Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We're back from the mountains, and had a lovely time. Thanks to everyone who made comments and emailed after my last post. Nice to know you're still out there. :-)

Our Internet connection here is still spotty, so I'll post in small bits. That way, I won't lose posts that have taken, say, 20 minutes to compose, and then vanish after I hit the "post" button. And then maybe I won't have to rip out my hair at the roots in frustration, because I like having hair.

But I disgress.

In the mountains, as in all regions of Italy, flower boxes abound. Even the most crude stone house will have a cheerful box of geraniums adorning its windowsills. But even when the buildings are bursting with flowers, it's still not enough for the Italians.

Check out one of the many woodstacks we saw...

...ready for winter stoves and fireplaces, yet not quite ready to admit that summer will eventually come to an end.

Kind of like me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Welcome to the Cocco Bar!

Hello? (tapping the microphone....) Is anyone still out there? (now blowing into the microphone...)

It's been 18 months since I've posted, so if anyone out there still checks in periodically to see if I'm alive, thank you. :-)

For this first post, I've decided to show you what my 8-year-old daughter picked out at the toy store. Yes, it's the ever-popular....Cocco Bar! Step right up and order a drink with a paper umbrella, 'cause it's Happy Hour for 8-year-olds aaaaaaaaat the Cocco Bar !!!

As I've posted before, bars in Italy are not the same as bars in the U.S. The most-consumed drink in Italian bars is coffee, and there's often a gelateria inside. Very innocent.

But still, when my husband and daughter came home with this, the first words out of my mouth were: "I've got to post this on my blog."

And so I have.

We're off to the mountains for a week without Internet access, so I'll be back next week with another post.

Ciao for now,

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Not guilty...finally!

Since my husband and I are both teachers and have the summers off, we'll be going back to Italy for most of July and August. And thanks to Barack Obama, I can finally return to Italy guilt-free.

I've traveled to many places--over a dozen countries on 5 continents--and everywhere I go, I'm asked about American politics. Italy is no different. Italians love to ask: What do you think of Bush? What about the war in Iraq? Did Iraq really have weapons of mass destruction?

My answers are always the same:
1. Not much.
2. It's awful.
3. Um, I have no idea.

Everyone always begins my interrogation with a smile. After all, here's their chance to talk to a real live American! And ask anything they want to! Hey, Mario, get a load of this--she's American!

Granted, I'm only one person. But this fact seems to get lost somewhere along the way, and by the end of these questioning firing squads, I somehow feel like everything America has ever done wrong is indirectly my fault. Or the collective fault of every American on the planet. Even when I explain that I've never voted for anyone named Bush, people still shake their heads and challenge me with something like: "Why was he re-elected then?"

Answer: Because the U.S. government lets other people vote, not just Natalie. I know, it's shocking, really, that I don't have more power.

But Italians seemed to have gone ga-ga over Obama, so when I return to Italy this summer, I'll do so without any of the Bush-is-our-president guilt. Unless Obama somehow messes up...(for you Americans, I'm knocking on wood, and for you Italians, I'm touching my nose. All of which is not easy while typing this post).

As the Italians say: Speriamo bene--let's hope for the best.

I already am.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

This is our first holiday season back in the States since 2003. After 5 consecutive Italian Christmases, I thought I'd list the top 5 five ways that an Italian Natale differs from an American Christmas:

1. Gift Wrap
In Italy, you can have gifts wrapped for free right at the cash register. Here in the U.S., I had to buy the paper, bows and tags, which I then stored in my basement until Christmas Eve, when the wrapping marathon began. I also had to come up with cunning hiding places for the gifts this year, since one peek into a shopping bag would have given everything away.

2. Speaking of wrapping paper...
I don't know what your family's opening-of-the-gifts routine is, but our Italian and U.S routines are polar opposites. In Italy, Babbo Natale (a.k.a. my father-in-law) visited the house laden with gifts for one and all. As soon as he left, the unwrapping frenzy would commence--paper flying, ooh's and ahh's, people asking to pass the scissors to cut those ribbons that had been expertly tied by shopkeepers. I kid you not, the entire process was over in five minutes. No one paid any attention to who was opening which gift, and it often took a good 15 minutes post-frenzy to figure out who had given which gifts to whom. In contrast, my family in the U.S. always takes turns, one at a time. Even the kids. Everyone ohh's and ahh's, asks for the scissors to be passed (albeit less frequently, since most of us just use quick-and-easy self-adhesive bows). The gift-giver is properly thanked, then we move on to the next gift-opener. Once in awhile, the wrapping paper and the extra-fruffy bows are even saved for another occasion.

