As We Speak, The Sounds

As we speak, Francesco is lying in the backyard bleeding to death. At least, that’s what I’m imagining since I left him unsupervised with a weed-whacker. You would think that his life calling was to be in lawn care. I’ve yet to see another human being who looks as happy as Francesco does while doing yard work. Seriously, drive by our house on any given day, and you might find him out front, shoving the old ass lawnmower unevenly across the yard as happy as a crackhead who just scored a free rock. As energetic as one, too.


I’m inside trying to calm Oliver who hates machinery like you wouldn’t believe. In Florence, he’s attacked the sides of the street-cleaner trucks-twice. He attacks lawnmowers, weed whackers, as well as non-motorized monsters such as brooms and rakes. He fucking hates rakes. And for no reason. Nobody has ever attacked him with any of the above and he’s never had a bad experience, yet, you’d think that in his past life he was a survivor of Maximum Overdrive (haven’t seen that movie? Lucky.) I’m not sure what goes through his mind, but he becomes instantly rabid as soon as we take the vacuum or any other contraption out. He paces, he stalks, and once the monster comes to life, he lunges. OR, he runs and jumps into the arms of whoever isn’t next to the shitty, scary thing. I’ve tried to figure out the root of his fear to no avail because the thing about Oliver is that since he grew up in Italy, he’s not afraid of loud noises. And he’s never had a bad experience. He just innately believes that those things are evil. Or maybe he sees them as evil, autonomous, alien objects out to kill his family. Probably. Since he also becomes jealous when I talk to my plants (read: He runs over and dives on top of them). And yes, I talk to plants. And anything else that can’t get away from me (that’s probably the root of Oliver mental duress).


Update on Francesco: He’s not dead apparently. But it is super windy and he’s now raking things into our compost bin.

I’m still inside watching him through the back window. And celebrating by myself with inner monologues of “yay,” because….

I FINALLY FINISHED MY GODDAMN BOOK.  CAN I GET A WOO-HOO! And someone, please, drink a bottle of wine for me. With me. Everyone just drink. 

Check out the dirty manuscript picture on instagram, here. Thoughts on the title?

For those of you who are new here: A book that I’ve been writing (I know, I’m scared of the idea, too), not one that I’ve been reading. That would be a lot of enthusiasm for reading a book. Unless you just learned how to read and it’s your first book ever. In that case, it’s exactly the right amount. Oliver is celebrating, too, by howling incessantly at the backyard where Francesco is practically tap-dancing across the grass with a rake. It’s like broadway back there, that’s how much goddamn enthusiasm he has right about now. It’s like a musical, only instead of music it’s just the sound of me typing, and my yappy ass dog trying to save Francesco from himself.

What are your sounds right now?

 

 

Why Italy Isn’t Special

Let me help you freak out really quick because I know that’s what a lot of you are going to do right now. You’re thinking, “What the fuck did you just say? Italy isn’t special?! How dare you! How dare you. If it’s not special than leave!” Yes, I’m an asshole, yes, I swear, and yes, sometimes I write critically about my second home: Italy. Now, that we’ve totally lost it, let’s get to the post.

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If This Was In Naples It Would Be Full Of Shit

“I have to put this on Facebook! The Grand Canyon is amazing!” My FIL is obsessed with FB. He’s been carefully planning every post to “make my friends jealous.” Naturally. He tries the posts out on us, asking our opinion on the impact of his words. “Good morning friends! Good morning from Utah!”

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon with F and Oli

He is really enjoying the US. He’s impressed that people don’t litter. And efficiency! Man! “Things here are fast!” Standing in front of a panoramic view of the Grand Canyon with his 2005 digital camera stretched in front of him, “If this was in Naples it would be covered in shit. Our people are practically monkeys.”

My MIL rapidly came to Italy’s aid, “that’s not true! Italy is the best country on earth!” My FIL scoffed, “Really? Then why so much corruption? Why the economy? Why is the money gone?” He waved his hand dramatically,” Why is our country covered in garbage? We are monkeys! WE ARE MONKEYS! ”

This argument continued for twenty, thirty minutes. It ended with her pouting, and him brooding. They settled, sort of, on the idea that Italy is beautiful and the food is good. But that’s where the “positives ” end, according to my FIL on that particular day. He changed his mind at least 72 times throughout the week.

