Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Il Giorno dei Santi con papa' - All Saints' Day with my father

Today, on this first gray day of November here in Massachusetts, a beautiful photo of my father has appeared on my screen. Whether it is a miracle, as my father would probably believe, or a coincidence as others would say, this morning my dad popped out of the after-world just to remind me of our last walk together in our Alps.
On our way to our family's grave 
This photo records the last time I walked with my father on my dear Italian mountains, four years ago, on our way to our family tomb. The Giorno dei Santi (All Saints' Day) was  the most important day of the year for my father. 

In late October, our heaters would turn on suddenly after the appearance of the morning mist, together with the aroma of the roasted chestnuts, mixed with the scent of the rain and of the wet rust-colored leaves, in the shiny wet streets of Turin. I remember being seated in the back of our small red Fiat, waiting for my mother to collect the precious orange and yellow crisantemi (chrysanthemums), which in Italy are only seen in the cemeteries, for our families' graves, that she had always ordered in advance. I remember being in the car waiting, watching rain drops race on the car window. I was looking at each drop, while I was imagining they were tears, one of the tears we were supposed to spill for our loved ones. I was sad but I was trying to question the reasons for my sadness and couldn't reveal what they were. 

When All Saints Day was approaching, regardless of our illnesses, studies, or work commitments, there was no way my parents would not make the trek to put flowers on our family graves on All Saints' Day. We just simply had to go. 

Every year, the same ritual. My dad would silently drive us early in the morning to our mountains, with the intense aroma of the precious crisantemi filling our car. While my father was driving, we were either being silent or he would bring up memories of family and friends who were no longer alive. Together we shared memories of my sweet grandmother, who used to take care of me, and of other loved ones I never met. He was reminding me every year of the efforts he made to build a small mausoleum for his family with extra space for me, my future husband and children. Then at some point, while he was driving us around the switchbacks up the mountains, he would invariably ask the dreaded question: "Enrica, are you going to bring flowers to my tomb when I am dead? Promise you will." Short after that, he would say "Svegliati, siamo arrivati!" (Wake up, we are are!).

The three of us would spend a bit of time at the family tomb to get it ready for the afternoon ceremony. To most people attending this yearly tradition, it was  important to make sure that their family graves were clean and adorned with fresh flowers. To my parents this entailed a bit more. In the morning, my parents would spend time, which to me as a child always felt a lot, trimming the plants outside, cleaning up the old dry flowers and the layers of dust collected inside, removing spiders from the ceiling, and polishing the glass and brass. I often thought they felt they had to make the grave immaculate before they were entitled to place new flowers in front of our loved ones, always a couple of vases on the left hand side and another couple on the right hand side of the tomb. My father was always very keen that we would follow this rule in the positioning of the vases, in order to honor the memories of each person.

Then we would go dig out from the back of the cemetery's dark utility room a couple of watering cans to fill at the nearby well - an operation which often involved all of us. The people of the valley would gather around the well and try pulling the very stiff lever a few times until somebody would suddenly blurt with excitement "Venite, esce acqua!" (Come here, there is water coming out!). It was there, at the well in front of the cemetery, that the conversation would drift from the problem of not getting water from the well into a chat about those who were still alive and of the ones who had died - a chat which would often make us feel thankful for what we had.

After lunch and a little siesta, we were always back in front of our family tomb, waiting for the priest to turn up and start the ceremony. I would watch the cemetery filling up with more and more people. In the final five or ten minutes before the beginning of the function, I would usually only hear the steps of the newcomers approaching, the running of a couple of agitated children, or someone quietly making a comment  about one more person was no longer alive.

Then the priest would arrive, at 3:25 on the dot. After the priest's blessing of the loved ones, still positioned in front of each of our graves, we would all pray together for a few minutes. Then I would say (or think): "Done! It's over". Strange, everything was over in such a short time. The exit of the priest also meant that we were free to move, play and chat. Running around and playing with the snow collected by the graves was my favorite part as a child. Later, I became fond of going to say hello to the people we knew (or kind of knew). There are people I only ever met once a year on that occasion. If at the beginning I couldn't see a point of this ritual, I later got used to the tradition of remembering loved ones lost and of seeing people growing up, having kids, aging, with all the problems and gossip I heard them discuss, and finally dying themselves. At some point, it all started making sense in my mind. All Saints' Day was an important day for us to think, to ponder, to be thankful for what we have and, above all, to hope for better lives.

