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.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Six Candles Blown Out and School in the Air - Sei Candele Spente e Aria di Scuola

Summer is still blooming here, with hot days and the AC units still operating on full power. Yet everything around me already smells of autumn. I really should I have said "fall", because autumn is not quite the same. The English autumn was that cool time of the year when I was no longer looking at holidays photos, was going back to wearing my old favorite black pea-coat and work was getting more serious. The American "fall" is different. It has the meaning of a loss, the slow loss of the warm season. It is almost like a slow colorful death of the summer, with skeletons slowly spreading around in the neighborhood, still warm, in preparation for the dark tunnel of the Bostonian winter (which will come to hit us like a blow just after Christmas). Soon enough people in my neighbourhood will start wearing jeans instead of shorts, trainers instead of sandals and t-shirts instead of dresses, maybe fleeces, but very few black coats; certainly not early in the season.

This year after our trip to Italy everything happened so quickly, one thing after the other: friends' birthdays, 4th July fireworks, going to playgrounds, the beach, the pool, the lake. Now, I feel it is summer, at last. No. Not anymore. Not here. Summer is over for most Americans already. My inbox is full of messages with "fall" in the subject and most American stores have turned into a celebration of the new school season. And I have already received a list of school supplies for Tronk's kindergarten!... 

Tronk turned six in July. So, although we postponed it for a year, I still can't believe it's time for Tronk to start kindergarten. Time flies!

The last time I wrote a posting on Tronk's changes, he was turning three. What happened after that?

Life with a growing child goes fast - faster than one might be able to imagine. Life goes on, brings and takes away memories and a parent finds it incredibly hard to stop and enjoy what is happening. Too many photos shot but never printed and forgotten in hundreds of folders stored on our computercute songs and insightful comments made by Tronk, forgotten. Last night: "Mamma, con questo libro mi hai toccato veramente il cuore" (Mom, with this book you really touched my heart) Stories about Tronk in pre-k: his lunches (and chats) with his favorite teacher Susan, the one who shouts less and smiles more, according to Tronk, his love of all science-related projects - especially, the ones with explosions! - Stories about enemies and knights in the yard. I wish they had let me have that kind of fun in my courtyard in Turin when I was a child. His love for cooking and for grocery shopping - he knows how to pick up the perfect peaches. Finally, his latest obsession of adding arrows to every drawing he makes to explain each part. There are many other things I would love to remember of Tronk's last three years. But my mind was mostly busy preparing breakfasts, lunches, dinners, shopping lists, activities. And we had many difficult moments because of my health - me waking up in pain with Tronk coming to cheer me up to then complain, one hour later, that I am not playing with him.

We did share many special moments together.

Reading at Barismo
Yesterday for example, in the morning, Tronk built a house with machines that shoot the cattivi (bad guys) and came to show it to me in the bathroom. He then managed to write three words in corsivo (cursive). He watched the end of a cartoon about a famous botanist who saves a plant from another planet and managed to tell me the whole story, scene by scene, while I was cooking. Our long lunch was good, nice and relaxing while Tronk and I were chatting at the table. Not a single time I had to remind him to eat. Usually, in the afternoon we go out but yesterday we didn't because we discovered a funny way to read a book about the solar system with the interaction of a puppet. I had never seen Tronk laughing so hard while I was making him read the words of a book. At some point he even came up with a poem, which I wrote and decided to post on my Boston Italian Children website. Below is a basic translation of the poem (without Tronk's original rhymes, which makes it nice).

Filastrocca del Mare Americano
Ci son tre persone nel mare
che vanno a nuotare
che dicono "ma che freddo questo mare americano"     
meglio andare piu' lontano
poi vanno al lago 
e trovano un lago di colore smeraldo 
e dicono "questo lago e' molto caldo!
Poem of the American Sea
There are three people in the sea
who go to swim and 
who say "how cold is
this American sea"  
better go farther away
then they go to the lake 
and they find an emerald colored
and they say "this lake is very warm!"

He is becoming a happy, strong and kind person, always in need of being with other children. I think he will love school and I feel proud of him.

