Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Favourite Toys and Other Fetish Objects - Giochi Preferiti e Altri Oggetti Feticcio

"The objects you choose to surround yourself with tell your story", this is the quote cut out from the newspaper La Stampa that my father pinned on the side wall in the entrance of his house. When a guest knocks on his door, my father opens the door and reads this quote. He then says "Welcome to my house".

I was raised  surrounded by beautiful things, old statues from Ancient Egypt as well as a large collection of paintings from great artists. I can close my eyes and picture many things with sentimental value: the faces in the painting who were looking down at me as I was falling asleep, the beautiful portraits of my great grandparents in the living room, the Brionvega stereo with the big pile of vintage 45 RPM records and many other things that trigger emotional memories.

Unfortunately, it often happens that the things that have made someone's life special  are forgotten, sold or given away. Perhaps with time they become worn out, or from an American point of view, if you keep everything, at some point there will be no room for yourself.

Yesterday I was thinking that it is not the objects that count. It is the relationship that you have with the objects and what you do with them that make the objects special. In many cases, especially for a child, these relationships are ephemeral.

Winnitu', a popular doll in Italy in the late 1970s
My mother reminded me that for a year or so I could not be parted from a little American-Indian doll that would sing a song when you pulled her string. I was allowed to take her to every trattoria we were going to. Her name was Winnitu'. And I remember now fantasizing about being a member of her tribe. Two years later, the doll ended up in a basket of the forgotten toys. Yet I can still remember the song she was singing with nostalgia. So why not try to capture the essence of the passing relationship with the objects while it is possible?

It is not by chance that the other day I picked up the Nikon and started shooting photos. I wanted to record the toys Tronk plays with, his favourite toys, the objects he leaves abandoned in specific places of our house, the things that have become part of his world. I wanted to capture the beauty and the special meanings that Tronk has given these objects as a two year old child, so that one day, he will be able to see them and, perhaps, remember these moments.

"Foto mamma?" (Pictures mom?)
"Si, sto cercando di fotografare le cose che ami" (yes, I am trying to photograph the things you love)

"Tante foto mamma?" (Many pictures mom?)


"Tante foto mamma?" (Many pictures mom?)


"Tante foto mamma!" (Many pictures mom!)

"Basta foto mamma?" (No more pictures mom?)

"Dammi Ciuccio? Dammi Ciuccio?" (Can you give me the binky? Can you give me the binky?)
"Foto ciuccio? Nooooooo! No foto ciuccio!" (Binky picture? Nooooooo! No binky picture!), Tronk repeated.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tronk tells nothing but the truth - Tronk dice sempre la verita'

He used to make babbling noises all day long, the cutest background noise I can possibly think of. Innocent and cheerful, like the happy chirping of a bird early in the morning outside your window on a sunny day. At times, it sounded like an over excited baby lamb and it had the power to grab my heart and squeeze it until there was nothing left to squeeze. 
Tronk making baby lamb noises

Well, I have come to the realization that that little guy is no longer my baby. Instead, I now have a boy who talks, talks and talks and continues to talk, to try to make sense of the world. He talks even when he is alone. Exciting but also overwhelming. Whatever the situation and whatever the location, Tronk has the urge to talk, to flirt, to discuss, to agree and to disagree, with me and with everyone else who happens to be near him. I see him trying to describe what people do, the things he sees, the things he wants, to ask and answer questions. He is like a talking machine. The problem is that in most cases, beside his requests for food, water and his ability to name body parts and things around the house all I can make sense of in his long orationes is this: "macchina grande!" (which in English translates into "big car!"). He says this all the time, at home, at the playground, at the post office, at the grocery store, on the bus, when I take him to art festivals. Now even going to buy furniture leads to "macchina grande!"

What would you do if you were me? Would you disagree with him? How many times would you argue that there are no cars in the bathroom? 

So when I can no longer make comments on the invisible "macchina, grande!", I almost always end up saying: "c'e' la macchina grande, hai ragione!" (meaning: That's right, there is the big car!) and I convince myself that there is a big car, perhaps in the clouds in the sky, or in the folds of my dress. There must be one if he says so. Then, after another 50 "macchine grandi"what do I do? Keep smiling? I don't. I start ignoring him. Then, he allegedly looks at me with his slightly annoyed Harvard Professor look and he goes:

"Dannatido', dannatido', vushibi' macchina grande!" (complete non-sense ending with "macchina grande").
"Dannatido'??" I ask him completely lost, in my attempt to try to understand what he is is saying
"No, dannatido'! No, dannatido'! Nitadiba' macchina grande!" (more non-sense ending with "macchina grande"), he says while nodding, with a frustrated and slightly disappointed look on his face.