3. Christmas Eve
In Italy, most people go to midnight mass, and the gifts are opened afterwards. Having small children, we always went to an earlier mass. It wasn't until we went to the Christmas Eve service this year that I remembered how kid-friendly churches in the U.S. are. The whole service was centered around kids who sang and acted out the story of Christmas Eve. Reading the program for the evening, there were notices about Sunday school and other kids' events. In Italy, they have catechism classes and First Communion prep classes , but not during the mass. Mass is usually very solemn, and there is no Sunday School with its Bible stories and crafts made of felt and Popsicle sticks. If parents want to actually listen to the mass in peace, there is only one solution: grandparents. My father-in-law was always outside the church playing with my kids more than he was inside. (Although I think he actually preferred it that way...)

4. The Nativity Scene
Il presepio is huge in Italy, and all churches and most homes have elaborate Nativity scenes--we're talking fountains with real water, lights, camels on tread mills, the whole works. Most families add one new thing to the scene each year; they start with the basics--the holy family, wise men, all the principal players. Then each year they'll add a man with a cart, a woman and her spinning wheel, a few extra donkeys...the cast is limitless.

We had a modest one in our home in Italy, and had it displayed where the kids couldn't reach it. This year, however, we had nowhere to put it, really, except within reach of the kids. So Mary and Joseph ended up chatting with Spiderman, and they all put on a Cheetah Girls performance, led by my daughters. My 3-year-old son wanted to put the Baby Jesus down for a nap, and he (Baby Jesus) hasn't been seen since. My mother-in-law would be appalled.

5. Christmas Cards
Italians don't send Christmas cards, although I always used to send them. Up until last year, that is. I just ran out of time, and felt surprisingly not guilty about the whole thing. This year I haven't sent any, either, but am reminded everywhere I go that Christmas cards are part of our culture. So for those of you out there who used to get Christmas cards from me, there's still hope...for a January card. Or one in February. Or, you know...sometime after that.

In the meantime...no matter how you celebrated, I hope your holidays were happy!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sick in America

Let me begin this post by declaring this: it is a universal injustice that people who dutifully get their flu shot end up with the flu. I know, there are different strains of the flu virus, blah, blah, blah. Still.

Being sick in America is a bit different than being sick in Italy. Here are some of the major differences:

1. In Italy, doctors still make house calls. Granted, you need to be pretty sick for this to happen. Either that, or have an insistent mother-in-law. Which pretty much covers a good chunk of the population.

Once I had (what turned out to be) strep throat with a fever of about 102. My mother-in-law had brought lunch over and insisted I take my temperature. She then insisted I call the doctor and tell him to come over right away, since it was a blustery January day. He asked what my symptoms were, and then said something like: "Can't you just come in yourself?" to which I answered, "Sure, I can come in." That's when my mother-in-law took over, berating the doctor for not coming over when I'd asked, and making it sound like I was on my death bed.

Long story short (er), he showed up on his motor scooter about 30 minutes later. Under the eagle eye of my mother-in-law, he examined my throat, felt my forehead, and did that awful throat culture thing that makes you gag. When my mother-in-law was out of ear shot, he whispered, "You could have come in, you know." I gave a subtle nod toward my mother-in-law and whispered back, "Yes, I know." He did one of those peripheral glances her way and nodded, as if to say, "I know. I have one of those at home, too."

2. Speaking of throat cultures, the thing the doctor sticks down your throat is called a tampone in Italian. Last month my 9-year-old daughter asked the pediatrician if she had to have a tampone when she had strep throat. Nice. Bless him, he didn't even raise an eyebrow. I taught her the term "throat culture" right there on the spot.

3. Another major difference between being sick in America and ammalata in'Italia is that no one from work stopped by my house to see if I was really sick. In Italy, many employers do this, making it hard to play hooky from work. Hard, but not impossible. They do have the courtesy of telling you when they'll be stopping by--they usually give you a 2-hour window.

4. Lastly, one of the things I appreciate most about being sick in America is prescriptions. In Italy, the directions aren't printed for you on the label. I discovered this the hard way. As the doctor was telling me what the dosage was, I nodded and said, "Si, si, va bene," which translates to: "Okay, okay, just give me the paper so I can get to the pharmacy and put myself out of this misery."