I am now thinking of the book we read a week ago in a bookstore: the night before kindergarten by Natasha Wing. It tells the story of two children who are preparing for school the night before kindergarten, They are excited but also a bit scared. Once they are in front of the teacher, they are no longer scared and don't need the parents anymore. The parents, who are watching their kids talking with their kindergarten teacher, get tears in their eyes. At the end, the parents are actually the ones who need a hug.

So I know, on that special day in September, I will be the one who needs a hug. And fall will truly be here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cose Che Vedo Solo in Italia - Things I only See in Italy

I promised a friend in Boston I would take loads of photos while I was in Italy. In my last two trips, I took a few, when I remembered. If you look closely at them, you'll get an idea of the things that I miss back in the US.

Fresh food in small stores:

Fresh nuts with shell are hard to find in the US
Cheap lunches with fixed price menu:

Gelato with taste of fruit (not butter):

Something I can eat quickly and enjoy - no chewy bread, no raw onions, no spicy pickles - heaven!

Fast-food I enjoy everywhere, even at the train station:

Slow pace in the city:

Chatting with the neighbor

I'll be back soon

We don't have WI-FI - Talk with eachother!!

Taking a long break for lunch, while all businesses are closed

Eating is one of the four purposes of life... what are the other three, nobody has understood that yet. Chinese say

Feasts to revoke history, food rituals and traditions:

My old work place, good food and musica popolare

The Arrival of the King Vittorio Amedeo II

Flags Exercise for the "Palio di Asti"

La Festa del Cioccolato a Torino - Chocolate Feast in Turin 

La Sagra dell'Uva a Torino - Grape Feast in Turin

La Sagra del Peperone in Carmagnola - Pepper Sagra in Carmagnola

As a matter of fact, every little thing I miss from home is always strictly connected with food. Also, with beauty and with elegance, a topic I introduced in an older posting. More on this soon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Grass Is Always Greener On the Other Side of the Ocean - L'erba e' sempre piu' Verde Dall'Altra Parte dell'Oceano

Visiting Italy one month per year and living on the other side of the ocean for the rest of the year is odd, fun and quite challenging. You feel a bit like Babar, the elephant in one of Tronk’s stories. He goes to the city, learns things such as how to wear a hat and how to eat with fork and knife but continues to miss his native country and the values he shares with his people. Then he goes to visit them in the jungle and he cannot help telling them how to dress and eat. It’s like being on a seesaw. You are going up and down, depending on the country where you are and on the person who is sitting on the opposite side.

You were in Italy? Oh my God!” ”Do you go back often?” “Once a year”. “Lucky you!” "Oh yes, I am", I often say, while I am thinking, at the back of my mind, that one month of Italy (Europe) per year for me is not very much. Then I think of all the people who could not/cannot afford to go home and then I feel incredibly lucky. For one entire month I have the privilege to find all the fresh food I can possibly dream of at the farmers' market. I can stop wondering if there are onions or garlic in my salad causing me severe bloating and whether the olive oil on my table is better suited to running my car. I can talk to friends and experts with a wider outlook and more willing to help address small but serious health issues. I can try medicines whose flavor is familiar and reassuring, I can hug people without feeling guilty. I can chat with the Head of Gastroenterology about the latest music festival in town, without worrying that I am wasting his time. I can relax and order another gelato, without feeling guilty - the Italian doctor says I should eat a bit of everything! - and without looking pregnant. For one month I can relax and recharge, until the forbidden word comes up in a conversation. Ooops, here it is again: America!

In Italy, if you say you live in America, no matter who you say it to, you know what is coming. You’ll be questioned about your life like a star in town and you won’t be able to escape from being further questioned. All the attention will be on you and you won’t be able to change the subject. Unlike the Americans who briefly say they love Italy and then move onto something else, the Italians want to know more. “Vivi in America? Davvero?” (Do you live in the US? But really?) “Come ti invidio! E’ sempre stato il mio sogno andare a vivere in America! Si vive meglio la’?” (I envy you! Going to America has always been my dream! Is life better there?) I often hear this question when I am in Italy and I really don’t know what to say. Think about it, beside the word “male” (bad) that I often hear in Italy… don’t you think it is hard to convey the complexity of your life in your own country? Right, for me it is the same, with the added complexity that I lived my life in three different countries, that I don’t live in Boston but in the burbs, like most Americans, that Boston is not America and that America is not New York - certainly not Manhattan. See what it looks like on Google maps? Like this.

