Friday, January 22, 2010

Why I love Itay...

Lana, the kids, and I made a little day-trip to Verona and, after taking a backroute through the city, just happened upon this sight.  The bottom picture is to the left of the top picture and taken from the top of this theater-like thing.  They're both built into the hill and extend upwards for some distance.  What do you think? What is/was it?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Warmth, At Last!

The heater is finally working. I wouldn't say it got fixed. But it is working.

So, for about two weeks, I'd been calling, writing e-mails and dropping by our house "secretary's" flat to find a fix for our broken bedroom heater. Let me share the lovely Italian absurdity with you.

I see the "secretary", il Signor Federico, in the hallway. I take my chance to inform him of my need.
-Mi scusi. The heater in our bedroom is broken.  It isn't putting out any hot air.  Can we have someone come and fix it?
-The what? Where? Oh, okay. Right away.
I was skeptical. He probably wouldn't remember it at all.  It had taken 2 months to get him to get us a new chair for our apartment.  The first time he told me he needed to order one.  The second time he told me he was waiting for it.  And the third time, when I asked if it had come yet, he looked very, very confused and told me we could just have the chair from his apartment, which he promptly carried to our apartment.

So...about 3 days later, I went to the other residence to pay our rent at the other residence. Keenly remembering the last time, I requested again:
-Scusi, our heater does not function. It is broken.  It is very, very cold in our bedroom when we sleep at night. (Notice how much I repeat myself and how I simplify everything to terrifying horrible English in an attempt to get understanding and action).
-Oh, yes? I'm sorry but the man who can fix it is away. You will have to wait until Monday.
-May I have extra blankets since it is so cold?
-Ok. I will have the housekeeper leave one for you at your door.
One? But we are three people...Sigh. For the shock of a lifetime, however, I got
home and there was actually a blanket waiting for me! Hooray. Now at least one of us would be warm enough at night.

Monday came, I had waited the whole weekend expectantly, eager for heat to come with Monday. But Monday came and went and still no repairman. No apology. No nothing. Did I really think that someone would come? Really? Yes, sadly, I still believed that secretaries follow through, that repairmen come, and that heat matters. How American can you get?

Tuesday came and goes. Still nothing. I read a notice that Federico Fantuzzi had gone on "holiday" and would not be available to assist the residents, but if you should need assistance either wait until he returns or e-mail the Accomodation office. "Yes!" I thought.  This is my chance. I can go around Mr. Fantuzzi without being caught! I e-mail them right away. At least I have a chance of someone else hearing my plea. I then experienced the single most un-Italian thing I have ever experienced since coming here...

I got an e-mail response back in 30 minutes. He asked for clarification if it was the heater in the bedroom or living room. I responded quickly and then he again responded an hour later and said that someone would come that day to look at it.

Having learned from the last empty promise, I did not anticipate. I was not expecting an actual man to show up. So when the door bell rang just two hours after I got the e-mail promise, I was very startled and a bit confused at who it could possibly be at the door. But it was "the man" (yes, the legendary man who can fix everything! Dominic really believes that there is a miracle worker--who he refers to simply as "the man"--who can put broken crackers back together, take mold off walls, and make things work again.) He came! He looked at the heater and declared it to be "rotto". Literally, broken. The worst part was that he would not be able to fix it and needed to call another "technico" or so I learned via our interpreter on the other side of a cell phone that we passed back and forth. Would tomorrow be okay? Tomorrow would be perfetto.

Did I think that new man would ever come? No. With a window of "between 2 and 5," something was sure to go wrong. But, I got a phone call in Italian and I understood enough to know that the "technico" was here and coming. Oh my gosh!!! This is it.  We're going to have heat again! I hastily woke up a grumpy Cate and moved her to the other room. I shoved aside the beds and made a nice path to the heater.  He came in and examined the heater. He turned it on and looked at me strangely. "Non funzione?" "It doesn't work?" Lacking words, I simply responded, "Si, e rotto." Since he spoke no English and I speak little Italian, he gestured to me to come over and feel the heater. It was blowing out warm air. Inexplicably, it had begun working. How embarrassing!  But, was broken!  Even the man yesterday said it was! I tried to protest in Italian that I didn't know how it was working. It was broken for two weeks, but I don't think he bought it. He simply thought I was an ignorant and silly American girl wasting his precious time.  


And that is how our heater came to work without actually being fixed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Movie Time

In lieu of anything witty or inspiring, I offer you some video entertainment:

Take the Key and Lock Her Up

Chrstmas Lights!

Amy spikes a good one

Hot Cross Buns

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Did you know?

