Monday, December 31, 2007

Augurissimi


It's New Year's Eve here in Naples and but for a few practice fireworks, all is calm. It is sunny and warm and our doorman has posted a sign on the elevator that states, "Happy New Year. Beware of fireworks. Even the stupidest people can cause a disaster."


La Bimba is sickie, so I'm making some chicken soup. The Husband is out catching our New Year's dinner. He wishes he were fishing right now! Hah! No, he's just at the fish market.


I am a little sad, a little cranky. End of the year blues, perhaps.


It is good to be back in Naples after 24 wide-sidewalked days in Brooklyn. Though I had already called a motorist an asshole within 2 minutes after leaving the apartment, I am feeling fond of the city and its rowdy inhabitants. It will be sad to leave in June, but we are so ready.


Anyway, auguri, happy new year, and hope to be blogging in a big way in 2008. Baci!

Monday, December 10, 2007

In da house


Greetings from Brooklyn and from an American keyboard, where you find the @ sign above the 2, a mere pressing of the shift key rather than the digital gymnastics required to effect it on an Italian keyboard, like those crazy chords on the piano, always too big for my 9-year-old hands.


Now La Bimba is tinkling the ivories here at the nonni's house. Boy, is that piano out of tune.


I have already gaine a kilo being here, stuffing myself with stuffed derma, corned beef and pastrami, Thai food, Vietnamese food, chicken feet. Though it is refreshing to be tasting spices other than basil and oregano, I am going to let you in on a little secret: having access to unlimited food variety is not required for happiness. It is possible to live a totally fulfilling and fully filling life eating only Neapolitan cuisine. In fact, it is nice not having to have that horribly annoying conversation every night:


mom: what do you want for dinner?

dad: I don't know. What do you want, S?

me: I don't care. Let mom decide.

mom: I can't decide.

me: okay, Japanese.

mom: I don't care much for Japanese.

me: Chinese

dad: we had Chinese last night.


I will spare you the rest. It more or less continues in that vein for about 20 minutes until my father decides to order pizza.


So, I took the GRE and almost fell asleep doing so. What a boring exam! And with jet lag...mamma mia. You are not allowed to bring anything into the test with you, including your scarf. They wouldn't tell me why the scarf was prohibited, something, perhaps, about crocheting crib notes. The new, computerized test sucks because you can't check your answers or skip questions and go back to them. So, you sit there staring at a parallelogram for 20 minutes and then realize you only have 5 minutes left to do the remaining 25 math questions.


My friend's 15-year-old daughter came over to tutor me in math the night before the test. She brought over waffles, bacon, cookies, and a calculator, none of which you can bring with you to the test. She was great. I would say, "I can't do it. Forget it. Let's skip this question and move on," and she would make me understand. My score went up 100 points due to her endless patience. We also had a nice conversation about maple syrup:

Teenager: You eat the waffles without syrup?

Me: I don't like the syrup my father buys. Aunt Jemima.

Teenager: I love Aunt Jemima!

Me: It's not maple syrup. It's sugar syrup.

Teenager: What, you like that stuff that comes out of the tree? Gross!


La Bimba is having a blast with the nonni. She loves her new toys and books, all the music boxes and Russian matrioshka dolls, and goldfish, the cracker, not the animal. She likes roast beef, but not sour pickles. She likes corned beef, but not pastrami. Mostly, she wants pasta. She already knows that the key to happiness has nothing to do with food variety. She's so smart.
p.s. I have no idea what that blue car is doing in the upper left corner of this post. I meant to upload a picture of La Bimba, but this is what came up. If you have an idea of what this might mean, please let me know.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Which way did he go?


They have banned smoking in the Villa Comunale, Naples' Central Park. Two cops on horses stopped a guy and told him to put out his cigarette. The guy complied, though I imagine he lit up when he saw that the horsies were out of sight. I was interviewed by a local TV station on the subject, but I neglected to ask which station, so I don't know if my thoughts and my face appeared on Neapolitan TV. I might have missed my chance at fame! I haven't given up hope though. I am still waiting for Woody Allen to discover me. He never did find the best replacement for Julie Kavner.


It is gloriously sunny albeit windy. La Bimba now says ET for wet, and she says glasses and eyes.


The Husband, La Bimba, three friends, and I went to Avellino on Sunday to eat some meat. We went to a place called La Bussola in Serino. We got lost, of course, so it tooks us forever to get there, but it was worth the trip. Great warm vegetable dishes (escarole, potatoes), pasta (pappardelle con funghi porcini, ravioli, and MEAT. Lamb, veal, pork, the works...with fries!


Part of the reason we got so lost is the La Bussola folks had told us on the phone that there were tons of signs on the way, so we couldn't miss it. There was not...one...sign, until the entrance to the place, and that one was facing in the opposite direction we were coming from. And the great great fantastic Neapolitan fabulous thing about this story? La bussola means compass.


Italian road signage is notoriously bad. Every time we go to visit The Husband's sister in Aversa, we get lost (except for last time; Go Husband!). This is because there are a zillion signs for Aversa sud, we need Aversa nord (there is one), there are several for Aversa, just plain Aversa, and the crucial signs are hidden behind other signs, so you only see them once you're past them.

Friday, November 23, 2007

E' da una vita....


I will not bore you hear with the myriad excuses for why I haven't been blogging. I fear I have lost you, dear readership. It's November 23rd, more than a month since my last post. Will UTNS have to be considered a do-over?


Perhaps. But not before I tell you that my neighbor C., her husband, her two kids, her friend from Denmark with 3-month-old baby, La Bimba, and I took the funicolare to the Vomero for Thanksgiving dinner at another expat American's home. This would have been nothing special had it not been for the fact that C. was carrying the turkey -- the cooked and stuffed turkey -- in an Ikea bag. The bird was really stinking up the joint and C. was mortified. Luckily, I was yabbering in Italian to a Spanish friend about the turkey and Thanksgiving and so on, so the Neapolitans all breathed a collective sigh of relief that signified, "Meno male! E' il tacchino che puzza, non gli americani!"


La Bimba is growing up fast, throwing mini tantrums, shouting "mio mio mio," refusing foods she once loved, calling me mamma instead of mommy after having spent all of 5 hours with her Neapolitan cousin (just goes to show how many times an hour a Neapolitan child says "mamma"), saying new words like bapf (which means bat) and otch (watch) and ox (socks). We head to NYC next week for a long stay and I am looking forward to showing her the lights and riding the subway and seeing friends and family and just being New Yorkese.


Hope to be blogging again soon.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Don Pasquale Redux

Goshdarnit, dagburnit, it is impossible for me to get blogging these days. I nonni were here, I've still got to finish these dang grad school applications, and one has to keep an eye on La Bimba now that she likes to balance herself on the narrow end of a yoga block in the middle of the room that has no rug, just skull-cracking tile floors. Every time she is out of sight and I hear her rendition of, "uh-oh, spaghetti-o's," which sounds like, "uh-oh, doh dee doh" or "uh-oh, guaglio," I know something has been dropped, shredded or destroyed.

Well, I guess I have to begrudgingly admit that The Husband was right...again: I probably shouldn't have broadcast my Jewishness to Don Pasquale. Here's why...

A few days after his offer of sympathy for the Jewish experience of WWII, Don Pasquale and I got to talking again. The conversation went a little something like this (give me a beat!):

DP: Terrible, what happened to the Jews. But what else could he have done?
Me: Who?
DP: Hitler.
Me: What?
DP: I mean, killing 8 million (sic) was too much, but he had to do something to stop the Jewish takeover of the world.
Me: Um, Don Paquale, now you're being offensive.
DP: Ma quando mai! Don't get me wrong. I have great respect for your people, but you have to admit that they have economic control over the world and that before WWII they were ruining Germany and Hitler had to do something.
Me: Sorry, Don Pasquale, I don't see it that way. Gotta go. Say, "ciao ciao, bimba"

The next day my parents arrived in Naples. One morning during their visit they stepped out with La Bimba and I went to take a dance class. On my return, Ciro the garage attendent stopped me.

Ciro: Don Pasquale told me you were Jewish...
Me: (Hoo boy).
Ciro: ...and I'm afraid I offended your father.
Me: What? Why? (Did you scream Raus Juden in his face?)
Ciro: I saw that he was carrying a Leica and I was a photographer, you know, took pictures for a sports newspaper, and I have a Leica too...from the German invasion. It has a swastika on it. I told your father all about it. I love the camera, not the swastika.
Me: Oh, I'm sure he under...
Ciro: Then I told him about my watch. I have a watch that belonged to an Italian Jew. In 1938 he told a friend that he had to escape from Italy, to hold the watch for him, that he would be back. The friend waited 60 years. When he died, his son sold the watch. Now it's mine.
Me: Senti, Ciro, my father doesn't speak Italian. I'm sure he didn't understand a word you said.
Ciro: But he kept saying, "mia figlia, mia figlia," and I'm sure I offended him!
Me: He probably just wanted you to tell me what you had to say so that I could translate. Don't worry, I'll explain everything.
Ciro: Thank you. And if he wants to come over to see my Leica, I live on the first floor.

Of course, my father didn't understand a thing. When I told him what it had been all about, he said, "I didn't know what he was talking about and Nazis were the last thing I could have imagined."