"Macchina grande la'!"
It always happens. As soon as I convince myself that there is no point in trying to make sense of what he says, I hear things like these coming out of his mouth:

"E' arrivata zia Pina Italia? Aniamo zia Pina?" (Has aunt Pina come back from Italy? are we going to aunt Pina?) [on the day aunt Pina called to say that she was back in Boston]"

"Mamma male?" (Mom, you are not feeling well?) [he asked me while I was taking my allergy pills]

"Ino Ino!" (meaning: stroller! stroller!) [as soon as he saw a City Mini stroller that looked like his] 
"no Ino Mina Kruse, no! chello brutto!" [while standing next to the owner] (no, that one is not Mina Kruse's stroller, no! that one is ugly!)

"Cosa hai sognato?" (What did you dream?)
His reply: "Ato farfalla. Farfalla vola!" (I dreamt a butterfly. The butterfly flies)

"Dov'e' la luna?" (Where is the moon?), John asked the other day.
His reply: "E' in Italia!" (It's in Italy)

"Fatto puzza uomo?" (has the man farted?) [while pointing at someone in the store]

"Ohh... Donna grande! Donna grande la''!" (ohh... big woman! Big woman there!) (while pointing at a woman who was overweight)

"Perche' hai smesso di fare la cacca?" (why did you stop pooping?), asked the babysitter.
His reply: "C'e' cacca la'! C'e' cacca la'!" (there is poop there! there is poop there!) [while pointing at his pulled down diaper]

I was going to finish this posting when John came to tell me Tronk's latest remark while they were playing in front of the mirror. He said: "Vecchio che daddy!" (meaning: che vecchio che sei papa'! Daddy, you look really old!).

I guess the era of Tronk's memorable phrases has began and - I must say - his new habit of thinking out loud is at times - let me repeat, at times - cuter than his former babbling noises. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Half-Assed Job in Provincetown - Figura di cacca a Provincetown

I always thought ill of those people (in Italy, off-course), who have no problems letting their dog defecate on the street, in front of everyone, and then go without taking the stinking steaming crap with them.  Not that looking at the cringing disgusted British collecting their crap makes me feel any better but I do have some sort of admiration for the happy nonchalant Americans who yank out their plastic bags, thrust their hands inside, grab the crap, quickly pull the bags inside out and make it disappear in half a second, while they are talking about the latest red sox game.

We decided to partly spend this past weekend (Ferragosto), which in Italy marks the end of the summer, on a Cape Cod Bay tour with destination Provincetown, a town at the very tip of the Cape. I love this town because it is a place where you cannot just pass by but a place where you are forced to stop (you cannot drive any further),  a place where you are forced to  relax, walk  on the beach, eat lobster, browse through the hidden gems (and unconventional junk) in the small stores, drink all afternoon in front of the ocean and where it is ok to go against the rules.  There, you might see a man walking down the street with a green wig, a Portuguese fisherman drinking a beer outside in the fresh air,  Japanese tourists taking a gazillion photos of their lobster and two Mexican-American lesbians with an Asian baby. It all seems to come together in this small town, where everyone lives their life side by side like in London, and where if anyone does something abnormal, who cares.

The strange thing about Provincetown is that when you are there, it is hard not to let your guard down. Once there, you know that sooner or later, you'll find yourself either buying something that you were not supposed to buy or you'll miss the last boat to go home. Well, this time a far more awkward thing has happened to us.

We decided to take the ferry to Provincetown after reading this ad: it is fast, luxurious and takes 90-minutes (half the time it would take to drive)! Truth is... we managed to get there in two hours. Not a big problem if the sea hadn't been so unkind to me.

Once my feet were back on the ground and I could think clear again, I decided to hit the Lobster Pot, my favorite restaurant in Provincetown (fresh seafood but fuss free). There, it didn't take me long to relax... until William - typical! - started calling my attention.

