Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year Wishes - Auguri di Buon Anno

The people who use their mind are rare, the people who use their heart are few, and the people who use both are uniqueRita Levi Montalcini (Torino, 22 aprile 1909 – Roma, 30 dicembre 2012) 

Dedico questo posting a tutte le persone che mi vogliono bene, con l'augurio di ascoltare sempre il cuore e la mente e di continuare a sperare in un futuro migliore, come ha fatto lei.

I dedicate this posting to all the people who love me, with the wish to always listen to the heart and to the mind and to continue to hope in a better future, just like she did.

Rita Levi Montalcini (Nobel Prize Recipient in Medicine in 1986) died yesterday, looking forward to what would come next, one day before New Year's Eve.

In my mind, she will remain as the woman who fought for her independence and won; the woman who made coherent choices in her life and who sticked to them with the power of her mind; the woman who would sleep no more than two or three hours a night because "I have no time to lose"; one of the few Italian Professors "che non ha mai montato in cattedra" (who has never preached from her Professor chair)probably the happiest woman of Italian origin who lived in the United States. And I will remember her as the woman who, unlike most of us, had the courage, the passion and the power of mind to choose to have a career BUT not a family.  

A Happy Inspiring 2013 to all of you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Come on, it's Christmas! - E Dai, e' Natale!

Christmas started early this year. We read the story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, many times. We played with two nativity playsets. We decorated a few trees.  Tronk dressed up as an angel and met Santa. We sang Christmas carols. We filled our senses with red cheeks, panettone, golden decorations... hot chocolate.

I have never seen Tronk so shy as when he met Santa. It was like he was meeting a rock star.

We even talked about how nice the Christmas decorations look this year here in East Arlington.

So what's missing? What is it that we haven't done yet?  It's Christmas people, let the cheer begin. Point taken but what is this cheer all about?

I thought Tronk was getting more excited every day about the upcoming Christmas and La Befana (the Italian witch filling socks with sweets and gifts). Yet last week Tronk made this comment in the mall: "e' proprio orribile questo Natale!(how horrible this Christmas!)" while this week  he kept repeating this line, probably from a cartoon: "questo Natale e' rovinato! niente regali!" (this Christmas is ruined! no presents!) while he was beating his Santa plush toy against the couch. Instead of making him happy, Christmas is making him angry.

Come on, it's Christmas. At Christmas we should all be happier. Wait, should we?

After the initial surprise in hearing Tronk complaining, I realized that perhaps there is something to it. Christmas is not so special as we want it to be. In the Christmas season there is so little happiness around. We are all having to face shorter, darker and colder days, we take it in turn to get sick (see previous Christmas posting), we stress about finding the perfect gift for people, we are not kind to ourselves if we fail to bake the perfect cake (or cook the perfect dish), we struggle to celebrate the end of the year in style. To make things worse, we are hit by devastating news, followed by unanswered questions - (1) why there are still children in danger in the American schools? (2) why there are always people becoming angry and cursing others just before Christmas? (Italians on Facebook) (3) why there are so many more suicides during the Christmas season? (in the news) (4) Finally, why should we all be festive and share the cheer in this particular time of the year?

The other day I saw the message below written in my local coffee shop and I suddenly thought: here it is. Here is the answer to my question. Here is the answer to what Christmas is about. Come on, people, it's Christmas! Help others cheer up. Do something worthwhile and smile.

That's what it is all about. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Early Christmas Gift - Regalo di Natale In Anticipo

Yesterday I received an early Christmas present and the whole day was special but I was too busy complaining about the things I had to get done to be able to appreciate it. Let me do it today.

First, we celebrated the Festa dell'Immacolata (Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary) with panettone and hot chocolate (in the truly Italian style) and we managed to put the tree up with the red and yellow balls that we bought last year (last year, I had to hide them from Tronk to stop him from building a tower of broken pieces in the dining room). This year, the decorations, which were in a plastic bag on the dining table early this morning, sort of disappeared. Where could they have gone in such short amount of time? I searched in our bedrooms, in the living room, in the office. I didn't know where else to look but John had no problems finding them. They were hanging on the tree nicely, with Tronk proudly looking at them! I couldn't believe he did it all by himself.

