Tag: Italy

18Nov

Arpeggios

It’s that month again. A cough here, a drippy nose there, and then increasingly miserable viruses playing arpeggios on our lungs until spring. Poor Dan and Natalie always get the worst of it… bronchitis… ear infections… antibiotics and nebulizers and mountains of damp tissues. I usually weather through the mess with the special dispensation granted to mothers, but this past weekend knocked me flat. My personal cold settled in with a sonic-boom headache, and at first, I felt pretty trendy—finally joining the ranks of migraine sufferers and all—but spending the whole day in bed is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds. Especially when your own head is staging a coup d’état.

After a rush of writing productivity last week, I’ve been melting into the couch… playing a lot of Lego Indiana Jones, watching a lot of “Alias” re-runs, and pretending I don’t notice November sneaking by. Thanksgiving #1 is this coming weekend, and I am not ready for it. In the States, we always invited over college students and friends with no where to go for a feast and games; it was always a special and relaxing day. Even last year, for our first Thanksgiving in Italy, I cooked the traditional meal for a large extended family who had taken us in, and we had a fantastic time. However, I’m dragging my feet this year… maybe because of lingering sickness, but more probably because I’m reluctant to face the stark reality of a whole year gone. Time moves quite a bit faster than I do now.

Blah, blah. I’m sorry, it must the head cold talking. Have I told you about my new dishwasher yet? (Love.) Or that all-from-scratch pumpkin pie with dark caramel sauce and swirly whipped cream is on the menu for Saturday? Or how Sophie travels the house all day long finding books and toiletries and DVDs and dishes and laundry and dust bunnies to bestow on me? (With creation’s cutest smile, of course.) Or that I found strawberry-mango tea and Southern Comfort in the same grocery trip? Or how my sweet husband cooked for me all weekend, including a scrumptious Greek dinner? Or about the possibility of a girls’ night out next week (the first I have taken in… um, two years? for reasons entirely my own fault). Or about Natalie’s hugs?

So many things to be thankful for… even head colds, which help me slow down and inspire Greek cuisine and draw our dear little family together under blankets and heaps of love.

Handy considering it’s that month again!

28Oct

Comfy Orange Photos

It’s fall, which means:

EuroChocolate

The EuroChocolate festival downtown.

Walnuts

Tough nuts to crack.

Multi-colored leaves

Trees putting on a strip show outside my window.

Mashed potato candle and books

My favorite Buttered Mashed Potatoes candle and classic books.

Luna Park

Evening trips to the Luna Park for some dizzy, colorful fun.

Orange flowers

Orange flowers, orange ribbon, orange pot.

Pocket Coffee

A candy dish well stocked with Pocket Coffee and Lindt Halloween truffles (which are quickly disappearing!).

Red scarf

Jackets and scarves galore.

Italy's largest pumpkin

A riotously large pumpkin waiting to become fudge, pie, and bread. (Also, in the back, fresh pomegranates, mandarins, and kiwi.)

Pumpkin spice latte

Deliciousness abounding.

Mischievous

Three days ’til this one’s birthday!

9Sep

Doctor Popeye

The public health system here is fantastic in that it only costs pennies compared to what you’d spend in the great US of A. Pediatrics, obstetrics, geriatrics, emergencies, and general practitioner’s visits are completely free, while other medical care requires only a small fee comparable to most American co-pays. (And, to assure anyone who has the same doubts I did upon moving here, Italian doctors are up-to-date medically. They might have a few different philosophies on medicine—i.e. painkillers should make pain tolerable, not erase it completely—but they do know what they are doing, and they do it well.) So, fantastic!

The only real downside is that the public health system here was designed by hamsters. Here, for instance, is what goes into a typical doctor’s visit:
You call your doctor to make an appointment.
You show up, pick a number, and wait your turn.
You visit with the doctor, who gives you a prescription for blood work.
You go to the public health office, pick a number, and wait your turn.
You give them your prescription and receive an appointment to get your blood taken.
You go to the testing center on your appointment date, pick a number, and wait your turn.
You show your prescription to the person at the window who stamps it so you can pay.
You walk to another office, pick a number, and wait your turn.
You pay the fee (oh so tiny, glory be!) and get a receipt.
You walk back to the testing center, pick a number, and wait your turn (catching a theme yet?).
You show them your receipt and are given a new number.
You wait your turn.
You are called back, have your blood taken, and are given a receipt.
You return to the testing center the next week, show them your receipt, and get your blood test results.
You make another appointment with your doctor to discuss the results.
You race around a wheel seventy-nine times and scurry off to bury your head in the sawdust.
Etc.

