Friday, November 07, 2014

The one where we celebrate Halloween in Italy

 Italian children dress in costume and go to celebrations during Carnevale in February, so Halloween isn't really celebrated in Rome. I love Halloween and so this lack of Halloween stuff pretty much sucked our first year here. By our second year, however, we had discovered that the secret was to find other people who loved and celebrated Halloween and hook up with them.

  (But be forewarned about mean-spirited American women who are married to non-Americans: they may speak with fake European accents that they quickly try to lose and pretend that they were just coughing when they realize that you know they are from Ohio; and they may make disparaging remarks about what you have made and brought for the kids, such as sneering, "How very Martha Stewart of you." This would be the time to remind them that Martha learned how to shank a bitch when she was in prison.)

And we also learned that Halloween decorations and costumes were available in all of the many stores owned and operated by non-Italians. It sounds racist to put a nationality to the ownership of the stores--I don't know why, it just does, so I won't. But if you live here, you definitely frequent these shops because it's the closest thing there is to Walmart. Not that Walmart carries all the same items.

Our third year, this year, was the best Halloween thus far. We went to a good old-fashioned American-style Halloween party. Super super fun. And in between bobbing for apples and admiring the jack o'lanterns and hanging spider webs, we took the kids trick-or-treating. The mainly Italian neighborhood has a neighborhood association of sorts and residents had been told about trick-or-treating and had the option of whether or not they wished to participate. All the houses I saw were completely decorated with all things Halloween and all the Italians that opened the doors were as warm and excited as I imagine Americans must have been once upon a time when everyone was close-knit and knew their neighbors. People invited us into their homes; they gushed over the kiddos' costumes; they delighted in the children yelling, "Dolcetto o scherzetto!"; and they seemed to enjoy handing out the treats as much as the kids seemed to enjoy getting them. One lovely woman had actually baked and decorated cookies for the children's trick-or-treat bags.

I know that in America this would be akin to the creepy guy opening the door wearing a stained undershirt and handing out handfuls of pretzels straight from the bag and we would never allow our children to actually eat a homemade cookie because of the potential for razorblades and poison, but in Italy it was like having Mrs. Brady or Mrs. Cunningham or Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable distributing Halloween goodies.

But y'know, Halloween is still very very new here. At the last house, an elderly gentleman wearing a crisp white shirt and tie opened the door. He exclaimed over the costumes and made a big show of pretending he didn't know why all these kids were on his doorstep and seemed to be having a grand 'ol time. Eventually he produced a baseball hat from which he dropped a piece of candy into one of the boys' bags. "Grazie, signore!" exclaimed the little boy enthusiastically. The gentleman then acted as though he was dropping candy into the other children's bags...but he didn't actually give anyone else any candy. He was just pretending.  The kids looked at one another in confusion and the parents laughed nervously. The old man smiled brightly and bid us a good night. The older children murmured "thank you" and "good night" and walked away a bit perplexed. The youngest child, who was really very young and adorable, burst into tears. "But I didn't get any candy!" the little one cried, hugging his mother's knees in bewilderment. The old man laughed and laughed and waved good-bye.

To be fair, many things get lost in translation. But one thing is certain: that was a man who knew how to both trick and treat.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

the one where qualified electricians willing to work in a timely fashion need not apply

Given the decidedly positive slant towards Italy that my blog has ended up taking, one would think all the pesky little annoyances that so plagued me about Italy two or three years ago have become commonplace. Or trivial. Or amusing. Or viewed in the manner of a particularly cheeky but adorable child: Oh, Italy, you scamp, you!

Last night, however, after returning home from a lovely day at the Eurochocolate festival in Perugia, I found myself back in the throes of cursing Italy with some choice swears.

An electric socket in John's room blew. And by blew I mean sparks flew, the wall was scorched and the metal switch plate melted. The apartment went dark. Luckily Mike remembered where we had stashed the flashlights and he was able to reset the circuit breaker, restoring electricity to the house. "Whew!" said we. "That could have been ugly! All's well that ends well."

Oh, but dear readers, we all know that it didn't end there. Because it never does.

Several minutes later we heard a beeping noise. A persistent beeping. It was the panel for the house alarm. This had happened before when we had lost electricity. No big deal. I typed in the code and turned it off.

