Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Roman Holiday

La Bimba and I are going to Rome tomorrow to meet my friend G. who is from California and lives in Switzerland. We have been to Rome together once or twice before, La Bimba and I, but we usually don't do much sight-seeing. This time, however, I am hell bent on showing her the Pantheon, my favorite building in the whole wide, wide world of sports. The church, San Francesco di Paola, in Piazza Plebiscito here in Naples is a Pantheon knock-off and doesn't pack the same punch. I like to stand in the Pantheon and imagine the days before Christianity came in and said, "My home now! All you pagans, out!"

Kitty- or catty-corner from the Pantheon is the best granita di caffè con panna, but 'tis not the season. I will be satisfied with some gelato from San Crespino near the Trevi Fountain. Have you seen the Trevi Fountain? When you saw it, were you shocked to find it in such a small piazza? It's this gaudy, crazy, beautiful thing forced to boast its majesty in absurdly cramped quarters. I can hardly stand to look at it. But I always give it a respectful albeit cursory glance on my way to San Crespino. The meringue al cioccolato is to die for.

I made an omelette today. I don't particularly like omelettes, I prefer scrambles, but I thought it would look more presentable, more like a real pranzo item, than a pile of scramblies. The Husband and I ate the omelette while watching cartoons.

I imagine there will be no blog time in Rome, so I leave you with a big juicy A PRESTO.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Take it easy baby, Make it last all night...

My best friend from high school lives in the northern New Jersey woods. She is the youngest of four sisters and has four nieces and two nephews. The nieces and nephews live in Ohio and Michigan. She is very close to them, driving herself west with a travelling salesman’s regularity to their doors. She is, in a (hyphenated, foreign prefixed) word, the über-auntie.

The other day my best friend from high school had her nieces visiting. They were hanging out in Manhattan, where her mother lives. Her mother is about to move in with her and her wife, so the frequent trips to the city are sure to become less frequent. It was a very cold day, something like zero degrees Fahrenheit, so the bunch couldn’t venture much outside. So, my best friend from high school took her nieces garbage hunting.

Before you imagine a group of fresh-faced Midwestern youths being forced to rummage through rat- and roach-infested heaps in search of their evening meal, let me explain garbage hunting as it was explained to me by my best friend from high school. People in Manhattan apartment buildings throw their leftovers, cat litter, used tissues, dustpan contents, and other nastiness down the incinerator, where it is duly incinerated. As for the things they no longer need – a tricycle abandoned for a two-wheeler, a chest of drawers, an out of style coat, a board game – they put them in the basement, where adventurous nieces of über-aunties can go hunting for treasure.

Garbage Hunting.

According to my best friend from high school, the group really scored. I wish I remembered what they actually found…it would really strengthen this entry…alas, blame La Bimba for my post-partum mushy brain.

The following day my best friend from high school and her nieces went to American Girl Place to celebrate one niece’s birthday. I had never heard of American Girl, so I did a bit of web research.

For those of you not in the know, like my former self, American Girl is more than a line of dolls, clothes, accessories, books, movies, party kits, bath products; it’s a way of life. To quote from the website, “American girl celebrates a girl’s inner star – the little whisper inside that encourages her to stand tall, reach high, and dream big. We take pride and care in helping girls become their very best today so they’ll grow up to be the women who make a difference tomorrow.” Evidently, if the navigation bar below this bit of inspirational prosody is any indication, an American Girl is encouraged to stand tall on her tiptoes in order to reach the highest shelf in the American Girl store, where she dreams of emptying mommy’s wallet in a big way. The first word you see after the quote is SHOP. American Girl stores, or rather, American Girl Places, are in major malls and shopping districts in many US capitols. They even feature bistros, as if a girl of eight or twelve needs to stop thinking about lunchrooms STAT and start ordering Ceasar salads, hold the heavy dressing please, she’s watching her figure.

Let me state for the record that my snortingly snide remarks are based on the American Girl website. I have never been to an American Girl Place; for all I know it could be more than feather-boa-wrapped Dianetics for promising cheerleaders. There could be something truly spiritual about it, something nourishing and edifying. I’ll have to bring La Bimba there one day and let her be the judge.