I won’t even tell you what went into our dentist appointment yesterday because you would cry, and enough tears have been shed on that account already. Suffice it to say that you have to learn (Bethany, are you listening?) to give up the American ideals of efficiency and fast results and just accept Italy for what it is: laid-back. (I am still writhing from a profound sense of bureaucratic chaos that I insist on taking personally, and I want to tell you that “laid-back” is just a euphemism for “lazy,” and I want all those government employees who are enjoying their espressos on company time to feel the depths of my frustration toward them. But honestly, I love living in a country where dreary jobs come with sunny coffee breaks and long lunches and built-in naptimes. Italians have mastered the art of relaxation, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Truly.)

So all this has just been a prelude to the fact that 1 ½ months after calling the doctor, we finally have an idea of what’s been causing my unmanageable fatigue: anemia. It’s not much of a surprise, as I’ve always hovered near the low end of healthy and I’ve leaned further and further toward vegetarian—or chickentarian, you could say—in the last year. So there it is. For just over a week now, I’ve been taking iron tablets that taste like compressed leaves, and the difference is incredible. Is normal always this glorious? Because the freedom to have good and bad days instead of bad and worse is making me a little giddy.

Less than one week with Natalie all to myself, and I finally have the energy to play with her, come up with special starting-school rituals, and hop over to the playground to help her meet new friends… all the while keeping the house in decent shape, going out with friends, signing up for Pilates (!), and writing up a storm. It’s kind of like I’m a real person again.

So thank you all for your kindness and sympathy while I was trying to figure out the mushy liquid my brain had become; misery doesn’t just love company, it needs company. Yes, you deserve a heaping bowlful of thanks. And also, if you’re feeling chronically tired (Bethany, are you listening?)… Eat your spinach. That Popeye was onto something.

3Sep

Foundations

The first time I visited Rome was at night. We stepped off the Metro, and there, pulling the dizzy swoop of headlights into its shadows, was the Colosseum. I wasn’t expecting it… at least not right there, looming on the corner of an intersection like a monumental affront to traffic. It stole my breath.

Colosseum and Constantine's Arch by night

We chartered our own starry-eyed adventure—a right here, then a left, then a hop-skip-jump through this piazza. Jutting cobblestones and spindly alleyways were poems in the moonlight; you should know that Dean Martin’s “Evening in Roma” captures only a hint of the romance that lights the city after hours. It was the perfect Valentine’s getaway, oo la la and all.

Trevi Fountain waterfalls

So when we returned this last weekend, strollers and juice boxes and sunscreen in tow, I expected Rome’s beauty would fall a little flat. There’s only so much glamour to old rocks when you’re rummaging through sweaty backpacks for the baby formula… or so I thought. Turns out, I was delightfully wrong.

The Appian Way - cobblestones

We started with the Old Appian Way, a road almost unbearably quaint and dotted with as many tombs as cypresses. Stone walls jutted out of the ground, just a whiff of the villas and mausoleums that used to reign over the road, and we peeked into a few crumbling structures to see steps leading down into the Catacombs. For an imagination junkie raised on stories of Sparatacus and martyred Christians, this place was a fairytale come true.

Ruins on the Appian Way 1

We picnicked in a half-hidden sacred field—shhh, don’t tell!—then walked from the pyramid toward Rome’s pulsing center. (Did you know Rome had a pyramid? I did not until it was suddenly there, shooting out of a million-way intersection.) One moment, we were on a roomy residential street; the next, we were racing strollers through the Circus Maximus (where charioteers once tried to kill Ben Hur*) with the imperial palace ruins filling the sky ahead.

Circus Maximus 1

From there on, each new wonder was overshadowed by the next. Constantine’s Arch, the Colosseum, the relatively modern monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, the shockingly ancient Roman Forum. It felt similar to entering the Louvre and seeing its incredible art life-size in front of me, except that each Roman structure was a hundred times the size of life, and then a hundred times more. It felt like trespassing on the celebrities of history.

 Colosseum ruins 1

The girls are still too young to understand the significance of this old world around them, but I like to think they absorbed a bit of the beauty. It would be impossible not to. And if nothing else, we fed off of each other’s excitement—mine and Dan’s at the thousand-year-old marble, Natalie’s and Sophie’s at the hours-old sunlight. We giggled and munched potato chips on a gnarled hilltop, and I found myself awestruck by us, the four of us, alive and adventuring together, laying our own foundation. And something told me that one day, not too many millennia from now, we will tip-toe back through the cobblestones and cypresses and sticky-fingers and strollers and whisper, “Wow.”