Now an update on the offended signora from the basso on the steps, whose grandson's picture I refused to look at. I saw her husband. I said hello. He sneered at me and turned away. And he doesn't even know I'm Jewish!

And I found out where J-Dub comes from: it is the letter J and an abbreviation of the letter W from the word Jew. Isn't that bizarre? So the Sephardic term for an Ashkenazi Jew just means Jew. Now I'm confused. I guess all that hurt and feelings of being a pariah were for nothing. I learned about it here.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

La Bimba update


La Bimba has taken to putting the letter T at the end of different words, so now we have babbot (sounds like bah-boat), mammit (mah-meat), baby-t (bay-beet), ballt. This must be an already documented toddler linguistic phenomenon.


La Bimba has also become a terrible two and she's only just shy of her 1.5 birthday. She says NO constantly, sometimes with force, sometimes accompanied by crying and plopping down on her butt and putting her forehead on the floor, sometimes quietly to herself with a quasi imperceptible shake of the head.


She has some advanced dance moves including arabesque and attitude, marching with her legs wide apart, spinning, a version of flamenco stomping and hand clapping. She also sings her ABCs like this, "c c c c c c c."


Okay, back to me. Yesterday, The Husband, La Bimba, two friends, and I were having lunch in a little trattoria in the Vomero (four primi, four secondi, wine, water, salad, fried algae, that's right, fried algae, bread, two potato crochettes, 40 euro), when a woman with jet black hair blow dried straight to the texture of straw, lots of eyeliner and frosted pink lipstick came up to us. The Husband said to her, "Ti presento mia moglie." She said, "Piacere. Cristina" took my extended hand and CRUSHED IT. I mean, I have experienced more than my fair share of firm handshakes, but this one actual made me yelp. I YELPED and sort of keeled over (good thing I was sitting down), and my dining companions all said in unison, "Ma che è successo? Ti sei spaventata?" No, I wasn't afraid, I was wounded. Cristina said, "Scusami" and shrugged her shoulders. I just sat there shaking out my contorted fingers.


One of our dining companions, M., slept over at our house the night before. In the middle of the night, I heard some shuffling and some banging around, and suddenly M. was standing at the foot of our bed. I said, "M.! What are you doing?" M. answered, "Scusami, non mi trovo bene. Mi serve solo questo cuscino" (Excuse me, I'm not comfortable. I just need this pillow). Then he pulled our duvet off of me and The Husband and dragged it into the living room. There we were, lying clothed but without our cover! Then we heard more doors slamming and general mayhem, so The Husband went out and settled M. down. The next day M. remembered nothing.


I had a very good friend from Junior High who was a sleepwalker-talker. She would sit up in the middle of the night and talk to imaginary people, usually in a very urgent way. Once I found her sitting up with her eyes closed saying, "We have to get out of here! We can do it! Come on!" When I asked her who she was talking to she said, "Her." When I pressed on, asking, "Who?" She said, "Fuck you" and lay back down. Another time she jumped up and started screaming at me that the asteroids were coming and how could I just lie there and do nothing. When I said, "You're sleeping. Go back to sleep," she said, "Fuck you."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Don Pasquale

There is an 80-year-old man who lives in our building. Don Pasquale can usually found either leaning on his cane in front of the tabacchaio in Piazzetta San Carlo alle Mortelle or sitting on a chair at the top of the ramp that leads down to our building's underground parking garage. Don Pasquale likes to talk about the good old days, about how there is no morality left in the world. I'm not sure how morality was faring in his youth, but I don't argue. If I did, I would never get to the grocery store. Don Pasquale's monologues go on and on and on.

When Don Pasquale sees La Bimba, he says, "Dai un bacio a nonno, Lucia!" She doesn't comply, but she lets him kiss her pudgy cheek. Recently, Don Pasquale found out I was Jewish. It wasn't a rumor that spent some time swirling around the neighborhood until it reached his fuzzy ear, but rather information that leaks out as it always does:

Don Pasqule or any other napoletano: Are you Italian American?
Me: No.
DP: So you're American American.
Me: No.
DP: quizzical look
Me: My relatives are from Russia, Moldova, Poland, Austria.
DP: knowing look
Me: Yeah, we're Jews.

This exchange sent Don Pasquale into a reverie -- spoken out loud, of course -- about WWII and what the Fascists and the Germans did to the Jews. He must have pointed at me saying, "Your race has suffered so!" about ten times before I extricated myself from the maudlin chat.

The next day, La Bimba and I were beckoned by Don Pasquale from his perch in the garage. Next to him, on a motorcycle, sat a younger man, un napoletano DOC with greasy, curly hair and a tight black t-shirt, smoking a cigarette. Don Pasquale introduced the man as Ciro and proceeded to say, "Her race has suffered so!" La Bimba and I beat a hasty retreat, backing out of the garage, nodding and smiling and saying, "Sorry, we're in such a hurry!"

I told The Husband about the conversations with Don Pasquale and he said, "You shouldn't spread that around."

Me: That I'm Jewish?
Hubby: Yeah. You never know what the landlady will do.

So now we're probably going to get evicted because I let out my dirty little secret. No, dai, sto scherzando.

The only time I ever felt that I was experiencing anti-Semitism was from other Jews. I am an Ashkenazi (a Jew from Eastern Europe, insomma), but grew up around a lot of Sephardic Jews (from the Middle East via the Iberian peninsula). These kids grow up very wealthy and very cloistered in Brooklyn, a subculture within a subculture. Their traditions are not those of the Hasidim, no one is wearing a wig or a yarmulke, no black overcoats or furry hats, but they do go to synagogue regularly and consider themselves orthodox. They marry young, have tons of kids, and most of the girls don't study beyond high school. They live in enormous houses off Ocean Parkway and in Deal, New Jersey, and spend tens of thousands of dollars on wedding dresses. I was coming from a very different Jewdom, one obsessed with study and free-thinking and marrying late and being an only child and being frugal. These kids called me J-Dub. It sounds like a rapper's name and I don't know what it means or where it comes from, but it hurt to be called names and to feel outside and all that. They weren't exactly cruel but they were discriminating. Gives a whole new edge to that prejudice commercial, huh Curry Muncher?

Once in Madison, Wisconsin, a guy from a small town said to me, "You're Jewish? You don't act Jewish." I never figured out what he meant by that. I was 17 and just wanted to party.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Così si offende


I am so wretchedly behind in my blogging. That's because I am applying to doctoral programs in Performance Studies and that's because I am a glutton for punishment.


The other day I was walking down the 80-plus stairs that lead from my street to the Chiaia district, bouncing La Bimba along in her stroller. A woman, who I've chatted with before (her husband likes to try to speak English with me; she, mysteriously, tries French), came out of her basso with her broom. She started blabbing at me in napoletano and then said something about La Bimba looking like someone and that she had a picture of that someone, wait a second, I have it right here, I'll be right back. I wasn't really paying attention (I try not to stop moving when confronted with chatty Caterinas), so I thought she was saying, as many a napoletano has said before to me, that La Bimba looks like one of the kids that was kidnapped in Sardegna or went missing in Portugal. I did not feel like seeing a photo that would then haunt me for the next 24 hours, at least, so I mumbled something about being in a rush, maybe next time, ciao, ciao ciao, ciao ciao ciao.


A few days later, I'm hanging out with my American friend C. and she says, "You really offended that lady the other day, huh?" "What lady?" I replied, not having a clue what she was talking about. "She wanted to show you a picture of her grandson and she said you wouldn't look at it and that she couldn't understand it because usually you are so nice and next time, if you ask to see the picture, she is not going to show it to you."


Wow.


I consulted with The Husband on this one. He said I should apologize, say I had an appointment and that I was late, that I don't always understand the language, but don't ask to see the picture, ma che te ne frega. I haven't seen the woman since, but I guess I'll apologize even though I don't know her really and I can't believe how sensitive people are.


Which leads me to admit: I am the most sensitive person I know. Every time The Husband makes a comment about what I'm feeding La Bimba, how I'm cleaning something, the expression on my face, anything, and he comments frequently because it's a napoletano habit, he doesn't even know he's doing it, I crumble. I really need to relax. At least that's what everyone keeps telling me. The other day I made spaghetti al pomodoro con ricotta and The Husband, chewing, said, "Ottimo." I usually get "non c'è male" or "buono," but Ottimo! Ottimo is like I have arrived as a napoletana in the kitchen.


The next night I made penne with lox (yeah, let's call it lox!), peas, onions, and cream, and The Husband said, "E' ok." I arrived, and then I left.


In the public elevator that runs from Via Nicotera down to Via Chiaia, a woman told me La Bimba was beautiful and that she no longer watches the news on TV because she can't take it anymore, troppi guai. Non sequitur?

You'd Know Better than Me

Follow-up to the veline entry. Interesting piece by an American or English (not clear) man about women in Italy. Conveniently leaves out some details (like the fact that Michelle Hunziker frequently co-hosts Striscia La Notizia). Interesting paragraph about Milan and childbirth (for you michellanea). Many of the "what the f---?" reactions we expats frequently have to certain Italian habits are addressed. What came through for me is what Luigi Barzini says over and over again in The Italians: for the most part, whatever it is that is shocking us or appalling us, Italians like it that way. It's so hard not to pass judgement though!