My best friend from high school is a down to earth gal, a feminist, and the strongest woman I know. She was appalled at the scene, particularly the rich parents spoiling the rich children. She was busy trying not to judge (she’s good that way), when she overheard her nieces talking amongst themselves. They were talking about garbage hunting, how great it is, how they can’t wait to go garbage hunting again, how much fun they had, all the cool stuff they found. This in the middle of all the pink and glitter and doll manicures.

My best friend from high school: Saving young American girls, one girl at a time.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Survey Says...

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...

I am home alone!!!!! I am blasting U2's Unforgettable Fire. I am cleaning. After a bit of scribblage here, I will cook. I am wearing my pajamas. I am drinking a caffè latte with a heaping teaspoon of sugar. Ahhhhhhh, it feels like Sunday, American Sunday, non-Italian-American Sunday, no plans for an enormous lunch, no plans to join the smoggy Sunday drivers, no plans period.

This is the first time I have felt the need to be plan-free in a while. I used to be a compulsive socializer, then I swungeth the pendulum far far the other way and got a little reclusive, and now I am searching for la via di mezzo, the middle road. I am just terrible at the middle road. I am no Chrissie Hynde. Or maybe I am very Chrissie Hynde. I am not sure because I don't actually know the lyrics to Middle of the Road.

I have to accept that not every entry is going to be snappy, snazzy and full of mind-blowing insights. I have to accept that The Husband and La Bimba are going to be back soon. They went to the cemetery to visit The Husband's parents. I never got to meet them. It bums me out that La Bimba has only one set of grandparents and that they live thousands of miles away in the Old Country. When you are an expat from the USA, the USA becomes the Old Country albeit a prematurely aging one. The USA would never stand to have its image wizened and hunched; it would sooner sign up for some elective surgery -- face lift, boob job, nose job, tummy tuck, rib removal, cheekbone shaving, Brazilian bikini wax. Israel is much younger than the USA, but doesn't it look way older? It does to me since when I anthropomorphize Israel I see an elderly rabbi rocking away at the Wailing Wall.

I forgot to put the ciuccio (pacifier) in La Bimba's knapsack. I hope The Husband is not banging his head against a Wall of Wailing because of my negligence.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Countess Dracula

La Bimba is teething again. Two little lower teeth are poking through her gums. So, our attempt to nightwean her was ill-timed. Let's just say, La Bimba was incazzatissima.
Incazzato: pissed off (vulgar).
I'd say! It has the naughty word for penis in the middle of it. But I just love the ring of it when you add the superlative -issima ending. It's like saying, maybe, fuckulent. Fuckulent. That is the greatest thing I've ever heard. Say it a few times out loud. The suffix really softens the blow.
I'm not sure where the moderately porno tone of this post is coming from, but Anne Lamott told me to get out of my way and let my stories write themselves. See? I'm not really writing this. It's writing itself. How convenient.
La Bimba and I are listening to James Taylor. "How Sweet It Is." La Bimba wore a glittery hair clip today and moved in a circle on her butt, leading with her knees.
And Naples was on good behavior. Even the waitress at Da Carmine was less rude. La Bimba had her first trattoria food, steamed orata (breem?). The waiter gave her a second cozzetto di pane (the butt of the bread; I could not find cozzetto in the dictionary, but cozzata means BUTT, so maybe The Husband is saying cozzata...) after she dropped her first one on the floor.
I find La Bimba fascinating, but I'm not convinced y'all do. For example, right now, she is gnawing on a frozen butterfly teething ring and riding her imaginary bicycle at the same time. She could join the circus!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What's Up, Tiger Lily?

The Italian government collapsed yesterday, but I want to talk some more about public transportation in Naples.

In the metro (the newer one, I can't remember if it's A or B) and in the funicolare (at least the Vomero stop of the Centrale), there are TV screens that offer some news and lots of advertising. This is not so very odd; American airports blast CNN at every gate, ruining my attempt to meditate in the lotus position sandwiched between sunburned Wisconsinites in Green Bay Packer caps and pinstripe-suited businessmen with bluetooths (blueteeth?) sticking out of their ears and laptops balancing on their knees; Neapolitan restaurants often have Isola dei Famosi or Grande Fratello or Napoli vs. Avellino blaring over the gnocchi. What is odd, however, are the newscasters on the metro/funicolare screens. They are not human. They are holograms or cyberborgs or something. What I mean is that they are computer-generated. They are dressed like newscasters, down to the poofy hair on the ladyborg, their mouths move, they look into your eyes. But they are not people. It is so creepy!

