Monday, December 22, 2014

It's Christmas People! - E' Natale Gente!

The Christmas carols in the streets of London and outside Covent Garden station, just after work.

Then the violinists  jumping up and down.

The aromas of mulled wine, hot chocolate and minced pies reaching me from the back,

before going to hunt for a wacky Christmas gift at the Apple Market. 

My yearly concert at Saint Martin in the Fields, alone.

Followed by hot chocolate with friends at the Cafe in the Crypt.

The beautifully lit Trafalgar Square.

One more pint. Two actually! Come on, it's Christmas!

And the cappuccino at Bar Italia or the hot chocolate at my secret place in the street behind. 

Franco, the Sicilian 70 year old Italian chef, in a white suit and a white hat, dancing with women outside the bar, always. I wonder if he is still there, dancing.

We have to go to work tomorrow. All right, all right. It's ok if you are a bit late at work tomorrow.  It's Christmas girl! You're going to be all right. 
Are we all right? 

Nightbus ready to take us home. Drunk, really drunk. 

Morning after, the perfect excuse to be late at work: bus stuck for 15 minutes. Santa's fault, sorry.

It is only Wednesday. "We've got to go down the pub!", says our boss at lunchtime. "It's Christmas everybody!" 

Office empty. When we finally leave the pub, outside is dark and the Christmas lights remind me that it is time to go home (and not to go back to the office). 

But the stores are still open for a while and I have still time to finish my Christmas shopping.

More drinking was needed to swim the day after in the river in the park next to my flat (Kensington Gardens), with few degrees Celsius above zero. But it's Christmas people, what's wrong with that?

Then the yearly tradition of going ice skating in my red jumper at Summer House.

How about one more Christmas gift?

Did I say one? Those candles please. Right, that black leather bag too, thanks. Finding gifts for people there, by the river Thames, was a delight and I really had to make a serious effort to stop myself from emptying my bank account.

With my friend, at another Christmas market. In Winchester, my favorite. No more Christmas gifts. Sure.

Finally, last day at work and then Christmas dinner with the work mates, another yearly English tradition.

Like every other year, turkey, parsnips, bruxelles sprouts, Christmas crackers and loads loads of drinks to then make all of us sing Christmas songs to strangers in the tube (British subway) on the way home. Loved it. 

Back to my shared little apartment: an empty corridor and an empty room. No Christmas tree, no nativity. Perhaps just a small decoration put up by one of my flatmates on the door of his room with a Chinese writing on it.  In my empty flat, no sign of Christmas. There was silence and nobody around. Just sadness. 

So two or three days before Christmas I was going to Italy for a quite, intimate, spiritual, relaxing break with my parents. But my parents' apartment was no longer my house and the seriousness of the Christmas celebrations there was at times hard to take in coming from happy silly London.

The good part was that back at home in my dear Turin I knew I would be taken care and loved by my mom, the best restaurant chef I knew, until January 2nd or 3rd. After that date I would have had to make my way back to London, because the Brits were already going back to work, despite the fact that Ms Befana, the witch who keep all Italians on holiday until January 6th, had not arrived yet in Italy. Luckily, not much was going on at work in London for the first and second week of January so getting paid for getting used to the idea that Christmas was over was not bad at all.

After many years like these, here I am, in Boston, with a much more meaningful Christmas inside the house, with moments like this one for example.

I feel blessed that my Christmas is now in my own house, and with my own family. I have a beautiful family to spend Christmas with, a lovely tree lit and I can look at the nativity, which reminds me of my childhood and see the excitement of my boy, Tronk, when I tell him that baby Jesus is about to come and that Santa will bring more presents under the tree. Back in Italy my parents were putting mostly presents for adults under the nativity. And I knew that I had to wait until Christmas eve for the other colorful shiny packets to magically appear there, next to the others. I remember trying to stay awake as much as possible. I was hoping to hear Santa (or baby Jesus) enter my house in person to bring my presents. I would eventually fall asleep. Next morning, there was my mom reminding me that I had to get ready for mess, then lunch at one of our relative's house. Christmas gifts? Still under the nativity, until late in the afternoon. Not exactly what I want for Tronk's Christmas.

