the panting mob.

But then the sun starts to set and the sliver of a moon begins to rise and a breeze blows and parents carry home their tired children and dogs greet each other with wolfish grins and thumping tails and flower boxes are watered and cheeks are kissed and the hanging laundry is swapped for the dinner tables that are set upon the balconies.

And of course I will miss this. Of course I will.  But still, I count down the days until I'm home in America, even as I wonder if while I am there, I will refer to my "home" as the one in Rome.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Vacationing in Rome. Or anywhere.

Everyone who travels is a tourist. But when you actually live somewhere and experience the off-season, you may view the influx of tourists during tourist season with dismay. 
Because you have lived in Rome for almost an entire year and you consider yourself practically a native who just happens to be unable to speak the language or calculate the Metric system in your head. You know what it is like to walk through the city without dodging large groups of people, or to visit a museum and be able to gethisclose to the paintings and sculptures, or to be able to drive without having to factor in the extra 45 minutes it will take because of all the tour buses. During the off-season, that becomes your norm.

And so when all of that suddenly changes, it is a shock and an annoyance that I would imagine Italians don't feel. Possibly because they have a better attitude towards things in general, but also because they have always lived with this ebb and flow of massive hordes.

Which brings me to a topic that has been heavily publicized as of late: the two groups of tourists who were "ripped-off." One group paid 64 euro for gelati (I think that would currently be $84). Another group paid 72 euro for tiramisu and cappuccino (this means they were drinking cappuccino at night which is a cultural faux pau of the highest order and undoubtedly why it was so expensive).

I dislike this because it besmirches a city in which I have found kindness and generosity. I dislike this because ever since that first American sued McDonalds for serving hot coffee, I am easily dismayed by a lack of personal responsibility. 

The places that did the ripping off have most likely shot themselves in the foot for the rest of the summer.  But doesn't anyone else wonder why the customers didn't check the price before they bought something? Because the prices were marked.

On a scale of one to ten,guess how street smart and savvy I am? I'd give it a one. But when I travel somewhere outside the country in which I reside, I generally try and check out a few things: reviews written on hotels and restaurants, the exchange rate, tipping practices, etc. And I'm pretty sure that if I saw a sign that my ice cream cone was 16 euro,  or my tiramisu and cappuccino were 20 odd euro, I would choose to go elsewhere. Or maybe I'd buy it anyway, thinking it must be the best ice cream/coffee/dessert in the world. What? Maybe it's like an awesome glass of wine? Not that I can tell the difference between box wine and fancy wine, but you get my point.

What you do have to watch out for are the hidden charges. This is not just a tourist thing or a Rome thing. This is a life thing. Always check the menu for teeny-tiny letters that will say what the service charge is, if any, or it may note that the basket of bread is not free.  In America you can generally find a statement that will note the amount of money that will automatically be added to your bill as a tip for your server if you have six people in your party. You have to be a little pro-active. It doesn't take much time.

I do feel sad for the family who was charged 72 euro because while the prices were marked, the hidden mark-ups can be so very hidden that they are not actually posted. And I applaud them for taking a picture of the bill and filing a complaint.

But the gelato people were just not using common sense. "Let's get a gelato." "Sounds good--how much is it for two flavors? How much is a large?" "I don't know, let's check the board on which the prices are written." And the fact that they were then asked to return to Rome as guests of honor and re-flown into the city to make-up for their experience is just ridiculous.

And for future travelers anywhere, if someone is standing on the street, speaking to you in your own language and not the native language of the country, and urging you to eat at their establishment,chances are it is a restaurant targeting tourists. Sometimes you are hot or cold or tired or it's raining and you will not care. Sometimes the food will be terrible. Sometimes it will be great. Sometimes you will see that a salad costs more than a car payment and you will leave. And sometimes you will go to Greece and want to eat and go to the first place you find because they all look the same and you are hungry and you will then spend the night vomiting from food poisoning.

And also, all those guys in the piazzas trying to give you flowers because you are so beautiful ? The flowers aren't free.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Aghast at American allergies abroad

I almost made it through an entire year untouched by my foul nemesis, the sinus infection.

Once I was plagued by the bacterial beast almost ever month, but then I discovered that the magic of a daily neti pot could hold it at bay.

I stopped using the neti pot here because the water has so much calcium, that while it is safe to drink (and undoubtedly safe to pour through my nasal cavity once a day) I've seen what it does to our faucets and my hair and decided the best way to use the water for  the neti pot was to heat it by boiling filtered water. Which took a long time because we don't have a microwave. And then it took a long time to cool down because I would forget to remove it from the heat until the tea kettle started screaming. And by the time I could use it, it was ice cold and needed to be reheated. plus, I ran out of the premixed packs and making my own salt combo which stings and is much more reminiscent of inadvertently  getting smacked in the face by  a wave and  thus swallowing a ton of sea water.