I was entertaining myself the other day by coming up with reasons why this should be so.

1. The newscastermonsters' mouths do not sync up with the words they are "saying." I think this soothes Italian TV-watchers because they are so used to watching dubbed films, dubbed sitcoms, dubbed Columbo. Italians are very proud of their dubbing actors (and stunned and appalled when they hear De Niro's, Hoffman's, Pacino's, Stallone's real voices...especially since one actor covers multiple American actors' voices (all four of the above by Ferruccio Amendola) mean Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Denzel Washington don't all sound exactly alike?). But their voiceover technicians often leave something to be desired. Mouths and words don't always sync up, so when they do, as in when an Italian anchorman speaks in his own language, it must be unsettling for the viewership.

2. Italian newscasters cannot memorize the news. They actually read the sheets of paper that lay in front of them on their desks instead of just authoritatively shuffling them around like Katie Couric might. These mutant newsslingers can relate current events while holding the viewer's eye contact and without batting an eye.

3. The alien newscasters don't get paid and don't go on strike.

That's all I came up with.

The dubbed movie situation in Naples traumatizes me. I cannot watch anything dubbed, so that means no movies for me unless they are Italian. There is one theater in Naples that shows original language films, but only on Tuesdays and not every Tuesday. This is a sorry state of affairs for a film buff such as myself.

But not as sorry a state as St. Petersburg, Russia (what is with me always being in cities that have namesakes in Florida?) circa 1992. I was there for the summer on a Russian language intensive program. My fellow students and I went to see "Ghost" at a Russian movie theater. The film was, of course, dubbed...BY ONE MALE VOICE. Whoopi, Patrick, Demi, everyone sounded like Krushchev. And you could just barely hear the English underneath, so when Whoopi said to Swayze, "You're all right!" in her sassy and, in this case, African-Americanly-inflected voice, the booming Russian male voice said, "Molodetz," which Russian textbooks translate as "Attaboy!" You say "molodetz" to your 5-year-old or your puppy, not to Demi's ex-ballerino phantom husband!

I will admit to watching some American movies dubbed in Italian, but only on TV and only ones I've already seen like Grease, School of Rock, Dirty Dancing. The dumber the movie, the easier it is to watch dubbed.

The Husband only knows me in Italian. I suppose he only knows me dubbed. I wonder when I'm speaking in Italian if it looks like my mouth is moving out of sync with my words. It's certainly moving out of sync with my thoughts. This may be too profound of an idea to follow through with tonight...yeah, it is...time for some gelato.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What's My Line?

I can't keep track of where I read what anymore, that's how much of a blogslut I've become. The writer of one of the many expat-in-Italy blogs mentioned the absence of the concept of standing in line here in Italy, which reminded me of my line story. (My internal editor would like you to know that the above is a horribly written sentence).
My line story takes place at Giolitti, one of Rome's most popular ice cream shops. It was not my first time, so I knew the drill: Decide in advance how much ice cream you want (2 scoops), in what format (cone), pay the cashier (2 euros), and bring your receipt to the ice cream scooper dude. When I arrived at the shimmering array of flavors -- pear! coconut! stracciatella! how many flavors are you allowed to get on a two-scooper? more than two!! -- there was a line of foreigners waiting their turn. There were a couple of Japanese, a German, a group of Australians, an American or a Canadian (hard to tell sometimes; I'm sorry! but a northern Minnesotan can sound suspiciously like a Saskatchewanian), all patiently waiting for the gelatomaster to look into their lusting eyes and say, "Prego." What did he do instead? He shouted, "What are you all doing standing over there? I'm over here. Gather around ME." Was it a case of bruised ego ("I am great gelato man, king of the gelato, super scooper. You bow to ME.")? Or just an example of the Italian love of chaos? Either way, you get chaos. The group started looking around, wild-eyed and prickly, and didn't move. I felt it was my duty as a seasoned line-buster to help the poor lactose-craving sods, so I cut in front of them all, waved my receipt in front of the super scooper, and said, "Like this! Like this! Do like me! I'll have double cone with hazelnut, chocolate, strawberry, and lemon. With whipped cream!" By the time I squeezed past the tourists, they had formed a crush to make any English soccer fan proud.
A lot of expats writing from Italy, at least the anglophones, write about the trouble they have with the rudeness here, the apparent disregard for other human beings. This dismay is usually followed directly by the recognition of Italian generosity and readiness to help. You see, Italians are a complex bunch. Yeah, I used to think they were all warm and cuddly types, inviting you into the fold, to Sunday dinner, always laughing and crushing grapes with their feet, singing “Volare! Whoa Oh!” as they shine the hubcaps of their Cinquecentos, streaks of flour on their cheeks from the pizza dough they just rolled out, pinching your ass as you walk by and making you feel great. The truth is, Italians can be very closed, tribal in fact, suspicious, clannish, and though Neapolitans do indeed sing out loud in public quite often, it’s never “Il blu dipinto di blu.” On the other hand, complete strangers have bought me juice when I was pregnant and stretched across three barstools due to a sudden drop in blood sugar (yes, strangers, plural; it happened on more than one occasion). One minute you are completely transparent (someone barges ahead of you at the fruitstand, the post office, the bar), the next you are being told you are a fabulous person inside and out and have great teeth. It’s confusing.

