Sunday, June 24, 2007

We've arrived!

This will be a short post--I wanted to thank everyone for your good wishes/karma/thoughts...they must have worked, because the trip went fairly well.

I have, indeed, re-qualified for living saint status once again. My saint name shall now be Our-Lady-of-Airports-Who-Must-Literally-Run-With-Three-Children-in-Tow-in-Order-to-Make-Her-Connecting-Flight. It's a bit of a mouthful, and might be difficult to engrave on the back of a medallion bearing my likeness, but there you have it.

More details later, once jet lag has worn off...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Volare...Oooooh oh!

Sorry I haven't posted in awhile--we're leaving for the U.S. (yay!) tomorrow, so getting ready has been a little crazy. We leave for Venice this afternoon, and we'll spend the night there and then fly out early Thursday morning.

I'm supposed to be packing right now...shhhhh! Here's my not-very-packed suitcase...But I did want to quickly post here to say that I'll still be blogging about life in Italy while I'm with my family this summer. We haven't been back to the U.S. in almost 3 years (!) so I'm sure I'll also blog about American things that I wasn't expecting, too. And I'll definitely post a photo of me hugging my mom's and/or sister's clothes dryer. Fluffy towels, here I come!

A request: Please send good thoughts/karma/chocolate my way, as I'll be traveling alone with my three kids (does it make sense to say "alone" and "with three kids"? Anyway, you know what I mean...). My husband can't take 2 months off of work (poor thing) so he'll join us next month, then we'll all fly back together in August.

I've done this trip before when my daughters were 2 1/2 and 5 1/ they're 5 and 8, and my son is 18-months--the age where you can't say: "Honey, you have to stay buckled up because we're taking off now," or "No, we can't run up and down the aisles because the food cart is coming." I could say these things, of course...but I doubt my son will hear me over the howling tantrum.

After my last trip, I bumped myself up to sainthood status. I called myself: Our Lady of the Skies-Who-Flies-Alone-With-Two-Kids-One-of-Whom-Doesn't-Sit-Still-for-Longer-Than-Two-Minutes. I'll let you know my new, super-duper saint name once I arrive in the U.S....

Monday, June 11, 2007

Avoiding breasts

Spring has been unseasonably hot here in Trieste, which means the Triestini have been hitting the beach in droves. A few weeks ago, we strolled around Barcola, the beach front in Trieste. There's no sand--just a brick boardwalk, then boulders, then the Adriatic. There is a tiny area (la spiagetta) with a little pebble beach instead of boulders where parents with small children can go. There are also a few areas with circular, concrete platforms with ladders that descend into the sea. But if you're sunbathing anywhere else along the waterfront, you've got to scramble over the boulders, say a short prayer, then throw yourself into the sea. It's quite invigorating. (??)

Anyway, as we were walking along Barcola and the kids were clambering up the slide at one of the playgrounds, I thought: These would make some nice photos for my blog. So I took my camera and got to work.

But there was a problem. Breasts.

Every time I lifted my camera to take a shot, someone's breasts were inevitably in the picture. As you may know, many Italians sunbathe topless. Not just sunbathe, actually. People hang out (pun intended) playing cards, sipping cappuccini in the outdoor bars along the beach, swimming and chatting. Half naked.

So my dilemma was how to capture the rugged beauty of Barcola without having an X-rated post. I first looked to my left. Ahhh, the marina. I aim, then lift my camera up, over the breasts, over people's heads, a bit more....aaaannnnnd click:
There it is, the marina against the hills of Trieste, sans breasts. Then comes the can't take photos of Barcola without including the Castello Miramare that juts out into the sea. So again I aim, leaving the topless women out of the photo, replacing them with LOTS of sky. Click.
The playground where we were is under a canopy of giant pine trees, which is where I was standing when this sailboat glided by. After a few tries, here's a shot where some bathers are actually still wearing their tops. Maybe they'd just arrived, who knows.
Here you can also see part of the brick walk, and the tips of a few boulders (one is right behind that guy's knee..the guy who's probably telling the lady beside him that she should take off her top now.)
Trieste doesn't get many American tourists--they all come as far as Venice and then go home. But when they do come, they're fairly easy to spot on the beach, especially the men. They're the ones with the I-can't-believe-my-good-fortune look on their faces.
When I first came to Trieste, I'll admit it was weird to talk to a topless woman on the beach. No matter what we talked about--the weather, politics or where to find the best deals on new sandals--I couldn't help but repeat to myself: This woman isn't wearing a top. This woman isn't wearing a top. This woman isn't wearing a top... And then I'd miss the name of the store with the great deal on sandals. And of course, you have to spend the whole conversation avoiding looking down. Lots of eye contact.
The other day my daughter received a bathing suit for her birthday, and it was a two-piece. The gift-giver said that she knew we'd be in the U.S. this summer, and she'd heard that little girls in America wear tops with their bathing suits. A few other mothers overheard her and their eyes grew wide. "Really?" they asked. "Why would a little girl wear a top?"
Hmmm. I was stumped. Why, indeed?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Are Italian children geniuses?

I'd always known the time would come when I wouldn't be able to help my kids with their homework--when they start taking courses like high school chemistry, for example. So you can imagine my surprise when my ignorance showed up early--this year, in fact. With my 2nd grader. Ouch.

