Friday, March 22, 2013

a day in the life.

Yesterday I worked a bake sale to raise money for the library at my son's elementary school (although quite frankly, it is the most well-stocked, unbelievable library I have ever encountered, and just like Carrie Bradshaw--Sex and the City, too old of a reference?-- knew her shoes, I know my libraries).

In America, my son went to an excellent public school in which the parents and surrounding community were extremely involved and invested. So although I am what amounts to a professional school volunteer, nothing, not even three years of working the Secret Santa Shop, could have prepared me for a bake sale at a private school.

Had anything been set-up the night prior? Had anyone brought napkins, plates, forks, bags? Had a rotating schedule of volunteers and arrival of individual classrooms been established? Had prices been determined? Was there a deadline for the arrival of baked goods? Had a system of any sort been in place? The answer is no. No to all of the above.

I would like to point out that all the women and staff I worked with could not have been lovelier or more hard-working. So we had that in our favor.

I won't even bother going into all the mundane details it took to get this thing underway, but instead I will jump ahead to the part where a highly ranked administrator walked by and expressed pleasure at "how American" it looked, "like an American bake sale." 

Now, being the only American present, I didn't want to be the one to burst their bubble or rain on their parade, but where I come from, the volunteering moms and PTO would have seen that bake sale and raised you a full-blown carnival with petting zoo in the same amount of time for less money.Please don't get me wrong,it was a great bake sale. But y'know how in America we have a plethora of oversized SUVs and in Italy they have tiny cars that you can park sideways? It was like that.

By chance (mm-hmm) the President of fill in blank of small country(at least I think it's small. I'm not great with geography.)  was going to be visiting the school and it was determined that the "American-style" bake sale would be an excellent photo op. I was only slated to volunteer for three hours, so I wasn't sure if I was supposed to stick around for that or what, seeing as  again, I was the only American at our American-style bake sale. And I know America is a melting pot and all but no one would mistake the darkly-tanned, cigarette-smoking, fur-coat-wearing Italian moms for  an American. I'm just saying.

So at one point, all the volunteers had to leave, and  none of our three replacements had shown-up. Although I had to leave as well, as a professional mom volunteer, I couldn't do it. I couldn't be a deserter. (Bake sale/dessert-er, get it?) And it came down to just me, a temping array of baked goods and the entire third, fourth and fifth grades and various waves of teens wanting to purchase as many items as possible (I am not kidding, some of those kids were waving 50 euro notes).  Of course  all the children with large bills  cringed in fear as they told me they only had a 20 or a 10 even though they were only spending 3 or 4 euro. They had already resigned themselves to the fact that their lack of correct change meant they wouldn't be able to purchase anything and/or I would yell at them (because that's how they roll here with the correct change stuff, yo). But I turned those frowns upside down with my background in good old-fashioned American retail and astonished those kids when I said, "No problem!" and quickly made change. Their eyes were as round as if they had just entered the home of Willy Wonka. Now I can't be certain it was correct change, because my math skills are spotty, but it was still change. And that is all that matters.

At this school they have some rules: whoever handles the food cannot handle the money (germs) and whoever handles the food must wear gloves (germs). And I was the only person there. So I was whipping off one glove and putting it back on and forgetting to take off my glove and touching the money and then having to throw out that glove and grab a new one ( and of course the gloves stuck together like plastic bags at a grocery store) but I still loved it. Because I love volunteering at school. I love all the kids, I love helping.

And even faced with a table of delights, these were the most polite, well-mannered children I have ever encountered.

Okay, well, to be perfectly honest, there was an obnoxious group of third-grade Italian boys who tried to shove and yell over the smaller, quieter, more polite children who were in line in front of them. But Good Lord above, sometime being a Mom and getting to dole out justice is just so sweet. I used my Mom powers and calmly explained to the boys that the the other children had been here first and then proceeded to  serve only the polite children who were being pushed around by the boys. And I then  decided to ignore the rude boys yelling their demands and finger-snapping-at-the-waitstaff  and served all the shy  and nervous children waiting all around them as well. Am I petty? You bet your sweet a#s I am. Today the meek shall eat their baked goods first!

And dang if it didn't work. The boys finally figured out that pushing those smaller than themselves and yelling at me wasn't producing the desired results  and transformed themselves into a group of, "Excuse me, miss, may I have..." and I felt my work here had been done.

Other than those boys, however, every child I encountered in every grade, even the teenagers, said please and thank-you. They said excuse me. They said may I. They took turns. They bought things for each other. A random high school girl walked by, bought a Rice Krispie treat and handed it to a little girl who had been staring hungrily at them and continued on her way.  Quite frankly, I was flabbergasted. Is this a European thing? Because up until last week, I still wasn't as thoughtful and mature and well-mannered as these kids.

Oh, and yeah, about the Rice Krispie treats. I too wondered where the hell these marshmallows had been found and where they could be purchased. I asked questions. I may have made some threats. Same old, same old: only the Americans connected with the American Embassy can get them. So America, please write to your Congressperson and demand that Americans living abroad all have access to the same food choices as the Embassy workers. Thank-you.