The danger of writing blogs of this nature – cross-cultural musings mixed with your inborn characteristics plus the special neuroses you've garnered along life’s path with a dose of a given day’s right- or wrong-side-of-the-bed-edness – is coming off culturally insensitive, arrogant, biased, petty, and snotty. And the truth is, all peoples are complex, riddled with paradoxes, contradictions, oxymorons, and plain old morons. But if one’s mind were to be under current surveillance by the PC police, one’s blog would be very boring indeed.

So, to finish up about lines, I have discovered in my brief time here in Italy, and especially the last nearly two years in Naples, that sticking with a non-Italian idea of manners (in this case, ask who is last on line and dutifully get behind them) is going to get you nothing but looks of pity. It’s like when I used to politely, softly and with a smile say, “Permesso,” when trying to get through a group of chitchatters on the sidewalk with the stroller: the group would look at me like I was an idiot (“Ma sei scema?”). And, indeed, according to the rules of the Neapolitan street, I was an idiot. So now I shout, “Attenzione!” with a nice fat scowl on my face. And the group parts like the Red Sea.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Funiculi' Funicula'

Today I took the funicolare with La Bimba, La Nonna, my friend C., her two kids, and their babysitter. C. is an American living in Naples and my next door neighbor. We were bemoaning the stroller situation at the Corso Vittorio Emanuele stop of the funicolare centrale, which is just steps from our doors. You see, the entrance to the funicolare has a long curving flight of wide steps and an electric chair...not the kind Americans are still frying people in (or is it all lethal injection now? Anyway, don't get me started on the death penalty...), the kind that a wheelchair can roll onto (guess it's more of a platform than a chair, attached to the banister) and descend to the train. Of course, once there, there are steps up and down to the various doors of the train, so a wheelchair-bound person has to wait at the bottom of the entrance stairs, possibly feeling in the way of those trying to get around, not that anyone is concerned about their feelings, obviously. I have never seen anyone use the platform and have never tried to use it for the stroller. I carry the stroller down with La Bimba inside. Others bump their strollers down. If you ask one of the guys working at the funicolare to open the wide exit door to let you in since your stroller doesn't fit through the turnstyle (is that how you spell it?), he will tell you to remove the child from said stroller, fold it up, child squirming in your arms, knapsack slipping off your shoulder, and carry everything through the turnstile (is that how you spell it?), down the stairs, and onto the train. May I just say, Fuck That?

The exit of the funicolare centrale is even more disturbing. Here we have the same steps that lead you to the train doors, but then there is a ramp, a lovely, smooth, marble ramp to glide your stroller along and out the door except, except, at the end of the ramp, just shy of the door to the street, there is ANOTHER FLIGHT OF STEPS. A steep flight and no ascending platform. I suppose someone in a wheelchair has to exit through the entrance side doors and squeeze through the crush of entering passengers.

