Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pirate Back Without His Treasure - Pirata Di Ritorno Senza il Suo Tesoro


10 pm. Still in Tronk's bedroom, while reading a short fairy tale, feeling guilty because I asked him to clean up his toys after dinner - That usually turns into more playtime for him and more work for me. One more page to read, his light will go off and I will finally be able to go to sleep, I was thinking. I was feeling like the teenager who is about to write the last two sentences of a long essay, while everybody else is already in bed. All of a sudden, Tronk said: "Mamma, ho incastrato una moneta nel naso!" (Mom, I stucked a coin in my nose!). "Non scherzare, Tronk, sto morendo di stanchezza" (This is not the time to make jokes, Tronk. I am incredibly tired) Come on, let's finish this book so we can go to sleep. 

"Ma mamma, non esce piu'!" (Listen, the coin does not come out!) "William, are you telling me  the truth?". "Si', mamma, e' una di quelle monetine del tesoro". (Yes, mamma, it's one of those tiny treasure coins), that is a 10 mm plastic golden coin.

Ok... maybe I can get the coin  out, said John. Right, well, nope! Actually, I can't see a thing. Ok, emergency room!

At Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge,  there was a show on forensic techniques on TV. No coffee.  William was the only child giggling. He was happy to talk to the doctors. But the coin... wasn't it in his nose? He said he was feeling something stuck there. How is it possible he was no longer feeling anything? The doctors: "He must have pushed it really hard inside as we cannot see anything down there. I suggest you go to a specialized hospital. They might need to put him asleep to get the coin out".  

My nerves were about to explode. At Children's Hospital in Boston, the cafeteria was still open but I was stopped and told off by two policemen on my way there because I was walking from one waiting room to another without proper identification. What a joy when I was finally given the right ID with my name and date of birth printed on it... With that, I was allowed to go to get a drink in the other room.

The doctor came and we were all finally able to relax. "Here it is", said the doctor with a calm voice. She then used a long tool that looked like a syringe. When the plunger was pushed, a thin cord would extend way out and then this tiny balloon on the end would inflate. The balloon would then drag stuff out as it is retracted. Two nurses joined the doctor and we all held Tronk down to help the doctor get Tronk's treasure out. The pirate cried hysterically for a short time, until he realized his mom was there, ready to give him a hug and the brown bag with toys, a gift from the doctors at Mount Auburn. 

Thinking about it, I could not explain to myself why the other doctors had failed to see the coin in Tronk's nose. Then I found a simple possible explanation: at some point, he sneezed.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Labor of Love - Un Lavoro D'Amore

The plebs sat at the table in a taberna in ancient Rome
This morning I was talking on the phone with an Italian friend, who lives in Boston. She said, at some point in our conversation, that the history of food in Italy is more than two thousand years old. That remark started haunting me. I suddenly remembered the hours spent translating insightful pieces of literature about food from Latin into Italian. Specifically, the words of Orazio, Plinio and Marziale that were keeping me awake at night as a teenager. Many memories!

Back in ancient Rome, most people (the plebs) cooked and ate sitting on benches at the table. Of course not everyone could afford the lavish extravagant banquets with the refined cuisine and spectacular effects of ostentation, which were going on until late at night in the rich people's houses. I remember the descriptions of Plutarch of this aspect of the Roman life and the type of cutlery used at the table. Although they could not afford to eat all day long, the less well-to-do people were also keen to eat well because, according to the Romans, it was the only thing which was able to provide everyone with the "bene supremo" (the supreme good), which is the pleasure of life.

More specifically, the indigent people lived in small, narrow, rented rooms, with no kitchen. They were allowed to use the only crowded kitchen of the building, placed in the common atrium, a sort of courtyard. Despite these difficulties, most of them were cooking with a warmer at the center of the room to avoid fires; others, in order to cook their meals, were bringing the boiling water from an underlying "taberna" (a bar located underground). The ones who had no time to come home for lunch were eating at the nearest taberna simple but tasty dishes such as whole wheat bread with anchovy paste obtained from garum innards, boiled eggs, sardines, cheese, fruit and vegetables, and they could even drink wine mixed with warm water. So food in ancient Rome was already a labor of love, across all classes. 


