Sunday, June 13, 2010

The evolution of my life

I was thinking just the other day about how my life here has evolved.  I never would have imagined that a life in a small town in Italy could possibly evolve, but it has.  My perceptions of things has obviously changed.  When you first visit a new country you are wearing what my mom likes to refer to as "rose colored glasses".  Everything is wonderful and fantastic and sooooo romantic.  I see it when I read other people's blogs about Italy or read books about tourists in Italy and when I think back on how I too first saw Italy.  While some of the romantic parts have faded away, and real life has sunk in, I do have to say that I am truly happy.  There are things here that drive me crazy, but I somehow always seem to see the good, beautiful wonderful things, just in a more realistic way now.

I've never asked my mom, but I don't think I refer to Italy as a total paradise where things are all wonderful and fantastic (as I used to do, which I know drove her crazy), but I do really like living here.  I love the quirks and fanatical things just as much as the natural beauty and the food.  Doing this blog has really showed me the good things in my life

When I go back to the States, there are obviously things that I miss and spend loads of time doing while I'm there.  I miss the atmosphere of Seattle, the smell of the Puget Sound, the feel of Seattle when you walk down its streets.  It is something so completely different.  Feeling like a true American!  It is part of me and I miss it.
I am so lucky to be able to visit as much as I do.  

I have always said that I keep my sanity by going back to the States every so often.  But looking at that statement now, I don't know if it is for my sanity.  I'm not sure what it is exactly.  I need my family, I miss them dearly and I don't know if I could go much longer than a year without seeing them.  I have never been away from the States for more than ten months at a time since I first started coming to Italy eleven years ago.  I feel fortunate for this, but I am sure that in the future things will change, hopefully not too much, but it would be silly to think otherwise.  So I am going to enjoy every moment that I have in America. 

Talking with a friend of mine today, she told me that she hates it when I go away so long in the summer, because we don't get to spend very much time together doing fun things, like going to the beach.  I told her that I didn't think I would be going to America all summer every year, although I'd be doing it until I could, until my parents are able and willing to have us with them all summer.  If I had been faced with this reality a few years ago, I may have gone into complete panic mode, but there are times now that I am at peace with it.
I think the longer you stay in a place, the more it becomes a part of who you are.  As I've said before, I am a bit of a hyphen, not truly American or Italian.  That said however, I am part of both, and maybe that's even better!  I notice it in how I behave, what I say and how I think.  (and I'm sure my family notices it too).  I suppose I am truly a blend of the two now.  One third Italian and two thirds American (that's exactly how much of my life I've spent in both places).  Now I wonder if in the future it will be truly 50/50.

Summer Trip

Every year since my daughter was born we've gone back to Seattle for the summer.  When I first moved visits to Seattle were generally for Christmas, but that is hard to do when you have a little one in the mix, not totally fair to keep the baby away from her daddy and Italian grandparents every Christmas, so now we go every summer.  I am also quite happy about this since Italy is inundated with tourists all summer and the weather is unbearably hot!!  I don't think I'd mind the heat too much if things were air conditioned like they are in the states, but unfortunately they aren't.  This also means that you need to sleep with the windows open, which of course means LOTS and LOTS of bugs!! YUCK!  I'm not sure if it's the climate but it seems like there are an awful lot of them here compared to Seattle.
Of course like every year, I am getting ready for the annual trip back to my homeland.  And just like every year all of the locals are asking me when I'm leaving, how long I'm staying and if I'm happy about it.  Some people don't totally understand how I can be away from my husband for the summer, others can.  Some don't understand the opposite, How can I live so far from my parents, and therefore understand why I go away for such a long visit. But the answer to their final question is always this: "I am always torn, I am really happy to go home and see my family and visit my country, but I am sad to leave my husband here at work.  Then I am always excited to come back home to be with him, but sad I have to leave my family once again."  And it's true.  On one hand it is really hard but as the local bakery owner said to me, "at least you are always 50% happy about it!"  (Most people come home from vacation and are NOT happy, because it is back to the routine and back to work!)
So yet again this year, I am a bit melancholy, I am really looking forward to my summer with my family and all of the things I have planned, but I am also sad to leave my friends and family here, my daily routine and my life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sheep sheering

When I first moved here there were so many things that I had never experienced living in Seattle, as one might expect. I moved from a fairly big American city to a very small Italian village, pretty much everything is different. One of the things that I had never imagined I would take part in was the annual sheering of sheep. Now it is part of our family's routine in June. The weather gets hot and those poor animals need a trim!