I have a deep appreciation for culture. I’m proud that I hail from an ancient blood, a line of warriors, scholars, longtime rulers of an old world. Pride is great. But nationalism and self-proclaimed superiority is terrible. I struggle with it when it’s Iran, or Italy or the US. I hate the line, “God bless America,” which brings an image to mind of an overweight Jesus on a cloud wearing a trucker hat with “USA,”burned into the outsourced cotton and he’s giving the finger to the rest of the world, especially the middle east, because seriously, fuck them, as far as American Jesus is concerned.

My FIL mentioned that he loves how people dress casually most of the time in AZ and Utah. “It’s so much more comfortable! You can feel good!” He gestures to his outfit, explaining that the constant need to impress or be judged is hard on people in Italy. “I’ve never liked that much.” I watch him talk in my rear-view mirror and, honestly, I’m not even sure I know who this man is. In Italy, he’s obsessed with appearances. He’s always yelling at me because Francesco’s shoes are dirty (it’s somehow my problem?), and because my outfits are not colorful enough (because my job is to dress like a peacock and then strut through Cassino earning his family stars for my steller outfit?). Looking good is more important to him than enjoying life, often citing, “what would people think?” as a reason for having the least amount of fun possible. Making an impression is everything to him. I had no idea that deep down the pressure to be accepted by the community weighed so heavily. The thought that he’s molded his life around impressing other people makes me sad. It’s sad.

Fitting in and doing exactly as everyone else does comes from tiny community mentality. The idea that you only had your community and without them you could potentially die. Back in the day it was the same way in the US. If you were outcasted, who would you trade with for food in the event of a crisis? Who would help you deliver your babies? Who would give you water in time of drought. Fitting in could literally be your lifeline in a small town. Also, fitting in was a huge part of fascism in Italy and the older generation still has the fascist culture that presses for people to conform above all else.

My FIL is an old school, southern man. As much as I love learning about traditions and watching them, I’m not always all about living them. I’d like to think of myself as progressive, and  racism, sexism, bullying, or fear tactics give me icky feelings. My MIL once said of her husband, “my husband must control everything, and he believes that he is the center of the world that revolves around him. My mother didn’t believe that men should be the boss. That is why my mom hated him and he hated her.” According to my FIL, men rule, and they should rule with authority and fear. Men don’t do things like the dishes. Real men sit at the table wearing a bib, getting crumbs all over the floor, banging silverware on the table while waiting for their food. “Real men” sound a lot like toddlers.

I was the most nervous for him to be in the US. Him and his rigid, Bella figura or death mentality are so exhausting in Italy and the source of so many arguments. “In Italy, you will learn to be Italian. You can’t be like you are in my house.” BUT he fucking LOVES the US like nobodies business. He’s having a blast! He loves that things are “clean, orderly,” that people are, “polite,” and that they “do what they should do.” He likes that there is rosemary randomly grown in places that he keeps foraging. He’s come home with bushels of it in AZ, and even Las Vegas.

 

My MIL in-law likes a few things but overall she hates the US which isn’t that surprising. In Italy my MIL has a bad case of classic superiority complex. “It’s just not possible for a her to be a good mother or wife…she isn’t Italian,” she once said about me. While in the US she’s spent most of her days noting how Italy is decidedly best. “Italian food, is best. Italian style is best. Italian children are better. Italian parents are better. Italian manners are better,” were among some of her larger statements.

Don’t get me wrong, Italy is awesome, but as a friend said, “it’s okay to be proud of your heritage, but feeling superior because you’re good at making spaghetti? Seems like a bit of a stretch…”

On a list of things she’s actually liked: She likes eyebrow threading. “That  dark brown woman! Where did she come from? That brown woman is good at this! With one thread! Nobody back home will believe it!” She made me search for threading on YouTube where she watched the videos over and over again, writing the URL down in a notepad to show her friends back in her village.

She really loved the Swiffer, and our little Bissell vacuum which she bought and crammed into her suitcase to take back to Italy, “The technology is amazing here.”

One morning I caught her with her entire head in the clothes dryer. “It just dries your clothes! Right in your house!” She’s obsessed with affordable controlled air, noting that in Italy her cold apartment is giving her neck problems.

