A Change in Direction

Hello, readers!

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Anyone there? Probably not, and that’s ok. I’ve neglected this poor blog so terribly. I think I’ve figured out my issue with posting on a regular basis. Here it is: I think I have been intimidated by trying to fit my blog into some niche or category. I felt this pressure that, since I’m living in Italy, my blog must be about my latest cup of gelato and my daily tankard of wine at lunch; my travels to whichever amazing city I decided to wander over to last weekend and the hunky guy named Fabio that I wish would sweep me away. I know several people here who have that exact life, and they’re happy. The thing is, my life isn’t like that. I don’t really eat gelato and I think wine is gross. (People get mad when I say that sometimes. I think beer is better. I’d be right at home in Austria or Germany.) I also don’t travel much, really. I want to, but there’s too much else right now. (Oh, and for the record: I met a Fabio once. He was not even remotely hunky.) The “typical” nuances of Italian life are lost on me. Don’t let that fool you into believing that I don’t love it here; I absolutely do. Italy is charming and stunningly beautiful and it is populated with some absolutely wonderful people. I do adore this country. However, I can also see Italian life for what it is and I think that is far more interesting, don’t you?

So, I’ve decided that I don’t really need a category to write a blog. I don’t have to stick to any particular topic set and I certainly don’t need to post outfit pictures or DIY projects or cutesy pictures of babies to feel legitimate. Sound good to you? Great.

I’m glad that’s out of the way.

So what will the blog be? Stories! I love telling them, and I have many. Some may be better than others. Some may come in little snippets while others may be long, with installments. I’m also working on my photography so there will be pictures too. And despite what I said earlier, I *do* travel. I just don’t have the time, money, or energy to go to places like Amsterdam or Budapest right now. That comes later. Right now, I go nearby places, like downtown or Verona or to the restaurant around the corner. I might tell you some stupid jokes or share a conversation I had with my husband and/or kiddo, or maybe I’ll post pictures of the latest thing I’m drawing. Who knows.

Since I find social media to be rather repellant, I think that this blog may become my new outlet. No expectations. No theme. No posting schedule (yet). Just stories and life.

 

The Life and Times of Zampa Waterson

Today feels like a good day to tell a story.

This is Zampa.

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Zampa belongs to our friends, the Watersons (names changed). We met the Watersons back at the Mayflower. (Are you new here? Read the Mayflower backstory here!)

Joe Waterson, speaker of six languages, was Mayflower’s head waiter and idea man. He was Piero’s second, his right-hand man, his American-Charmer. The two of them together had revitalized the menu and were killin’ it! Joe schmoozed with the crowd and performed small acts of magic, like a hibachi chef. He was always grinning and joking. He was like a roving Roberto Benigni. (He even kinda looks like him.) The restaurant was hoppin’ each night. Life was grand. Ana, Joe’s wife, also worked there. She’s much more reserved so I didn’t get to know her back then. She was tiny and unassuming, but even from a distance, she exuded a calm fierceness. Joe and Ana were always a highlight of any Mayflower visit. We love the Watersons. When Piero died, we vowed to keep in touch after the funeral.

We didn’t.

(I suppose I should take a moment to address that last part. If you’ve been around for awhile (or if you just read it a minute ago), you might remember me beginning the story of Piero Fusari, owner of our neighborhood restaurant, Mayflower. It was one of our favorite places to be and he was our first real ambassador here in Italy. He was definitely our first friend. I’ve had a lot of trouble telling the end of the story so I will say this: Mayflower was really hitting its stride. It was incredibly successful. Nightly parties. Live music. Fun and friends. Piero was working himself to exhaustion. He was tired. One night he was there. We celebrated with him. He was happy and all over his girlfriend. It was great.

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My husband, Piero, and Joe

Two days later he was gone. I’ve heard several theories about what happened. Some involve money problems, others involve health problems. Whatever it was, he couldn’t hang on. Piero died last March. We were all devastated. We attended our first Italian funeral. (It wasn’t what we expected at all. I still may write about it sometime.)  When Piero died, the heart left the neighborhood. The building has not opened since he died. His car still waits there. The sign on the door still says Chiuso Per Lutto- Closed for mourning. It sucks. It took us all awhile to recover. You can see why I’ve been fighting writer’s block… It’s still tender. Anyway, on to other topics.)

