Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How Are You, and I Think of You - Come Stai, E Penso a Te

Today Tronk has gone back to preschool and that tingling sensation of the coming fall is in the air, together with that sense of loneliness I used to feel a year ago when my little boy started preschool.

Today, as soon after I heard him say "ciao mamma" and close the front door of the house, the notes of this tune started playing in the back of my mind:

Come stai e penso a te
dove andiamo e penso a te 
le sorrido abbasso gli occhi 
e penso a te

Non so con chi adesso sei
non so che cosa fai
ma so di certo 
a cosa stai pensando

Sono al buio e penso a te
chiudo gli occhi e penso a te
io non dormo e penso a te...
How are you, and I think of you
Where are we going, and I think of you
I smile to her with my eyes down,
and think of you

I don't know with who you're now
I don't know what are you doing
but I know for sure
what are you thinking of

I'm in the dark and I think of you
I close my eyes and I think of you
I dont sleep and I think of you...

He is four. Sure. He is no longer a small child. He no longer plays with the potty in our living room and I can no longer call him pulcino (little chick) but since I am Italian I still do. He is no longer a baby, nor a toddler but a confident decision maker, with the face of a little boy, occasionally looking for cuddles and kisses, which often turn into farts. His face, still cute, feels no shame in imitating, in teasing and in telling others what to do, instead of listening to their instructions. Tronk has a constant need to put himself on stage, to look for applause, to stand out from the crowd.

Who is this boy?

My ability of explaining how the world works has either diminished since last year or it is Tronk who has become better at understanding how things work. In more than one occasion, I found myself apologizing to him for missing the obvious and for giving him the wrong answer to a question. Not only he thinks of himself as the Italian teacher and he corrects all of us (preschool teacher included) but he's also become very skilled at defending himself. Ma mamma, ho costruito questa macchina senza le ruote perche' questo e' un pezzo di un'altra macchina che ha le ruote! (Mom, I built this car without the wheels because this is a piece of another car which has the wheels! Of course.)

He decides the songs we listen to, at home and in the car. He recognizes in less than two seconds the Italian musicians and quickly tells us to skip a song that is not up to his standards. The CD's case I brought from England is no longer in my room. It is plugged outside Tronk's room instead and he doesn't want me to use it. It only took Tronk a year to turn Zecchino D'Oro into vintage and to make the switch onto Blur and Kaiser Chiefs. And these are the sort of phrases that come out of Tronk's mouth these days:

"Voglio avere tanti soldi, tanti lavori e tante donne! Sono forte. Lo posso fare." (I want to have a lot of money, many jobs and many women! I am strong. I can do it.)
"Sono innamorato! Sono innamorato di questo cibo" (I am in love! I am in love with this food)
"Donna, sei mia! Vieni a dormire con me" (Woman, you are mine! Come to sleep with me) Although, when I asked him what that meant, he looked at me clueless.

I blame the songs he listens to.

Then I think about this comment he made recently: "Mamma, l'angolo del tuo occhio e' rosso, solo l'angolo. Niente paura, metti queste gocce, che ti curano." (Mom, the corner of your eye is red, only the corner. No worries, put these drops in there. They will cure you.) I remember when he came to help me claim the stairs when my foot was not working, the hugs and the things he said many times when I was in pain and I remember that after all, that tune that has been playing in the back of my mind, during the time I have been writing this, is the one song Tronk wants to hear, every day, in the car.

So I tell myself: "Don't worry. He's a good boy."

I am finished with this, it's lunchtime. I have to prepare lunch and, of course,  I think of you...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mal di Maine - Mal du Pays

A friend told me it exists. Yes, there is such a thing. It is called "Mal di Maine" (Mal Du Pays). It hits you if you are longing to go back to Maine every summer.

I wanted to go back and we did. Same town, same beach, same experience. We went to Ogunquit, for the second time, for a week. And now I am wondering why I did not grow tired of it, why I love this place so much and want to go back next year.

Could it be the lobster seafood extravaganza dinners? Could it be the smell of the pine trees mixed with the scent of the North Atlantic Ocean? The weathered cedar shingles and climbing flowers framing the windows of the old cottages sitting on Maine's rugged seacoast? The optical illusions in the art galleries? The European looking swimming costumes on the beach? Or perhaps the French language sounding in the background? It is hard to believe but at the local pizzeria the waiter talked to me in French. I also had detailed conversations in French about how to catch crabs with the kids Tronk was playing with. Funny. I was having those same conversations on a French beach thirty five years ago. Tronk was surprised to hear me speak French. He was smiling, almost enchanted, and was trying to repeat a few words, just like he recently started doing with John in English. There was magic in it.

