Saturday, March 31, 2007

Judeo-Christian Holiday Time

Just came from an Easter egg-hunt party. Lots of American moms with Italian husbands. I could see our apartment from the hostess's terrace. I called The Husband on the phone and he came out on our terrace and we waved to each other. Isn't that cool?

The hostess is a woman from Queens whose husband is on a tour here, not a rock band tour -- no glammy bus with pink-fur-lined walls and bean bag chairs, no clouds of pot smoke and half-dressed groupies lolling about -- but a foreign service tour, three years with the American consulate, a white building that faces the sea and is surrounded by machine-gun-toting carabinieri. Their apartment is on two levels with a wrap-around terrace, nearly 360 degree views of glorious Naples. And so glorious today, sunny, warm, perfect. La Bimba even found an Easter egg. Sort of. Oh, and by the way, her three-day 11-hour sleep run ended when The Husband and I tried to return to our bed, which is in the same room as her crib. She was up two nights ago from 1am to 4:30am, last night from 2:15am to 4:00am. Do over!

My yoga class starts Monday and all day today I've had a sneaking suspicion that no one at the studio has any idea about it, that the distracted diva dancer dude, who agreed to the course, did not inform anyone, had probably forgotten all about it himself. Sure enough, when I passed by this afternoon, the two "soci" (business partners or members) I found had no idea what I was talking about. After a long discussion and a call to the woman who opens the studio doors on Monday morning, we confirmed the class will begin at 9:30am on Monday as I promised my yoga-desperate friends.

If you can't make it to the class, you could bombard the studio with questions about it, claim deep interest, request alternative times and days, in a word, make them think I've got hundreds of would-be anglophone yogis banging down my door. Banging in a peaceful way. No bad karma. The number of the studio is 081.406.443. FYI, no one speaks English there though they like to think they do.

Often, Italians think they speak English better than Americans do. I once translated a sign into English from Italian for a little internet point. Roberto, the cute owner, asked me to translate something that warned clients that they would have to pay for any pages they print, even if they fuck up. I wrote something like, "Clients must pay for all pages printed, including those printed in error." I think I originally wrote something simpler, but you get the point. When I returned the next day, there was my perfect translation. Two days later, however, the sign had changed. It now read something like, "Errors to pages must to pay you." It wasn't that exactly, but it was that bad. So I asked Roberto why he changed the sign. He said, "Someone told me what you had written was wrong." "I see," I said, "And was that someone a native English speaker?" Roberto unsquirmingly replied, "No. He was Italian." "And you trust an Italian, who studied English for a year at liceo over an English mother tongue speaker?" To that Roberto gave me a BOH shrug and we left it at that.

You see, poor little Roberto still thinks I was wrong and the idiot who told him so was right. That makes two idiots and an annoyed americana.

Idiot is such a harsh word. Excuse me.

I am gearing up for Passover. I couldn't invite everyone I wanted to invite because we don't have the space (so if you're reading this and you are one of the uninvited, scusami tanto!!!). We are still going to have to smoosh 9 people around our table. I've ordered the brisket (petto di manzo; the butcher, when I told him I wanted the piece whole, pulled the meat a bit closer to his body, as if he were going to hide it behind his back and say, "Petto di manzo? Quale petto di manzo? Io non vedo un petto di manzo? Vedi tu un petto di manzo? Yo, Luigi, do you see a cow chest here?" asked me, "Wait, what are you going to do with it?" WHAT IS WITH THESE OVERLY CONCERNED BUTCHERS? Do they really care about the fate of their meat? Or are they just concerned the clueless americana is going to blame them when her meat doesn't come out right and they are just trying to cover their bases? How long can I make this parenthetical? If a parenthetical is longer than the part of a paragraph not in parentheses, does that make it an aside?), the chicken, the chicken livers (here the butcher had to call his supplier and ask if he could have half a kilo of chicken livers because usually, you know, one doesn't buy less than a kilo. For what? I have never ever seen chicken liver on a Neapolitan menu or table). I forgot to mention the lamb shank I need...and the pint of Christian blood...just kidding.

No, really, as late as the early 20th century, Jews were still be accused of killing Christians for their blood, ritual sacrifice. Jews don't kill Christians! They kill each other, slowly, bloodlessly, through constant complaining and criticizing.

I was going to edit out the above graph because I don't want to come off a self-hating Jew. But blogs are for risk-taking, not for self-censorship, so there you go.

The Husband says he is not going to eat the chopped chicken livers. I asked him why since he eats beef liver, which is so much nastier, and beef heart and all sorts of other innards. It comes down to the bird flu and something about the Chinese.

I've got the Haggadah all ready in Italian, just got to make some copies. What else? No matzoh balls because I can't find the meal. My Auntie Ada's secret to fluffy matzoh balls is to use seltzer, but I tried that once and my balls were denser than that Italian who said my English was wrong.

See you in April!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Shameless Self-Promotion and Candy Bars

Check it out:, the article entitled "Cara Napoli." I think Il Foglio is a conservatissimo newspaper...does that make me a conservative by association? I'd better send a check to just to cover my bases.

The writer, Jeff, sent me an email apologizing for the edit, for the fact that The Husband comes off as a guy who doesn't shave regularly and who is chain smoker. Don't worry, Jeff! The description is half right (he's not a chain smoker) and I know how the editing game goes. Remember that editor we both knew in California (I won't get specific here), the one you said had a tin ear? Snicker, snicker, someone pass me a Snickers.

I actually ate a Twix bar today. I remember when Twix came out. I bought my first one at the candy store on the corner of Avenue R and Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. I thought the cookie-caramel-chocolate combo was divine. Now it tastes like plastic and I don't believe it provides the health benefits of dark chocolate. I bought the Twix at a tabacchaio where there was an older woman and a younger woman sitting behind the counter, the cigarettes stacked neatly behind them, the older woman puffing away in the tiny space. I could just make out the name brands behind the cloud of smoke. I was buying chocolate and cigarettes (for The Husband) because we needed change because we needed gas and no one was working at any of the gas stations except for one where the guy had no change. We waited behind plumes of diesel fumes only to arrive at the pump and be told either we buy 20 euros of gas as opposed to the 10 euros we wanted or find a 10 euro note because the dude had to give a 10 back to the guy in the Mercedes...are you still awake? I wasn't.

