Saturday, January 19, 2008

Guten Tag from...Italy, of course!

A few weekends ago we went to a village called Sesto. It's nestled in the Italian Alps (Dolomites) in a region called Alto Adige. Also known as South Tyrol. Also known as Bolzen. Oh, and Bolzano.

Confused? You're not alone. One skiiable mountain divides this Italian region from Austria. After WWI, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire lost this zone to Italy, even though over 90% of its residents spoke German. And still do. They speak German at home, in school, in shops, and will switch to German-accented Italian only when pressed. Signs are both in German and Italian. Here's a local bakery run by the Happacher family. Note which language takes first billing.Reflected in the window is one of those gingerbread-looking houses that are scattered up the mountain-sides and throughout the villages of this region. (It appears that I'm quite the photographer here, doesn't it? But I must say that I didn't even realize there was anything reflected in the window until I looked at the photo a few days later...).

Here's the house where we always stay when we go to Sesto:

The paintings around the windows are also very typical here. Here's a close-up of the front door:

Two things to notice here:

1. Above the door, in German, it says that the house was built in 1698, and rennovated in 1973.

2. The chalk writing on the top of the right-hand door was for the Epiphany--villagers dressed as the Three Wise Men come to everyone's door and leave their initials: G+M+B surrounded by the numbers of the new year, 2008.
It feels like you've stepped into a story book. With good food.

Skiing is the main industry in the winter, and that's just what we did. Although, I use the term "we" loosely. My husband learned to ski in this village when he was a boy, he skis like poetry-in-motion. Whereas I ski more like a third-grader's-essay-on-momentum-in-motion. Which means I hang with our two-year-old while our girls ski with my husband. Usually. Here's a shot from the gondola:

This is my favorite part of skiing...the rifugo at the top of the mountain where you can drink hot chocolate or warm vin brule.

They also had this snow sculpture at the top next to a playground (My kids are the three dressed in snowpants and jackets):

Arrivederci...and Auf Viedersehen!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

In bocca al lupo, times thirteen!

The Italian translation of "good luck" is buona fortuna, but that's not what most Italians say. If I wanted to wish you luck here in Italy, I'd say: In bocca al lupo, which literally means "in the mouth of the wolf." Then you would say: "Crepi!" which means "Die!"

I's a rather strange comeback considering I'm wishing you luck, isn't it? But what we're really saying is this:

Me: You don't really need luck, because you're the kind of person who would come out on top, even if you were to find your head in the jaws of a slobbering, extra mean wolf with bad breath (okay, so I embellished that last part a bit). But just in case, good luck, anyway.

You: If I ever find myself with my head in the mouth of a wolf, may the wolf die instead of me!

It's a bit gothic as far as sentiments go.

But, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish Jay Asher good luck tomorrow! Jay wrote a fantastic book for teens called Thirteen Reasons Why, and tomorrow the the American Library Association will announce the winner and runners-up for the Michael L. Printz award for excellence in Young Adult Literature.

No matter the outcome tomorrow, kudos go to Jay's book for opening up dialogues in schools across the country about teen suicide prevention (check out this latest post on the blog he writes with two other children's authors, Robin Mellom and Eve Porinchak, called the The Disco Mermaids here).

So here's to you, Jay: IN BOCCA AL LUPO! :-)

UPDATE: Thirteen Reasons Why was chosen for three incredible lists by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA):

* Best Books for Young Adults
* Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
* Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults

Congratulazioni, Jay! If you were here, Italian social norms would require that you take everyone out for a celebratory drink, so be glad you're in the U.S.!

(See how effortlessly I weave in children's literature with lessons on life in Italy?? Very smooth.)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Aaaaand it's a wrap.

The holiday season finally ended here in Italy with the Epiphany on January 6. On the night of the 5th, a good witch called La Befana visits Italian bambini as they sleep, leaving gifts. In case you've lost count, that's three--count 'em--three gift-getting occasions for Italian kids in the space of one month (including San Nicolo on December 6, and Christmas). Italian parents are now officially out of money.

If you haven't heard the legend of the Befana, you might want to check out Tomie dePaola's picture book here. But basically, it's the story of a cranky old lady who watches the procession of the Three Kings pass by her door. When a boy tells her that they're on their way to visit a baby king, she decides she doesn't want to miss out. She follows the northern star, but by the time she gets there, the holy family is long gone. (Obviously, showing up late has been a recurring theme in Italian culture for thousands of years...).

Italian children don't put out stockings for Babbo Natale (Santa Claus), but they do for the Befana.

According to legend, the Befana is supposed to sweep up before she leaves. I'm not sure what type of broom she's using, but it's the kind that leaves all the big dust bunnies behind. I'd like to see her update to one of those fancy vacuum cleaners that vacuums up the dust and washes the floors at the same time. Maybe even a rider vacuum (do they have those?).

She's only supposed to sweep the rooms where the children sleep, though. That's January 5, I'll have one kid sleep in the kitchen, one the living room, and the other in the garage.

How about you--are you glad the holidays are over?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Ringing in a Super New Year

Whether your New Year's Eve outfit is a ballgown or a pair of sweats, your underwear should be red, according to Italian tradition. Apparently, it brings luck. It's probably safe to say that quite a few red-underwear-clad Italians did, indeed, get lucky on New Year's Eve.

I'm thinking Superman must have been Italian--perhaps his real name was Clarko Kento?

P.S. Speaking of super men, Happy Birthday to my Dad today!

Tanti Auguri is like saying Best Wishes, and Italians use it for all occasions. They actually say it more often than Buon Compleanno, which means Happy Birthday. In fact, the Italian Happy Birthday song goes like this:

Tanti Auguri a te,

Tanti Auguri a te

Tanti Auguri a Dad (this line doesn't flow as well, does it?)

Tanti Auguri a te!

Happy Birthday, Dad!