In Sephora the worker put makeup on her and took the time to show her around the store. My MIL was so excited about this that she hugged the woman afterwards. “I think that my granddaughter should come here at eighteen to become a beautician.” I took her to one of those nail salons, the ones with an exclusive vietnamese staff and the suspicious nail pimp who trolls the technicians. The nail technician looked at my MIL’s nails, “who did her nails? This is the worst nail job I’ve ever seen in my life. Tell her not to go there anymore,” she filed her fingernail violently.I agree with this. Nobody are as good as these places called, “Starz Nails,” or “Diamond Nails.”

“The Chinese are so good at this!” She exclaimed as we left with her new shiny red toes. “Vietnamese,” I corrected her. She stared at me for a long time trying to figure out what the difference was.

 

5 Hours To Go: The In-Laws Cross The Atlantic

The next three weeks should be hell super fun. I’ve cleaned for a total of 12 hours in the past few days. I’ve washed every, single thing in the house. We dusted the baseboards, cleaned the fridge and freezer, the oven, and wrapped presents. You see, the Obamas  my in-laws are joining us in the US to spend Christmas with my parents.

My husband has been singing his usual Christmas song while I organize things. His version is terrifying because he only knows one line, “You better watch out,” which he warns over, and over again, threateningly. In his version, Santa is not only watching for naughty behavior, but is also a serial killer, ready for bloodshed.

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Maybe I can just hide in my hair.

 

At least it makes me giggle. Laughing breaks up the stress. I’m trying to focus on humor with all the cleaning, the planning, the preparing, the impending meltdown.

“What do you mean there’s no bidet!? We need at least a bucket or something!” My mother-in-law tells my husband on the phone last week.

I whispered, “What does she need a bucket for?”

Francesco cupped the phone, “You know, like a bucket to use as a bidet.”

I fluffed Oliver’s newly washed bed, “And how exactly will they lower their 60 year old asses into a small bucket?” I wondered.

We ended up buying the bucket, of course, which is now under my bathroom sink waiting. How they’ll use it, I have no idea. Frankly, I don’t want to know. I agree with them, the bidet is awesome but a bucket seems primative. It’s what poor people in those sad commercials-living in a foreign land in cardboard house-use for their weekly wash-up. It’s not really something you’d expect to find in bathroom in Arizona where they’ll be joining us for one week before we head to Utah for another week, then Vegas. They arrive in exactly 5 hours and 30 minutes. They’ve been to Germany but otherwise this is their first real trip outside of Italy. They’re main concern was not the plane exploding over the Atlantic or being eaten by sharks but whether or not we had an adequate butt washer.

They had other, more mild concerns, of course.  My MIL is worried that American lemons are not good enough to make cookies. What kind of food would they eat and who would be preparing it? Legally, how much food could they get away with bringing in their suitcases? What about Prosciutto? When my husband told my mother-in-law that she could not bring half of a pig with her she thought for a minute, “It’s okay, I’ll just tell the security guard that my daughter-in-law is pregnant.” I’m not pregnant and what pregnant woman requires four pounds of dried pork? What would I be birthing that would require that much medicated protein?

Don’t mind this leg. There’s a fetus in need of nourishment, officer.

 

“They’re going to show up naked,” I warned Francesco. I wouldn’t be surprised if they teetered off the plane with one change of clothes in order to make room for an entire ham, pasta, tomato sauce, lemons, grappa, and random greens my father-in-law harvested from a nearby field. If they were other people and not them it would be pretty cute (for those of you new to the blog, I’m not a monster, we’re dealing with some very special people here). It’s not that I hate them or even dislike them. I somehow even love them (stockholm syndrome). But they are impossibly difficult to deal with. Three weeks, 24 hours per day, with any in-laws is just insane. That amount of time with my in-laws is just asking for someone to self medicate or admit themselves to the loony bin.

In embracing humor we’ve also been making bets about the first round of shit talk they dish out. I voted on things that are typical and a sure win: “You’re hair is ugly, I don’t like your makeup, why do you dress that way, and you should get rid of your dog.” Francesco tried to be more optimistic, voting for: “The house isn’t clean enough, the food is all shit, your coffee is terrible, and why won’t you guys have a baby? Do you not understand how sex works?” Followed by a possible diagram situation or a series of uncomfortable jokes.

I’ll be keeping a roster in my office. Winner gets…something. What should the winner get? A cyanide tablet to escape to freedom.

