Friday, December 22, 2006

Still learning...

1. There are two notebooks in school: one contains schoolwork--pictures next to Italian words mostly (since Nora's still learning the language) and the other contains homework assignments and notes from school (handwritten by Nora in Italian and cursive). But to keep you on your toes, important notes from school can be found in either notebook, even squished in the middle of vocabulary words related to the ocean. Just to be sure you're paying attention.

I know I've talked extensively about the lack of communication with the school. But I dont' think I've said that at times I'm kinda happy about it. There is no Monday folder bursting at the seams with a letter from the PTO, principal, classroom teacher, and cafeteria; no newsletter, fundraising fliers, or promotional deal at the local pizzeria. There is also not a bunch of schoolwork plaguing me with indecision: do I throw away this precious piece of Nora's history or do I allow myself to be swallowed whole by the mounds of crap they produce in school? (Sorry, mom. Now that fire hazard is yours.)

So Nora was thumbing through her schoolwork notebook the other day, and she began counting, "uno, *flip flip* due *flip* tre *flip, flip*, quattro..." "Nora what are you counting?" "These," she pointed to a
U at the top-left corner of some of the pages. I'd never noticed them before. "What are those?" "That means I finished all my lunch."

Never a report card. Never a graded homework assignment. Never a piece of feedback on any academic work. But they make sure to communicate the eating habits of our children ever single day.

2. Spent two hours last night looking for tissue paper to put in gift bags. That was fun. Because here going from store to store means walking from store to store. And it's cold here in December.
While gift bags, bows, ribbons, gift tags, and wrapping paper are found in department stores, grocery stores, and stalls on the side of the street, the elusive tissue paper can only be found in a Cartoleria (a place that sells paper, pens, journals, and tissue paper). Nora and I finally went to a Cartoleria and Nora quickly rushed over to a stack of...something.
"Here it is! Here's the tissue paper!" "This doesn't look like tissue paper...." but it was all wrapped in plastic so I couldn't be certain. "No. It is," said Nora, "We used this in school."

Nora's portion of the conversation basically translates to "No. It's really not tissue paper, Mom, but it's this really cool stuff that stretches and doesn't tear, and we used it in school, and I love playing with it, so when you realize it's worthless to you, and you can't use it at all, you'll give it to me, and I can keep it and play with it, and it will be mine!"
Never mind the two hours spent walking around for the stuff.
(They actually did have tissue paper at the store, I learned later--sold individually for far too much money.
My wonderful mother is bringing me tissue paper from the states.)

My wonderful mother is also bringing a tube of sugar cookie dough and a gingerbread house to decorate!
I hope the rest of you are feeling as festive.

Merry Christmas! Buona Festa!!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More School News

I learned yesterday from Nora that on Tuesdays and Thursdays (the days that they have gym) they also have dance. Also on Thursdays they work with clay. I haven't been given a schedule for the school, but I'm pretty sure of several of the components. Here's a look at a possible schedule for Tuesdays and Thursdays:
8:20 (or 8:25) school starts
8:30--9:30 gym
9:30--9:50 snack
9:50--12:00 learning
12:00--1:00 lunch
1:00--2:00 recess
2:00--2:40 dance
2:40--3:00 snack 2
3:00--4:20 learning

Three and a half hours of learning. Poor things. It's no wonder we received the message we received yesterday. The teachers at Nora's school have decided to go on strike tomorrow from 8:20--9:20 and 3:20--4:20.

What a brilliant way to make time for Christmas shopping.

Friday, November 24, 2006

the three of us

as brandy said earlier, jack is always behind the camera, and not in the picture. she is occasionally wrong. just occasionally. so here, for your viewing pleasure and to calm those who thought i fell into the Tiber river, here we all are:

Piazza Farnese, Roma
This big fountain is from the 2000 year-old Baths of Caracalla. Our strange expressions are telling the photographer--an old passerby from France--how to take the photo with our complicated point-and-shoot digital camera.

Fontana Paola, Roma
This fountain, built in 1612 to commemorate an acquaduct, is high up on the edge of the Janiculum Hill and gives one of the best views of Rome. The Fontana Paola, known as the Fontanana (the mother fountain) is a short walk up the hill from our house, maybe a 1/4 mile, and is a great place to get away from the city while still in the city.

