Sunday, September 27, 2009

Beautiful Venice: City of Wonders

It's a shame. My first glimpse of Venice made me think I was in Disney World. Magical, yes. Crowded, yes. And surreal. So surreal. Disney has certainly tried to recreate the Venetian magic (and succeeded, in some way), but lacks the mystical appeal of being a real place. Sure, Venice lives off tourism. It could not survive without it. But this is a real city, created by people without power tools and the internet.

The narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with picturesque seashell-colored houses. I find myself in the shade provided by the endless vertical swathes of pink, white, coral, ivory, and yellow houses. Gaggles of people gawk everywhere, squeezed elbow to elbow between the markets of the Rialto and the Ruga where you can buy Venezia t-shirts, "Renaissance" masks, Murano glass items, and chili pepper bouquets (see picture). But when you've climbed to the top of the Rialto bridge with the other 500 people, it suddenly doesn't matter that you're not there alone. The Grand Canal is an almost indescribable sight. Water everywhere, bright colors of tall buildings, bridges in marble, shiny black gondolas with singing gondoliers, and cafes everywhere, allowing anyone to sit and enjoy an expensive espresso to top off the marvelous beauty. I shall include a few pictures in an attempt to supplement my inadequate descriptions.

St. Mark's Square, likewise, is extraordinary. After following dozens of signs leading us through the maze of alleys, bridges (all with steps), secret passages, and streets that we swear are dead ends, only to mysteriously lead elsewhere, we arrive at the square for one of the most magnificent basilicas in Europe. St. Mark's. The square itself is immense, bordered by dark, aged columns and stone buildings (old offices and Palace). We witness a parade of veterans (or something) with their flags and music, marching very slowly through the hoard of people gathered there. Making our way to the end of the square against the lagoon, we look up and are amazed to see 3 more unbelievable buildings. What are these?! A city would be proud to have just one of any of these and here, in Venice, we are at the feet of two, and see three on the horizon. Upon consultation with my Rick Steve's guidebook, I see that one is merely the old Customs House and another is a "simple" church!

St. Mark's Basilica itself is the pride of Venice and clearly shows the unbelievable wealth and prosperity that Venice enjoyed as a hub of the trading route for centuries. I heard it said that every expedition from Venice was required to bring something back for the basilica and, as a result it is a masterpiece of opulence and art, almost a vision of how glorious God must be. And that is merely from the outside! A visit to the inside remains for the next trip we make there, with my parents (soon!).

Mostly, we just wandered the streets of Venezia, taking in the old city, observing laundry hanging from a third story window over a canal, seeing a bridge go right to a doorway, wondering why the Gucci, Pucci, and Louis Vuitton stores were on (what seemed to be) an obscure alley way, shooing pigeons away from our (stealth) picnic lunch, figuring out the best way to carry the stroller over the bridges, and deciding on which of the horridly expensive trattorias to eat at. It was lovely. Magical.

And in need of countless more visits.

Here, for pictures.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cate Update

Our little Cate has taken her first steps! Yesterday she took 5 or 6 in a row. So here she is, at 10 months, holding her own. I wanted to capture these on video for all to see before she really takes off and becomes a little girl, toddling after her big brother.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The 3rd Monday in Italy

Today is the first day that I have actually woken up refreshed since we arrived. The two hour nap yesterday coupled with sleeping in this morning (until 7:40 woo-hoo!!) probably account for this. Our little Italian colds have subsided and Cate seems to be interested in nursing during the day again. For a while, she was all mixed up and only wanted to nurse at night. Although she is still waking up frequently at night, there's hope that she's starting to adjust to the new schedule. I never thought it would take her this long!

Monday is just a general housekeeping morning. Grocery stores are only open in the afternoons on Monday (not really sure why, it's just the way they roll, I guess), so I've decided to spend the morning tidying up, doing laundry, getting a grocery list together, and entertaining Dominic while Cate catches a little nap. Dominic seems to like having some order in the apartment, if only so that he can have the pleasure of taking everything apart again.