I'm sorry. I just don't understand. Why even bother with the ramp if it leads to a flight of stairs? Why have an automatic wheelchair carrier if it's only on one side of the station (and did I mention it is often being repaired?)? I can just see the station builders: half way through the construction of the space they just shrug their shoulders, thrust out their chins, and say in unison, "Basta! We're tired of making this ramp. Let's just throw up some stairs and go home for lunch."

The Nonni go home tomorrow, and Thursday morning, when La Bimba peers into the living room and finds the sofabed folded back up, no sleeping Nonni inside, no tufts of grey hair poking through the duvet cover, I think she will be sad. At least she still has her helium-filled Tweety Bird balloon (Milly Duck in Italian) to look for on the ceiling. Tweety scares her, but she is also fascinated by him.

We went to a carnevale party at another American expat mom's house. I half-heartedly dressed up La Bimba in her Little Red Riding Hood outfit, threw a red kerchief on her head, made her into a Russian Peasant Meets Little Red Riding Hood.

I guess you could say I was half-assed about it. The pot calling the kettle black. I don't know what that means since I never did acid and thus never saw a pot talking to a kettle. But if the shoe takes one to know one...the apple doesn't fall far from the tree... Basta!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Presidents Day

My father is talking to me while I am writing this post. My mother just asked me how I type so fast. Typing was a required course in high school and I have Mrs. Dowd to thank for making me such a speedy typist. I still remember the first lesson: f f f space f f f space.

Today is Presidents' Day in the USA. Presidents' Day never meant anything to me growing up except YIPPEE! NO SCHOOL! But ever since I read Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States I feel like I should be wearing a black armband on Presidents' Day. I didn't actually finish Zinn's book; I was already in such a cold sweat by the end of the Civil War, I just couldn't continue. I mean, Andrew Jackson, the man on our most ubiquitous bill, the twenty, was a genocidal maniac! For a spell after reading the chapter on Jackson, I started writing "murderer," "assassin," and, yes, "genocidal maniac" below his picture whenever I had a twenty in my possession. This is a federal offense, I believe, so I will now state for the record that I didn't actually write anything on any dollar bill of any denomination ever. Or maybe I did. You decide.

I recommend everything and anything Zinn has written. He is a soulful writer. Handsome, too. Not that that matters, although I have been known to read more John Irving than I might have had Irving not been such a studly ex-wrestler. There are so many books to read, you can't fault a girl for trying to narrow her choices!

On an Italian note, there are TV stations here that do not have the rights to broadcast certain soccer games, so they show the commentators watching the soccer games instead. That's right, the men with headsets sitting next to each other in a booth, watching the action, commenting away. Kind of But don't let my sneering attitude put you off: there is something very satisfying about watching these guys jump out of their seats, screaming GOAL!, waving their hands about. When they lift their butts just a bit at a time in anticipation of a goal and then collapse back down with their heads in their hands, this is good television. Very exciting.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

I bassi

Yesterday, I was strolling along with La Bimba in the stroller, when a broom came lunging out of a basso doorway, nearly decapitating me. The broom belongs to a greasy-haired old lady; the basso’s interior, and as far out as she can lean onto the street from her waist-high door, is her domain. The lady has a slightly deranged look in her eye, and a permanently fixed half-smile to go with her permanently fixed house dress. Her smile always broadens when she sees La Bimba. I admit to quickening my pace a bit when she reaches out to touch La Bimba with trembling hand.

Try as I may, I don’t think I can do justice to the basso phenomenon. On the one hand, it’s not so hard to describe: street level housing, ground floor apartments that open onto the street. On the other hand, you need several hands and maybe a foot or two to capture what it means to live in a ground floor apartment in Naples. In the past, I have described it thusly:

“Residential in Naples means storefront-level housing called bassi. If you live in a basso, you live half your life on the street. I would say sidewalk, but there are too few sidewalks to mention in Naples. The street is where you set up your laundry rack (the bassi cannot string lines across the street like their upper floor neighbors; they would decapitate passing moped riders), your chairs to sit outside. It’s where you fight with your husband, serve your food in summer, smoke, drink, daydream. Your door is always open because you have no windows. Passers-by know what you’re having for dinner even if they’ve lost their sense of smell, know your favorite TV shows (and sometimes gather round to watch them with you), know the hour you turn down the sheets and get into bed. The bassi are what make Naples the most comic-tragic city in the western world.”

(Note that decaptitation appears twice in this short post. I sense a theme emerging).