Gorgeous Natalie of Trevi

 

* I’m all for historical accuracy here.

24Aug

On The Topic Of Cleavage LIVE!

I was sludging through the dishes tonight when a game show, “Ciao Darwin: The Missing Link,” came on. And even though I so wanted to finish the dishes, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to live-blog a real Italian game show for you. It is an experience not to be missed. [Warning: If you are offended by cleavage, bothered by cleavage, insecure in your own cleavage, or adverse in any way to the topic of cleavage, you might want to stop here.]

So. By way of comparison, Italian game shows are very similar to nothing else on earth. Okay, maybe a violent sneeze draped in wet paint superimposed over a train wreck of french-fried cleavage.

Tonight’s theme was Micro vs. Macro. Contestants were chosen from a group of short/small people and a group with larger features—height, width, and in one man’s case, a Santa Clause handlebar beard stretching like whiskery wings past his shoulders. When I started watching, the Micro contestant was a mid-pubescent boy and his rival was a woman whose chestal region provided her Macro status.

Ready?

Fabulous!

 

10:16p – The contestants are led to a stage full of showgirls dancing in tie-dye bikinis, mini-skirts, bell-bottoms, and leather headbands. Half of the world’s total cleavage is present and being zoomed in upon by the cameras. Disco music is blazing, and the contestants must guess the decade being depicted.
Micro: “Uh…” (He may be unclear as to the term “decade,” being born in such a recent one.) “60s?”
The host, a boisterous middle-aged man already having a great time: “NO! MACRO!”
Macro: (Adjusting her cleavage) “90s?”
The host: “NO! MICRO!”
Micro: “Uh, 80s?”
The host: “NO!” He is thoroughly enjoying himself. “MACRO!”
Macro: (Giggling) “40s?”
The host: “NO! MICRO!”
Micro: “50s?”
The host: “NO!”

10:17p – Clearly, the contestants are screwed now, as all the possible decades in all the annals of history have already been guessed. The host seems prepared for this possibility and gives them hints until someone finally shouts “70s!!” To celebrate the triumph of reason, showgirls dance.

10:18p – On to the next task! The contestants race to get into a sack with a hippie (get it?) and then bob for apples. Macro’s cleavage keeps getting in the way, so she just cheats. Micro wins anyway.

10:19p – The camera zooms in on several prominent instances of cleavage.

10:20p – Now, the contestants must identify the band shown in a black-and-white clip playing “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Micro guesses “The Rolling Stones.” Macro is slightly closer: “The Beachies?”

10:21p – Once they have narrowed the band down to the Beatles, the contestants must list the band members. Oh boy.
Micro: (Voice cracking from excitement) “John Lennon!”
The crowd goes wild, but their enthusiasm is short-lived as both contestants have already given up on the rest.
The host, always helpful: “Paul…”
Macro: “Paul Cruise!”
The host, helpfully cracking up: “Or maybe you’ve heard of Ringo…”
Macro: “Ringo Rosto!”
The host: “Or what about George…”
Micro: “George… Clooney!”
The host, composing himself: “No, not Clooney, no. Here’s a hint: Harrison Ford.”
Macro: “OH! George Ford!”

10:22p – Cleavage!

10:23p – They begin to play a hippie hybrid of musical chairs and hot potato: when the music stops, they have to drink a beer that has been shaken with great vigor (and detailed camera angles) by the busty showgirls. Macro steals Micro’s beer, but he gets the point anyway.

10:26p – Micro, resplendent in a 4-foot-high afro wig, sings the worst rendeition of “Yesterday” that has ever been butchered by an adolescent male. Half of the audience sustains internal injuries from laughing.

10:27p – A group of cleavage and its owners prance to Macro’s version of “Yellow Submarine,” which greatly resembles the call of a horny sea lion.

10:29p – The camera zooms up under multiple mini-skirts as the showgirls dance Saturday Night Fever style; for the moment, cleavage is forgotten.

10:30p – That moment is past. Viva la cleavage!

10:31p – The contestants have to bounce across the stage on those giant rubber balls that people occasionally buy when suffering from delusions of fitness. Macro’s pops immediately under the weight of her cleavage.

Ciao Darwin 2

10:32p – Cleavage!

10:33p – Cleavage!

10:33p and 20 seconds – Cleavage!

10:34p – Macro’s rubber ball pops. AGAIN. The host remarks, “I wouldn’t want to be the guy under you!”