Today was our turn. I say our turn because we don't actually do the sheering. My husband and brother in law are able to sheer, along with all of their peccorari friends. The problem is that they aren't so fast, and they don't have the proper equipment. So every year Italy like many other countries around the world are visited by some of the worlds best sheep sheerers in the world. Many of them come from New Zealand and the Falkland Islands in the South Pacific. This year we had three guys that we've had in the past, all from the Falklands, one of whom is the world champion sheerer.

The local sheep farmers are all mostly friends and are always willing to lend a hand. There is a real sense of community when it comes to these guys. There are two brothers and another guy who have always come to help out with the sheering. You may ask why all of the extra hands, well I'll tell you why. Today there were 11 guys there to get the job done, the three sheerers, my husband and his brother, my father-in-law, and four friends. Todays work consisted of sheering 500 sheep in two different locations, and the bailing of the wool.

The process works like this: All of the sheep are herded into a fenced area attached to the milking trailer.

The sheep are then herded into the trailer and out the back door onto the sheering trailer and then pulled out one by one and sheered by our professional sheerers.

The wool is then gathered and put into large sacks to be then sold. (mind you not for much since our sheep are Sardinian and bred for their milk not their wool).

The main problem is that sheep are extremely stubborn. In order to get them into the trailer you need many men. two or three in the flock then two or three in the trailer to move them down the line. Then you need one or two more people who are constantly filling the bails with the sheered wool.

The sheerers are incredible. They work with such ease and speed. They are truly amazing to watch. It must be an extremely difficult job to do, not only for the physical strain but also for the type of lifestyle they have to lead. They are away from home travelling around the world sheering for up to 10 months a year!

Another interesting thing about the sheerers is that they have very specific clothing that they wear. Since the sheep's wool is very oily and sticky (just think about getting a short hair cut and the hair that sticks to your neck then multiply it by 100) they have to wear particular shoes and pants. The shoes are hand made and keep the wool from getting into them, the pants are very long and overlap the shoes (which look a bit like moccasins). The wool when sheered can be very irritating to the skin. Of course with our hot weather they don't wear shirts.

At the end of the job everyone is then taken back to the house of the herd's owners for either lunch or dinner. In our case this year (as has always been) the guys all came back to my mother-in-law's house for lunch. I am her helper if you like and also act as somewhat of a translator, although the group that came this year has come many times in the past, so they were di casa (part of the family) and have picked up some Italian over the years.

In the end the bells need to be put back on the sheep, but that takes place in the evening when the milking is done. It is still incredible to me that my husband and his brother are able to recognize each of their 500 sheep one by one! Amazing!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Rondini e passerotti

The swallow family that built their nest on my in-laws balcony returned a few weeks ago. These birds are obviously migratory birds and leave Italy for the winter but return in the spring. While watching a documentary last year I learned that these birds always return to their original nests. I was so glad to see that they had made the return trip this year.

However after about 2 weeks of their reappearance they have mysteriously dissappeared. I do hope that they are fine. Their presence in Italy has drastically declined in the past decade due to fewer places for the birds to nest and the removal of the nests from buildings in the country.

 On the other hand the other very common bird in our area, the sparrow has also returned and has apparently this couple has built their home under the roofing tiles of our neighbors house.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Italian doctors and the truth

My daughter was born it Italy four years ago.  When I delivered her she was whisked away from me immediately.  I was told that it was for the fact that the room was too cold for her and they had to move her immediately to the nursery.  I took that as a reasonable answer and let it go, heck I was so out of it after 14 hours that they probably could have told me anything and I would have believed them.  But when I arrived back in my room and asked to see her they told me that she was having trouble breathing.  When I asked them why, they hmmed and hawed about it and never really gave me a real answer.  I asked if maybe she had inhaled some amniotic fluid and they say "yes, that may be what it is, but we are checking it out".  I started to worry a bit but they continued to beat around the bush and assured me that she was stable. Eventually, after about five hours after delivery they asked me if I wanted to see her.  (Stupid question if you ask me).  On the way to see her they told me that they would need to transfer her to a different hospital since they didn't have the facilities to take care of her breathing problem.  They then told me that she needed an operation to fix her breathing, but nothing more specific than that.  Although I was still a bit delirious from the labor and delivery I was really concerned that they get her to a hospital where she could get the care she needed, I wasn't as concerned with exactly what for at the time, because that wasn't really what mattered.  Her immediate care was what mattered.  She was soon taken by ambulance to the nearest equipped hospital an hour away with my husband and mother-in-law close behind.  Later they asked me to start pumping to get my milk going.  I thought that was a good sign and was more than pleased to do it.  