We went back to our previously scheduled program. We heard a particularly loud car alarm blaring, but we live in the city and unfortunately that's an every day occurrence. Sometimes it's even ours. Because someone has broken into our car.

"Is that a house alarm?" Mike asked as the alarm continued to wail. I opened the window and leaned out to look around, but all of our neighbors' alarms were dark and silent. Ours, however, was pulsing and screeching like nobody's business. "Holy *&^5!" I yelled, "it's ours!"

We typed in the code again to shut it off but nothing happened. Nothing happened the next time we did that either. Or the next time. One of our dogs ran under the bed to hide, the other started growling and snarling, mohawk bristling, ready to defend against an intruder. (In case you were wondering which was which, it's now 27 hours later and  Sookie is still under the bed.) I was leaning out of the window hitting our alarm with a broom, while inside, Mike hit the alarm panel. with a hammer. I could hear our neighbors' windows opening and the word "Americani" being bandied about. But then something the Americani did was successful and the alarm shut the f- off.

Our phone started ringing. It was the landlord LD. Because she wanted to let us know that the neighbors had called her to report that our alarm was shrieking. Mike explained in Italian that an electrical outlet in the house had blown and that somehow that had triggered the alarm. She assured us that she would come over tomorrow to check things out.

Upon awakening and being ready to face the day, we discovered that our coffee maker wasn't working.  Or our refrigerator. Or our oven. Or our hot water. Or our washing machine. Because as it turned out they were all operating on the same grid as the alarm and were negatively affected by the blown outlet in John's room.

We rounded up all of the extension cords and surge protector power strips that we could find and constructed an elaborate spider web of cords. It became Ninja Warrior elaborate as all of the outlets and plugs in the house are just like snowflakes: no two are alike. So we had to do a Sophie's Choice as to what we needed to work. The hot water and refrigerator won.

At this point, have you seen our rarely working hot water heater so many times that you could pick it out of a line-up?

We called the landlord, who had yet to show up to check on things as she had promised the night before, and da da da…her phone was shut off. So we texted her. And then we made bagels ( please don't get your hopes up and message me asking where in Rome one can buy bagels; I bring them from America.) in a pan on the stove and set off for the grocery store to replace all the food that went bad overnight in our not-working refrigerator.

We used to use the oven because we don't have a toaster. Now we use the stove because the oven doesn't work.

Meanwhile, Mike kept calling LD until she finally picked up and after listening to the list of all the appliances and outlets in our house that no longer worked, she assured us that she didn't think it was an electrical problem. Anyway, she couldn't come today to check because she was on a train. And not tomorrow. But maybe Tuesday. Which means that I will stay at home on Tuesday and the landlord will not show up until Thursday. Friday at the latest.

And if I have learned one thing while living in Italy (and no, it's not how to be an amazing cook and no, it's not how to speak Italian), it's that this will not be resolved for a very long time. Because LD will first show up alone to see if there is any possibility that she can announce there is no problem. When it turns out that that this is not the case, she will tell me she will come back to tomorrow with an electrician. When tomorrow turns into the following week, she will show up with her nephew who is in tenth grade and is really really good at playing World of Warcraft, thereby making him pretty much qualified to look around at our cobbled together network of extension cords and shrug his shoulders and agree that none of the electricity in the back half of our apartment works.

With my qualifications as a dog living here, I  agree that something is broken.

LD will then apologize profusely and promise me she will return the following day with an electrician. When she catches me unaware four days later as I am getting out of the shower, she will have her best friend's husband's brother-in-law with her who used to work at IKEA putting light bulbs in all the new lamps. He will also agree that not only do none of the outlets in the back half of the apartment work, neither does the oven. Or the washing machine.

LD will assure me she schedule an electrician to fix it. The electrician will not show up for the first scheduled appointment. The electrician will not show up for the second scheduled appointment. The electrician will show up at the third scheduled appointment but he will not be able to do anything because he doesn't have the parts he needs and it is lunchtime AND a Monday to boot, so everything is closed. He will assure me that (say it with me boys and girls) he will come back...tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

the one where we go to Naples

seriously. the crust will make you weep with joy.

beneath the city 

the first Italian woman I have seen that needed assistance navigating the cobblestones in stilettos. This leads me to believe she wasn't actually Italian.

do you count three legs? That's because a little boy was riding shotgun. Or playing monkey in the middle. Or  filming an infomercial for seatbelt arms and imaginary helmet.