Immediately after we got up and went out to the living room, he was trying to put his pillow in the drawer, then he handed me his sheet and said, "fold it, Mommy," and started trying to fold up the sofa bed by himself. In a couple minutes we transformed the room from Dominic's bedroom back to a living room. But now, all the cushions are on the floor, making alternately a train and an airplane for my imaginative, albeit toyless, son.

Off to get the wet laundry and hang it on the line...if I can find the missing clothespins (another favorite toy). Here are a few pictures of where I've found clothespins recently.

We were told that these are "happy birthdays" and Dominic pushed Cate away when she tried to touch them, telling her "no, no, it's hot."

This is the USB cord for my camera...

This is the curtain by the door to the terrace. Note, these are just a few of the random places we've found the clothespins. I also found them on the knob of every cupboard (curiously, always facing the same direction), on my shirt sleeves, and on the backs of our kitchen chairs. It's always a mystery where they'll pop up next.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Italian Bureaucracy 101

Just forget about doing anything quickly, or logically, in Italy. Just forget about it. We were mostly prepared for this after our Visa Escapades. Mostly. This entire last week has been sacrificed to the obtaining of the Permesso di Soggiorno or Permit of Stay.

First, we needed to acquire the notorious marriage certificate with the troublesome Apostille that was being sent to us in a Fed Ex package by Mom Gaetano. (Some of you may remember, this is the one that Mom and Dad Plopper applied for in Madison about 1 1/2 months ago!, then they messed that up, the mail lost it, I re-ordered it, they almost failed to match it up correctly, and it was still late, despite expediting, when it came to York the day after we left, Mom Gaetano had to mail it to Padova. Matt also wanted me to mention that this should remind us that these problems are not exclusively Italian.) Padova, however, cannot manage to deliver this package. Matt had to wait from 9:00AM, when, supposedly, there was an attempted delivery on the previous day. Then, after being out there for well over an hour, he asked a random delivery man if he knew about our FedEx package and was told to be waiting outside at 11:30. He was; they didn't come...until well after 12:00, so they claimed. Anyway, no luck. The only number they leave is a fast Italian message. I finally find someone to help me call them, they don't know where the package is, and we're running out of time. Foreigners must present themselves before they have been in Italy for 8 business days, and tomorrow, Tuesday, is the last day.

We go, without it. To where? That's exactly what we wondered. From what we could tell, we needed to go to the post office to obtain a "kit" (pronounced, "keet"). We rush to the local post office at 8:30, hoping to get it so that Matt can still go to class for the day. Nope. You must go to the central post office. Great. So, after waiting for the said Fed Ex package until 12:00, we decide it's not coming. We set off at a fast pace for the central Post Office. We make it there and get the two kits, only to discover that they are near impossible to decipher and that we do not know what to do with them. Having heard about the SAOS office, which assists immigrants in such matters, we set out to find them. We do. Now really begins the frenzied lines and waiting and backtracking of the last week.

At the URP (Ufficio Relazioni Publici or Office of Public Relations), we take a number and wait. And wait and wait. With the kids. Finally Paulita sees us, right as Cate starts to wail. I wait outside while Matt receives hurried instructions about what papers he needs. "Come back on Thursday," she says, "at 9:30." Wednesday is spent by Matt running around on buses, trying to obtain a tax number, and by me, signing a housing contract and making photo copies and getting tobacco stamps (long story!). Hoping to bypass the line at URP, we get there at 9:30, but already 4 people are ahead of us. She sees us after 2 hours, and helps Matt fill out his paperwork. Now we rush to the post office to wait in another line to submit this kit. Oops, wrong line. Start over. At last, after the scrutinizing eyes of the postal workere, his kit is accepted and he gets a receipt (making him legal, although this is not the Permesso di Soggiorno, he must still be finger-printed and then they mail it months later if everything is in order).