After leaving the cemetery, we would usually have a cup of tea and biscotti with close friends, perhaps as a way to cheer ourselves up. Those were often opportunities to play with other kids as a child or to join discussions about life and death when I was a little older, until life brought me outside Italy and it was no longer possible for to be there every year on November 1st. My absenses made my father very sad for years. And the dreaded question in the car changed into "who is gonna come to take care of our family tomb when your mother and I are dead?".

But today my father's photo and the photo below brought me right back into the meaning and feeling of this important tradition in my culture. My mother's smartphone allowed me to be there, looking at my family tomb, to say hello to the Priest and to a couple of people my father knew, still alive and still there on All Saints' Day, to pray for our loved ones.

My family's edicola funeraria (small mausoleum)
I am sure my father is happy that today I was spiritually there and that All Saints' Day will not be forgotten in my family.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Back to School Lunches Nightmare - L'incubo del Ritorno a Scuola dei Genitori: Il Pranzo a Scuola!

Summer is not over here but people and the newspapers (Boston Globe) are already talking about school. Parents will soon have to deal with this new reality. Whether they like it or not, it is coming. 

But why so much anxiety about school now that the rain has stopped and that summer has finally brought us some nice sunny days? The Ferragosto mid-summer harvest feast is just about to start in Italy (imagine trays filled with yummy salads, quiches, seafood, fruits, parmigiane and whatever one might fancy - wish I were in Italy now), with the children eating until dusk and later look at the sky to spot a falling star and here people are already talking, in

horror and with panic, about schoolThis is the root cause of the problem: once again, LUNCHES, SCHOOL LUNCHES, the Boston parents' nightmare.

Why packing lunches for school generates so many anxieties here? I heard moms talking about the dreaded moment of having to prepare their kids' lunchbag twice in one day. Do these parents have leftovers from the day before they can simply put in their kids' lunchboxes like I do? The answer is rarely and when they do, children don't eat them.


We all eat less when it's hot, sure. My mom used to limit our summer lunches to prosciutto, mozzarella, salads and fruits. But she always cooked dinner, especially when friends were coming over, with the view that we were all going to bed late, so there was enough time to digest the food before bedtime. Eating a home cooked meal with family and friends was always a pleasure in those summer days as a child but also a reminder that I had to eat everything, nicely sat at the table. 

Here in the US, on the contrary, most parents don't cook at all during the summer. Not that they do much more cooking during the rest of the year but in the summer, few Americans can resist the temptation of slamming a couple of frozen hot dogs on the BBQ and to reheat pizza or chinese take out bought the day before.It is easy to skip cooking in the summer but what do parents do the rest of the year? When school restarts in the fall how can they be expected to suddenly figure out lunches and dinners which can meet the needs of their growing kids with super tight schedules? It certainly becomes a tough challenge. 


In today's Boston Globe article, the parents are freaked out because their kids are super-picky eaters. The parents struggle to satisfy their little monsters and many of them still keep it in the realm of healthy or at least they believe they do. The parents created this whole mess because they never did the hard work of forcing their kids to eat a wide variety of cooked foods 20-30 times until they actually liked them. But they don't see this, they just myopically see themselves as caught in a situation beyond their control... "My little Jimmy just refuses to eat anything but yogurt with cinammon" "Mine only eats organic peanut butter of XYZ brand". Never-mind that their parents and grandparents somehow managed to grow up not living on such things.

Parents rarely cook and children don't eat. Don't you think these two things are somehow related?

The Boston Globe article talks about this food nightmare in America from different parents' perspectives and quotes me on some of the things I wrote (below), while on vacation in Maine. While I was there, not a single day I failed to pack a different salad for me and for William for our lunch. It would be hard for me not to make an effort to eat well and varied every day.


Last year, I started APS More time to Eat, a group of parents concerned about their kids' school lunch, because I kept hearing from parents every day the same two complains: (1) children don't have enough time to eat in the public schools in Arlington (2) the lunch bags are still full when they come home. Most parents were blaming both issues to the small amount of time their children have at school for eating their lunches. Others were blaming the open snack station, an area setup by some schools with the children's lunches for them to eat lunch whenever they feel hungry. 