I am reading Barzini and Henry Miller's The Air-Conditioned Nightmare together. They are totally different in terms of style, but both men were trying to make sense of their homelands and both are very critical. I am trying to balance out and clarify my opinions and experiences in my homeland and in my adoptive country. So far I've concluded that both places are wonderful and totally fucked up.

Mudra, the dance-fitness-turkish bath center where I was teaching yoga last spring, has reopened. I know this because there a posters everywhere, slapped over other posters that have information not yet expired. The posters are black-and-white and feature a black man, head only, with a white Barbie ballerina doll clenched between his teeth. The doll's expression is one of pleasure, I must say. Do we think the Mudra folks are paying homage to Arthur Mitchell in Balanchine's Agon? I would pass along their website address, but the site is under construction.

I saw a pharmacist smoking in the doorway of a pharmacy today. Remember when American doctors used to prescribe cigarettes for weight loss?

La Bimba and I sat on a bench next to a group of old men today. We were eating ice cream. One of the men, the only one standing, said, "Mamma mia! Che bella! Sembra un'inglese!" I told him she was actually half American. Then he told me he had been to Boston. He has an aunt that has been living there for 60 years. Then he said, "Can I ask you something? Now you'd know better than me, but why is it that American is such a vulgar language? I mean, the way they talk in those films!"

Me: Not all Americans talk like they do in films.
Him: But so vulgar! Even on the streets of Boston, that's all I heard.
Me: And they don't talk like that here?
Him: Of course, of course, but it's just a way of speaking (un modo di dire), not a language.
Me: Sigh.

The old man continued on and on about his aunt in Boston, her father the tailor, La Bimba's remarkable blue eyes (the guy sitting next to me, a vero napoletano, had occhi blu blu blu). Then he asked, "Now you'd know better than me, but why do Americans give their children Coca Cola for a fever? Not with the bubbles. Flat."

Me: They do not! Maybe for a stomach ache...
Him: For a fever! Instead of aspirin! Coca Cola in a baby bottle!
Other old guy: That's crazy! How can they do that?
Yet another old guy: That's just wrong!
Me: Sigh.

I saw the saddest woman, girl really, on the funicolare today. She was pushing a newborn baby girl in a carriage. The baby was not strapped in. She looked totally miserable, no sign of joy on her face. The woman, maybe 19 years old, wore a leopard-pring shirt and pants ensemble, big cutouts in the back revealing a dark fuzzy lumbar section and some stretchmarks. She wore high heeled slip on shoes. She probably had post-partum depression. I know the feeling. I wanted to reach out to her, but knew better. Even with our evident solidarity as moms, and our proximity on the funicolare platform steps, we stood worlds apart.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wonder of Wonder, Miracle of Miracles...

...God took the tailor by the hand...

Everybody! Sing-a-long!

Today is the Festa di San Gennaro. San Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples and twice a year, the Neapolitans expect his blood, which is kept in a container the looks a bit like a carpenter's level only gold, to liquefy. If it does, miracolo! No earthquakes, Vesuvius won't erupt. If it doesn't, batten down the hatches!






Luckily, it liquefied. Tuttapost. My friends and I missed the actual liquefication, which happened at 9:30am, but we got to see the Cardinal turn the level/lava lamp upside down and back again to show us that the miracle did indeed occur. The Cardinal looks like a panda bear and he had such an innocent smile on his face as he held the blood above our heads, to the music of our applauding hands. He looked like a little boy showing his family the new toy Santa brought him for Christmas.

I, Jewess-cynic, of course, cried. Then I took pictures, which I rarely do because I am a photographer's daughter. Here are two guys selling San Gennaro bracelets.






And some of the TV crew.










And some officials.





And a guy selling tooty things.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Accentuate the Positive

Today an old woman got out of the way of La Bimba's stroller without my having to screech "Permesso!" first.

The young woman who works at the housewares store told me that the reason why Italians think English from England and English from the USA are two different languages is because that's what the English teachers in school tell them.

It is cool and breezy and I am sipping a Coca Cola, che vergogna!, while I type this post. My online fiction writing class started on Tuesday, September 11th and I am already procrastinating.

Speaking of September 11th, I haven't blogged about it at all. I woke up in Berkeley that morning six years ago. My mother and her younger sister were on their way to visit me and their older sister. They were on a Jet Blue flight that left JFK at around 7:30am Eastern time. I got up at around 8:30am west coast time, three hours after the first plane hit. I don't know why I turned on the TV, it was not something I normally did at that hour, perhaps someone called to tell me to turn it on, I don't remember. I saw the two towers burning. Then I saw a man in a business suit falling through the sky. He was bicycling the air, his tie and jacket flapping in the free fall. That image stays with me still. The networks stopped airing it shortly after I saw it. Too traumatic, they later said.

When I finally wrapped my mind around the reality -- this isn't a film trailer -- I lost it. I tried to call my father in Brooklyn, but the lines were in tilt. I called the dance studio where I was supposed to teach that morning and told them I couldn't come in. Someone subbed for me and the dancing people did that morning was healing. I had to stay by the phone (I never went cellular in my American life). My mother called from Kansas City, where her flight was grounded. She and her sister were planning to continue their journey west until they found out that flights would be grounded indefinitely. After a couple of nights in an airport motel, they rented a car and drove back to NY. They had seen all the footage, the first plane, the second plane, the melting towers, on board. Jet Blue has direct TV.

"I *heart* NY" posters started cropping up in Berkeley. My first thought when I saw the news that morning was, "This is only the beginning of serious bloodshed." There were those of us who hoped a lesson of peace would come of the tragedy. There were those who lost people and stayed committed to cultivating peace. Unfortunately, the road taken since that awful day has led to bombs bursting in air.

What I remember the most from that day and those that followed is the silence. With no airplanes in the air the world around me got very quiet. I have a friend who was in the back country that week. He couldn't understand why that trip was so much quieter than previous ones. He didn't find out about what happened until her emerged a few days later.

With Bush's "you're either with us or against us" stand, it is never easy writing honestly about 9/11, not because I give a rats ass what that man thinks, but because it has become too easy to offend people who were directly affected by the events of that day. Americans have had little experience with a massacre of that nature on their own soil and its cinematic quality, the spectacle of it, made it such that it seemed bigger and worse than anything in history. Of course it wasn't.

I don't do anything special when September 11th comes around. I just try to remember all the suffering in the world and make a wish for it to cease.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Assurdità

Last night, for the Piedigrotta Festival, Naples set off fireworks over the sea for an hour, from midnight to 1 a.m. It looked and sounded like war footage. It woke up La Bimba, who then had to sleep with us, her heels digging into my ribs all night. She likes to form the letter H with us.

I woke up, blew my nose, and got a nosebleed. The only downside to less humidity.

Later, La Bimba, The Husband and I went for a walk in the Villa Comunale. Packed with kids and dogs, it was hard to navigate, so we walked along the sea instead, pausing to let La Bimba have her weekly pony ride.

Then we went to The Husband's ex-girlfriend Barbara's house for lunch. On the way, The Husband found some keys sitting in a potted plant on the street. He took them because it brings good luck, finding keys. We found our friend Fanta at Barbara's (that's a direct translation from the Italian, "Abbiamo trovato Fanta da Barbara"). Fanta is from Ethiopia. La Bimba always cries when she first sees him, and The Husband jokes about Fanta being the scary Uomo Nero.

On our way home, we needed a one-euro coin to get a ticket from the machines for the funicolare. The newsstands were closed and we only had a two-euro coin, which the machines do not accept. The Husband went into the bar on the corner and asked for change, but the guy said he didn't have any. Then I went in and he told me the same thing, adding that it was off-hour for change, whatever the cazzo that means. I stormed out and then stormed back in and asked to buy a coffee. He looked at me with scorn and said, "This is absurd." And I said, "No, what's absurd is a bar not having change in its register. And what's also absurd is a bar refusing to sell someone an espresso." He took my 2 euro coin and begrudgingly gave me the euro coin change. The espresso was nasty.

I was livid. I had arrived at my limit. I scowled for about an hour afterwards. Who the fuck do these people think they are? The lying, the miserliness, the rudeness. I lost all cultural sensitivity in that one moment. The man called me absurd!

I don't like when smoke comes out of my ears, when venom threatens to spew forth from my unforked tongue, when I want to cry from frustration. It reminds me of the road rage I used to experience in the Bay Area. I would pound the steering wheel and curse the gods and all the people in their SUVs and I would cry real tears. Not worth it.

I have been thinking a lot about how to live a sane life. With all the fast pace, the technology, the crowds, the fumes, the noise...it's too much. I know a life in the country or in a small town would provide its challenges, but I don't think I can do this big city thing anymore. Is there somewhere I can turn in my Urban Girl card? I want to denounce my cosmopolitan, metropolitan citizenship and become a bumpkin.

It wouldn't be too hard. There's always the internet.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Picture This...

La Bimba and I sitting on a bench on a pedestrian street. We are sitting next to an old man. We are eating ice cream. The old man says, "Don't feed it to her too fast it's too cold!" Then he says, "What are you giving her?" I say, "A blueberry." He says, "Don't feed her that stuff. It's all processed!" Then he says, "Watch out! She's eating the cone! She can choke." I say, "It's okay. Look, she's chewing." Turning away (literally turning his back toward me) he says, "I can't look. Too scary!"