There are a few other things I don't understand. How is it possible that we were walking, along nice paths, marked by beautiful houses, perfumed flowers and scenic views of the ocean, from our place to the beach, every day, instead of driving? How is it possible that there was no smell of burgers, Dunkin Donuts and chips, that the nearby markets were mostly selling salads, fruits and bread, that sandwiches were simple, that gelato was not an exotic thing from Italy and that the barista at the coffee shop knew all about macchiato? How can be possible that there were very few obese people, that the women were wearing dresses, instead of shorts and sweats, and that there were tanned men in white buttoned shirts and khaki pants looking at the ocean? And how come there were old-fashioned cute little stores (the corrispondent of the petits magasins in France) always open until late? Was I still in America?

Last year I wrote a posting on how much this place reminded me of the French village my parents used to take me to when I was a child. This year, going to Maine not only reminded me of my childhood in France but it also felt a bit as if we were able to come out of America and take a breath of fresh air. My father used to say: andiamo in Francia in vacanza perche' abbiamo bisogno di una vacanza fuori dall'Italia e senza italiani (we are going to France on vacation because we need to take a vacation outside Italy and without the Italians). Funny how perspectives are passed from parent to child. 

Now Tronk is jumping up and down, while looking at the photos below and he is asking me when we are going back to Maine.

 So tell me, what is it? Mal di Maine?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ti racconto una storia - I'll tell you a story

This morning, Tronk came up with a story. He asked me to write it down. I did. These are the exact words he used. 

C'era una volta Principessa Enrica. Poi c'era un bimbo che si chiamava Mogli nella foresta. Viveva con gli animali. Enrica era con la sua amica Lisa. Andavano a fare tutte le cose che volevano. Mogli ando' ad abitare con loro in una casa con tante cose da fare. C'erano dei vestiti ed un potty per fare la pipi'. Volelano fare le cose che volevano, le cose piu' belle del mondo. Ed il mondo si muoveva e loro andavano in tutte le regioni dell'Italia e cosi' vissero felici e contenti.


In English:

Once Upon a Time there was Princess Enrica. Then there was a child who was called Mogli, who was living in the forest. He was living together with the animals. Enrica was there with her friend Lisa. They were doing all the things they wanted. Mogli went to live with them in a house with so many things to do. There were clothes and a potty to pee. They wanted to do many things, the most beautiful in the world. And the world was moving with them and they went to all the regions of Italy and they lived happily ever after.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Torn Between Two Worlds - Divisa Tra Due Mondi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lower Your Expecations - Riduci le Aspettative

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

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

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

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Another post on the American food - Un altro post sul cibo Americano

I really don't want to turn this blog into a place where to constantly complain and to be preachy about food but hell, it is hard not to think about such every day issue. This is the first comment I received from my English friend, currently in vacation in New England:

We are having such issues with the food here. It's crazy. Last night we got given free breadsticks and salads with crutons and cheese!!! That's before we ordered. Then I ordered the low calorie light option, according to the menu, which was lasagna with extra chicken- how is that low in calorie??!!!

I know that some of you would not be freaked out by the addition of extra cheese on  pizza and lasagna, nor from the presence of an extra layer of olives on already overly seasoned fish, but there is a limit in what one can do to destroy a dish, for example, adding an entire steak on top of a pasta dish with tomato sauce, putting a mountain of mayonnaise and a variety of ingredients covering up the taste of fish in sushi, turning Chinese and Thai dishes into a sugar IV or serving a saucepan filled with pasta sauce and a few spaghetti in it.

No matter how hard I try to convince myself to try new restaurants, and despite designing a website mapping the top restaurants in the Boston area (Enrica's Best Boston Restaurants), I have come to reject the idea of going out for dinner in Boston. Not to mention lunch, which in the US is either fast-food or optional. 

I don't understand, am I failing to appreciate the daily calories overload of the layers of processed food they stick in my sandwich, the usual six slices of ham topped with bacon and onions, without me asking for them? John often tells me that I should specify to the server what I don't want. Basically, I should remember to say that I don't want onions, nor sauces, nor pickles, nor bacon, nor a whole package of poor quality ham, nor slices of tomatoes with the taste of water... what else?