In the last few days, I allowed Tronk to see a few of his gifts under the tree to let his imagination go wild. I enjoyed so much looking at him each time he went to sneak a peek at the gifts under the tree and tried to figure out which were his. It didn't take him long to figure it out. He said all excited: "mamma, c'e' scritto Will sui miei regali!" (mom, my gifts have Will written on them!) - He couldn't stop starring at them. 

We'll go to the Church on Christmas eve (4 pm Boston time, which is 10 pm Italian time, close enough to midnight). This way Tronk will have a blast when he will wake up on Christmas day! 

Outside the house, my Christmas has changed dramatically. While I was looking at a Virgin Marie taken out from a nativity and placed next to a reindeer and a Mickey Mouse in someone's yard, I was thinking that Christmas here in the US is very different. It is fun, around and inside people's houses, whatever they celebrate. Yet, every year, I cannot help desperately searching for those important traditions I used to share with friends and strangers both in Italy and in England.

I'll end this posting with just a few lights. Merry Christmas Everyone!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Feet Journey - L'Avventura Dei Miei Piedi

Once upon a time there was a girl who was struggling to find shoes. Her mother was determined to convince her to wear nice, classy shoes. To help her achieve that, the Italian merchants, were always trying to squeeze her feet in smaller shoes - size 40 instead of size 42. Her feet were NOT happy. Yet she was always finding ways to continue to wear the most uncomfortable shoes on the planet, including a pair of small pointed-toe suede shoes with high heels, which she was wearing in high school. The girl was actually me.

I am going to give you hell, my left foot must have said one day. And hell came twenty three years later. 

Finding comfortable work shoes in size 41 in London was tough, sometimes impossible. Then I discovered the power of boots. Boots could be worn all year round. They look just enough dressy, sexy but not pretentious, comfortable and could be easily hidden under a pair of black pants. Thanks to them my feet were complaining less, at least not until the end of a long day (occasionally spent walking from zone 5 to zone 1, drunk, and bare feet, like every London girl must have done, at least once).

During the summer, the only pair of sandals I was able to wear  in London would inevitably turn into a piece of junk, with black dirt stuck all over them and I would be counting the days to fall, to when it would make sense to go back to boots. I tried other shoes: sneakers, sandals, flip flops, birkenstocks, crocs, everything!  Nothing ever felt as good as wearing those boots.
We were inseparable.

2007. Why on earth was I walking in a pair of super narrow Puma? Going to work in those at times felt a bit like tightrope walking. 

2008. I was in Boston for the summer, unable to find pain free sandals to wear for 4 months in the large streets of the American suburb (not quite the same as walking in London from bus stop to bus stop).

2009. After Tronk was born I found myself walking more. My shoes purchases skyrocketed. I was buying new shoes, hoping to find a pain free solution, almost every month.

2010. I tried all brands: Ecco, Clark, Keen, Timberland, Merrell, the dorks' brands, last but not least, the bulky shoes you see the elderly wearing in white! All attempts to make peace with my feet failed miserably. Foot doctor: you need arch support! Simple.

2011. I purchased many shoes with arch support: Naot, Dansko, Sanita, you name it. Arch support, arch support! I kept asking for it but my feet were still not happy and the worse had yet to come.

One beautiful day in October I tripped into the curb, while I was trying to run to catch a bus.

2012 Three months in a cast with air pressure were enough to make me forget what it was like to feel both feet on the ground and to walk normally. I had a purple foot and a purple leg and I was struggling to put my left foot down. Toes swollen, almost every day. I could not bend my big toe and the sesamoid bone was broken. Probably an old fracture. Impossible to find pain free shoes. I felt I was in a dark tunnel with no light at the end.

I will never forget the joy of discovering, at some point, that I could actually wear a pair of Merrell sandals without too much pain; I ended up wearing them all summer.

Then the winter came. I was not able to wear any shoes (not even a pair of slippers) without pain. Every day I had a different toe swollen and my foot would not fit in any shoes.  The discovery that my summer sandals were still pain free was reassuring. I remember looking at the snow storm outside the window and, occasionally, at my frozen purple toes sticking out in my summer sandals, with relief. Thank to them, I  was still able to walk. Frozen toes was a small price to pay for that.

2013. I added arch support insoles inside my Keen shoes, as suggested by a third foot doctor, who was working at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world: Mass General. Not quite the results I was expecting: at some point in February not only I was unable to bend my big toe but I could no longer feel the ground under my foot without excruciating pain in the arch support area. I was told to take anti-inflammatory drugs in large amounts to kill the pain. I remember dragging both feet with pain to take Tronk to the playground without knowing whether I could take him back home or not.