10:35p – The contestants must guess the title of a certain song which goes like this: “Chi sarà? Chi sarà? Chi sarà? Chi sarà?” Micro correctly guesses: “Chi sarà?”

10:36p – The contestants are now racing on razor scooters while holding guitars. Macro’s cleavage seems to be steering.

10:37p – The host: “I’m getting really tired; I need someplace to lean.” That someplace is Macro’s cleavage. Yes, seriously.

10:38p – Commercial! A couple is making out with each other and with jumbo shrimp, which is incidentally also hanging out in the wife’s cleavage. Possibly groping. If you learn anything after a year here, it’s that Italian food commercials have a lot in common with porn.

10:40p – 12:29a – I start to zone out and only catch bits and pieces of the rest of the show, which involves:

  • An air band performing Earth, Wind & Fire songs
  • Showgirls dancing to Earth, Wind & Fire songs in glittery fringed miniskirts
  • The host showing off his pet snake (I do mean that literally)
  • Showgirls dancing in lingerie, some of which includes gold sequined nursing pads
  • Female contestants in their underwear escaping from tanks of hungry eels
  • A tall/short fashion show. Of underwear.
  • A man in the audience scoping out the thong action with binoculars
  • Showgirls dancing in a conga line around the room draped in feathers
  • A ménage à trois dance routing featuring—what else? cleavage
  • Contestants locked in giant tanks which fill with water when they answer questions wrong
  • A thongskirt
  • Me falling asleep because the show was supposed to end half an hour ago
17Aug

2008 Summer Olympics LIVE!

The 2008 Summer Olympics are continuing to hurtle ahead at full speed, but only the infuriating sports are on Italian TV today—indoor cycling, fencing, the news. In an attempt to alleviate my own frustration AND shock you with my lack of sports expertise, I bring you my very first Olympic Live-Blog. You’re welcome.

***

12:25p – The Russian Federation and Italy are duking it out on the fencing stage, and I am feeling ready to stab someone myself. Their costumes look like they haven’t been washed since Medieval times, and their helmets keep buzzing with neon lights like a cheap honky-tonk. I know absolutely nothing about fencing except that the word “foil” is used occasionally and the points are determined by a space chimp suffering from ADHD, so maybe this will be a good learning experience for me. Positivity!

12:26p – What I’ve learned: Fencing is basically a violent form of “Hokey-Pokey”: You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out, you put your right foot in and STAB STAB STAB.

12:26p and 10 seconds – The players (fighters? rabid astronauts?) fly away from each other as if magnetically charged. Each of them seems to think he has won.

12:26p and 15 seconds – The match stops again on account of them both thinking they’ve scored.

12:26p and 21 seconds – Oy, this is getting old.

12:28p – I should really change my name to the Bethian Federation.

12:34p – Italy is upset. Seems that the new technological improvement of slow-motion replays is “subjective” and “unfair” and “tainting the beautiful art of fencing.” I suspect this is because it allowed the referee to see Italy losing. In slow-motion.

12:36p – The players are having their wires adjusted. I have a hard time seeing the problem with steroid use or transvestites when there are bionic athletes running around in dirty space suits stabbing each other.

12:39p – Something exciting has happened! Looks like the Italian contestant tried to tackle the Russian one but immediately jumped away with his hands up à la EVERY SOCCER PLAYER IN THE COUNTRY as if to declare his innocence. Unfortunately for him, the ref has slow-motion replay at his disposal and is not fooled. Side note: Fencing should be a full-contact sport; it would be vastly more interesting.

12:43p – One of the players is hitting himself in the head. In slow motion.

12:44p – This match seems to have degenerated into ballet. There are immoderate amounts of leaping, and I think the Italian has actually performed a pirouette. (Next up: Swan Lake, with machetes!)

12:47p – The stadium has just exploded. Italy has won the gold bronze in a final score turnaround of 45 to 44. The Italian player is alternately being tackled by ecstatic coaches and made out with by an ecstatic girlfriend. Better yet, as a result of all this excitement, the television commentator has finally raised his tone from comatose to audible!! I, personally, am just happy that the fencing is finally over. I’m ready to see glittery costumes and backwards somersaults and ponder the mystery that is rosin.

12:56p – The morning-sickness commercial is playing. It is for a ritzy brand of olive oil, which a pregnant woman is slathering onto her belly, then slopping up with a spongey bit of mozzarella. Excuse me while I go throw up forever.