After talking to many parents and teachers, and making my own observations, I have come to several conclusions. First, kids have to be trained to eat.  After about thirty exposures to a food, most kids will eat them without a problem. Yes, vegetables as well. Most Americans, don't get this, however, and throw up their hands after one, two or three tries, without saying "Eat, kid!" once. This leads to kids who eat very narrow diets. There are kids I know who would only eat two or three things for lunch (honey or butter on bread)! Second, schools no longer take any role in compelling kids in eating their lunch (as my husband said they did in his youth). So, the conditions are set in which most kids need to be supervised and/or cajoled into eating, but instead, they are ignored.

Without someone strictly supervising the lunch period, kids become distracted, badly behaved and only want to eat dessert. Parents then see lunches that come home uneaten and the schools become convinced that the kids have plenty of time to eat... This leads to a dysfunctional cycle. Parents start packing sugary, the least healthy things (e.g., Nutella, chips) because they fear their child not eating at all. The schools can see that the kids eat their chocolate and chips in 10 minutes and then become unruly - why not cut the lunch time even shorter so they can go play or do something else?

The truth is, eating well is a learned skill. We immigrant parents really struggle in the US schools because we put the time and effort in to teach our children, but then the schools are almost completely hands-off in the lunch room. Our kids are under peer pressure to eat the sugary, salty things that the other kids bring, and they also are under pressure to eat their more complicated (but nutritious) meals as fast as possible because the school officials want to cut lunch as short as possible. Unfortunately, this often leads to eating disorders or digestion issues (e.g. fermentation).

In Italy, where our 8 year old son attends school part-time, the teachers eat with the children and they enforce strong rules to ensure that the kids learn to eat. Additionally, they educate the children from Infancy about nutrition, for example by giving rewards to kids at the end of the year. As I understand it, in the US schools, this goes untouched until middle school.

I don't have illusions about changing America's food culture, but I think there are three changes that could make a big difference. First, give the kids more time to eat. Second, have more quality supervision of the children while eating and expect them to push the kids into eating the food they have either brought or bought. Third, start serious nutrition education from kindergarten. To the second point, if there were teachers supervising the kids, according to my son William, it wouldn't make a bit of a difference because it is likely they would act like the lunch ladies. I think he made a valid point. I know that many parents would be happy to volunteer to help supervise the kids, but they must feel empowered (and be willing) to compel the kids to eat, something I never saw in the US. 

In short, eating well at school to be able to think and learn is a life skill. Parents play a huge role, but without the active support of the schools, it all comes crashing down.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Final Goodbye to my Adored Father Dolfi - Ultimo Saluto al mio Adorato Papa' Dolfi

Sono in Paradiso! (I am in heaven!)

Torino, 9 Marzo 2017

I thought I could understand the pain people felt when they lost a dear family person; I always said that I felt close to them and that they had to find the strength and courage to forget, because life continues. But today I'm the one to lose, ... it has happened to me. I lost a dad I worshiped and who loved me, the hero who inspired the important decisions of my life, an unforgettable father. Yes, him. He's gone now. What is left and will remain of his life?

Adolfo Dente, Dolfi for his friends, devoted his whole life to me, to my mom Ada, to his work and to his hobbies: the passion for architecture, art, Egypt, mountaineering and the art of conjuring tricks or "prestidigitation", as he used to call it. But what do these art forms are to me now without my father? They are so many teachings, many wonderful memories: mountain lodges and all types of buildings designed and constructed by him, creative pop-up cards, modern sculptures, caricatures sketched on paper napkins, which many strangers have made him autograph, meetings with artists who introduced me to the world of art, entertainment and magic, fascinating explanations about the lines of composition in famous paintings, which started for me and continued for the visitors joining us. And then the conferences on Egypt, the magic shows to bring a smile on the faces of the sick and disabled people, delicate and colorful stage backgrounds hand-painted  by him, flowerbeds that used to appear out of nowhere, the hours spent with friends talking about puzzles, mathematical games and finding answers to tricky questions of physics and philosophy. These are moments I cannot live with him again. 