Colosseo, Roma
Here we are in front of the Coloseum (no introductions needed) and next to the Arch of Constantine. I can't explain Nora's pose. Crazy girl.

Stazione Termini, Roma
This is moments before our first trip out of Rome. After this we ran to catch our train to far-away Frascati, known for its views, roasted pork sandwiches (much better than it sounds now that I'm typing it), and white wine. It's only a 30 minute train ride, but it felt like we were hundreds of miles away.

Paestum, Campania
Dinner at an amazing restaurant and hotel, a proud member of the Slow Food Movement , on the shores of the Mediterranean in the city Paestum. Their city was part of Magna Grecia, the Greek Empire, in the 6th century BC, and is near where the Allied trops landed in 1943. We were there on the last leg of our study abroad students' trip to Napoli, Herculaneaum, Pompeii, and Paestum.

We'll make it a point to take more. promise.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A huge sigh of relief

Yesterday we hosted a Day Before Thanksgiving Cocktail Party at our office. (You can put any combination of words before Cocktail Party, and it works.) One of the guests--the spectacularly talented, beautiful, and psychic N--brought us this

She's not even American! She's just plain brilliant. Perhaps she meant to bring it for the guests of the party. Perhaps I should have shared it with the other hosts of the party. Instead I kissed her feet and squirreled that pie away into the fridge. Nobody loves it more than me.
Thank you, N!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Val and Pierre

We had our first visitors last month--Val and Pierre! Val's a friend of mine from Austin, and she met Pierre while traveling this summer in southeast Asia, or New Zealand, or Australia. Of course Pierre is not from any of those places. Go on...guess where he's from. Here they are in front of the French Embassy in Rome.
It was wonderful having them stay with us. It's nice to have familiar faces (and a familiar language) to hang out with. It's also nice to see your city through a fresh pair of eyes every once in a while. We did our best showing them around Rome. (My best is not very good. I still get lost in my neighborhood and never remember the names of very important monuments.) Jack does much better at this. I have to say, even without important details or correct names to accompany the sites, Rome does a pretty good job being impressive on its own.
Here are Val and Pierre in front of the Vittorio Emanuele II. This is an enormous monument right in the center of town. (That's it. That's all I've got for you.)
It's also nice to have visitors, because you get to be a tourist again. We don't really go by the Trevi Fountain very often. It's always crowded with tourists, crooks selling worthless junk, and Italian men lurking on foreign prey. The fountain itself, however, is lovely at night. Here are two pictures of Val and Nora when they went one afternoon.

And here's a pic I took of Val throwing a coin into the fountain at night. (You're supposed to throw a coin in to ensure that you return to Rome.)
And here's a picture of all of us (sans Jack--behind the camera) in the piazza by our house. The instructions were to "look goofy." Apparently Nora and Pierre felt that this was enough?

On special occasions, like having visitors from France, we let Nora drink beer. Very big beers...
...but this makes her crazy...

...and we have to take her home.

Val and me.

We're in Trouble

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, (sorry for the alliteration) and I'm beginning to realize that it is one of my favorite holidays in the states. It is certainly the holiday that carries with it the most traditions in my family. We usually go to Hemphill to celebrate with my dad's side of the family, and we always have the same dishes: a spinach/broccoli casserole (the casserole that taught me, age 7, that vegetables can be yummy), cheese rice that my grandmother makes, a squash dish that my aunt makes, rolls made from scratch by my other aunt, yummy stuffing, and Pink Lady (a dish named by me). OH--and turkey and ham and gravy.

Obviously for me it's the side dishes that make the meal. THOSE side dishes. Those side dishes = Thanksgiving for me.