La Bimba and I sitting on the funicolare. La Bimba is wearing orange pants, a navy blue sweatshirt, and her new navy blue sneakers. An elderly woman says, "You should put her in a dress!"

I am chasing La Bimba around the field in the Villa Floridiana. It is packed with kids of all ages, including teenagers getting it on. Several groups are kicking balls around. One group of young boys have a regulation soccer ball, not one of the lightweight beach balls that everyone else has. I navigate La Bimba through the play, careful to prevent her from being knocked unconscious by her first inadvertent header. We approach a couple of women sitting on picnic blankets at the same time that a pair of men approach. The men, one elderly, one maybe in his early 40s, say to the women, "Are those your boys? They are not supposed to be playing soccer here, especially with a ball like that. Double rubber. It can hurt a little kid like this one (pointing at La Bimba)." I notice that he men are wearing Vigili dei Parchi armbands, Park Police. Neapolitan Rangers. They proceed to explain to me that it is forbidden to play soccer or ride bikes in the park. I say, "But there is so little green space in Naples. Maybe there can be a set time when kids can play soccer and another time for toddlers to run free." They look at me like I am deranged and a threat to the well-being of my baby. They say in unison, "No signora, it's too dangerous. The park has to be safe for little ones like her (pointing at La Bimba)." They walk away and I sayto the women, "Just want you to know that I had know idea that there were such rules and I think it's a little crazy." They agree saying, "How can they expect young boys not to play soccer?" Then I say, "And it's funny how the Park Police are all up in our faces when the regular police and the carabinieri let all sorts of criminal activity go on uninterrupted." To this they look at me blankly and go back to talking among themselves.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Pre-emptive Nostalgia


In response to Gayle's comment about it being funny the whole pre-emptive nostalgia thing, I think it is easy to have pre-emptive nostalgia in a place like Naples, like Italy, because they entire populace is always already nostalgic both for what was and what could have been. I too usually feel nostalgic for a place after having it left it some time ago, like a normal person, but a normal person one cannot be when one lives in Naples.


"Potrebbe essere" means "it could be" in Italian and it is a phrase applied to Naples as often as blond highlights are applied to dark hair in this town, i.e. constantly. Naples potrebbe essere so many things: clean, safe, thriving, like Barcelona. But it's not and they are few and far between those folks trying to make it so.


After an hour of dusty play in the Villa Comunale, La Bimba and I headed for a trattoria. We took a detour and ate instead in a place called Orange in Piazza Rodinò in the Chiaia district. There was one table for two left in the little outdoor seating area and we nabbed it. At all the other tables sat the Neapolitan jet set, very tan men and women with their Jack Russells and dachsunds stiffing around at their ankles, eating hamburgers sans bun with french fries smothered in mayonnaise and ketchup that tastes like vinegar, ever careful not to drip anything onto their Diesel leather jackets, Prada blouses or, San Gennaro forbid, into their cleavages. There were women with bottle blond hair, nose jobs, and french manicures. One young woman's entire butt was showing, not just the crack, spilling over her low rise jeans. One middle-aged guy had his white linen shirt unbuttoned to below his solar plexus. I was only disappointed he wasn't wearing a big gold crucifix...or a chai.


Speaking of chais, I saw the orthodox Jewish man with his two kids at the Villa today. He smiled at me and La Bimba when his elder son, perhaps 2 and a half?, came over and babbled at us in what sounded like Hebrew Italian. I wanted to ask him what in the name of Yahweh he was doing in Naples, but I got shy. I have seen him and his family around Piazza Santa Maria La Nova in the past, but I have never had such an open opportunity to interrogate. If I am given another chance, I won't let it pass me by.


So, back to Orange. The Orange People eating at Orange. Orange is a groovy name that has no relationship to the place or its menu. There are some orange lights, but no Orange Julius. There are wurstels but no Gray's Papaya hot dogs. The women tended to hold their faces in positions of coolness that looked like they were suffering cramps. The men flipped their Farrah hair around. They were friendly toward La Bimba. They tolerated me and my unwashed hair, my out of fashion fashion (I was wearing my Blue Dot pants, however), my lack of make-up. They probably thought I was La Bimba's Ukrainian nanny.


La Bimba rejected the eggplant parmigiana, friarielli, peppers and mushrooms, and ate only french fries with neither mayo nor ketchup. She has gotten hella (nod to the Bay Area) feisty in the last couple of days, a delayed reaction to the weaning I suppose. I might have caved in last night or this morning and let her have a swig, but I'm all dried up, not quite the grey sunken cunt of the world (sounds crude, but it's Joyce, so it's okay), but milk-free. Poor little bunny.


Now we are home, La Bimba is sleeping, I am blogging WIRELESSLY, hooray, and it is still freschetto fuori. A good day.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mixed Feelings


The Husband and I are watching the local news, TG3-Campania, as I type this post. They are reporting on a camorra hit that occurred in Naples today, a shoot-em-up in broad daylight at a gas station in the center. No innocent bystanders were hit, but they could have been.

Right before I sat down to blog and watch the news, I was standing on our terrace gazing at the view: Capri, the Gulf of Naples, Mergellina, building on top of building, headlights, brake lights, a cloud bank, an incoming airplane. It is mercifully cool out, chilly enough for long sleeves, and as I leaned on the railing, breathing in the sea air, I felt a tinge of regret that we will be leaving this place.

Our 85-year-old landlady and The Husband do not get along. According to Salvatore, our Jehovah's Witness, ballroom dancing door man, no one gets along with la signora Ciliberti. She is a widow with one son, Bruno, for whom she has only unveiled disdain. She looks like she's just bit into a rotten clam when she mentions his name. I have only met Bruno once. I let him into the apartment to go through some things in the storage space that sits on the far end of the terrace, the one with the view of Castel Sant'Elmo. As he was rummaging he said, "She has got to go through this stuff." I offered, "She is waiting for you..." and before I finished he said, "To die?"

Now this only makes sense in Italian. I said, "Lei sta aspettando..." and Bruno understood that "Lei" to mean "You," Lei with a capital L being the formal form of you in Italian. So Bruno heard, "You are waiting for..." and he evidently thought I was going to say, "You are waiting for her to die before you will throw her stuff out."

I was using the "lei," lower case L, as in "she" and wanted to say, "She is waiting for you to go through the stuff." I should have said, "La signora sta aspettando che lo fa Lei." That would have been clear, though potentially in need of the subjunctive, but why mince grammar.

When The Husband went to pay the rent, the landlady said she wanted us out by next September. The Husband and I both hope to be living outside of Naples, far outside, before then, so the deadline is not a problem. But I have to admit to having felt a pang of pre-emptive nostalgia for this place. I have been lamenting Naples ever since I got here and never more than in the last few weeks when it has been over 100 degrees and devoid of people, hot and lonely. I get anxious in the extreme heat and act like a 2-year-old. I have been so negative about Naples.

Until today. The cool air and the return of the students and working people, a violin player in front of Santa Chiara, sitting with his amplifier across the street from where two very short stout women, one in a baker's uniform -- white dress, white hat, red and white apron -- stood chatting, a couple of encounters with people I know in the center, the "how was your vacation?" variety conversation, with the woman who works at the Gay Odin chocolate and ice cream shop on Spaccanapoli, with one of the hot computer geek twins, either Luigi or Salvatore, I am never sure which, with Gianni the Salumiere and his Sri Lankan helper, Joseph...all of this made me fall in love with Naples again, to walk with a spring in my step. And I only called one guy in a car a dick and two kids on a motorino assholes. That's nothing!

My dear dear friend N. was here for a few days and it was so lovely I could just collapse thinking about how much I wish we lived near each other. She had just come from Israel and when I asked her how she felt walking around Naples, negotiating the traffic and bumpy streets with La Bimba and me, she said it was way less chaotic than Tel Aviv. So now we have to go to Israel and then come back and see Naples with mellow goggles on.

I don't think there is another place in the Western world that will inspire me to think and write and marvel like Naples does. But that is not enough of a reason to stick around. We are not leaving tomorrow, but someday soon and I will mourn.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bye Bye Boobie

Today is the first time since her birth that La Bimba has not breastfed at all. I believe she might be weaned. Mixed feelings? Not a one. Go, individuation, go!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Random


La Bimba likes to have things attached to her -- a purse over her arm, a necklace around her neck, a pair of shorts on her head -- and then walk around with proud appendage. I guess it will not faze her when someone tapes a "Kick me" sign to her pants when she is in Junior High School.


Here she is with a diaper on her head. Classy.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stating the Obvious

A young grandmother was holding her 24-day old grandson in the crook of her arm. With her free hand, she smoked a cigarette. They were standing with other relatives on one of the few real sidewalks in Naples. I approached with La Bimba in the stroller, planning to say, "You couldn't at least hand him over to one of his uncles while you got your nicotine fix?" but said instead, "Vedi il bimbo, Lucia! Quant'è bello!" Sometimes it's better to let things be.