Bread? Basically, to be on the safe side, when I order lunch here in the US, I should stick to bread (usually, not fresh) and cheese. I must confess, Tronk's lunches, which I usually prepare at home in advance, are far superior and I am often tempted to ask him to share it with me.

As far as dinner is concerned, there is one thing which is never disappointing here in New England: shellfish. Tronk and I often compete on who is going to get the bigger mussels.
More, please!
He is a seafood monster. Two days ago, he said that he likes the taste of oysters even more than the taste of mussels.

That said, I always feel there is nothing like homemade food, even when I don't do a good job. It is still better than going out for dinner.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Corsi e Ricorsi Storici - Occurrences and Recurrences

The other day Tronk got stuck in a toy box. The box was too tight. His legs were trapped inside. Tronk was crying and was begging us to get him out. 

What did I do? I  ran to go help himWhat did John do? He took this photo.

Aiuto! Ho male! - Help! I am in pain!
He then calmly removed Tronk from the box. John told me that his mother did the same thing to him when he was a little boy. John's reaction? A bit different.

Are you going to get me out of here?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Who is to blame? - Di chi e' la colpa?

I wanted to write a post on spring and our decision to plant tomatoes but no, I couldn't help it. I had to write this post instead. Last night I read this letter written by an American mother, who is irritated about the fact that Abercrombie & Fitch does not carry sizes larger than ten.

This is the reason the CEO of A&F gave in 2006: "In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids... Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don't alienate anybody, but you don't excite anybody, either."

Why not me?
Mr. Jeffries could have not expressed his marketing strategy in better words. The target group and lifestyle description above makes A&F competitive and this is all it matters to Abercrombie & Fitch. Marketing is war. You put together a strategy and you implement it to destroy your competitor. So, well done Mr. Jeffries for doing such good job in creating an aspirational brand.

Absolutely, I totally agree with the fact that no one should be discriminated against. However, I don't think we should go the opposite way of accepting and encouraging unhealthy behavior with the excuse that we all live in a free country that makes us identical. Since I arrived in the US, I have been faced with politically correct statements and a huge amount of euphemism regarding the issue of large sizes. All this is ridiculous and it gets on my nerves. I believe it is as wrong to encourage people to be skinny top models as it is wrong to constantly forgive people for eating unhealthy food and for believing that being obese is not a problem and that it does not at all mean "being unhealthy".

I come across obese people here in Boston on daily basis. I often look at what they are eating or purchasing and guess what? The healthiest thing I ever saw in front of them is a salad filled with bacon and blue cheese. Is anybody wondering who is going to help these people learn how to eat? No.

In Italy, it is ok to say to children that if they eat fast-food, snacks and sweets or sugary drinks  instead of lunch, they will become as FAT as a pig (yes FAT in capital letters). And I often say this to my child. In Italy, we believe that it is important to point this out, CLEARLY and LOUDLY to everyone. And we believe IT IS NOT OK to ask society to make obese people feel good about themselves and believe they are healthy. It is hypocritical and it is not helping the obese people acknowledge that they have a problem that needs addressing and that they should do something about it, for themselves and for their children.

Considering the appalling state of the diet in the American schools, I believe it would make more sense to blame the schools and the restaurants for teaching future Americans how to become obese than to blame a clothing store that, in order to be competitive, has to tailor its clothes for a specific target group.

Final thought. Instead of asking the clothing companies to carry larger sizes why don't we invite them to join the campaign "Let's teach America how to eat"? Just a thought.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Pina's Visit from The Boston Bombers - I Bombers di Boston a Casa di Pina

It is surreal and frightening. The Boston Marathon bombings horror is not over. It all just happened outside Tronk's babysitter, zia Pina's house in Watertown, at twelve thirty last night

Apparently, the Boston Marathon bombers, who are Cambridge residents,  shot a policeman outside the MIT campus, then stole a car at the nearest gas station and then managed to drive, with two cars, all the way to her house in Watertown. 

"The shooting started in Nichols Avenue, where a big troupe of policemen arrived on big trucks", said Pina. "There was first the horrible sound of a bomb exploding in the street. I thought there could be fireworks outside". 

Whoever went out to find out, soon realized he was in a machine gun shooting scene and that the blood coming out was real.

"The shooting happened right in front of my house. After the bombings in Copley Square and an anonymous phone call, at the back of my mind I kept fearing that the terrorists would come to my house... They did!  One of the two bombers parked his truck in front of my house".