The next day my doctor came in to see how I was doing.  The whole night before my mom had been trying to figure out what was going on (she doesn't speak Italian) and I was doing my best to do the same, but was also trying to recover from the long, difficult child birth which meant that I wasn't much of a help to her.  When the doc came in he very casually said "your daughter came out of surgery during the night and she is doing fine.  She just had a hole in her diaphragm and they simply closed it up".  He made it sound as if it were nothing at all.  My mom then took this and had my dad, back in  the U.S, contact our family friend and pediatrician to see what the heck it was.  We found out later that our little angel was born with what is called Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH).  It is basically the lack of development of the diaphragm which leaves a hole allowing, in my daughter's case, her intestines and spleen to move into her chest cavity therefore displacing her heart to the right and collapsing her left lung.  Of course none of the Italian doctors ever told me this.  They never gave me the gory details, I had to find them out for myself.  

During our daughter's one month stay in the hospital NICU I realized that this was common practice.  The doctors never went out of their way to explain more than the bare minimum.  I had to ask about everything.  They seem to work on a "need to know basis"> what THEY think you need to know.  I suppose that if they had told me immediately after her birth what she had, I may have had a serious psychological crisis, especially not being able to do anything about it.  But the fact that they wouldn't tell my husband what was going on until he threatened to start breaking stuff tells me that it wasn't just for my "benefit".   Therefore, I was getting all of my information from this family friend and from a childhood friend of mine who at the time worked in the NICU in Seattle.  They were great about giving me information and questions that I should be asking my Italian doctors.  Although the doctors didn't come right out and tell me everything, I had to dig to get information, they were very willing to discuss things once I asked about them.  In fact they told me "ah you can tell you are a foreigner, most Italian parents don't ask these types of questions".  Maybe they just aren't used to people wanting to know the gory details about their children.  This all said, I am very grateful for the care that my daughter received while in the NICU and I do have to say that the doctors were incredible, although I would have liked it if they had just come right out and told me the gory details.  

So why am I writing about this now?  Well I thought that maybe it was all linked to major traumas and things of the sort.  In fact when a student of mine (an oncologist at the local hospital) told me that most cancer patients don't want to know the whole truth, so only the close family are told the gory details about how long they have, I wasn't too shocked, shocking as it may seem.  But yesterday our private pediatrician told me that my daughter had pneumonia.  Only problem is that he told me yesterday, not on Monday four days ago when he first visited her.   He told me "Yes, I had planned on coming back to check on her today (he makes house calls, a definite plus) even if you hadn't called, because though I didn't tell you on Monday I knew she had pneumonia.  I just didn't want you to freak out!"  I thought to myself.  Yeah, well if you had told me it was this serious I wouldn't have taken her out to get the shopping this morning!!!  Maybe I am strange, I am una straniera (foreigner), but I don't freak out about things my daughter may have, I don't go into hysterics, I want to have all of the knowledge I can get my hands on to do the best job to keep my daughter "safe and healthy".  I tell her that everyday "it's mommy's job to keep you safe and healthy", so how the heck am I supposed to do that if I don't have all of the information.  

Our pediatrician is great, he has a wonderful rapport with our daughter and does a great job curing her.  He did start her immediately on the necessary medication to deal with the pneumonia, I just wish he had been more upfront with the diagnosis the first day!  I suppose doctors are influenced by their environment, if most people around here freak out and go into hysterics then maybe I can see the reason behind it, but as a good friend of mine said recently in a different situation " I am a (kiwi, she said) American shaped peg being squeezed into an Italian shaped hole" and sometimes that is not always easy to deal with some of these differences, especially when it comes to my daughter!  

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My five favorite Italian words

A friend and fellow blogger of mine Cathy asked me if I wouldn't participate in a blog posting about my favorite Italian words.  The idea started at Italophile.  