La Bimba did it again! 11.5 hours of straight sleepage. Go Bimba Go!

Italians do not touch their cornetti. They always eat them wrapped in a napkin, maybe because they think their hands are dirty or maybe because they don't want their hands to get dirty. Same in Naples as in Rome or Milan. However, Italians will touch La Bimba on the face, all over her precious little unsuspecting face. They do not seem to be concerned about getting her dirty (or giving her germs...luckily she is still getting hits of antibodies from breast milk every day) or about getting her snot on them (I am pretty diligent about cleaning her little schnoz, but still, a booger has been known to get away). Once, here in bella Napoli, a pasticciere (baker) came up to La Bimba, stuck his flour-covered index finger in front of her mouth and said, "This is how a baker tastes. Dai, assaggia!" Baker from Planet Clueless or just your average Napoletano baby mauler?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Nurture vs. Nature

La Bimba crawled today. Three steps forward and about five back, but still! But the big news is she slept ELEVEN AND A HALF HOURS IN A ROW last night. Could it be that the night-weaning has worked after only six nights? If The Husband knew I just typed that sentence he would order me to delete it since I just jinxed the whole situation and now La Bimba will probably be up every two hours tonight. Vediamo.

Last night, our friends Salvatore and Nicola came over to dinner by accident. They confused this Monday with next Monday when we are having our seder. I sent an SMS out to people last week, inviting them to seder and requesting RSVPs because we don't have a table suitable for more than 8 people and I didn't want to buy too much matzoh (pane azzimo in Italian if you were itching to know). Sal and Nic RSVPed. They brought wine. They are so good! The reason they confused the date is because they didn't bother to read past the word Monday on the SMS, and they didn't bother to read past the word Monday is because no one, I mean nobody, plans anything that far in advance. Most outtings are spontaneous or maybe planned a day in advance, if you can call, "Andiamo a Procida domani? Va bene. Ci sentiamo domani. Vediamo," a plan. We Neapolitans don't like to feel trapped, you see.

Sal and Nic are a gay couple. Sal is 40, Nic is 31, and they are polar opposites. Sal is a hairdresser, loves to gossip, tends to speak dialect, and has a total mind-meld with The Husband. Nic is soft-spoken, reads a ton, is quasi Buddhist, speaks careful Italian, and looks at me with genuine compassion when The Husband is off on one of his anti-Naples rants. They are the sweetest couple. Sal is always trying to get Nic to eat more, while Nic laments the 10 kilos he put on during his father's illness and subsequent death ("Nutella was my comfort," he said).

When we all get together we nearly always talk about Naples, its beauty, its hideousness, its charm, its brutality. Last night Sal and Nic were in fierce albeit loving disagreement over the root cause of Naples' troubles. Sal insists that the Italian government wants Naples and the rest of southern Italy to remain poor, criminalized (as if the rest of Italy isn't full of criminals...did you see the photo of Berlusconi in today's paper? Che vergogna), chaotic. He says it serves them. Of course it does! Is there a nation on this earth that doesn't keep all or part of its population down to keep a tiny fraction up up up and away with all the capital?

But Nic doesn't agree. He has read nearly everything written on Neapolitan history and he is convinced that it is inherent to the Neapolitan character to be sneaky, conniving, anarchic; that without a dictatorship the Neapolitan people will never follow the rules. Only the Normans managed to exert some control over the populace, but as soon as they were gone, this unruly bunch went right back to their old ways. The Neapolitan people are like curly hair, where a permanent wave is anything but permanent (hair simile in honor of Sal!).

I would say both are right. How's that for diplomatic? The Neapolitans do seem to resist with every fiber of their fiber-free-diet beings anything that the powers that be suggest even if it is in their best interest to submit. "Che me ne frega," why should I give a damn, is their typical response to suggestions that edge toward civic responsibility. They wag their heads at the garbage, the motorinos that nearly take out grandmas and babies, the cheating, the murders, the wet laundry dripping on their heads, the lit cigarette butts flying out of windows, but then they litter, ride their motorinos like maniacs, cheat, wring out their laundry on your head, flick their ciggies out their windows. Note that I did not include "murder" there: very few Neapolitans actual kill anyone. For all the news of camorra slayings, the city is still way less violent than many American cities, it's just more colorful about it, more drama for the press.

And the government is always caught up in some shady dealings with the mafia. I am woefully incapable of writing about that, however, since I don't do that kind of research unless someone pays me to (any takers?).

My friend J., the American journalist in Rome, has two articles coming out on Naples, featuring yours truly and The Husband, one in Time magazine and one Il Foglio, byline Jeff Israely. Let me know if you want your name off the blog, Jeff! J is for Jeff! If you're interested in reading about different goings-on in Italy, particularly about the Pope, in English, just google Jeff. He is a great writer and has lots of groovy angles on il bel paese.

New subject: I was on the phone with my friend A., who lost her husband this past December, and she was telling me all about the memorial they had for him. A. is a dancer, so people performed and people boogied. She told me that one friend stood up and said, "Let's give a round of applause to M," and everyone stood up and gave a five-minute standing ovation. A. was amazed by that, but I explained to her that it should not have struck her as odd since she has Italian roots, and the Italians applaud the dead. When the casket comes out of the church (or goes in? or both?), the crowd claps and claps. The first time I saw that I thought, "That's weird," and then, "That's so cool!" So, here's to you M. I hope you can see me clapping from wherever you are.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Le Veline

The subject of le veline is one that is near and dear to my heart, so near and dear that it threatens to give me a coronary when I think about it. For someone who worships at the altar of Terpsichore, le veline represent false goddesses.

Le veline are the dancers on an Italian TV show called Striscia La Notizia. The word velina means tissue paper or flimsy paper.

These are the current veline...