Behind the scenes there was always my mother Ada, who quietly helped my dad, with unconditional love, in all that he was trying to do and that has cared for him with so much affection and dedication to his last breath. To her, I say, "Thank you, mom, for having been and still to be there for us. Get inspired by him; get out of the house and let curiosity and creativity guide you as they guided dad".

Dolfi was a unique father for his creativity but also for his humanity, generosity and sensitivity - he always felt or knew whether someone or something would do me good or bad and he often said it with tears in his eyes. In almost all cases, he was right.

He was an old gentleman, of those who no longer exist today, always dressed with a dark color jacket, black beret basque, white shirt and a sleek "farfallino" (scarf) or bow tie. He had the ability to be loved by all, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, authorities and street people. His speeches ranged from Senofonte's quotations in ancient Greek with a group of intellectuals to the street talk in Piedmontese with the dude at the gas station! Even a sparrow fell in love with him and became his faithful friend; When my father returned home, the bird used to fly over his shoulder and hide himself under his scarf. Even though sometimes he was turning into fire like a match, as dear friend Don Amedeo used to say, if someone offended his values, my father was always ready to state his opinion on the matter, regardless of how uncomfortable that was. He was always ready to help and advise anyone asking for his help. He was a "mentor" for most of his friends and had many admirers among all social classes. He did not know how to lie and who loved him did not stop talking about him. My mom still receives calls from people who knew Dolfi as a young man and who still look for him, ask for his news and say they love him.

After months of illness, pain and anguish, my dad waited to extinguish, like a candle, the day of my arrival in Italy from Boston. Papa', I am glad I left Boston last November and came to Turin alone to see you. I was lucky to be able to see you, hug you, make you draw and help you smile during that difficult time of your life before Christmas. I spent two wonderful weeks with you. 

I remember my dad saying "a man without interests is like a tree without leaves". I think my dad fought until the very end of his life to keep his leaves on. He was forced to let them fall at the end of 2016 and this was very painful for all of us. 

And now I'll leave you with a few words taken from a book my father dedicated to me, on the abnormal episodes of his life:
"1945 ... The war has finally ended. After almost three years of "evacuation", of hunger, of tragedies, I go back to Turin. I see my house miraculously intact, my apartment in order, the smile on the face of my mom and dad, which I had forgotten. The streets, dark and scary, are now illuminated by day ... but I see hundreds of collapsed buildings, rubble everywhere, despair. Dad's offices are gone, all completely destroyed! ... Dad's work in the editorial field must start all over again ... A phone call from Padre Fedele - vice parish priest of "San Carlo" comes to me. He proposes to me to go to Courmayeur with him ... At dawn, bound with ropes ... we start climbing to the tip. Great day, we are ... in Heaven! "

Now I'm sure my dad has reached the goal. I'm proud and lucky to have had a father so special, ingenious and with sensitivity to the feelings of others above the norm. I still feel he is alive and I will always keep his memory in my heart.  

I would be immensely grateful if you could write your memories of my father Dolfi, if you have any, in the comments section below, just something he told you or a gesture he made which you remember. Please help me keep his memory alive. 

Thanks from the heart, Enrica


"Un uomo senza interessi e' come un albero senza foglie".

(A man without interests is like a tree without leaves)
Pensavo di capire il dolore che provava qualcuno quando aveva perso una persona cara; dicevo sempre di sentirmi vicina e che doveva trovare la forza ed il coraggio di dimenticare, perché la vita continua. Ma oggi sono io qui ad aver perso,... e’ successo a me. Ho perso un papa’ che adoravo e che mi adorava, l’eroe che ha ispirato le scelte importanti della mia vita, un papa’ indimenticabile, proprio lui. Lui ora non c’e’ piu’. Che cosa resterà di lui?