Yesterday La Bimba and I were hanging out in Piazza Plebiscito (a massive piazza with no shade, in case you've never been...avoid at high noon), when I noticed a group of people marking movement in the center of the square. One was barefoot. I asked someone what was going on and she said that they were filming a dance for a video art exhibit to take place at MADRE, Naples's fabulous contemporary art museum. She pointed to the filmmaker, a chubby gal in black standing behind a videocamera at the far end of the square. When I approached the filmmaker, she was ordering a lackey around, telling him to prevent passersby from walking into the frame. He was running back and forth like a caged animal, begging ice cream eaters and balloon salesmen to walk around the shot. Not an easy job.

The group of dancers, mostly unprofessional, some kids, began to mark the piece, to do a run-through. After some random milling about, they formed lines and began to follow a leader through a series of movements, basic, simple movements from modern choreography. I assumed the leader was the choreographer and wanted to know his name, so I asked the filmmaker.

Me: Is that the choreographer in front?

Her: Excuse me?

Me: Is there a choreographer for this dance?

Her: It's a film.

Me: Yes, but did someone choreograph the movement?

Her: Yeah.

Me: What's his name?

Her: Guido something.

Woe is me! Woe is dance! A video art project based entirely on movement and the filmmaker doesn't even know the choreographer's name. I wanted to say, "Nice way to treat other artists" but said instead, "Guido something. I see."

Am I being wise or cowardly with all these unspoken sentiments?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Follow Through


When I was in Switzerland, I told my friend G. that I had to remember to write about something on my blog, something I mentioned briefly in the past and she said something like, "You never go back to old posts." She is right! I have signed off posts on more than one occasion with a lame excuse like being tired or lazy and leave my readership in suspense! Yes, that's wishful thinking, but at the very least I should follow through like every tennis instructor tells us.


So, I've been going back to old posts and plan to pry the fingers of every cliffhanger off its boulder.


On February 25, 2007 I wrote: "I've taken a small, insider's poll and have discovered that no one gets the "kicked in the shin" part of my blog's subtitle. I am now offering my vast, ahem, readership the opportunity to guess what I'm after with that subtle bit of brilliance. Hint: it does not merely refer to the frequent agony I experience walking out my door every morning..."


Naples is located on the shin of the boot of Italy. It is a city that has been getting kicked and has been kicking itself in the shin since its founding. I suppose "shoot yourself in the foot" is more accurate for what goes on here on a day to day basis, but Naples is not on the foot of Italy and Italy is definitely winding up for a calcio di rigore and not cocking a pistol. On my darker days, I like to imagine Italy, the boot, kicking Sicily, which, like a three-pointed Chinese star, spins in the air and, like an Australian boomerang, comes flying back and lodges itself in Naples, the shin. Ouch!


But for every kick that doubles them over, the Neapolitans get back up again. How do they do it?
So, G., I am on task and will be fleshing out my skeletal posts one day at a time.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Grazie mille genitori miei


It dawned on me today while I was lying on the floor in our sauna of a living room, the hot air from our new fan blowing on my sweaty brow, that I have never lived in Naples when I wasn't either recovering from a miscarriage, pregnant or a new mom (I will consider myself a new mom until I have another baby, i.e. I will probably consider myself a new mom forever, though you never know).


My mother told me not to make any decisions in the heat. That is very good advice and I have decided to share it with you here.


I just watched the worst movie ever, Man of the Year starring Robin Williams with Laura Linney, Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum. Oh, the agony of seeing great actors try to come up for air as they sink over and over again under the quicksand of bad writing.


Thirteen million Italians are supposed to come home from vacation today. I am reading Luigi Barzini's The Italians, which I recommend for an honest view of Italians by an Italian. He wrote the book in the 60s and a lot has changed, nothing fundamental, that never seems to change, but lots of superficial things, above all the cost of living. Anyway, check it out.


We tried and failed to buy an air conditioner today. My dad gave me some advice about how to try and succeed next time, so maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow we are supposed to go to Zoo Marine, Italy's Marine World, but we may not go. I am so tired of all this Vediamo-ing.


La Bimba, when very, very angry, makes this horrible squealing sound. When she does, I call out to her, "What's the matter my lovely stuck pig?" She has also officially entered NO land and is adjusting nicely. She even says NO when she means yes.


Comunque, thanks to both of you, mom and dad, for the good advice this evening. I am still sweating like the hormonal beast that I am, but I feel better.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Land of the Orange People

Summer is winding down, but the heat is rising and there is no foreseeable end to the Italian tanning craze. Like their relationship to cigarette smoking, the Italian people live in a state of denial when it comes to sun damage. They expose their skin to both UVA and UVB rays, from 10am to 2pm, using shiny silver reflectors, forgoing sunscreen with an SPF higher than 4, and though they begin to resemble their alligator bags and snakeskin shoes by the age of 22, they don't seem to mind.


I used to tan. And I turned a lovely brown. Now I have freckles and age spots and those white dots that signify mini melanin deaths to prove it. I avoid the sun, but even with Neutrogena Skin Defense or Age Defying Lotion or whatever it's called with an SPF of 45 and sitting under a giant umbrella, I am still changing color. Even La Bimba who is subject to multiple Water Babies latherings every day has a bit of a tan. (Not enough, according to our Neapolitan neighbors, who shout, "Put that baby in the sun! Get her some color!").


But at least I am not orange. These people, these blissfully unaware Italians, are orange. It's not pretty.


The worst place for sun damage is the female chest. There is nothing more frightening than when an overly tanned woman of a certain age leans over causing her boobs to converge resulting in the accordion effect of the chest skin. Here it is over the entire body:


Do you think that image has been air brushed?

There are so many things I fear for La Bimba if we remain in Napoli: smoking, tanning, helmetless motorino riding, coffee addiction, no fiber in her diet, butt crack exposure fashion, cutting in front of old people in line... I suppose I just have to keep working on leaving town. But where oh where should we go?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Competitive Streak

It is two-nothing on the me vs. the Italian bureaucracy scorecard. I am kicking ass! Today I got my carta d'identità no questions asked. La Bimba wore pigtails and was called Pippi Calzelunghe by every passerby.

Those are today's highlights.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Welcome Back!

I succeeded in updating the address associated with my codice fiscale today after a 1.5 hour wait and a brief argument with the clerk. The clerk, a woman with long fingernails painted red and dotted with rhinestones, a woman with eyeshadow the colors of the aurora borealis, was actually fairly nice given that I was her last customer and her helping me was biting into her lunch hour. I wanted a copy of my codice fiscale for my carta di soggiorno file and I wanted to update my address. I mistakenly made latter request after asking for the copy, really tickin her off. She said, "You made me think you wanted a duplicate copy! Now you want to change your address and I can't do that now!" I asked, "Why not?" She replied, "Because the system won't let me now." I asked, "Why? Because it's after hours?" She answered, "No! Because I just did an operation and it won't let me do another one. Fine, fine, let's see if it will let me." And, of course, it did because computers are like that, they let people do an operation after the last operation. They don't punish people for making them have to work after they are supposed to be having a panino. I wanted to tell the woman that making up bogus arguments was actually delaying her break time even more, that efficiency was the key to a leisurely post-pranzo fag, but I said nothing more than, "Grazie tante. Gentilissima."

La Bimba and I were delayed three hours in Milan and she took it like a champ. She practiced walking, she talked to babies and doggies, she made a friend, Carolina, 7, she rested, she snacked, and then she slept on the plane. Do they make a better baby than that? I don't think so.


Everyone was annoyed at the gate, but no one complained much. I am used to at least one person shouting and shaking a fist in the face of the gate agent, we Americans can get pretty fussy when expected timetables and assumed conveniences get disrupted. The Italians are so used to things not working efficiently that they take delays and such irritations in stride. One older woman in a blouse and cardigan did say at one point, "They don't even turn up the air conditioning. Non ce la faccio più," but she said it to her husband and only I overheard it, so it could hardly be called an outburst.


So, we are back in Naples where it is blissfully breezy and most folks are still on vacation, so the streets are less crowded, the traffic less hideous. Switzerland is already a receding memory, an increasingly blurry and ever more wistful memory of cool, green valley relaxation. I really relaxified there, that is, I relaxed myself into a sort of calcified state of relaxation. I am trying to maintain the sensation. And I am trying to forget that the Divine Miss M. said to her mommy after seeing me after a shower, "Her nipples are like yours except more downer."

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ave Maria

It's raining gatti e cani, chats et chiens, Katze und Hunde here in Switzerland. And there was just a wonderful crack of thunder that scared G. because she grew up in Davis, California where there weren't ever any thunderstorms. We went to Locarno today, a fairly sweet town on Lake Maggiore, a precise 14-minute train ride from my friends' little town of Verscio. Swiss trains, swiss watches.

I have been enjoying the service here in Switz. Lots of friendly, smiling, helpful people behind the counters. None of that sullen Italian treatment, the deigning to look up from the paper, the look of total confusion when you ask for something in not perfectly accented, but decent enough Italian. "Cosa? Non ho capito." It's not always like that, but it is often enough to warrant a little moan.