Guarda, c'e' la stella cometa! (Look, there is the shooting star on top!)
And this is not what made my day special.

We wrote Christmas cards, which Tronk was able to sign with the help of John who was spelling each letter for him, we wrapped a few gifts (the ones that survived one year of Tronk's thorough explorations around the house), and I even managed to successfully bid the minimum amount set for a beautifully carved Italian presepe (nativity), which we'll probably have in our house a week before Christmas. Exciting, but still not enough to make the day special.

What made yesterday so special is a gift, an early Christmas gift I received from Tronk. I can now say (I think I can) that Tronk is almost (I'll better say almost)  POTTY, YES, I MEAN... POTTY TRAINED. Yes, we are (almost) there.

"Adesso sono un bimbo grande. Diamo il tavolo del cambio ai bimbi piccoli!" (I am a big boy now. We must give the changing table to the small kids!), these are the exact words he said.

I know this means that William is no longer, for any sustainable reasons, a baby, I know, but hey, no more unpleasant surprises in the dining room and "no more changing tables" or at least that's what Tronk uttered with conviction today (we removed the changing table from his room!), no more days spent at home in the least appealing room of the house, no more time spent waiting for the damned thing to happen, no more diapers, pull-ups, swimmers, special pads, training pants (or whatever names you wanna give them) coming out of my bag,  no more begging. I am relieved.

Tronk, please tell me that this is my Christmas gift this year and that you won't change mind. You can do it. Two years ago, few days before Christmas, you started walking. Remember?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

To all the Children who live in MA - A tutti i Bambini che Vivono in MA

A poem dedicated to all the children who live in MA.

Il Diritto al Gioco
Fammi giocare solo per gioco
Senza nient’altro, solo per gioco
Senza capire, senza imparare
Senza bisogno di socializzare
Solo un bambino con altri bambini
Senza gli adulti sempre vicini
Senza un progetto, senza giudizio
Con una fine ma senza l’inizio
Con una coda ma senza la testa
Solo per finta, solo per festa
Solo per fiamma che brucia per fuoco.
Fammi giocare per gioco.

Bruno Tognolini

The Right To Play
Let me play just for fun
Without anything else, only for fun
Without having to understand, without having to learn
without having to socialize
Only a child with other children
Without the adults always there
Without a project, without judgement
With an end but without the beginning
Only to pretend, only to cheer up
Only for the flame that burns because of the fire that plumps it.
Let me play for fun.

Bruno Tognolini

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tronk's Latest Project - L'Ultimo Progetto di Tronk

You never know what to expect from a three year old these days. It only took Tronk one evening alone with his dad to start a new project. This time it is not about a car made with magnets nor about a house made with Lego blocks and filled with papers stolen from my desk (no, that happened last week). This time he came up with something bigger. Last night, he founded a Club!

For those who are not aware of this, when Tronk was born, I founded the Boston Bambino Club, a club for the Italian children who live in the Boston area, and Tronk mentioned this club to many strangers ever since he started talking. Apparently, yesterday, tired of talking about my club, Tronk founded his own club: the Boston William Club! He said that BWC is the group for all the children named William who live in the Boston area. I tried to welcome his project with a smile. The problem is that he now wants to held his Club's first meeting in our house!

Apparenty, John asked Tronk if he and grandpa Bill could join the group. Tronk said that they could pretend (far finta) they joined, even though they were both named William. Then they had a ten minute long discussion about who can join the group and who cannot. If there are new developments, I will post an update here (or Tronk will pretend to do so).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy for Halloween - Uragano Sandy per Halloween

10 am. Tronk:
"Puoi dire a Sandy che dopo che ha bagnato le piante ed i fiori, deve andare via?
Can you tell Sandy that once she has watered the trees and the flowers she has to leave?