Paulita, of the URP, tells us that I must go to the Questura (Police Station) instead of the Post Office to submit my papers. She will meet us there and introduce us. I make more photocopies and buy more tobacco stamps. We go to the Questura half hour early (after going to the wrong place--we weren't given an address. Another long story!). There is a mob of people outside of a locked and barely identified wrought-iron gate, number 8. Are we even at the right place? I call Paulita and tell her we are there, and she tells me she'll be there in 10 minutes. 45 minutes later there is still no sign of Paulita. Finally, we see her on the inside of the gate, admitting people! Oh! She actually works here, too! She nods at us, and we are relieved that she knows that we are there and is going to help us. There is a mob inside too. Everyone is moving around, cutting in line, and pressing forward to be seen first. After an hour of being annoyed (it's hard to "budge" with a stroller), we realize there's no actual line. She simply calls each person when she wants. After two hours, she looks at our papers. Okay, everything is good. Husband, as Paulita refers to him, can go to class.

We wait another hour. Dominic has eaten 3 packs of crackers, 5 cookies, Nemos, and one sippy cup of juice. He has played with books, toy cars, shoes, and clothespins. Paulita tells us we need Matthew's post office receipt. Come back Monday at 8:00 with these copies. Feeling very dejected and like we'd wasted our whole morning, I call Matt. He suggests that he leave class, hop on the bus, get the receipt, make a copy, and return to the Questura while I wait there, preserving our place in line. Ok. I wait. He returns, having accomplished his mission. I'm so proud and excited about my heroic husband! We submit our new papers. Ok. Now you may see the counter. Phew. Almost there. Life can almost get back to normal.

But at the counter they tell me they can only grant a tourist visa for 90 days, not 300. What?! I ask them to ask Paulita (who is behind the counter). They conclude that it is ok, I can get one for 300, but not there. I must take a "keet" and submit it at the Post Office. Then I will get an appointment and return then. I must have looked very peeved and upset because Paulita immediately assured me that she would fill out the kit for me. "Come Tuesday at 2:30," she says. "Then go immediately to the Post Office." Sound familiar? Anyway, Matt and I spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out if there was any point at all to this whole morning... We went to a nice place (Brek) for lunch and the kids were sleeping. A silver lining?

So Tuesday I will go to get my filled-in kit. Then to the Post Office. If everything goes well, we will receive our appointments at the post office, we go to the Questura to have fingerprints done, to wait for the Permesso di Soggiorno to come, maybe before we leave, in the mail.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Markets, Buses, and Rickshaws

Sorry for the strange formatting. Blogger did something to my post and, with such a slow connection, I don't have the time to change it.

The open air markets in Padova are simply splendid. They are open Monday–Saturday mornings in downtown Padova and offer any sort of produce that one could want, just waiting to be bought, bright colors of fruits and vegetables in tidy heaps at each stand—even herb plants (this is where I got my superbly robust basil plant)! Also for sale are bolts of cloth, sewing notions, underwear, t-shirts, purses, and so on. And yet, curiously enough, if you walk by the Piazza Erbe or Frutta, which sit at the feet of the Palazzo del Ragione (Palace of Reason), all you see is a large open empty piazza with perhaps a few tables and lots of pigeons, and the famous palace front.

After the exertion of wandering around aimlessly, Dominic and I had worked up quite an appetite for something tasty. I chose two chocolate cannoli and a brioche (cream-filled roll, I found out, as I tried it). The cannoli were fabulous. I’m not sure why I bought cannoli, actually. I don’t really like them. But these were aaa-mazing. Flaky little pastries (think, very small croissants) with chocolate filling. Not gooey like pudding, not whipped like moose, not sweet like frosting, not hard like a chocolate bar, but just right. If you come to Padova, we will buy you chocolate cannoli. I simply cannot describe them. After I had my first bite of the cannoli, I selfishly decided that Dominic would not care if he had the brioche, and I ate both cannoli myself.

We’ve been in Padova for one week. Today, Saturday, much to Dominic’s supreme delight, we rode the bus to the “mall,” Brentelle. Brentelle houses the giant supermarket/Italian Wal-mart, Interspar (I believe some have actually called it a “hyper-market”), several clothing stores, and various other “mallish” type places. And, just like Wal-mart, going on a Saturday morning was a big mistake. In fact, Interspar might be even worse, since it’s not open on Sundays. But I needed Matt’s help to navigate the bus with the kids for the first time and to once again be the family hoss with all the purchases.