Many basso inhabitants design their entrances to appear as front doors to country villas. There is latticework replete with climbing vines, potted plants, shrines to the Madonna or Padre Pio or both, shrines to dead relatives, their color glossies curling at the corners, canopies, columns, maybe a little fence. All of this aesthetic care does not, nevertheless, change the fact that when the inhabitant of a basso shakes out her rug, the dust mites hit La Bimba in the face; that when he eats his breakfast, a passer-by can see if the coffee is macchiato or not; that the monthly payments for the giant screen television mounted in the corner of the kitchen cost more than the rent; or that this house is supposed to be a garage, a blacksmith, a print shop.

The basso, along with the motorino, gives Naples its oddness, greatness, stubbornness, Naplesness. No matter how often I complain about it, Naples without the bassi would be just another western European capital, a place that has its physical spaces in all the right places: you shop here, you live there.

Mothers stand cut off at the waist at their Dutch doors like ticket vendors at a state fair, grandmothers hang out their colourful sheets like the welcoming flags of suburban America, fathers scream at their children to not get dirty and to come in for lunch. A woman picks at the pimples on her husbands back. A man drives by on his moped with his dog at the handlebars. Most bassi sit on streets where the sun’s rays do not reach. It is always dark and damp. Still, people are known to smile, and I thank La Bimba for that.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Food Glorious Food

I started an online writing group, friends and family writing together while far apart. There are 18 of us in the group and I’ve already received 6 “assignments.” It’s so wonderful reading these people! Such a creative bunch. I’m a lucky girl.

Yesterday, The Husband, La Bimba, The Nonni, two Spanish ladies, two Neapolitan fellows, and I went to La Rotonda for lunch. The restaurant is on a beach in Bagnoli near the abandoned steelworks. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the meal was good. But I didn’t have too much fun. La Bimba was crankissima, resisting food, resisting sleep. Luckily, Zio Salvatore, one of the Neapolitan fellows, loves La Bimba and carried her around the restaurant. We call him Zio (uncle) because that’s who he is to Lucia. Zio Nicola, Salvatore’s partner, sat next to La Nonna (grandma), and patiently listened to her stories. La Nonna is doing pretty well in Italian. She studies with an immigrant from Lioni, a province of Avellino, not far from Naples. You can eat some good meat in Avellino.

Eating with family and friends, at someone’s home or at a trattoria or ristorante, is the number one pastime in Italy. Spending five hours at table is a lovely way to spend an afternoon, but I often would like to take a walk in the woods or go to an exhibit. Sometimes I look at the pile of pasta in front of me or the mountain of fried fish in the center of the table and think, “I can’t do it. I’m still full from yesterday.” But then, I do it. Thank heavens for breastfeeding!

Il Nonno (grandpa) has just stepped out for his morning cornetto run. The man has shpilkes, ants in his pants. He paces. Meanwhile, La Nonna keeps falling asleep on the sofabed, over and over again.

Oh, what a boring boring post. I’m reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She is the messiah. But she doesn’t talk about blogs. Happy Monday.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Totonno and Eduardo

There is a famous pizzeria in Brooklyn called Totonno's. It's in Coney Island and is one of the rare brick oven pizzerias. The place opens at lunchtime and closes when they run out of dough. I went there once with some Brooklyn friends and a friend from Minneapolis (who, on the same visit to NYC, walked into the now defunct Mrs. Stahl's knishes and said, "What's a NISH?" and the lady behind the counter said, "Yaw not from around heeyah, awr ya?"). We were the only customers, so the pizzaiolo came and sat with us, an older guy all in white: white t-shirt stretched tightly across big belly, white pants, white apron, white hair. At one point in the conversation he asked us, "You know where Yiddish comes from?" It thought we were headed toward an anti-semitic conversation (paranoid? me?), but, instead, pizza guy explained the actual history of Yiddish (from middle high German, Ashkenaz, Europe, blah blah). Turns out, most Italianist pizza man macho Broccolino is Jewish. He married the daughter of Totonno and took over when his father-in-law retired (or died...I don't know what happened). One of my friends said, "We could have seder at Totonno's!" Imagine: a real my daughter.