The cortisone shot WAS NOT the answer. It actually made the problem worse: my posterior tibial tendon had become so sensitive I could not touch my foot with a feather without feeling pain all over. A fourth podiatrist looked at my foot and said: arch support, arch support!  Then he taped my foot to correct my gait. Two hours later, I was screaming. The pain was unbearable. Luckily, an orthopaedic foot surgeon told me I had complex regional pain syndrome. The cast I had been put in was to blame for that. His diagnosis was not far from the truth. Try Googling CPRS and see what you get.

After two months of PT, in May, I was still unable to walk. Once again, I was told to purchase sneakers with extra padding and with more support! So I ended up purchasing three different types of arch supported trainers, hoping to find one that I could actually wear. None of the three worked. The shoes that got me back to walking were the Merrell sandals, which didn't have much support at all.

I didn't want to give up and let the complex regional pain syndrome win. So I pushed myself to walk, despite the pain,  as much as I could and I got through the summer, despite I was convinced I would never be able to walk normally again. I was living with a permanent bruise on my ankle bone and I wasn't able to stretch my foot without pain and without weird clicking noises. This is what my foot looked like after six months of PT.

You haven't made enough progress with PT. Perhaps we should put you back in the cast!... said my physical therapist a year ago, one week before my trip to Italy (postponed from May to October).

I decided to stop listening to the "foot experts".

I stopped wearing American sneakers with padding and arch support and moved back into a pair of European like black leather boots, similar to those I used to wear in London but more spacious inside, and in size 43, half size up my actual size. Although I was experiencing my usual complex regional pain syndrome in the ankle bone area, I was finding it easier to walk.

2014. I continued to look for flat shoes, narrow but spacious in the ankle area, which were not touching my foot and I managed to find sox with minimum texture. Winter came. I was walking in the house bare feet. I managed to get through the winter without having to wear another cast. Nor I had to cancel the trip to Italy in spring, although walking was still painful and I had to continue wearing Licodaine patches on my ankle at times but, at least, I was able to go to places. I was hoping that my posterior tibial tendon would heal at some point and that in the non distant future I would be able to look at my foot without having to see an explosion of dead capillaries.

Then we went to Italy and the unexpected happened. I was in a large department store in Turin. John came to me and said: Why don't you try these? You mean... Superga sneakers? You must be joking, these are NOT going to work, I said with confidence. Remember what happened after I tried the Converse All Stars? I was bedridden with plantar fasciitis for four days!

Actually, there is a size 43; they have a narrow fit and are lightweight. Mmm, should I try them on? Oh my God, I can walk. Question: will I be able to wear them in a week without a lot of pain?

They are unisex, in size 43 they don't look like men shoes, can be worn with skirts and they are Italian, as Italian as they can get. I'll buy them.

While I was paying for the shoes, the above image was back in my mind, together with the fond memories of those good old days, the days when I was living in my loft in the historical center of Turin and I was working at the ad agency of Franco Turcati, the photographer who took this beautiful photo.

I ended up wearing (and buying Superga) all summer long. I can always wear them even when my foot is swollen. I am now back on my feet, I started to love walking again and this is what my foot looks like these days.

Promise me you will never add arch support to your shoes. Grazie, Superga.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Power of Tronk - Il Potere di Tronk

This Thursday started with a playful  boy jumping on my bed. Having spent last night working on two children programs until late, I wasn't enthusiastic about playing Tronk's favorite pancio puncio at 7:15 am. Pancio Puncio has been Tronk's favorite game with his father for quite a while. The game consists in pinching one's tommy while saying the words pancio puncio (the closest correspondent in English would be "belly sbelly")So I said "We'll have breakfast and then we'll go to your favorite playground in Cambridge. How about that?". Big smile on Tronk's face.

Ehem, can't move left foot. Bone sticking out in left part of foot swollen. Can't bend right knee. Eyes with that familiar feeling that I have insects crawling in the cornea. Hormones earthquake! Aha, the joy of being a woman. Doesn't matter. I must get up.

