Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cultural Ransom Note

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I'll Get You My Pretty

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

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

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

Me: "Uh, no."

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Buckle Your Head

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

Friday, June 15, 2007

Going Postal II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 8, 2007

Look it up!

I saw Friar Tuck doing whippets in front of Chiesa Santa Chiara today.

Actually, it was just your average Franciscan monk pulling on his inhaler. Naples must really aggravate his asthma.

You can understand my mistake. Check out those friars on the left, downing brewskis with a couple of frat boys. Ah, brotherhoods. Brothers with hoods. Brothers in the hood with hoods. Those low-slung cord belts are kind of in now.

Yesterday, C. and I were exiting the funicolare when we witnessed some egregious butt crackage. A youngish man was walking up the steps in a pair of not-particularly-low-cut jeans and his hairy butt crack was in full view. He wasn't even bending down. If he were, I think we'd have been privy to full frontal perineum.

In trying to avoid spelling mistakes, I often consult In so doing, I occasionally stumble upon interesting, anzi, startling information, such as the first definition of perineum:

1. the area in front of the anus extending to the fourchette of the vulva in the female and to the scrotum in the male.

Sounds reasonable, until you ask yourself what the vulva is a fourchette. My high school French reminds me that it is a fork. What is a fork doing near my vulva? tells me:
1. Anatomy. the fold of skin that forms the posterior margin of the vulva.
2. Ornithology. furcula; wishbone.
3. Zoology. the frog of an animal's foot.
4. a strip of leather or fabric joining the front and back sections of a glove finger.
5. Chiefly Bridge. a tenace.

Never knew that. And now what is the frog of an animal's foot? Did they mean the foot of a frog? Um, no:
1. Any of numerous tailless, aquatic, semiaquatic, or terrestrial amphibians of the order Anura and especially of the family Ranidae, characteristically having a smooth moist skin, webbed feet, and long hind legs adapted for leaping.
2. A wedge-shaped, horny prominence in the sole of a horse's hoof.
3. A loop fastened to a belt to hold a tool or weapon.
4. An ornamental looped braid or cord with a button or knot for fastening the front of a garment.
5. A device on intersecting railroad tracks that permits wheels to cross the junction.
6. A spiked or perforated device used to support stems in a flower arrangement.
7. The nut of a violin bow.
8. Informal Hoarseness or phlegm in the throat.
9. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a French person.

NINE different defintions for frog. And you thought it was just numbers 1, 8, and 9! I think the dictionary is the key to feeling one with the universe. Look how perineum led to fourchette led to French then to frog, which leads in turn to French and back to being horny and wedge-shaped? You will be pleased to know that I am exhibiting a motherlode of self-control by not continuing my quest for wholeness and union through the exploration of the nut of a violin bow. (Let's leave it at 16 definitions for nut, number 9, a testis. Bet you never wrote the singular of that word before!).

The internet is such a lovely place to follow tangents. My father always said his mother used to talk in a circle. Not in circles, but in one circle, beginning with a point, following a series of tangents, and then returning to that point. A sort of hermeutic circle, Hermaneutic, Herman being a nice Jewish name. Not really. I'm reaching, aren't I?

"...the selfishness of those who hate themselves" (Joan Acocella on why Dorothy Parker's stories were mostly a disappointment). I don't think I hate myself -- that would be mean -- but I definitely feel the most self-involved, self-obsessed if you must, when I am imagining that other people hate me.

I did stand-up comedy once. I think it was 1992. I took a stand-up class at the New School of Social Research, which culminated in five minutes of fame at some comedy club in NY, I can't even remember which one. I mostly talked about my late gynecologist...and a bit about being in Japan. We students were interspersed with professional comedians. I fondly remember one comedienne (is it un-pc to use the feminine suffix?) who said, and I misquote, "Willard Scott was calling out to Bryant Gumbel in the NBC offices, calling 'Bry! Bry!' and Gumbel turned to him and said, 'My name is Bryant. Call me by my name, Bryant." Here she added a pregnant pause and then birthed, "If I was making as much money as Bryant Gumbel, you could call me dickfatfuckface."

My Brooklyn gynecologist, Dr. Alvin Weiner, deserves a post of his own. And you shall have one, Al. Not tonight, but some day soon, and for the rest of your heavenly days...or daily heavens...

Thursday, June 7, 2007

They Went Thataway

Why doesn't Blogger ever remember me when I check the "remember me" box? I always thought I was unforgettable.

La Bimba has changed. She is entering the terrible twos about a year early. Little tantrums. Food flinging. Flailing, particularly when being taken out of the tub. Slippery little bugger.

The anglophonic moms group met at the Villa Floridiana today, and it was a blast. Lots of running and crawling and ball-throwing, bubble-blowing, bubble-chasing, bubble-eating. The park has a great lawn in front of the ceramics museum and our little group of bilinguals found lots of mini Italians to mingle with...with which to mingle. Bilingual Mingle. I bet there's an online dating service called that. Bilingual Singles Mingle. Mingling Bilingual Singles eating Pringles.

I was led to believe as a small child that Pringles potato chips were worse for you than any other potato chip. I don't know who told me that or what the claim is based on, but I will say that though they are tasty, they do look like someone chewed up a Lays chip, spit it out, rolled it with a rolling pin, and refried it. There is something reconstituted about a Pringles potato chip. They don't even taste like potatoes. But it is what they sell on Italian trains. And I get deep satisfaction from the vacuum suck sound the container makes upon opening.

I got my Permesso di Soggiorno! Yesterday! And I almost forgot to mention it. It's the new electronic kind, looks like a driver's license. My photo is awful, but who cares? I am legal for the first time in Italy since arriving nearly three years ago. I tried to be legal from the get-go, but the cops at the Rome questura were rompipalli industriali, so they never gave me the permit, even though it was all ready. They were punishing me for moving from Parioli to Flaminio without telling them. This was before The Husband and La Bimba.

Now I can dive into all the bureaucratic nightmares Italy has to offer: getting residency, a public health doctor, a driver's license. Should be fun. My friend L. just gave me the guide to the written driving test. It is hilarious! They give you true or false questions, but not ones someone who was raised in the American public school system would recognize. There are several true answers to each question. You have to choose which are true and which are false. As L. pointed out to me, and I confirmed while reading the book (and it is a BOOK not a leaflet or pamplet or booklet), one of the questions is, What is a street? There are five true answers:

1. open to circulating pedestrians, animals and vehicles

2. might be one-way

3. might be two-way

4. might be subdivided into roadways (confused? see below)

5. might have bicycle lanes

It is not surprising that the answers did not include, NOT A SIDEWALK. This is Naples, after all.

Answer 4 in Italian is as follows: può essere suddivisa in carreggiate. A carreggiata is defined as a carriageway or roadway. Thank heavens the exam also asks, What is a roadway?

1. the part of the street designated for vehicle transit

2. may be divided into lanes

3. may be one-way

4. may be two-way

5. are marked by special beginning and end signs

6. have special parking areas

7. are reserved for the circulation of any category of motorized vehicle

I could go on all day. The book is so entertaining. But not nearly as entertaining as this:

I think that is going to really help me pass the test.