Not having any inspiration, I have turned to my ever-ready source of comedy once again.  Here we go.

1) Anyone growing up with the classic Bible songs will appreciate Dominic's latest...
"I'm in the Lord's R.V. Yes! I'm in the Lord's R.V. ..."
Now that's a funny mental picture.  I didn't know the Lord traveled around in a recreational vehicle, did you?

 2) Everyone knows the song, "clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere," right?  Dominic sang:
Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere.
Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.
First you pick up all the toys
Then you...
Here he got flustered and changed it to
Then you...get a treat.
Not remembering the next line either, he paused the appropriate amount of time for one line and then made up the words
Then you...get another treat!
I think I like his version better.  Clean up and get a treat.  Clean up and get another treat!  It seems like the perfect way to motivate myself.   

Thursday, January 7, 2010

To Market, to market

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig;
   Home again, home again, dancing a jig.
To market, to market, to buy a fat hog;
   Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

What could explain the Italian lifestyle more aptly than this little Mother Goose rhyme.  Again I go to market, once each day, and still every time I come home, I dance a little jig!  It's hard to just list all the quirks of an Italian shopping trip, so I'll just let you be a fly on the wall during a typical trip to the super-market.

I walk 3 blocks to the store, usually with kids in toe, but sometimes alone.  Upon reaching the parking lot, I decide whether I need a shopping cart (carrello) or shopping part, as Dominic calls it.  If I do, I must insert a euro as a deposit which releases the cart from the others that it's chained to.  If I don't need a shopping cart or can't use one because I'm pushing a stroller, I pick up either a regular plastic basket or a wheeled deeper basket, both conveniently and confusingly also called carrello

First is produce.  The produce department looks like a scaled down version of what we're used to in the US.  But don't you dare reach for any produce with your bare hands unless you want to incur the wrath (or disdain) of your fellow shoppers!  Stop.  You must get a plastic glove and the plastic bag to put the lettuce into.  All right, phew, now you can put it into the bag.  But don't forget to weigh it.  I have to put it on the scale, press the number that corresponds and wait for the label to print out.  I wouldn't recommend forgetting to do this as it will hold up the entire check out line while the cashier glares at you, then runs back to the produce department to print out the label.

Now on to the bread.  Take your pick of freshly baked type 00 bread.  I'm not really sure what "tipo 00" bread (pane) means yet, but it's delicious.  It's best when it's still warm.  Crunchy on the outside and soft of the inside.  I typically pick up a baguette for 57 euro cents and some rolls.   The only trouble is that the bread and produce are in the first part of the store so my basket now has several smashable items on the bottom.  Who designed grocery stores anyway?

All right, now I need to get some lunch meat (carne) and a roasted chicken (pollo da spiedo).  I've finally conquered the deli counter.  It took me 2 1/2 months to even work up the courage to try it!  But I've got it down now.  Not so for the fish counter.  Maybe next week...  So, I grab a number.  Then I loiter in front of the deli cases with the masses, always trying maintain the delicate balance of being close enough to see but far enough to be out of the main traffic, until I see my number flash on the screen or hear it yelled out, if the screen isn't working yet again.  I need to keep my ears perked and the stroller ready.  If I'm not up to the counter in a flash, no go.  They move on to the next person.  Once I got used to it, it's actually very convenient and keeps things moving.  "Hai bisogno?" they ask me.  Literally, "do you have need?"  Umm...yes.  Then I tell them what I want and how many "etti" of it.  (An etto is a tenth of a kilogram, or about 1/4 of a pound, as I just realized.)    I always pray that they don't ask me any questions otherwise I'm usually forced to just repeat my original request or resort to hand gestures.  After getting that, they ask, "poi?"  Literally, "then?"  I say, "vorrei un pollo da spiedo" or, "I'd like a roasted chicken."  After getting that, they ask, "poi?" and I respond, "basta" while making the "that's all" hand gesture (same in Italian).