"Fatto cacca, fatto cacca mamma! (I have pooped, I have pooped, mom!)
Aniamo cacca?" (are we going to crap? meaning: are we going to the toilet?)
"Can you at least wait until I am done with my lobster bisque? Can the potty wait?"
"Vai! Vai! Vai!" (Go! Go! Go!)

John was the one on potty-training call, so I took the time to enjoy the remaining sips of my lobster soup, while John was dealing with the unpleasant matter. After a while I saw a giggling William coming back to my table.

John: "His diaper was all dry but I changed it anyway. Waste of time!"
Ten seconds later...
William:"Fatto cacca, fatto cacca! Vai! Vai! Vai! (I have pooped, I have pooped! Take me to the toilet!)

We figured that William was not so desperate to use the toilet. He was probably only trying to find a way to escape from the high-chair. So we decided to stop listening to his irrational requests and tried to finish our lunch without thinking twice about toilet matters. Before leaving the restaurant I checked Tronk's diaper one more time. Everything was under control.

After lunch, we spent few minutes in an art gallery. Then I saw a store selling silver jewelry, the antique type that my mother loves, so I dragged John and William there and managed to find my mother's birthday present! In Boston it would have taken me months to find something with that antique look. While the shop assistant, who was talking with a foreign accent, was putting my precious gift into a cute little bag, William was running around the store to look at the shining pieces of jewelry through the windows, when John, all of a sudden, made an abrupt movement with his legs and said something, first in a state of surprise then in a state of panic that I rarely see on him.

"Who is this coming from? Was that dog who did it?" He then quickly put one leg in front of the big piece of crap to stop others from stepping on it and we both looked at it inquisitively.

"Oh my God! The green and orange tones of the carrot and of the zucchini couldn't be more truth revealing! "That's what we feed Tronk!" At this point, John, who no longer has a dog, whispered anxiously, "Give me a wipe, give me a wipe!", in the true American style, and in less then seconds, the guilty object disappeared.

"How did it happen?" I asked John on the other side of the street, while trying to escape from the crime scene.

It turned out that John had literally done a half-assed job with Tronk's diaper in the restaurant so poop came out from one side of his diaper in the jewelry store. Luckily, I don't think anybody understood that there was a big piece of shit in the floor in the middle of the jewelry store and even if someone did, nobody cares in Provincetown.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hey, hey, hey, are you taking it too far? - Hey, non e' che state correndo troppo?

"I refuse to think that at your age you are having romantic thoughts! What do you know about him? This is infatuation, not love!" my mother said every time I met a guy I liked.

Recently, I have found myself in the exact same dynamic, but this time as a mother. Not only there is a girl in William's life but their relationship has become quite intense. Luckily, she is still the same sweet (and cute) girl he was seeing last year. What concerns me is that each time they are together, they take it one step further. Six months ago they kissed for the first time in public (at the Wholefoods meat counter).

One month ago, he was running after her in a swim suite in a park. On his birthday she was offering him a drink. Two weeks ago, she was having fun lifting Willian's shirt, last week she was playing with his diaper. And watch how they were holding hand when they last met at the Cambridge Common playground.

Am I right to worry a little? As a mother, I have to say something, right?

I know what I'll say. "William, tesoro, Naima is the sweetest girl I know but you are too young to get into a serious relationship!" NAA! That sounds like preaching.

How about this? "See William, this time she took one of your cars. If you go too far with her, next time she'll ask you to take the polizia and the ambulanza car, then your trucks!" Naa, I don't like threats!

I'll settle with this: "William, amore, listen, what do you know about her? All you know is that, unlike you, she prefers pink sippy cups and that, unlike you, she would prefer to play with a doll than with a car. Plus don't you think that she is too much into steep slides and overly tall towers for someone not very physical like you? Sweetheart, all I am trying to say is that... ok, have fun but please don't fall in love. I am not ready."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Crappy Days - Giorni di Emme

I have had to deal with a lot of crap recently. And by crap, I don't mean the nonsense I was getting from an old boss with health problems, I don't mean my latest discoveries on Berlusconi, and I certainly don't mean my mother phoning me twenty times in a row to help her fix her computer. No. Not this kind of crap. I mean real crap, excrement, feces, stool, number two, or if you prefer, potty training, a nice way to say that I am having to teach my child how to take a s-h-i-t without making a mess. The kind of thing many people prefer to pay someone else to do.