Don't look like flimsy pieces of tissue paper to me! Maybe it's not their bodies that garnered the name veline, but rather, dare I say, their minds? Or maybe their value from the perspective of the male hosts that surround them? (Not just male. The ubiquitous Michelle Hunziker, a Swiss Italian actress, often cohosts on Striscia. Her relationship to le veline? She makes rude, jealous comments, like there should only be one pretty girl next to Enzo, the puppy and Gabibbo...Gabibbo needs his own post. Suffice it to say, he is a big mascot that looks like Barney except red).

The brunette, Melissa, is from Sardinia, never danced before. She played soccer. The blond, Thais, is Brazilian, so she was dancing in the womb. No matter either way. They are effectively pole dancers without poles (okay, sometimes they have poles), strippers who are already practically naked. I enjoy seeing the grandmas in the audience clap along to their gyrations.

Here are the veline from 1999-2002:
Am I going to get arrested for this post? Don't you love how there is always one blond and one brunette? It's just so fair! Equal opportunity! Not only blonds have fun! No brunette left behind! We see more of the brunette's behind!

The only Italian TV show I watch with any regularity is L'Eredità, a quiz show hosted by a lipless guy named Carlo. It used to be hosted by Amadeus, who looks like a weasel, but who I much preferred. Under Amadeus's reign, there was a dancer named Giovanna Civitillo (Newsflash! She has classical ballet training. She studied at Spazio Danza right here near Napoli! What happened?!) and four other back-up dancers. Every evening before La Scossa (shock or shake; the part of the show when the contestants have to avoid choosing the correct answer from a list of about 10), Giovanna did one of three dances and lip-synched. The choreography was a little salsa, a little samba, some random shoulder shimmying and pelvic thrusting, and a dash of voguing. The four other dancers did an occasional pirouette, some floor work here and there, body waves, basic jazz choreography. They have since axed all of these ladies and replaced them with le professoresse, four women in black and white outfits, who explain the answers to some questions and who dance with disco balls and put their fingers in their mouths. They are awful. I miss Giovanna, Miriam, Claudia, Ombretta, and Valentina. (I just rattled those names off by heart. Isn't that impressive? Disturbing?).

My question is, Why are they there? Why are their dancing girls on a quiz show, on a news program? Imagine Alex Trebec surrounded by dancing girls. Pat Sajak may have Vanna White, but at least Miss Horsey Tooth Face has the dignity to just turn letters, just stand still, smile, and turn letters.

Some extraordinary number of Italian girls when surveyed said they wanted to grow up to be veline. Something like...all of them. Again, not so good with statistics, but everyone who's anyone knows that Italian girls want to grow up to be veline!

Inside the Italian dance studio, you see what dance in Italy is about. A class taught by a fabulous contemporary dancer visiting from Belgium or Denmark might attract 20 students. A class taught by the choreographer of Janet Jackson videos will attract at least 250. Danza moderna, a.k.a. jazz/TV dance and hip hop or breakdance are huge, so huge they have become synonymous with dance.

Le veline just stump me. I know that Italians like to see skin, love beautiful women. I know newscasters show cleavage here. But I'm still tortured by it all.

There is another show called Amici, which is like American Idol (I guess, never seen it). Here two teams of performers compete in singing, acting, and dancing. The dancing can even be ever so slightly contemporary, but again, it's mostly Broadway-like. The host is a woman with the deepest voice I have ever heard. She sounds like Cookie Monster.

I read somewhere that Dancing with the Stars is the most popular show in America. Various people in the concert dance industry (industry...guffaw guffaw) have been suggesting that contemporary dancers find a way to capitalize on the popularity of the program. Their mistake is that the program is popular, but that doesn't mean dance is. People watch Fear Factor, but don't then go out and eat worms and jump out of airplanes without parachutes. And ballroom dancing is an entirely different animal.

My friend R. thinks contemporary dance has low audience turnout because it's more fun to do than to watch. That is definitely part of the problem. The great Merce Cunningham said that it wasn't necessary to like his dances. He just hopes they make you think, and we all know most of us don't want to go to the theater to think. We want to escape! So bring on the half-naked butt-shakers!

It is true that a lot of concert dance of the modern-postmodern-contemporary variety is a drag to watch, even when one is in the know.

As for Dancing with the Stars, I think it's popular because people like to see famous people make asses of themselves (be humbled; kind of like carnival, the kings become plebes and viceversa), and they also like to see people triumph over adversity (dance well without having any formal training), and they like crash courses rather than 3-year MFA degrees. Lacking grace and dancing is the collision the audience loves... look at that spaz, they cry!

I don't have a lot of faith in contemporary dance becoming popular. It would probably lose its edge if it did. And besides, we all know dancing is for sissies.

I am in the process of writing two articles, one about Italian dancers who have had careers abroad and have returned to Italy, the other about expat dancers who are involved in Italian scene. I should have some more insight on le veline after, don't you think? All these thoughts on dance need a lot of work. I should get back to writing about Naples, huh?

And about baking! I just purchased my first sifter. Yes, it's true, I have been baking without one all along. The cakes come out good, but I had no idea what a difference a sifter makes! I made a coffee cake this evening -- I tried explaining to The Husband that there is no coffee in coffee cake, that you eat it, I guess, with coffee, never mind -- and it came out so light and fluffy. No lumps. I'm very excited. Now I need to get a double boiler to melt me some chocolate!

Aesop vs. Partenope

I was thinking about the butcher who wouldn't sell meat to my friend. Naples is such a funny place. On the one hand, anyone and everyone will try to pull a fast one, overcharge, underweigh. You go into a bar and ask for a coffee and the cashier says, "Let's say 90 cents." What do you mean, "let's say?" The price is written right above your head, ya noodnik. Or you'll buy some bread and the bread lady will say, "One euro 40 cents," and you give her a euro fifty and she says, "grazie" and doesn't give you back your 10 cents. Of course, you don't care about the 10 cents, in fact, you would have probably handed it back to her or dropped it on the counter, but that's not for her to decide. It's the principle.

On the other hand, there's the butcher, who is willing to lose money over his principles, in this case, how to best feed your 8-month-old. Not very capitalistic, which I like. Very annoying when you want meat and you want it now, which I don't like.