Ooops, I forgot to call my mother. Her birthday was yesterday. They don't deliver to my parents' house in the mountains. Flowers with card did not arrive. Didn't talk with my mom for a month. The last time we talked we had a fight. Hell. I decide to tell her the truth. Mom, I forgot your birthday. Surprisingly, she is not at all upset. My last letter with fond memories from the past has made her happy. She is willing to talk with me with a sweet tone. Cool. Aha, there she is, she is back to complaining about my inability to care, call her, send messages, blah, blah, blah.

You have time to go on a beach vacation and enjoy yourself but not to call your mother and we are stuck here, alone, in this cold chalet? But mom I did not go on a warm sandy beach on vacation for a month like you guys used to do. I spent a week in the cool (cold) northern coast of Maine, where there was no internet. There, you cannot get a nice tan on the beach with an aperitivo in your hand and occasionally go for a swim. The sea is too cold. People go there to camp or walk trails. Walk trails? Yes mom and, if you cannot walk, like me, there, in the national park, you just sit on a rock and look at the beautiful cloudy sky. But I saw a picture of the sea on Facebook! You were swimming. No, mom. That was a picture of a whale I took from a ship. A whale? Well, I only caught a tail and a fin in the picture but for me that was enough. I was trying not to fall on someone's vomit. Mom silent.

Ooops, paint and brushes on the floor. Mom, Tronk is about to start painting the floor. I have to go. Impossible to persuade her to go. She simply cannot leave.

Ten minutes later, Tronk screams: COLAZIONE!!  COLAZIONE, MAMMA!! COLAZIONE!! (BREAKFAST!! BREAKFAST, MOM!!  BREAKFAST!! ) Well, I guess it's lunchtime. Ok, I'll heat something. Tronk: Mamma, il cibo e' vecchio! (Mom, the food is old!)  Food all over the floor. Then down in the sink. 1 pm. I start cooking penne al salmone. Tronk comes to me every five minutes to ask my opinion on his idea of using magic tricks attached to his body as the tool of a superhero who fires web from his leg. Lunch delayed. Thirty minutes later: I am forced to spoon feed him.

Ok Tronk, I'll take you to the playground but only after buying a bra. Ma mamma, non hai bisogno di un reggiseno! Perche' non ti metti una maglietta come me o un asciugamano sulle spalle?  (But mom, you don't need a bra! Why don't you just put a shirt like me or a towel on your shoulders?) Ehem, actually, I can't. Perche' no? (Why not?) Bra shopping turns out to be expensive - why did I not go to Macy where they know what cards to use to turn any price down? - and nightmarish, with Tronk giving me the wrong advice. Ma mamma, perche' non scegli quello grande, fantasia leopardo? (But mom, why don't you choose the big one with the leopard fabric?) Ehem, no. Why not?? 

Listen, why are you destroying, once again, the nicest shirt you have by stretching it on your head? Mamma, sono un fantasma! (Mom, I am ghost!)

Here we are, the playground. Ok, go play! Ma mamma, portami dei giocattoli su questa nave. Qui non c'e' niente. (But mom, bring me some toys on this ship. There is nothing here). Come on, go play in the sand! I didn't say in the mud, in the sand.

What? Have I left the phone at home?

On the bus. Tronk about to fall on someone's lap: Sono stanco! Voglio sedermi! (I am tired! I want to sit down) An old man gives Tronk his seat, despite me insisting that a young child doesn't need to sit down, while silently thinking they should ask the mother is she needs a seat. Perche' quel bimbo mangia una cosa schifosa verde? (why that boy is eating a disgusting green thing?)

Tronk, stop tearing leaves from the yard of people's houses. Mamma, e' il veleno che voglio mettere nella mia casetta in giardino per uccidere i cattivi quando gioco con gli amici. (Mom, it's the poison I want to put in my playhouse in the yard to kill the bad people when I play with friends)

Finally home. I am about to fall apart. Tronk looks at me with an enchanted face and says: Mamma, se smettono di far nascere le donne, non ci sara' piu' vita. Le donne fanno nascere le persone! (Mom, if people stop giving birth to women, there will no longer be life. Women give life to people!)