6 months pass and we run into Ana. It was her first day working at a restaurant around the corner. Not only that, this is the restaurant where the VFW guys meet. We’re there all the time! The next week, Joe was there too. A reunion! It was glorious! We were able to relive the old days. Toasts were made, noms were nibbled, and cigarettes were smoked, you know, like ya’ do. (To clarify, dear grandmothers of ours, some of us smoked. We, ourselves, aren’t smokers, but Joe smoked enough for all three of us. Twice.) As we sat, and we drank, Joe told us his sad tale.

After Mayflower closed, they bounced from restaurant to restaurant, hoping for a job contract. (In Italy, job contracts are everything. If you don’t have one, employers have the ability to screw you. They can hire you on for a trial period with no pay, like a crappy internship. At the end they can fire you and bring on someone else in exactly the same way. Or they can just say, “we can’t pay you.” And they don’t. It’s dirty, but it’s reality here, and 100% legal, from what I’ve been told.) Joe had been offered a pre-contract position at his best friend’s restaurant. He’d scheduled himself ten entire days between the end of one job and the start of the next, but instead of being able to relax and enjoy those days with his family, he was facing a conundrum. His landlord had decided to sell the apartment they were renting, right out from under them. I don’t remember the exact details and timelines, but since employers can legally not pay people for work, I’m guessing landlords can also suddenly boot tenants. I’m not sure if they had a written lease (leases are apparently optional here). Either way, the Watersons had four days in which to find a new home. Joe was stressed.

My husband and I often channel Mother Teresa, which is exactly what we did that day.

We have a pretty cool basement in our house. It’s technically on ground level but since our house is sortof on a hill, it both is and isn’t a basement. Schrödinger’s basement! I’ll call it the taverna, since that is the official name. A taverna is the party room in an Italian house.

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This is part of our taverna. The door is our “wine cellar”. It’s about four feet tall. We keep suitcases in there.

Our taverna came with a table big enough to host the last supper, a wine closet, and a bar. There’s also a stove, oven, and fireplace, so you have no excuse to not cook for all of your family members for Sunday dinner. Our taverna also came pre-decorated with mementos our landlord has picked up on his travels. The room is separated by the rest of the house and could easily be its own studio apartment. It’s a nice spot, and perfect for visitors because it’s spacious and interesting. It’s essentially a small, private apartment. It’s a wonderful place to visit, but it’s not a good place to live long term, especially if you’re more than one person (or two compact Europeans). We offered Joe our lovely taverna, for a bit, if he and Ana needed. He said it wouldn’t be long. Just a few days. We offered a few weeks, if necessary. He mentioned that they had two kids. We immediately painted a much more realistic picture of the taverna. It’s a smallishly-large room. A short term stay with kids would be uncomfortable, but possible. Long-term would be awful. We didn’t want it to seem like we were promising an apartment and delivering a closet. Joe said he’d come by and look the next day.

We honestly figured that they would see our space and refuse. It’s small. It’s tight. We were happy to offer it, but it didn’t seem like a good solution for four people. We looked at the space with pessimism. They saw optimism.

When they moved in, a few days later, I was out of town. I’d traveled down to Orvieto, Italy to take a weeklong stained glass course with a friend. I made this.

Buddha Glass Mine

I’ve been waiting for a great sunny day so I can get a proper picture of it. But now it’s winter. Sunny days are on strike for the time being.

In the car ride home from the train station, my sweet was telling me all about the move-in. They’d put extra padding on the futon for extra comfort and broken out our super air mattress for the kiddos. It was cramped but they were happy and all was well.  Then he gestured off toward the park and said, “There’s the daughter walking the dog.”

Hold on. Dog?? Nobody had mentioned a dog. Turns out that the dog hadn’t come up prior to moving day. He was little and cute, albeit a little odd-looking. He seemed ok, I guess… We hadn’t agreed to take on a dog too, but I love dogs, and Italian dogs are well-behaved, so, yeah, great! A small dog! I liked this idea! Until he spotted me.

I know, I know, it was damned nervy of me to enter my own house unannounced. He came up the stairs with his people, looked at me, and lost it. I believe a similar behavior in a small child would fall under the umbrella of hysterics, or a tantrum. In his case, it was just loud. He continued to bark every time he saw me, for several days. And not just me. Everything.

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Always on the lookout for the next thing to scream at. Just like a cantankerous old man. “THE WIND IS BLOWING! KILL IT!!!”