Looking for the suspects

Her story continued:"I kept hearing so much machine gun noise. I was terrified at some point, I started screaming out of my window. They shot the first suspect, then they tried to shoot the second one. The one who parked the truck in front of my house died. The second one managed to run away, after leaving blood on our street. Dogs and ambulances arrived. Then, all of a sudden, they rang our door bell. My son opened the door. I was shaking. They told us to immediately run out of the house and to go in the back yard, to protect ourselves from the explosion of a bomb. They thought it might be hidden in the truck parked in front of our house. We have been up since last night, waiting for this nightmare to end, in terror. It has still not ended. Outside our window, we continue to see ambulances and police trucks coming towards us."

Here in Boston we can no longer distinguish between reality and fiction. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Contaminated Food in the American Schools - Cibo Contaminato nelle Scuole Americane

Healthy Option in the American Schools Menu
John says that food is my number one obsession. He is right. Here in the US, there isn't a single day that goes by without me thinking about food problems and this is not the first time I write a post to complain about the American food (see what's wrong with the American cooking and my mom's cooking advice). 

Here is my latest disappointment. I was so sad (and angry) to read this story. And I strongly support this mom, with all my heart, in her efforts to change the questionable eating habits of the Americans.

I lived in England for twelve years. I must confess, although I was aware of the growth in obesity in the US, I really could not imagine that the US is so far behind in food matters, compared to England and to every other country I have visited (e.g., Thailand, China, India). Most Americans either don't cook, eat processed food, skip lunch or cook using pre-packaged ready made ingredients. They might claim they are organic and feel good about using them even if they don't taste like the real ingredients. Outside the house, they either eat greasy burgers, together with fries (or potato chips), or salads filled with unhealthy ingredients (blue cheese and bacon, to give an idea to the Italian readers), or snacks filled with sugar. Others follow the rabbit diet (e.g., two raw carrots and two raw broccoli, without condiments). I might later see these people entering the nearest Dunkin Donuts, in order to purchase their daily half a liter sugary drink and make up for the missing calories. 
Here in the US I met people who told me they grew up eating sandwiches filled with ketchup, mustard or peanut butter. Real food like meat and vegetables? Maybe twice a year (e.g., on Thanksgiving). I recently met a waitress who was impressed that my son was eating broccoli and who confessed she grew up eating half-and-half cooking cream directly from the fridge. No kidding. I bump into people with bad eating habits here on a daily basis, in restaurants, in birthday parties, in the subway. I once sat next to a guy, probably a Professor, who had a dirty spoon in his pocket, together with a bunch of pens. He took an opened can of meatballs from his backpack and started eating, straight from the can. The view of that man, who was previously working on his computer, and therefore I assume was not homeless, made me sick. No wonder Tronk has only one friend who knows how to sit at the table and eat. I met two adults who told me they didn't know how to eat until they went to Europe... So I am no longer surprised to hear "WOW" when Tronk asks for fresh fruit in a restaurant.
So I find it bizarre when the Italian parents complain about the quality of their child's school meal. Here is the typical menu: 
Yes, Italian children in school are served ragu', gnocchi, artichoke risotto and other delicious meals people (adults included) can only dream of at lunchtime, here in the US. And fruit at the end of each meal. They are given healthy, complete and balanced meals, which strictly follow the rules of what many research studies have called the healthier diet in the world. Yet many Italian parents regularly go to taste the food in the schools, to make sure it tastes as good and fresh as what they cook at home. Still, they complain.

Now, I can only imagine how a mother can feel after realizing that her son got seriously sick because he was given chicken  by his school, contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Anger, fear, despair, resentment, revenge, lack of trust, lack of hope... I don't know.

I have come to realize that the US is a third world country when it comes to food. And I don't think this will change, unless the federal lawmakers acknowledge (1) that children should be taught to have a balanced and varied diet at school (the pyramid) in order to grow strong and healthy, (2) that children should spend enough time sat at the table (not 20 minutes), every day, discovering and getting used to a variety of different tastes (e.g., acid, bitter, meat with different sauces on top), so that the new generation of Americans can learn to eat (3) and, above all, acknowledge that pizza with pepperoni (cheap sausages) does not contain vegetables and therefore cannot be listed as a vegetable in the school menu. 
Until these changes happen, I am better off waking up early to put real vegetables in Tronk's lunch box.