"How was the sugo today? I tried to cook it light so it can be easily digested." Gran Carlo Restaurant's Chef, Torino.
As Lèvi-Strauss put it, “if a society without language cannot exist, a society that cannot cook at least a small number of basic dishes the same way cannot exist either.” In my experience, the English have a limited number of dishes they try to always cook the same way, for example lamb chops (always with mint), fish and chips (always with vinegar), roast beef (always with puddings) and chicken curry, a dish the English invented after discovering curry in India (always with naan bread). The English are aware of this limitation and always reminded me of the few traditional dishes they have. In England, I remember hearing that some of these dishes have to be cooked in a certain way, the English way. I viewed this as part of the identity of England and was able to get used to most of their dishes (with the exception of fried blood :)).

On the contrary, here in America, I only know a couple of traditional dishes: the turkey (with cranberry sauce) cooked at Thanksgiving and the American BBQ (with corn bread). Honestly, these are the only two dishes I am happy to eat in alternative to ethnic food here, because I know what to expect. Or at least, I do most of the times. The other dishes are filled with ingredients I struggle to digest (e.g. butter, garlic, sour cream, fried bacon), overly flavored, and never prepared in a consistent manner. So, the moment of sitting at the table in a restaurant for me, here in America, instead of being the pursuit of pleasure, is usually filled with anxieties.

To me food is not only a matter of identity (traditions) and intimacy (taking care of my body) and social relationships ("After a good meal one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations”, used to say Oscar Wilde) but, after becoming intolerant to various foods, it has also become a matter of the heart. It is the first and most important link between my mind and my body. It is a way to communicate my identity and my positive emotions to others, in particular to the people close to me.


Cod marinated in olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary
 William and Chiara dining together
"La frase d'amore piu' vera, l'unica e': hai mangiato?" (The question that truly shows love, the only one: Have you eaten?)  said once the famous Italian novelist Elsa Morante.

The American reader who might not understand the meaning of this question, often pronounced by most Italian mothers, can listen to the famous Italian-American song below, which says pretty much the same thing. Enjoy.



So, have you eaten? If not, we are cooking here. :)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Easter Monday - Buona Pasquetta

Back at home, I used to wish that Easter Sunday would start like this.




With a cool surprise inside a large dark chocolate egg. 


But it never did. Usually, instead, there would be the bells of the Pragelato Church breaking the silence of the mountains to wake me up, followed by the Buona Pasqua! coming from my parents' bedroom and the reminder that, to make it in time for the first service at the Church, I would have to get up immediately. I was expected to quickly dip the cookies my mom had left in the kitchen, next to the caffelatte with the saucer on top, which she was putting to keep it warm. Then there was the competition to who would get to wash his face first with the freezing water, then the rushing in front of  the wooden wardrobe, while I was trying to quickly find something more stylish than my 70s style dirty jeans and my black turtle neck sweater so that my parents would be pleased to show me off to their friends and acquaintances even though I was not wearing their beloved Pragelato outfit, because that was always the risk (see photo below).


So, I was always careful at trying to pick clothes that would make me "look elegant and with dignity", to quote words of my mom - To my surprise, last week I found that these are the words my country men still use on Facebook when they talk about people. 

Then there would be a long service in the Church with the priest who was called by the locals "il Don", whose crusty voice was making an echo effect and was somehow able to keep all the Pragelato people glued together, on those cold benches. I knew that when the service was over, the chiacchere di paese (country gossip) would start outside the Church and that I had no chance to get away from it. My only worth mentioning point to try to leave was the fact that the lunch hour was approaching and that we still had to buy bread at the market. So I was going back on this same excuse many times, hoping that my parents would finally be able to say goodbye to the old lady in the Pragelato costume and leave. But nothing would persuade them. I knew I would have to wait for many more hours before I could finally put my hands on that chocolate egg. 