I remembered this story today because my parents, La Bimba and I were in a pizzeria here in la bella Napoli, and on the way out, the owner asked if La Bimba was a napoletana. I said she was half-Neapolitan, half-American. Then the typical conversation ensued...and then turned...

Owner: Your mother looks like a real Neapolitan.
O: But you're Italian American.
Me: No, we have no Italian blood.
O: So you're American American?
Me: (Attempting to side-step the whole, What is a real American, what happened to the Native Americans, what is a Jew discourse) Our roots are in Russia, Poland, Eastern Europe generally.
O: Oh, so you're Ashkenazim.
Me: Exsqueeze me? Baking Powder?

Yeah, the owner of Eduardo's pizzeria on Corso Vittorio Emanuele knows all about the history of both the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim. When I asked him how he knew all this he said, "Sometimes I read."

We start studying the Talmud next week.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Take it to the bank

I’ve pretty much spilled the beans and shared the news of my blog. I feel…I feel…sullied.

Today I went to a bank to try to open an account. The bank had a security door, a narrow tube, like those mail tubes that suck a capsule with stuff inside…okay, I have no idea how those work…anyway, a narrow tube that opens on one end, then closes, then reopens into the bank. I was not allowed to enter with the stroller, a fact I figured out from the head-wagging teller. One kindly Neapolitan woman asked, “Are you trying to go in?” I said, “Yes,” and then she proceeded to go in herself. I said, “Gentilissima,” which means “how kind,” and she shot me a dirty look. Lucky for her she was already inside the tube or I’d have, POW, right in the kisser! So, then a man tried to help me get the stroller in the tube. We failed. He went in and when he came out, I said, “Someone could have at least come outside to tell me.” He defended the bankers: “They couldn’t hear you.” Oh so now Neapolitans need actual words to communicate? This is the land of gesture. I’ve seen entire conversations take place with just flailing hands and couple of well-placed thrusts of the chin. The man then told me I had to wait for the guard. Many, many minutes passed. I decided to go to the bakery to park the stroller. The ladies who work there know me, so I figured no problem. And, indeed, no problem. I returned with La Bimba in my arms, in her “eskimino” (yep, the Italian for snowsuit), though it was now baking outside. The guard arrived, a young, handsome guy, who informed me, “You can’t bring the stroller inside and we can’t open the emergency door.” Got it. Then he added, “I was in the bathroom.” Either he had the stomach flu that’s going around, he was doing some lines and had to get all the powder off his nose, or he was simply lying about having a coffee. I finally got inside the bank and the aforementioned tellers started cooing at La Bimba, which pissed me off because though it’s nice that they think she rocks da house, I remain chopped liver (“What am I? Chopped liver?” translates as “Am I transparent?” here. I’ve never understood the chopped liver line since a plate of it atop some Ritz never went ignored in my family). The tellers sent me to the manager, who was a slick and slimy type. He asked, “What’s your work?” I said, “I’m a full-time mom.” He said, “Oh, so you don’t do anything.” I THOUGHT NEAPOLITANS WORSHIPPED MOTHERS!!! Then he took my information and said he’ll contact me after a background check. La Bimba and I returned to the bakery, bought some bread, and headed home.

And that was Tuesday.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Mel Brooks

When La Bimba has a wet diaper and is crying, I say, "You're hysterical! You're wet and you're hysterical!" The Producers, the original, is one of my favorite movies, and Gene Wilder's line, "I'm hysterical! (Zero Mostel splashes water on Wilder's face). I'm wet and I'm hysterical!" is my favorite line. What's yours? Yeah, I'm talking to YOU.

I had a Peruvian boyfriend for a short time. In an effort to share some of my culture with him, we watched The Producers and Woody Allen's Bananas. I thought he might have related to the latter due to his hailing from a South American nation, but he found neither film funny. Needless to say, the relationship did not last.

There appears to be a scheduled outage on blogger in about 7 minutes. I guess that means I should publish this and go back to the episode of Strangers With Candy I was watching yesterday. That is one twisted sitcom.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Dude, where's my car?