And so I eventually let my neti pot intentions fade away.

It  has pretty much been fine. All the allergies for which I have tested positive ( and that would be every single thing they test for save for horses, dogs and cockroaches for those of you who haven't heard this tale of woe), seemed to not be an issue here. Maybe because it's a city, not the country? Maybe because we have a wonderful person who dusts? Maybe because my overactive immune system  didn't know to freak out when encountering  the Italian version of all trees, grasses, molds,etc? And so even my use of allergy medicine was able to become an occasional thing.

 Just another benefit of living in Italy, thought I.  My allergies have all but disappeared.

And then, then spring hit. I have never been in Italy in the spring. Pollen hovers in the air like swarms of gnats. It covers every surface. And I could apply no defense. I could not keep our doors and windows closed and turn on the air conditioning. I could not stop hanging out our clothes and instead use a dryer. I could not avoid being outside when the pollen count was at its highest.

But even so, I was holding my own in the battle against the pollen until I went on the three day field trip with my dear son's elementary school. We spent our days hiking in  the pollen and nights sleeping in a hotel on the beach. Which was very "beachy" in that I could smell the mold lurking in every crevice. And it was hot. Really really hot. Without air conditioning it was going to be a very moldy, pollen-y, mosquito-y field trip for us all.

"Please turn on the air conditioning, " I begged the woman at the front desk, " we are sweltering." The woman looked at me blankly (pesky language barrier) and so I fanned myself and pointed upstairs. "Caldo, "I said, "molto caldo!"

She looked as incredulous as if I'd insisted there was a unicorn in my shower and followed me to the third floor where a dozen sweaty faces of the children of whom I was in charge peered at her hopefully, hair plastered to their foreheads. I demonstrated that the air conditioning didn't work. She told me it was much too cold to turn on the air conditioning, and wrapped her sweater more tightly around her to demonstrate.

I turned to one of the native Italian boys in the class and asked him to tell her that it was too hot up here and we needed the air conditioning. He translated, each word punctuated by a drop of sweat rolling down his nose and onto his t-shirt. I had been certain that the plea of a child would be heard, but the woman responded to him quickly, smiled so widely I could se her fancy gold tooth, and descended down the stairs. I had caught enough of what she had said to know it was all over before Lorenzo translated for me: "She said it's too cold to turn on the air conditioning and the hotel won't turn it on this early in the year."

Luckily the kids were so over-stimulated and over-tired (awesome combo--cue the fights and tears that turn quickly to laughter and high fives) that heat was the last of their worries, although several had eyes that nearly swelled shut due to the pollen forming Santa beards upon their faces.

And so by the time we returned to Rome, my body was in full panic mode and completely ignored my cold compresses and allergy medication and surgical mask and Purell and Hazmat suit, every lymph node swollen, throat closing, lungs wheezing.

And now it all that excess stuff has settled down, finding a comfy niche in my sinus cavities where it can relax and make itself at home.

And so today I have to go to the doctor. And I'm feeling as apprehensive as a kid scared to get their hair cut or go to the dentist for the first time. (Are kids really scared of those things? Or is that just a myth from the land of movies and Tee Vee? Because I don't know any who were.)

Ugh to the ugh. Wish me luck. Wish me a parking space right out front. Wish me a doctor with perfect English. Wish me a receptionist who has worked extensively with our insurance plan.

To add insult to injury, we had gone shopping at  Eataly. Where they have every single type of my favorite brand of micro brew beer in Europe:  Brew Dog, a beer from Scotland. So I have all these lovely beers just begging to be poured into a frosted glass and I can't even look at them for fear of my body overreacting to the histamines.  Plus, I can't taste anything. And the thought of drinking a beer makes me want to gag just a bit. But do you know what? That beer is not going to drink itself! It needs me. Must get well soon.

* disclaimer: I'm sick. I have no idea what kind of bizarre typos I've made. Just roll with it. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Each time I think that we have surely seen the most beautiful place in Italy (and thus the most beautiful place in the world--hey, it's not bias if it's just a plain 'ol fact), Italy ups the ante with yet another gem.

This time it was Positano. I have heard people moan that Positano is so touristy. And to them I ask: "Um, have you seen it?" When places are "touristy", it's generally because they are AWESOME. Like Positano. It's so dang pretty it will make your teeth hurt. And if you get a chance to stop on one of the horrifyingly curvy  mountain roads for a  granita al limone, you should absolutely do it. Because it rocks. (Almost a pun.)