I do speak Italian, although I certainly don't speak like a native. But some things had me stumped this year. In the page below, my daughter divided up sentences into the parts of speech: subject, predicate and "expansion." Maybe it's me admitting my ignorance on a public forum, but I've never heard the term expansion used as a part of a sentence. So when my daughter asked me to help her with her homework, my response was, "Huh?" My daughter looked at me as if to say: "Didn't you learn anything in second grade?"
Luckily, she had the following page in her notebook, explaining that an expansion is the where, when, how and what of the sentence. "Oh," I said, trying to redeem myself in my daughter's eyes. "The expansion is the object of the sentence." She just rolled those eyes and shook her head. "Expansion it is, then," I said.
Then they started diagramming sentences, and naming the function of each word. In the page below, my daughter has written: Una cantante canta, which means "A singer sings." She labeled the subject and predicate, then went on to note that:
Una= indefinite article, feminine, singular (thank God we just have plain 'ol a or an)
cantante (singer)= common noun, feminine, singular (thank God--again--that all our nouns are androgynous)
canta (sings)= verb (later in the year she goes on to add labels like "third person, present tense")
Come on, people--definite vs. indefinite articles in 2nd grade? I don't know about you, but I never did this kind of thing when I was seven.
But that's okay--I know my parts of speech as well as the next Italian mamma, and was able to help her with this homework assignment.
Then came the nouns. Italian nouns that end with an "o" are masculine, and those that end with an "a" are feminine. Usually. But not always. And those exceptions are the ones that the teacher gives for homework, of course, sending me back to the dictionary time after time. By now, my daughter's wondering if I've ever been to school at all.
Then they started learning about the different verb tenses--the next page shows present and future. Again, simple enough--I know these. What I don't know is this crazy past tense called passato remoto that they use for things that happened a looooong time ago. You see it a lot in stories, and it's totally different from the infinitive form of the verb. Northern Italians don't use it when they speak, so I rarely hear it. I know, I know....I should read more.
And then you've got the subjunctive tense, as in: "If I were really fluent in Italian, I wouldn't have to keep running to the dictionary to help my second-grader with her homework." In that sentence, were is in the subjunctive. The only problem is that Italians use this tense for a gazillion other situations that we don't. For example, if I say "She is at home, " or "I think she is at home," I've used "is" in both cases. Not so in Italian. They use the subjunctive for the second sentence, because it expresses doubt. Just like I'm starting to doubt whether I sound half-way intelligent when I speak Italian, because I frequently forget to use the &$%/£* subjunctive tense.

Now, to cement my ignorance even further, I made the mistake of expressing my surprise when my daughter's teacher taught them to write in cursive at the end of 1st grade. When I was a teacher in the U.S., we introduced cursive in 3rd grade. Yup. 3rd grade.
And writing in pen. When did you first write in pen at school? I seem to think it was middle school, if I remember correctly. Here they use a special pen with the ink on one end, and a white-out type tip on the other end for covering up mistakes. And they use this pen for math. Mercy.
So then I get to thinking, why are Italian bambini learning all of this stuff so early? Are they geniuses? And then it hit me: There are no spelling tests in Italian schools.
That's it!
Italian is a phonetically regular language, so what'cha see is what'cha say. American kids have to slog through all of those word families and rules and phonics exercises so they can pass that spelling test every Friday.
Whew! I felt better already. We're not so slow, after all. Italians may have their tricky verbs, but we've got to figure out the difference between threw and through, pair, pare and pear, and ate and eight.
No wonder American kids don't write in pen.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Wrap it up...I'll take it.

Yesterday was our daughter's 8th birthday, and here's a photo of one of the gifts she received: The beauty of this gift is not what's inside (a puzzle)--it's the wrapping.

What's so great about the wrapping? you're probably thinking. Sure, it's gold and sparkly, and topped with a pink bow--just right for an eight-year-old girl who loves all things sparkly and pink.

But the best thing about this gift is the fact that it was gift-wrapped right in the store. For free. All stores do this, not just the outrageously-priced boutiques. No matter how much you spend, or how many hundreds of people are waiting in line behind you, you can always ask for a pachetto regalo--gift-wrapping. And not only that, if you buy a toy that needs batteries, the clerk will open the box, take out the toy, unscrew the battery compartment door, insert the batteries, close the compartment door, make sure the toy works, put the toy back in the box, and gift-wrap it for you.

When I first came to Italy in 1993 as a Kindergarten teacher at the international school here, the school held a student craft fair in December. The kids had to make something for the fair, and the parents would then come and pay big bucks (lire), which would then be donated to charity. So I had to come up with something that 5-year-olds could assemble that would be useful and look somewhat presentable, in a country without mega-craft stores like Michael's or Ben Franklin.

I know! I thought. We'll make...wrapping paper!

So I had my Kindergarteners dip sponges shaped like candy canes, reindeer and trees into red and green paint and make patterns on large sheets of paper.

When the craft fair had come and gone, I had learned three things:
1. Candy canes never made it to Italy.
2. The reindeer aren't big here. In fact, no one's ever even heard of Rudolph.
3. Italians don't wrap their own gifts.

That last point I learned after the 10th parent picked up his child's wrapping paper creation and said, "Oh! Bellissimo! It's...a painting. Of something."

When I explained it was wrapping paper, they just looked at me like: "Why would I want to wrap anything in this?"

So in the end, you may spend 30 minutes finding a parking place outside of the gift shop, another 10 minutes trying to get someone to assist you (that's for another post) and 15 minutes listening to the clerk chat with the customer in front of you about the weather. get your gifts wrapped for free.

I'll take it.