Even when I was coming up with the perfect excuse (e.g. the cheese guy in the market is packing his stuff, he is about to leave, mom! ) to persuade my parents to go, the chatting with the woman who used to give me the eggs straight from the hen's butt, as a small child, would commence. The chatting would continue in the market, after I had finally successfully managed to drag my parents away from the Church. Chatting, mostly with elderly men I had never met before. 

So I knew I would have to wait longer for the chocolate egg to unveil its surprise. Back in the chalet, I would have to help my dad set the table, while my mom was cooking lunch. I would then have to wait for my parents' sonnellino (the Italian siesta) to finish. And, at times, I would also have to wait for the random visitor bringing yet another colomba (Easter cake) to my parents and going through all our family pictures before I was allowed to open the egg.

Finally. The egg, yes, and how disappointing. Many times the surprise was not good. My mom was the one to blame. To give you an idea, once the surprise in the egg was an antique decorative object for my bedroom. I have just found out that it was not my mom  who was carefully opening the egg with a knife to put the surprise inside the egg but my dad, who was apparently giving the surprise to the baker so she would put it inside in a professional way, just before sealing the egg with extra chocolate. 

So Tronk is lucky. Not only he was allowed to open his egg early in the morning on Easter Sunday but he was also thrilled when he saw the surprise. What four year old would not go crazy for a pirate set?

He loved it and he keeps trying to hide the treasure from me. Below, you will find the reasons for that and the words Tronk used.

Tronk: Non puoi avere il tesoro, mamma. Solo io e daddy abbiamo accesso ai soldi. Solo gli uomini possono toccare i soldi. 
Mamma: E mamma niente? 
Tronk: Ma mamma, il cuore e' il tuo tesoro!

Tronk: You cannot have the treasure, mom. Only daddy and I have access to it. Only the men can touch the money. 
Mamma: And me, your mom? 
Tronk: But mom, your heart is your treasure!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Did They Teach You Manners? - Ti Hanno Insegnato Le Buone Maniere?


It is amazing how many children (little kids all the way to big kids, I mean adults) do not use basic manners these days. Here in Boston I see examples of this often. I have seven/eight year old kids claiming the stairs of my house to come to see William without saying a word to me; I had an older kid silently leaving the dinner table to lie down on our couch; I saw kids jumping on the dinner table, in front of their giggling parents; parents feeding elementary school age children lunch in the floor, parents eating from the same plate of their children, still full. Not to mention the children telling their parents where they should take them that day and what food they should buy at the store.
I used to think that Italian parents were stricter with their children than their American counterparts. I was wrong. One month of Tronk's school in Italy was enough for me to discover the new free spirit generation of parents. The ones who act as friends with their children and who follow one rule: do what you want, as long as you don't bother me. There is one exception, I must say: food. At Collegio San Giuseppe in Torino, I noticed that the kids who had not yet learned to sit at the table and finish their three courses meal  in Torino were few. They were given a hard time from both teachers and parents and, yes, I saw it with my own eyes, by the school rector as well. However, as far as other aspects of discipline are concerned, I was surprised to see how some of the teachers at San Giuseppe were either raising their voice with little success or they were taking rule enforcement very lightly. Napping for instance was an issue. "We don't force our kids to sleep. If they want, they sleep. If they don't want to sleep, we let them go play in a different room, so they don't wake up the other kids", said one of the teachers, when I asked her why Tronk was so incredibly tired. Also, at the school, I saw kids of all ages, running down large sets of stairs, while pushing others (me included) without saying sorry. Furthermore, I saw parents cussing to their kids. To not mention the inexplicable: two kids, at the end of the school day, were beating each other up, while the teachers were looking at each other, without saying a word. When I asked them what had happened, they smiled and said: "mmm nothing".
In Torino, I saw lack of manners in other settings. In more than one occasion, I found myself in front of disrespectful teenagers talking loudly, cussing, smoking and yawning on my face, almost with an expression of superiority. I rarely saw them give up their seats to others in need on buses. And I could not stand the high school kids who were making fun of  the people who acted in an awkward way, because they were either old or disabled. I also saw a few surprised faces when I was raising my voice to stop Tronk from doing something he was not supposed to do."Ma e' solo un bambino! Non torturarlo!" (He is just a child, do not torture him!)
Many parents think that children should be given the same amount of freedom and decision making an adult is given and should always be listened to, based on the mere fact that children deserve respect. I honestly find it hard to agree with this. In the old days, in Italy, a child was not able to acquire a status of equality with the parents, for as long as the child was living under their roof and was eating their food. Unfortunately, in this generation (mine included), many children were also not able to acquire a status of equality with their parents as adults, not even when they were economically independent. I am not saying we should follow this model. However, I still believe that all children need an authority figure, with more experience than they have, who can first state the rules, as black or white, and who can strongly say "no", when necessary, to try to enforce them consistently. This is because, I believe children need to learn the rules first before they can break them. 