Changing diapers, at least for me, has never been as bad in comparison. Maybe because the poop, at the beginning, did not smell as bad as I expected! Yet initially I was feeling so helpless when a diaper needed changing. I remember asking John to take over on several occasions after getting that damned Elmo on his butt and not in the front. Then what happened? I stayed at home, where most of the crap was taking place and, to my surprise, I became a pro at it. Soon enough I was able to change Tronk in parks, at the back of stores (with no restrooms), in the car, on trains, at the beach, at the pool, and, if I remember well, even in the stalls of a theater in the middle of a formal classic music concert. So yeah, I was dealing with poop but at least I was able to leave the house early in the morning and do interesting things outside the house almost  every day. All I needed was my thermos filled with mashed veggies, a kiwi, a couple of cookies and a couple of spoons for his lunch. Life was easy.

Then, one day, came the fear: how many more times will I have to hear "Sorry, bring William back once he is potty trained"? Will I have to pack his diapers with his lunch when he goes to college? I had better start the potty training NOW!

Tronk resting on his potty on a winter day
He was around 14 months when I put him on the toilet for the first time. "Success, he pooped! This potty training isn't so hard!" Tata Pina: "I have never seen a child who cannot talk, nor walk, already going to the toilet the way William does. This guy is special!" All I had to do to make it happen, was to sit him on the baby toilet (just after lunch), sit on the adult toilet in front of him, and make convincing poop sounds. Easy pee-sy! John wasn't so convinced.

As usual, he was spot on! Eight months later, even though Tronk spent time with potty trained two-year olds at daycare in Italy, we were back from Italy with a problem. "Cacca no, cacca no! Vai, vai, vai!" (meaning: I don't want to poop in the potty, no, no, no! Let me go, let me go!) Tronk no longer wanted anything to do with the potty. Then a couple of successful attempts followed but only because I was lucky to sit him on the potty at the right time. Then, what happened?

The Poop Face I was longing for
Then, he discovered that it is much more fun to stand up and walk away. I was frustrated. Tata Pina once said: "Get him the pull-ups!"  Apparently, they make diapers especially designed for potty training that can be put on and removed like underwear! They should be used with the accompanying wipes for toddlers that can be thrown in the toilet.  I said:"Ok... I'll get both!"

The pull-ups have had success but not the kind I expected. Tronk is now in love with them and keeps asking me to get new ones all the time - what do you expect from something that has Lightning McQueen printed on it?? - but only in few occasions 
he has managed to pull them up or down, with me doing most of the work. That's as far as we have got to.

Surely, I must be doing something wrong. Should I try sitting him on the pot every 15 minutes, then 20, then after 40? Should I get the Mommy's Helper Cushie Step-Up or the super attractive portable My Carry Potty in addition to the duck toilet that we already have, which is supposed to quack after each success but doesn't because we still haven't managed to put the batteries inside? All of these potties/toilets can't do shit in the following situations.

"Mamma, fato cacca! "Anamo cacca?" (Mom, I have pooped, are you taking me to the toilet?)
He then gives me his little hand and when I sit him on the toilet, I realize he has already done it.

"Tronk, hai fatto la pipi'?" (Tronk, have you peed?)
"Pipi'? Gno pipi'!"(peed? no peed!)
After 5 minutes.
"Hai fatto?" (are you done?)
"Gno' fatto!" (not done!)
"Amore, il tuo culetto si trasforma in una ciambella se continui a stare li'. Hai fatto pipi' o no?" (sweetheart, your little butt will turn into a donough if you continue to stay there. Have you peed or not?)
"Mmmm.... gno'!" (mmm..... no!)
"Allora che facciamo?" (so, what do we do now?)
He looks down in the potty, like a magician who is trying to make a miracle. He then comes with the usual question.
"Dov'e' pipi'?" (where is it?)

His latest request this morning:
"Mamma, pipi', pipi', pipi'! Aniamo pipi'?" (Mom, I have to pee! Are you taking me to pee?)
"Va bene, vieni, andiamo in bagno" (Ok, come here, let's go to the toilet)
"No, mamma. Pi-pi' fa macchina!" (No, mom. I was making the sound of the car!)