Five more hours. I should shower. Or sweep. Or just cry into the bidet bucket so they can wash their asses in my tears. Wish me luck!

Please share your in-law horror stories with me. Or your insane holiday stories with me. Let’s all bond over other people’s insanity.

What To Expect When You Travel Abroad: How To Mentally Prepare In 11 Steps

Obviously when you travel to another country you know that things are going to be different. You’ve most likely read about your destination, you’re excited, you’ve packed, booked tickets and learned how to say a dozen words or so. If you’ve done any research you know the food will be different, you know you’ll find different art and different houses of worship, but have you mentally prepared for the other things? The things that nobody prepares you for. Those things are the ones that travelers don’t always prepare for and those are the things that will often make or break a trip. What can you do to mentally prepare for your vacation abroad?

Napoléon Bonaparte by Andrea Appiani (1754&nda...

Napoléon Bonaparte by Andrea Appiani (1754–1817) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Get rid of the notion that you’re country is number one. This is important for everyone, but especially those of us from the United States. No other country has accepted that their country is inferior to the US. Everyone takes pride in their own country for one reason or another. If you go abroad expecting to get treated like a God because you’re from ‘Merca, you’re trip is going to suck. If you want to enjoy your trip, leave your ethnocentrism at home, and accept that all countries are equal in their differences. And please, try to avoid saying things like, “We saved your ass in World War II,” because not only do you sound ignorant, you also sound like an asshole.

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Italian Bathrooms, The Bidet And How To Have A Sparkling DownTown Area

Hey guys! So, this is a C.O.S.I Post about bathrooms in Italy and bathroom related things. Don’t forget to check out what everyone else has to say about the bidet, bathrooms, and bathroom humor on my COSI page. Want to join us? Leave a comment on the page saying so and we’ll get in touch!

So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s talk about The Bidet.

When I have visitors from outside of Italy I know it’s only a matter of time before one of them shyly asks about that thing in the bathroom that looks like a sink on the floor. “It’s a bidet,” I tell them. They’ll move closer, as if they’re about to disclose a secret, “Weird! So, uh, how does it work?”

A toilet (left) and a bidet (right).

A toilet (left) and a bidet (right). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 
Let’s start with the first part of the reaction that the bidet is “weird.” I’m not sure that there is anything less than AWESOME about having a sparkling clean vagina twenty-four-seven. SPARKLING, CLEAN and it feels, GREAT. Don’t even get me started on how awesome the bidet is for men, especially the hairy ones whose asses could very well belong on a baboon. I’m pretty sure that most men, without a bidet, leave what could only be described as a murder scene of doody in their whitey-tities (why can you not operate toilet paper!?). The bidet is your friend, guys. It’s your friend. Don’t have a bidet? Get one! Seriously, best investment ever. When I’m in the US I feel totally icky without one of these things around. I’ll never understand why they haven’t become more popular in the US. I promise, once you’ve used it, you cannot go back. 
 

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The Difference Between Stereotypes And Cultural Characteristics

I’ll be the first person to admit that when you live abroad it can be pretty difficult to be fair and avoid putting people into one large category. It’s human nature to group people in a way that makes it easier to understand them, identify them, avoid or relate to them. When your world is confusing you’ll try to make sense out of it in one way or another. 

One of the first things that I caught myself doing as I parachuted into Italy was compare everything to my own culture, and figure out how I could fit in. It was especially difficult for me coming from a degree in sociology. People were practically test subjects. Observing cultural characteristics is totally fine, and totally necessary if you ever want to comfortably live somewhere. However, it’s important to avoid stereotypes as much as possible. Stereotypes kind of piss people off, justifiably so. I’ve spent the past five years being stereotyped as, “that probably slutty, stupid American who hates family and love and probably stabbed her teddy bear to death as a child.” Writing a blog about living in Italy can be kind of sticky since I spend a lot of time discussing my experiences, making the occasional cultural and social observations, all while trying not to be too much of an asshole. There is a difference between dialogue, observations, and just being a dick. Even while being conscious of it, it’s kind of difficult to avoid being ethnocentric, though. It happens.  It’s especially rough when I’m away from home, feeling nostalgic, and some crazy lady is screaming at me in the street because MY DOG IS TOO SKINNY, and then twenty old men in the bar are rambling about their hero Berlusconi. It can be really, really, difficult. 

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