Adolfo Dente, Dolfi per gli amici, ha dedicato la sua intera vita a me, a mamma Ada, al lavoro e ai suoi hobby: la passione per l’architettura, l’arte, l’Egitto, l’alpinismo e la prestidigitazione. Ma che cosa rappresentano per me ora queste discipline senza papa’? Sono tanti insegnamenti, tanti ricordi vivissimi, meravigliosi: casette di montagna ed edifici di tutti i tipi disegnati a mano, progettati e costruiti, biglietti d’auguri creativi, sculture moderne, caricature schizzate anche su tovaglioli di carta, che molti sconosciuti gli hanno fatto autografare, incontri con artisti che mi ha fatto conoscere nel mondo dell’arte, dello spettacolo e della magia, affascinanti spiegazioni sulle linee di composizione nei quadri, che iniziavano per me e continuavano per i visitatori che si avvicinavano. E poi le conferenze sull’Egitto, gli spettacoli di magia per accendere il sorriso sul volto di malati e persone con handicap, le scenografie dipinte a mano da lui, aiuole di fiori che apparivano dal nulla, le ore trascorse con gli amici a parlare di rompicapi, giochi matematici e a rispondere a domande di fisica e di filosofia. Sono momenti che non potrò più rivivere con lui. Dietro le quinte c’era sempre mia mamma Ada, che aiutava in silenzio mio papà, con amore sconfinato, in tutto quello che cercava di fare e che lo ha accudito con tanto affetto e dedizione fino all’ultimo respiro. A lei dico: “Grazie mamma per esserci stata e per esserci ancora. Continua la tua vita facendoti ispirare da lui; esci di casa e fatti guidare dalla curiosità e dalla creatività come faceva papà”.

Era un papà unico per la sua creatività ma anche per la sua umanità, generosità e sensibilità - lui sentiva e sapeva sempre se qualcuno o qualcosa mi avrebbe fatto del bene o del male e me lo diceva commosso, spesso con le lacrime agli occhi. E in quasi tutti i casi, aveva ragione.

Era un gentiluomo all’antica, di quelli che non esistono più ai giorni nostri, sempre vestito con una giacca scura, il basco in testa,la camicia bianca ed un farfallinoAveva la capacità di farsi amare da tutti, ricchi e poveri, colti e analfabeti, autorità e persone della strada. Passava dalle citazioni di Senofonte in greco antico con un gruppo di intellettuali alle chiacchiere di strada in piemontese con il benzinaio! Persino un passerotto si innamorò di lui e diventò suo fedele amico; al suo rientro a casa volava sulla sua spalla e si nascondeva sotto la sua sciarpetta. Anche se a volte si accendeva come un fiammifero, come diceva il caro amico Don Amedeo, se qualcuno offendeva i suoi valori, mio padre diceva sempre quello che pensava, sempre pronto ad aiutare e a consigliare chiunque glielo chiedesse. Era un “mentor” (guida) per la maggior parte dei suoi amici ed aveva tanti ammiratori. Non sapeva mentire e chi lo amava non smetteva di parlare di lui.  Mamma riceve ancora telefonate di persone che papà ha conosciuto da giovane e che ancora lo cercano, chiedono sue notizie e dicono di volergli molto bene.

Dopo mesi di malattia, dolore e angoscia, Adolfo ha aspettato di spegnersi, come una candela, il giorno del mio arrivo in Italia da Boston. Papa’. sono stata fortunata di poterti ancora rivedere, riabbracciare, farti disegnare e aiutarti a sorridere a Natale. Sono state due settimane meravigliose.

Mi ricordo che mio padre diceva "un uomo senza interessi e' come un albero senza foglie". Credo che mio padre abbia combattuto fino alla fine della sua vita per tenere su le sue foglie. Fu forzato a lasciarle cadere alla fine del 2016 e questo e' stato molto doloroso per tutti noi. 

Ed ora alcune parole scritte da papa’ in un libro a me dedicato, sugli episodi anomali della sua vita.

“1945… La guerra finalmente si e’ conclusa. Dopo quasi tre anni di “sfollamento” - di fame, di tragedie, torno a Torino. Rivedo la mia casa miracolosamente intatta, il mio appartamento in ordine, il sorriso sul viso di Papà e Mamma, che avevo ormai dimenticato. Le strade, prima buie, paurose, ora sono illuminate a giorno… però centinaia di edifici crollati, macerie ovunque, disperazione. Gli uffici di Papa’ non ci sono più, tutto completamente distrutto!... Il lavoro di Papà, in campo editoriale, deve ricominciare da capo... Mi giunge poi una telefonata di Padre Fedele - vice parroco di “San Carlo” che mi propone di partire alla volta di Courmayeur con lui… All’alba, legati in cordata... iniziamo la scalata fino alla punta. Giornata stupenda, siamo… in Paradiso!”

