Wednesday, September 21, 2011

De gustibus non est disputandum - One must not dispute about taste

A glimpse of Bostonian Fashion

I was brought up with a strong sense of aesthetics and design which - blame it on the Latins and or the Ancient Greeks - I used to perceive as a skill in which one needs to train. It is not by chance that I took my first degree at the Istituto Europeo Di Design. Yet, reaching an agreement with my mother on matters of taste and look has never been easy.
De gustibus! (Full Latin sentence: de gustibus non est disputandum. One must not dispute about taste) would come out from my mother's mouth each time I dared to wear something different, funky, a bit too casual or simply not classy enough to make people in my parents' entourage think of me as a good person. Believe it or not, there is still such a stereotypical idea (not only within the circle of the elderly Turinese) that if you don't dress classy (i.e, old-fashioned Turinese Lady style) and don't look chic, you can't be a "persona per bene" (a good person). I remember going to a party in my home town and hearing this: "Wow. You have an English look now!", simply because I was wearing a pair of casual shoes. It is a matter of taste. Some have it, others don't. Meaning, if you don't have taste, you are a peasant = rough = you are a bad person.

As a teenager, I would hear the comment De gustibus from my mother at least three or four times a day. Later in life, almost every time I was going to visit my parents in Italy I would invariably hear: "mamma mia come ti sei conciata!" (Good Lord, what have you done to yourself to look so terrible?) While I was living in the UK, my black leather jacket and 70's style jeans covering half of my pointed black boots became part of my identity but also a serious punch in the face to my mother, who was always hoping to see me come home in a nice tailleur (suite) or a classy silk dress, ready to sit with legs graciously crossed. No, Instead, there was me, wearing a dirty pair of jeans, masculine pointed boots and a tank top! What a disappointment I must have been to her. And there she was, giving me a dirty look and saying, "Sembri una puttana!" (You look like a whore!)" She seriously used to say that and I used to get really angry with her.

Still now, my mother asks my father to persuade me to change clothes before taking me to a friends' dinner party. "Enrica, you look like a clown, I am not going out with you like that! Where did you get that from? That top looks so cheap! You should feel ashamed of putting on such thing. I don't want to go out with a construction worker! We won't go anywhere if you don't change clothes!Going to see my parents is always likely to turn into a big argument on style with me surrendering in the end.

Funny how perspectives change. Now that I live in Boston, far from home, I cannot help complaining about how people look here, just like my mother does in Italy.

Let me tell you this first. You need to understand that, in the city where I grew up, people are over-dressed and wear make-up even when they are picking up tomatoes at the grocery store. There,  you see women of all ages constantly making a big effort to look good (with highlights, an evenly distributed tan, shoes with high heels that I was wearing when I was 22, jackets with matching scarves and golden earrings with matching bracelets) - Everything has to match! - You see women like these pushing the stroller. Their child, if she is a girl, she is wearing a nice hair band or ribbons matching her dress and her shoes. If he is a boy, frankly, the closest analogue for an American would be a baby version of a well dressed gay man. Whether they are drinking espresso at the bar, driving their car or throwing their trash in the big container outside, everyone there is constantly trying to make an impression on you.

Look at Me!

Back in Boston, I can't help noticing the differences. All I see at the playground, in the streets, at coffee shops - I understand children need to run and play in the dirt - is babies in blue and pink PJs with trucks or bears printed on them and toddlers in sweats in washed out colors. Colors: pink and fuscia for girls, blue, green and brown for boys.  No jackets, no cardigans, no pants!

As for adults, I keep coming across some very peculiar fashion ideas here in Boston: hoodie monsters, the women who don't realize that leggings should be worn with tops long enough to maintain a little modesty and that mini-shorts don't do a favor to most butts, the big bulky trekking shoes (I admit I wear them too but out of guilt) or the plain clogs worn with pants that are not long enough. In cold weather I also see North Face and Patagonia uniforms on every seat on the metro (hoodies, jackets, fleeces and whatever has a North Face logo). I don't understand. Wasn't Boston supposed to be the heart of prep style? Or perhaps I should accept the idea that things like the occasional sub-dued Polo, the T-shirt with the whale and the sweatshirt with the black dog from Martha's Vineyard, worn together with a $400 purse by Badgley Mischka (which doesn't match with the rest of the clothes), is all that it takes to stand out from the crowd? I wouldn't have the slightest concern on this if only the people making such choices didn't start acting as if they were Anna Wintour.