We were seeking an umbrella stroller, cell phones, an alarm clock, sundry kitchen items, and more groceries. I’m sure any new home owners or apartment dwellers can sympathize, but it seems like all we’ve done this first week is shop! We had some success at Interspar, but were limited by deteriorating happiness of the children, wildly chaotic store, and, despite what most think, a limit to my husband’s strength. We did, however, find an umbrella stroller. It wasn’t as cheap as I had hoped it would be. In fact, it was the only one there, so we were lucky to find one at all. It very mod-pod looking, and I have begun to refer to it as Cate’s rickshaw. Seriously, take a look at the picture. Am I wrong?

While we gave up on Interspar before we got everything, I did manage to snag an awesome cheese grater, one of those white ones that fancy Italian restaurants use, and I purchased some authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano (I had to do some research on this, that’ll be a post for later) to make my pasta sauce. It grates cheese like a dream. This will be a great souvenir, I tell myself as I shell out more euro for kitchen “essentials” (grated cheese is not very common here).

Here are a few Dominic Stories from the last week:

1) We stopped by the church near us to see if it was open. It was not. After Dominic sees me unsuccessfully try to open it, he announces, “I need keys.” And then asks me, “You have ‘em, Mommy?”

2) Dominic loves to press the elevator buttons. We live on floor 6 and the ground floor, is “zeerio.”

3) Preface: in our home, we refer to kisses as “power,” a practice I started to make good night and good morning kisses more exciting when Dominic was losing interest.

Now, Dominic wanted to watch Jimminy Cricket on Mommy’s computer. I told him that we couldn’t because my computer needed power. He proceeded, without any prompting, to kiss the computer. J

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Days 2-6

Has it really been six days already?! Mama Mia!

Our bags are unpacked and everything is finally put away. It always seems like a daunting task to get things in order with children under foot. The best time to put things away undisturbed is, of course, when they are sleeping. They, however, are sleeping in the bedroom, where, yes, all the clothes go. I can now take pictures for everyone to see our new "domicilio". Actually, it's a video tour, in two parts. How high tech, I know.

On Sunday, I was totally depressed. It was a horrid night's sleep with the kids and Matt still being jet-lagged. Somehow, I made it past jet-lag pretty quickly, but have had to suffer the side-effects of everyone else's. I tried to go to mass, but didn't know the correct times. I actually went too early (9:00) and was very intimidated by the large crowd of people eating and talking with great gusto at the picnic tables next to the church. So, I must confess, that in addition to Matt's being tired beyond safely being left with the kids, I was deterred from returning this week. I think Matt ended up sleeping until 3:00 that afternoon.

The worst part about Sunday, however, was that I was so hungry. All day. See, we had gone out for pizza in the city centre the night before (a very delightful meal, outdoors, on the cobblestone street, in the shadow of a great statue of Cavour), and neglected to go to the grocery store again. So on Sunday, not only were all the restaurants closed, but all the grocery stores were closed. What were we going to do? I had snacks for the kids and baby food...but nothing for Matt and I. He would just sleep through it while I waited in misery. Being roused from his slumber by my despair, he pulled himself together, and we went looking for anything that might be open. After walking 3/4 mile, we found a Famiglia Pizza (conveniently next to a gelateria) which was just opening. He made pizzas just for us! A really nice man, we had a little conversation in broken Italian/English and had happy tummy's. Also, as a reward for Dominic's excellent progress in potty training we had some strawberry gelato (ice cream).

Monday, Matt began Italian class at the Bertrand Russell school, in the center. It's about a 35 minute walk. It went pretty well, although he definitely has to stay on his toes because almost all the instruction is in (fast) Italian with an impatient teacher. He seemed much more comfortable trying to communicate in Italian even after that first day. We try to practice at night when he comes home. There is certainly more urgency in learning the language now that we are here and need to use it every day! He came home right after class and helped me load up on groceries and household things. You'd be proud. He was a regular pack horse! We loaded him up with the backpacking backpack and he carried all the stuff while I pushed the stroller and carried a smaller bag.