Adesso io sono certa che papà ha raggiunto la meta. Mi sento orgogliosa e fortunata di avere avuto un papa’ così speciale, ingegnoso e super-sensibile. Lo sento ancora vivo e sempre resterà nel mio cuore.  Ma adesso che non c'è più, non rimangono che ricordi, i nostri ed i vostri. 

Vi sarei immensamente grata se mi poteste inviare i vostri ricordi di Dolfy, qualcosa che vi ha detto o un gesto che ha fatto che vi è rimasto impresso nella mente, qualsiasi ricordo. In questo modo, mi aiuterete a scrivere altre pagine sulla sua unicità e a tenere vivo il suo ricordo.

Grazie di cuore, Enrica

Monday, June 19, 2017

My Father's Last Story - L'ultimo Racconto di mio Papa'

Purtroppo abbiamo dovuto smettere di sperare che tu guarissi papa' e oggi non posso piu' dirti Buona Festa del Papa'. Posso solo continuare a sperare che tu sia felice in cielo, anche senza i tuoi libri, senza il tuo vecchio tecnigrafo e senza il tavolo apparecchiato con i cibi che piacevano a te.


Unfortunately, we had to stop hoping that you would heal, dad, and today I cannot say "Happy Father's Day" anymore. I can only continue to hope that you are happy in the sky, even without your books, without your old architect table and without the kitchen table set with the foods you used to like.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Kindergarten Changes - Cambiamenti in Kindergarten

Tronk's Jujitsu Classes
Tronk's first year in the American public schools is almost over and I am thinking about all the challenges faced by our family and changes this year. 

The biggest one has certainly been to get Tronk to eat a three courses lunch (entree', salad and fruit) in the miserable 20 minutes, given by school here in America. We had our days of struggles but in the end Tronk learned. I don't know if we should be proud of that, especially because it does not do any good to his digestion, but it will certainly help him stay away from the junk food trap most American kids fall into - they call them "snacks" - with the complicit support of almost everyone in society, schools included. This year we also managed to get a couple of American kids to eat lunch with us at the table. So special. 

This year Tronk has learned many things. He can now cross the road and ride his little scooter to his martial arts classes without supervision! He is more confident and he has learned to not believe in everything others say. Our favorite is that he has learned to ride his big bike. On Father's day, the three of us went for our first family bike ride: we went to Somerville and had dinner there in a pub with live Irish music.

In addition to becoming independent, this year he has also become more disciplined and wise.  In many instances I feel so proud of him: when I hear him tell his buddies that there is no need to constantly buy new Lego sets to create new toys and that they should use their imagination with the existent pieces they have; when I see him eating all his food seated at the table, while his buddies are playing in the other room; when he refuses brightly colored candies and popsicles; when he picks unaided the blue polo which matches perfectly with the blue in his plaid shorts; when he tells me off for wanting to help him do one of his jobs (e.g, taking the dirty dishes back to the kitchen).

This year Tronk has also started wondering whether Santa exists for real of whether it is just one of our friends (Filippo) who brings him gifts at Christmas and put them under our tree. I felt better after I was able to explain to him that our friend could not possibly bring him gifts under the tree every year during his entire life. Unfortunately, my explanation that the gifts are actually from baby Jesus was not at all convincing. He has become logical and science has become his primary interest since he started kindergarten. I saw a pattern in all his choices: his favorite movies, toys, books, magazines, events and museums are all about science. We read many books on Christmas from religious and non-religious sources, including a detailed scientific demonstration of the existence of Santa (and his marketing enterprise). Still, his doubts on the matter continued and I bet next year we would have to lock his bedroom door on Christmas Eve, before we put the presents under the tree.

Few weeks ago I was hit by a stone, just before we prayed, he started expressing doubts about God. How is it possible that I failed to pass to him my beliefs?

Me: "Tronk, andiamo a messa domani sera, ok?" (Tronk, we are going to Church tomorrow night, ok?). 
Tronk: "Quale Chiesa?" (What Church?) 
Me: "Ti ricordi quella Chiesa dove abbiamo visto tutti quegli angeli quando eri piccolo? Siamo andati la' lo scorso Natale, ricordi?" (Remember the Church  where you saw all those angels as a baby? We were there last Christmas), remember?. 
Tronk: "Com'e' possibile che il Signore ha tante case, una qui, altre in Italia?" (How come the Lord has many houses, one here, others in Italy?)