I don't know why but the Bostonians really seem to be obsessed with adding and mixing clothes that don't go with each other. Sandals!— with socks. Bulky Trainers - with  dresses. Baggy sweatshirts! - with ballerina shoes. Buttoned Shirts! tucked into PJ pants. And finally, my favourite... Knee Length Skirts! - with half leg leggings underneath. Perfect combo for a dinner party!

The Carnival of bad taste does not only happen in the suburbs. In Boston there are some weird seasonal trends going on as well. It only takes a short tour on the T to spot them:  shorts with winter shoes, flip flops with winter coats, and Uggs in summer (where does this come from?).

Not long ago I went to dinner at an expensive restaurant - I was still wearing my beach clothes! - After the initial embarrassment on my face when I entered the place, I soon realized that in comparison with the other people sitting there, I was overdressed for the occasion. So I immediately relaxed and had a wonderful dinner.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A few minutes in the head of a two year old - Alcuni minuti nella testa di un bimbo di due anni

Do you know what goes through the mind of a two year old? Chaos. My two year old is constantly jumping from thing to thing and from being over the moon to being crushed as though someone had set fire to his favorite stuffed animal Bambi. With his changes of mood he is able to cover a thousand of emotions in few hours. And there are times I feel there is a broken record next to me, saying the same thing over and over again.  Hey, I want to give you the feeling of what it's like to spend nine hours a day - nine! - with a two year old and why most people, no matter how much they love their child, go back to work, at least on a part-time basis.

Mamma? Can I have... the moon?
On a good day, Tronk goes through fifteen of these in a one hour period.