So let's see: spinach/broccoli casserole--requires sour cream. Not found in Italy.
Cheese rice--I've never made it. I don't know if anyone has ever made it besides my grandmother. I know, however, that there is orange-y cheese in it and those canned green peppers. Not found in Italy.
Squash dish--this one we could probably make. I'll have to find the recipe for this.
Rolls made from scratch--HAHAHAHA ahem
Yummy stuffing--Jack's in charge of this one. I trust that whatever he makes will be good (but I know it won't be right. He got the recipe from I'm pretty sure our stuffing comes from Down Home Cooking)
Pink Lady--this delicacy is made with Cool Whip, powdered Jello, frozen strawberries, and bananas. ...We've got bananas here.

And last, but not least, pumpkin pie. One year my mom tried to substitute sweet potato pie for pumpkin pie (as if I wouldn't know the difference?!?!) I cried. Real tears.
Canned pumpkin and sweetened condensed milk are not found in Italy.

I know our Thanksgiving is going to be delicious. And I know that Thanksgiving is supposed to be about giving thanks for what you have, and griping about not having the right casserole or a yummy gelatin dessert is certainly going against the season.

I don't care.
I want pumpkin pie.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Remember before when I said something like "You might think not knowing anything about Nora's school would make me frustrated?" and then I said you'd be wrong? I'd like to modify that statement. MOST of the time, you'd be wrong.

Yesterday Nora and I showed up at school four minutes late (as usual) and I watched Nora walk up the stairs as I dutifully stood on the sidewalk (parents are not allowed to go inside this secret society of School). Luckily I like to watch her walk into school; luckily because this time Nora did not turn around and give me her usual cute wave, because this time the woman who works the front desk with the wonky eye stood in front of the door and would not let her in.

Other little children were walking up the stairs, but my poor child was being barred. I marched up those forbidden stairs and used a large percentage of my Italian vocaulary to find out what was going on "Perché?" She then launched into some speech at me which I couldn't make out at all, but there was a definite undertone of "and you should have known about this already you stupid woman." "Mi dispiace. Non capisco Italiano." (the remainder of my Italian vocabulary) She then rolled her good eye at me and heaved a huge sigh of "well what the hell am I doing wasting my time talking to you?" I did not budge, however, and stood staring at her and just past her into the House of Learning where there should most definitely be someone that could somehow communicate her angry words to me. Eventually she had the same idea and grabbed a woman to "come talk to the American mother" (I could understand that). I was told that the second grade teachers had a meeting that day until 10:20 and we were to bring the second graders then.

I am fuming for so many reasons.

A. I've worked in schools, and I've had meetings, and they suck. They're supposed to suck. You have to march into the library at 3:15 after the children have all left, after you've been working all day, to listen to the principal drone on about testing procedures and hallway rules, but you accept it as a necessary evil. Since when do they get to postpone SCHOOL to talk about how to improve school? Why don't Italian teachers have necessary evils? A meeting that starts at the same time as the normal work day? And they get two blessed hours without the little boogers? Let's have these meetings every week!

B. Why was I the ONLY second grade mother who was trying to push my child into the sacred House of Learning?? How did all of these other parents know?? I dumped out Nora's backpack and looked through every book, every pencil bag. No note. I began thinking that this Secret Society of School actually did welcome all of the other parents, but they kept out the American as a fun cultural prank. "Those Americans think they're so smart. Let's see how they survive a school year with no communication at all!"

C. The people who work at the front desk of schools are supposed to be sweet and nurturing. Not wonky-eyed gatekeepers.

Later that evening when Nora came home I discovered that there had been a note. Nora had left it at school. I know you're laughing Mom, and I really don't think that I deserve this. I know I perpetually left things at school when I was a child. I know that my leaving things at school was the cause of The Nightmare of middle school. But in a foreign country, shouldn't I be cut just a tiny little break?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Three things I appreciate about Jack

1. He takes pretty pictures. And he's diligent about taking that little camera around. I'm awful in this area, and when I look back on the five years I spent without Jack...well there's not much to look back on. A huge gap in the photodocumentation of my life.
I'm trying to be better about uploading his photos to flickr. Here's the website where I do that occasionally:

2. He has a quirky view on things like tooth fairies and tooth mice. Jack believes that our child should be able to have open communication with these magical creatures. And so...when Nora leaves notes for the tooth fairy (and now the tooth mouse), they write her back! I thought this was a little strange at first. I certainly never communicated with the tooth fairy when I was a child. And I think that I would have been a little creeped out to receive a note under my pillow from a fairy or mouse. It's one thing to imagine this ephemeral being exchanging money for my nasty tooth. It's another to picture this being standing in my room, holding a pencil.