Sales people are either up in your face here or they don't give you the time of day. They tend to look annoyed, bored, hostile. It helps to bring La Bimba along, soften 'em up some. But their friendly, smiling demeanors that emerge when La Bimba bats her baby blues metamorphize into an even more bitter experience when I return to them without her and they look at me annoyed, bored, hostile. How soon they forget!

Sometimes, I reread these paragraphs and cringe over the English. It's all italianated. Awful.

What do you think of this: You go to your car, which is parked in the street, and see that someone rammed into it and left a big dent in its side. A hit-and-run, there is no way to find the culprit and bring them to justice. So, to pay for the repairs, you take down the license plate number of a bus or garbage truck, bring it to a lawyer, and tell her that this driver hit your car. The lawyer then finds a way to get your insurance to pay or the city's insurance to pay. Ethical? Qui si fa così.

Neapolitan morality is like its streets: full of holes to twist your ankle in. The city forces you, expat adventurer, to question your own morals, to question whether a universal code of ethics exists. Most things are fairly harmless if utterly aggravating, like littering. It's their streets, if they choose to live in filth up to their knees, that's their choice, right? At least there's no death penalty...unless you get on the wrong side of the camorra, that is.

More iTunes TV downloads. The Sarah Silverman Show. I hate it. All of these nihilistic programs, what are they good for?

My friend R. and I are having a delicious email dialogue about modern/postmodern/contemporary dance and why it seems to be dead, about why a show like Dancing With the Stars is so popular, etc. Something to ponder: A respected "downtown" New York choreographer said something to the effect of, "'Hey, if someone calls themselves an artist, then I believe them, they're an artist," to which someone replied, "Oh, then if someone calls themselves a surgeon, are they then a surgeon?"

Go ahead. Ponder it. And get back to me.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Is it bad blogger etiquette to not respond to people's comments? I have this tendency to bump into a friend in the street, think, "Wow, great haircut!" and then not say anything. I imagine that I've said the compliment out loud, I am sure I mean to say it out loud, but it is actually living alone, eating take-out Chinese out of the carton by itself, in my head. So, for all of you who have been commenting on my blog, "I love your hair!"

I mean, Thank you, and please keep commenting.

I went to see my friend the new mom today. It was a brief visit. Her baby is doing great. My friend is doing great even in the face of evil pediatric advice, i.e. scolding. According to the pediatrician she was overfeeding the baby and neglecting the umbilical cord stump. She has been a mom for two and half weeks, she is tired, it is all new and challenging, and this doctor made her feel like a shitty mom. Fucker!

People in positions of authority just love to make you feel bad here in Napoli. A person in a position of authority in Napoli is anyone who stands in front of you, usually behind a counter or desk, and answers your questions. A counter or desk can be very loosely could mean the Dutch door of a basso. Your questions can also be very loosely may not have asked the person in authority anything. You may have been walking down the street, innocently pushing your innocent baby in her stroller, and someone from behind their Dutch door or hanging out their window might say, "She's not dressed warmly enough! It's windy. She'll get bronchitis!"

Or maybe you go to the butcher and ask for a half-kilo of meat for your baby and the butcher says, "That's too much," and you chuckle affectionately at the misunderstanding and say, "Not for one meal! I cook it and then freeze it," which causes the butcher to look at you with a mixture of pity and disgust and to say, "You can't do that! The baby must eat only fresh meat," and you say, "Well, I'm not going to cook fresh every single day. I don't have that kind of time. I work," which makes the butcher turn the color of the side of beef that stares at you from the glass case, and he says, "Well, I'm not going to sell it to you."

The latter actually happened to an American friend here in Napoli. When she told the butcher she would have to feed the baby jarred food if he wouldn't sell her the meat, he said that jarred food was better than fresh meat cooked and then frozen because the freezing kills all the nutrients. I guess the processing of baby food keeps all the nutrients in tact. I guess "fresh" in this case means a new jar freshly opened each day.

Can I just say, Aiuto?
These kind of moments make me want to say, "Can I aks you somethin'? Fuck you."
That line was overheard on the New York subway by a friend of a friend. It is almost, but not quite, okay not nearly as good as the line I overheard on the New York subway. A crazy person was muttering and bugging people, you know, your average, normal, New York crazy person, just getting up in peoples' faces and reciting Ginsburg poems mixed with shopping lists and quotes from Rainman, when, just as the train pulled into West 4th Street, the tall dark and handsome stranger in a blue business suit who was sitting next to me, calmly reading the paper, betraying no irritation, not even snapping open the paper to facilitate a crisp fold, stood up, put his hand on the solar plexus of the crazy person, shoved him toward the doors and said, "You're getting off here." Just before he backed out of the train, looking completely unfazed (as opposed to the rest of us, who had our jaws on the floor... say "jaws on the floor" with a Brooklyn accent, please... jaws on the flaw), the crazy person said, "I'd rather be home eating Cheerios than hanging out with you purgatories."

Okay, let's talk yoga. I think I am actually going to start teaching Monday, April 2nd from 9:30-11am at MUDRA, Rampe Brancaccio 6, Napoli, Chiaia district, above Via dei Mille. I will confirm this information on Tuesday of this week. Keep your fingers in the lotus position for me!

Did I mention I am reading Annie Dillard's An American Childhood? And that it is the most gorgeous memoir? Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 50s and 60s. The pages are like grassy fields, beds of leaves, shady trees, dappled sunlight. Beautiful. What a writer.

I thought I had carpal tunnel syndrome yesterday. I no longer think I have it. Syndrome is a scary word, scarier than disease. Speaking of words, I entered a neologism contest at the end of last year. I haven't heard anything, so I guess I didn't win. Evidently, the judges do not recognize genius when they see it, but you, fair reader, you certainly do...

Function: Noun
Definition: A strong dose of information involving the life and exploits of Tom Cruise.
Example: Thank goodness there was a People magazine in the doctor’s office; I really needed a Cruisefix.
Related terms: Cruisefy v. 1. To seek information involving the life and exploits of Tom Cruise: I was up until 2 a.m. Cruisefying on the web. 2. To torment a person for strange behaviour due to hormonal shifts: I have post-partum depression and my husband is totally Cruisefying me for it.
Cruisefixion n. The excruciating pain that follows a Cruisefix.