1:00p – Oh happy day! Dan has just discovered an online channel that shows actual gymnastics—the first I’ve seen yet these Olympics. (Nastia who?) The Swiss contestant’s leotard is an enormous butterfly, and I think that fact alone has solidified gymnastics as a career choice for Natalie.

1:03p – The gymnast is running and glittering in her butterfly glory and jumping, and all is right with the world again—

1:03p and 5 seconds – Fencing. They switched back to fencing. IN THE MIDDLE OF HER JUMP. I can’t take any more of this.

***

I caught snatches of Olympic coverage over the following hour, like the newswoman staring blankly into the camera for several minutes and Dan choking as the 100 meter hurdles winner was referred to as “one quarter redskin!” (The next winner was “black like ebony, very, very black!” Oh political correctness, wherefore art thou?) It’s a little disappointing to watch the Olympics in a country that doesn’t worship Michael Phelps or provide coverage during prime time or EVER SHOW GYMNASTICS or feature those endearing vignettes about athletes’ difficult childhoods (“Her dreams of fencing began to crumble when she was diagnosed with chronic good sense, but she refused to let that stop her…”). But you know? I’d take this over Bob Costas any day.

The End

14Aug

As Easy As

Monday, August 11: Day 4 of Vacation (Day 3 here)

“Good morning!” Dan began. “Want to ride bikes to the beach?”

“Sure!” I answered, because 1) I tend to lack common sense among other brain functions first thing in the morning, 2) My husband has a way of bringing out the lunatic in me, and 3) I didn’t realize that the beach was 20 kilometers away, an island called Lido orbiting the far side of Venice.

Map of our bike ride

We got through the rigmarole of finding the beach towels, piling prosciutto on bread, and bathing in SPF 4,000 and set off just as the streets began to sizzle. At first, we wound through lazy neighborhoods, past bakeries and stationary shops and bars all closed for vacation, breathing in the singular thrill of morning. We turned down a long avenue with its own bike path—double lanes!—and a sidewalk for the hundreds of perky dogs taking their owners for a walk. It was beautiful and relaxing, as easy as waking up one pedal at a time.

Daniel and Natalie setting out for Lido


Sophie and Bethany setting out for Lido

BUT. Of course there had to be one, and this particular BUT was a doozie. The straight tree-lined path ended, and I found myself swerving through a roundabout—those navigational horrors of European driving that only begin to feel natural once you accept that the other cars will veer into your lane without warning. And then a sudden bridge, far steeper than I expected, and oh my god, we’re on a highway, OH MY GOD, WE’RE ON A HIGHWAY AND IS THAT A BUS? A BUS, A BUS!! SPEEDING THREE INCHES FROM MY HANDLEBARS?! ARE YOU KIDDING, WE HAVE TO CROSS THIS INTERCHANGE, AND HOLY GUACAMOLE HERE’S ANOTHER BUS!!!!!!!!!!

Surviving the highway

My life, it flashed. Sophie babbled happily behind me as I gripped the lifeblood out of my handlebars and practiced Lamaze breathing techniques all the way down a gravelly merge lane and onto the second terrifying highway. I have never felt so close to death for such an extended period before, even though the bus drivers were exceedingly courteous in that not one of them ran us over.

Bethany's a survivor

And then Death got distracted by something more interesting, a drunk hang-glider or perhaps a Qantas jet taking off, and we were finally on the infinite bridge to Venice—long and arrow-straight and glory of glories, equipped with a bike path. I know by this point, you’re getting bored and thinking So are they ever going to get there?, and believe me, I was wondering the same thing as the bridge stretched on in front of us. And on. And then on some more. And then once we miraculously reached the end of it, there were still two mammoth hills between us and the ferry, and a mile to ride once we got off the ferry, and hunger and sweat and my butt weeping in pain…

…but make it we did. I have never been so grateful to lie down in a big pile of hot sand surrounded by topless grandmas and diminutive Speedos. We had our inevitable beach disasters—Sophie catapulting herself into the sea and Natalie disappearing (and my resulting coronary, of course)—but our time there as a whole was deliciously serene. Dainty blue hints of waves, sand castles decorated with copious sand flowers, our own umbrella-niche of shade to relax while the breeze whisked away the effort of our trip.

Natalie on the ferry through Venice

One sandy girl

We made it back home as well with 75% fewer hyperventilations on my part, the girls’ sleepy heads bobbing to and fro in the waning sunlight, bike pedals moving of their own accord to get us to our gate. We dragged ourselves inside, collapsing in a family heap on the bed, and I decided that #13 from my birthday list, “Have an adventure”? Is officially crossed off.

Sophie all tired out

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