So I guess this is the power of Tronk: he always knows what to say to make me forget a shitty day.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pirate Back Without His Treasure - Pirata Di Ritorno Senza il Suo Tesoro

10 pm. Still in Tronk's bedroom, while reading a short fairy tale, feeling guilty because I asked him to clean up his toys after dinner - That usually turns into more playtime for him and more work for me. One more page to read, his light will go off and I will finally be able to go to sleep, I was thinking. I was feeling like the teenager who is about to write the last two sentences of a long essay, while everybody else is already in bed. All of a sudden, Tronk said: "Mamma, ho incastrato una moneta nel naso!" (Mom, I stucked a coin in my nose!). "Non scherzare, Tronk, sto morendo di stanchezza" (This is not the time to make jokes, Tronk. I am incredibly tired) Come on, let's finish this book so we can go to sleep. 

"Ma mamma, non esce piu'!" (Listen, the coin does not come out!) "William, are you telling me  the truth?". "Si', mamma, e' una di quelle monetine del tesoro". (Yes, mamma, it's one of those tiny treasure coins), that is a 10 mm plastic golden coin.

Ok... maybe I can get the coin  out, said John. Right, well, nope! Actually, I can't see a thing. Ok, emergency room!

At Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge,  there was a show on forensic techniques on TV. No coffee.  William was the only child giggling. He was happy to talk to the doctors. But the coin... wasn't it in his nose? He said he was feeling something stuck there. How is it possible he was no longer feeling anything? The doctors: "He must have pushed it really hard inside as we cannot see anything down there. I suggest you go to a specialized hospital. They might need to put him asleep to get the coin out".  

My nerves were about to explode. At Children's Hospital in Boston, the cafeteria was still open but I was stopped and told off by two policemen on my way there because I was walking from one waiting room to another without proper identification. What a joy when I was finally given the right ID with my name and date of birth printed on it... With that, I was allowed to go to get a drink in the other room.

The doctor came and we were all finally able to relax. "Here it is", said the doctor with a calm voice. She then used a long tool that looked like a syringe. When the plunger was pushed, a thin cord would extend way out and then this tiny balloon on the end would inflate. The balloon would then drag stuff out as it is retracted. Two nurses joined the doctor and we all held Tronk down to help the doctor get Tronk's treasure out. The pirate cried hysterically for a short time, until he realized his mom was there, ready to give him a hug and the brown bag with toys, a gift from the doctors at Mount Auburn. 

Thinking about it, I could not explain to myself why the other doctors had failed to see the coin in Tronk's nose. Then I found a simple possible explanation: at some point, he sneezed.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Labor of Love - Un Lavoro D'Amore

The plebs sat at the table in a taberna in ancient Rome
This morning I was talking on the phone with an Italian friend, who lives in Boston. She said, at some point in our conversation, that the history of food in Italy is more than two thousand years old. That remark started haunting me. I suddenly remembered the hours spent translating insightful pieces of literature about food from Latin into Italian. Specifically, the words of Orazio, Plinio and Marziale that were keeping me awake at night as a teenager. Many memories!

Back in ancient Rome, most people (the plebs) cooked and ate sitting on benches at the table. Of course not everyone could afford the lavish extravagant banquets with the refined cuisine and spectacular effects of ostentation, which were going on until late at night in the rich people's houses. I remember the descriptions of Plutarch of this aspect of the Roman life and the type of cutlery used at the table. Although they could not afford to eat all day long, the less well-to-do people were also keen to eat well because, according to the Romans, it was the only thing which was able to provide everyone with the "bene supremo" (the supreme good), which is the pleasure of life.

More specifically, the indigent people lived in small, narrow, rented rooms, with no kitchen. They were allowed to use the only crowded kitchen of the building, placed in the common atrium, a sort of courtyard. Despite these difficulties, most of them were cooking with a warmer at the center of the room to avoid fires; others, in order to cook their meals, were bringing the boiling water from an underlying "taberna" (a bar located underground). The ones who had no time to come home for lunch were eating at the nearest taberna simple but tasty dishes such as whole wheat bread with anchovy paste obtained from garum innards, boiled eggs, sardines, cheese, fruit and vegetables, and they could even drink wine mixed with warm water. So food in ancient Rome was already a labor of love, across all classes. 

"How was the sugo today? I tried to cook it light so it can be easily digested." Gran Carlo Restaurant's Chef, Torino.
As Lèvi-Strauss put it, “if a society without language cannot exist, a society that cannot cook at least a small number of basic dishes the same way cannot exist either.” In my experience, the English have a limited number of dishes they try to always cook the same way, for example lamb chops (always with mint), fish and chips (always with vinegar), roast beef (always with puddings) and chicken curry, a dish the English invented after discovering curry in India (always with naan bread). The English are aware of this limitation and always reminded me of the few traditional dishes they have. In England, I remember hearing that some of these dishes have to be cooked in a certain way, the English way. I viewed this as part of the identity of England and was able to get used to most of their dishes (with the exception of fried blood :)).