I should have at least gotten an honorable mention. Fuckers.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Round of Applause

I forgot to mention La Bimba's other big breakthrough: she claps her hands. If my neighbor C. is reading this, she is probably thinking, "Oh La Bimba has been clapping her hands forevs." It is true that she had grokked the concept about a month ago, but she was just lightly tapping her fingers together, her hands in an A-frame position, emitting no sound. Now she slams her hands together, full palmar action. You can hear her from the other room! So now when she dances her fabulous shim-sham-shimmy, she alternates between Fosse hands and clapping, her mouth wide open, having a grand old time. Still, I hope she grows up to become an accountant.

During one of the gazillion ultrasounds that my OB did during my pregnancy, we saw La Bimba with her hands together in front of her chest. The doctor said, "She's praying," to which I replied, "No she's not. She's doing that Neapolitan hand gesture that means, 'What do you want from me?' or 'What the hell'd you do that for?'" Here is little visual guide to Neapolitan gestures, hardly comprehensive.

I just downloaded and watched season one of The Office. Steve Carrell is too funny. Really. He is too funny, like it's too much, it's actually painful to watch at times. Can someone in the know let me know if it's worth downloading seasons 2 and 3? Or is it just so much of the same? Do any relationships develop? I still haven't gotten Sky and probably never will, so the occasional iTunes download is my only hope, and the DVDs my mamma brings me from the States. Thanks, mamma!

The chocolate cake I baked the other day came out great. It had yogurt in it. NB: it had yogurt in it. The cake is gone. Next up: yellow cake.

Hey! I am planning a seder at my house on April 2nd, first night of Passover. The Husband is being very unsupportive. I think he is afraid I am becoming religious. Fear not, dear man, that is not going to happen. One of my closest friends from college became an orthodox Jew a couple of years after we graduated. She is now married with, at last count (we're not in touch anymore) four kids, and lives in an orthodox Jewish enclave north of NYC. She did not grow up remotely religious. The last time we spoke she told me she was worried about me because I was making a bad decision being with a non-Jew (she was right about that guy, but his Gentile status had nothing to do with it) and that nothing is inevitable because God decides (this in response to my comments on the situation in Israel/Palestine...I think I said something controversial like, "War is inevitable"). I suppose nothing is ever inevitable, just very very likely.

She and I were great friends, had a lot of naughty fun in college. People change, paths diverge, yarmulkes are crocheted, Jews marry Italians and have little matzoh-pizzas. La Bimba is a delicious matzoh-pizza. Maybe that's what we'll have at the seder: matzoh-pizza! With bitter herb topping!

I printed a Haggadah, the Passover text, in Italian. All the prayers that made me squirm once I understood them now sound great. Here's an example, the 10 plagues: sangue, rane pidocchi, bestie feroci, mortalità, ulcere, grandine, cavallette, oscurità, morte dei primogeniti. Don't they sound pleasant compared to the English: blood, frogs, lice, wild animals, disease, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, death of the first born. Boils! Ewwwww. And you're supposed to eat after that? All the wine-drinking is probably to keep your appetite up. Anyway, I am looking forward to my first Italian seder. It won't be kosher and we won't throw out the bread in the house, so it will be just like I remember.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gesu' Giuseppe e Misha

I had to delete that photo of the dude with the dog from the last post. It was bugging me. In order to do so, I had to delete the whole post and the comments went with it. Why can't I figure out a way to delete a photo from a post without having to delete the whole post? I need Blogger For Dummies.

There is much to report. La Bimba started pointing at things. She had already been gesturing toward things with an open hand, looking a bit like Eva Peron addressing her masses from her Buenos Aires balcony, but now she actually points with her little index finger. I told you she was a genius.

As for crawling, she is moving fast...backwards. She scooted backwards until she hit a wall and then turned ninety degrees and began scooting along the wall until she was half under the couch. The Husband said, "Where'd she go?" Had we found her any later she would have taken up with a band of dust bunnies and lord only knows where that would lead.

Yesterday was San Giuseppe, Saint Joseph, La Festa del Papà, Father's Day. I sent my Dad a Happy Father's Day all'italiana email and explained that Joseph was Jesus's dad, in case they forgot to talk about that in Hebrew school, and this got me thinking about poor Joseph, Giuseppe, let's call him Peppe, and how Jesus's adoptive father (stepdad?), i.e. God, gets all the credit for Jesus's martyrdom, resurrection, and subsequent movie, television, and book rights. Then my mind went further down the blasphemous path and I thought about God and Peppe as Jesus's gay dads. I sure hope I'm not pissing anyone off right now. Just sharing the inner workings of a sleep-deprived mind.

Have I blogged about my former fear of Jesus? As a child, my parents took me to Mexico. I was around five, maybe younger, maybe not, maybe six We went into a church. Everything was going smoothly until we came upon a room with about fifty crucifixes, each about a foot tall, hanging on the wall. I had never seen (or at least never noticed) a crucifix before and the little bleeding naked-but-for-loincloth man times 50 freaked my wee ass out. I ran out of the room only to careen into the church's epicenter, the nave or pulpit or both, where an enormous, larger than Jewish-girl-from-Brooklyn life Jesus hung on a built to fit cross. His wounds were gushing blood. It was like Carrie (though I hadn't seen Carrie at that point...still haven't seen it come to think of it...are you sensing a fear of blood theme yet?). I tore out of that holy place screaming and continued to whimper about what I had seen into the night.

I stopped whimpering the next day, but it took a good five to seven years for me to stop being afraid of seeing Jesus again. My parents took me to many a major European capital, thus many museums, and I had to ask before entering each room, "Is he there?" Even the milder depictions, the earlier works, the Dutch versions made me splutter. Add San Sebastian, John the Baptist, and the rest of the bloody gang, and you've got yourself a bonafide Christianity phobia.

