Thursday, August 30, 2007

Stating the Obvious

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

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

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

Me: Is that the choreographer in front?

Her: Excuse me?

Me: Is there a choreographer for this dance?

Her: It's a film.

Me: Yes, but did someone choreograph the movement?

Her: Yeah.

Me: What's his name?

Her: Guido something.

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

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Follow Through

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Grazie mille genitori miei

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Land of the Orange People

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

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

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

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

Do you think that image has been air brushed?

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Competitive Streak

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

Those are today's highlights.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Welcome Back!

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ave Maria

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Swiss Miss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Arrivals and Departures

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

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

A prestissimo!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Art Work

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

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

That's all for now.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Road trip, Mind trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Frigid Air

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, August 1, 2007

And the pendulum swings again

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

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

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

Fourth, I hate my hair.

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