A week ago, Gisella, the babysitter who is covering tata Pina, said: "I think you should leave him alone. Give him some privacy when he is in the toilet" Ok.... Result? Potty training souvenirs all over the floor. Gisella: "Great!  You should be happy. That is how they start learning!" 

So, here I am, every morning, first trying to work out what three courses of food will go in my little guy and then... how they will come out. Now, tell me, how can I not go insane?
Yesterday I ended up handing a baby wipe to a cashier at Starbucks instead of a $5 bill to pay for a latte! To make the situation worse, I then gave a public talk on potty training.

I guess I should have seen it as an omen, but the other morning John found this poop on our roof after the previous night's vicious raccoon fight.

It is only crap. It could have been worse!

Seven Months Later
After I caused myself a fracture in one foot in November 2011, the potty training has gone completely out of the window. The number of dirty diapers filling Tronk's diapers' disposal can has gone down but the crap and its smell in Tronk's room seem to have increased. I know I have not been very good at dealing with crap until now but there is a limit to how much crap one can deal with, right? I promise I will be better at it in the warmer season.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Explorations of Gropius's life and works - Esplorando la vita e i lavori di Gropius

Walter Gropius and his family showing us their house

This past weekend we explored the life and works of Walter Gropius, the architect who founded the Bauhaus school. On Saturday, we toured his house in Lincoln. We then found ourselves back there on Sunday, first having a picnic in a pretty park with a cute pond not far from Gropius's house and then ended up swimming in his favorite lake!... Walden Pond. All in the same weekend.

This happened not because I wanted to use Gropius's patio or his cool back yard shower, two design ideas which, I must confess, I might at some point emulate in our back yard. It happened because my friend Gaia, who works as an architect in Cambridge (MA), and who knows that my father (also an architect) and I admire the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, dropped the idea that I could plan a visit to his house in Lincoln. So on Saturday morning, at last minute, we decided to go there. The following day, on Sunday, we just wanted to take William swimming, without having to stay in the car for two hours, without having to roast on a beach and without having Tronk's lips turn blue in the North Atlantic Ocean.

It is not a coincidence that we ended up by Gropius's house twice this past weekend: the house is located in the woods, in a place that is peaceful, charming, fairy-tailish, with stunning views, refreshing (especially on a hot day of July), almost therapeutic. Plus, it is not far from where we live in Arlington (MA). No wonder we picked the same place twice this past weekend! However, the first time I went swimming there (two years ago or so), despite I knew that Walden Pond was the place where Thoreau found his Muse (and published "Walden", a dissertation on his two-year, voluntary isolation in the woods), I failed to experience the magic of the place. All I could think of was that the water was not as clean as in the French Mediterranean sea. And I was worried of putting my feet to rest on mud.

After seeing Gropius's house, eating in the nearby park and experiencing the pond in a different way, I now feel I have seen the place and its magic the way Gropius and his family experienced it seventy years ago. An enchanting experience. During the tour of the house, I could imagine Gropius working in silence in his office,with the door closed, and his wife reading a novel on the couch of her living room, in front of a beautiful sunset. Everything there was so familiar to me at some point I felt I was visiting an English house that had been interior designed by my father! I couldn't stop thinking that my father would have probably made very similar architecture and design choices if he had ever built a house in New England: original, modern without being cliched, slick, elegant, at the same time a bit industrial, flexible in the usage of the space, but also with privacy, sound-proofing and insulation always in mind. If I remember well, I am almost sure my father's first office in Via Cassini in Turin had similar furniture, including Gropius's industrial looking separating walls made of glass!

Everything went so well this past weekend. Tronk was thrilled to run around the outside of Gropius's house on Saturday. On Sunday, he ate his entire lunch at the park not far from the house and he gained confidence going in and out of the water all by himself. He was so happy he could not stop pointing at the people around him and making comments (luckily, in Italian!):

"Tanti bimbi la', e' bello la'!" (There are many children there, it is nice there)
"Bimbo la', uomo la', anche donna la'" (There is a boy there, a man there, also a woman there)
"Tette grandi la'!'" (there are large breasts there!) [woman with large breasts standing next to Tronk in the water]

As nonno would probably say (when you are a bit older): ''le architetture locali sono tutte da guardare qui" (the local architectures are all worth looking at here).