Growing up Jewish in Brooklyn is like growing up Swedish in Sweden: you don't even notice. Up until recently there were more Jews in Brooklyn than in Israel and I bet the scales tipped only after a large number of scary right wing Brooklyn Jews made aliyah (the return to Israel) and set up a bunch of illegal settlements. So it was quite usual for a five-year-old to not have ever heard of or seen a velvet painting of Jesus. No one told me who he was, why he was all over the map, literally, why he was suffering so. I think knowing about him or Him would have helped calm my nerves or at least given me a mantra to work with, something like, "It's okay. It's just the son of God. He's suffering for my sins. It's okay."

My best friend from high school is an Irish Catholic and one of her sisters is an ordained minister (I think) and is married to an Episcopal priest (I think you call him priest) and I used to love to hear all about the Catholicism, all the rites, pomp, circumstance, glory, stained glass, chalices, etc. Real theater plus you got to choose a saint's name at your confirmation. I was always obsessed with names and wished I could have chosen one to add to mine. I remember an Italian girl on my block, Andrea, who told me she was going to choose Rhonda. Was there a Saint Rhonda? Time for another web search!

Now that I've exhausted that tangent, let me tell you about lunch in Bacoli. The food was good, lots of seafood served on fake scallop half shells. But the conversation a group of young Romans was having was great. They were arguing about homosexuality -- disease? nature? genetic? -- at the top of their lungs. The Husband, at the top of his lungs, said, "Sono un poco fascisti i romani." The couple at the table next to ours agreed. This is one of the things I love about Italy. You can call people fascists to their faces and they don't get up and smash a half-eaten lobster tail in your face. People are openly fascist just as they are openly communist, Christian democratic, anarchist, no big whoop.

This was all very interesting, but I was busy being proud of myself for recognizing the group of homophobes as Roman. I got it from the accent and I got the accent because most Italian films are made in Rome and the on screen youth talk exactly like these kids were talking. Same tone, same rhythm. Cinecitta' and shit.

Last bit of news is that I took a dance class last night with a guy named Bruno Valentino, who danced with Bejart and Forsythe {fyi, big names in modern dance}. I had a grand old time doing the neoclassical thing. In brief, neoclassical dance is classical dance, a.k.a. ballet, with your ass stuck out, your foot flexed, and your legs in parallel. It's huge in Europe and the jury that lives in my head is still out on what to make of it. It's very fun to do because it's pretty extreme and exagerrated, but it can look too affected for my tastes. I'm sure there are clips of the aforementioned choreographers' work on YouTube. If you check it out, let me know what you think. Oh, and BIG thank you to D. for sending me the link to the Charlie Rose interview with Baryshnikov. Very entertaining. Baryshnikov is simply the greatest male dancer ever ever. If you think Nureyev, I don't agree. However, the interview features a clip from White Nights, the film with Gregory Hines and Baryshnikov, and though you can see Baryshnikov is flawless and can do anything, Hines is more interesting to watch, looser, more playful.

Oh, how I miss dancing every day and talking about it and writing about it!

One last thing, promise. The dance space where I took the class is called Mudra, is literally a 5 minute walk from my house, has a bar, a gym, a theater space, a yoga space, a pilates room, and a steam room. Crazy. The anglophonic yoga class may have found a home!

Giù Jew

The weather was eerily perfect today. The Husband, La Bimba and I went to La Gaiola today. Part of Posillipo, it's a hidden little cove, a tiny beachfront down a winding two-way road that's wide enough for one car, so you have toot your horn every two seconds to warn oncoming traffic that you're not up for a game of chicken. The water was crystal clear. There were a couple of sunbathers and seabathers (one in a turquoise speedo, tossing his long black curls around in the wind), a family with one of those tall, thin, long-haired dogs (kind of like the one in this photo), and a bunch of workmen, fixing up the joint for the Comune. It was so peaceful, the air so fresh and clean, it was hard to believe we were still in Naples.
There are so may seaside gems in and around Naples, and a balmy weekday in March is the ideal time to go check them out. Imagine the road I describe above in deep summer with it's cacophony of car horns, billowing plumes of diesel fumes, cars going forward, cars going in reverse, pedestrians, motorinos, screaming teenagers. Oy. Not relaxing.
On a completely unrelated note, since the gingerbread, I have officially gotten back on the baking train. I baked a horrible batch of butterscotch brownies (though The Husband liked them) and there is a one-egg cocoa cake cooling in the kitchen as I type. (Did you dig that alliteration? I definitely did, dammit).
On another utterly unrelated note, I know you will all be very sad to hear that I am missing a conference at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, entitled, Practicing Jews: Art, Identity and Culture. My good friend N. is performing in it and there is going to be talk after talk about Jews and Art, Jews and Dance, Jewess Jeans (maybe?! who remembers the Gilda Radner Saturday Night Live fake commercial? "Jewess Jeans: you don't have to be Jewish to wear them...but it can't hurt!"). I'm now wondering if I'll ever return to academia.
Return, you ask? What, have you been there before?
Yes, yes. BA, MA, MFA, lots of letters just hanging around in the junk drawer. I think school is my element, whether university or dance studio. I love to study. I love to study dance above all else. Everything about dance interests me: taking class, performing, rehearsing, reading dance history, writing dance criticism, theory, discos. My current dance life is limited to reading dance blogs and grooving around the house with La Bimba (who happens to be a fabulous dancer...she doesn't walk yet, or crawl for that matter, but she can rock out, wiggling her little pelvis until the wave reaches the top of her head and she flips over...such talent! such grace!).
I gave up doing a PhD in Russian Literature to write dance criticism and to dance. I realized the PhD was not for me when (1) I found we were reading more theory than novels, stories, poems and (2) I found myself doing an immediate about face every time I entered the library. I love libraries for about 10 seconds. Then I want to scream and dance up and down the stacks. (I actually made a short dance piece for my friend M. that involved her running down an aisle of books screaming, "Silence! This is a library! Silence! This is a library!")
Later, I did an MFA in Dance. So here I am, all laureata and shit, and not using any of it. Maybe one day, but doubtfully here in Naples.
I am trying to start a yoga class for English speakers. Any of you expats in Naples interested?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Wake Up and Smell the Teine?