Yesterday was the Day of the Dead. A day when one pays homage to his/her dearly departed relatives, and they in turn pay homage to children in the form of small presents at night. And Jack thought that our dead relatives should leave Nora a note as well!?! Yes, Jack a fantastic idea...for saving money, since then we could move into a one-bedroom apartment because there's no way a child would be able to sleep in her own room again after receiving a letter from a skeleton under her pillow.

3. He often moonwalks for us even though sometimes he hurts himself doing it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

update from jack

"how is it going?" i get this email question and it's not that i don't want to reply to it, but to give the question its due, i can't just say "fine." so let me take a little more time to answer it and send it out en masse.

the really short answer: everything is great here. a bit too busy at work for my liking, but i am a bit lazy, so that's to be expected. the three of us still make time to go out for long walks and yummy dinners. we're in Trastevere, a very cool part of rome--a 10 minute walk to the center of town--and are surrounded by amazing things. too bad our amazing friends are 6000 miles away. we're making some friends but it doesn't happen overnight. you've got to start somewhere though.

we miss home like crazy, it goes without saying. brandy stays close by chatting/emailing with friends, i keep grounded by occasionally talking on the phone (skype, actually) and listening to austin radio (well, KUT only) to feel for brief but wonderful moments that i'm sitting on the couch early in the afternoon in austin. it's warm outside and the cicadas are making themselves known. i'm walking to grab coffee and migas at (insert any of the dozens of mexican food places i miss dearly). my salivating mouth usually wakes me and jolts me back to reality.

i fill up my day with this and other moments. i concentrate on these simple moments throughout the day--like seeing the sun come up over the tiber river.

watching Nora's cute wave goodbye when she goes into her school (she's not yet at that stage of being embarrassed of her parents).

or playing in the piazza santa maria in trastevere by our house. sometimes we people-watch, sometimes we fire-juggler-watch, sometimes we play games, like "chairs," a surprisingly fun game of stacking little chairs on top of one another (thanks jose and maria!)

or going to markets for fresh and inexpensive food. it's a beautiful thing to get 2 lbs of tomatoes (that actually smell and taste like tomatoes) for less than a dollar. nora loves it and buys her own stuff, like this kilo of mussels from the seafood lady.

just relaxing, doing nothing. brandy is excellent at this art form.

seeing kids chase birds in a piazza; smelling 25 different foods cooking depending on the direction of the breeze; hearing the spice and herb seller sneeze uncontrollably for half an hour or the crazy lady yelling in the piazza outside my window. sorry, no pictures.

then there's the walk home across the river.

that's when we leave some of the tourists behind and squeeze into our narrow alleys...

...quaint medieval houses...

...for a few hours of relaxing...


...drinking...the sign on the door of the bar below basically says "...then what the hell are you doing here?" a reference to the fact that it serves only beer. excellent german beers that you've never heard of. they serve nothing else, not even water. so the name is the bartender's reply when you ask for anything but beer, as if you asked for a pet turtle at an ice cream stand...

...and going for gelato.

i know that doesn't answer the question that well, but maybe it gives you a better glimpse? hmm? you can reply to this post or email me, but please let me know how you're doing. we miss you all. nora loves it here and that makes brandy and i love it even more.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tooth Mouse and the Tooth Fairy

(Dictated by Nora; typed by Brandy)
Instead of the tooth fairy there is the tooth mouse. It seems disgusting but he's come to my house; I've never seen him, but it seems like he's very cute. He drew a picture of himself and that's how I can tell that he's cute. And I can tell that I've never seen him because mice can be quite quiet... sometimes.

It all happened one day when I had a very loose tooth. I was brushing my teeth and I worried about my tooth so I wiggled it, wiggled it, wiggled it, and before I knew it, it fell out. So my dad made me drink salt water, which I did not like a bit. It was horrible even though I plugged my nose, and some people say that always works, but the taste was so strong, it didn't.