Yesterday was Ferragosto, the Feast of the Assumption, no, not a giant collective assumption that, say, everyone makes their train that day, but rather, the Virgin Mary's assumption, body and soul, into heaven. I like to picture her in her casual blue dress with white wimple, head cocked slightly to the right, hands extended low at her sides, palms forward, sailing up and out into the Great Blue Yonder.

My friends are nominally, their word, raising their kids in the Shin Buddhist tradition, and I thought it was important for them to know why all the stores were closed yesterday, so that they wouldn't get teased mercilessly for not knowing, like, duh!, every Catholic knows about Mary and her blue outfit and how she was Jesus's mom, though Joseph could never be sure, etc. So, I sat down in front of the computer with nearly 5-year-old Divine Miss M. and her heading toward 3 years old little brother L. and took the information superhighway to www.catholic.org. There we learned all about the Assumption as well as about various saints, their feast days, what they are patrons over, how gruesomely they died.

What the Divine Miss M. got out of it was that Mary, body and spirit, was in the sky yesterday. When her father left for work that evening she shouted to him, "Don't forget, Pa! Mary's in the sky!!!" Her mom is a bit worried and somewhat confused that her Jewish friend from Brooklyn is teaching her children about Catholicism. I also taught the children that the current Pope's favorite color is hot pink and that Paul means small.

All in all I think it was a very edifying day. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Swiss Miss

I am blogging to you from Ticino, Switzerland in the half hour I have before the start of my phone appointment with my shrink in Oakland, California. I am surrounded by mountains, vineyards, red flags with white crosses, mountainside churches, beaming, healthy children, and a dialect that comes as much through the nose as napoletano bursts from the gut.

My friends, their kids, La Bimba and I have been playing, strolling, cooking, eating, and when the kids go to sleep, my friend and I talk each others' ears off. It's great. We've even done some yoga together.

On a lovely walk through the village, we came across a handmade sign posted above a doorway. The sign went something like this (my translation from the Italian): "That ba___rd who stole my boring machine (1900 Swiss francs) knows I know who he is, so he had better come clean because if I find him myself I am going to put that boring machine up his a__." Yes, stronzo and culo did not have all their letters, though they were written in red while the rest of the sign was in black. My friend said, "I have never seen anything like that here."

Then, up the ways a bit, maybe two or three doors down, past the water fountain with the freshest tasting water pouring from it, we found another door with a sign on it. This was a simple white sheet of paper with a typewritten message (again, from the Italian): "There is a man walking around town pretending to be looking for an apartment to rent. He tests doors and enters through open ones and then, if caught, makes vague excuses and then hightails it. His distinguishing features are: a rather strong southern Italian accent, around 5'10", dark hair, green eyes. If you see him, contact the authorities."

They could have been describing The Husband. But, of course, he is taller than that and we are here without him. I loved that first, and it was first, description about the accent. For those of you who understand Italian, it read: "Ha un accento piuttosto italiano meridionale." I just love that piuttosto!

I turned to my friend and said, "Not the peaceful, idyllic village it's cracked up to be, huh?"

But actually, it is. It is fabulous. And now I want to live here, let La Bimba grow up waving to the two-car trains that go by, eating raspberries she picks off the vine, sniffing the odor of ripening grapes on her way to school. The Husband could open a trattoria napoletana and get a horse and a bunch of doggies. I can be near great friends and a circus school and curse less. Who knows. Vediamo.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Arrivals and Departures

Today is my anniversary, three years in Italy. I arrived in Rome on August 12, 2004 and, well, the rest is history in the making.

La Bimba and I leave for Switzerland soon. I hope to get a chance to blog from the alpine freshness.

A prestissimo!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Art Work




La Bimba is doing her Jackson Pollock routine, sitting on top of a giant piece of drawing paper and making random squiggles with her crayons.


She is getting better and better at walking and is on her way to standing up from sitting without having to use props. I particularly like how she changes direction: she kind of lists in the direction she wants to go and then tips into it without stopping her forward motion. And she likes keys. And cheese and peas, which makes her random "Eeez" sound sometimes hard to interpret.


That's all for now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Road trip, Mind trip


La Bimba and I are going on our first trip without The Husband on Sunday. We are flying to Milan where our friend P. is coming to pick us up and bring us to Ticino, Switzerland. Six days in the green valley. Sounds like good medicine.


I used to travel a lot and usually sola. I criss-crossed the US by car many, many times, taking in national parks and burger joints and roadside peach stands. I bumped into people I knew in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, visited close friends, walked through cool rivers, sweated in suffocating deserts, slept in Motel 6s and tents, in lightening storms and sweltering heat. I have been through 45 of the the 50 states. Who wouldn't save Hawaii and Alaska (and Alabama, Oklahoma and Arkansas) for last?


I started romances on road trips and also watched them die. I ate tacos and corn dogs and continental breakfasts (remember R.? watching you sleep, willing you to wake up so we could hit the road and pose for photos with the Cheyenne High football team on green John Deere tractors?). I sang very loudly with a Camel Light hanging out of my lips on Route 66, and wailed like a maniac at Four Corners. I made a fate-altering call from Bluff, Utah, got pulled over in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho for driving with too much joy, watched a lightening bolt start in the heavens and hit the dirt in the middle of nowhere Kansas. That's when I learned that a single tree bent over a still pond surrounded by nothing Kansas can be more majestic than the red rock Utah. Abe's Grocery breakfast burritos in Taos, New Mexico. Root beer float somewhere in Arizona. The Baghdad Cafe ostrich burger in Newberry Springs, California, and a buffalo burger in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Geysers. Waterfalls. Stalactites. Mudbugs and beer in a pre-Katrina New Orleans. The life-size replica of the Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee. Graceland, of course. And the home for wayward men in Memphis that stood next door to our B&B.


There was the wedding in Eugene, Oregon where I almost fainted holding up the chuppah ("Excuse me, could you hold this for a second?"), and waking up in an enchanted forest outside Bristol, a town that shares a border with Tennessee and Virginia. We had arrived at night, set up camp by flashlight, and woke up under a canopy of dark green by the side of a crystalline lake...I've got to learn the names of some trees.


On a totally unrelated Neapolitan note, The Husband, La Bimba and I went to the comune to get a copy of my residenza, and La Bimba was missing from it. I hadn't thought to "declare" her because I assumed her name would pop up wherever mine did. Instead, because she was born in Naples when I was still a resident in Brooklyn, she was considered una nascità occasionale, which more or less means that the comune di Napoli assumed a New Yorker decided to have her baby in Naples just for kicks. According to Italian law, a baby follows the mother, i.e. takes on her domicile, thus, according to the comune di Napoli and Italia as a whole, The Husband and I live in Naples and La Bimba is holed up in a bachelorette flat in New York.


I hope she'll let us visit now and then. Do you think we should call first?

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Frigid Air


The lady with the white hair at whom La Bimba is gazing in the photo of the Catanian market is my mother. And if it weren't for the shorts and t-shirt, you would mistake her for a Sicilian grandma.


La Bimba napped for only 45 minutes today and I was a wreck. I need that afternoon break. I hope this is just a phase. She is getting rather saucy as well. At least she ate an entire fish today, una bella sogliola, so The Husband is happy.


We are getting a new refrigerator tomorrow because the one that came with the apartment is on the fritz. Fridge on the fritz! Putting on the ritz! We will not miss its faux wood paneling either.


I bought the new fridge at Eldo, an electronics chain that I prefer not to give my money to. I like to support mom and pop shops, but you know how Neapolitan moms and pops can be, so sometimes, with larger purchases, I go with the places whose credit card machines actually work, i.e. they pay for the service.


I don't know if I will stand by this stand, however. I bought an A+ fridge, one that saves energy. It is supposed to come with a 20 percent rebate from the government, for being environmentally correct. To get the check you have to have ASIA pick up your old fridge and give you a document, which you then give to Eldo, which then does something involving a top hat, a wand and a bunny, and you get your dough. ASIA, in this case, is not the continent, though I wouldn't be surprised if Italy were dumping its rotten appliances in Bangladesh. It is the sanitation department and they told me I had to hire a private company to put down my ailing fridge and give me the necessary documents. I couldn't get through to a private company today, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they will charge me more than the rebate.


Truffo!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

And the pendulum swings again



I have GOT to get some things off my chest. First of all, it's hot. I know, it could be hotter, it has been hotter, and there is a nice breeze blowing through our apartment giving us all stiff necks, but it is nevertheless hot. And sticky.


Second of all, I miss my friends. The ones on the East coast, the ones on the West coast, the ones in the middle, the ones in other European countries, the ones who miss me, the ones who don't, the ones I don't speak to any longer, the ones I haven't spoken to since I was twelve, the ones I met this year, the ones with whom I have nothing in common, the ones who know everything about me, the ones who hardly know me at all.


Thirdly, I am making myself ill watching episode after episode of Desperate Housewives. I feel like a desperate housewife and I hardly ever cook or clean. The thing that starts to make me sick about DH and other series that I have been addicted to in the past is the first unconscious feeling then nauseating awareness that the characters are not growing. They never change. They repeat their mistakes over and over again, for if they were to stop, the series would be over...or at least the title would have to change, in this case to Satisfied Empowered Women of the Home.

Fourth, I hate my hair.