Three hours later. Tronk:
Oggi e' un giorno per stare a casa, vero?
Today is a day to stay at home, right?

Yesterday everything was slowly shutting down, from schools to coffee shops. My Italian lesson and my dentist appointment got cancelled and I was stuck in the house with aching teeth and a three year old who had just decided to start learning about potty training.

The rain and the wind made noise all day long and that strange feeling that the roof would suddenly start flying away brought me back to the unbeatable Guiness taste of the Galway bay. If only I had had one of those pints perhaps it wouldn't have been such a long day.

We survived the hurricane at the end, our roof has not flown away but there is a fair amount of flooding in New England; thankfully, not so much in the area where we live. We kept our power, managed to read books, cooked with cartoons playing in the background, built cars with magnets and cleaned poop while trying to type the content of a few emails long overdue. So we are perfectly safe and warm and I cannot complain. Our postmen (and the trash men in some areas) still managed to get their job done despite the hurricane. Those people have guts!

Photos taken this morning:

After all, if the scary weather doesn't come two days before Halloween, when should it come?

Hurricane Sandy Monster Found in our House

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Homesick - Nostalgia Canaglia

I used to think of me as someone with very low standards in food. When I was in London, I used to eat at cheap chinese restaurants and, unlike most Italians I knew, I never complained about having to eat a baked potato stuffed with beans for lunch. I found rather pathetic the Italians who were going back to Italy after living in London for only six months, only because they didn't like the food there. 

We are back in Boston. We have been back for a week now and I already feel homesick. Perhaps it's the rain, the sore throat I caught on the plane, the hormones that are driving me crazy, or simply just my memories of Italy, still fresh in my mind. I don't know. That strange feeling of being far from home is back, gnawing me.

In Turin, there was a tiny market close to our rented apartment. Basically, to the eyes of the locals, it was the dumpy market without the butcher one would go to as a single person to buy few things to cook something very basic. On the contrary, to my eyes, that tiny market was the heavenly place where I could find everything I could possibly need. From fresh prosciutto, tomatoes bursting into red juice, juicy prunes to even things like insalata capricciosa, gnocchi alla romana, vitello tonnato, zucchini in carpione and lasagna - you name it -, dishes that my mother makes, believe it or not, with no difference in taste. In that tiny market, I could find the light friable cookies made solely with butter, sugar and eggs. I could find fresh plain crackers that didn't taste of card box. The chicken stock tasted of chicken, not of hundreds of spices clashing against each other. Everything looked and smelled real. I was in heaven.

On my last day in Italy, I went to that tiny market for the last time. I needed to buy a few things to take home. I was looking at the fresh ravioli and at other carefully prepared dishes, through the clean shining window, when tears started falling down my face.

These were the thoughts that were going through my mind. For one whole year, I will not see all this. For twelve long months, I will have to spend so much money to buy specialty food that is old (because it has been imported) and tastes bad. Veal will not burst into blood when I'll be cooking it. It will look like a dead shoe sole. I will have to explain to people why I am not willing to reheat breaded veal. I will be walking for many blocks without a single chance to stop and find ice cream made with real fruit or simply a piece of fresh, soft, plain bread. I will find myself wondering why my pasta is overcooked and why on earth I have to dump olive oil in the water while I am boiling pasta!

For quite a while, I will not find food like this at street fairs.

I will struggle to find a place that can serve me a simple (but fresh) lunch for less than ten dollars. In Turin, I was served pasta with sauce made with real tomatoes (not pizza sauce), together with a caraffa of local wine, fresh bread rolls and fruit salad. Eight euros, service included!

Not to mention the winter street markets, filled with fruit, vegetables, meat and fish of far superior quality than what I can find in the most expensive grocery stores in Boston. All these will soon become sweet, long distant, memories. 

