Wednesday, July 23, 2008


We've been back a whole week now, and it feels more like a month.

More good American things I'd forgotten about:

1. customer service--everyone is so friendly here. I went to the bank to have something notarized, and when I learned that the notary guy wasn't in, the bank lady called a nearby branch to make sure the notary was in, then she Yahoo-ed directions to that branch and printed it out, along with the other branch's phone number. And that's not the only example--I could go on. And on.

Italians are friendly, too, just not in shops (unless they know you). I once went to buy a measly pair of tights for my daughter at a shop in Italy. I had my three kids in tow, the youngest of whom was whiny (to put it mildly). I must have waited 5 minutes (which is more like 10 when you factor in the cranky toddler) while the shop keeper blabbed with her friend. During their conversation, I said things to my toddler like: "I'm sure our turn will be soon, honey" in a loud voice, but to no avail. She never once looked my way, or said anything like: I'll be right with you.

Italians are many wonderful things, but public servants they are not.

2. lines--everyone waits in line here. In orderly lines. Patiently. The lines in Italy aren't linear--they're blob-shaped. Waiting in an Italian line is not for the faint-hearted. You need to be quick. You need to pay attention. You need your elbows at the ready. The worst line cutters are the grandmothers. They look innocent, but I am here to tell you they are not. Their grandmotherly (apparent) innocence is their secret weapon. They pretend not to see you (picture a "Who, me?" expression) and while you're off guard, they shout out their coffee order ahead of you.

In a U.S. line, I could be reading a book, and the guy behind me would say, "Excuse me, but aren't you next?" In Italy, I could read War and Peace from cover to cover and still have the line cutters silently stream around me.

And now for some not-so-great things:
1. The Fuzz--not that I'm a fugitive of the law, or anything, but it's a little disconcerting to see policemen everywhere. I don't know about you, but whenever I see a police car while I'm driving, I automatically hit the brakes, even if I'm obeying the speed limit. The other day I was driving during morning rush hour, and there was a cop by the side of the road pointing a big 'ol radar gun my way, his feet planted shoulder-width apart, looking like the sheriff of his own little median strip.

Sure, I used to see Italian policemen, but I've never seen an Italian speed trap. Probably because the policemen are afraid they'd trap their own mothers, since everyone speeds in Italy.

2. Lockdowns--Have you ever heard of those? If you aren't a kid in this post 9-11 era, you probably haven't heard this term in regards to an elementary school. I'm a teacher who will be teaching in a year-round school that starts soon. (I know, it's not even August yet. Tell me about it). We had our first staff meeting the other day, and the principal was going over safety procedures. So we cover fire drills. Fine. Then tornado drills. Okay. Then we cover the procedures to follow if:
a.) there's a threat outside the school (if someone has robbed a home in the neighborhood and is on the loose),
b.) if there's a bio-chemical hazard outside the school, and finally
c.) the lockdown, if there's a threat in the school building. If this happens, we have to lock our classroom doors, draw the blinds, tape paper over the window in the door that leads from the classroom to the hallway, and have the class huddle in the corner furthest from the door.

I don't even know what to say to this. Maybe all of this is necessary in Italy, too, but they don't know it yet? I hate to think of my daughters practicing these drills come September, and asking "Why?".

Suddenly, those Italian grandmothers in the blob-shaped lines don't seem so bad...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

We're back!

We got in last night, and we've been up since 4:00 this morning, but all in all the trip went well.

In the week before we left, I took lots of photos to post about what I'll miss/not miss about Italy, and have now lost my camera. Oy. If it turns up, I'll post the photos. If not, I'll have to resort to a thousand words.

A few first impressions:
1. Air conditioning. Whoa.
2. Soft, fluffy towels. Ahhhh.
3. Three things I'd totally forgotten about: English muffins, cranberry juice, hash browns.
4. TV is everywhere. Even in the customs line in the airport. Which is a good thing when you have a tired 2-year-old. He saw a baseball game on TV, pointed and shouted: "Basketball!" There was also a TV in the hotel breakfast room this morning. A big TV. And no one was talking to anyone. Even we got sucked in, and all that was on was the Washington, D.C. traffic report.

More later...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What I WON'T miss about Italy (post #1)

After getting all misty-eyed over the things I'll miss, it's only fair that I show you what I WON'T miss about life in Italy. Take a look at the photo below. Can you figure out what's going on here?

It might be difficult to see behind the reflection on the windshields, but there aren't any drivers in these cars. They're parked. Note the car all the way on the left, and the car behind it. These cars are parked legally, next to the curb. Fine.

Now look at the middle car up front--the Mercedes. That parking position is what Italians call in seconda, which means it's parked in the second parallel position next to the curb. It's illegal, but you probably won't get a ticket as long as you keep your eye on your car, ready to move it at a moment's notice. This parking technique is often used when Italians dash into a bar to get a coffee.

Look closely and you'll see another car behind the Mercedes. If anyone on the inside wants to get out, all they have to do is lean on their horn, and the owner of the cars in seconda will materialize and move their cars. Or the seconda drivers might leave their cell phone numbers scribbled on a piece of paper left on the dashboard for you to call and tell them to get their cars out of the way.

Now enter our car. The blue one all the way on the right. We went to the beach on this day, and there was no spot in sight. Not even in seconda. So my husband invented a place--in terza, I suppose you could call it. It's literally right in the middle of the road. But it's the perfect spot--we're not blocking anyone in, and there's room for other cars to get by. Illegal? Schmillegal.

I must admit, parking in the middle of the road would have never occurred to me. I've parked on sidewalks, mind you, and in the occasional bus lane. But this time, I would have driven right by this prime parking spot, muttering that all the spaces were filled.

While I admire the Italians for their parking prowess, I yearn for the wide spaces in the Target parking lot. I used to lament when the only free space at the mall on the morning of December 24 was all the way at the end, a kilometer away from the nearest entrance. Now? I'll never curse another American parking lot again.

Monday, July 07, 2008

What I'll miss about Italy (post #3)...

...walking through the citta vecchia (old city), former home of the Ancient Romans.

If you look closely at the lower left of the yellow building in the photo below, you'll see the exposed stone from the original structure. Many older houses leave that peek into the past for all to see. Here's the view of the strip of sky above me, sandwiched by the buildings in the alley:

It still amazes me that people walk these streets every day and don't pause to think about the history that surrounds them. For Italians, 300-year-old buildings are simply part of the landscape.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

What I'll miss about Italy (post #1)... living an hour and a half away from this floating city: ...where boats (although rarely gondolas) are the main form of transportation.

Venice is a dream destination for thousands of people around the world, and yet we can say: "Let's spend the day in Venice." And we have, countless times. The road signs on the autostrada that say: Venezia still strike me as exotic, even if they don't merit a second glance from Italians.

It was the same way for my Italian husband when we lived in Virginia--he used to see Beltway signs for Washington, D.C. and still find it hard to believe that we lived so close to such a famous city. I love Washington, but to my eyes, it can't compare to Venice.