In sum, it's August in Naples. Not a good time to reflect on life. There is too much glare and too little shade.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Puddle of Love


La Bimba did something that so thoroughly melted my heart-self, it lay in a puddle at her chubby little feet. She was playing by herself while I did some emailing, both of us in the same room, my pediatrician friend E. told me this was not ignoring her, it was giving her the space to learn on her own, never interrupt a child's play!, he told me, okay, okay, we get it, you're not neglecting your child, move on. She was having little bursts of cranky whines, mini frustrations, so I went over and sat a few paces from her. She put down the bolts she was playing with, crawled over to me, stood up with the help of first my knees, then a boob, ouch, then my shoulders, and wrapped her arms around my neck, resting her head on my shoulder. We sat there for a few moments, just hugging and breathing. La Bimba popped her head up a couple of times to look at me, to touch her forehead to mine, and then snuggled back down. Then she unhooked her arms, plopped down on her butt, and crawled back to the bolts.
I felt so loved and so much love, and so needed and so capable of being there, something I don't always feel, something I suppose every mother worries they won't be able to be, there, just there. And then let go.

Non mi hai visto my ass


Well, back in Naples, back to fuming at the absolutely normal behavior exhibited by the natives on the funicolare. They cut in front of me and La Bimba then they turn to coo at La Bimba. I loathe them at those moments.


Us, them, me, them, me against them, will it never end?


I found the Sicilians, since we're generalizing here without fear or shame, very friendly, their cities clean, their food an overwhelming disappointment. I kept hearing that I was going to go wild for the food, that Neapolitan cuisine is one step below Sicilian, but instead I found the food too heavy, too salty, too extra virgin olive oily. There were some interesting combinations like oranges with sardines and pepper, and some frightening things like pig lip salad, oh yes, but overall la cucian siciliana did not hold a candle to quella napoletana. Or maybe we just ate at all the wrong places.


I want to return to Palermo and explore it and I want to return to Catania when it's not over 100 degrees F. It was 113 in Modica, a town just southeast of Ragusa that is so gorgeous, so Euro Arabo fantastic, that it was pity we couldn't stand outside for more than one nanosecond before becoming dust. We also had our best meal there, pasta with puree of fava beans, ravioli with the sweetest, gentlest ricotta, veal steak, and lemon granita.


On an unrelated note, I am winning the word race! La Bimba currently has more words in English than in Italian: baby, horse, fish, cheese, hello, ball, bubbles, vs. babbo, cane, grazie, ciao, and one other in Italian I can't remember. As for what she calls me, it's a cross between the Neapolitan mamma and the American mommy, so no one can claim it yet. It sounds kind of like mahmei. The point is I am winning.


How pathetic do I sound?


We were in Palermo for only a few hours, but we got to visit the Capella Palatina in all its mosaic glory...well, almost all...it was under quite a bit of construction. Then we got roped into a guided tour of the royal palace where the government officials work and The Husband commented in room after room how the politicians suck our blood. Other Italians on the tour agreed. When we got to the top of a flight of stairs where sat a middle-aged gentleman, a guard of sorts, The Husband said, "Are you one of the antiques?" The guard liked that. How does The Husband do it? He teases people and they laugh instead of punching him. It's quite a talent.


It's nice and breezy outside, even a bit of cloud cover. The wind is blowing our plastic furniture around the terrace. A lovely scraping sound. La Bimba sleeps. I try to tap into my writerly side. And as soon as I digest my cotoletta and fries, I will do some yoga...or maybe just take a nap. A prestissimo!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Back in the Saddle and it's so hot my butt's stuck to it


We are just back from Sicily and I have much to report. Of course, now is not the time to report it, but I didn't want to go too long without giving a shout out to my wide, wide readership. Wouldn't want y'all to think I'd left the blogosphere permanently. Wild horses couldn't keep me away.


Naples is nice and empty, hot and sticky, and our floors are so dirty that La Bimba's knees look like they are performing in a minstrel show. The Husband and she are out and about, and when they return and sweet baby girl takes a nap, it is frenzied clean-up time.


La Bimba traveled beautifully, partied hard, met lots of adoring fans, didn't learn to walk. My father was hoping she'd take her first solo steps before his very eyes, but no such luck. She is doing great holding one hand now. The above picture is of her on the dance floor at Club Med. Club Med really knows how to take the Sicilian out of Sicily. More on that later...or tomorrow.
p.s. La Bimba walked just moments after I published this post. The funniest drunken sailor walk I have ever seen. We are so proud though not as proud as she is of her own bad self!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Free mints? Toothpicks? Cell phones?


The Husband, La Bimba and I were having lunch at Zi' Carmela, a pizzeria-trattoria near the sea that is sometimes fabulous, sometimes mediocre, and always overpriced, when The Husband got to chatting with the table next to us. The table didn't actually speak, that would have been interesting...oh the stories! The spills! The cigarette burns!..., no, the three diners, a woman and two men spoke. One man in particular was quite the chatty cathy. He had tattoos and a few mismatched teeth, was very thin and tan, and looked like a feisty old man with a sordid past. He and The Husband talked about Naples, the quartieri where they both grew up, the man's fruttivendolo father, the man's grandchildren, the fact that the waitstaff at Zi' Carmela's wasn't treating them right. The man is a friend of Don Antonio, the kindly ex-waiter of Zi' Carmela's. Don Antonio had a shock of white hair and gave the joint a hint of class. His replacement is a tall, thin, pimply kid who gives the joint a hint of cluelessness. Anyway, it was a warm and friendly dining experience and my sfilatina, a calzone-type thing with prosciutto, mushrooms, ricotta, pepper and mozzarella was worth the 7 euros.


Shortly after the trio left the table and headed up the street, The Husband noticed a cell phone left behind, right where the old man's half-eaten frittura had been just a moment before. He was holding La Bimba, so I took the phone and ran up the street to return it to the man. When I caught up to the group I said, "Hey! You left your phone." The woman looked at it and said, "That's not mine," and turning to the man, "Is it yours?" The man gave the phone a classic Neapolitan chin-thrust, lip-jut and after a pause said, "Yeah. That's mine." He took the phone and without saying Grazie, tucked it away and got in his car.


I returned to our table to find the chef asking his 7-year-old son whether he had seen his cell phone. "Is it silver?" The Husband asked. "Si." "Is it a 3?" I asked. "Si." Ohmigod! "We thought it belonged to the dude who was sitting there!" "Did he say it was his?" the chef asked. "Si."


Che gente di merda!

Che schifo!

Lui aveva una faccia brutta!


And on and on and on. Everyone stood around marveling at the fact that a GRANDPA would knowingly take a cell phone that didn't belong to him. That's a teenager manoeuver. I suppose the guy figured the americana was a bozo...which she was...and that her bozoness gave him the right to make off with a free phone. The chef was very understanding...Zi' Carmela a bit less so...the 7-year-old just shrugged. The Husband and I howled with laughter when we were out of earshot.


We apologized up and down. The chef said he was glad to know what happened to the phone, to not have to live with the mystery. He called Don Antonio to let him know what happened. He may or may not get his phone back.


Reflecting on the man's delay in taking the phone, his expression that lacked recognition of the object, his failure to thank me, it became blaringly obvious that he was bullshitting. The Husband would have figured that out immediately, given the guy a friendly chuck on the shoulder, and taken the phone back to the restaurant. I might have also caught on had I either just moved to Naples or had I been living here for longer. I have become accustomed to bizarre responses to actions, to a lack of grace when it seems to be required, to an outpouring of kindness when it is least expected, so the man's oddness didn't seem suspicious to me until after the fact. Neapolitans are known for cunning, they tell you themselves not to trust them, but for an American girl, even one from Brooklyn, it is hard to get the signals straight. And this is what makes it a neverending mystery for me. And so fun. And so annoying. And so great.


Il pranzo della domenica alla napoletana.

Monday, July 9, 2007


Why can't I enter a title anymore? Yesterday and today...I don't understand Blogger.


Finally, someone was brutally honest today. A woman in the department store where La Bimba and I were shopping said, "What a beautiful baby? Are you the mother?" to which I replied, "Yes." The woman looked at me and said, "She is more beautiful than you" to which I replied, "Much."


Finally, what they are all thinking has been spoken. I feel so relieved.


Saturday, July 7, 2007


Lots of people smoke while driving their mopeds here in Naples. When I smoked -- I was never "a smoker," too inconsistent to warrant the sobriquet -- I liked to do so above all in a bar with a beer. I didn't even like smoking outside because the second-hand smoke I needed to enjoy smokng first-hand is too diluted in the great outdoors (though I did take some pleasure smoking around a campfire...a different sort of second-hand smoke). Smoking with coffee was okay, but too early in the morning. Smoking between courses in a restaurant in Italy before the smoking ban felt so naughty after not being able to smoke within fifty feet of outdoor tables in Berkeley, it made every smoke that much tastier.

The last cigarettes I was smoking were Gauloises reds. The last cigarette I smoked was in July 2005. I am still breastfeeding La Bimba, so no smoking...yet. I cannot say with conviction that I will never smoke again, but I hope I don't because it is a disgusting habit and my teeth are already yellower since my coffee addiction. I had never had a cup of coffee in my life before I moved to Italy, something I was annoyingly proud of. Now I can't wait for that cappuccino freddo. With a brioche. I had stopped eating wheat in California. The intestinal tract is a fickle friend.