Well, I should have listened. There was no label, and I had to slog through the enclosed pamphlet in Italian and figure out the dosage by weight (in kilos, of course).

But the best part about being sick in America? I have 3 (or is it 5?) words for you:

24-hour drive-thru pharmacy

God Bless America

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Feeling Thankful

This Fall season has flown by. I can't believe Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is only 3 weeks away. Here are a few things we've been thankful for this Fall...

1. Trick-or-Treating in a land of trick-or-treat experts.
For the past 5 years, we had to create our own Halloween in Italy. Sure, the shops were festooned with jack-o-lanterns and witches, but that's where all the orange and bl
ack fun ended. No one actually carves pumpkins or goes trick-or-treating. All the costume fun comes later, during Carnivale.

We started a trick-or-treating tradition with our neighbors, but we had to buy the candy ahead of time, put it into small bags and tie the bags to their doorknobs. That way our kids would get candy even if the neighbors weren't home. And most weren't, because why should they be at 7:30pm, when most people are just getting off work? This year, it was so nice to go door to door and get free candy. For the kids, or course...it all went to the kids.

2. Fall leaves
The most common kind of trees in Trieste seemed to be pine trees. There were other kinds whose names escape me, but very few turned color in the fall. Those who did were beautiful, but their hues were mild, understated. The fall colors here on the east coast of the U.S. took my breath away.

3. Thanksgiving

My Italian relatives have all seen the traditional Turkey-Day dinner in American movies, of course, so they were all excited when the end of November rolled around. This meant that Natalie had to prepare the turkey and all the fixin's herself. Everyone worked on Thanksgiving, so they all showed up right before dinner was served. Italian table manners dictate that you must dive in as soon as the food is set before you (a sign of respect for the food and the cook, because who wants to eat cold food?). No matter how much I planned, I was always slow on the gravy uptake, and my in-laws would inevitably finish the dinner while I was out in the kitchen stirring up the gravy. This meant more gravy for me, however, so it wasn't all bad.

This year we went to my parents' house, and my mom was in charge of the dinner. She would tell my sister and I when to stir this, how much butter we needed to add to that, which we dutifully did while the three of us chatted away. I loved it.

Hope everyone had a peaceful, happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tip for the Dryer-Challenged

Those of you who have followed this blog from its inception know how I feel about doing laundry in Italy. One of things I missed most was my American clothes dryer.

Fluffy clothes.

Warm towels.

Not waiting days for your clothes to dry because it's been raining for the last
week but it's too warm in the house to turn on the radiators and drape your laundry over them.

What's not to love?

So we've been in our home here for about 6 weeks, and I'm loving my clothes dryer. Then about 10 days ago, I notice that the clothes aren't drying like they should. I'd been using the second highest heat setting so as not to ruin our bought-in-Italy clothes that were not made to withstand the high heat of a dryer. But as the days go
on, the loads of laundry are more and more damp at the end of the cycle.

So I ramp it up to high heat. No messing around now--we're talking the Cotton Cycle. I figure the Italian-made clothes will just have to bear the heat or get out of the dryer--with 3 kids, I don't have time to weed out American vs.Italian clothes. The survivors earn a place in our dresser drawers. Those who can't take the heat are destined for the scrap pile.

The Cotton Cycle worked for about 2 days. Then the damp seeped in once again, and I found myself needing to run the clothes through a cycle and a half. Then two. I thought I was destined to have to pay for a new motor, or worse, a whole new dryer.

Then this morning, I went down to take out another load (which was finally dry after the third cycle). I'd forgotten the laundry basket, so I needed to pile the laundry on top of the dryer in order to switch the other set of clothes from the washer to the dryer.

I clear off the top of the dryer (boxes of stuff we haven't unpacked yet), and there it was.

The lint trap door.

The one I'm supposed to be cleaning out after each load.


Now, here's what you probably find in your lint trap:

The lint I heaved out of my lint trap was monstrous. I would post a photo, but we can't find the recharger for our digital camera (it's probably in one of the boxes that was stacked on top of the dryer). But if/when I do, I will add a photo to this post.

I kid you not, the lint is 3 inches thick.

Just goes to show what 5 dryer-less years out of the country can do...