Moving on.  Next, I go to the refrigerated dairy section for milk, yogurt, and cheese.   Not too difficult.  I just decide if I want whole milk (intero) or skim milk (parzialmente scremata). Yogurt is probably the easiest to choose.  They import German joghurt, but the containers look the same, and they always have pictures of the fruit on themYou can also get chocolate-chip flavored (straciatella) or coffee (caffe) flavored yogurt, if you wish...  Deciding on a cheese can be very overwhelming.  Cheddar doesn't exist.  Stare all I want at the cheeses and their tastes will become no more apparent.  Something with holes probably is a form of swiss.  Anything else, squeeze it gently to see if it's a hard or soft cheese.  Besides that? I see if I can recognize any of the names or I just take a gamble.  Almost all the cheeses we've tried have been delicious.  One nice thing is that in addition to the commercial cheeses, sold in prepackaged wrapping like edamer, asiago, fontal, etc. the deli has a refrigerator section with deli-packaged cheese sections.  They sell an 1/8 of a round of brie or feta or gorgonzola.  They sell wonderful "grateable" cheese like parmigiano reggiano (the real parmesan cheese), grana padana, and pecorino romano, but you'd better own a cheese grater because you hardly ever find any grated cheese, only the hard blocks.  But the cheese graters are amazing here, just like in fancy Italian restaurants. Today I picked out some provolone dolce for sandwiches and a block of the original, authentic parmigiano reggiano (my favorite) for making sauces and sprinkling on anything that might taste better with it (just about everything).

On my first shopping trips, I was so perplexed about eggs.  They're not in the refrigerator section.  Where are they?  I'm not really sure how or why, but they store them on the shelf, next to the "shelf milk".   It's a section with sugar, eggs, milk, and then coffee and tea.  Very strange.  So far we haven't gotten sick, though.  The eggs do have very orange yolks but otherwise they seem perfectly normal.  I prefer the "refrigerator milk" because I'm a little skeptical of what must go into this shelf UHT milk, but it does taste okay if you put in the fridge (room temperature milk still weirds me out).

The kids are getting a little antsy, so I'm going to keep this a short trip.  I'll buy a lot of the other things we need like canned tomatoes, pesto, pasta, boxed juice, and wine at Prix, a discount grocery store across the street.  I maneuver my way to the check out line.  If I have the kids and only a basket of groceries Italians will frequently tell me by their words and gestures to go ahead of them.  I can't tell you how many times I've gotten to skip the lines.  Let's just say that preference for women and children still exists here.   So now there's just one person in front of me.  With Dominic's help, we put everything up on the conveyor belt, being very careful to leave a large space between our groceries and those of the person in front of us.  And, most importantly, as soon as a divider stick is available we immediately put it between our stuff and theirs.  And again, as soon as possible, another one behind our stuff.   I haven't quite figured out the rationale for this but Italians are like hawks about this divider stick.  It's almost like a game that everyone plays--except that no one is aware it's going on.  If their is only a gap of 3 inches between your stuff and theirs they anxiously watch you, wondering when you're going to get it together and grab a divider stick.  Or if they're fed up they might ask you to pass them one, if they're still more brazen they might simply reach over you to get one, and if they're passive-aggressive, they will just re-pile their stuff to be farther from yours.  Are they afraid your groceries might eat theirs?  That the cashier will inadvertently ring up theirs with yours or yours with theirs?  Then what?  Can they not reverse this?  And where are they planning to go in the two minutes it takes to ring up their groceries? Won't they notice if Giovanni's sugar is rung up with their stuff? Or won't Giovanni notice if his lettuce sneaks up to the cashier and is placed in Mariana's bag?  It's bizarre.  But don't forget.  Not unless you want the death stare.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jog.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A few recent "Dominic's"

Here are some pictures of Christmas Eve and Christmas.  After that, I listed a few of the funny things Dominic has been saying lately.

  • We heard Cate screaming a sort of muffled scream.  Matt ran in to check on her and found nothing suspicious.
     M: What's going on in here? What'd you do?
     D: Nothing.  I'm just being her protector.
      It happened again just a minute later.  Matt went in.
     M: What's going on in here?  What happened?
     D: Nothing.  I'm just trying to help her be a good...uh...boy.
  •  After cousin Michael was born, we were discussing this with Dominic.  He told us, Michael came out of Aunt Sarah's belly.  Then Dominic rubbed his belly.  I fully expected Dominic to say something about having a baby in his belly.  Then he started rubbing his chest.  "I have Jesus in my heart. Mommy, you have Jesus in your heart.  Daddy, you do too."  
        • I was chopping up spinach and Dominic was standing on a chair next to me watching.  He kept saying, Mommy, be careful.  You'll chop your fingers off.  I told him, of course I'm being careful.  I have lots of practice and am very careful.  He insisted, Mommy, be careful.  You'll chop your fingers off!  I was having great trouble resisting the urge to laugh at his concern, but I managed to respond by thanking him for his concern, but again, I reiterated, I'm being careful.  I know just how to chop vegetables with sharp knives.  Mommy can do this.  Then he reached out and took my hand (the one without the knife in it) and pulled it away from the spinach.  No Mommy.  You'll chop your fingers off!