Wellesley, MA
So you don’t live in Boston?” asked the mom who was sitting next to me on a bench one tepid afternoon in Turin. “Most Americans don’t live in the centre of Boston but in the suburbs, with one or two hours commute to work every day; where there are only houses, usually bad pizza places and fast-food chains.” She looked at me surprised. Whether I liked it or not, I did it again, I carefully prepared the ground to talk about my least favorite thing in America: food. Oops. Like other times, I couldn’t help adding useful details to increase that surprise. “Do people really eat in their car?” “Yep, they eat whatever and whenever” - I was doing it again! I was talking about food, the one thing Italians are so sensitive to and which drives all of their decisions. I was about to destroy her American dream.

Filled with guilt, I talked about my life in America and the things I love most there: the lake I can walk to, the rabbits that return to our yard at Easter time, the geese who are waiting for their turn to cross the street, the cute white van of the postman with the mirror at the back, the coffee shop that roasts the coffee, then the beaches and the cute little villages by the sea, with the stores open all summer. I explained to her that villages are positioned in the middle of nothing, and with only a main street and a little downtown that go through them… that is America. She was finally looking at me enchanted.

Make way to ducklings
Most Italians are obsessed with America but not with the America I know. As soon as I land in Milan, I see this obsession, which looks a bit like infatuation; I see stars and stripes printed all over on t-shirts, sweatshirts, backpacks, scarves.

Tronk's hairdresser in Turin and her American dream
I see either vans, nike or chuck taylors on people of all ages, fake American clothes with obscure writings in bad English, and with names of cities and teams that don’t even exist. Not to mention the clothes designed for doing specific jobs in America, and worn by people who only think of themselves as cool... and the baseball caps worn backwards. In Italy, it isn’t just high-school students. I even saw one of Tronk’s teachers in Turin with one. 

This ridiculous imitation of America in Italy has now, sadly, extended to food. When did they start talking about food in Italy instead of making it? The Expo in Milan, which turned out to be just an expensive celebration of different forms of junk food, is not the only place where I experienced this.

Warning: if you go to Expo 2015, a taste of junk food will cost you 10 euros
I saw many stores exhibiting/selling special healthy bread or pasta and junk food listed on the board. Also, donuts and muffins that looked like they were dipped in paint. A store manager at Eataly, as soon as she saw Tronk, tried to persuade me to try hamburger with fries. In America they eat this way! Come here, I'll show you... If you don’t pay attention, there are now restaurants in Italy that serve food reheated in the microwave. There are also “slow fast-food” restaurants - the name sounds like a joke, I know - and the star of Starbucks, with its burned coffee, has made its appearance in Milan. When did all this start in Italy?

Welcome to Milan!
Subway too?
How many Italian parents are still going home to cook lunch for their children? Do they still know how to do it?

One evening I took Tronk to my favourite buffet restaurant, Brek. I used to go there for lunch on saturdays with my parents to celebrate a good mark in latin or greek. They used to serve all types of food (pasta, meat, fish, vegetables), all cooked from scratch in front of us. That night I saw the restaurant door open but only two counters with the light. The others were completely dark. I was wondering whether the restaurant was open. It turned out it was open but the food was not quite what I expected. To my horror, on the left, I saw a fridge filled with prepackaged food. On the right, they were serving hamburgers, hot-dogs and fries. I was in a state of shock. Was that the same restaurant where I ate as a teen? Manning the hot dog station, I saw a woman who used to work there when I was a teen. She thought she knew me. After hearing me complaining, she said: “ You are right. Brek is no longer the same. People are no longer the same. The new generations ask for this type of food, my son included. What can we do? I don’t like it. I am quitting.” I was confused, disappointed. While I was leaving the restaurant, I saw a kids menu filled with junk, just like the ones we see every day in America. I saw similar kids menus in other restaurants and parents asking for them. In my country?? How could this be possible?
Baby drink?
Red Pizza?