I woke up the next morning. He gave me money--one Euro, and he talked to the tooth fairy, and the tooth fairy said to him that I like to keep my teeth. And I still have a tooth hole this day.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


First of all: sorry for the incredibly blurry horribly cropped photos up there. I'm doing some experimenting with html, but I feel that I should really only tackle one language at a time. Knowing Italian gets me food, friends, and from here to there. Knowing html gets me the highly coveted "nerd" status. I think I'll stick with Italian for a while. So for now--deal with blurry photos.

As for is Halloween and we have not carved a pumpkin and Nora has no costume. Just like all the other Italian families. sigh. Today Jack went to the market to look for a pumpkin so that we could at least hang on to that tradition, but for €13, I'm happy to kiss jack-o-lanterns goodbye. Nora does, however, have a Halloween party today. At this party the children will make masks and then go walking around from store to store. I think. You can't go trick-or-treating here from door to door because you have to be buzzed into all of the buildings. But I don't know if the "walking from store to store" will be to trick-or-treat or just to show off the masks that they made? I know the "Halloween candy" section of the grocery store is just all the candy that was in the regular candy section--Rocher, Mon Cheri, and Kinder--under a cardboard ghost. No festive orange wrappers on the fun size bars. No candy corn. sigh.

On the other hand...look what we do have!!

Those are chestnuts roasting on an open fire!! It has nothing to do with a guy named Chet or a parrot and a lighter! They're honest to goodness chestnuts and they're on every corner in town.

You take the good you take the bad...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What are we doing wrong?

Olivia. The Black Widow of parakeets.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Uva Fragola

Lots of grapes here in Italy, but these are special. Smaller than their counterparts and you don't eat their skin. The name "uva fragola" means strawberry grape--that's how Italians describe their flavor. I say that Uva Fragola is where the "grape" flavor (found in candy, gum, and lipgloss) comes from.

And they call themselves civilized

You have no idea how much you depend on these things. The Romans fold paper, PAPER, around other pieces of paper to file things. There is no tab for writing the organizational heading by which all the papers on the inside are filed. There is no sturdy cardstock. Just paper. I hope you're cherishing every single last one of them.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

One more tidbit

In Rome a cannon goes off every day at noon. Just like in Mary Poppins.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

what's the opposite of a police state?

The police here are--well, they're just different. Here's an example:

The city of Rome recently discovered a budget shortfall in salary for the police. That's not good for anybody, right? This could lead to massive strikes, great spikes in criminal activity, and total chaos. Right? I can guess that in the US this situation might create a mindset among the police that, hmm, maybe the police should start writing tickets for the millions of little otherwise-ignored infractions. The money generated would certainly generate enough money to pay at least a few months salary.

Here in Italy, we see the classic Italian "eh..." attitude. Instead of chaos or writing lots of tickets or really doing anything, the police have decided they just won't come to work.

It's like an extended vacation.

And crime has't picked up. It's usually really low and it's staying low. Everyone has just shrugged their shoulders and is dealing with it like you would deal with a pebble stuck to your shoe. It's not a big deal and it'll fix itself eventually. Until then, live with it.

Lovely day for a crime wave, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pretty pictures

These photos were taken in Amalfi.

And these were taken in Perugia.

This is how it goes when things are going well

Up until this point I've been working part time at Jack's job--The American Institute for Roman Culture. They have actually needed a lot of help, so part time has turned into practically full time. This has been ok, but I'm not a very good secretary, and I don't like being in a job that I'm not very good at. I secured two speech therapy clients through craigslist. One lives over an hour away. Not doable. I visited them once for an assessment, and that was all. The other lives in Frascati (20 minutes away). They pay for my transportation, time spent on transportation, and time in therapy. This is not bad--at least I'm doing what I'm good at, but it's really a pain. It takes 3.5 hours out of my day. I was starting to wonder whether I'd made the wrong decision accepting this job when I went to a meeting at the child's school yesterday.

The girl's neuropsychologist was there as well. She has a studio (read: clinic) in Rome. At this studio they have SLPs that speak German, French, and Italian but they really need one that speaks English. Oh...and one that has experience with children with autism. YAY!!!!