Today our car was towed, not because it was parked illegally, but because evidently the comune needed to make some money. The baristas on Corso Vittorio Emanuele said they started towing at 7am and finished up around 1:30pm, just in time to head home to mamma for lunch. If Naples were simply lawless, across the board lawless, that would be challenging, annoying, exasperating...yet freeing. But the fact that there are laws and that they are applied willy nilly, that's just petrifying. You never know when the powers that be are going to decide to nail you, so you live in mild to massive fear of being, well, nailed, like Jesus to the cross. You stand in front of the police officer wailing, "Why hast thou forsaken me today instead of yesterday or tomorrow?"

The baristas and I chatted about why Naples is the way it is. It seems to boil down to a complete and utter lack of civic responsibility. Neapolitans are fiercely proud of their culture, but do not feel that the spaces outside their private homes belong to them. All those invasions -- Goths, Bourbons, Spanish, McDonald's -- left the locals feeling oddly isolated from the streets they walk on, drive on, spit on. Peer into any basso on any day and you will find a napoletana scrubbing her floors, walls, appliances, and children until you could eat off them and then toss her cigarette butt, crumpled cigarette pack, and spent lighter onto the street in front of her door. She will have to walk into the litter she created, her children will play in it, her dog will eat it. It seems completely insane if you don't know Neapolitan history. To be frank, it seems completely insane even if you do.

So, The Husband spent my birthday (yes, me and Punxsutawny Phil are special today) unsequestering the car. On the up side, my American neighbor C. baked me a cake! An American cake, yellow with chocolate frosting. I was truly touched. I plan to nibble on it all night long, leave The Husband a slice, pretend that there had been only two slices. Moderation is everything.

My father told me he doesn't like the profanities in my blog. This from a man whose favorite author is Henry Miller. Watch out, Dad! I'm blogging you!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

My Deli Guy

My Deli Guy, Gianni, is a Jehovah's Witness and I believe this is why he sells organic products in his little shop on Via dei Tribunali. He is completely against the consumption of Coca-Cola, but he sells it anyway. He likes to occasionally discuss my Jewishness or how it's possible that I, voluble friendly American, wound up with The Husband, brooding silent Neapolitan. Opposites attract...

Gianni has three children. I've seen his wife, beautiful, and one of his daughters, gorgeous. He occasionally overcharges or leaves one of your purchases out of the bag, both on purpose according to The Husband, but I don't think so. I'm just sure to check the bags and scan the receipt before leaving.

When I was thinking about writing about My Deli Guy (il mio salumiere), I imagined a hilarious, delightful post. This is, rather, a rather boring subject.

Moving on.

First Susan Sontag, then Wendy Wasserstein, and now Molly Ivins?! What the fuck is going on? Why are all these amazing women writers dying of cancer too too young? It's freaking me out. I am not one to cruise the obit pages, but I am a New York Times online reader (not a Times Select customer, excuse me, not that special) and these deaths just keep jumping off the page/screen.

It is still unseasonably warm here and I am developing a true fear of extreme heat. My father is more concerned about floods. My father cracks me up sometimes. The other day, he was talking about one of his tennis buddies, no youngster, and said, "He thinks he's running, but he's actually standing in one place." I love that.

I recently exposed this blog to my parents, so I will try not to offend them in any way when I write about them. Okay, folks?

One of the things I've learned from arguing with The Husband is that the argument, "Well, I could be much more of an asshole if I wanted to be!" is a weak one. I use this argument when I feel he is not noticing the great things I do for him, like bring him coffee in bed almost every morning. So, if I am feeling unappreciated or underappreciated, I use the could-be-more-asshole defense: "You know, I don't have to bring you coffee in bed. And I could criticize you more. And I hate your yellow shirt." This is supposed to counteract the ways in which I am an asshole, making them seem mild compared to how assholey I could be. Are you following me? I'm impressed if you are because The Husband certainly isn't. He just looks at me blankly as he should do since I am not making any sense. NON HA SENSO is what I say to him whenever he says something I don't agree with. Despite our circuitous, ridiculous arguments, we do sometimes come to an understanding. Like yesterday, we came to understand that we both would like solo time without La Bimba or each other, but that only I ask for it because he is not of the character to do so (that's a paraphrase of one of his NON HA SENSO lines). Whether this means either of us is going to get some free time to sit by the sea, read in a cafe (like they do that in Italy, hah!), go shopping ALONE ALONE is not yet clear. Luckily, the nonni (grandparents) are coming, so I can have some ALONE time when The Husband is at work. What do you say, nonni?!