I will stop hearing old women greeting the man selling fruit with phrases like this: "Sergio, quanto eri bello! Ti ricordo ancora nella pancia di tua mamma! E poi mentre le tiravi la gonna per farti dare la pappa!" (Sergio, my dear, how good looking you were! I still remember you in your mother's tummy! And then, where you were pulling her skirt to get her to go cook you lunch!)

Nor I will overhear two moms on the bus discussing what type of meat they feed their children or whether spezzatino with peas tastes better than spezzatino with carrots and potatoes, when you finish it off by eating all the sauce with a piece of bread. And, for long time, I will not have the chance to stop, enchanted, in front of a local shop owner cleaning the shop window, early in the morning. I will not have a long one hour and a half break to eat, while waiting for the local businesses to open. At the exit of the pre-school,  I will not see a large posting on the noticeboard with detailed information about how much each child has eaten for lunch.

Forget all that for a while. I will soon be in a different world. I will soon have to go to three supermarkets to find few "fresh" ingredients in between aisles filled with pre-packaged food. Many times I will have to resign to the fact that in Greater Boston, even at posh restaurants, they serve burgers and that whatever I order I will always get the fries or chips dipped in artificial sauces as a side, not the default Italian roasted potatoes. I will have to drink cappuccino instead of coffee outside the house, so that the milk foam and the cocoa powder can cover the taste of the bad coffee. I will have to stop the waiter with a loud "excuse me" to avoid receiving a 0.6 liter pint of water, filled with ice in January. And I will be so excited when I will finally be able to taste fruit in ice cream in July, instead of cheap candies. I will feel emotional from simply finding a place where to eat which doesn't upset my stomach or a street market that sells tomatoes and green beans in early June. Finally, I will try not to roll my eyes when the two moms on the bus will be offering Golden Fish or Cheerios to their two-three year old children for lunch in any month of the year, while they are waiting for their next treat: peanut butter sandwich with jelly.

And I will soon have to figure out how to give my three year old food that can stay in a thermos for five hours. Yes, five hours.

Sure you do, if you have no other choice!

However, there is another side of the coin, which is easy to forget when one is far from home. Back in Boston, I don't have to put steal bars on all doors each time I leave the house to stop the kid who lives next door from stealing my laptop, nor I have to stay in the car when it is not locked so that my purse will not be snatched. I can feed Tronk whatever I want in restaurants without worrying about what people think. I don't have to find a scarf that matches with my purse before a meeting with a family friend. Nor I have to worry that I am wearing cheap sunglasses. I can wear the worse clothes I have and still be respected. I don't have to hear those British jokes about how emotional the Italians are. I no longer have to face the challenge of keeping Tronk away from the hole of a dirty Italian toilet. And above all, I don't have to hear over and over again that my country is falling apart, that yet another old man is having an affair with a younger woman, that unemployment has reached the highest peak in history, that the people with a high salary don't pay the taxes and that the bus drivers, once again, are on strike.

So, go away nostalgia! We are off to go pick up leaves. Probably the most colorful in America. Then we will have lunch and it will be fresh.

Friday, August 17, 2012

A "Little Paradise" without the hassle - Un "Petit Paradis" senza scocciature

This is pretty much how my parents' car looked like on the day we were going on our yearly summer vacation in France. The car was not a cinquecento (we owned one which we rarely used  for long trips) but the end result was the same: we were all jammed in between bags of shoes, my mother's electronic equipment and pieces of furniture which my parents were keen to take to the studio where we lived in France.

It could easily take my parents a couple of weeks of packing, cleaning and arranging before my parents would finally say: "ok, we can leave now". Their hard and meticulous preparation, to the outsider, must have looked like the ritual of initiation for a new life. Luckily, until I was thirteen, I could hide at my grandmother's place. Later, I became resigned to the idea that those beautiful French beaches, made smooth by a transparent, silver blue, Mediterranean sea, could only be reached after two weeks of hell, with my mother giving exact instructions of what to do and how. The kind of thing to make a child run away.