Well, I guess the rest will have to wait. The internet is really slow here...those video uploads took almost all night to finish, so I lost a lot of time and energy! More later.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Day 1: Arrival

All in all, the flights over here went surprisingly well. We were worried because our seats were not together. I was in the bulkhead with the infant cot and the two kids and Matt was behind us, in the middle. At check-in, however, we inquired about this and they upgraded us to economy premium, all together. That was really nice. Did it promise good fortune to come?

Cate had about an hour of irritability from pre-boarding until after takeoff, but calmed down with the aid of Tylenol and then slept like a champ for most of the flight. Dominic was so excited, he just sat in his seat and said, "buckle up!" His little melt-down came upon our arrival in Venice, when he had to get off the airplane. "More plane!" "More sit in airplane". "Please (dramatic whining here)!!" The promise of a shuttle ("bus"..."big bus") ride soon calmed him down, though, and we were off to collect our bags and begin the final leg of our very long journey. We collected all our belongings without too much trouble. The bubble wrap did its job and our very expensive stroller made it safely through all the handling. It's a good thing we did wrap it, though, because the red canvas bag had a big hole in it. That could have been the stroller! The only mishap was a torn handle on one of the smaller bags. I'm sure we will survive.

We found the shuttle just fine and about an hour later we arrived safely in Padova. Here we had a bit of local "fun". Fortunately, we were able to recognize Residenza Galileo from the picture we had seen, so we at least we knew we were at the right place; the signs were miniscule, however, and neither the said office nor the said manager was anywhere to be found. So there we were, four of us and nine bags, standing on the sidewalk in front of the building, unable to get inside and unable to figure out who to call. Unexpectedly finding some courage, when I see three students going inside, I stop one of them and ask, apologizing profusely for my horrible Italian, "manager?" "office?" He tells me, "sei, zero, uno". Matt follows them in and goes up to the sixth floor, hoping this solves all our problems. As our luck would have it, the manager is not in.

A Bangladeshi (Bengali?) family is just going into our building and the woman asks me if we need help. I tell her that I'm looking for the office manager because we need our keys. She tells me she has the number for his office, and asks if I have a "mo-byle," when I tell her that I don't have one, she offers to me that I should follow her in. She knows somebody who has a phone. I follow her in, she knocks on someone's door.

Ellie, a Philippino, answers. A phone? Sure, of course. Come in. You must be tired. Sit down. Would you like something to drink? Really, you must be thirsty. Here, have some water. What's your name. What's your baby's name? Oh, you need to call Ivan, at the University... Here, let me call my friend. We always call him when we need to contact them.

Down Juan Miguel comes. He's just full of questions and help. What is your name? You need your keys? Okay sure, I will call right away. He (another Philippino) comes down to Ellie's room, introduces himself and calls the office. He says he'll come over in a few minutes and meet you in Ellie's room. I ask them if it would be all right for Matt and Dominic to come up too, since he's meeting us there. They apologize profusely for not offering earlier. Do they need help carrying things? Juan Miguel jumps up to go get them and help them with our stuff. Ivan meets us there within the keys and in about 20 minutes we are in our apartment. Very nice people around here! That's a good sign.

Since then, we've been trying to unpack and get settled in. I found the local grocery store and made our first meal. Pasta, prosciutto, zucchini, and pomodoro (tomato). It would have been better if I could have found garlic, salt, and pepper and the grocery store, Billa. Next time.

The apartment is decently equipped. It has a big pot and a sauce pan, 4 sets of plates and cups, and, of course, since we are in Italy, wine glasses and espresso mugs. We have a long list of things we'll need to complete the apartment, especially, the kitchen, but it's better than we thought it would be. It even has a mini dishwasher. I wish it were a microwave, but it's nice to have one, I guess. We're still trying to figure out the best sleeping arrangement with the two kids. They're both exhausted from the trip and totally off their schedules. Matt and I spent most of the night rubbing Dominic's back and keeping him quiet so that Cate could get some more tylenol-induced sleep. We're trading naps for now, but hope that soon we'll settle into a workable arrangement.

Well, more will come later, including some pictures, but I hope that calms any anxiety you may have had and gives you an idea of where we are in our voyage.

Love you all!


Residenza Galileo
Nr. 606
9/16 Via A. Magarotto
35136 Padova, ITALY