Fast forward two months. During that time, Zampa decided he liked me. I decided I loathed him, although, being an occasional Mother Teresa, I tried, daily, to relike him. I mean I really tried. Some days were great and Zampa and I were close pals. Other days, I wanted to toss him off my highest balcony, but, as he was incredibly light on his feet and had long, springy legs, I knew he would just bounce. I’d cuddle him when he was cold, yet I’d also yell at him, fruitlessly searching for something light enough to throw at him, when he’d been barking for hours on end. Eventually we all started joking about making Zampa soup or Zampa underwear. Sometimes I’d alternate between sweet-talking him and calling him uncharitable names. Luckily he didn’t understand English, or body language.

Let me tell you a few good things about Zampa. First, his name, in Italian, means Paw. If that’s not positively darling, I don’t know what is. Seriously. Zampa weighed about 10 pounds and moved like a gazelle. He was graceful, and bloody fast. He never moved in a direct line. He would leap forward, his front legs pointing in one direction, and his back legs kicking off toward another. He bounded over tall grass like an undersized, delicate antelope. It was really something to see.

Zampa is what I now know is called a “liver” dog. Liver is a descriptive term like merle or brindle. Liver dogs have a modification of the B gene which causes any would-have-been black areas to turn brown. They also have amber eyes and brown or pink noses. Zampa fit that description perfectly and had an Eddie Munster widow’s peak. He normally did not give my family much attention unless he was cold or tired of being outside. Then he would come to our door and beg, wiggling his butt in excitement when we’d appear.

We attempted to break Zampa’s tendency toward excessive barking and marking. Because our areas of the house were not his, he felt the need to claim them each time he visited. (He had five favorite spots.) He learned to open the door to the basement, like a velociraptor, so we kept a weight and a potted plant against the door and banned him from our areas. Although tile floors are great, I got really tired of cleaning up 2-4 puddles or piles every time he squeezed past our notice.)

Zampa’s favorite trick was escaping. The first time he escaped, it was our fault. The guys were fixing the neighbor’s fence so the front gate was cracked a tiny bit to keep it from locking. Since Zampa was equally tiny, he squeezed out and hurtled toward freedom… in the road. He managed to avoid an untimely death, thanks to the concerned adults who were flagging down cars and trying to catch the dog who wouldn’t be caught. He took them on a wild goose chase around the neighborhood, and even visited the prison down the road. Spoiler alert: nobody was shot by the incompetent guard, although it wasn’t for lack of interest on the guard’s part. Zampa was finally apprehended, bullet-free, by me. After making the guys chase him for 45 minutes, he jumped right into my arms when he saw me, the butthead.

We tried our hardest not to let him out again, but once he’d sampled the sweet taste of freedom, there was no stopping him. He slipped the gate; he squeezed under the fence; he pushed out the mesh, climbed the wall… It also didn’t matter whether it was us or his people manning the ports. If he saw an opening, he took it. We would chase after him, terrified for him, but if we’d get close, he’d run farther away. It was a game. When we’d inevitably give up, he’d return to the house within minutes. We finally quit bothering to chase him. We addressed each problem as it arose and eventually Zampa was contained.

Unfortunately, this was not the answer Zampa was hoping for. Boredom hit the little guy hard, and he began snapping at his people, digging tiny holes in the yard, and barking more than ever.

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On this day he went under the fence and found himself trapped in the neighbor’s yard. Upon discovering that the grass was not, in fact, greener, he was plenty upset. I was running late for an errand when I spotted him so he had to wait an entire 15 minutes for me to come home and rescue him. I’ll admit, I was pretty smug when I pulled him back in.

Three months have passed. Three Zampa-laden months. If I’m being perfectly honest, the experience has been pretty incredible. Our Italian has improved, our friends have been able to save money and relax while house hunting, our kids get along well, and really, they’ve been fantastic guests. They’re very polite and respectful. The kids are lots of fun. It could have become a nightmare situation, but apart from the woefully-misbehaved dog and the much-longer-than-expected duration, this has been a dream. The Watersons have found a wonderful house in our neighborhood, where they work and go to school. It’s walking-distance to everything, which is great since they don’t drive. They’re moving into the house next week. We’re all delighted.

Here’s the snag. The house is on a very busy street. Although it’s shielded from the noise and hubbub, the line between front gate and road is direct. This is exactly the wrong thing for tiny Houdini dogs. When we visited the house, we started worrying. Zampa would not do well in that house. A, it has no yard, and B, continuous traffic. The kids are old enough and smart enough to stay out of the street, but when chasing after the beloved family dog? Who knows. We talked to Joe and Ana, and had tried to stress the importance of intensive training for Zampa, but they weren’t concerned and didn’t have time. They believed Zampa would be happier and better behaved in the new house because they wouldn’t all be squished together. While that is certainly true, a dog needs a yard, a playmate, and walks, and he wasn’t getting any of those things. When we next discovered that the house is a duplex, we worried more. Zampa is very, very, very noisy.