Smoking on the beach always made me feel ill. I once took a drag off a Russian cigarette and had to immediately find a toilet. Who needs Miralax? I smoked Camel Lights in Madison, Wisconsin because that's what my friend S. smoked. I smoked Winstons, not lights, in Seaside Heights, New Jersey and lost about 15 pounds that summer since I paired those fags with Seabreezes and no dinner. Or lunch. I don't mind Marlboro Reds, but the Lights are gross. The Husband smokes Pall Malls, sometimes Blue (lights), mostly Red, when he runs out of the Marlboros my parents and other Americans bring him through the Duty Free.

In college, Colleen smoked Benson & Hedges. I don't like 100s, too long, can't balance them between my fingers. I can't blow smoke rings or french inhale. I never understood why people smoked menthols. Do they really have fiberglass particles in them? And why are they marketed to black people? My mom used to smoke L&Ms. Z's parents won washing machines and other large appliances by being faithful to Viceroys. Philip Morris is a huge supporter of concert dance. My grandpa Jack couldn't talk on the phone without smoking. My grandma Daurcy smoked on the couch in the den, in front of Tom & Jerry and a plate of Sara Lee pound cake that rested on the small, square, dark blue and green tiled table. The door from the den to the garden was sealed shut by then, Papa Myer's tomato plants a distant, juicy memory. Their house is a vacant lot today.

Huber beer cost $5 a case in Madison in 1990. Those went well with smoking. Wine, preferably, red goes great with smoking.

I hope La Bimba never smokes.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cultural Ransom Note

Today, while waiting for the funicolare in the cool of the Corso Vittorio Emanuele station, an elderly woman stood over La Bimba and said, "She looks just like that little girl they kidnapped from that resort." Then, evidently to make me feel less like running screaming home from the station and locking us in for good, she said, "But that little girl was like four years old."

I grew up in Brooklyn and have lived most of my life in bustling, multiethnic metropoli, mostly in the USA. Naples, despite its growing immigrant population, is a homogenous society. The aspect of its homogenity that continues to be a bitch to get used to is the uniform way the Neapolitan people respond to various stimuli and situations, give or take more or less exaggerated versions.

If it were, say, noon and windy in Manhattan, and I were strolling along with La Bimba, it is unlikely that anyone would stop to say anything about it. If a cross-section of the population at Bleecker and Sullivan or 59th and Lex were to stop and talk to me, I could hardly guess what each would have to say. Take the same scene to Naples and I could guarantee, would bet a lot of money, should find a sucker to take me up on the bet, that a large number of people of different ages and sizes would say, "Shouldn't she be home for lunch? And she's going to get bronchitis! She should be wearing a scarf!"

The woman who told me that La Bimba resembled the little kidnapped girl is just an hyperbolic version of the usual comment, "She is so cute! How can anyone hurt children? Why do they abuse children?"

I'm sorry, I just don't follow, and I doubt I ever will.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I'll Get You My Pretty


Today, sitting under a tree in the Villa Comunale, La Bimba and I were approached by a grandma and grandchild. The grandchild was having a fit,kicking and screaming, and the grandma was actually doing a pretty good job of keeping it together. They had been by the swings, but when the grandchild started really flipping out, they approached our spot of lawn. Grandma parked her stroller a few feet away, turned to me while the grandchild dangled from one wrist, furiously bicycling the air, and asked, "Do you mind if I leave her here for a minute?"

Me, mouth gaping open: "Uh, where are you going?"

Granma, mouth revealing very bad, very few teeth: "Just to get some water."

Me: "Uh, no."

So, grandma dragged screaming grandchild to the nearby fountain and got some water. They came back, smiling, no hard feelings. The grandchild, named Petra, came onto our sheet, tried to caress/whack La Bimba's cheeks, tried to grab La Bimba's water then my water; the grandma just grinned her broken piano keys grin and asked various innocuous questions: "Do you know my granddaughter? Because my daughter comes here often. What's her name? My she is pretty."

I have to admit that I was afraid of grandma, and not just because she resembled the Wicked Witch of the West in need of a good hair washing. She wanted to leave her granddaughter with a total stranger! I don't care if it was for 10 seconds and that we would have remained in her line of vision! She evidently has not been reading about kidnappings. I was afraid she wouldn't come back. I was afraid she'd want La Bimba and petulant Petra to be friends.

Thus, the snobbery begins or, rather, takes on a new maternal form. I hope I like La Bimba's friends. My parents were always so good to my friends. Like the time my mom took J. and me to Atlantic City and gave us both a bunch of cash to burn. And burned it we did.

Which reminds me of when J., her sister M., and I were in Vegas, and J. had run out of money, so she sat herself at a slot machine and said, "I have to win to have some cash for the rest of the trip" (we were headed to LA, then SF after having been through DC, Virginia, Tennessee -- Graceland! Nashville's Parthenon!, Mississippi, where the cops "hid" under the overpasses to stay out of the heat...you always had enough time to slow down, Louisiana, before Katrina, J. took Benedryl to eat mudbugs and then drove in a drowsy haze over the 24 mile Lake Pontchartrain bridge), Texas, New Mexico, where a magical painting of Jesus reached out and grabbed my nose, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Brice Canyon, Zion, America can really be The Beautiful). J. pulled the arm and bing bing bing flashing lights and happy matching fruit and bars, a couple of hundred dollars in quarters came flying out. Nice job, J.!

Friends. I miss mine in CA and NY and points in between terribly, terribly.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Buckle Your Head

The Husband asked me if I was ever going to stop marvelling at the sight of tiny children being toted around helmetless on mopeds. I told him to shoot me if I did.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Going Postal II


Our local post office is a piece of work. Nothing ever works, e.g. the ATM, the machine that spits out numbers, they are always running out of forms, they don't know the price of postage (see Going Postal), the workers are slow and morose (when they are not laughing at their own jokes, that is), the lines are long, it's hot and small, there aren't enough seats, M, N, O, P, I could go on all day.


The other day, most of the things wrong with our local branch went wronger, causing a conflagration of tempers that made La Bimba's head spin. A large man, probably in his late 30s, early 40s, started having a mild fit over the fact that the ATM wasn't working, forcing him to pay for his mailings in cash, and that the office had run out of return receipt forms. It was a hot day, and though there were few people on line, the proceedings were moving at snail-on-ludes's pace. The young male postal worker was handling a woman's mailings, stamping and scanning and typing, while chatting up the middle-aged lady-troll postal worker, who was sitting at the adjacent window, helping no one. The constant drolleries issuing forth from the male postal worker lit the end of the pissed off man's tether, sending the spark up through his ass and out the top of his head in a burst of venom and bile.


"This country is an embarrassment! You don't know how to work! All you do is talk! How are you supposed to work, when all you do is talk! Che vergogna! Che vergogna!"


An American postal worker, would probably ignore the man's tirade, out of the sheer commonplaceness of having a maniac on line, or out of fear that said maniac might be toting a firearm. The Neapolitan postal worker, rather, got into it with the guy, saying, "Don't tell me how to do my job. I know how to do my job," etc. The angry fellow got even angrier, raising his voice and pumping his fist. The lady-troll worker was now helping an elderly gentleman, who starting screaming, "I can't hear what she's saying with you screaming like that!" Now the original lunatic starting calling the old man a sheep (a chicken, for you Anglophones), among other things. Surprisingly, the old man got all up in the younger, bigger guy's face, saying, "I'm not afraid of you! YOU WANNA PIECE OF ME!" Thankfully, the bigger, younger guy backed up, saying, "Stai calmo! Stai calmo!"


I was exchanging glances with the Sri Lankan guy, who works at the nearby salumeria, shaking my head, whispering to La Bimba to just ignore the purgatories. I was afraid she would start clapping like she does when two toddlers are pulling each others' hair and biting each other. She loves a good brawl! I finally made it to the window of the male postal worker, but since I had to fill out a form, I let the raging man go ahead of me, where he continued to berate the postal worker, but only until it seemed like the guy might stop processing his requests. Then he backed off. He wanted his letters mailed like the rest of us.


When he finally left, those who remained let out a collective sigh of relief and agreed that the guy had some problems, maybe at home, maybe at work. Or maybe it just gets to be too much, when it's hot and humid and the simplest systems don't function. I would feel for the guy if I weren't convinced he was part of the problem.


Another obnoxious observation obnoxiously observed: another elevator that ends in a flight of steps. The elevator that goes from Via Acton up to Piazza Plebiscito ends in a flight of steps. It has an electric wheelchair lift, but I can't see putting the stroller on it. The day I had to carry La Bimba in her stroller up those stairs, a stream, a river, a torrent of pensioners finishing up a protest march came down the stairs. After letting a couple of dozen old folks with flags pass, I decided I would probably be there all day if I didn't go up immediately. So, I gave them my best, "Permesso! Attenzione! Non c'è spazio per una doppia fila!" (single file please!), and fought my way through. They were actually very kind about it, still wearing the glow of solidarity, 15,000 strong.


Lastly, did I mention that when La Bimba speaks her language, her very own babble-yodel, to people on the funicolare or on the street, many, many of her addressees ask me, "Is she speaking English?"