When we were finally ready to open the door and leave, my mother would invariably panic and say that she could not find the keys or that she could not find some useless, but suddenly necessary thing, like a handmade mermaid bought at the antique market 8 months before. Or she would have a sweet last-minute thought like, The room in the basement needs cleaning! I must do this before we leave!  At times, I almost felt as if she was making a genuine effort to find reasons to keep me in the heat of the city. I remember on more than one occasion fastening down our stuff to the car with elastic straps at two in the morning... long after my father had pronounced that we would leave not later than 9 pm to avoid the hated early morning bouchons (traffic). 

I was happy (I mean, thrilled) when I could finally see my mother in her summer shorts (instead of elegant city clothes), seated next to my father in the car, with her large cassette carrier on her lap. She was ready. Was she really? Her Celentano's songs were firing up and my ten-hour long adventure was about to start. How exciting. I could stay awake all night. From the tiny free corner of my window, I could see the stars in the sky; as a child, I was in love with the idea that the moon was following me. It was also in that moment that I was finally allowed to open my grandmother's summer gift. I remember playing with  boats and divers  in the car, while feeling so excited that I would soon be able to soak them in the French sea, together with my feet.

Then there were the stops at the Autogrill restaurants for croissants and cappuccinos. The serious looking border officers (not the Italian mammoni) suddenly speaking to me in French, my dad doing the countdown to France and the evviva (hurrah!) Ci siamo! Tre, due, uno, ecco, bienvenue en France!  (Here we are! Three, two, one, that's it, welcome to France!) 

Once over the border, the road signs were more clear and everything generally looked more orderly and cleaner (no garbage on the highways). Midway through our long journey, we would consume a four course meal, carefully prepared by my mother (with prunes and peaches bursting with colorful juice), on beautiful wooden picnic tables. I enjoyed the smell of the pine trees with a slight hint of the salt in the air, and along the road there were always boards advertising fish pies and kiosks selling gorgeous melons and tomatoes. We were in our beloved South of France. My father always called it "notre petit paradis", our little paradise.

This was my concept of summer vacation until I was about seventeen and stopped going to the South of France with my parents.

Finally, a week ago - twenty three years later - I was able to go back to beaches like those that I loved so much as a child. But this time without the hassle that used to come packaged with my childhood vacations. I was taken back in my memory. I was able to enjoy the smell of the pine trees mixed with the slight hint of  the salt in the air. I was thrilled to hear the people speak French all around me. Fresh seafood everywhere! And I cannot describe my surprise when I saw the beaches leading to the crystalline sea with waves crashing to white surf. 

Another surprise. The lobsters were huge, cost little more than sandwiches, and they were served with corn on the cob, the people around me were eating fries instead of the fresh seafood and the francophones were from Quebec.

The biggest surprise for me is that all this was in Maine. 

I had no idea that I could be transported back to my childhood vacations in France not ten hours away from home, but only one and a half hours drive from our house in Massachusetts. Just enough time to pack, load the car and eat lunch at the destination. And yes, there is something that Americans don't realize: the sea in August in Maine gets as warm as in the South of France.

I loved the beach!

I loved the cute stores and restaurants.

I loved the food (i.e. the seafood)!

I loved everything...

...even the fog!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Stroll around my Neighborhood - Una passeggiata nel mio Quartiere

I was taking Tronk out for a stroll in my neighborhood on a beautiful Monday morning in spring, when I had the sudden feeling that comes when I see something that I like or appreciate. I am happy here, I felt like saying. I didn't feel this way in any of the neighborhoods where I previously lived here in the Boston area. At some point on that day, I dug out my Iphone from one of the pockets in my bag and took a few shots, which have been in my Iphone until now. Here they are. Meglio tardi che mai (better late than never).


No, I didn't take this last photo in spring. I took it in July. This is another thing I like about living here. When you think you are in the middle of a season or a holiday (e.g. summer), the local store reminds you that you are moving into the next one. Like the Ancient Greeks used to say, Panta Rhei (everything changes). And it feels good.