I was the only person who was concerned about her train dragging on the dirty ground but Mike thought it would be weird if I ran over and picked it up. But you know what? I'm a good bridesmaid. And hers were obviously terrible. Or secretly hated her and wanted to make her look bad. Like those horrible frenemies on Say Yes to the Dress.

creepy creepies. You know these will come alive at night and kill you in your sleep.


Girl in sneakers: "When I grow up, I want to be a doctor!"
Girl in not sneakers: "When I grow up, I want to drop out of middle school and be just like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman!"

should I just caption this one "No, I don't love my kid. Why do you ask?"

Monday, September 15, 2014

the one where we drove to Abruzzo

We drove to Abruzzo this weekend to hike to the Corno Grande, the highest peak in the Apennine Mountains. I had never been to that part of Italy (the northernmost part of Southern Italy--I'm guessing that's like Maryland is the northernmost part of the American South) and I was struck anew at the amazing variation in Italian terrain that can be found within a two hour drive in any direction. Italy is just stupid beautiful. It's unreal. This particular trip looked like we were in Middle Earth. Sometimes it was Middle Earth with a quick little quintessential Italian village thrown in: older women hanging out windows; laundry blowing in the wind; olive trees and overflowing flower boxes; and sometimes it was Middle Earth with the type of sharply winding narrow roads found on the Amalfi coast--the kind that make your toes hurt as you stare fixedly out the window to the  side of the road that doesn't plunge to your death--but it was soaring mountains covered in green and hobbits all the same. And truly, you can really only marvel at the people of yore who managed to cram a town into any place that was a jutting side of the mountain. It defies all logic. I'm not Isaac Newton, but I do know that when a town is built into the side of a mountain there is no reason why it should stay there. If I put a paper clip against a wall, it falls to the floor. It does not somehow superglue itself against the wall and become a place where people can drink coffee and eat panini and go about their day.

My husband's had hiked the Corno Grande while I was in America (I was probably eating Mexican food and shopping at Target) and his photos were gorgeous. So you can imagine how bummed we were when we emerged from a very long tunnel and the sky was no longer blue and the mountain peaks were wreathed in clouds. We went to the top anyway, but it was like being in Cloud City. We couldn't see a darn thing and so it's entirely possible Lando Calrissian had betrayed us all. We'll have to head back in the spring. It's on, Lando.

one of the many Pee-Wee's Big Adventure winding road maps

we did not see any cows, but on the way home from the beach last weekend we DID see a  wild boar and two boar-lettes  (scientific term) chowing down on the side of the road,which was very exciting. They had tusks and everything. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

the one with all the pictures.

random wall in siena. maybe it's not random. maybe it's very purposeful and an important work of art. i don't really know. i just pretend i do.

there have been many stencil graffiti faces as of late. i like them. i believe this one to be edgar allen poe. if it is actually  a horrible dictator, please don't tell me. 

so many pretty sunsets here. it's probably the pollution.

not me.

you probably think this is a picture of the trees in the early sunlight. and it is. 

upon first glance, i thought this was a figure made of poo.  and i really don't have any evidence to suggest otherwise.

insert clever caption here.

the furniture here is always being swapped out. although currently there is a chandelier and chair from ikea, some days there is a dining room table with matching chairs; other days there is an old fashioned dial-telephone and loft bed.

creepy peeking mannequin. if that was my house i would be worried about it killing me in my sleep.


view from tore del mangia

lazy pants people on much lower tower

400 steps to ring the bell. not that you are supposed to ring the bell.

i love that italy really looks like it's supposed to-women hanging out of windows and all.

there is always a parade with people in medieval costumes somewhere. always. 

 i never like fruit until i ate it in italy. it's filled with fruit flavor.

as i come from farm country, seeing the perfectly formed rolls of hay never ceases to make me happy. 

rest stop off the highway. i didn't check out the shower. but i really really really wanted to check out the shower. what's going on with the shower?