  1. Dammi Bambi? Dammi foca? Can you give me Bambi? The seal? Poi.. dammi ba-lena? Now... can you give me the whale? Dammi...Can you give me... Opps, I have got them all... Now, can you give me... ino? (non-sense) [while pointing at something nonexistent in the room]
  2. Pull-up? Poi Ciabatte? Can you give me a pull-up? Then... my slippers?
  3. Maglia macchine? Can I wear the Cars t-shirt I see in the laundry basket? Who cares it's dirty
  4. Pimpa? Pimpa? No Pimpa. Pimpa YoYo? Not Pimpa the book.  Can I watch Pimpa on the Italian kids channel?
  5. Scarpa mamma? I want to wear one of your flip flops and drag it to the other room under the bed [while you are coming out of the shower and need your flip flops]
  6. Now I wanna throw every single piece of the puzzle in the floor and make the most annoying noise I can possibly make [while you are on the phone having a serious conversation with someone]
  7. There are no more pieces to throw. Idea: I'll throw these shoes in the kitchen! [while you are in the kitchen cooking]
  8. Instead of reading that book on the table I'll climb on it. Yeah!
  9. The man outside is mowning the lawn. Great! I'll say this 20 times. Taglia l'erba! Taglia l'erba!...
  11. I'm tired. IM NOT TIRED!  
  12. Macchina grande, Yeah! (read the full story on macchina grande here) No matter what I'll see, I'll keep saying macchina grande for another half an hour. Macchina grande!
  13. HOLY SHIT I’M STARVING. C'e' mango? No mango? I want mango! Are you telling me that I cannot eat mango? [desperate tone]
  16. All right, all right, I am going to put it in my mouth. Then I'll throw it away
  17. Vai? Vai? Go? Go? I want out of the stroller [while I am waiting to pay in the queue at the till]
  18. Cacca? Cacca? I want to poop. Here it is, a fart. Ho vinto! (I have won!)
  20. Ten minutes later. Cacca? Cacca? Too late. I have already done it
  21. No lena, no lena! I don't want to go on the swing, I wanna spend all afternoon pushing this chair around the playground. Yes, and that stroller too! [until the owner comes to claim it]
  22. Canzone? Metti canzone? Can you play a song? [while pointing at my laptop] 
  23. Mamma, Cane? [while handing me the red marker] Ok. This time I decide to make more effort. I draw a dog that looks like Pimpa, his favorite cartoon character. For some reason he doesn't like the eye. "Occhio! No occhio! Occhio No!"[and he erases everything as fast as he can]
  24. DOV'E' MACCHINA ROSSA?  DOV'E' MACCHINA ROSSA? Where is the red car? Where is the red car? [and runs away in the opposite direction of where the car is while panting]
  25. Aha, macchina rossa. Yeah! Yeah! [still panting]
  26. Three minutes later. Ok, I'll throw it in the toilet now
  28. Acqua? Can I have water? You don't get it. I don't want to drink water. I want to make a  mess
  29. Dov'e' Daddy? Where is Daddy? Oh my God, Daddy left! [desperate tone]
  30. Daddy is leaving? So what? I am playing with cars now
  31. Wow, I’m starving.
  32. Ciuccio? Ciuccio? Dammi ciuccio! Binky? Binky? Give me the binky! [desperate tone]
  33. Aha, la luna! Aha, here is the moon! Dov'e la luna? Where is the moon? C'e' la luna la'! Aha, there is the moon there! [binky totally forgotten]
  34. Oh, soup! Yeah! See? I can eat all by myself
  35. Two minutes later. What? Do you expect me to continue eating by myself?  I need to play now!
  36. Pipi'! Ho vinto! I peed! Yeah!
  37. Dov'e' pipi'? Where is it? [after I flashed the toilet]
  38. I wanna use daddy's electric toothbrush now
  39. I wanna unscrew the mirror. Oh, one more time please!
  40. I don't wanna go to sleep. I wanna turn on and off the lights
  41. Mom, keep on reading, I wanna keep on jumping on the bed
  42. Acqua? Can you give me water? No, blu'. Acqua gialla! Not the blue one, the yellow bottle please. Can you give me the blue bottle again?  [at the end of a very long day, while I am about to say good night and close the door of his room]
As I hear him say "I want..." all day long, over and over again, I can't help thinking of a phrase that I heard from my parents at least one million times: "L'erba voglio esiste solo nel giardino del re". (English translation: The herb "I want" only exists in the garden of the king).  It's just that as a child (and later as a teenager) I somehow always assumed that that king had the privilege of asking for things without having to do anything at all in return and that I could just pretend to be him. Let me put it this way. I will make sure that Tronk does not make this assumption.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pay for the car Pina! - Paga la macchina Pina!

Today, zia Pina, who takes care of Tronk twice a week, brought him home with a new toy. "Where does that car come from?", I asked.

Apparently, she took Tronk to CVS where she needed to buy a couple of things. She was showing him the pumpkins that had just arrived in the store to get him started on the Halloween spirit. Tronk was not interested. As soon as he saw the diecast cars on display, he immediately ran towards them. Apparently, he picked the silver color car and continued to play with it while Pina tried to finish her shopping.

When she went to pay at the till, Tronk said: Pagare la macchina? Pagare la macchina? (Are you going to pay for the car? Are you going to pay for the car?)

So aunt Pina got suckered into paying for the car and Tronk left CVS with his new toy. She said she had never seen a child of Tronk's age worrying about paying for something - a capitalist?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Domenica Felice - Happy Sunday

Boston city center on a Sunday with hurricane
Sunday in Italy was always the same. With deserted streets and silence, as if the outside world was temporarily paralyzed. Beautiful but melancholic at the same time. Here in Boston, a big hurricane on its way (like Irene last weekend) can create a similar effect. Still, despite the weather warnings on the radio, on the web and on the roads, here on the east coast of America, a few courageous surfers were challenging the big waves of the ocean and a few people were throwing private parties on their boats. So, not quite the same as in Italy but all the shops closed, the public transports dead and being forced to stay at home drinking tea and eating biscuits brought me back to Sunday a few (ok many) years ago.