As Zampa continued to dart past people bringing in groceries, and as we watched cars swerving to miss him, we knew it was only a matter of time, and we worried more. We did our best for Zampa. We really did.

Saturday night. It was well after midnight and Zampa had been barking all night. It went like this: He would bark at the door; his people would let him out into the yard; he would bark more; we would go outside, chase him down, bring him in and send him down to the taverna, where they would let him out again. This had been a nightly ritual since we’d banished him to the basement, but normally it ended around midnight. So Saturday night, we’d played the ring-around-the-house game with Zampa several times. It was after midnight so we thought we’d done for the night. I’d gone up to bed but my fella was still taking care of some things, so he stayed downstairs (middle floor). Needing something in his car, he left through the gate, leaving it cracked behind him. But of course- Zampa was not inside.

My husband came upstairs a few minutes later and described it like this: Zampa, being the untrained intelligence that he was, spotted the weakness in the gate and decided to exploit it. The velociraptor similarities continue.

As my husband said, Zampa sprinted to his destiny. I didn’t see it but I can imagine- eye-rolling, tongue-flapping, limb-flailing happiness. He took off triumphantly, like a rocket, from the gate. On a normal night, our street after midnight is deserted, not a car to be seen. Unfortunately, timing just wasn’t on Zampa’s side. Zampa, luckily, did not see the car, did not register the collision, and did not suffer for an instant. Zampa peaked at one of the happiest moments of his life and was no more beyond.

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Quality time with Zampa. He really could be a dear.

It’s really a shock. He was a baby still. Barely a year old. He was a sweetie, but he was also a nuisance. With training, he could have been a wonderful pet, a credit to the family. He ignored commands. There was no malice, but there was also no concept of danger or the importance of listening to his people. None. That’s a scary thing in a dog who likes to escape.

I’m very sad that Zampa is gone. His family adored him. We did our best to welcome and then tolerate him. I made him my compassion project. I learned a lot from Zampa: patience for someone who drives me absolutely crazy, especially when they don’t realize they’re doing it. Also the importance of proper dog training.

Oh, we have a new policy now- no guests with pets.

Recap

Ciao a tutti!

I just wanted to drop in and say that I am not done writing here. I know I’ve been gone forever, but life went crazy, as it does.

In the past 3 months I have hosted two visiting grandmothers, traveled South for a week to take an intensive stained glass course, and opened my home to a family in need. I have gone from caveman to conversational in Italian. I’ve braved seasonal depression, helped a middle schooler develop good habits and pass (like a boss) the first part of a cripplingly busy seventh grade year. I have battled a dental catastrophe and somersaulted down my front steps. I’ve also grown up quite a bit and gained some much-needed self-confidence.

I’ve been working on the next installment of my Mayflower story. It’s not an easy tale to tell. It’s still painful.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog and how I want to present myself/us. I’ve always kept us at arm’s length, anonymous. The internet can be a scary place and I have never liked the thought of putting out too much information. I’m going to relax my policy some and see how it feels. I can’t only write about Italy. It’s not enough for me. It feels hollow. So I’m working on expanding and adding a more human side.

I can’t make guarantees for a post schedule but I’m working on it. Thank you for coming around, despite my absence.

Happy New Year, buona festa, e tanti auguri.

Please Sir, Am I Coming or Going? OR- Mayflower- Back to Europe

Buongiorno!

I’m about to tell you a story that I’ve been trying to tell you for several months. Pull up a chair, kiddos, it may be kinda long. (Note, the title of this post comes from one of my favorite poems. You can read it here. It’s number 18.)

My initial reaction, when all of this went down, was to rush to write about it- to dump the story here. But that wasn’t the right approach, especially since I realized that I hadn’t actually spoken about any of the players in this story on this blog. So I’ll start from the beginning.

In September, 2013, we moved into our house here in Vicenza. I could write a research essay about the mind-numbing process of securing housing in this town, but I’ll spare you the details and simply say this: it wasn’t fun. At all. We considered ourselves lucky because we found a home very near to where my husband would be working. Since we didn’t have a car at the time, this was an incredible boon for us. He could ride his bike to work, we were right on the bus line, and there was a small grocery store on the next block. Score! Future explorations showed us how fantastic our neighborhood actually is. I can easily walk to three grocery stores, several small cafes, a few bars, a bakery, a post office, a toy store, a dry cleaner, a thrift shop… The list is quite long. It probably took us two months to discover the restaurant which would become our second home- Mayflower. Continue reading

Ooops!