That night, he came up with more serious questions, like these:
Tronk: "Mamma, in realta' le domande sono due:  (1) come si e' trasformato il nulla in qualcosa? (2) che cosa era il nulla e come era fatto?" (Mom, in reality the questions are two: (1) how did nothing transform into something? (2) What was that nothing like and what was it made of?)
Me: "Buonanotte William. La notte porta consiglio". (Goodnight William. A good night sleep will bring the answer). I then closed his bedroom door and went to the kitchen to prepare his lunch for the next day. 

Boy, what an intense year we have had. What will happen next year? His short lunch time will grow even shorter plus we'll most probably have to move to a new school and a new country; even more challenging. I'll better leave this for my next posting. Before that, I have so much to think and do. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Life in Italy for One Month - Vita in Italia Per Un Mese

Day One

Our yearly Italy trip this year started in a different way, not with a stroll under the hot sun in the nearby market, but with a March fluffy snow shower covering the red roofs of Turin. While trying to take Tronk to school in my short jacket, with my light canvas shoes with the snowflakes melting on them, I was feeling cold, probably for the first time in twenty years, cold in my home town. Yet I was feeling happy, as I haven't felt in a long time. While drinking my second cappuccino  (I had forgotten the real taste of one) and eating apple filled fluffy pastries for breakfast (le barchette), I couldn't help thinking of those pretty, I should say cute, photos of Turin I  looked at so many times from the other side of the ocean. And I wanted to say loud and clear: Turin, I had forgotten how pretty you are when it snows! How could I ever not see that when I was in my twenties?

This morning Tronk got a warm welcome at his Italian school, the school he attends every year here in Turin, and these are the words we heard: "Wow! E' William! Il bambino americano! Io lo conosco! Anch'io lo conosco!  Che bello che e' ritornato! Vieni con me William!" (Wow! It's William! The American kid! I know him! I know him too! How fun he has come back! Come with me William!". And explosion of love  followed. Three or four teachers arrived and filled William with affection, the hugs and kisses I see very few moms giving their kids in public in the US.  Surreal and beautiful. 

Then I had a chat about my health issues and life in general with the sweetest landlady of all, sat next to me at the apartment's dining table, a nice lady in her sixties, - I felt I was talking to my old grandma Enrica, not to a landlady! She couldn't stop asking me what else she could do to help me in addition to come clean the apartment weekly and take the rubbish out for us. Special.

So here I am now, looking outside the large windows of a beautiful apartment in Turin, which happens to be next to my former Institute European of design school, the last school I attended in Italy, with the very last exam I passed to get my degree. I am getting ready to go have lunch in the bar downstairs under the arches. I will not need an umbrella and I will not get wet. At the bar at lunch the Italians find REAL food, including risotto, cooked from scratch for the office workers - what a cheap luxury!  And that happens to be the bar where I drunk coffee before going to take my exams at my former design school. I'll meet John and William there. Amazing and so weird to go back there with my Italian American family.

And I had forgotten the pleasure of meeting in a bar simply for coffee or for a healthy squeezed FRESH orange juice. And this is only day one of my Italy trip. Awesome. Really.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

First day of school - Primo giorno di scuola

So Tronk's first day at school has finally come and I am filled with emotions. "Mamma, come faro' a mangiare in 20 minuti?  Posso mettere il profumo di daddy? La mia voce sembra terribile ma e' solo un raffreddore e sto bene. Perche' hai messo quel vestito rosso? Per me?" "Si'". (Mom, how will I manage to eat in only 20 minutes? Can I wear daddy's perfume? My voice sounds terrible but it is only a cold and I feel good. Why did you put that dress on? For me? Yes).

Then "Mamma, ma che spettacolo di zaini e di persone nel quartiere questa mattina!" (Mom, what a show of backpacks and people in the neighborhood this morning!) While we were slowly making our way to the red brick building I pointed at many times - "One day this will be your school!", it looked as if a whole world of children and parents was coming out of nowhere and were suddenly joining the parade, with us in the middle of it.

