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 traditions...today 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 windows...pet 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.