Turin city center on a Sunday morning
Sunday in Turin (Italy), always the same, with mass in the morning at the local Church with Grandma (later dad) falling asleep half through the service. Me trying not to star at anyone but what else could I do while asking God to forgive me for my bad deeds? Then 10-15 minutes before the end, me looking at the watch with the 12:00 pm stomach's cramps, hoping that the minutes would go faster and that I would soon be at home diving into my mother's risotto. Sunday lunch, always the same, lack of conversations, the TG's news and incredible boredom. My slow paced Sunday would continue with food (even if I was not hungry), a meat dish from heaven served with fresh vegetables cooked in simple but delicious sauces, followed by seasonal fruit, already washed and cut for me, served in a bowl. Double espresso, thank you.

Then, just like in the opening scenes of I am Legend, where Will Smith and his dog leave the house to find a eerie lifeless and silent world, I would start looking for signs of life, first in the house, then outside in the neighborhood. Nothing apparent. Two available options: (1) Join the Turinese people's catwalk in Via Roma in clothes you want to show off (2) sleep for an hour or so, until TV program Domenica In (variety show with half naked women dancing and top models interviewing politicians) wakes you up and then try reading a novel while Heather Parisi was singing "Disco Bambina"

Later in life, Sunday in Turin was the same, except for when friends were coming over to our house, same  meringhe with cream pastries and salatini (mini pizzas and other savory snacks), same conversations, same dozing off in the afternoon and incredible boredom until 6 pm, when the TV screen with Domenica In shut down, mom was in the kitchen pouring lemon tea in the cups next to my favorite butter biscuits and I was convinced I had gotten away with it but no. It was time to go to Church!

After Church, same routine, my mom hungry, my father not, me taking my mother's side. "Yes, I will eat the minestrone soup!" My bedroom still untidy, my homeworks still unfinished. Same, I have forgotten to review the previous chapters. My mom: it is midnight and you are not in bed. Same, I have forgotten the oral exam! Same, OMG, tomorrow is Monday! Oh no, if I get pulled into the examination, I will make a dumb show! Then accept the guilt, prepare the books for tomorrow. And ask God to pick someone else for the oral exam.

Then I grew up, moved to London and Sunday became a non existent day. A day for either recovering from heavy drinking the night before or for drinking more at someone's else house to feel better about the hang-over, as my British friends would put it. A day with most shops and the local Tesco grocery store open, just in case you need one more drink.

Then came the PhD Sunday at Imperial College. A large deserted building, long empty corridors and the vending machine dispensing cheese and onion (or salt and vinegar) crisps every few minutes or so. Once inside, from time to time a  new PhD face would appear, behind a computer screen but nobody would say anything to anyone. That would be it. Sunday was equal to dead silence.

When I moved to Boston, Sunday turned into a beautiful day. A day for cooking meals at home, for going on long car trips, for walking on trails, going sight seeing, camping in a park to watch a show next to people who have brought their mobile house with them, swimming in lakes, walking on the beach with a straw hat and picking up heart shaped shells. Sunday with him turned into time for love, for outdoor fun and, above all, for pleasure.

Today Sunday, whether we like it or not, has turned into Tronk's day. The time for his discoveries, for looking at his laughs for seeing him running around with daddy in the streets of whatever town, at the playground, at Costco. But last Sunday, that was not possible because of the hurricane so I had to come up with a few tricks to keep the boy entertained, while daddy managed to build a brand new cabinet for our small office room. Tronk and I played with a train station and a large car park we created outside his bedroom door.  And we spent the rest of the afternoon producing abstract art on a white board. That way we managed to stop looking outside our windows and by the time Tronk and I were done with the bottom of the sea (as Tronk called it), Irene was gone.

Tronk first creative attempt
I must say Irene was very kind to us and I feel we were incredibly lucky. Still alive, with no injuries, no house flooded and we were not one of the 4 million people left without power.

Perhaps, in more simple terms, Sunday is (and always will be) a space for what matters most at the time, whether that is indulging to leisure, making sins, praying or simply just surviving. A day to forget that the day after is Monday.  Or to remember that this Monday is a national holiday and that it is ok to let everything else go. Happy Labor Day!