Last tuesday we met Tronk's kindergarten teacher and his new school buddies. The meeting was mostly for parents, to ease off their transition to kindergarten, That day I took a glimpse of what the next five years of Tronk's life will be like. While we made our way in the long corridors of the large red brick building, guided by a PTO rep, a parent working for free for the school, I couldn't help making comparisons with my school, the school I attended in the early seventies.

The Italian elementary school uniform
There, there were no children in their perfectly ironed blue uniforms, with their round, perfectly starched, white collars. I saw instead many PJs and sweat pants, which is pretty much what I expected to see here in the US. No rows of green desks in the classrooms, with a black hole for the ink on each of them.

Of-course, nothing like that. All classrooms looked more like living rooms instead, with activity desks radially positioned around the teacher's desk. We then saw all sort of colorful posters and teaching equipment I could only dream of in the early seventies. And a library, filled with colorful books and a sweet pretty young librarian, certainly not the Italian old maid type, ready to help the incoming kids check in and check out books. Our visit ended with a quick look at the art room, which looks like a French atelier (art studio), and the music room, with sheet music stands nicely setup. All nice and spacious. I took a quick look at the cafeteria. That was the only thing that was not shown to the parents, the one thing an Italian parent always wants to see. Inside the room I saw a little theater, with a stage facing the children - hopefully, eating and watching shows will be treated as two separate activities, otherwise I can already imagine Tronk starring at the stage, with his open container of beef stew still untouched.

So today, at the playground, where parents were supposed to drop-off their kids, there were large card-boards, with the name of the teachers and the grade placed in front of a long wall. There, the teachers were coming to collect the kids, with a military looking exercise. While we were walking to find our line, we saw a screaming child, eventually dragged inside the school by the rector. My heart was racing. Then Tronk saw two familiar faces: his best friend from preschool, the two neighbor kids he plays with, almost every day, and other familiar faces. They were all there, with their kids ready to start their school journey. Finally, raising from the back of the crowd, I saw the distinctive pixie haircut of Tronk's teacher, with one harm raised, like in a military exercise. "E' quella. Quella e' la fila giusta, vai William. Ti amo!" (That's it. That is your row. Go William, I love you!) I left him to his destiny, without saying a single hello to the teacher, nor to the other people working with her. I still remember the list of "buongiorno" I was going through every morning in the school courtyard, before leaving Tronk's school in Italy. A bit different here.

One minute later, I frantically chase Tronk and managed to give him his precious water bottle before that fateful entrance in the red brick building. Done, I can go. Can I cry?

Then I saw a long table in the playground, setup by the parents, with hot coffee, bread and cookies on them, which reminded me of the table with food (ratios) given to people during the second world war. I grabbed a cup of coffee (black broth) and cookies as hard as stones, with colors on top. Not quite the chocolate bigne' and cappuccino I was having with the parents after dropping-off William at his school in Italy. So I started chatting with a couple of parents. The focus of the conversation was on how many academically challenging after-school activities the kids are likely to be willing to attend. I already knew this. Most American kids I know are constantly encouraged by the parents to be stimulated and entertained in activities, all day long. Both the working parents and the non working parents tend to do this. So. basically, nobody is at home. No wonder there are no kids in our neighborhood during the school year.

I waited a bit and then asked the dreaded questions: "why do they give them lunch at 10:50 am?" Answer: "so they can give children more free play". Of-course they need free play. They are enrolled in school classes all day long. It turns out that children in Tronk's school only have 15 minutes to eat, not 20, so the teachers only have to manage small groups of children at once at the playground. "But last week the teacher said 20 minutes", I say, with visible frustration on my face. "Oh it's ok. The kids get used to it. It's fun. Simile!" "So what happens if they don't finish lunch?", I continue with a worried look on my face. The answer of another happy confident parent: "Oh don't worry. You can always give them the rest of the food here in the playground (in the floor), at 2:30 at pickup time, or in the car!". Then the parent who grew up eating a piece of bread with ketchup on top said: "You have to pick your battles". Finally, the German parent with a strong accent joined and ended the conversation: "I know, it is appalling. In Germany this doesn't happen. Lunch is important. Here in the US  it is optional. Children are allowed to snack all day long, when they are hungry, and everyone eats unhealthy food. It starts at school.".

Now I can really cry.