Monday, October 09, 2006

ah, napoli--seedy napoli!

naples is incredible: crowded, chaotic, beautiful, old, full-of-treasures, busy, bustling, scary, and smelly. it really has its own unique smell--not bad, but not exactly pleasant. like a warm beer on a hot day. just kinda tolerable.

excuse the lack of long explanations of the photos or the witty observations like those made by brandy. it's been too long since i've posted here and i want to gently get back in the swing of things. i'm pacing myself.

this is the galleria across from the museum. it isn't used much anymore (no A/C maybe?) and now is a wonderful place to kick a soccer ball.

here's an artsy picture of the cathedral in naples where once each year the blood of the patron saint who's buried there turns liquid again. yep, that's right. they believe it too. if it didn't happen, all of naples would freak out and mt. vesuvius would blow again.

here's a market near where i got my lunch. naples is the most densely populated city in europe and this store holds more selection than a big fresh plus type store. finally found some good spicey peppers and the freshest buffalo milk mozzarella. mmm...

in italy this doesn't mean "hook 'em horns." no, ma'am. it means "dear sir, i am having sexual relations with your wife and there's not a thing you can do about it and don't you feel low you sad, sad man?"

don't flash the hook 'em sign in italy.

here's a typical napolitano: they relax and talk alot. and that's compared to the rest of italy, an already chatty nation.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Everything You Want to Know About Nora post

Her school
I hadn't been able to post anything about her school really because I didn't really know anything. Unfortunately I still don't speak Italian (and her teachers still don't speak English), and I'm not sure if you all remember this, but when you ask a child questions about school, they answer "Nothing." and "I don't know." and "Ok." You try piecing together the mystery of School In Italy from these clues. I have recently had a few revelations, and I now know a few more things. I can't remember if I told you all this before, but by law all food served in a school must be organic. If I'm repeating myself, excuse me, but I'm still blown away by this. They have snack two times during the day, and they are served little pieces of pie and sometimes fruit. For lunch they have a two- or three-course meal, prepared by the school's cook. Made fresh. From all organic ingredients. Sorry...but I just love picturing the face of the Italian kid's first lunch in an American cafeteria. Cardboard pizza. Fruit cocktail swimming in syrup. Mushy peas. Mound of pudding. Buon appetito.

Not only is Nora learning Italian, but she's also learning to write in cursive. I guess that's taught in the 1st grade here, so add that to the list of things that Nora has to learn in order to catch up. Poor thing. But she's doing very well in both areas. She can now count to 100 in Italian, and her accent sounds good while she's doing it. (Says the American who doesn't really know anything about Italian accents.)

So far we've had no communication from the school. None. They feed her everyday, and we were told that the school would communicate with us how much to pay. So far nothing. No welcome letter from the teachers. No calendar of holidays or menu for the cafeteria. So...I can't give you any information about any of this. But I suppose telling you that schools in Italy don't communciate with parents is information in itself.

We learned from a parent recently that there will be a meeting sometime this month where the teachers will tell all of the parents about the school year and the schedule. Every year they plan a different schedule, and I'm not sure if the planning is done AT this meeting, but it doesn't take effect until after the meeting. So at this pont Nora has not had art, P.E., music, English (ha), or Catholocism (actually she'll never have this one, but some kids do). After the mysterious meeting, I guess, she'll start having these other classes, but I'm really not sure about that because I just made them up based on US classes. I know they do English and religion. I know US kids do PE, music, and art. I also know that one shouldn't ASS U ME anything, and so far when I assume things here based on my own cultural experiences I've been wrong. I'll keep you posted after the mysterious meeting (where they will speak to me in a language I don't understand, so I can't promise I'll know any more then than I do now).

You might think that I'm going crazy with frustration about not knowing anything, but you'd be wrong. I've spoken to several American parents here who have told me the best advice they can give me is to simply trust in the school system. The kids come out well educated, and the parents have no idea about how it happened. "You'll drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out, and you'll never get anywhere." SO...I just bring her every day at 8:20 (or 8:23 sometimes, but we're never the last ones there. Not even close.), and I ask her questions about her day, and I get "nothing" in response. But she's making friends and she seems happy.