As far as Tronk is concerned, I often worry about his behavior in public. In particular, his need to always be on stage. The problem is not just Tronk but the adults he comes across every time, who inevitably greet him with smiles and giggles, whenever he says or does something, even when he farts. In these situations, I just don't know how to get Tronk (and the adults involved) to behave. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Are You, and I Think of You - Come Stai, E Penso a Te


Today Tronk has gone back to preschool and that tingling sensation of the coming fall is in the air, together with that sense of loneliness I used to feel a year ago when my little boy started preschool.

Today, as soon after I heard him say "ciao mamma" and close the front door of the house, the notes of this tune started playing in the back of my mind:

IN ITALIAN:
Come stai e penso a te
dove andiamo e penso a te 
le sorrido abbasso gli occhi 
e penso a te

Non so con chi adesso sei
non so che cosa fai
ma so di certo 
a cosa stai pensando

Sono al buio e penso a te
chiudo gli occhi e penso a te
io non dormo e penso a te...
IN ENGLISH:
How are you, and I think of you
Where are we going, and I think of you
I smile to her with my eyes down,
and think of you


I don't know with who you're now
I don't know what are you doing
but I know for sure
what are you thinking of


I'm in the dark and I think of you
I close my eyes and I think of you
I dont sleep and I think of you...

He is four. Sure. He is no longer a small child. He no longer plays with the potty in our living room and I can no longer call him pulcino (little chick) but since I am Italian I still do. He is no longer a baby, nor a toddler but a confident decision maker, with the face of a little boy, occasionally looking for cuddles and kisses, which often turn into farts. His face, still cute, feels no shame in imitating, in teasing and in telling others what to do, instead of listening to their instructions. Tronk has a constant need to put himself on stage, to look for applause, to stand out from the crowd.

Who is this boy?

My ability of explaining how the world works has either diminished since last year or it is Tronk who has become better at understanding how things work. In more than one occasion, I found myself apologizing to him for missing the obvious and for giving him the wrong answer to a question. Not only he thinks of himself as the Italian teacher and he corrects all of us (preschool teacher included) but he's also become very skilled at defending himself. Ma mamma, ho costruito questa macchina senza le ruote perche' questo e' un pezzo di un'altra macchina che ha le ruote! (Mom, I built this car without the wheels because this is a piece of another car which has the wheels! Of course.)

He decides the songs we listen to, at home and in the car. He recognizes in less than two seconds the Italian musicians and quickly tells us to skip a song that is not up to his standards. The CD's case I brought from England is no longer in my room. It is plugged outside Tronk's room instead and he doesn't want me to use it. It only took Tronk a year to turn Zecchino D'Oro into vintage and to make the switch onto Blur and Kaiser Chiefs. And these are the sort of phrases that come out of Tronk's mouth these days:

"Voglio avere tanti soldi, tanti lavori e tante donne! Sono forte. Lo posso fare." (I want to have a lot of money, many jobs and many women! I am strong. I can do it.)
"Sono innamorato! Sono innamorato di questo cibo" (I am in love! I am in love with this food)
"Donna, sei mia! Vieni a dormire con me" (Woman, you are mine! Come to sleep with me) Although, when I asked him what that meant, he looked at me clueless.

I blame the songs he listens to.

