Monday, September 24, 2007

Così si offende

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

You'd Know Better than Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wonder of Wonder, Miracle of Miracles...

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

Everybody! Sing-a-long!

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

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

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

And some of the TV crew.

And some officials.

And a guy selling tooty things.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Accentuate the Positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 9, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Picture This...

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

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

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

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Pre-emptive Nostalgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mixed Feelings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bye Bye Boobie

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

Saturday, September 1, 2007


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

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