With all the delicious lunch options available in Italy, you go for sugary bombs? 

What changes will our children see in Italy one day? I often wonder about this. It would be nice if this obsession of the stars and stripes brought the best of America to Italy; the ideas of social equity, responsibility, commitment, respect, hard work and justice are all needed in my country. But these things are not in our genes. Instead, we are importing the superficial America; the easy things that ultimately become problems, if they are not already. But why?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Juno's Feast in Arlington MA - La Festa di Juno ad Arlington MA

Nobody celebrates Carnival here in the US, so when January hits us, I know there will be no holidays, no fun, it sucks until Easter. But, every year, the monotony of this boring time of the year is suddenly broken. New England covers itself in white and Arlington transforms into a fairytailish village. Nice but COLD.

This month I knew the snow was about to come.  

"Actually, there will be more than a few snowflakes", said John on Monday with an alarmed voice, knowing the way I feel about being stuck at home in winter. Then the sinister prediction: we'll get 35 to 40 inches (1 metre of snow, like my parents and I used to get on the mountains in Pragelato)! As in every other alarming situation of which people have no control, panic sets in, together with its usual rituals: text messages with the subject "powerful blizzard coming" from the town, travelling bans, overly dramatic videos from New York, super worried messages from family and friends. And by the way, why did they call the blizzard Juno, like the daughter of my friends in England? Will this Juno, the bad Juno, really strike here or will New York be hit first? 

Well, in the end, bad Juno chose Boston and decided to strike us (and surrounding New England), leaving some 4.5 million people, mostly professionals, in fear of losing power, and grappling with as much as three feet of snow and coastal flooding.  It is not the first time that I find myself going through this: the feeling of being stuck for indeterminate time at home while waiting for something good or bad to happen. No doubt the Boston bombers warnings were far more serious, yet I was caught by such similar, familiar anguish while I was looking outside the window, hoping to still be able to see the world and its inhabitants, safe, the day after

The following morning Tronk and I saw this. 

Then the New England snow blower parade started.

 Temperature outside: -10 Celsius!

Everyone outside, joining the snowblowing cause. Many of them in light North Face fleeces.

So I went outside in my street with Tronk. My intention was not to join the parade but to watch it, just like an Italian tourist would do. I was wrapped in my ridiculosly long North Face mummy coat, north pole hat, gloves and scarf. Tronk was so happy to finally be outside after two days buried in the house. My plan was to go for a short walk on the bike path, as we've done many times in the past after a snow storm. 

We discovered, with horror, that there was no longer a bike path!

Mass Avenue, the liveliest street of Arlington, was dead.

I was only able to stay outside for ten minutes, not more, before my hands started pulsating. At some point, my cheeks were burning. And I had to tell Tronk to follow me, as I ran home in search of relief. Tronk wasn't so happy to return home. He wanted to continue his exciting exploration of the neighborhood instead. "Come home!", I screamed as I ran. 

They must have thought I was crazy. Everyone was outside, either dedicated to the cause of removing snow or having fun with sport activities. 

Back in the house, I had an overdose of Italian hot chocolate and wrapped up in my electric blanket in the hope of feeling my body parts again. Meanwhile, Tronk had a blast plowing snow together with John and our neighbor. William, who doesn't owe snow pants, even went snowshoeing in the back yard with another neighbor.

Tronk said later that he did more work than Joe - who is from Buffalo, the snowiest big city in the US.

Many hours later, we went to bed. Still snowing.

This morning, the snowblower parade restarted. And everyone (expect me) joined the traditional New England winter ritual - finding one's car under the snow to drive to work.

So, now everyone is back at work or at least this is the intention in the mind of every Bostonian."Why should I not go to work? It is nice outside!" John, for instance, who was not able to start the car, went to catch a bus to go to work. And my little Bostonian went outside to play with Max and Ben in the nearby yard but the piled up snow prevented him from reaching the destination. Poor guy.