Her first birthday party
It was at McDonald's. There's a McDonald's very close to her school, so it's a popular choice for a party location. In fact we went there on Wednesday for this party, and we've got another one there today. (Wednesday's was the first party we went to, but Nora had been invited to two parties before this one. We weren't able to go to either for different reasons. Four parties in two weeks. Obviously Nora's making friends, and it seems very likely that Italians like to give babies as Christmas presents.

The birthday party was sensory overload. I had been warned that Italian parties were like this, but I was not prepared. 15 children, their moms, and a pimple-faced party organizer in a small room (with a terrible echo). The party activity was to design a dragon (drawing). Nora spent the alotted 30 minutes designing an intricate dragon. The other 14 children designed a dragon for 3 minutes and spent the rest of the time chasing each other around the table, flinging markers and pencils at each other, seeing who could punch the hardest, and screaming. Always screaming. The children were scolded twice for getting out of control. Obvious cultural differences over where the line should be placed for when a behavior is flagged "in" or "out" of control. I was feeling a bit like one of my autistic kids in an overstimulated moment when the mom's raised the out-of-control flag.

Good things that came out of the party: 1. We learned that the moms pool their money and get the child a big present that he/she really wants instead of 19 small presents that get thrown away in a year. This is great for us because a.) it's cheaper b.) we don't know what kids want or where to buy what kids want c.) we can't tell whether the kids are girls or boys (One kid is named Andrea. Long, curly hair. Bit of a tomboy Nora told us. Apparently Andrea is a boy's name here. Oops.
2. We also got all of the vague information about the school meeting from the one mom who speaks English. It's always nice to feel a little less in the dark. 3. We had a little giggle about the way the food was served to the parents. It's funny to see McNuggets and Fries in two large serving bowls. 4. The cake was yummy. 5. Nora had a blast, and the kids really do seem nice--just a little bit rowdy.

Ok...I know that Webkinz is really frustrating, but let's not lose sight of the fact that it's a website for children. We're bigger than them. Surely we can figure this out and beat them. In order to buy things, you must go to the menu and select the store option. In the store you can buy food and furniture and entertainment items for your pet. In order to feed your pet, simply drag the food (with your mouse) to the head of your pet and it will eat it. Easier than feeding a baby. To get more money (and to keep your pet happy) you have to play games. Go to the arcade or to the trivia place and play. I find that the trivia option is a very easy way to win money--what happens to water when it gets very cold? BUT if you miss a question can be very embarassing.

That's all for now. I've got to run. There's a bus strike and a demonstration going on, which means I get to walk to the train station. yay.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A post with very little organization, but at least it's something

Things I see/hear during my days that make me smile:

1. On the way to work, after dropping Nora off at school, I cross the Tiber on Ponte Garibaldi. I should back up a bit. There's a lot of graffiti in Rome. Some people actually cite graffiti as one of the reasons why they don't like Rome--it's dirty; there's graffiti, etc. Personally, I think it's useful. When the shops close at night, they pull down a big metal door that covers the door, windows, and often the sign of the building--effectively erasing all of the features I use as landmarks for direction. For example, I used to know to turn left at the window with button-down oxford shirts and that alley will lead me to the Campo de' Fiori. At night--no window. No shirts. I'm lost. Now I use the graffiti, and I turn left at Te amo, Sofia. Very useful. Anyway...I don't know what any of the graffiti says because I've never been good at making sense of labyrinthine letters, especially if they're in a foreign language. But there's this one tag on Ponte Garibaldi (this is where I started the story)
that makes me smile. I've forgotten to take a picture of it, but maybe a description will be enough. The tag is in red and it says "Mommy." Such an ironic, vulnerable word to see painted by some (I picture) ruffian on a bridge. And I guess the ruffian thought it was a little too vulnerable too, so instead of a normal "y," he gave it a forked trident. Like the devil's. Making mom's all over gush.