The first time I asked an Italian barista for a cup of decaffeinated tea, I said, "Un tè decaffeinato, per favore." The barista, looking crisp in his white shirt and black vest, shouted to his co-barista manning the espresso machine just inches away from him, "Un caffè decaffeinato!" I quickly corrected him, "No, not a decaf coffee. A decaf tea." He looked at me as if I were on a rare field trip into reality and said, "There’s no coffee in tea." I said again, thinking, My Italian is not that bad, is it?, "No, I don't want a decaffeinated coffee. I want a decaffeinated tea, tea with no caffeine", and he said, "You mean deteinato, no teine," and I said, "What?" and he said, "What?" and I went on my way without getting my tea.

From this encounter, I deduced that (1) there is no caffeine in tea, (2) there is, rather, a mysterious substance called teine in tea, (3) teine functions much as caffeine does, i.e. it makes you jittery so some people need it to be removed. This was all quite disconcerting since I, and every other anglophone I know, grew up thinking tea had caffeine in it. It never occurred to me that the caffe in caffeine related solely to coffee and that to decaffeinate coffee was to de-coffee it in some way. It logically follows, thus, that tea would have to be de-tead or de-teid as the case may be.

Wait a minute... Have I once again fallen into the trap of dubious Italian logic? Somebody dope slap me!

This is not the first time I have doubted certain Italian truisms, not the first time I've slipped on an Italian tautology and landed on my sorry American ass. And I'm not talking about superstitions like the upside down bread or the hat on the bed. I'm talking about things, usually food-related, presented as facts. (Food commericials make up the largest slice of the advertising pie in Italy. I learned that on L'Eredità). One of you fabulous expat bloggers mentioned the miracle yogurt drinks Italians tout on TV. Today, I'm here to talk about tea.

I was reminded of the whole tè deteinato conundrum when, yesterday, my American neighbor pal C. pulled out a box of Star Tea deteinato. Under the big blue DETEINATO banner were the words "tè senza caffeina," tea without caffeine. Eureka! This bit of information led us to believe that either (1) there is no such thing as teine and Italians simply cannot shake the gnawing belief that tea should have its own word for decaffeination (like womyn instead of women) or (2) there is such a thing as teine but it has nothing to do with caffeine. To Scooby Doo this mystery, a little web research was in order. This is what I discovered... (things get a bit technical and boring from here until the last graph, so feel free to skip ahead, though I know you, reader, are so gripped by this enigma, you just have to crack the code)...

The Garzanti English-Italian Italian-English dictonary defines deteinato as detanninated and offers tè deteinato, detanninated tea, as the example of usage. Tannin! Of course! I knew about tannin, but is it the same thing as caffeine?

The American Heritage Science Dictionary defines tannin as follows:

"Any of various compounds, including tannic acid, that occur naturally in the bark and fruit of various plants, especially the nutgalls, certain oaks, and sumac. Tannins are polyphenols, and form yellowish to light brown amorphous masses that can be powdery, flaky, or spongy. They are used in photography, dyeing, in tanning leather, in clarifying wine and beer, and as an astringent in medicine. Tannins are also an important ingredient in tea."

An important ingredient, the scientists say.

The same dictionary defines caffeine as,

"A bitter white alkaloid found in tea leaves, coffee beans, and various other plant parts. It is a mild stimulant. Caffeine is a xanthine and similar in structure to theobromine and theophylline. Chemical formula: C8H10N4O2."

What do you say? From these definitions, it is pretty clear that caffeine and tannin are not the same thing. And though I don't know for sure if Italians are removing the tannins from their tea instead of the caffeine, aw shucks, I'm pretty damn sure they're not laying a finger on those poor amorphous masses, yearning to be free. So, why why why is the tea deteinato and not decaffeinato? I might have to ask an expert. Know any tea experts? Anyone? Bueller?

Yesterday, while I was scarfing down The Husband's delicious melanzane fritte, he looked up at me and said, "Sai una cosa? Mangi troppa frittura." I eat too much fried food? Is that code for "you're getting fat and you have acne?" It seems that eating too much fried food, even if that means in my case, a handful of fried eggplant 2-3 times a week, will damage your liver. The Husband -- my coffee drinking, cigarette smoking, hash partaking, wine-beer-grappa-amaro swilling, cornetto eating health nut.

Rather than turning to the web for justice, I took up my fork and pushed the remainder of my frittura into the trash.

Friday, March 9, 2007


My friend had her baby a half hour after my post. Brava! Auguri! I'm going to visit them in the hospital tomorrow. Can't wait! More blogging from Maternity Mayhem.

I am at a loss, here, simultaneously reading a novel (Alice McDermott's After This), a magazine (Zoetrope: All Story), and a bunch of half-written short stories I keep promising myself I'll get back to and finish one of these days. Why is follow-through such a bitch? I had the same problem with tennis.

To avoid the writing I would like to be doing if I weren't so petrified of what will come out, I am baking. My first gingerbread is in the oven and the cinnamon-ginger-molasses smell is wafting through the apartment. If it tastes half as good as it smells I will dance a victory dance. I love Italian sweets, but sometimes I crave a chocolate chip cookie, yellow cake with chocolate frosting, cheesecake (made with Philadelphia not ricotta), gingerbread.

Speaking of ricotta, do you Americans in Italy remember eating Polly-O ricotta and mozzarella cheese? If so, can you imagine ever eating it again? I used to make baked ziti for myself after school. I would use Ronzoni pasta, Prego tomato sauce, and Polly-O cheeses. I thought I was quite the Chef Boyardee, and that's just what I was (if you've ever eaten Roller Coasters you know what I mean). Now I am spoiled by the pasta al forno and all the other red sauce inspired piatti here in Naples. There is no going back to Polly-O.

I could write a novel just about how and what I ate growing up. I should start that novel, too, huh? Oops! Gotta run. My gingerbread is calling me. Pity.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Schlemiel Sch-Lamaze-l

Today I went to Ospedale Fate Bene Fratelli to visit a friend in labor. I told the guard that I was the sister when he told me visiting hours were over. He let me through. Unfortunately, my friend was being monitored, i.e. was strapped to a table watching her contractions dance by on a screen, a tickertape memento cascading to the floor like a slinky. Il tracciato as it is called was happening in the delivery room, so I was not allowed in to see her. I left some snacks, a New Yorker magazine, and a note by her bed.