So sorry if you are a subscriber and just received a phantom copy of a new post in your inbox. I stupidly hit Publish instead of Save Draft. Ooops! I’m working on this post and it’s not quite ready yet, so be patient. It will be up soon.

Memorial Day 2015

I’m sorry that I haven’t written as much as I’d initially said I would. And I’m sorry that most of my posts begin with an apology, whether written or merely implied. I have a billion words within me, ready to spill out at the drop of a hat, but my world is full of *wait* right now. “Wait before you say those words, the terrorists are watching.” “Wait before you wear anything that could identify you as American.” I didn’t worry too much at first. After all, my blog started out pretty impersonal… But then I put some pictures of us. And then ISIS started talking about Rome. And then the guards on the army base started wearing bulletproof vests, so naturally I became a bit shy about the blog. Now the vests are off again, and everybody is starting to relax again, so I think I am ready to speak a bit.

Don’t worry, our grandmas, we’re as safe as we can possibly make ourselves.

We’ve been busy and happy. We’re embracing Italy as hard as we can.

For Memorial Day we joined the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on a trip down to the ceremony at the Florence American Cemetery. My husband joined the VFW a few months ago so this trip was very special for us. The ceremony was incredibly touching and the cemetery and monument were in a beautiful, idyllic location. Because 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Italy’s liberation from fascism, there were many high-profile people in attendance. We saw Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, John R. Phillips, U.S. Ambassador to Italy,  U.S. Consul General Abigail Rupp, and U.S. Army Brigadier General John Hort of the U.S. Army Europe Command. We also were able to hear music from the Carabinieri “Fanfara” band. The Carabinieri are Italy’s police force and they are quite talented. I’ve honestly never felt more patriotic than I did that day, and btw, the Italian National Anthem is one of my new favorite songs. It’s on youtube. Go give it a listen if you have a few minutes.

My husband was officially sworn in to the VFW before the ceremony. We’re very proud of him and I honestly can’t think of a more special way to join such an organization.

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Looking out at the flag from the monument.

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A few of the VFW guys in front of the monument.

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P1040621P1040620 A small portion of the 4,402 graves on site, a vintage vehicle (from, I’m guessing ,WWII. I didn’t have time to get close enough to see), and a very handsome gent.

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Never forget.

After the ceremony and a brief exploration of the cemetery grounds, we all stood around the bus and drank backyard moonshine wine provided by one of the Italians who accompanied us. (Note: it probably wasn’t moonshine wine. But it was homemade and it perfectly hit the spot.)

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They even brought cups for us. These are my kind of people!

The party then moved over to a nearby restaurant where we ate fantastic food (I tried pâté! It was pretty good!) and hung out with some great friends. The vino flowed, the beer was poured, and we all talked, laughed, and ate. For hours. It was all molto Italiano.

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During the raffle, we won four bottles of wine (traded two of them since we honestly aren’t big wine drinkers). The crazy thing is that we won the Big Prize, a bottle of 150€ wine. It came in a wooden box and we aren’t allowed to drink it for at least two more years. We’re excited!

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A few of the guys. They’re so fun to talk with.

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All in all, it was a wonderful day, and an experience I will never forget. I really hope we can return next year.

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And this handsome chap who, despite being the only kid present, had a great time as well.

Here Are Some Snippets About Italy

Here Are Some Snippets About Italy

1. There is no such thing as a single “ciao!” When leaving, ciao’s come in groups of anywhere between two and ten.

2. At first glance, the driving is chaotic and terrifying. Once you immerse yourself into the fray, beautiful patterns emerge and it all makes sense. Unfortunately some of the patterns are puzzling and haven’t yet been decoded.

3. Coffee is king here. I now drink unsweetened cappuccino. My next goal is espresso.

4. Drinking in public is perfectly acceptable. Italians don’t drink to get drunk (normally) so drinking at any time is perfectly acceptable, so long as you mind your manners.

5. I’m back. I apologize for being so quiet. My husband went on a six month trip to the Middle East and I took that time for introspection and aggressive self-improvement. Now he’s back and life is coming back together and I’m ready to start writing again. We are all so happy to be back together and we are ready to really discover and fall in love with Italy. If you stuck around, thank you! I promise I’m going to write more. I just really needed some time alone with myself.