On the contrary, here in America, I only know a couple of traditional dishes: the turkey (with cranberry sauce) cooked at Thanksgiving and the American BBQ (with corn bread). Honestly, these are the only two dishes I am happy to eat in alternative to ethnic food here, because I know what to expect. Or at least, I do most of the times. The other dishes are filled with ingredients I struggle to digest (e.g. butter, garlic, sour cream, fried bacon), overly flavored, and never prepared in a consistent manner. So, the moment of sitting at the table in a restaurant for me, here in America, instead of being the pursuit of pleasure, is usually filled with anxieties.

To me food is not only a matter of identity (traditions) and intimacy (taking care of my body) and social relationships ("After a good meal one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations”, used to say Oscar Wilde) but, after becoming intolerant to various foods, it has also become a matter of the heart. It is the first and most important link between my mind and my body. It is a way to communicate my identity and my positive emotions to others, in particular to the people close to me.

Cod marinated in olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary
 William and Chiara dining together
"La frase d'amore piu' vera, l'unica e': hai mangiato?" (The question that truly shows love, the only one: Have you eaten?)  said once the famous Italian novelist Elsa Morante.

The American reader who might not understand the meaning of this question, often pronounced by most Italian mothers, can listen to the famous Italian-American song below, which says pretty much the same thing. Enjoy.

So, have you eaten? If not, we are cooking here. :)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Easter Monday - Buona Pasquetta

Back at home, I used to wish that Easter Sunday would start like this.

With a cool surprise inside a large dark chocolate egg. 

But it never did. Usually, instead, there would be the bells of the Pragelato Church breaking the silence of the mountains to wake me up, followed by the Buona Pasqua! coming from my parents' bedroom and the reminder that, to make it in time for the first service at the Church, I would have to get up immediately. I was expected to quickly dip the cookies my mom had left in the kitchen, next to the caffelatte with the saucer on top, which she was putting to keep it warm. Then there was the competition to who would get to wash his face first with the freezing water, then the rushing in front of  the wooden wardrobe, while I was trying to quickly find something more stylish than my 70s style dirty jeans and my black turtle neck sweater so that my parents would be pleased to show me off to their friends and acquaintances even though I was not wearing their beloved Pragelato outfit, because that was always the risk (see photo below).

So, I was always careful at trying to pick clothes that would make me "look elegant and with dignity", to quote words of my mom - To my surprise, last week I found that these are the words my country men still use on Facebook when they talk about people. 

Then there would be a long service in the Church with the priest who was called by the locals "il Don", whose crusty voice was making an echo effect and was somehow able to keep all the Pragelato people glued together, on those cold benches. I knew that when the service was over, the chiacchere di paese (country gossip) would start outside the Church and that I had no chance to get away from it. My only worth mentioning point to try to leave was the fact that the lunch hour was approaching and that we still had to buy bread at the market. So I was going back on this same excuse many times, hoping that my parents would finally be able to say goodbye to the old lady in the Pragelato costume and leave. But nothing would persuade them. I knew I would have to wait for many more hours before I could finally put my hands on that chocolate egg. 

Even when I was coming up with the perfect excuse (e.g. the cheese guy in the market is packing his stuff, he is about to leave, mom! ) to persuade my parents to go, the chatting with the woman who used to give me the eggs straight from the hen's butt, as a small child, would commence. The chatting would continue in the market, after I had finally successfully managed to drag my parents away from the Church. Chatting, mostly with elderly men I had never met before. 

So I knew I would have to wait longer for the chocolate egg to unveil its surprise. Back in the chalet, I would have to help my dad set the table, while my mom was cooking lunch. I would then have to wait for my parents' sonnellino (the Italian siesta) to finish. And, at times, I would also have to wait for the random visitor bringing yet another colomba (Easter cake) to my parents and going through all our family pictures before I was allowed to open the egg.