Her bed was one of six or eight – I was too overwhelmed by the number to take an official count – in the room. Every bed seemed to be occupied by a whalesomely (yes, that’s whalesomely, not wholesomely, Mr. Spellcheck) pregnant woman or a brand new mom. Every giant belly or drowsy breastfeeder was surrounded by one to twelve family members. Husbands, grandfathers, brothers, uncles came in and out, never allowed to stay for long since someone else’s wife, daughter, sister, niece always had to whip out a boob or try on a nightgown. I do not understand why they don’t have those convenient curtains around each bed. The female relatives are there to do what the nurses are supposed to do, and if I weren’t so North American (and my poor friend, still in labor as I type, so English) this giant family affair cum public display of nuova maternità would be fantastic, lovely, so old world and bosomy. Add to this festa atmosphere the orderly who was singing Neapolitan songs at the top of her lungs while wheeling trays of food to the patients, and we have ourselves a veritable Dancing Under Vesuvius Maternity Party Ward.

If during my labor I had had to stay in a room with fifty million other women, Neapolitan women (sic), I don’t think I could have hacked it. My labor was thankfully very short, very fast, however, so perhaps it wouldn’t have been too rough. For my laboring friend, however, I think it has been quite hard.

One thing I noticed about the hospital is how clean it was. And it didn’t reek of hospital, of sickness and cleaning products, like an American hospital does. The clinic where I gave birth was also stench-free. How do they do that?

Last I heard my friend was at seven centimeters. In bocca al lupo!!!!

And before I forget, in addition to still trying to turn lefties into righties, it appears that Neapolitan doctors advise moms of children with outies bellybuttons to tape them down so that they might become innies. This happened to my friend C. She did not return to that guy. Also, no bathing (tub or sea) for at least two hours after a meal. Do not get me started on that one, I’ll just get upset. I mean, I just want to dunk La Bimba in some nice warm water after a meal. It would be so much easier to keep her less sticky. Alas, such are the compromises one makes in a multicultural marriage. At least The Husband lets me feed La Bimba avocado, even if he does ask repeatedly, “Che roba è?”

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Green Eggs and Prosciutto

We made it to the Pantheon! La Bimba was asleep in the stroller, but I'm sure she caught the building's vibes.
I forgot about all the nuns and priest tooling around Rome. And the liturgical garment stores. A few years ago, a friend and I witnessed a clergyman (higher than a black-frocked priest, lower than the Pope...bishop? cardinal?) trying on a hat, one of those pointy bishoppy hats. We watched through the window as he shook his head, up and down, side to side, to see if the hat would remain on his head. One store, De Ritis, has an attractive female mannequin modelling a whimple. Do you think nuns go whimple shopping together and Sister Mary Teresa comes out of the dressing room and asks Sister Mary Immacolata, "Does this make me look fat?"
I forgot about all the tourists, especially American college students in Trastevere, young women from Michigan or Arizona stumbling around in high-heeled boots, one drunk and laughing over the ankle she just twisted after having gotten a heel caught between two cobblestones, coming to the next morning with a purple elephant's foot. I forgot about how hard it is to find a bus ticket and that it is a bit of a risk to ride the bus without one. I forgot how beautiful Rome is.
I moved to Rome from Berkeley in August 2004. I lived there for eight months before moving to Naples. I am always happy to visit Rome and, shockingly, I am always happy to return to Naples. Naples is a drug and I am addicted. People in Rome often look like they are living la dolce vita instead of la vida loca alla napoletana. Lots of comfy, over-priced outdoor cafes, fancy shops, government types in pinstripe suits, lungofiume strolls at dusk.
Romans are awful drivers. They lack the consistency of Neapolitan drivers, i.e. they don't always and without fail try to go first, before the motorino, the pedestrian, the doggie. Sometimes they stop, sometimes they slow down, sometimes they speed up, sometimes they maintain breakneck pace. You never know what the hell is going on. And so many motorino accidents! I rarely see a motorino on its side in the middle of the street in Naples. As a Neapolitan typographer I know once explained: "If you have a one-way street, but it will save you and everyone around you time to go up that street the wrong way, you have to be an idiot not to do so. There is no sense in following traffic rules if they cause traffic." Smart.
My friend the journalist in Rome is coming down to Naples to write about smoking and helmets. I told him Neapolitans put helmets on their pastries but not on their heads or the heads of their children. I was being metaphoric, referring to the cardboard domes that are placed over pastries in order to protect them from getting smooshed. He thought Neapolitans put their actual motorcyle helmets over their pastries. I just love a good misunderstanding. It's like an episode of Three's Company!
When I was living in Rome, The Husband (then boyfriend) called me and started talking to me about work and how he was in a hole and was really down and was having trouble getting out of it. I made sympathetic noises whilst thinking how poetic he was, how depressed and poetic, when his narrative started to breakdown. When I was thoroughly confused, I said, "Wait a minute. Could you repeat that?" When he retold his story I realized that HE HAD ACTUALLY FALLEN INTO A HOLE AT WORK, had fallen pretty far down, and had trouble getting out of the hole. Isn't that great? The misunderstanding, that is, not the fact that poor Husband fell into a hole.
Being in a marriage where one spouse doesn't speak the other's language at all, and one spouse speaks the other's language fairly well, but that language is not really the other's language because The Husband is only truly comfortable in Neapolitan, can be very challenging, often fun, frustrating, humbling, exhausting. We have lots of misunderstandings, create hybrid terms such as "crankissima," and mix up our languages ("Tu sei proprio stinky"). It's like living in a Dr. Seuss book.
One of my main motivations for moving to non-English-speaking country was to get out of my habitual ways of thinking and perceiving the world by speaking in a language not my own. It worked great for a good long while, but now I think I've been here long enough to have returned to my old thought processes, neuroses, biases. I've just carved another passageway in my brain for my ancient issues to stroll through. Call it Via dell'Angoscia.