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.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Torn Between Two Worlds - Divisa Tra Due Mondi


Spending a week with Adelina, who came to visit me straight from Italy, has made me realize that, no matter what I say or do, on the one hand, I am and will always be Italian, but on the other I wonder if they should take away my Italian passport. Let me explain.

My friend, who lived both in London and in the US for a few years, last night, made it all clear to me. Enough with bad food, enough with badly dressed people, enough with friends who cannot cook, and the people who cannot sit down and enjoy the beauty of what is in front of them. Enough trying to teach Americans how to live. Our five hour chat, which started at dinner and ended at 2 am, did not change either of our minds. She has made her decision. She will go back to Italy. For good. 

We talked about the booming job market in San Francisco, about the never ending unemployment in Italy, and about the Italian "vasca" (the catwalk in the piazza in the city center, where one shows off one's designer clothes. Sadly, this is still one of the most common pastimes among friends in Italy.) We talked about the never ending lunches and dinners and the inability to get anything done in between them in Italy. We talked about the superficiality, inefficiency and unreliability of people in all aspects of life in our country. We talked about the vague and melodramatic promises of love and affection, about the childish Italian men, who force women in Italy to take all the responsibilities in the house, in addition to working outside the house - the dolce vita is not for women! - She agreed that the amount she gets from one job in America, she would probably have to earn it from two or three jobs in Italy. We talked about the handmade goods made by the Italian artisans and about the likelihood that their children will decide to do something else (or emigrate) and that Italy, as a result, will lose the quality of life is known for. We talked about all this. At the end, Adelina said, loud and clear, that she feels there is no better way then the Italian lifestyle and that she will leave her job in the US at the end of the year to go back to Italy. To make her reasons clearer, she showed me the latest Fiat 500 commercial. 

Watch it, if you haven't done it already. It will make you realize what is missing here in the US.


The truth is that the revolution of hedonism, sense of style, good food and beauty, has never arrived here in the US. And probably this is not a bad thing. I am starting to think that this is why there is a sense of morality here instead (respect, responsibility, family, commitment and willingness to work hard without complaining). Here in the US, people who are past the age of twenty-five, who are still at home being pampered by their parents, are hard to find. As a result, life is better. Yet most Italians I know who live in the US have an infinite nostalgia for the dolce vita and they are not happy here. They are not happy here because life is harder. The average American wakes up at 5:00 am, goes to the gymn and then to work, then back home, to put their children to bed. Everyday. With an average of two weeks of holiday per year, which most people use to go see their families.

Imagine how much harder is life here for an expat. We are far away from home, friends and family. We lose our holiday traditions. There is nothing close to the Italian and English Christmas here in Boston (who is talking about Christmas? and where is the smell of the panettone, minced pies and mulled wine filling the air?) The traditions we are so fond of suddenly fall into oblivion. Then we have cultural misunderstandings. The things we love the most about one culture can cause us the most frustration when things get difficult. Then there is the language. In order to understand the nuances of the language in the country where we live and not feel like outsiders, we throw ourselves in the other language and forget our own. Then we have children.

We struggle to only speak our language to them although we  are told, on a daily basis, that as soon as our children will enter kindergarten, then will quickly abandon our language. It is not encouraging. We never feel at home, we are not comfortable with many decisions we are forced to make on a daily basis and we end up missing home, which always feels far away. So our vacations take a whole new meaning: visiting family and teaching our children a second language. Since we live so far from my family, I can't remember the last time we took a long vacation without having to spend time with my parents. I love visiting them, but it can put a big strain on our marriage since we never really get a "true" vacation to places we would like to visit and know nothing about. No matter how much you love your spouse or the job that keeps you in a foreign country, you still have to come to term with all this.

I wish I could live in Italy but without the Italians, I once said to John. Can you imagine? Who would do the cooking in Italy if the Italians weren't there? Who would wax the marble floors in the houses? Who would clean the shop windows, iron the bed sheets leaving that divine smell in the air? Who would struggle to be outside, in winter, in all weather conditions, selling vegetables at the local market? Who would obsessively continue to pursue the style of the famous designers while they are having their long lunches with their friends? Who would continue to portray the image of the Italian dolce vita? What would Italy turn into without the Italians, their passions, bad vices and weaknesses?

So here I am, in America, surrounded by a bunch of Italians who are forced to choose between two opposite worlds and who, at the end, are neither Italian, nor American and who struggle to choose the best from both worlds for their children.

How easy is for a child to grow among two (or more) cultures? I am off to buying this book. Hopefully, it will have a few positive answers.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Pianta sul Cielo un Grande Castello - Plant a Big Castle in the Sky

Yesterday my Italian summer camp for children (age 3-8) in Boston ended. All the children were thrilled to attend the camp and the parents said it went very well.  I am sure they all had a great time. So I can now sit back and relax.

And today Tronk has come up with this poem, inspired by the story of Jack and the magic beans, fairy-tale which ended the summer camp.

Original Version:
Pianta sul Cielo Un Grande Castello
Tante lavagne di Sorrisi Felici
Dentro questo Castello
Un Re Buono e Felice.
Tronk

In English:
Plant A big Castle in the Sky
Many blackboards of Happy Smiles
Inside this Castle
A Good and Happy King.
Tronk

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lower Your Expecations - Riduci le Aspettative


When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won't come up with a handful of mud either. This phrase by Leo Burnett, fixed in my heart, has inspired almost everything I did, since I left Italy in 1996. I learned to dream, believed in dreams and made some happen. In several occasions, though, I was hit by expectations. Expectations hurt. John says that the best way to live is to not expect anything in life. When you don't expect, every moment is a surprise and surprises bring happiness.

My mother used to say, "non tutto il male vien per nuocere" (not all the bad comes to hurt us). Is this statement really true or is it our way of hoping that something good will come from it so we can accept life?

Talking about expectations not met, why do the Italians make grandiose promises and commit to doing things that are important to others, act as if they will do their best to stick to them to help out and then, all of a sudden, for their own selfish reasons, take the courage to tell you, after you have asked them why they are no longer committed, that you can no longer rely on them? Why are commitment, responsibility and respect such difficult concepts to grasp for an Italian? Once again, an Italian, originally filled with the best possible intentions, has let me down.