Finally. The egg, yes, and how disappointing. Many times the surprise was not good. My mom was the one to blame. To give you an idea, once the surprise in the egg was an antique decorative object for my bedroom. I have just found out that it was not my mom  who was carefully opening the egg with a knife to put the surprise inside the egg but my dad, who was apparently giving the surprise to the baker so she would put it inside in a professional way, just before sealing the egg with extra chocolate. 

So Tronk is lucky. Not only he was allowed to open his egg early in the morning on Easter Sunday but he was also thrilled when he saw the surprise. What four year old would not go crazy for a pirate set?

He loved it and he keeps trying to hide the treasure from me. Below, you will find the reasons for that and the words Tronk used.

Tronk: Non puoi avere il tesoro, mamma. Solo io e daddy abbiamo accesso ai soldi. Solo gli uomini possono toccare i soldi. 
Mamma: E mamma niente? 
Tronk: Ma mamma, il cuore e' il tuo tesoro!

Tronk: You cannot have the treasure, mom. Only daddy and I have access to it. Only the men can touch the money. 
Mamma: And me, your mom? 
Tronk: But mom, your heart is your treasure!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Did They Teach You Manners? - Ti Hanno Insegnato Le Buone Maniere?

It is amazing how many children (little kids all the way to big kids, I mean adults) do not use basic manners these days. Here in Boston I see examples of this often. I have seven/eight year old kids claiming the stairs of my house to come to see William without saying a word to me; I had an older kid silently leaving the dinner table to lie down on our couch; I saw kids jumping on the dinner table, in front of their giggling parents; parents feeding elementary school age children lunch in the floor, parents eating from the same plate of their children, still full. Not to mention the children telling their parents where they should take them that day and what food they should buy at the store.
I used to think that Italian parents were stricter with their children than their American counterparts. I was wrong. One month of Tronk's school in Italy was enough for me to discover the new free spirit generation of parents. The ones who act as friends with their children and who follow one rule: do what you want, as long as you don't bother me. There is one exception, I must say: food. At Collegio San Giuseppe in Torino, I noticed that the kids who had not yet learned to sit at the table and finish their three courses meal  in Torino were few. They were given a hard time from both teachers and parents and, yes, I saw it with my own eyes, by the school rector as well. However, as far as other aspects of discipline are concerned, I was surprised to see how some of the teachers at San Giuseppe were either raising their voice with little success or they were taking rule enforcement very lightly. Napping for instance was an issue. "We don't force our kids to sleep. If they want, they sleep. If they don't want to sleep, we let them go play in a different room, so they don't wake up the other kids", said one of the teachers, when I asked her why Tronk was so incredibly tired. Also, at the school, I saw kids of all ages, running down large sets of stairs, while pushing others (me included) without saying sorry. Furthermore, I saw parents cussing to their kids. To not mention the inexplicable: two kids, at the end of the school day, were beating each other up, while the teachers were looking at each other, without saying a word. When I asked them what had happened, they smiled and said: "mmm nothing".
In Torino, I saw lack of manners in other settings. In more than one occasion, I found myself in front of disrespectful teenagers talking loudly, cussing, smoking and yawning on my face, almost with an expression of superiority. I rarely saw them give up their seats to others in need on buses. And I could not stand the high school kids who were making fun of  the people who acted in an awkward way, because they were either old or disabled. I also saw a few surprised faces when I was raising my voice to stop Tronk from doing something he was not supposed to do."Ma e' solo un bambino! Non torturarlo!" (He is just a child, do not torture him!)
Many parents think that children should be given the same amount of freedom and decision making an adult is given and should always be listened to, based on the mere fact that children deserve respect. I honestly find it hard to agree with this. In the old days, in Italy, a child was not able to acquire a status of equality with the parents, for as long as the child was living under their roof and was eating their food. Unfortunately, in this generation (mine included), many children were also not able to acquire a status of equality with their parents as adults, not even when they were economically independent. I am not saying we should follow this model. However, I still believe that all children need an authority figure, with more experience than they have, who can first state the rules, as black or white, and who can strongly say "no", when necessary, to try to enforce them consistently. This is because, I believe children need to learn the rules first before they can break them. 

As far as Tronk is concerned, I often worry about his behavior in public. In particular, his need to always be on stage. The problem is not just Tronk but the adults he comes across every time, who inevitably greet him with smiles and giggles, whenever he says or does something, even when he farts. In these situations, I just don't know how to get Tronk (and the adults involved) to behave.