And so eventually some 5th graders (I kid you not) were sent out to help me handle the baked good masses and the President of ___________ still hadn't arrived and I really had to leave, so I did.

But I shouldn't have bothered because  a 40 minute car ride(during which I was rear-ended at a red light, but our car was fine because the Smart car that hit me couldn't stand up to fine German engineering untainted by the Swatch watch company and didn't even manage to shake any of the dirt off the back of our car) and 9 metro stops later, I received a call from the school nurse telling me that my son had split his forehead open and needed stitches.

So we got to visit the Italian emergency room.

And how was your day?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Day Trip From Rome Due

I don't want to brag, but have you noticed how awesome my Italian is becoming? Because that word in the title is not due as in the the bill is due, it's due* as in I can count to ten(dieci!) in Italian. Sometimes I can count to 16, but I usually get tripped up around 17 because it switches from the number being in front of the dici to being behind the dici and I'm all, Really? I'm already trying to pretend the alphabet doesn't have  j, k, w, x, y, and z in it. Can't we keep the numbers in an orderly, straightforward fashion? And I thought maybe they were just a little lax on a complete alphabet, but then I was doing my homework and it was to answer the questions in each section. Section A, Section B, etc..... until it went straight from Section H to Section I. And then I thought my book was missing a page and I was all panicked because I wouldn't have all the answers completed on my homework because I had a faulty book and then I realized, Oh! They are not fooling around. They really do not use J and K. 

* The editor in me is well aware that the due in the title should be italicized because it is a foreign word, but I can't figure out how to do that on my computer, so just pretend it is.

So! An hour outside of Rome, at Canale Monterano,we strapped on our backpacks and spent the day hiking through the gorgeous woods in the Riserva Naturale Monterano. We took Sookie with us, but allowed Stella to curl up on her bed at home because her poor 13 year old hips would not have enjoyed the steep climb and uneven terrain. Two year old Sookie , however, suddenly was one with her terrier blood and she flew through that forest and scrambled up rickety staris and boulders like she was running in a dirt dog competition.

 It was one of those times that you can't believe you are so close to a major city. It was stunning and surprising and had wild horses and thermal sulfur springs that people think have healing properties and the healing properties that we noticed was that the smell was very close to making us empty the contents of our stomachs, so I guess that's sort of cleansing.

thermal sulfur springs
volcanic rock deposits

lion fountain by Bernini


Day Trips from Rome : Civitta di Bagnoregio

We all love Rome.  There will never come a time when you are lint-rolling the dog hair off of every imaginable surface and bemoaning the lack of activities in the city.  Okay,you may have two small dogs that seem to shed to the point they should be bald, so you might spend an obscene amount of time trying to stop its accumulation. But as for activities, there is always something to do in Rome. 
  However, if you have seen the Coliseum 241 days in a row and you question your desire to make it 242 times, you may want to look outside the center of the city for entertainment. For instance, if you want an experience to which most tourists aren’t privy, head to IKEA on a weekend. You will there witness entire families—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, the neighbor’s kid and some people they don’t know but who were standing nearby—-  spilling over into every nook and cranny and heatedly debating the merits of the Helg verses the Flytta.

Or you may want to consider somewhere a little less Swedish-meatball-y. And that’s where the day trip comes in. Because not only does Italy have old stuff in Rome, it has old stuff everywhere. If you head out from Rome a mere two hours in any direction, there will be somewhere wondrous to explore.  These photos are of Civitta di Bagnoregio, located 90 minutes from the Coliseum. It’s pretty darn spectacular.









Thursday, March 14, 2013

This is...awesome

So yeah. Pope. Election.

But let's discuss the things that directly effect me. My lemon tree  has had green fruit on it for so long that we were pretty sure my faulty Italian had resulted in the purchase of a lime tree. The lemon-lime tree, however, is bearing yellow fruit. Which means it's a lemon tree. Growing on our balcony. AND all three of my pots of cilantro are reaching for the stars like they're on Star Search. If you are too young to remember Star Search, think all the various talent shoes currently on the tee-vee rolled into one. And maybe google Solid Gold with Marilyn McCoo and Dance Fever with Denny Terrio. Prepare to be amazed.

Guess how many of our landlord's couches are currently residing in our home. If you guess NONE, you are correct! After 8 long months, the only furniture in our place belongs to us. Of course, we don't have hot water again, but let's focus on the positive.

I'm taking Italian lessons once more.  No, I'm not doing any better than all the other times I've taken Italian lessons. But that's okay because I still bargained and bought 4 shirts and a sweater at the mercado for under 20 euro. Who needs Italian when you can shake your head sadly and walk away and then get the price you wanted? Plus the Italian guy selling bread at the bakery even told me Italian is a difficult language to learn. And our cleaning lady (yes, we have a cleaning lady. We would be driven out of Italy if we didn't have one. It's just what one does here. And when it Rome...c'mon, just give me that one, it's been a long time since I've utilized that cliche.) is already awesome is so many ways , but now she helps me with my homework. So I clean our toilets. Totally fair trade.

And best of all, we have  found a truly fantastic song that I play heavily on repeat. I gave up swearing for Lent, but just so you are aware and warned, this video and song has BAD words. But it's still ...awesome.