2. I just finished teaching a 3-week English course for some architecture students. (I'll talk more about that later.) Their school was located on Via Cavour. As I said, the course is finished, so I don't walk home on Via Cavour anymore, so I don't see this next thing every day anymore, and again, I haven't taken a picture of it, but hopefully the following description will help. I'm walking along on the way to class, looking in shop windows as I go. Fashion is great in Rome, and window shopping is something I do often. Anyway...looking in store, underwear store, men's suit store, and then the hugest shoes I've ever seen in my life store. "Those are big shoes," I think to myself as I step back on the sidewalk to glance at the name. "Big Shoes" the sign says. Why does this make me smile? I can't quite say. Apparently I find humor in irony and obviousness. Why is the sign in English? I don't know that either. Apparently, though, business is booming for Louis, owner of Big Shoes, and he's taken his enormous shoes to the wold wide web:

3. My office is located above the Campo de' Fiori. Every day in the Campo there's a market. Not a cheap market, but a market. For some reason there are many Americans in and around this area of Rome, hence the overpriced produce. The market is not without its merits, however. It's alive every morning with the most colorful fruits, veggies, flowers and people around.

One man has a stall that sells spices. Every day he has to pour his spices from large bags into smaller containers. This makes him sneeze, and his sneezes are even louder than my Papa's once were. (For Non-Windham's read: Louder than anyone who has ever lived. Ever.) And he doesn't sneeze once. He sneezes four, five, six times in succession. With every jarring sneeze, cheers erupt from the other stall owners, and so it goes for the spice pouring process.

The crowd also yells in unison when someone is blocking traffic (because small cars and silent buses(!) can drive through the sides of the market), when something falls and creates a loud racket, when someone does something funny, or for no reason whatsoever. Perhaps if I understood the language I could give better explanations for the nonsensical yelling, but I enjoy the morning chaos as it is. For a while I thought that the stall owners just put on a good show. To give the tourists what they pay for. But the more markets I see and stories I hear, I think that this is the way of the Italians. Loud, entertaining, and willing to make the most out of every situation.

Another group exists in the Campo. These people don't come out until after the market is closed. NB: What follows does not belong in the category of Things that Make Me Smile. This tirade would be better suited for the I'd Rather Poke Myself in the Eye with a Hot Poker Than...column, but I haven't started that one yet. So... I'd rather poke myself in the eye with a hot poker than listen to the musicians of the Campo de' Fiori for another day. Promptly after the market is closed, out they come. Accordians, violins, cellos, harpsichords, singers. Many types of instruments. One playlist. Volare. Somewhere Over the Rainbow. My Way. I'm sure that these people have done loads of market research, and this research has conclusively told them that if you want to squeeze money out of the tourists, My Way and Somewhere Over the Rainbow are the way to go. SO...I'm begging you, American Tourists, demand a change. They won't listen to me if you keep oohing and aahing and dancing and singing and paying and ENJOYING THIS MUSIC THAT THEY PLAY REPEATEDLY EVERY DAY RAIN OR SHINE DIRECTLY BELOW MY WINDOW. please. Maybe request a Beatles tune. Or Brown Eyed Girl. Every American tourist likes that. Right?

And now some pictures.

I get to go on great field trips with my job. This is a picture from an
old Greek temple (yes, Greek. In Italy. It's that old.) in Paestum. Very little restoration work was done to this temple at all. It's just been standing there in a field for thousands of years.

I like to include pictures of Fernet whenever I can. This picture is on the side of the Antico Caffe del Moro, a cafe in Trastevere near our house. I like to call it "Civilizing the natives. One shot of Fernet at a time."

YAY!!! We got a new bird!!
Boo--They must have forgotten to snip
his wings.
His name is Roamy. Or maybe Romy or Rome-y. I'll have to ask Nora. Here he is at the top of our window, making it very difficult to get him back into the cage. Does anyone know how to snip a bird's wings? (I'm looking at you, Swanky.)

Honestly, who can not like graffiti like this?

Sometimes we wear out our dear little Nora. Here she is after walking to the top of the Aventine hill. (It's not really that big.)

Jugs of wine as large as my daughter for a fraction of the cost.

More later. Love you all.