When Cathy asked me to do this it wasn't the first time I had pondered my favorite words.  In fact as an English teacher I've come across this question in the reverse "What's your favorite English word?".  I had always thought that it was a silly question, how could you possibly come up with a favorite word!  Then while reading the book Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (the movie will be released this summer starring Julia Roberts) I came across the question again. In the book she says that her favorite Italian word is attraversiamo (ah-trah-vair-tzee-ah-moh) which means let's cross.  Even then I thought that it was a difficult question especially since that is definitely not one of my favorites.  So I have spent the last couple of days thinking over the question and this is what I've come up with.

Some Italian words I like for the way they sound and feel in my mouth.  Yes, strange but some words feel good in your mouth (unlike ones that may be difficult to say and leave you tongue tied in knots), they just flow out so smoothly.  Other words I like for the fact that they are so much better than the English equivalent or embody their meaning so well that you can't put them in to English.

So here they are:

1) sapessi (sah-pe-see) is the imperfect subjunctive of the verb sapere (to know) or in English "I knew"

                  Se io sapessi come funziona, lo userei.  (If I knew how it worked, I would use it)

I like the way it sounds when I say it as well as the fact that it unfortunately isn't used very much in everyday Italian since most Italians aren't very good at using it, so I feel pretty cool about the fact that I can. 

2)farfallina (far-fa-lee-nah) little butterfly.  
I love butterflies and they remind me of the person who convinced me to come to Italy in the first place nearly eleven years ago.

3)furbizia (foor-bee-tzee-uh) cunning or furbacchione (foor-bahk-yo-nay) a sly dog (when referring to people)
I like these so much better than the English equivalents, plus I like the way they sound.

4)basta (bah-stah) (like pasta with a b)- that's enough, stop it
I really like this one because it is straight to the point.

5) un etto (oon- et-o) you use this when ordering 100 grams of something like prosciutto or salami.  If you want more you can ask for due etti (doo-eh et-tea) 200g or un'etto e mezzo (oon et-o eh meds-o) 150g for example. There is just no equivalent for it in English (of course we use pounds in America anyways!)

In closing I would like to say thanks to Cathy for asking me to do this, it was a lot of fun, always a good question for our expat get togethers too!!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Italian Birthday party

Yesterday my baby was invited to her second "Italian" birthday party.  This is her first year at preschool so she has only ever been invited to Dutch and Kiwi ones before.  One thing that drives me crazy about them is the late notice.  I received the invite for this party on Thursday for the following Monday.   I suppose this technically  gave me 3 1/2 days to go get a present, but of course shops are closed on Sundays, Thursday afternoon is the local day of rest and I had to work Monday morning.  This left me with Friday and Saturday to get something for the little girl, and in the end I sent my mother -in-law to get something on Monday morning anyways.
 However, this said I have known the mom of the girl for many years now and her family as well, so I was of course happy to take my daughter to the party.  Plus they were having it at their restaurant, which is of course one of my favorites in the area.
First of all the location of the restaurant is incredible, there is an incredible view of Civita di Bagnoregio from the terrace, then of course the food is incredible.  Of course they didn't serve my favorite faggotini pere e formaggio which are to die for, but the desserts were incredible!  There wasn't the usual pastry shop trays but tasty mousses, homemade cream puffs, crostini, apple cakes and of course pizza!
One thing that was different for me this time was the fact that they had called two animatrice.   They were two girls likely in their early twenties dressed as clowns.  They did hand painting, not face painting (which was a bit odd to me, but I am glad it was on their hands since they used markers for the outline and my little one still has the outline of a blue butterfly on her hand). They did preschool games with the kids and balloon animals (first time I've seen them here) and they took care of the presents.  Basically taking the presents when the kids arrived and putting the child's name on the gift (birthday cards aren't used much here!)  and once it was present time everyone was given back their present and they all sat in a circle and watched the birthday girl open them all the while chanting scarta la carta! scarta la carta! "open the paper! open the paper".
In the past I have always seen the kids open the presents as their guests arrive (something I really hate!) so this was a nice twist to the whole thing.
The animatirice were very entertaining for the kids and it gave the parents the opportunity to take pictures and video.  I had tried to do games and things at my daughter's party with no success but apparently I needed to be dressed like a clown to have gotten their attention!