Then I think about this comment he made recently: "Mamma, l'angolo del tuo occhio e' rosso, solo l'angolo. Niente paura, metti queste gocce, che ti curano." (Mom, the corner of your eye is red, only the corner. No worries, put these drops in there. They will cure you.) I remember when he came to help me claim the stairs when my foot was not working, the hugs and the things he said many times when I was in pain and I remember that after all, that tune that has been playing in the back of my mind, during the time I have been writing this, is the one song Tronk wants to hear, every day, in the car.

So I tell myself: "Don't worry. He's a good boy."

I am finished with this, it's lunchtime. I have to prepare lunch and, of course,  I think of you...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mal di Maine - Mal du Pays

A friend told me it exists. Yes, there is such a thing. It is called "Mal di Maine" (Mal Du Pays). It hits you if you are longing to go back to Maine every summer.

I wanted to go back and we did. Same town, same beach, same experience. We went to Ogunquit, for the second time, for a week. And now I am wondering why I did not grow tired of it, why I love this place so much and want to go back next year.

Could it be the lobster seafood extravaganza dinners? Could it be the smell of the pine trees mixed with the scent of the North Atlantic Ocean? The weathered cedar shingles and climbing flowers framing the windows of the old cottages sitting on Maine's rugged seacoast? The optical illusions in the art galleries? The European looking swimming costumes on the beach? Or perhaps the French language sounding in the background? It is hard to believe but at the local pizzeria the waiter talked to me in French. I also had detailed conversations in French about how to catch crabs with the kids Tronk was playing with. Funny. I was having those same conversations on a French beach thirty five years ago. Tronk was surprised to hear me speak French. He was smiling, almost enchanted, and was trying to repeat a few words, just like he recently started doing with John in English. There was magic in it.

There are a few other things I don't understand. How is it possible that we were walking, along nice paths, marked by beautiful houses, perfumed flowers and scenic views of the ocean, from our place to the beach, every day, instead of driving? How is it possible that there was no smell of burgers, Dunkin Donuts and chips, that the nearby markets were mostly selling salads, fruits and bread, that sandwiches were simple, that gelato was not an exotic thing from Italy and that the barista at the coffee shop knew all about macchiato? How can be possible that there were very few obese people, that the women were wearing dresses, instead of shorts and sweats, and that there were tanned men in white buttoned shirts and khaki pants looking at the ocean? And how come there were old-fashioned cute little stores (the corrispondent of the petits magasins in France) always open until late? Was I still in America?

Last year I wrote a posting on how much this place reminded me of the French village my parents used to take me to when I was a child. This year, going to Maine not only reminded me of my childhood in France but it also felt a bit as if we were able to come out of America and take a breath of fresh air. My father used to say: andiamo in Francia in vacanza perche' abbiamo bisogno di una vacanza fuori dall'Italia e senza italiani (we are going to France on vacation because we need to take a vacation outside Italy and without the Italians). Funny how perspectives are passed from parent to child. 

Now Tronk is jumping up and down, while looking at the photos below and he is asking me when we are going back to Maine.


































 So tell me, what is it? Mal di Maine?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ti racconto una storia - I'll tell you a story

This morning, Tronk came up with a story. He asked me to write it down. I did. These are the exact words he used. 

C'era una volta Principessa Enrica. Poi c'era un bimbo che si chiamava Mogli nella foresta. Viveva con gli animali. Enrica era con la sua amica Lisa. Andavano a fare tutte le cose che volevano. Mogli ando' ad abitare con loro in una casa con tante cose da fare. C'erano dei vestiti ed un potty per fare la pipi'. Volelano fare le cose che volevano, le cose piu' belle del mondo. Ed il mondo si muoveva e loro andavano in tutte le regioni dell'Italia e cosi' vissero felici e contenti.

Tronk

In English:

Once Upon a Time there was Princess Enrica. Then there was a child who was called Mogli, who was living in the forest. He was living together with the animals. Enrica was there with her friend Lisa. They were doing all the things they wanted. Mogli went to live with them in a house with so many things to do. There were clothes and a potty to pee. They wanted to do many things, the most beautiful in the world. And the world was moving with them and they went to all the regions of Italy and they lived happily ever after.